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Thursday, August 12, 2021

Best Fantasy That Could Stand Alone, but Doesn't (Book Recommendations)

What is the best Fantasy Book that COULD stand alone, but is (technically) part of a series?

Maybe it's part of a trilogy, but the other books are absolutely lackluster. Maybe there are companion novels written in the same world and with overlapping characters, but just were not up to the One Book™. Maybe the author wrote a sequel or a prequel years later but it is their foundational work that really gets attention. Maybe you've never even HEARD of the other books, but found out they exist when I didn't put your recommendation on our last list. But in any case, they are books that ARE part of a series, but could (and maybe SHOULD) absolutely, totally stand alone.

We had the same problem with our last poll as we did the one two before it. That is, I asked for stand-alone titles and got a BUNCH that were technically part of a series. So it seems clear that we need to run a book recommendation thread JUST for those books. Now is your chance to drop fantasy on here that is part of a series (or world saga) but could also completely stand alone.

I normally don't run a post on Thursday, and I have been having A WEEK, but I owe you from yesterday.

Remember, instead of trying to figure out what more people think is the BEST (which usually turns into which book has the coolest movie adaptation anyway), we're just going to have a nice chat about good books and all come away with some suggestions for our To Be Read Pile™. We'll still have the system of seconds (and "thirds" and "fourths" and…well, you get the idea), but all that will really determine is which goes to the top of the list when I post the results. You can go HERE to see what the results will look like when all is said and done. And I'll link out the original nomination post for folks who want to go see what people are actually saying about the book. Eventually these posts listing the results will be compiled in a massive "book recommendation" post.

Today we're doing "stand alone" fantasy that isn't ACTUALLY stand alone. But to be clear, we're talking about books that absolutely could stand completely alone (and were maybe even intended to had the author not gone back to them), not just "the exceptionally good first book in a trilogy" or something. (Think The Shining or The Witches of Eastwick and not so much The Hunger Games.) These are books that could (and maybe SHOULD) have never had sequels. Planned trilogies (or whatever) that happened to have exceptionally contained narratives technically shouldn't go here.

Because folks voted for some of these books on the "Stand alone" poll, we have a small list already ready to go! But do notice there's no copyright year limitation, so the book can have been published before 1980, unlike our last poll. 

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, R. C. O'Brien

Bunnicula, D. Howe and J. Howe 

Bridge of Birds, B. Hughart 

The Dark is Rising, S. Cooper

Inferno, L. Niven and J. Pournelle

Over Sea Under Stone, S. Cooper

The Rules

  1. Make two recommendations. Obviously, I can't stop anyone from making fifteen, but nothing beyond the first two will make it onto the master list. I'm a despot that way.
  2. TELL US ALL A LITTLE ABOUT WHY YOU LIKE THE BOOK although obviously do so without spoilers! If you just drop a title name and it gets all the seconds, I'm still going to list it, of course, but the whole point of this is to have a "conversation" and gush a little about the books you think are great, exciting, well written, or unforgettable and a little (spoiler-free) squee about why.
  3. For each recommendation, let us know if you're nominating it more as a BEST book in the genre or an UNDERSUNG HERO in the genre. Basically "undersung hero" is for books you think are great, tragically overlooked, NEED to be read by everyone (like…yesterday), but are maybe not necessarily the besty bestest best. They'll all end up in the list I compile, but I'll put them in different places.
  4. As always, I leave the niggling over the definition of genres to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you want to nominate Snow Crash as fantasy (even though it's probably better placed as science fiction), you should show your work if you desire those sweet, sweet seconds (or thirds....or fourths) and there might be a discussion thread after your comment with a lot of people writing out the "If I may…"
  5. Your book must be part of a series or more than tangentially related to a fully formed fictional universe. It must have a sequel, prequel, be part of a series, or be part of a massive world (like Discworld). If it makes little more a reference to another book like once or twice is clearly taking place in the world of another book without being a sequel, prequel, or a grand unified series, it wouldn't count for this poll. (Sometimes Stephen King books have a small allusion to one of his earlier works. This wouldn't count, as there are only a few S.K. books that are truly sequels.) 
  6. You get to mention two (2) books. That's it. Two. You can do one BEST and one UNDERSUNG HERO. Or you can do two BESTS. Or you can do two UNDERSUNG HEROES. But two is the total. If you nominate three or more, I will, with unimaginable cruelty, simply ignore the third and any subsequent books. I'm sorry that I'm a stickler on this, but it's just lil ol' me compiling this list by myself and it's a pain when people drop a spinosaurus list of every single book they can remember in the entire genre. However, you list more than two books and your third or later choice gets a second, I'll consider everything. (Even though that matters a lot less than it did when I was counting seconds to see which titles made the poll––see below.)
  7. Did I mention two?
  8. You may (and absolutely should) give a second shout out to AS MANY nominations of others as you wish. There is no more poll, so this will not be a cutthroat competition to see who makes it to the semifinals. It will simply dictate which titles I list first, and it may influence which books someone considers a good recommendation. ("This one got six seconds, and that one only got two, so I think I'll start with this one.")
  9. Put your nominations HERE. I will take nominations only as comments and only on this post. (No comments on FB posts or G+ will be considered nominations.) If you can't comment for some reason because of Blogger, send me an email (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) stating exactly that and what your nomination is, and I will personally put your comment up. I am not likely to see a comment on social media even if it says you were unable to leave a comment here. 
  10. You are nominating WRITTEN fiction, not their A/V portrayals. If you thought The Shining was the greatest Stanley Kubrick movie ever, but found the book a little disjointed and TOO character driven to have a satisfying climax, please nominate something else. (I love film, but it's a different medium.) 
  11. Have a conversation, but check the typical internet assholery at the door. If someone likes something you think is terrible, it's okay to let them enjoy it. And if someone has one tight and polite bit of criticism about your recommendation ("I was not a fan of the X plot arc or the way that author writes women."), it's okay that they didn't care for it and there's no need to defend it like they have impugned you honor for seven generations.  I **WILL** delete shitty comments, and I absolutely know that's highly subjective, so better to err on the side of nice. 
  12. TWO!


