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7 Fantasy Books that Explore the Weird & the Surreal

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The Sturgeon’s Heart by Amy E. Casey

Three people in the same northern city of Duluth, Minnesota, are vanishing in different ways. Howard Wright finds his skin turning transparent, revealing the bloody workings of musculature beneath. His body becomes otherworldly and insistent, spinning him into visions that echo trauma from his childhood.

Sarah Turnsfield is living under an assumed identity, on the run from her past as a meteoric scientific prodigy. Content to work as a grocery clerk, she is determined to live a life on her own terms, where the landscape of her mind is hers alone.

Jo Breckmier seeks a new start in Duluth after a bitter divorce. She moves into the apartment unit across from Howard’s, leaning on alcohol and a stubborn will to reinvent herself. The woods and the lake seem to call to her as she laments her shipwrecked life.

When instinct, the swiftly warming spring, and Howard’s monstrous body conspire to bring the three together, each will discover how long they can hide―Jo from her loneliness, Sarah from her rising paranoia, and Howard from his intensifying transformation.

On one remarkable night along the rugged shore of Lake Superior, the lines between reality and legend intersect. Identities are broken and remade. In this contemporary monster story, the earth itself amplifies both the grotesque and the beautiful.

The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi

Once upon a time, a man who believed in fairy tales married a beautiful, mysterious woman named Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada. He was a scholar of myths. She was heiress to a fortune. They exchanged gifts and stories and believed they would live happily ever after—and in exchange for her love, Indigo extracted a promise: that her bridegroom would never pry into her past.

But when Indigo learns that her estranged aunt is dying and the couple is forced to return to her childhood home, the House of Dreams, the bridegroom will soon find himself unable to resist. For within the crumbling manor’s extravagant rooms and musty halls, there lurks the shadow of another girl: Azure, Indigo’s dearest childhood friend who suddenly disappeared. As the house slowly reveals his wife’s secrets, the bridegroom will be forced to choose between reality and fantasy, even if doing so threatens to destroy their marriage . . . or their lives.

Shark Heart: A Love Story by Emily Habeck

For Lewis and Wren, their first year of marriage is also their last. A few weeks after their wedding, Lewis receives a rare diagnosis. He will retain most of his consciousness, memories, and intellect, but his physical body will gradually turn into a great white shark. As Lewis develops the features and impulses of one of the most predatory creatures in the ocean, his complicated artist’s heart struggles to make peace with his unfulfilled dreams.

At first, Wren internally resists her husband’s fate. Is there a way for them to be together after Lewis changes? Then, a glimpse of Lewis’s developing carnivorous nature activates long-repressed memories for Wren, whose story vacillates between her childhood living on a houseboat in Oklahoma, her time with a college ex-girlfriend, and her unusual friendship with a woman pregnant with twin birds. Woven throughout this bold novel is the story of Wren’s mother, Angela, who becomes pregnant with Wren at fifteen in an abusive relationship amidst her parents’ crumbling marriage. In the present, all of Wren’s grief eventually collides, and she is forced to make an impossible choice.

A sweeping love story that is at once lyrical and funny, airy and visceral, Shark Heart is an unforgettable, gorgeous novel about life’s perennial questions, the fragility of memories, finding joy amidst grief, and creating a meaningful life. This daring debut marks the arrival of a wildly talented new writer abounding with originality, humor, and heart.

Ghost Music by An Yu

For three years, Song Yan has filled the emptiness of her Beijing apartment with the tentative notes of her young piano students. She gave up on her own career as a concert pianist many years ago, but her husband Bowen, an executive at a car company, has long rebuffed her pleas to have a child. He resists even when his mother arrives from the southwestern Chinese region of Yunnan and begins her own campaign for a grandchild. As tension in the household rises, it becomes harder for Song Yan to keep her usual placid demeanor, especially since she is troubled by dreams of a doorless room she can’t escape, populated only by a strange orange mushroom.

When a parcel of mushrooms native to her mother-in-law’s province is delivered seemingly by mistake, Song Yan sees an opportunity to bond with her, and as the packages continue to arrive every week, the women stir-fry and grill the mushrooms, adding them to soups and noodles. When a letter arrives in the mail from the sender of the mushrooms, Song Yan’s world begins to tilt further into the surreal. Summoned to an uncanny, seemingly ageless house hidden in a hutong that sits in the middle of the congested city, she finds Bai Yu, a once world-famous pianist who disappeared ten years ago.

A gorgeous and atmospheric novel of art and expression, grief and survival, memory and self-discovery, Ghost Music animates contemporary Beijing through the eyes of a lonely yet hopeful young woman and gives vivid color and texture to the promise of new beginnings.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core. 

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him. 

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map.

But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable and exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence…because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one—along with anyone who gets in the way.

But why? To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret and discovers the true power that lies in maps.

How High We Go In The Dark By Sequoia Nagamatsu

In 2030, a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter at the Batagaika Crater, where researchers are studying long-buried secrets now revealed in melting permafrost, including the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus.

Once unleashed, the Arctic plague will reshape life on Earth for generations to come, quickly traversing the globe, forcing humanity to devise a myriad of moving and inventive ways to embrace possibility in the face of tragedy.

In a theme park designed for terminally ill children, a cynical employee falls in love with a mother desperate to hold on to her infected son. A heartbroken scientist searching for a cure finds a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects—a pig—develops the capacity for human speech. A widowed painter and her teenaged granddaughter embark on a cosmic quest to locate a new home planet.

From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead to interstellar starships, Sequoia Nagamatsu takes readers on a wildly original and compassionate journey, spanning continents, centuries, and even celestial bodies to tell a story about the resilience of the human spirit, our infinite capacity to dream, and the connective threads that tie us all together in the universe.