Top Ten Books with Imaginative Settings

Top-Ten-Tuesday-Books-with-Imaginative-Settings-Magic-Systems

Hello and welcome to yet another Top Ten Tuesday post, you guys! This week’s theme is top ten books with X setting, in which X is meant to substitute for particular places like the beach, a boarding school, England, etc.

As you can probably tell by the title of this post, though, I kind of put my own spin on it. I just can’t think of one single place that I can list ten books for! What I can do, however, is collate a list of books whose settings I think are incredibly imaginative — settings that are incredibly well-written and well-researched, quite different than what I’ve seen before, and make me go “I wish I had thought of that!”.

A lot of what I’ve written down here are from memory, so there might be inaccuracies here and there.

1) A Darker Shade of Magic – V. E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for IreneIf you’re new to this blog, then you might not know that V. E. Schwab is my fantasy Queen, capital Q. This series is one of my favourites for its pretty frikkin’ cool portrayal of parallel Londons.

IN A NUTSHELL:

  • There’s Grey London, Red London, White London, and Black London. They’re like stacks of paper in a book — if you’re in Grey, you can only go to Black by passing through Red, and then White, and vice versa.
  • Magic only exists in certain Londons because Something Evil happened before and all the Evil, along with the magic, is sealed in Black London.
  • Only people like Kell, an Antari, can travel through these Londons. He has ~magical blood~ and he has a magical coat which can change into a thousand other coats.

2) The Impostor Queen – Sarah Fine

The Impostor QueenI’m actually really surprised by how little hype The Impostor Queen has gotten — while it’s not the BEST THING EVER, I thought the magic system was superb and the protagonist is one you just can’t help but to root for.

IN A NUTSHELL:

  • Magic is an act of balancing ice and fire and is passed down from one queen (called the Valtia) to her successor (called the Saadela) .
  • The Saadela is chosen because they’ll have a mark on their body, and after they are ‘found’, they are brought to the temple so they can be trained.
  • The Valtia acts as a vessel, and once she dies, her magic will leave her body and go into the Saadela’s body.

3) Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin

Wolf by WolfWolf by Wolf was pure fun from start and finish! The setting is historical, but it’s also kind of futuristic or speculative at the same time.

IN A NUTSHELL:

  • It’s an alternate history that imagines the world if Axis Powers had won the world war.
  • Hitler now rules most of the West, while Japan is in control of the East.
  • Human experiments done in concentration camps have led to some people having some veeery interesting powers, including our protagonist, Yael, who can change her appearance at will.

4) And I Darken – Kiersten White

And I Darken Kiersten WhiteSet in a time period where women didn’t seem to have a lot of power, And I Darken definitely has quite a great portrayal of women characters and how being a woman can be power in itself.

IN A NUTSHELL:

  • A loose historical retelling where our protagonist is a female version of Vlad the Impaler, only this time she’s called Lada.
  • Some of the punishments dealt in this book are really dark and brutal.
  • It has no magic, but it doesn’t need it to be great.

5) The Winner’s Curse – Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse Marie RutsokiI binged this series in a week, it was THAT addictive. While I feel like the romance and angst were a bit much at times, I loved the world-building.

IN A NUTSHELL:

  • It’s an imagined world where there are two main races at play: the Herrani and the Valorian.
  • Racial tensions are high — the Valorian used to be the ‘savages’ in this history and the Herrani the ones in power, but the Valorian won the war and the Herrani are now enslaved.
  • Culture plays a big role in the shaping of these races: The Valorian burn their dead and sing when they win battles, whereas the Herrani burn their dead and cheer when they win.

6) This Savage Song – Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song Victoria SchwabOkay, okay, This Savage Song is the second Schwab book on this list, but how can I resist?

IN A NUTSHELL:

  • Monsters are everywhere in this imagined world and they result from violent acts.
  • There are three different types of monsters created from different types of violent acts: the Corsai, the Malchai, and the Sunai.
  • The Sunai, for example, look like humans but their eyes will turn into streaks of black in photographs. The Malchai drink blood and their bones are visible under their skin just so. The Corsai are savage beasts that eat other creatures.

7) Elantris – Brandon Sanderson

elantris-brandon-sandersonThis was my first Brandon Sanderson and apparently his first-ever published book!

IN A NUTSHELL:

  • Elantrians used to be godlike beings that have powerful magical abilities, but something went wrong.
  • People might wake up having caught the some sort of a ‘plague’, called the Shaod, that turns them into zombie-like creatures. They get sent into the fallen city of Elantris, where they’re to live in pain and despair for eternity.
  • Elantrians draw runes in the air to cast magic.

8) The Scorpio Races – Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races Maggie StiefvaterI admit, I’m not the biggest fan of The Scorpio Races but it definitely has an interesting, memorable setting.

IN A NUTSHELL:

  • The characters live in a small island where water horses called capaill uisce race every November.
  • Water horses are vicious, smell like death, and will eat you if they can. They’re basically untamed tigers in the shape of horses, and they’re very hungry for flesh.
  • The ‘small town’ feeling is strong with this one, and the mythology is very well-developed too.

