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Step Aside Alice: 6 YA Fantasy Book Alternatives to Wonderland

Maybe it's the shape-shifting cake in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, or the weird knight, or that damn cat. I just can't say. But here's what I do know: I've read numerous fantasy books that, in my humble opinion, are far more enjoyable than slogging through innocent Alice's "amazing" adventures.
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I'm just going to say it: I hate Lewis Carroll's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I always have. I've read it numerous times, but I'm left with the same overwhelming visceral reaction after each read -- loathing.

Now, I'm not an inexperienced reader who can't appreciate the nuances of language and storytelling. I studied literature in Grad School and have taught High School English for nearly 10 years; plus, I'm a professional book reviewer and an independent book blogger. I certainly get that Alice is chock full of allusions and symbolism (and apparently has symmetry in math which I don't understand because it's, well, math), but I just can't stand it.

I've never been able to articulate what, exactly, it is about Wonderland that bothers me so much. While fantasy isn't my favourite genre, I'm not opposed to reading books with fantastic elements. I loved the Narnia series as a child, and I grew up watching The Wizard of Oz. And let's face it: J.K. Rowling is a goddess on the pedestal of all things magic.

So maybe it's the shape-shifting cake in Wonderland, or the weird knight, or that damn cat. I just can't say. But here's what I do know: I've read numerous fantasy books that, in my humble opinion, are far more enjoyable than slogging through innocent Alice's "amazing" adventures.

Here are six, in no particular order:

Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston: Kelley Winslow is living the dream, literally. An aspiring actress, she's landed the role of Titania, the faerie queen in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. But the strange actions of the rambunctious Puck and the sudden appearance of a horse in her bathtub lead Kelley to believe that something unusual is at play. A chance encounter with Sonny, a handsome young man raised in the faerie realm, confirms Kelley's suspicions, and she must face the shocking reality of her heritage before everything she holds dear is lost. (Harper Collins 2009)

The Darkest Part of the Forestby Holly Black: Another story featuring the very real existence of the faerie realm, Hazel and her brother Ben live in Fairfold where they dream of battling monsters alongside the mysterious boy lying in a glass coffin in the middle of the forest. He's been slumbering in a cursed sleep for years, thus providing the perfect character for Hazel's daydreams. But when he wakes up, Hazel's dreams become real and she must use her new-found knighthood to fight against evil forces determined ruin him and destroy her fragile sense of relationships and love. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 2015)

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta: A story of fate and destiny, Finnikin, at the cusp of manhood, joins forces with the intriguing Evanjalin to break the evil curse imprisoning Lumatere's walls. Lorded over by an imposter who slaughtered the royal family, Lumatere is held hostage while those outside its boundaries wander in exile. Encouraged by Evanjalin's belief in a legitimate heir to the throne, Finnikin begins his journey to right the wrongs of the past. (Viking 2009)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer: A sci-fi fantasy comes to life when Cinder, a cyborg and talented mechanic with second-class citizenship, becomes the center of an intergalactic struggle. In an epic battle against a plague, an evil step-mother, and a forbidden love, Cinder holds the key to saving the earth. Cinder is Book One of five in the Lunar Chronicles. (Square Fish 2013)

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard: In this dystopian fantasy, Mare's family, and all other red-bloods, have long been enslaved to those with silver blood running through their veins. Descendants from the gods, silver-bloods have supernatural powers that keep the red-bloods in line. By accident, Mare discovers her own superpower, an abnormality that the Silvers desperately try to hide. But Mare is no pawn in their game; the battle lines are drawn as Mare fights to free the Reds from their lives of poverty and servitude. (Harperteen 2015)

And, if you, unlike me, are a fan of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, you'll love this book:

Splintered by A.G. Howard: Alyssa Gardner is a direct descendent of Alice (of Wonderland fame), as is Allison, her mother. At the onset of puberty, each girl in their family becomes hyperaware of the nature around them. Capable of hearing the conversations between bugs and plants, the Gardner women are prone to assumptions of insanity. Determined not to end up in a mental institution with her mother, Alyssa follows the clues to Wonderland to correct the mistakes of her ancestor Alice Liddell. (Amulet 2013)


Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
This 192-page book is a breeze compared to the 1,000-page epic fantasies commonly associated with the genre. The story is best enjoyed when you know little more about it than this: it gets weird and awesome. This fantasy takes place in our world where the lead character experiences a series of events that are out of this world.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
If you’re a fan of supernatural stories, this is the book to bridge the gap between genres. The book, which is the first in the ”All Souls” trilogy, follows historian (and witch) Diana Bishop and vampire Matthew Clairmont. The pair live in a world where vampires, witches, humans and demons coexist, making their romance that much more dangerous. Alongside its fantastical characters, the trilogy tackles themes of love, family, self-acceptance and more.
The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman
Consider this “Harry Potter” for adults, This trilogy (the other two books are "The Magician King" and "The Magician's Land") follows your average angry teenager, Quentin Coldwater, on his journey to learning magic and experiencing new worlds he never knew existed. If you like anti-heroes, sass and love triangles, you won’t be able to put down these books.
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Given his two appearances on this list, Neil Gaiman is obviously a good place to start when it comes to fantasy. “Stardust” is best described as a twisted version of a fairy tale featuring a colourful cast of characters. Gaiman’s writing is more atmospheric than descriptive, so don’t fear any full chapters describing a tree.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
This young adult fantasy series is everywhere nowadays. The books follow a strong female protagonist — an assassin who fights and battles her way through every book in the series. Come for the badass female representation, but stay for the well-developed world.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Name of the Wind is a brick of a book at 662 page fantasy novel, but don’t be intimidated. The book is the first in the KingKiller Chronicles, in which the main protagonist is the narrator, re-telling his adventures as the infamous King Killer. The book is a modern classic of sorts, telling an epic fantasy story with beautiful description with intricate details - if you like that sort of thing.
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
“The False Prince” is the first in the “The Ascendance Trilogy.” The middle grade or young adult book, depending on which Indigo you walk into, is a reimagination of the simple but classic tale of “The Prince and the Pauper.” SPOILER: The end has a major plot twist. While this book may be targeted towards a younger audience, people of all ages will fall in love with the characters and their adventures.
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
This dark and menacing fantasy novel is the debut of “The Grisha” trilogy, which most recently came to an end with “Ruin and Rising.” Its story follows teenage orphan Alina Starkov, who lives in the dark world, Ravka, inspired by Tsarist Russia. Readers will get to experience Alina’s growth as she learns to harness new powers to rescue her best friend.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
While "The Night Circus" isn’t an epic fantasy, it is a door into the world of magic — a central theme in all fantasy novels. In this book, two magicians come together to make the most epic of wagers. To determine the winner of the wager, the two each find a protegee. Whoever is left standing will be the winner. This scenic, surprisingly emotional book will touch your heart and keep you excited to turn the page.
The Lies Of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Think of this fantasy novel as "The Italian Job," but in late medieval Venice. The only thing better than a book about a group of thieves is when the thieves exist in a world where anything is possible. Our favourite part? This heist will last for a whole three-book series.