Sometimes we need a break from the never ending trilogies and high fantasy sagas. I certainly do! I’ve just finished working my way through Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments and have the rest of her books and the ACOTAR series lined up and ready to go, but first I really need a breather! Because of this, I’ve been reading a fair few standalones in the last couple of weeks and I’ve been loving it! Sometimes you just want to dip into something new or have a bit of fun without the commitment of a whole long series. This is exactly why, though, I think it can be hard to get standalones right! You don’t have a whole first book to dedicate to character development and world building, you’ve just got to get straight to the point! I think that’s where a lot of them flop. You have 300-400 words to strike the balance of just enough set up to make the story work, but not too much that you’re halfway in and nothing has happened (I’m looking at you, Hazel Wood…). So here I present to you: my list of standalones that I reckon are pretty damn good.
1. The Wicked Deep
I read this recently and I found it to be such a dark, interesting read. We follow Penny Talbot who has lived in the run-down seaside town of Sparrow for her whole life, and every year without fail, boys have turned up dead in the harbour. The legend of Sparrow tells of three beautiful sisters who two centuries ago were accused of witchcraft and drowned by fearful inhabitants of the town. However, the dead don’t always stay dead, and every summer, for 3 weeks, the spirits of the Swan sisters inhabit the bodies of girls from the town with the sole purpose of exacting their revenge, and dragging the towns father, sons and brothers to their watery graves.
This book is incredible atmospheric. It is the ULTIMATE dark rainy day read. Binge this on a stormy night and you are set! I read it on a beautiful British summer afternoon, which couldn’t have been further from the tone set in these pages, but suddenly I found myself transported to an overcast, drizzly day in Sparrow, Oregon. Half of the appeal of this book is atmosphere, and it will lead you on a dark, twisty, witch hunt that will leave you creeped out and emotionally conflicted.
2. The Kiss Quotient
I am so excited to talk about this book! I am not a romance reader but I decided to take a punt on this one and I’m so glad I did! This charming, sexy story is about a successful econometrist called Stella Lane. Stella’s life is sorted; she has the dream job, a nice apartment, great car and bags of money but the one thing she hasn’t got is a boyfriend. As someone with high-functioning autism, Stella struggles with sex and romance. She just can’t figure it out! Enter Michael, the gorgeous Kpop star look-alike and escort who Stella hires to teach her the art of seduction in preparation for a real relationship. However, even a professional relationship in the interests of science can get messy when you throw emotions into the mix…
I loved the portrayal of Stella in this book. She was successful and financially independent in her own right, and only needed to pursue a relationship because she wanted to. I also loved the portrayal of autism; Helen Hoang also has autism so writes Stella in a way that feels real and representative. As a woman with a disability myself, I also love that Stella doesn’t let it define her! It is simply part of what makes her the way she is, and that’s the way she likes it. This book is not about someone finding love in spite of her autism, it is simply a beautiful woman finding love whilst being authentically herself. It’s sexy, and fun and addicting. It’s does fall prey tomany cliches but I think the nature of the story and the already unique nature of the characters means that this works rather than hinders. This book is both steamy and heart-warming, and PERFECT for the summer! If you want to dip your toes into the romance pool, this is a fantastic place to start.
I feel like sometimes fantasy lovers can miss out when it comes to standalones; it’s hard to develop a full high fantasy world and magic system in the space of one averagely sized book. However, Uprooted by Naomi Novik is full of magic and set in a gorgeously written fairytale world. We follow a young woman named Agnieszka, who has lived in a small village surrounded by a dark enchanted wood for her whole life. The wood takes innocent people from the village and returns them in a violent frenzy, or sends abominable creatures to wreak havoc. Without the protection of an ageless, stonecold wizard named The Dragon the villagers would be long lost to the forest. However, in return for this protection, The Dragon takes a young woman from the village every 10 years to serve him. When the next chosing comes Agnieszka, plain jane of the village, thinks herself safe and all fears are for her beautiful best friend Kasia. However, it is not Kasia that The Dragon wants. With an increasing threat from the enchanted wood, and tensions between neighbouring kindgoms rising, Agnieszka finds herself alone in the middle of it with only a cold, heartless, ancient wizard for company.
Within the realms of just over 400 pages, Novik creates three dimensional characters, a magic system with history, a fleshed out world with politics and a troubled past, and even her own creatures. This is a real testament to her skill as a writer. This book is gripping, dark and even features some spicy romance. It’s atmospheric and so wonderfully descriptive. It combines a discovery of magic, character arcs, political intrigue and a magical war all into a very solid standalone. If you’re looking for a really exciting fantasy without the commitment of long books or long series, then this one is for you! Perhaps if you’re just looking to get into fantasy, or simply fancy a break in between then I urge you to give this one a go. Even if you don’t like it, I guarantee it will be one of the most beautiful books on your shelf!
4. My Lady Jane
This book is one of my favourite books in the whole world, and I just simply adore it! This is a retelling of the Mid Tudor Crisis, in which Edward VI decided not to allow the throne to pass to his sister Mary, but instead to revise the line of succession in order to hand the throne to Lady Jane Grey (famously known as the nine-days queen). If you went to school in the UK, then you likely know how the events play out. If you didn’t, then this probably new to you. In either case, FORGET EVERYTHING! This book will throw everything you know out of the window and replace it with a hilarious portrayal of historical figures and a complete bastardisation of the history, in the best possible way. I have an A Level in Tudor history, so I honestly thought I would hate how they’ve changed things, but the story is so wonderful and the characters so hilarious that I fell in love with this book regardless. I think it’s best to jump into this knowing very little other than this: there is love, politics, plots, shapeshifting and adventure. What more could you want? If you want something to abosolutely devour and make you laugh until you cry, then pick this one up! I can’t recommend it enough.
5. To Kill A Kingdom
To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo is a dark, twisted retelling of The Little Mermaid. Sold yet? That’s all it took for me! The moment I saw this cover I knew I needed to get my hands on it ASAP. Since then it has just become more and more popular, completely deservedly so. This is a dual perspective YA fantasy and is everything I need in life. We follow Lira, daughter of the vicious Sea Queen and deadly killer siren. Known to humans as the Prince’s Bane, Lira has been killing royals and stealing their hearts (literally) since she could swim. We also follow Elian, the siren-hunting pirate prince (swoon. Captain Hook vibes, anyone?). When Lira’s tail and enthralling siren song are taken from her after she falls out of favour with her mother she is rescued by Elian. Little does he know that Lira is after his heart, and the very creature he has set out to destroy has landed right at his feet. But what happens when these two sworn mortal enemies start to realise they are more alike than it seems?
This is a beautiful story of humanity and self-development. If you want some real slow-burn character development then this one is for you! This is the kind of book to make you shout out loud when things go bad, and make involuntary happy sounds when things go good. It’s well worth a read and is a great addition to the fairytale retelling genre.
So there we have it! I hope you enjoy these recommendations and find something here that takes your fancy. Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you thought of them! I’ve really enjoyed every one of these books and look forward to reading more standalones. Who knows, maybe I’ll make a part two!