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12 Cozy Fantasy Books to Get You Through the Long Dark Winter
In the last few years, I’ve been absolutely obsessed with finding fantasy books that make me feel warm, happy, and safe—like a hug from a good friend. I think I’ve always been the sort of person who wants fiction to tie up in a nice little bow, where all the threads are resolved, where everyone gets a HEA (happily ever after) or a HFN (happily for now), and where nothing particularly bad happens. But recently, I’ve had good luck finding this type of book because the cozy fantasy genre is having something of a popularity boom.
The subreddit r/CozyFantasy, which has been around since May 6th, 2022, defines cozy fantasy as, “a genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure that gives a feeling of comfort, warmth, and relaxation.”
Now, I don’t even know if cozy fantasy even requires adventure, as I would put many coffeeshop AU (alternative universe) stories into this genre as well. (Cozy fantasy is definitely adjacent to slice-of-life.) But the thing almost everybody involved with the subgenre can agree on is that it’s supposed to have generally low stakes and feel good.
So, without further ado, this is my round up of cozy fantasy I’ve actually read (as opposed to those I want to read, which is every other work in the genre):
✨THIS POISON HEART✨ by Kalynn Bayron
In This Poison Heart, Briseis, who has mystical power over plants, and her two adopted moms move to upstate New York after Briseis inherits a manor and gardens from her mysterious biological family. She and her mums worry that moving to a plant-filled place will make it even harder for Brooklynite Briseis to control her powers, but the secrets of the house quickly become all the more deadly.
I really loved the first half of this book. It was so close to being a “book of my heart” due to its gothic story about a plant-loving gal renewing a space and discovering secrets about her family. I could totally see giving it a re-read just for the vibes of the front half. The love interest and the action/resolution of the third act didn’t interest me, but there are many, many Goodreads reviewers who have the exact opposite opinion, so it’s likely that readers will at least like some part of this book.
💖 BEST PART: Black girl magic! Plants! Inheriting a house! Supportive parents!
😃 EMOJIS: 🧙🏾♀️🌿🩸
➕ QUALIFIERS: The ending has intense stakes that readers might not see coming from the beginning (I believe that the series is transitioning into more of an action/quest journey for its sequels)
🔪 TWs: Death; guy-with-a-knife
✨THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA✨ by T.J. Klune
Linus Baker is a middle aged man who lives a solitary and joyless life working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY), for which he inspects government-run orphanages for paranormal children. When Extremely Upper Management sends him to Marsyas Island Orphanage, Linus is enchanted by the six children who live there, as well as their charming caretaker, Arthur Parnassus. In Linus’ mind, there are two selves: The self who reports back to DICOMY and the self that desires something more to life than just checking boxes.
The first chapter of this book was hard for me. Linus’ world is grey and sterile as a spreadsheet. He has no friends. No goals. No zeal for life. But I’m a sucker for found families, and the kids at Marsyas Island Orphanage are a cheerfully eclectic bunch, so the book quickly picked up speed. Overall, a perfectly charming read.
💖 BEST PART: A wyvern! A dwarf gal who loves gardening! Dryads!
😃 EMOJIS: 👹🐉🏡
➕ QUALIFIERS: The story itself is pretty tight, but it begins and ends with bureaucratic framing somewhere between the foster system and 1984
🔪 TWs: Prejudice; the foster system
✨THE MIDWIFE’S APPRENTICE✨ by Karen Cushman
My first read of 2023, The Midwife’s Apprentice follows a nameless little girl found sleeping in a dung heap and dubbed Beetle, as she takes up as a midwife’s apprentice and tries to make herself useful enough to survive in the dark world of Medieval Europe.
The brevity and quick pacing of this book lend a fairy-tale-like quality to it. Beetle is a girl extremely down on her luck, who has no power in her world, and who most people seem to abuse. The power of this book is that you, as the audience member, really really want her to succeed, because you recognize—even if she doesn’t—that she is smart, and kind, and worthy of love.
💖 BEST PART: A CAT FRIEND! Cute narration! Easy breezy read!
