Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books with Magical Schools

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this latest Top Ten Tuesday participants are given a School Freebie to with what they will.  That means its up to me to come up with any sort of list about a school, which left me pretty open to list the best books with one of my favourite settings, a magical school.

I have long had a great love of the magical school setting in fantasy fiction (just check out the name of this blog).  In many ways, magical schools are the absolute backbone of some of the better examples of fantasy out there, and who doesn’t love a fun and wonderful story set within the halls of a magical environment.  There are so many cool stories and scenarios that can be imagined in these sorts of scenarios, and I have always had an amazing time with these sorts of settings from some of the earliest fantasy books I have read.  As such, I thought it only fitting to examine the absolute best examples of this setting here.

In order to appear on this list, the book in question needed to have either a school, academy or university of some description magic is taught or the school itself is magical and fantastic in nature.  This school must be a major setting of a descent part of the plot and must feature some sort of magical teaching or some variety of magical education in it.  I have been a little lenient in places throughout this list and I have included a few examples where rather than the traditional magical school, you have a bit of an interesting or dark reimagining, which can often be quite fun.  I ended up with an interesting collection of books in the end that I was able to whittle down to my top ten.  All these books are really fun, and I think that they use their magical school setting extremely well.

Honourable Mentions:

The Witches of Eileanan series by Kate Forsyth

Dragonclaw Cover

All the books in Kate Forsyth’s fantastic The Witches of Eileanan series featured some cool magical learning and school elements in them, and the author sets some impressive storylines around them.  However, I would probably recommend the first book in the series, Dragonclaw, as the best example of this magical training.  Not only are their multiple scenes of the protagonist learning magic, but it also features a fantastic magical trial scene at her initial place of learning.

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Master of Sorrows by Justin Call

Master of Sorrows Cover

Features an interesting ninja school where the participants learn to recover magical items.

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Magician by Raymond E Feist

Magician Cover

Many of Feist’s Riftwar Cycle books featured a magical school of some description, but nothing compares to the various magical learning scenes that occur in the fantasy classic Magician.  The protagonist learns from several schools and teachers in this book before starting the path to create his own magical school.

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The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

The Tethered Mage Cover

A fun recent fantasy book that revolves around a fantasy nation where all magicians are captured and leashed so that they aren’t in complete control of their faction.  Known as Falcons, these mages are sent to the Mews, where they learn to control their magic for the greater good of the nation.  An interesting, if darker, take on the magical school system that worked really well.

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Top Ten List:

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

The Order of the Phoenix Cover

Let’s face it, it would be impossible to write a list about magical schools without featuring the Harry Potter books here.  J. K. Rowling created something very special with Hogwarts, and it is now the magical school setting that all others are measured up against, for very good reasons.  All seven books in this series used the Hogwarts setting extremely well, from the introduction in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to the epic final battle in Harry Potter in the Deathly Hallows.  It is honestly very hard to single out one in particular for their use of the magical school setting, however, if I had to, I would probably go with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, because it had some great scenes where the protagonist took over teaching, as well as the extended sequence with the O.W.L.S test.

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The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind Cover

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss gets a lot of credit from fantasy fans for many of its elements, but one of my favourites is the setting of the University, where the protagonist winds up is as a teenager.  The centre of knowledge for this fantasy world, the university teaches many subjects, including various forms of magic, including runic metalworking, sympathy (magic that links one object to another for manipulation), and the ultimate magic, naming, where one calls something’s true name (for example the wind) and takes control of it.  This proves to be an exceptional setting for much of this book, and the protagonist spends a substantial amount of time with some great narrative results.  While the University is also a major setting of the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, I think that it was used a little better in The Name of the Wind and is one of the better magical school settings out there.

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Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

Moving Pictures Cover

Yeah, there was no chance I wasn’t going to feature a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett here.  So many of his books feature the epic and entertaining setting of the Unseen University, where the world’s wizards gather to learn magic and get up to all manner of other shenanigans.  Most of the books feature the Unseen University as a setting, however, I’m going to limit myself to two entries on this list, the first of which is Moving PicturesMoving Pictures is one of the more entertaining Discworld novels Pratchett wrote, and part of the reason is how he utilises the Unseen University in the plot.  After several books with a rotating cast of senior wizards, Pratchett settles on a permanent staff for the university in Moving Pictures (helped by the introduction of an unkillable Archchancellor) and starts strongly developing their various members here.  There are many brilliant scenes set around the university, especially ones that show the eccentric new Archchancellor setting in and upsetting the delicate wizards with his wild ideas.  This book has some of the funniest scenes set in the Unseen University, and this book is a major favourite of mine.

