I thought I’d show you some of my favourite magical/supernatural books. This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I should point out that my memory is shocking these days, and many of the wonderful books I’ve read over the years I’ve sadly forgotten about. No doubt I’ll catch a glimpse of a cover on some site or other, and instantly recall that I loved that book, and how could I possibly have forgotten it?
But for now, these are the books I remember reading, which stood out for me as something special. Enjoy!
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
This is what happened. I saw it, and it is a true tale.
So begins the story of Merlin, born the illegitimate son of a Welsh princess in fifth century Britain, a world ravaged by war. Small and neglected, with his mother unwilling to reveal his father’s identity, Merlin must disguise his intelligence – and hide his occasional ability to know things before they happen – in order to keep himself safe.
One beautiful afternoon, while exploring the countryside near his home, Merlin stumbles across a cave filled with books and papers and hiding a room lined with crystals. It is the home of Galapas, who becomes Merlin’s tutor and friend, and who teaches Merlin to understand the world around him… and to harness the power of the crystal cave to see the future.
Merlin will rise to power and enter history – and legend – as advisor to King Arthur. But all stories must begin somewhere. And this is his.
The Crystal Cave is the first of Mary Stewart’s brilliant Arthurian Saga, telling the story of King Arthur from the perspective of the extraordinary, mysterious Merlin.
The series continues with The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, The Wicked Day and The Prince and the Pilgrim.
I read Mary’s Arthurian Saga decades ago when a friend introduced me to the first book, The Crystal Cave. I’m not entirely certain, but I think I might still have been at school at the time. If not, I’d have been in my very early twenties when I read them.
Anyway, it was a long time ago, but I’ve never forgotten how fixated I became on them and how, having read the first in the series, I couldn’t wait to get hold of the next, and the next…
I’ll admit, though, I hadn’t heard of the fifth in the series until writing this blog, so I’ve never read it. Something for my To Be Read pile.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
‘Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step on board and we can take you anywhere you want to go.’
When the Knight Bus crashes through the darkness and screeches to a halt in front of him, it’s the start of another far from ordinary year at Hogwarts for Harry Potter. Sirius Black, escaped mass-murderer and follower of Lord Voldemort, is on the run – and they say he is coming after Harry. In his first ever Divination class, Professor Trelawney sees an omen of death in Harry’s tea leaves… But perhaps most terrifying of all are the Dementors patrolling the school grounds, with their soul-sucking kiss…
This is the third in the series, which consists of: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
It was a close-run thing, choosing which of these books is my favourite. I love them all and I’m particularly fond of The Goblet of Fire, but this one just pipped it at the post.
I only discovered these books when I was a member of an online book club – one of those where they sent you a magazine every four weeks, with a book of the month which they’d selected for you.
You had to remember to cancel their selection (by post!) or they would send it to you, and you’d find yourself with all the hassle of returning it, or being stuck with a book you’d never read in a million years. This was back in the days before Amazon, when books were still considered an expensive treat.
I’d heard the buzz around Harry Potter, but didn’t take much notice until the book club flagged up a pre-order offer for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Thinking I should really find out what all the fuss was about I ordered it. Of course, when it came and I realised it was Book Four in the series, I couldn’t bring myself to read it without going back and reading the others first.
I was hooked from page one of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I remember pre-ordering Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and staying up all night to read it in one sitting. It was a huge book and I doubt I’d have the energy to do that these days, but oh how I loved Harry Potter. Still do!
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
It is Midwinter’s Eve, the night before Will’s eleventh birthday. But there is an atmosphere of fear in the familiar countryside around him. Will is about to make a shocking discovery – that he is the last person to be born with the power of the Old Ones, and as a guardian of the Light he must begin a dangerous journey to vanquish the terrifyingly evil magic of the Dark.
I’m not entirely sure when I first read this series, but I know I was an adult. A lot of my favourite witchy and magical books are marketed as children’s books, but my inner child must be alive and well and thriving, because I love them! Don’t dismiss them, whatever you do. You’ll miss out on some truly amazing stories if you do.
I loved all these books, and honestly wouldn’t want to pick a favourite, so I’ve just gone for the one that gives the series its name. The first book, Over Sea, Under Stone was written some time before the others and has a different tone, but it’s just as enjoyable in my opinion.
