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Like so many people, I fondly remember losing myself into the world of Harry Potter when the books first came out. However since JK Rowling began sharing very transphobic messages, the series has felt rather tarnished. What once gave those who felt different a place to belong has suddenly become exclusive of a whole group of people. And whilst I understand the desire to separate the art from the artist, it isn’t that simple when the artist in question repeatedly uses their platform to cause harm to a marginalised group of society. But the great news is that there is no need to do this anyway, because there is an absolute wealth of books and series out there that offer the same sense of magic and wonder that we all loved so much about Harry Potter without damaging the trans community. So here’s a list of books to read instead of Harry Potter.
A couple of notes about this list
- I have pulled together this list based on recommendations from people I follow on social media and similar articles to this – I am not alone in wanting to find an alternative list of books to read! So please be aware that I have not read all of these myself. However I have tried my hardest to check out reviews for all of the books included in this list to ensure that they offer the kind of alternative reading you may be looking for.
- I’ve also split it up into Middle Grade and Young Adult books, because I am aware that Harry Potter has been enjoyed by readers across both of these age ranges. Middle Grade is aimed at readers between the ages of 8 and 12, whilst Young Adult is aimed at readers aged 12-18. All of these can, of course, be read and enjoyed by adults too, and you can use your own judgement with what your children may be able to cope with at any age.
Middle Grade books to read instead of Harry Potter
Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan
When I asked people to recommend books that were a good alternative to Harry Potter, Percy Jackson came up multiple times, and I can see why. The series is about a boy called Percy Jackson who finds out that he is a demigod. He’s the son of Poseidon (of Greek mythology), and gets to meet more demigods when he attends Camp Half-Blood on Long Island. Over the course of the series he makes friends, goes on a variety of quests across America, and discovers he must either help with the destruction of the world or save it.
This series has captured the hearts of many people with it’s mix of ancient Greek mythology and modern day America. However it has something else which makes it particularly special for many – Percy Jackson has both ADHD and Dyslexia (like Rick Riodan’s son for whom the stories were originally created) and has never scored higher than a Grade C in school. How often do we see such characters as the superhero of a series?
Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston
Amari is a 13 year old girl, determined to find out what happened to her older brother who has gone missing. IN doing so she ends up attending the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, where magical beings are real and even her roommate is a weredragon. Surrounded by people who have grown up knowing magic exists, and giving an illegal supernatural power, Amari struggles to fit in whilst trying to find her brother as the entire magical world deals with the threat from an evil magician.
Amari and The Night Brothers is the first in a series of books, and has been on the NYT bestseller list since its release in January 2021. There is also a movie version planned, giving you an idea of just how popular this book has become.
The Circle of Magic quartet by Tamora Pierce
In Circle of Magic, 4 young mages come together at Winding Circle to be taught how to use their magic. Put together in a small home called Discipline, because of the challenges they all face, they begin to form an unlikely friendship. Then when their lives are at risk, Sandry uses her gift to weave their magic together, creating a bond unlike anything ever seen before. Each book has a slight emphasis towards one of the characters and their magic, and we see them face off pirates, wild fires, and even a deadly virus.
Long time readers of A Spiral Dance will know how much I love Tamora Pierce’s writing, and this series is written for a slightly younger age range than those set in the Tortallan universe, making it a perfect introduction to her writing.
These books appear to be out of print, so your best bet is to buy second hand from somewhere like Abe Books. The books in order are Sandry’s Book (also known as The Magic in The Weaving), Tris’ Book (also known as The Power in The Storm), Daja’s Book (also known as The Fire in The Forging) and Briar’s Book (also known as The Healing in The Vine).
Mage Errant series by John Bierce
Mage Errant is a coming of age story set in a fantasy world that will feel familiar to many – a magical school! It follows Hugh, the worst student ever seen at the Academy at Skyhold. And yet he becomes an apprentice to a very unusual mage, and his life becomes very different.
There are 5 books in the series, each one holding its own challenges and obstacles as Hugh works his way through the Academy and deals with becoming rather well-known for the things he does.
I wasn’t sure whether this was a Middle Grade or Young Adult series, but after reading a few reviews felt that it could be included here for younger readers.
The Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett needs no introduction, surely? But did you know that he also wrote books for younger readers? Set on the Discworld and with nudges towards the witches we all know and love, the Tiffany Aching books follow a young girl as she realises she is the only thing standing between the monsters of Fairyland and the land that she calls home. Armed with only a frying pan and a massive sense of courage, Tiffany creates an unlikely pairing with the Nac Mac Feegle (the Wee Free Men) in a wonderfully delightful series.