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A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education Cover

Easily the series that has been featuring magical schools the best recently is the Scholomance books by acclaimed author Naomi Novik.  This series in the deadly Scholomance, an automated enchanted school where vulnerable magical teenagers are educated and partially protected from various monsters who want to eat them.  Introduced perfectly in the first book, A Deadly Education, you soon get to know all the unique quirks of this fantastic school, as the protagonist tries to survive the lethal lessons, killer fellow students, and multiple monsters living within.  I have so much love for the setting in A Deadly Education, and the exquisite story that Novik set around it made it one of my favourite books of 2020.  The sequel, The Last Graduate, also featured the school extremely well, but I think that A Deadly Education is the best example for this list.

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Van Horstmann by Ben Counter

Van Horstmann Cover

You can’t be too surprised that I managed to slip a Warhammer novel in here somewhere.  Van Horstmann was an awesome Warhammer Fantasy novel that explore the origin and problems of the human magical colleges that sprouted up in the heart of the Empire.  In particular, Van Horstmann explores the College of Light through the eyes of enigmatic new student, Egrimm van Horstmann, who has his own nefarious reasons for journeying to the school.  This is an excellent and captivating take on the classic magical school setting, as you get to watch this obvious villain learn everything about the school, all so he can gain ultimate power and gain revenge for a past wrong.  A very clever Warhammer Fantasy novel that makes perfect use of its magical school setting.

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Cold Iron by Miles Cameron

Cold Iron Cover 1

Another great fantasy book from recent years that featured a cool magical university setting is Cold Iron by Miles Cameron.  Much the narrative of Cold Iron takes place in The Academy and its surrounding city and follows the protagonist as he excels as a student, while also attempting to unravel a massive conspiracy that threatens the lands.  I deeply enjoyed the use of the Academy setting in Cold Iron, and while there is a substantial focus on learning sword work, the character does spend time learning magic, which comes in help during this book.  I loved many of the more classic fantasy elements featured in Cold Iron, especially the cool school setting, and this is a must-read book for all fantasy fans.

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Homeland by R. A. Salvatore

Homeland Cover

I had to slip something in from R. A. Salvatore on this list, and naturally that book ended up being one of my favourite Salvatore novels, Homeland.  Set in the Drow city of Menzoberranzan, Homeland follows the childhood of Salvatore’s long-running protagonist Drizzt Do’Urden.  While there are a lot of excellent settings and locations in, I loved the multiple scenes that take place in the combat school of Melee-Magthere.  While technically not a magical school per say, it is filled with dark elves with inherent magical talent, who often use magical techniques to complement their swordcraft, so I think it deserves to be on this list.  Personally, I just love the various tournament scenes set in this school, and it was a fantastic and epic setting for this great fantasy book.

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It Ends in Fire by Andrew Shvarts

It Ends in Fire Cover 2

Another fantasy book that had a great alternate take on the magical school concept is It Ends in Fire by Andrew Shvarts.  Featuring a compelling fantasy world where wizards rule over the non-magical, this book follows a rebellious young magic user who infiltrated the premier magical school, Blackwater Academy, to burn it down from the inside.  This was a fun and compelling read with many fantastic homages to Hogwarts, and it was an outstanding book to check out.

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Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Hogfather Cover

The other Discworld book that I had to include here was Hogfather, which makes fun of many aspects of Christmas.  While there is a focus on Death and his granddaughter, quite a lot of the book takes place in the Unseen University and shows the eccentric faculty attempting to understand the constant creation of multiple new minor gods around their grounds.  The outrageous antics of the senior faculty blends well with the more education focused ambitions of the students, all with the Archchancellor watching on in exasperation.  I loved all the university scenes in Hogfather and it was one of the better uses of it in the Discworld series.

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Eldest by Christopher Paolini

Eldest Cover

The final book I want to include on this list is Eldest by Christopher Paolini, the second book in his Inheritance Cycle.  While the first book from Paolini, Eragon, featured a lot of magical tutelage, it didn’t really feature a school setting.  The sequel though, Eldest, does, as it shows the protagonist journey to the homeland of the elves to learn magic there.  The protagonist spends a substantial chunk of the book there expanding his magical knowledge and skills.  While most of this tutelage does occur one-on-one, there is enough alternate teachers and characters to qualify it as a magic school in my mind, and I feel that Paolini did a great job introducing it and using it to expand the character’s knowledge.  An overall epic book that made really great use of the magic school concept.