9) The School for Good and Evil – Soman Chainani

The School for Good and Evil Soman ChainaniAlso not the biggest fan of this book because I found the protagonist infuriating, but I enjoyed the premise.

IN A NUTSHELL:

  • There are two schools: the School for Good, where people learn to be Good Storybook Characters (i.e. princesses, princes, damsels), and the School of Evil, where people learn to be Bad Storybook Characters (i.e. villains)
  • The School of Good teaches kids to be heroes and princesses, rule a kingdom, and find Happily Ever After.
  • The School of Evil teaches kids to be wicked witches or trolls and cast evil spells and curses.

10) Full Metal Alchemist – Hiromu Arakawa

Fullmetal Alchemist Hiromu Arakawa Volume 1 MangaOkay, this is a manga and not like a book in the most traditional sense, but how can I skip it? It’s SO SMART.

IN A NUTSHELL:

  • This series has very sciencey magic called alchemy!
  • Alchemists use magical symbols to make their spells work. Equivalent exchange is the key: “To obtain, something of equal value must be lost.”
  • Alchemy is (mostly?) transforming matter into something else, and when it’s not, it’s just a part of the characters learning more about it.

What’s on your TTT this week? Leave me a link or let me know in the comments! 🙂

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66 thoughts on “Top Ten Books with Imaginative Settings

  1. Ahh, I love this Reg!! A Darker Shade of Magic is everything ♥♥♥ So many of these are on my TBR! I really need to read This Savage Song, The Scorpio Races and Wolf by Wolf!! I’m also interested to see how I feel about And I Darken since I was’t originally going to read it but you totally convinced me to add it to my TBR haha.

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    • Thanks, Lauren! Really hoping you get into Wolf by Wolf and This Savage Song soon. This Savage Song isn’t Schwab’s best but it’s still pretty good, and Wolf by Wolf was just really gripping. Can’t wait to see what you think of it!

      I hope you like And I Darken – some people have said that it’s not what they expected but for me it was just SO good. It did feel a bit like a character study and the title has nothing to do with the story (I think), but I loved every second of it. 😛

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  2. This list is glorious. Just to make sure I don’t ramble, my thoughts in bullet points:
    – YAS WINNER’S TRILOGY!! Tbh that series has one of the most well-imagined and amazingly written fictional cultures I’ve read – from the big things (mythology, ideology, etc) to small things (traditions and language), it’s just, GAH, amazing.
    – The Impostor Queen sounds REALLY COOL? I saw some hype for it some time ago but it quickly disappeared. I didn’t know that it had magic though – this is going straight to my tbr!
    – FULL METAL ALCHEMIST. I watched the anime sometime ago and I’m still not over it? My feelings are still so raw? Why does it hurt Reg?? WHY? But ugh yes, I love that anime so much. I don’t rewatch or reread… but hell, I’d love to watch all 64 episodes again just to relive every feeling.

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    • YES FOR THE WINNER’S TRILOGY. I’m just surprised by how subtle the world-building is, how easy it is to get into the world and yet still feel like you’re in a different place altogether? Like some books can be in-your-face with the world-building, but not this series.

      The Impostor Queen is definitely underrated in my book! I really love the magic system and while the characters/plot might not be the most original, I enjoyed that book.

      FMA is so sad and surprisingly dark (I think). It’s one of the best mangas I’ve ever read in my life, and the WHOLE NINA THING is so tragic and brutal. I still feel really sad thinking about it. ;_;

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      • RIGHT?? I feel that way too. To ramble on about it (BECAUSE I JUST LOVE THE SERIES), I really like how Rutkoski portrayed colonialism? Like, it’s terrible, but it was portrayed in a complex way and I appreciated it. And agreed – the subtlety is definitely appreciated, and made it all the more immersive.

        AH I need to read it! My next rec is about books with magic, so maybe I should binge read it asap so I can write about it. XD I trust your opinion!!

        IT IS. I love it. Good grief, listening to some of the openings (even after all this time) gives me sooo many feels. Have you seen the anime?? I haven’t read the manga, but maybe I should…

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        • YEP, I LOVE THAT TOO. Definitely one of the best parts of that book, I think.

          I’ve seen some episodes of the FMA anime but to be honest I’m a bit more of a reader than a watcher in general, so usually when there are manga counterparts I prefer those. But when it comes to anime-only series like Code Geass, I’m all for it. 😂

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  3. I must read the books on the list, they sound interesting! I just read wolf by wolf and I LOVE fullmetal alchemist (actually I only watched the fullmetal alchemist: brotherhood anime but oh well)

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  4. V.E. Schwab has definitely become one of my all-time favorite authors. And she did that with three damn novels XD. I love her Shades of Magic series so much! I would probably even say Vicious had such a great system of exploring superhuman abilities. It’s a lovely list 😀

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