The Tiffany Aching books are the perfect introduction to Terry Pratchett’s inimitable style, and is bound to create new fans who will go on to devour the entire Discworld collection.
Young Adult books to read instead of Harry Potter
Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan
Similar to the Percy Jackson books, this series combines ancient mythology with modern day settings, this time with a main character – Magnus Chase – who is a Norse demigod (the son of Frey). It apparently starts with Magnus’ death and continues with his experiences in the afterlife and the fight to prevent Ragnarok (the end of the world) from happening.
Okay, so this may look a little unimaginative including a second series by the same author, but honestly how could I not? Upon researching Rick Riordan for this post I discovered that he had been awarded the Stonewall Book Award for “exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience” because of the character of Alex Fierr. Alex is a genderfluid demigod who also happens to be Magnus’ significant other. What’s not to love about that?
Whilst listed in some places as a Middle Grade book, I have put this in the Young Adult section because the main character, Magnus, is 16.
Akata Witch series by Nnedi Okorafor
Akata Witch follows Sunny, an Albino 12 year old who was born in New York but now lives in Nigeria. She struggles with being different, until she discovers she is one of the Leopard People – those with magical powers who live amongst the Lambs (non-magical people). And there is a rogue Leopard person who is stealing and maiming children – can Sunny and her friends find and stop this person?
Written by a Nigerian-American author who has received many accolades for her work and gained many fans amongst other writers including Neil Gaiman and Rick Riordan, this is a book that contains concepts we all know and love – magic people within a non-magical world – but with cultural references that will be new to many of us.
Although the main character of this book is aged 12 and so it could be considered a Middle Grade book, I have read some reviews that suggest that there are very graphic depictions of torture and abuse and so I suggest reading this with caution if doing so with younger readers.
The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan
This series follows Sonea, a girl who grew up in the slums of a city and who hates The Magician’s Guild. Then she discovers she actually has magic and her whole life changes. Despite her attempts to avoid detection by the Guild, she ends up relying on them to help her learn to control her power, and eventually ends up instrumental in defeating a threat from the a neighbouring land where magicians use powers no longer taught by the Guild.
These books cover a range of issues like classism – magic is usually restricted to the upper class – and homophobia – in the second book we discover that same sex relationships are accepted in some lands but not in others. It takes the reader on a journey across different cultures, and is written from the points of view of multiple characters, giving it a really interesting feel.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Cemetery Boys is an incredible novel that follows Yadriel, a trans boy who is determined to prove his gender to his traditional Latinx family. Within his family’s tradition, the males become brujos, able to help the spirits of the deceased, whilst the females become brujas, able to heal. In an attempt to prove he is a brujo, Yadriel tries to help find his cousin who is missing. But instead he summons the spirit of Julian, a “bad boy” from school and must help him find out what happened to him. In doing so, they uncover something far more sinister than they’d ever imagine.
This book is so beautifully written. It explores the challenges of identity and gender, especially when those around you do not accept you fully. And it shows us the power of family and friendship, often found in the unlikeliest of places. And all of this is wrapped up in a magical murder mystery of sorts. Once you start reading it you will not be able to put it down.
The Books of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Earthsea is a beloved series, made up of an original trilogy and various short stories. The original trilogy follows the life of Ged, a goatherd who discovers he has power over nature. He is sent to the School of Wizards on the island of Roke where he learns about magic and becomes a powerful magician. But power isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Ged must face the powers of evil and death – will he succumb to them, or can he hold them back?
This series is often recommended to people who like the works of authors like C. S. Lewis and Tolkein, however reviews suggest that is it a little more complex than those. Whereas the distinction between good and evil are more straightforward within those worlds, it is not so clear cut in Earthsea. No wonder if has been so well loved by so many over the years.
The Raybearer Duology by Jordan Ifueko
Raybearer follows Tarisai, a girl who has been raised in isolation by an often absent mother known only as The Lady. Tarisai longs for nothing more than connection, so when she is sent by The Lady to compete as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11 she is overjoyed, because council members are connected by the Ray, a bond stronger than blood. But The Lady wants Tarisai to use her connection to kill the Crown Prince.
In the second book of the duology, Tarisai must descend to the Underworld to appease for past sins and put an end to future atrocities. But will she die for justice, or survive for it?