  1. Lois McMaster Bujold's The Curse of Chalion
    One of the best fantasy books I have ever read in and of itself, but in the larger five gods world it is amazing.

  2. Undersung: Jhereg by Steven Brust. I'm not sure this really counts as undersung since it was very popular, but people don't talk about it as much these days and because it fits in so well with the rest of the series(plural) people don't think of it as stand alone but just by itself it is great.

  3. Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. I fokkin' cry every time I read it and I've read it plenty of times. :< The other books in the series are great, too but, like... If you only had one children's book to read, this is it. It didn't need sequels and they weren't planned.

    The Psammeade/Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit. Reaching waaaaay back for this one. This is the story of 5 kids who find some kind of odd genie in a gravel pit. It's a fun weird little book with a bit of a monkey's paw situation that's not anywhere near as creepy as other monkey's paw situations.The wishes all wear off when the sun sets so things like "wings" become a problem when the kids are stuck on top of a steeple with no way down. Kids' books don't always have to have a deeper meaning to them and Nesbit books are always so imaginative that they're a joy to discover. They're surprisingly timeless and it's fascinating to think you're reading something from the turn of the century that can still pull you in.
    It's got 2 sequels but the first one is so iconic that I can't really even tell you what happened in the others.

    1. The Bear and the Nightingale. A wonderful book that pulled me into Russian folklore. Even though it was warm outside when I read it, I could picture myself sitting by the fire and wait for the cold Russian winterstorm to subside.

      The second book wasn't bad, but it felt more like an unnecessary standard fantasy story that pulled my out of the warm feeling I got from the first.

  4. Two books that could stand alone but don’t … ok:

    A Wizard of Earthsea

    Hard to describe how important this book was to me as a kid. LeGuin is certainly a huge part of why I ended up in Anthropology. The world she created was fantasy, but the people get very real. And everyone was brown!!

    Next book:


    Although it was hard not to put the Tombs of Atuan - Tehanu was a late addition to the world introduced in Wizard of Earthsea. It corrected several things from the original series that didn’t age so well, including continuing to center men and maleness even when women were also written as complex and interesting. Tehanu shifts to a fully feminine perspective, in a way that wouldn’t have been possible at the time the original series was published.

    Either could stand alone just fine, but both are parts of a wider tapestry of story.

    1. I second Tehanu. A Wizard of Earthsea is great, but Tehanu is something different, more mature, and like you said, a deconstruction of the more standard fantasy story. I read it over 15 years ago and still think about it.

  5. Barbara Hambley - Dragonsbane

  6. Ozma of Oz. There are dozens of Oz books, but Ozma can stand alone. If you read all of them, it becomes an amazing, deep, rich world that suddenly makes “The Wizard of Oz” totally make sense.

    1. Second (third?) Ozma of Oz. You know I think this is one of the only ones in that series that holds up today!

  7. Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett. It's a fantastically feminist book with some strong Joan of Arc influence. There's a few familiar faces but most of the characters are new as is the setting since it takes place in Borogravia rather than Ankh-Morpork. They're a rag-tag bunch consisting of an Igor, a Troll, a Vampire, a grizzled sergeant, Polly a.k.a. Oliver, a very green Lieutenant, and a few others. Both officers seem perfectly willing to ignore any oddities surrounding their soldiers as long as they understand to point the sharp end at the enemy. Sam Vimes also makes a guest appearance which is lovely. It's definitely one of the more serious Discworld books but it's got plenty of lighthearted moments and while the ending is bittersweet it's also largely positive. Very much a people can change and things are improving but it won't be fast or easy.

  8. Nancy Springer - The Silver Sun

  9. To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams. I read them before reading the first two books, then read the first two and found them completely unnecessary.

    1. This would be for Best, since it's a well-known author.

  10. The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewelling. Same as above - read it first, then the rest of the series. They're good, but this one completely stands on its own.

    1. Undersung hero and I can't say why without giving major plot points away.

  11. I really dug the richness of the world and the characterizations of Robert Silverberg's Lord Valentine's Castle, though it's a mix of fantasy and science fiction.

  12. oooh - second Lord Valentine's Castle. Excellent book.