😃 EMOJIS: 👶🌿🐈
➕ QUALIFIERS: Set in the medieval era, so public health and treatment of children is not good
🔪 TWs: Childbirth; on page emotional and physical abuse of children
✨THE DRAGON WITH A CHOCOLATE HEART✨ by Stephanie Burgis
Young Adventurine would’ve been the fiercest dragon in all the land if a mage hadn’t tricked her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate that turned her into a puny human. Once human, there’s only one thing Adventurine can do: Take up as an apprentice in one of the nearby city’s chocolate houses, become a master chocolatier, and show that even without her claws and fangs, she is still powerful. Culinarily.
A friend recommended this one, due to my interest in dragons. And chocolate. I recommend it if you are also interested in these things. Full disclosure, Adventurine is not a dragon for much of the book, except for in her heart. Most of the story she is stuck in a human body. But the descriptions of chocolate were really quite lovely.
💖 BEST PART: Chocolate! Food descriptions! Dragons!
😃 EMOJIS: ☕🍫🐉
➕ QUALIFIERS: Honestly, I think this fits the cozy genre to a T
🔪 TWs: N/A
✨LEGENDS AND LATTES✨ by Travis Baldree
If you follow cozy fantasy at all, I’m sure this book has been recommended to death. What starts out as an orc hanging up her sword to take up running a coffee shop slowly turns into a story about how if you create the right environment and try to be the right person, the right people will come.
This book had me sold immediately: The cover art and the back cover copy are exceptional in telling you exactly what you are getting, which is a D&D-inspired cozy fantasy. As Viv the orc was putting together her coffee shop, there may have been a slow moment in the pacing, but the second that Thimble the ratkin chef and Amity the direcat showed up (my kingdom for sweet animal friends), I was sold again and my heart was filled with love.
Oh, and I haven’t even played that much D&D so I can definitely say that you don’t have to be a huge D&D player to understand and enjoy the book.
💖 BEST PART: Thimble the ratkin, my beloved! Pastries! Coffee!
😃 EMOJIS: 🥐☕🐀
➕ QUALIFIERS: None really. Flawless execution–my only issue with Baldree’s success is that there are so many other Coffee-shop-adjacent stories that are not getting the same attention. Everybody recommend your favorite coffee shop AU to me please!
🔪 TWs: Fantasy violence; fire; mild prejudice
✨A WIZARD’S GUIDE TO DEFENSIVE BAKING✨ by T. Kingfisher
I actually read this one as part of r/CozyFantasy’s book club, which they have on their discord.
Mona is a wizard. Sort of. In a city where the best wizards can make lightning rain from the sky, Mona feels like an imposter: She can only use magic to animate bread and make particularly good gingerbread cookies. But when a mage shows up dead on her bakery floor and an assassin begins culling every magician in the city, Mona the bread-wizard becomes the city’s only hope against a magical coup.
I think from the back cover copy, I thought it would be a cozy mystery. Even though the narrative at times seems a bit like Diana Wynne Jones’ writing in its sense of whimsy, the book is really… not cozy. Multiple people are murdered in it. The assassin is scary. I would say it’s still a great book. It just had more guy-with-a-knife vibe than I was expecting.
💖 BEST PART: Bob the sourdough starter! Nackering Molly! These minor characters seriously rock!
😃 EMOJIS: 🍞⚔️🧙♀️
➕ QUALIFIERS: This one is written with a cozy vibe but some of the matter is actually not-cozy and the stakes are frequently life or death
🔪 TWs: Murder; fantasy violence; guy-with-a-knife; war
✨WITCHLINGS✨ by Claribel A. Ortega
TW: My review contains discussions of Harry Potter and JK Rowling. If you’re not here for that, you can skip to the next book.
I stumbled upon this pastel-covered concoction on Twitter, where author Claribel Ortega said:
And like, let me tell you that that inspired in me some assumptions that
1) may not have been reasonable to come to and
2) inspired me to buy the book immediately.
So first off, if you’ve been paying any attention to anything at all on Twitter in the past four years, you’ve seen that JK Rowling has absolutely gone off the rails in her doubling
tripling quadrupling down in her transphobia. It is all she talks about. She is using her enormous, powerful platform to hurt trans people. And not only that, but the people who are still fans of Rowling have become an army of harassers against trans people. (The link goes to a three hour Jessie Gender video—I am linking specifically to a five minute section where Aranock speaks about her online harassment—but I do recommend watching the whole thing if you can be bothered.)
