Complete in One Volume

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Complete in One Volume

Outstanding stand-alone fantasies for tweens and their adults

It all started with the Chronicles of Narnia. Or maybe it started with the 12 Wonderful Wizard of Oz sequels that L. Frank Baum wrote to meet the immense popular demand for more Oz stories. Perhaps it began when Lewis Carroll decided to write Alice Through the Looking-Glass, a sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

No matter who began the trend, in this age of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, the series is firmly established in the world of middle-grade fantasy fiction -- not to mention fantasy books for adults (George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan, anyone?).

And yet, I suspect that even the most ardent series fan (kid or adult) occasionally yearns for a tale that is (gasp!) complete in one volume. I know I do -- which is why I'm here to help, with a list of standalone fantasy titles to cleanse your tween's palate before jumping into the next series or trilogy.

Fantasy is a broad genre, so I've done my best to create a list with something to appeal to a wide variety of readers: 

Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne
In one London, Jack is an insatiably curious boy who is fascinated by machines and mostly ignored by his wealthy, fashionable parents. In another London, clockwork faeries roam the streets while airships soar above. And in that other London, the magician Havelock has been given a mission -- to kidnap a boy from the other world and bring him to the Faerie Queen. When Havelock's plans are thwarted and Jack follows him through the doorway between worlds, an adventure is set in motion and both worlds begin to change. This is a rewarding title for the patient reader, as each sentence is as polished as the clockwork faeries themselves, and the plot builds carefully toward a dramatic conclusion. 

Series Connection: Trevayne combines a modern, steampunk edge with a homage to the classics of British children's fantasy, so fans of classics like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin as well as modern classics like The Golden Compass should give it a try. 

Goblins by Philip Reeve
Scratcher, a goblin kicked out (catapulted with great force, actually) from his tower home due to an un-goblin-like interest in books and learning, and Henwyn, a runaway (human) cheese maker's son armed with a chipped sword and a love of heroic tales (and a limited amount of common sense), meet by chance and team up to rescue a princess. Absolutely nothing about their quest -- including the princess -- turns out the way they expect, but somehow they manage to save the kingdom from a great evil anyway.

Series Connection: The combination of heroic fantasy and snarky wit would appeal to fans of Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series (beginning with The Wee Free Men) or Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell's  Edge Chronicles (beginning with Beyond the Deepwoods). 

Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
Since her father died, Piper has lived alone and made her living by scavenging and fixing broken machines. Caught out during a dangerous meteor storm, she rescues a girl her own age who appears to be the only survivor from a stranded caravan. The girl remembers nothing but her name -- Anna -- but Piper recognizes her dragonfly tattoo as an emblem of wealth and privilege. Could Piper make her fortune by helping her? When a man comes after Anna, intent on forcing her to go with him, the two desperate girls stow away aboard the 401, a train whose crew of people with inexplicable powers may save them or lead them into further danger.  

Series Connection: This fast-paced adventure would be great for fans of Tony DiTerlizzi's far-future SF series (beginning with The Search for Wondla), as well as other fantasies starring daring girl heroines.  

Seaward by Susan Cooper
Cally is a dreamy, studious girl, anxiously waiting for word about her ill parents. On the other side of the world, Westerly is a quick-thinking boy trying to escape ruthless pursuers. Strange forces begin to meddle in both of their lives, and soon both find themselves in another world--one where reality works differently and they may be pawns in a game between forces that they don't fully understand.

Each passes separately through perilous adventures, until they finally meet and begin to work together, growing closer as they try to unravel their purpose in this strange dimension.  Despite the cover depicting a dragon swooping around a castle turret, this novel is more mysterious than action-packed, and should appeal to those who like puzzles, psychological suspense, and slowly unfolding revelations.

Series connection: This is cheating a little bit, but I think readers who like the unfolding mythic revelations of Susan Cooper's own series, The Dark is Rising, would enjoy this stand-alone work as well. Another possible read-alike is John Christopher's science fictional Tripods series (beginning with The White Mountains), in which the reader must investigate, along with the characters, how alien came to devolve society to a pre-technological state.

Smart Persons With Wings by Ellen Booraem
Don't call them fairies. Or tell anyone about them. Seriously. Mellie Turpin made that mistake in kindergarten -- and the results were the disappearance of her small, magical friend Fidius, and years of teasing from her classmates for daring to announce that she knew a real fairy. Now in middle school, Mellie's convinced herself (well, 98 percent of herself) that Fidius really was imaginary.  When her innkeeper grandfather passes away and leaves the family his inn, Mellie sees an opportunity to reinvent herself and leave the taunts behind forever.

But then she finds a small, winged woman -- a Small Person with Wings -- in the inn's cellar, and her parents can see her too! Pretty soon, Mellie is caught up in a mystery, a family legacy (or maybe a curse), and possibly an evil conspiracy. It'll take her brains, tenacity, and common sense--as well as some teamwork from the Small Persons with Wings--to save the day.

Series connection: Mellie's wry, witty narration is my favorite thing about this book, and her intelligence, stubbornness and anger remind me of the characters in  Diana Wynne Jones' Chronicles of Chrestomanci series, which is also about magic intersecting with a world that's much like ours. 

Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
Zahrah has known all her life that she's different.  She was born with dadalocks -- long, green vines symbiotically entwined with her hair. In her village of Kirki, dada people are respected for their wisdom, yet feared because they represent chaos and rebellion to some. And shy Zahrah, who feels neither wise nor rebellious, is bullied by a group of girls who accuse her of bringing bad luck. But when her best (and only) friend Dari is hurt during their exploration of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle, will she be able to harness her powers and conquer her fears in order to save him? 

This novel is a cool blend of science fiction and fantasy, with great world-building. Zahrah lives in an alternate universe where technology is organic -- buildings are crafted from gigantic living trees and computers are grown from seeds -- yet she also encounters magic.

Series connection: Part of what's so appealing about Zahrah the Windseeker is that it's different from a lot of fantasy novels, but readers who enjoy seeing timid characters grow into their power would appreciate Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl, the first novel in Hale's Books of Bayern series.