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Well, that’s the end of this latest list.  As you can see there are some great books out there that feature a fun magical school concept in their plot.  It is no surprise that many of my favourite books of all time feature a magical school in some capacity and there are so many exceptional stories that can be set around it.  All the above books come very highly recommended and if you love magical schools, all of them are worth checking out.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books with Dragons on the Cover

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday participants are tasked with listing their top books that have covers with a specific design element chosen by the blogger, for example books with certain colours, items or animals on their cover.  I thought that this was a pretty clever idea for a topic and I decided to go big with it and choose book covers that have the ultimate animal for my list, dragons.

Let’s face it, we all love dragons!  They are some of the coolest creatures in mythology, with multiple cultures having their own version or alteration of the dragon in their storytelling traditions.  Due to how iconic there are, the use of dragons in storytelling naturally transferred itself across to the world of fantasy fiction, becoming one of the most classic and well utilised monsters or companion creatures in books and movies, such as The Hobbit and the A Song of Ice and Fire series.  As such there are multiple book covers out there that feature dragons to some degree and I was curious to see which ones amongst them were my favourite.

To pull this list together, I had a think about all the best books that featured cool dragon-related cover art.  There were quite a few of these awesome, dragon-covered novels so I decided to limit myself to only using books that I have actually read.  In addition, because dragon-centric series tend to use images of the creatures across multiple entries, I will limit myself to one novel from each franchise, just to create a bit of variety.  This still leaves me with a pretty impressive collection of novels to choose from and I had to do some severe cutting to get it down to a top ten list with my typical honourable mentions section.  I think the list turned out pretty well as there are some great novels below with awesome dragon imagery on their covers.

I will quickly note that I did have a couple of issues finding good quality pictures of some of the relevant covers I wanted to feature here, particularly for some of the older novels, but I have still tried to feature them as best I can.  Apologies in advance if some of them don’t turn out perfect.

Honourable Mentions

The Voyage of the Forgotten by Nick Martell

The Voyage of the Forgotten Cover 2

I love the cover but chose to only feature this as an honourable mention as the book hasn’t come out yet.

 

A Darkness at Sethanon by Raymond E. Feist

A Darkness at Sethanon Cover

A couple of the alternate covers for this great book feature dragons on them, but this was the best looking one of them.

 

She Who Became the Sun by Shelly Parker Chan

She Who Became the Sun Cover

 

Usagi Yojimbo: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy

A great use of a dragon in the cover, even if the dragon in the title is more of a metaphor for firearms.

Top Ten List:

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

An incredible novel with an incredible cover.  Easily one of the best uses of dragons in cover art that you are likely to ever see.

 

Dragonslayer by William King

Dragonslayer Cover Combined

This fantastic Warhammer tie-in novel is spoiled for choice when it comes to dragons on its various covers.

 

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Guards! Guards! Cover 2

One of the best Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, I love how well the dragon is used, both in this original cover, and in the novel’s exceedingly clever mystery.

 

Black Leviathan by Bern Perplies

Black Leviathan Cover

An extremely epic and distinctive cover for a fun action fantasy novel.  Black Leviathan, which is the English edition of Perplies’s original, German novel, The Dragon Hunter, actually has two fantastic cover variants with dragons on them, although I think the one the English version shown above is a lot more visually impressive.

Black Leviathan alternate cover

 

The Bone Ships by R. J. Barker

The Bone Ships Cover

All three books in Barker’s The Tide Child trilogy featured iconography of the series’ water-dragons, but I think the first entry, The Bone Ships, looks the best.

 

Eldest by Christopher Paolini

Eldest Cover

You can’t have a dragon-based list without featuring an entry from Paoloini’s Inheritance Cycle.  All four novels in this series featured dragons on their cover, although I think that this cover from Eldest was the most striking.

 

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

The Priory of the Orange Tree Cover

A very beautiful cover for this complex and intricate fantasy novel.

 

Warcraft: Day of the Dragons by Richard A. Knaak

Warcraft - Day of the Dragon Cover

Several great Warcraft and World of Warcraft tie-in novels feature dragons on their covers, but my favourite of these is Day of the Dragons by Richard A. Knaak, which was an awesome story.

 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Cover

Was there ever a chance I wasn’t going to feature this classic cover on this list? Of course not.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Cover 2

 

Dragonclaw by Kate Forsyth

Dragonclaw Cover

The original cover of the first entry in Australian author Kate Forsyth’s The Witches of Eileanan series, Dragonclaw, had a great dragon picture on it, and it serves as an excellent first impression of an amazing fantasy book.

 

 

Well, that’s my list.  As you can see there are some incredible books out there that make great uses of dragons on their covers.  All the above novels are really good, and you will have an incredible time reading them, while also appreciating their stunning, dragon-filled covers.  I had a lot of fun coming up with this list, and I will have to think about replicating it with another creature, item or colour in the future.  In the meantime, let me know what your favourite books with dragons on the cover are in the comments below.