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When it comes to reading, fantasy forever holds the place of honor as the first genre I fell in love with. Growing up, I went through so many phases of fantasy sub-genres as old favorites got replaced by new ones. In my later elementary school years, I read the entire Dragonriders of Pern series, marking the beginning of my epic dragon phase. Later, I moved on to Arthurian legends and enchanting fairytale retellings. In high school I frequented the library to search the terms “vampire romance” in the catalog. Each sub-genre in fantasy offers something delightful and different, and these days I have fun switching between them. Looking back on the fantasy books I’ve read, I noticed a common theme sneaking out between the pages of some of my favorites. The fantasy books that enmesh me well and truly in the magical world are the ones with thrilling political intrigue.
Political intrigue in fantasy books can take many forms. It can involve heirs competing for the throne, kingdoms rebelling, overthrowing tyrant rulers, empires falling. However the political intrigue unfurls, it usually involves different groups or people vying for power. I find it fascinating to watch these dynamics at play. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is a perfect example of this, and I’ll devour all of the fantasy books with political intrigue I can while I wait on The Winds of Winter to publish.
As you might imagine, the fantasy book world is overflowing with books steeped in political intrigue. Below, you’ll find a selection of some of these excellent fantasy reads, including some standout backlist picks and exciting new releases.
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
This poignant and thrilling debut by Shelley Parker-Chan promises plenty of political intrigue with its fantastical retelling of the rise of the Ming Dynasty. Set during Mongol rule in 1345 China, we meet the Zhu family, whose eighth son Zhu Chongba receives a fate of greatness, while their second-born daughter receives nothingness. After bandits orphan the two children and Zhu Chongba dies of despair, this daughter shakes off her fate of nothingness and takes on her brother’s identity, determining to live up to his fate.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
On the continent of Meridian, we see the interactions between multiple political groups, including a number of city-states loyal to the holy city of Tova. Between a powerful religious order governing the city and the various Sky Clans that reside there, Tova itself brims with further political intrigue. With superb world-building and likable, nuanced characters, Rebecca Roanhorse weaves a compelling fantasy as Tova prepares for a dire celestial event. The story follows the Sun Priest Naranpa, bisexual and magically-gifted sea captain Xiala, a young blind man Serapio with a predestined fate, and Okoa of the Carrion Crow Clan.
Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore
While this is the fourth book in the Graceling Realm series, it spills over with so much political intrigue, and I loved it so much, I had to include it. Each book in the series focuses on a different character (though Bitterblue does star in both the third and fourth books), so they can be read as standalones. Drawn to the newly discovered country of Winterkeep after the disappearance of her political envoy, Queen Bitterblue gets lost at sea herself, leaving her companions to continue the investigation without her. Meanwhile, Lovisa Cavenda, the teen daughter of two opposing members of Winterkeep’s democratic republic, may have the answer to everything.
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Drawing inspiration from the history of India, this captivating new fantasy by Tasha Suri spins a tangled web of political intrigue. Malini, a captive princess, plots her escape from her dictator brother, all while rebellion brews within the kingdom. Entrapped within an ancient temple once the source of magical deathless waters, Malini finds her path intertwined with the maidservant Priya’s after she witnesses Priya’s secret nature.
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
In the vein of A Song of Ice and Fire, the turbulent political situation in Saladin Ahmed’s epic fantasy leads to the overlooking of a growing supernatural threat. In the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, rebellion simmers below the surface as the current Khalif faces a threat to his power by a mysterious thief called the Falcon Prince. On the brink of retiring from his many years of ghul hunting, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood gets pulled back in after a murder close to home. With the help of his young assistant, the holy warrior Raseed bas Raseed, and a fierce lion-shapeshifter named Zamia Badawi, Adoulla will follow a string of murders and uncover a plot more sinister than any of them could have ever imagined.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
This epic fantasy by N.K. Jemisin takes political intrigue to a whole new level in the floating city of Sky, at the heart of the hundred thousand kingdoms. After her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, outcast teen Yeine Darr receives a summons to Sky where her grandfather the king has named her one of his heirs. Yeine soon finds herself caught within a power struggle between her cousins who have also been chosen as heirs, as well as the intrigues of the enslaved gods residing in Sky.
The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell
This riveting fantasy romance by Lisbeth Campbell includes all sorts of political intrigue, from tyrannic kings to resistance groups and secret assassination plots. Blazing with a need for justice and revenge after her father’s execution, student Anza discovers the long vanished Queen Mirantha’s diary in a forbidden library. Inspired by the missing queen’s words, Anza joins the resistance, delving into plots to overthrow the king. After an arrest brings her face to face with Prince Esvar, Anza gets drawn further into the court’s intrigue.
Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope
The political intrigue of L. Penelope’s enthralling fantasy series focuses on the tensions between two neighboring kingdoms, Elsira and Lagrimar. Plus, it digs into an ancient mystery which adds an extra layer of intrigue. A magical veil called the Mantle has separated the two lands from each other for hundreds of years, but when cracks begin to form, Lagrimar’s ruler sees an opportunity to strike. Farm girl Jasminda lives as an outcast due to the color of her skin and her Earthsong abilities. When she meets an Elsiran spy, Jasminda finds herself setting off on a quest to save the Mantle and uncover the secrets of the Queen Who Sleeps.
The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
I thought I’d close this list with a backlist fantasy classic of political intrigue. As the newly appointed secretary-tutor to the sister of the heir to the throne, ex-soldier Cazaril has returned to the royal court of Cardegoss. In between the treacherous intrigues of all those who make up the royal court, Caz must protect his royal pupil from the legendary curse that hangs over the House of Chalion.
Looking to dig further into the political intrigues of fantasy worlds? Check out these books too!
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