The Dragon’s Gold: 20 of the Best Award-Winning Fantasy Books
We have covered award-winning sci-fi and award-winning horror books before. But you know what? It’s time for one of my favorite genres to shine! That’s right, today I’m talking about some of the best award-winning fantasy books you can read. I actually love checking out these awards lists because it’s fun to both discover new reads among the nominees and see if some of my favorites are on them, too.
There are many awards for fantasy books out there. But I’ve decided to focus on seven of the most popular ones for this list. I’ve included the well-known Hugo Awards as well as the Lodestar Awards for YA books. Of course the World Fantasy Award is here too. And in a twist, I decided to include the Goodreads Choice Award as well, seeing as thousands upon thousands of people cast their vote. No matter who chose these books though, they’re all amazing and magical stories that deserve the recognition!
You will also notice that most of these award-winning fantasy books were published much more recently. That’s because when I was researching this piece, I found that the last few years have brought more recognition for authors of color, something that was severely lacking before that. I can just hope that each year brings more and more diverse stories to the hands of readers thanks to these awards.
But without further ado, let’s take a look at 20 of the best award-winning fantasy books you can read!
The Best Award-Winning Fantasy Books
Harpist in the Wind (Riddle-Master #3) by Patricia A. McKillip
Winner of the Locus Award 1980
McKillip was the first female writer to win a Locus Award, which she did with Harpist in the Wind! It’s the third and final installment in the Riddle-Master series. The story follows prince Morgon of Hed and his companion Raederle of An as they set out to finally discover the identities of the shape changers who follow them — which leads them in one last thrilling adventure across the realm.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Winner of the Hugo Award, Locus Award, Nebula Award, and Bram Stoker Award 2002–2003
Neil Gaiman has several award-winning fantasy books under his belt, but American Gods in particular has won a lot of awards! The story follows a man named Shadow, who just got out of jail when his wife is killed in a car accident. Grieving, Shadow takes a job as the bodyguard of the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. This man is actually an incarnation of one of the Old Gods, and their mission across the U.S. is to recruit more deities in a battle against the New Gods.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Winner of the Hugo Award, Locus Award for Best First Novel, and World Fantasy Award 2005
This is an alternate history type of fantasy that introduces a magical England in the early 19th century. The book follows the mysterious Mr. Norrell, the last magician left in the country. Or so he thinks. For it turns out that another man, Jonathan Strange, can also wield magic. Despite being complete opposites, Jonathan becomes Mr. Norrell’s apprentice. This kickstarts a history of feuds and antics between the two that will change the course of history forever.
Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
Winner of the Locus Award 2009
Lavinia is an incredible character study that reimagines a classic character from Greek myth. Specifically, Ursula K. Le Guin uses this novel to explore a woman who is underrated in The Aeneid — the titular Lavinia! This woman was the daughter of King Latinus, destined to marry none other than the hero Aeneas and found an empire. In this book she already knows this — and much more about her future. Lavinia will take matters into her own hands and finally tell her own story.
Among Others by Jo Walton
Winner of the Hugo Award, British Fantasy Award, and Nebula Award 2011-2012
Among Others is the only epistolary book on this list — written as the diary of the main character. The author describes it as the story of “a science fiction reader who has fantasy problems.” It all begins with twins Morwenna and Morgana, who grew up in the hills of Wales with magic and the occasional fae. But their lives are turned upside down when their mother, a power-hungry witch, attempts to take over the world. The conflict with their mother goes sideways, and Mori runs away in an attempt to start over.
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
Winner of the British Fantasy Award, Crawford Award, and World Fantasy Award 2014
A Stranger in Olondria follows Jevick, the son of a merchant who takes yearly selling trips to Olondria. This is a magical place in which books are everywhere — and Jevick loves hearing stories about it. So when his father dies, Jevick very willingly takes his place. The problem is, he is now haunted by the ghost of an illiterate girl. Jevick seeks the help of two Olondrian priests, who instead make him a pawn in their conflict. And to set himself free of them, he must set free his own ghost as well.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Winner of the Nebula Award and the Locus Award and the British Fantasy Award 2015–2016
Uprooted is a more classic kind of epic fantasy complete with dragons and wizards! The story follows Agnieszka, who lives in a village near the evil woods. Their only shield against this dark place is a wizard known as Dragon, and he comes at a terrible price. Every ten years, a young woman must join the wizard and serve him for the following decade. Agnieszka fears he will choose her beloved friend Kasia this time — only it’s not Kasia’s turn to join his ranks.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Winner of the Hugo Award 2016
I chose to add The Fifth Season to this list, but the entire Broken Earth trilogy actually won the Hugo Award! Jemisin took the trophy home for three consecutive years. The story is set in a broken world that is about to see the worst Fifth Season in its history. It is in this context that we follow three women named Essun, Damaya, and Syenite. Essun is a villager whose husband just murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Damaya is a powerful orogene, and her family has sent her to the Fulcrum — a place where they’ll teach her to control her powers and then use her as a weapon. Lastly there’s Syenite, who is already a trainee at the Fulcrum camp. The three of them have their own journeys, and each one is as spectacular as rest.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Winner of the Nebula Award and the Locus Award 2017
This book is a brilliant mix of sci-fi and fantasy that actually pits magic against science! All the Birds in the Sky follows two childhood friends named Patricia and Laurence. Patricia is a witch, and Laurence a mad scientist. They parted ways after a mysterious conflict in middle school and hadn’t seen each other since. Now, as adults, they meet once again in San Francisco and their actions could help save the world — or end it.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Debut Author 2018 and the Lodestar Award 2019
Moving on to an incredible YA fantasy inspired by African mythology! Children of Blood and Bone follows a girl named Zélie, whose mother was killed when all of Orïsha’s magic users were persecuted by the monarchy. Now, years later, Zélie comes face to face with Princess Amari. The princess has in her possession a magical scroll that can awaken any maji’s powers. Determined to bring back magic to Orïsha and with newfound powers, Zélie teams up with Amari on the quest of their lives.