The running order for The Dark is Rising sequence is: Over Sea Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, Silver on the Tree.
It’s some years since I read them and, to be honest, the details of them are hazy. I just remember how gripped I was by them, and the fact that I still have them all, and didn’t consign them to the charity shop during one of my many clear outs, says a lot. Time for a reread I think!
The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis
When orphans Ben and Jennet arrive in the seaside town of Whitby to stay with Alice Boston, they have no idea what to expect. A lively 92-year-old, Miss Boston is unlike any other foster mother they’ve known.
Ben is gifted with ‘the sight’, which gives him the power to see things invisible to other mortals. He soon encounters the mysterious fisher folk who live under the cliffs and discovers that Alice and her friends are not quite what they seem.
But a darkness is stalking the streets of Whitby, bringing with it fear and death. Could it be a ghost from the Abbey? Or a beast from hell? Unless the truth is uncovered, the town and all its inhabitants is doomed.
The series continues with A Warlock in Whitby and The Whitby Child, which are equally as gripping.
I’ve just discovered that Robin Jarvis has written a new series called The Witching Legacy, also set in Whitby, which begins with The Power of Dark and continues with The Devil’s Paintbox and Time of Blood, so I’ve just downloaded the first one of those.
I spotted The Whitby Witches, appropriately, in the Whitby Bookshop on a day trip with my kids, and I bought it immediately – for them, obviously. Ahem.
Needless to say, I was the first (and possibly only) member of the family to read it, and I absolutely loved it. So much so that I bought the next two in the series straightaway, and I’ve read them all several times over.
The editions I have are quite old and the illustrations in those books are absolutely fabulous. The model for the main character is so obviously inspired by Margaret Rutherford in full Miss Marple mode that I would have bought them just for the pictures. I’m not sure if the later editions have the same illustrations, but either way, the stories are brilliant, and the setting – well, it’s Whitby. What more do you need?
Threadneedle by Cari Thomas
Within the boroughs of London, nestled among its streets, hides another city, filled with magic.
‘Magic and love. Love and magic. They destroy everything in the end …’
Anna’s Aunt has always warned her of the dangers of magic. Its twists. Its knots. Its deadly consequences.
Now Anna counts down the days to the ceremony that will bind her magic forever.
Until she meets Effie and Attis.
They open her eyes to a London she never knew existed. A shop that sells memories. A secret library where the librarian feeds off words. A club where revellers lose themselves in a haze of spells.
But as she is swept deeper into this world, Anna begins to wonder if her Aunt was right all along.
Is her magic a gift … or a curse?
My most recent magical read. I was attracted, in large part, by the stunningly beautiful cover. I bought the hardback version and it sits on my shelf, looking absolutely gorgeous. But the story within its pages is just as incredible.
It’s got a bit of a Young Adult feel to it, but there are some very grown-up elements to the story. It’s a bit Harry Potter, a bit The Craft, plus a whole lot more, as a group of misfits at a public school in London discover they all have one thing in common…
This is the first in the new The Language of Magic series, and I’m really looking forward to the next one. I hope I don’t have to wait too long. On the other hand, this was a big book and I know this series will take a lot of writing, so I promise to be patient.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
It begins with absence and desire. It begins with blood and fear. It begins with a discovery of witches.
A world of witches, daemons and vampires.
A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future.
Diana and Matthew – the forbidden love at the heart of it.
When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires.
Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire geneticist.
Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…
I was given this trilogy as a present and I raced through the first book in record time. When the television series came out I thought it was done really well, though obviously it wasn’t quite the same. However, I struggled to read Shadow of Night, and before I could get halfway through it, the second series was on tv! I watched it and thought it much easier to follow, with a faster pace than the book. Now I have the dilemma whether or not to read the third book or watch the series first. Either way, A Discovery of Witches, book one in the All Souls trilogy is an incredible novel, and definitely one of my favourites.
Beltane by Alys West
Struggling artist, Zoe arrives in Glastonbury seeking inspiration. The small Somerset town is steeped in myth and legend and Zoe’s sure it’ll be the perfect place to work on a book about King Arthur. But behind the shops selling witchcraft supplies and crystals real magic is being practised.
