Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Best Portal Fantasy Novels

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If you're reading this on the day it's posted, happy Halloween! 

Halloween is the day of the year when the veil between our world and the afterlife is thinnest, which makes it the perfect day to read portal fantasies.

What's a portal fantasy? It's a story that involves characters from one world traveling through a portal to another world.

In honor of Halloween, here are my thirteen favorite portal fantasies (in publication order because I can't pick a favorite-favorite).

🏰  Best Portal Fantasy Books  🌟

Alice's Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

When Alice sees a white rabbit take a watch out of its waistcoat pocket she decides to follow it, and a sequence of most unusual events is set in motion.

Why I love it: It was a childhood favorite. I read my copy so many times that the covers fell off. The plot is unpredictable and imaginative. Alice finds herself in a world where literally anything can happen. You won’t forget these bizarre characters. (My favorite is the Cheshire Cat.) There’s a reason why the characters have been beloved by readers for 150 years. They’ll stick in your mind and never leave.

The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Follow the yellow brick road! Dorothy thinks she's lost forever when a tornado whirls her and her dog, Toto, into a magical world. To get home, she must find the wonderful wizard in the Emerald City of Oz. On the way she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion. But the Wicked Witch of the West has her own plans for the new arrival—will Dorothy ever see Kansas again?

Why I love it: Another childhood favorite. I grew up in a place with frequent tornados, and this book gave me literal nightmares. Aside from the nightmare-inducing portal tornado, it's a sweet adventure story about friendship.

The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Four adventurers step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia—a land enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice.

Why I love it: I remember my third-grade teacher reading this book to my class. I was completely captivated by the thought of an entire world hidden inside a wardrobe. It's a fast-paced adventure tale full of magical creatures.

The Talisman by Stephen King & Peter Straub

Jack Sawyer is searching for the Talisman, the only thing that can save his dying mother. His quest takes him into the menacing Territories where violence, surprise and the titanic struggle between good and evil reach across a mythic landscape . . . a journey into the dark heart of horror.

Why I love it: I read this book over, and over, and over as a young teenager. There are bits of it that will be stuck in my mind forever. It has all the stuff you'd expect from Stephen King: weird plot twists, kids battling the supernatural, and monsters that will keep you up all night.

Buy it on Amazon

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal—including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.

Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want—but what Lyra doesn't know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other.

Why I love it: His Dark Materials was one of my childhood favorite book series. The first book, The Golden Compass, is set in a far-north land that's ruled by polar bears, ghosts, and scientists with dangerous ambitions. It's one of the most imaginative books I've ever read. The world-building is stunning. How did the author come up with all these details?

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry's eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin.

Why I love it: This is the book that sparked my love of portal fantasies. Some of you might understand how badly child-me wanted to travel through Platform 9 3/4 or Diagon Alley. I suspect that a lot of young bookworms had the same desire.

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Coraline by Neil Gaiman

In Coraline's family's new flat are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close.

The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own.

Only it's different.

At first, things seem marvelous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom, books whose pictures writhe and crawl and shimmer, little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. But there's another mother, and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Other children are trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She will have to fight with all her wits and all the tools she can find if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.

Why I love it: You will see those button eyes in your nightmares! Nobody is braver than Coraline. She opens a door into a parallel universe and fights all the monsters inside. She does what's right, even though it's scary.

Buy it on Amazon

Lisey's Story by Stephen King

Lisey Debusher Landon lost her husband, Scott, two years ago, after a twenty-five year marriage of the most profound and sometimes frightening intimacy. Scott was an award-winning, bestselling novelist and a very complicated man. Early in their relationship, before they married, Lisey had to learn from him about books and blood and bools. Later, she understood that there was a place Scott went—a place that both terrified and healed him, that could eat him alive or give him the ideas he needed in order to live. Now it's Lisey's turn to face Scott's demons, Lisey's turn to go to Boo'ya Moon. What begins as a widow's efforts to sort through the papers of her celebrated husband becomes a nearly fatal journey into the darkness he inhabited.

Why I love it: I've read a lot of Stephen King novels, and this book feels rawer and more honest than his other books. It's about grief and how difficult it can be to love a mentally ill person. It's also about a freakin' weird parallel universe!

Buy it on Amazon

Daughter Of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands", she speaks many languages—not all of them human—and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Why I love it: If I had to give an award for best plot twists, this novel would get it. I've read thousands of books in my life. None of them have shocked me as many times as this one. That's all I want to say because you need to read it for yourself!

Buy it on Amazon

A Darker Shade Of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.

Why I love it: The characters have so much personality, and it’s easy to fall in love with them. The dialogue is sharp, smart, and funny. I spent the whole book fangirling over the wonderful adventures and Kell’s fabulous coat. Seriously, I want that coat.

Buy it on Amazon

Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere . . . else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced . . . they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Why I love it: The cover and synopsis sound sweet and innocent, but the insides are dark and bloody. Every character is a weirdo because they’ve spent years in worlds that don’t make sense. The characters are eager to get back to their portal worlds, even though some of the worlds are horrible. I guess it’s easy to overlook creepy things when you’re an important person in a scary place.

Buy it on Amazon

Nevermoor: The Trials Of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she's blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks—and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It's then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city's most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart—an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests—or she'll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.


Why I love it: Magic curses! And monsters! And giant talking cats! I’m obsessed with this middle grade series. It reminds me of the excitement and happiness I felt while reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Harry Potter as a kid. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, ridiculous, action-packed, and great for kids who love (mostly) lighthearted fantasy. This is the epitome of magical escapist literature.


Buy it on Amazon

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice's life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice's grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away—by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: "Stay away from the Hazel Wood."

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother's cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Why I love it: I enjoyed the heck out of this Alice in Wonderland retelling. If you like Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart A Doorway, you need to check out this series.  The Hazel Wood is a darkly compelling mystery with tons of twists. Also, best of all, it's creepy.

Buy it on Amazon

What's your favorite portal fantasy?


  1. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is a favorite of mine!

  2. Happy Halloween. I like portal fantasies. :)

    Here is my Top Ten Tuesday post.


  3. Growing up in Kansas I have always felt like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written for those of us living out in farmland.
    From your list, EVERY HEART A DOORWAY sounds like an amazing read.

  4. Coraline is so dang good. Still shocked it's aimed at elementary school age kids. Hahaha. Also, Every Heart a Doorway is fabulous.

    Here is our Top Ten Tuesday. Thank you!

  5. Portal fantasies is such an interesting topic choice! I love it! Happy Halloween!

  6. I didn't realize that portal magic is a sub-genre. Of course I love all the ones I've read and now I want to read the ones I haven't.

  7. Well, look at me. I read more portal fantasies than I thought! Great list. I am thinking of Roberta right now as she is a blogger I identify with portal fantasies.

  8. I haven't read a ton of portal fantasies, but I do love HP and THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. Great list!

    Happy TTT!

  9. Yeah Narnia still rules. I need to find Aslan somewhere out there ...

  10. So many of these portal fantasies are favorites of mine, too! Love that you chose this topic for this week's TTT. :D

  11. Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson is a more adult portal fantasy. Also The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny has some portal fantasy elements to it.