So like, due to my feelings on Rowling (mostly gut-curdling disappointment), having another writer—literally any writer, but especially a non-binary author—say that they were writing a world that was in dialogue with the Harry Potter books got me excited because I was imagining like, a magical school story with a bunch of queer kids. And that’s… not what Witchlings is.
In Witchlings, young Seven Salazar goes into a House-choosing ceremony hoping she will end up in the prestigious Hyacinth House. Instead, she and two other girls are stuck as “spares”—not put in any house at all—and must compete in the impossible task or risk losing their magic altogether.
This book has a lot of good things. A Latine protagonist. Found family. Creepy monstruos (the monsters of their world). And a fast-paced plot that will keep readers hurtling toward the climax. But it is not a magical school story. To me, there was not a strong sense of milieu. There wasn’t a large, storied edifice to explore. And even the houses that existed (which should, theoretically, have interesting, longstanding cultures) didn’t get much going into because none of the main characters are in them.
There was a horrifying caste system. Non-magical spares are treated like servants: Paid pitiable wages and abused publicly. That societal world-building felt very real and potent.
I was also disappointed that out of the main three characters in Witchlings, none of them are on-page non-binary. There are definitely queer people in the world, and the author is non-binary, but from Ortega’s tweet, I had mistakenly assumed that one of the mains would be non-binary.
I think it’s fair to say Witchlings would be a lovely book for someone who doesn’t go into the book with specific assumptions, and just takes Witchlings for what it is: A story about magic, learning to work together, and the power of friendship.
💖 BEST PART: Girl power! Fast pacing! Fashion!
😃 EMOJIS: 🧙♀️🌟🐸
➕ QUALIFIERS: The book focuses on the (hopefully) eradication of an exploitative system of power, so that system does exist and hurt people in the book
🔪 TWs: Servitude; prejudice; abuse; hierarchies of power
✨THE CLOUD ROADS✨ by Martha Wells
The Cloud Roads is my favorite. I don’t think other readers would immediately think of this book when thinking of cozy fantasy, but by Grabthar’s hammer, I once saw the goddamed Bear and the Nightingale in a cozy fantasy round up, and that’s just wrong, so I’m going to do whatever I like.
The Cloud Roads is amazing, and it has a lot of the elements that cozy fantasy is most famously known for: Found families, magic, and love.
In this 2nd world fantasy, Moon is a shapeshifter without a home. He’s spent his entire life moving from place to place, never becoming settled, because every time the people around him find out what he is, they turn on him.
But then Moon meets Stone, another shapeshifter, who tells Moon that their kind are called the Raksura, and Moon should return home with him to his colony. Moon has spent his whole life in survival mode, so though he is relieved to know what he is and hopeful to finally have a place he could belong to, it will take time for him to move past his trauma and open up to the idea that maybe he, too, deserves a place to call home.
Fantastic book. Fantastic series. Even NK Jemisin loves it.
💖 BEST PART: Found family! Dragon-shifters! World building!
😃 EMOJIS: 🐉☁️🌳
➕ QUALIFIERS: This book is not a traditional cozy fantasy, but it makes ME feel cozy so I’m recommending it to you (and anybody who will listen). A good fit for someone who needs a little more action and adventure in their reading than a slice-of-life story
🔪 TWs: Fantasy violence and action; hunting and eating animals; prejudice
✨CASTLE HANGNAIL✨ by Ursula Vernon
Castle Hangnail is what happens when you ask, “Okay but what if a book were almost too cozy?” Literally, this one had me questioning whether there was a level of cozy that might be too saccharine for me. But nope—it turned out great!
In Castle Hangnail, 12-year-old Molly shows up at Castle Hangnail proclaiming that she is their new wicked witch—assigned to them officially by the Board of Magic. The creepy creatures of Castle Hangnail, including a Frankenstein’s monster, a sentient pincushion, and a steam spirit that lives in a teapot, are all wary of her. After all, she is so young, and polite—and they, as evil minions, are quite used to being bossed around by horrible hags and malignant magicians. But they soon keep up the facade just as enthusiastically as she does, for if a castle goes too long without a wicked witch, they are decommissioned—and everyone who lives there must go.
