Standalone Fantasy and Science Fiction Recommendations

I have always been someone who prefers standalones over series, and I know that I am not alone! As I have gotten more and more into fantasy and SciFi, I have realized that standalones are hard to come by. Even this list does not include a lot of what I would consider traditional fantasy! A lot of the books I am highlighting here are a blend of genres. So, please leave me any recommendations you have!

Lore

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Every seven years, the Agon begins. As punishment for a past rebellion, nine Greek gods are forced to walk the earth as mortals, hunted by the descendants of ancient bloodlines, all eager to kill a god and seize their divine power and immortality.
Long ago, Lore Perseous fled that brutal world in the wake of her family’s sadistic murder by a rival line, turning her back on the hunt’s promises of eternal glory. For years she’s pushed away any thought of revenge against the man–now a god–responsible for their deaths.

Yet as the next hunt dawns over New York City, two participants seek out her help: Castor, a childhood friend of Lore believed long dead, and a gravely wounded Athena, among the last of the original gods.

The goddess offers an alliance against their mutual enemy and, at last, a way for Lore to leave the Agon behind forever. But Lore’s decision to bind her fate to Athena’s and rejoin the hunt will come at a deadly cost–and still may not be enough to stop the rise of a new god with the power to bring humanity to its knees.

I am writing this post on Wednesday May 12th and I am currently halfway through Lore, so I cannot give you my full opinion; however, it is the book that inspired this post! I bought Lore the day it came out but the mixed reviews made me reluctant to pick it up. I am so happy that a buddy read forced me to get to it because I really am enjoying it.

I think the fact that it is a standalone adds to my enjoyment of it. There have been quite a few plot twists already, but it is nice knowing that the story will wrap up by the end of the book. Can’t wait to see where this is going! I could have also included both of Madeleine Millers book’s, A Song of Achilles and Circe, on this list. There is just something about Greek mythology that lends itself well to standalones, but I will share more of those in a future post!

The House in the Cerulean Sea

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A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

Believe the hype on this one! If you need a light fantasy that puts a smile on your face, The House in the Cerulean Sea is the book for you. What makes this book so darn charming are the characters. Each of the children is unique and I felt a connection to them all. I loved seeing how our main character, Linus, forms relationships with the children and develops romantic feelings for their caretaker, Arthur.

Is it just me or are quiet fantasy like this one more likely to be standalones? I assume it is because there doesn’t have to be a ton of world building and/or an elaborate magic system. Everything can be wrapped up in one book! TJ Klune has another standalone fantasy coming out in September titled Under the Whispering Door, and I cannot wait!

Piranesi

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Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

How do I even begin to explain what Piranesi is about and why I loved it so much!? I think it is my favourite book of the year so far! The story is told through diary entries and it takes awhile to fully understand what is going on here. You have to just embrace the fact that you are going to be confused for a while. I love how the story came together in the end and its just a beautiful book in every way possible. I am thrilled that it was shortlisted for The Women’s Prize!

To Be Taught, If Fortunate

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In her new novella, Sunday Times best-selling author Becky Chambers imagines a future in which, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of the solar system instead transform themselves.

Ariadne is one such explorer. As an astronaut on an extrasolar research vessel, she and her fellow crewmates sleep between worlds and wake up each time with different features. Her experience is one of fluid body and stable mind and of a unique perspective on the passage of time. Back on Earth, society changes dramatically from decade to decade, as it always does.

Ariadne may awaken to find that support for space exploration back home has waned, or that her country of birth no longer exists, or that a cult has arisen around their cosmic findings, only to dissolve once more by the next waking. But the moods of Earth have little bearing on their mission: to explore, to study, and to send their learnings home.

Carrying all the trademarks of her other beloved works, including brilliant writing, fantastic world-building and exceptional, diverse characters, Becky’s first audiobook outside of the Wayfarers series is sure to capture the imagination of listeners all over the world.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate is a stunning novella from Becky Chambers, who is mostly known for the Wayfarers series. If you have had your eye on The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet but you have been intimidated, I think that this novella is a great place to start with her work. You will get a taste for Becky Chambers’ writing style and you will see the specific kind of SciFi that she writes. To Be Taught, If Fortunate is only 150 pages, so it is best to go into it knowing very little. Just know that I thought it was very moving and one I would love to revisit very soon.

Follow Me to Ground

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A haunted, surreal debut novel about an otherworldly young woman, her father, and her lover that culminates in a shocking moment of betrayal – one that upends our understanding of power, predation, and agency.

Ada and her father, touched by the power to heal illness, live on the edge of a village where they help sick locals—or “Cures”—by cracking open their damaged bodies or temporarily burying them in the reviving, dangerous Ground nearby. Ada, a being both more and less than human, is mostly uninterested in the Cures, until she meets a man named Samson. When they strike up an affair, to the displeasure of her father and Samson’s widowed, pregnant sister, Ada is torn between her old way of life and new possibilities with her lover—and eventually comes to a decision that will forever change Samson, the town, and the Ground itself.

