Yes, that’s right, I am not really a big fan (or much of a fan at all) of Harry Potter. This is not to say that it’s poorly written, and not perfectly capable of being beloved by millions, it’s just not my thing. So this is an attempt at a list of magical schools, or worlds, or people, etc, that are great alternatives to Harry Potter and the general magical Rowling world.
Disclaimer, these books are written for adults, with possible ya crossover interest, so adjust expectations accordingly.
- Roses and Rot, by Kat Howard
Probably I’ve put this in a Tuesday List before, but whatever. It’s magical, it’s a school, it’s got really interesting characters with a whole bunch of motivations, and just as much creepiness as you want to read into it. Also Kat Howard is a really excellent writer with a new novel out (An Unkindness of Magicians), and some very compelling short fiction including “Translatio Corporis” and “The Green Knight’s Wife.”
2. The Beautiful Ones, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This is a fantasy of manners novel in which magical abilities are something that can help and hinder, and that really play off gender and class structures in a way that is just as interesting as the unfolding drama of the story itself. A young woman grows up with both an interest in science and telekinetic abilities, neither of which conform to the expectations of her family, which is for her to go to the city, come out, meet an eligible man, and marry. But when the demons of the past, in the form of a telekinetic magician and former lover of her imperious aunt come to town, everything changes and Antonina must learn to trust herself.
3. Los Nefilim (trilogy), by T. Frohock
Comprising three novellas (In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, The Second Death), Los Nefilim has one of the most interesting magic systems I’ve ever encountered. The two magical races who inhabit the world are the Nefilim–angels– and Daimons, who have been at odds since the beginning of existence. Music and light are how they make magic, and Diago Alvarez is a gifted musician who wants none of the war between the two races. The only problem is, in 1930s Spain, war is brewing in both the human and magical worlds, and Diago may be the only one who can do anything about it.
4. Finishing School, (4-book series), by Gail Carriger
What’s better than a school set in a magical world? A school set in a magical world with steampunk. This series also takes itself (and the fate of the world) a lot less seriously, while really spinning the alternate victorian thing. And it’s still got its basic dose of colonizer, majority white except in cases where it’s really “warranted” logic down, so you won’t miss that if you read this instead of Harry Potter.
I jest. But not really. I loved the jokes about clothing and food and manners, but holy god you’ve really got to have a good gag reflex to set anything in Victorian England (and the empire) these days.
5. Spiritwalker (trilogy), by Kate Elliott
Hey, I had to get my Kate Elliott endorsement in there somewhere, didn’t I? So this a series in which a young woman discovers a birthright that she never could have expected, and also has to deal with the usual societal expectations, and also a war, and also it’s an alt-history in which the countries and empires we expect to see by the Victorian period never exist, because the Roman Empire didn’t fall out quite the way we remember it, and also there are elemental magics and magical families and it’s a pre-industrial revolution gaslamp fantasy setting somewhere along the lines of His Dark Materials and yet completely unique at the same time. A lot of fun, with a great narrative voice and a really good jumping off point for someone who wants to get into fantasy but doesn’t know what they like yet.