Jade City by Fonda Lee
Winner of the World Fantasy Award 2018
Jade City is what you get when you put The Godfather in an urban fantasy setting — which is to say, a kick-ass story full of martial arts, magic, and plenty of action! The story follows the Kaul family, one of the main crime syndicates that rule the island of Kekon. They are also a Green Bone clan, which means they have the ability to use jade to gain these incredible powers. The problem is, tensions are brewing between the Kauls and another clan — and both families are powerful enough to determine the fate of the whole island.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards and Book of the Month Book of the Year Award 2018
Madeline Miller’s Circe is easily one of the best-known Greek mythology retellings you can read! This book gives a new voice to the character of Circe, who was often considered a villain in the original Greek stories. She was the daughter of the Titan Helios and lived in his realm until she committed an unspeakable act with her magic. From that point on, Circe had to carve her own way through the world, often enjoying the company of mortals despite her banishment. But despite living alone on her island, danger lurks in the shadows and Circe will have to fight to protect what she loves.
Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor
Winner of the Lodestar Award and Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel 2018
The first book to earn the Lodestar Award for YA fantasy was Okorafor’s sequel to Akata Witch! The story continues the adventures of Sunny Nwazue, who joined the secret Leopard Society and helped save the world. Now, she continues to study her Nsibidi book in order to unlock its secrets. Everything seems calmer now. But Sunny can’t escape her destiny forever — and her road leads to another epic battle that could change the fate of the world once more.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards 2019
Ninth House was very popular when it came out in 2019, so it’s no wonder readers chose it as the best fantasy book of the year in the Goodreads Choice Awards! This book kicks off the adventures of Alex Stern, a member of Yale’s Ninth House. They’re in charge of keeping the other secret societies and their occult activities in line — and Alex was specifically chosen for this role thanks to her ability to see ghosts. But her mentor Darlington just disappeared, and it’s up to Alex to find him and unearth the dark secrets of her new university.
Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender
Winner of the World Fantasy Award 2020
Queen of the Conquered is a Caribbean-inspired fantasy that explores the devastating effects of colonial oppression. The story follows a young woman named Sigourney Rose. She has the power to control minds, and a plan to enact her revenge on the people who killed her family. This plan involves infiltrating the ranks of her island’s ruling colonizers. But someone is killing them off one by one to clear themselves a path for the throne — which means that Sigourney is on their path of rampage.
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Winner of the World Fantasy Award 2021
Trouble the Saints is a dark yet magical historical fantasy set 1940s New York, right at the beginning of WWII. The story follows a woman named Phyllis. She’s hired as a hitwoman by one of Manhattan’s cruelest boss mobs — all thanks to her powers. Phyllis has “saints’ hands”, which allows her to swiftly kill her boss’s enemies. But she doesn’t like being a cold-blooded killer, and a visit from her past may be the key to changing her whole life.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
Winner of the Lodestar Award and Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book 2021
The next YA book on this list has a super unique and fun combination of baking + magic. A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking follows the story of 14-year-old Mona. She uses her magical powers to create the most delicious concoctions for her family’s bakery. But one day she finds a corpse on the bakery floor. It’s quickly apparent that someone is targeting magical people in the city — and Mona could be the next victim. To make things worse, the city is under attack and Mona is charged with defending it. What could possibly go wrong?
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
Winner of the Nebula Award 2022
Moving on to this incredibly fun fantasy that is set in an alternate 1912 Cairo and has the most immaculate steampunk vibes! A Master of Djinn continues the adventures of Agent Fatma, which began with the short story “A Dead Djinn in Cairo“. Fatma works for the Ministry of Alchemy, and this time she’s tasked with investigating the murder of the mysterious Brotherhood of al-Jahiz, a.k.a. the man who brought magic into the world. The problem is, the murderer claims to be al-Jahiz himself. Is it really him or is it an imposter? Fatma will have to discover the truth before the city descends into absolute chaos.
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
Winner of the British Fantasy Award 2022
This is an incredible literary fantasy that reimagines the rise of emperor Zhu Yuanzhuan, who founded the Ming dynasty in 14th century China! She Who Became the Sun follows an unnamed girl of the Zhu family, who is given the fate of nothingness while her brother is destined for greatness. But when their father dies, her brother dies of grief. Zhu is now left alone, and in order to survive she decides to take her brother’s name and his fate.
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Winner of the World Fantasy Award 2022
Last but not least, this is an incredible fantasy inspired by the history and epics of India! The Jasmine Throne is full of political intrigue as it follows a princess and a maidservant who must work together to decide the fate of an empire. The princess is named Malini, and she was imprisoned by her dictator brother. Priya is one of her maidservants, and she hides a dangerous secret — she can wield forbidden magic. When Malini discovers Priya’s secret, the two strike a deal so that Malini can depose her treacherous brother and Priya can finally find her family.
So those were 20 of the best award-winning fantasy books. But if you’re looking for more amazing reads, check out some of the most influential fantasy books of all time! We’ve also talked about the best fantasy novels of the last decade. Or alternatively you can dive into our SFF Archives for all kinds of magical and bookish content!