Follow Me to Ground is fascinating and frightening, urgent and propulsive. In Ada, award-winning author Sue Rainsford has created an utterly bewitching heroine, one who challenges conventional ideas of womanhood and the secrets of the body. Slim but authoritative, Follow Me to Ground lingers long after its final page, pulling the reader into a dream between fairytale and nightmare, desire and delusion, folktale and warning.

If you like weird books that leave you feeling a little bit uncomfortable, you need to read Follow Me to Ground! I would say that this book is the perfect combination of fantasy and horror. I think that every review I have seen have called Follow Me to Ground disturbing, which it is, but it is also beautifully written. I also just discovered while putting this post together that Sue Rainsford has a new book out called Redder Days, which is apparently a dystopian novel. I will have to track a copy of that down!

House of Salt and Sorrows

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In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.

House of Salt and Sorrows is a retelling of the Brother Grimm’s fairytale Twelve Dancing Princesses, and it captures the same tone as many of Grimm’s fairytales. I was not prepared going into this one for just how creepy and unsettling it was going to be! It is one of the most atmospheric books I have ever read. If you are like me and you like books set on an island, ghost stories, and books about sisterhood, you have to read House of Salt and Sorrows! This could have easily been a series, but I so appreciate that Erin A. Craig kept it as a standalone- it worked perfectly. Craig has a new book called Small Favors coming out in July, and it is a Rumpelstiltskin retelling!

Lanny

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There’s a village sixty miles outside London. It’s no different from many other villages in England: one pub, one church, red-brick cottages, council cottages and a few bigger houses dotted about. Voices rise up, as they might do anywhere, speaking of loving and needing and working and dying and walking the dogs.

This village belongs to the people who live in it and to the people who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present. But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort, a figure schoolchildren used to draw green and leafy, choked by tendrils growing out of his mouth.

Dead Papa Toothwort is awake. He is listening to this twenty-first-century village, to his English symphony. He is listening, intently, for a mischievous, enchanting boy whose parents have recently made the village their home. Lanny.

I am sensing a theme here- Lanny is another creepy and deeply uncomfortable read. Don’t like the name Dead Papa Toothwort fool you- his narration is incredibly haunting! On the surface, Lanny feels very literary, but it is so dark and sinister that it will keep you up at night. I have realize that I love books about local legends and superstitions. What is it about horror and fantasy that blend so perfectly together?

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

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Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

I am sure that many of Neil Gaiman’s books could have made this list, but I am ashamed to admit that I have read only two of his books, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Norse Mythology. I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane years ago and it is one that I need to revisit. It is one of those books that I remember more about how it made me feel than I do about the actual plot. Once again… this is another horror!

Dark Matter/Recursion

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Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters.

– – –

‘Are you happy in your life?’

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakes to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before the man he’s never met smiles down at him and says, ‘Welcome back.’

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream?

And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

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Memory makes reality.

That’s what NYC cop Barry Sutton is learning, as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face to face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds, but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

At once a relentless pageturner and an intricate science-fiction puzzlebox about time, identity, and memory, Recursion is a thriller as only Blake Crouch could imagine it—and his most ambitious, mind-boggling, irresistible work to date.

Dark Matter is one of the books that got me into SciFi. I think it is probably my favourite book about parallel universes. Sure, some of the science went over my head, but the payoff was worth it and I did think it was farily accessible. It reads like a thriller, so it will have you quickly turning the pages.

From what I have seen, most people prefer Dark Matter, but Recursion is actually my favourite of the two. I think it was largely because I connected more with the characters and there was something more heartbreaking and human about this story. Also, the idea of false memories is fascinating to me!

Klara and the Sun

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Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.

Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: What does it mean to love?

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is my favourite book of all time and is also Sci-Fi, but I talk about it all the time and wanted to highlight Ishiguro’s newest release, Klara and the Sun. This is the book that solidified Ishiguro as one of my favourite writers, and it also confirmed for me that I tend to love books with Artificial Intelligence as main characters. There is something so bittersweet about Klara and the Sun, and it will have you asking yourself a lot of ethical questions. Ishiguro has this special way of creating stories that feel as they could soon be our reality. There is something haunting in that.

Peter Darling

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Ten years ago, Peter Pan left Neverland to grow up, leaving behind his adolescent dreams of boyhood and resigning himself to life as Wendy Darling. Growing up, however, has only made him realize how inescapable his identity as a man is.

But when he returns to Neverland, everything has changed: the Lost Boys have become men, and the war games they once played are now real and deadly. Even more shocking is the attraction Peter never knew he could feel for his old rival, Captain Hook—and the realization that he no longer knows which of them is the real villain.

I am such a sucker for a good Peter Pan retelling, and I think Peter Darling is my favourite. Unfortunately, it has become difficult to find a copy for some reason, but if you do managed to find one I highly recommend it. Chant does such an amazing job at humanizing both Peter and Hook. I now look at the original story is a whole new way! Also, the fact that it is set in Neverland means that it is going to be whimsical. It is one of my favourite settings for so many reasons!

The Dreamers

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In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned.