I heartily recommend this book for anyone who wants an easy, breezy read with a sweet found family and clever subversion of genre tropes. I read the audiobook, and I heartily recommend it if only for the voice of Pins.
💖 BEST PART: Found family! Fun creatures! Pins!
😃 EMOJIS: 🏰🍵📍
➕ QUALIFIERS: Honestly, I think this fits the cozy genre to a T
🔪 TWs: N/A
✨HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE✨ by Diana Wynne Jones
Howl’s Moving Castle, as well as Diana Wynne Jones, are legends in the fantasy genre. It’s likely to say that even if you haven’t read the book, you’ve probably seen the Miyazaki movie (and if you haven’t, by god get on that).
The basic premise is that a young lady, Sophie Hatter, is cursed by a wicked sorceress to be old, but also unable to speak to her curse about anyone. She takes up with the Wizard Howl—rumored to eat the hearts of young girls—in his magical castle that roams the moors outside of her hometown.
What’s interesting to me is how many iterations Howl’s has. In the Miyazaki movie, the story feels like more of a romance, and the war plot comes out stronger. In the book, the story is more like a fairy tale about Sophie and her two sisters. Sophie is convinced that she, as the eldest sibling, simply doesn’t stand a chance to make her way toward fame and fortune—but I think she does just fine.
And yet another note—if you come from the Miyazaki movie to the audiobook as I did, you’re in for a real change-up between the voicings of Calcifer! At first, the difference in portrayal in the audiobook voice was jarring to me, but after a bit it quite grew on me. It’s a very fun gobliny little voice.
💖 BEST PART: Magic! Calcifer the fire spirit! That door that opens onto different places!
😃 EMOJIS: 🧙♀️🔥👒
➕ QUALIFIERS: It’s different from the movie!
🔪 TWs: N/A
✨INKHEART✨ by Cornelia Funke
Inkheart is another one of those books that definitely feels cozy to me, but that might be the warm embrace of nostalgia talking.
Inkheart is a bookish story about a bookbinder’s daughter, Meggie, who discovers that her father can read characters out of books, and that some terrible villains from his past want him to read them back into their stories. There’s just something about that opening scene, where Meggie looks out her window to see Dustfinger standing in the rain… It really stuck in my brain.
Inkheart is a trilogy, but I really only like the first one, and I think it stands quite perfectly on its own.
💖 BEST PART: Nostalgia! Magic! Fire dancing!
😃 EMOJIS: 📖🔥🐦
➕ QUALIFIERS: It definitely has a bit more action and “man-with-a-knife” in it than the usual cozy fantasy book
🔪 TWs: Big “man-with-a-knife” energy; fire; book burning
✨MANDY✨ by Julie Edwards (Andrews)
Out of all the books I’ve recommended so far, this is probably the simplest and for the youngest reader group (though still a charming read for adults).
Mandy is a young orphan who doesn’t have much for herself. One day she goes over the wall of the orphanage and finds an abandoned cottage, which she immediately begins to fix up and make her own.
I read this book as a child, but I still think about it a lot for its dream-like quality. Not to mention that as an adult now, in 2023, the book seems to get more and more relevant every day. Astute readers will realize that finding an abandoned cottage and sprucing it up doesn’t actually make it yours, but it’s such a nice fantasy to imagine owning a small, humble place.
💖 BEST PART: Animal friends! Home ownership! Gardens!
😃 EMOJIS: 🏠🧹🌷
➕ QUALIFIERS: This is only fantasy if you count “owning a home” as fantasy… which I do
🔪 TWs: N/A
If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for being here and reading my reviews! I hope one or more of the books interested you. I also wanted to review The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, (I do recommend both!), but the post was getting a bit long. I’d love to put together another list once I’ve read a few more books to fill it out.
What do you think? What are your favorite cozy fantasy stories? Anything I’ve missed that I should definitely put on my TBR pile? Hope you’re having a happy March. 💖
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