9 Vivid Fantasy Books Like His Dark Materials

If you love Pullman's fantastical universe from The Golden Compass to The Book of Dust, then these recommendations are for you.

Northern Lights/Golden Compass Philip Pullman

It’s been nearly two decades since Philip Pullman closed out his beloved His Dark Materials trilogy. In the time since, the trilogy's first book The Golden Compass has been adapted into a feature film, Pullman expanded the Dark Materials Universe with a second trilogy, and HBO has adapted the original trilogy of novels into a critically acclaimed series. 

Pullman’s blend of contemporary fantasy, challenging philosophical underpinnings, and, of course, animal entities called daemons made for an epic reading experience. While the His Dark Materials trilogy was, in many ways, a singular literary pleasure, there are a wealth of great fantasy novels that scratch a similar itch. These are a few of our favorite books like His Dark Materials.

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Newton's Cannon

Newton's Cannon

By Greg Keyes

This alternate history fantasy imagines a world where Isaac Newton discovered an alchemical process key to manipulating the four elements. His discovery changes the course of history and eventually draws a curious and brilliant young printer’s apprentice by the name of Ben Franklin into an extraordinary conspiracy with the fate of humanity in the balance. 

Newton’s Cannon is a globetrotting alt-history adventure in a world where demons, alchemy, and science collide. 

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Sister Light, Sister Dark

Sister Light, Sister Dark

By Jane Yolen

Set against the backdrop of a distant and fantastical future, Sister Light, Sister Dark centers around a young orphan named Jenna raised by a group of women who worship a benevolent goddess. Jenna may be a child of prophecy, the goddess reborn destined to destroy and remake society. 

Along with her mirror sister – a kind of twin that only emerges in darkness – Jenna is thrust into the center of a dangerous conflict and forced to reckon with not only her own coming of age, but the prophecy threatening to alter the course of the world as she knows it. 

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Angels on Fire

Angels on Fire

By Nancy A. Collins

When an angel crash-lands on the rooftop of Lucy Bender's New York City apartment, Lucy's already-tattered life is turned upside down. While she initially sees the angel – Joth – as a path to fame and fortune, she quickly discovers that she is the only one who can see it for what it really is. Lucy learns that Joth is being pursued by the daemon Meresin and his Infernal Machine. 

It is now up to Lucy to keep Joth from becoming a daemon as well and joining Meresin. She must help the fallen angel return to Heaven, but at what cost? 

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Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler

Set against the backdrop of a crumbling, dystopian America, Parable of the Sower centers on Lauren Olamina. Lauren survives with her father, a preacher, in one of the few safe enclaves outside of Los Angeles. 

When a fire destroys the compound and kills her family, Lauren is forced to flee with a handful of survivors into a world on the brink of destruction. 

Along the way, as she struggles against a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others, Lauren begins to conceive of a radical philosophy that could prove to be mankind’s salvation.

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Portal of a Thousand Worlds

Portal of a Thousand Worlds

By Dave Duncan

Set in an alternate version of nineteenth century Imperial China, Portal of a Thousand Worlds is a complex and labyrinthine tale of intrigue, dark magic, and death. It has been over a thousand years since the Portal of a Thousand Worlds last opened, bringing with it seismic chaos. 

The intricately woven tale hinges on a dynasty-altering conspiracy, a dowager empress’s secret, a fanatical army, and a reincarnated man whose vast trove of memories may provide a window into the future. Duncan weaves these seemingly disparate threads into a sprawling fantasy about a world on the brink of collapse. 

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Lamentation Ken Scholes


By Ken Scholes

The city of Windwir, the seat of knowledge in the Named Lands, has been obliterated by an ancient doomsday weapon unleashed by an unknown foe. Miles away, a nobleman named Rudolfo sees the smoke rising from ruins of Windwir and knows war is coming to the Named Lands. Amid the devastation of Windwir two surivivors emerge. 

One is a young apprentice who was waiting for his for his father outside the city walls. The other is a mechanical servant named Isaak who may hold the key to saving the world from Windwir’s fate. What follows is a mesmerizing epic fantasy steeped in magic, intrigue, and complex questions of faith and what it means to be human.  

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The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms N.K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

By N.K. Jemisin

Following her mother’s death, young Yeine Darr is summoned to the floating City of Sky from her home in the barbarian north and named as an heir to the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. She is quickly thrown into a cutthroat world of palace intrigue and a vicious power struggle with cousins she did not know she had. 

Set against an intricately woven world where gods and humans intermingle, Yeine must reckon with a life she never expected or asked for – one filled with deadly games, terrible secrets, and her family’s bloody history. 

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Fairy Tales From The Brothers Grimm Phillip Pullman

Fairy Tales From The Brothers Grimm

By Philip Pullman

Fairy Tales From The Brothers Grimm features Philip Pullman retelling fifty of his personal favorite tales from the Brothers Grimm. Reimagined by Pullman with simplicity and clarity, Fairy Tales is a distillation of the essence of these classics tales and their ability to enthrall readers. 

From the well-known (Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel) to deeper cuts (The Three Snake Leaves, The Girl With No Hands), this is a treasure of classic stories lifted by Pullman’s insightful and sometimes challenging commentary.

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The Library of the Unwritten AJ Hackwith

The Library of the Unwritten

By A.J. Hackwith

If you’ve ever wondered what happens to all of the world’s unfinished manuscripts, A.J. Hackwith may have an answer. The Library of the Unwritten is a neutral space in Hell where all of the world’s unfinished stories are collected. 

As Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing it is Claire’s duty to not only care for and organize these stories, but ensure the characters in these restless tomes do not materialize and escape. 

When a Hero escapes his book, Claire’s efforts to recapture him lead her into an epic conflict and put her on the hunt for a dangerous book with the power to redraw the lines between Heaven, Hell, and Earth. 

A meta novel that celebrates the power of reading, The Library of the Unwritten is the perfect book to read if you've finished His Dark Materials and are craving more smart fantasy while you wait for Season 2 of the HBO series. (Editor's note: Season 2 of His Dark Materials is now streaming on HBO!)

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This post first appeared on The Portalist

Featured image from cover of "Northern Lights"/"The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman

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