Courtesy of Orbit Books

April 9, 2024

Fantasy Favorites: Duology Recommendations

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As an avid fantasy reader, I have read everything from stand-alones to eight-book series with equal eagerness. However, I have found it can be extremely intimidating to start a lengthy series, while stand-alones often lack the development I seek in my fantasy worlds. In my opinion, duologies, or two-book series, offer a perfect middle ground. You don’t have to say goodbye to your favorite characters too soon, but you aren’t committing weeks or even months to a single plot. 

Dance of Thieves

A fantasy duology that has gained hype over the last few years is the young adult Dance of Thieves series by Mary E. Pearson. I started my year off with this highly-rated series. The storyline follows the two main characters, Kazi and Jace, as they are thrust together into a dangerous situation. I really enjoyed their heated interactions as the two evolve from enemies to lovers. Fearless Kazi and cunning Jace come from different kingdoms, as Kazi is sent by her queen with a group of her closest companions to investigate diplomatic issues in Jace’s kingdom. He is the new ruler of the Ballenger empire now that his father has died, but is struggling to assert his dominance. Both characters have very strong personalities which makes for excellent banter between the two. There is also a superb found family element in the story and great backstories for the main characters and side characters, including Jace’s eleven siblings. The fantasy element of the book mostly comes from the small warring kingdoms and regal politics surrounding them. I gave the first book five stars as it was very action-packed and had all of the elements I was looking for in a fantasy. The second book was a four-star read as it was a little more drawn out, but I still really enjoyed learning more about the main characters and their world and thought it wrapped up the duology nicely.

Letters of Enchantment

I also read the recently completed Letters of Enchantment duology by Rebecca Ross. These books just came out within the past year and have gained a lot of traction in the fantasy community. These novels follow Iris Winnow and Roman Kitt as they work as journalists during a war between gods. The two are workplace rivals with complicated home lives. One of my favorite aspects was the letters between the two main characters using magical typewriters. They are able to get to know each other better through their missives and eventually have a very sweet and old-fashioned romance story. I also appreciated how the setting changes part way through the first book as the two go to the front line to provide the most recent news on war developments. While I wish these books had more action, I think they are appropriate for readers who are just getting into fantasy and want an easier world to understand. For the most part, the magical elements are concentrated in the typewriters — albeit with the addition of some musical magic in the second book. I gave both books five stars, though I will say I enjoyed the first book a little more.

The Shepherd King

My most recent fantasy duology read was The Shepherd King duology by Rachel Gillig. Also completed in the past year and highly rated, this duology was darker, featuring more gothic elements. The main character, Elspeth, was infected by an illness that left her with a voice in her head named “The Nightmare” who is slowly taking over control of her body. The ruler of the kingdom she lives in is also hunting down and killing all the infected with similar magical abilities. Elspeth teams up with the king’s nephew, Raven, to find a deck of magical cards that should stop the infection. I really liked the unique setting of these books, as the different villages in the kingdom are surrounded by mist-shrouded forests with dark and dangerous magic. The magic system was a little hard to follow at some times, as there are multiple interconnected elements that are not necessarily clear from the beginning of the story. Again, a romance forms between Elspeth and Raven that captured my interest. However, there is a twist at the end of the first book that means most of the second book focuses on the development of another couple. While I also enjoyed their story, I do wish we got more of Elspeth and Raven. Again, I rated both books five stars but will say they felt like very different fantasies. The first book was more focused on Elspeth and Raven whereas we are given other characters’ viewpoints in the second book. However, I think this shift did provide engaging plot points that ensured both books were action-packed. This duology is perfect for anyone looking for an eerie and spooky fantasy. 

In all three of these duologies, I found the character and plot development I wanted without feeling like I deserved a degree for the time spent reading world-building and trivial scenes. Please pick up these duologies for perfect-length fantasy reads.

Emma Robinson is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].