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

I picked up The Dreamers on a whim when it first came out and I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed it. I will say that I read it pre-pandemic, and it might hit a little too close for some readers at the present moment. However, I thought Karen Thompson Walker did an amazing job at demonstrating how different people are affected in unique ways by something like this. A very compelling story, and one I would like to revisit in the future.

The Martian

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Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

The Martian is an obvious addition to this list, but I had to mention it as I just bought a copy of Andy Weir’s latest release, Project Hail Mary. I am so excited to dive in because I have heard that it feels much more like The Martian than Artemis did! I think that The Martian is one of those books that even readers who are not fans of SciFi have enjoyed, and that is in large part thanks to how compelling Mark Watney is as a character. I was not prepared for how hilarious this book would be!

The Humans

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After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, he is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog.

Who is he really? And what could make someone change their mind about the human race. . . ?

When he is not writing nonfiction, it seems as though Matt Haig is drawn to writing light SciFi, with The Humans being my favourite book of his. While I absolutely loved The Midnight Library, it is The Humans that has stayed with me. There were many moments that had me laughing out loud as Haig shines a light on how ridiculous humans can be. I loved seeing humanity through the eyes of an alien- it was delightful!

Mem

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Set in the glittering art deco world of a century ago, MEM makes one slight alteration to history: a scientist in Montreal discovers a method allowing people to have their memories extracted from their minds, whole and complete. The Mems exist as mirror-images of their source — zombie-like creatures destined to experience that singular memory over and over, until they expire in the cavernous Vault where they are kept.


And then there is Dolores Extract #1, the first Mem capable of creating her own memories. An ageless beauty shrouded in mystery, she is allowed to live on her own, and create her own existence, until one day she is summoned back to the Vault.


Debut novelist Bethany Morrow has created an allegory for our own time, exploring profound questions of ownership, and how they relate to identity, memory and history, all in the shadows of Montreal’s now forgotten slave trade.

Mem is a novella from Bethany C. Morrow, whose full-length novel A Song Below Water received some attention when it came out last year. I had not realized that the strange and haunting novella that I read a few years ago was by the same author. Mem reminds me of Klara and the Sun in some ways. It also follows an AI and will have you asking yourself many ethical and moral questions. The idea of having your memories extracted and put into an AI is an interesting one. There is so much nuance in this 180-page book!

Pet

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Pet is here to hunt a monster.
Are you brave enough to look?

There are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson all her life. But when she meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question — How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

I finished Pet recently, so it is still fresh in my mind and I am still putting together my thoughts about it. That said, it was one of my five star predictions and I am thrilled to say that I nailed it! Though, it was sort of cheating because I already knew how much I loved Akwaeke Emezi’s writing. The world in Pet is interesting and it has made me more interested in reading books about monsters. Any recommendations? I tabbed so much of this books because there were some incredible lines that I wanted to remember!

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36 thoughts on “Standalone Fantasy and Science Fiction Recommendations

  1. What a list! I’m a reader who starts series but never finishes them, so these are ideal recommendations for me!

    Pet was on my radar and your review tipped me over into buying it 😊

  2. I’m always a Crouch fan, and The Martian was fantastic. I recently finished The House in the Cerulean Sea and it was sheer perfection. I’ll always recommend that book.

  3. So excited to check out some of the books on this list! I have The House in the Cerulean Sea on my TBR. I haven’t read any of the Wayfarer series but I didn’t know the author had a standalone space novel too, how cool!

  4. Such amazing recs!! Follow Me to Ground kind of fell under my radar for a while, but I definitely need to pick it up. And your post convinced me to bump up Lanny on my TBR, it just sounds so good (I love dark and unsettling). I added also Lore to my shopping cart!

  5. I love the Martian so much and I also want to read Project Hail Mary, because I, too, have heard more positive feedback on it than for Artemis. If I had to add a standalone fantasy book to this formidable list, I’d probably choose Soulswift. I adored that one!

      1. Beware of Bannen emotionally destroying you by the end of the book haha I hear it’s a specialty of hers!

        Hope you enjoy Project Hail Mary!!!

  6. I’ve seen The House in the Cerulean Sea literally everywhere and now I am really curious! I also have had my eye on Piranesi, but first I need to read Jonathan Strange by the same author! 🤣
    Great recs, Kristin!

  7. Thanks for recommending some new wonderful SFF reads. I have loved House of Salt & Sorrows, and heard very good things about Dreamers and Becky Chambers — but the rest were all new to me, going to check them out!

  8. I am always on the look for standalone sci-fi/fantasy books, so thank you for these recommendations. Klara and the Sun is going to be my next read and I am so excited to get to it. The concept sounds so fascinating. I’ve been eyeing up Piranese too and I’ve been refraining from reading any reviews cause I’m told it’s a book that’s best experienced without knowledge of what’s happening.

  9. I didn’t know Lore was a standalone! That makes me want to pick it up even more (I suck at reading series lol) Piranesi is on my TBR! I ended up DNFing House of Salt and Sorrows lol I was so bored >.<

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