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games is a typical dystopian series, in that it is set in the not too distant future in which life and humanity as we know it seems to have fallen apart. It follows Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old girl who takes her sister’s place in a terrifying televised fight to the death – The Hunger Games. She initially sees it as a death sentence, but over time becomes a real contender, which brings new conflict of its own – if she is to win, what will it cost?
With a strong female protagonist who fights for her survival whilst dealing with questions of humanity, it is easy to see why this series has become so popular over the years.
The Strange The Dreamer Duology by Laini Taylor
Strange The Dreamer follows the orphan Lazlo Strange, who is a junior librarian. He is filled with intrigue over the Unseen City, whose real name was wiped from everyone’s memory and is now only known as Weep. Lazlo is determined to find out what happened and to visit the city on day, so he devotes a lot of his time to researching it. But what will he find if he ever manages to make his dream come true?
This duology has so many rave reviews about how beautifully it is written, and the fairytale quality of it. It explores ideas of myth and magic and whether heroes must always slay the monsters or whether they might be able to save them instead.
The Magic Eater Trilogy by Carol Beth Anderson
The Magic Eater trilogy follows Nora, Krey, Zeisha, and Ovrun as they build unlikely friendships, fight enslavement, and battle for the very survival of the land against Nora’s father, the King, whose mind has been decimated by forbidden magic. WHen even her own father is willing to use magic against her, will Nora and her friends prevail?
This series combines action and adventure with deeply human issues such as family conflict, betrayal, and healing from trauma.
The Shadow and Bone trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
This trilogy follows Alina as she discovers the magical powers that she has and joins The Grisha – her world’s magical military elite. Their leader believes she has the power to destroy The Shadow Fold and reunite the war-torn country, but first she must learn how to tame it.
The Shadow and Bone trilogy has been so well received that it is now a Netflix series too. But as a reader I would always recommend reading the books first if you can!
The Immortals Series by Tamora Pierce
This is the second quartet set within the Tortall Universe and readers of The Song of The Lioness will recognise characters from that series. However I’ve included this series because it specifically centres around Daine and her wild magic, rather than the knight training that both Song of The Lioness and Protector of The Small quartets do.
Daine has wild magic, which is different to The Gift which other mages possess. This makes her different and comes in very handy when Immortal creatures begin threatening the inhabitants of Tortall. But where did this magic come from?
This series is the whole reason I fell in love with fantasy to begin with and why I wanted to become a writer myself. The world and characters are so alive, and I loved the mix of Gods, Immortals, mages, knights, and other warriors that make up the varied cast. There’s even a baby dragon – what more could you want?
You can buy the entire series here*, or if you like audiobooks I highly recommend the Full Cast Audio recordings of these books.
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
Sorcery of Thorns is the kind of story that any book lover will cherish, because in this world books are alive! Elisabeth, an orphan, has been raised within one of the Great Libraries in Austermeer, where magical books known as grimoires reside. These books whisper on shelves, spit ink, and if damaged can turn into grotesque monsters.
When Elisabeth is framed for damaging a book, her only hope is to rely on a sorcerer, Nathaniel Thorn, and his demon. The only problem? She has always known sorcerers to be evil.
This book will captivate you from its very first pages, and the developing relationship between Elisabeth and Nathaniel is a joy to behold. But what is perhaps even more wonderful is the redemptive arc that Nathaniel’s demon goes on throughout the book. Just you wait for those final pages!
Be careful when choosing books to read instead of Harry Potter
There were a few other books and series that came up as recommendations as alternatives, but I am hesitant to include them in my list because of either problematic themes within the books or actions that the authors have taken. It is all well and good asking you to try and read books by authors who are not transphobic, but we must also be mindful that we are not then supporting authors who cause damage to another group.
As the following suggestions often come up as books to read instead of Harry Potter I feel it would be remiss of me to not mention why they may be seen as controversial. This way you can look into the discourse around the books and their authors yourself and make a more informed choice on whether you read them or not. They are listed below in no particular order with a note on the controversy surrounding them.
The Simon Snow (Carry On) series by Rainbow Rowell – this series itself has not received any criticism, however another one of Rowell’s books – Eleanor and Park – has come under pretty severe criticism for racist stereotyping of the Asian character Park.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman – again, this series has not specifically been criticised, however Philip Pullman himself has repeatedly made remarks or supported others who are transphobic or racist.
The Scholomance Series by Naomi Novik – this series has been criticised by some as being racist, whilst others have defended it saying that the points being brought up are understandable given the context of the book. You’ll need to spend some time reading through the discourse to decide on this one, because opinion seems more divided than in some of the others listed here.
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