When Zoe meets Finn her life changes forever. Not only is he a druid connected to the ancient energies of the earth but she dreamed about him long before they met. Finn’s life is in terrible danger and Zoe’s dreams start to reveal more of the plot against him.
After dreaming of a deadly battle at a stone circle on Dartmoor, Zoe starts to wonder if the dark magic around her is playing tricks of its own or if she really can see the future. Will she learn to trust Finn, and herself, in time to stand any hope of surviving the powerful magic that will be unleashed at Beltane? Or is it already too late?
Alys West has written two novels so far in her series, The Spellworker Chronicles. I’ve read and enjoyed both of them, but I selected Beltane as my favourite, probably because I love Glastonbury so much, and the Green Man fascinates me, and just look at that cover! The series continues with Storm Witch, which is set in Orkney, and is every bit as gripping. I’m looking forward to seeing where Alys West takes us next.
The Chalice by Phil Rickman
Glastonbury, legendary resting place of the Holy Grail, is a mysterious and haunting town. But when plump, dizzy Diane Ffitch returns home, it’s with a sense of deep unease – and not only about her aristocratic family’s reaction to her broken engagement and her New Age companions.
Plans for a new motorway have intensified the old bitterness between the local people and the ‘pilgrims’, so already the sacred air is soured. And, as the town becomes increasingly split by violence and death, Diane, local bookseller Juanita Carey and the writer Joe Powys must now face up to the worst of all possibilities: the existence of an anti-Grail – the dark chalice.
Honestly, I am such a fan of Phil Rickman’s books! Having said that, I’m probably a bit unusual among his fans in that I haven’t read the Merrily Watkins books. That is, I’ve only read the first two. I have every single one of them on my Kindle and keep saying I’ll get round to reading them, but it’s his standalones I want to mention right now.
They are gripping, and sometimes flipping terrifying! These are not strictly about magic – they are more supernatural thrillers – but I included them because there’s definitely an otherworldy feel to them, and more than a hint of the unexplained. Also, I should point out that they’re quite dark, and definitely not children’s or young adult books! (With the possible exception of the Marco books – see below.)
The Chalice is the first one I read, and how I discovered Phil’s books. I was obsessed with Glastonbury at the time (what do I mean, at the time?) and looking for any books that mentioned the town. The Chalice is so creepy and so fantastic I couldn’t put it down.
Other books set in Glastonbury include Marco’s Pendulum and Marco and the Blade of Night, which were originally written under a pseudonym and aimed at younger readers, but were just as exciting, if a teensy bit less scary. I’m glad they’re now published under Phil’s own name.
Phil has written a lot of books, most of them within the Merrily Watkins series. But outside of those novels (which are about a female Church of England vicar and exorcist) his backlist is still pretty impressive. Here are just a few of them: Candlenight, Curfew, December, The Man in the Moss, The Cold Calling, The Bones of Avalon… My tip is don’t read them if you’re alone, and especially not at night!
Once Upon a Winter by Valerie-Anne Baglietto
Marrying the man of your dreams might be more literal than you think…
For Nell Jones the dream wasn’t to last, though, and after struggling for years to bring up her twins on her own, she returns home to her family and the picture-book Welsh village where she grew up.
While Nell’s daughter seems more or less a typical nine-year-old, her son isn’t exactly average. No one can say why he is the way he is, until the village ‘psychic’ meets him for the first time. Suddenly, Nell has to question whether the husband who abandoned her seven years earlier was everything he seemed.
Without warning one night, he reappears in her life, throwing everything into disarray again and jeopardising a potential new romance. But whether she wants to or not, and regardless of the consequences, Nell is about to discover just how fine a line it is between fact … and fairy tale.
I love all Valerie-Anne’s books, so I’ve chosen this one as it’s the one that introduced me to her beautiful writing. If you love well-written stories with fairy tale twists these are the books for you!
That’s my round-up of my favourites for now. If I think of any more – or read any new ones I love – I’ll add them in, as and when. Do you have any favourite witchy/magical books? I’d love to hear about them!
Have a great week.