Ah, the salty spray of the sea, the mysterious allure of the unknown depths, the thrill of a chase across the high seas—nothing quite captures the imagination like a nautical adventure.
And when you blend this with the magic and mystery of fantasy, well, you’re in for quite a journey.
Let’s set sail and navigate through some of the best nautical fantasies ever penned.
The Liveship Traders Trilogy (Robin Hobb):
No list of nautical fantasy is complete without mentioning Robin Hobb‘s masterful series. Imagine sentient ships crafted from wizardwood, seafaring merchants, and serpents with secret identities, all woven into a tale of ambition, treachery, and redemption. A true voyage of discovery, in more ways than one.
On Stranger Tides (Tim Powers)
Long before Jack Sparrow swaggered onto our screens, Tim Powers introduced us to a world where pirates dabbed in voodoo and quested for the Fountain of Youth. Filled with magic, historical figures, and more than a few spooks, it’s a fantastical, swashbuckling romp through the Golden Age of Piracy.
Child of a Hidden Sea (A.M. Dellamonica)
When Sophie Hansa finds herself in the magical realm of Stormwrack – a world composed entirely of islands – she discovers a passion for the high seas, exploration, and solving diplomatic conundrums. It’s like The Chronicles of Narnia, but with significantly more ocean.
The Scar (China Miéville)
In Miéville’s grimdark fantasy, the sea isn’t just a setting; it’s an unsettling, omnipresent character. The floating pirate city of Armada, filled with vampiric mosquito-people and sentient cacti, offers a twisted exploration of power, freedom, and the monstrous abyss. Bring a strong stomach.
Red Seas Under Red Skies (Scott Lynch)
In the second instalment of the Gentleman Bastard series, our favourite rogue, Locke Lamora, takes to the high seas. Lynch trades the Venetian-inspired city of Camorr for a piratical adventure filled with mutinies, naval battles, and devious betrayals. It’s high stakes, high seas fun.
Earthsea series (Ursula K. Le Guin)
Le Guin’s coming-of-age saga is set in an archipelago, which means plenty of sea-voyaging action amidst the magic and dragons. With themes of balance, harmony, and the cost of power, it’s an epic nautical ride and a profound philosophical journey in one.
The Chathrand Voyage series (Robert V.S. Redick)
The Imperial Merchant Ship Chathrand is not just the last of her kind; she’s also the stage for a sinister conspiracy that could plunge the world into war. With a wonderful cast and nail-biting suspense, this series is a love letter to nautical fantasy.
Sea Queens Series (Sarah Tolcser)
With a heroine who dreams of captaining her own ship and a kingdom teetering on the brink of revolution, this series is a tale of destiny, magic, and political intrigue. Oh, and it’s set in a world of river gods and sea monsters. Buckle up.
The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara Trilogy (Terry Brooks)
Nothing says ‘nautical adventure’ quite like a quest for ancient magic aboard an airship. Terry Brooks offers a thrilling change of pace in this Shannara saga, complete with perilous seas, uncharted islands, and fantastical beasts.
Maelstrom (Peter Watts)
Imagine a world where the deep sea becomes the last frontier for survival. Watts’ tale of evolution, alien entities and the essence of consciousness set in the abyssal depths of the ocean is enough to make you reconsider your beach holiday plans.
The Bone Ships (RJ Barker)
A society that builds ships from dragon bones, a war that’s lasted generations, and a crew of condemned men and women. This novel is a haunting exploration of life at sea, steeped in deep lore and deeper questions.
Pirate Freedom (Gene Wolfe)
Time travel and piracy? Now there’s a combo. Wolfe’s tale of a modern-day man turned pirate priest offers an engaging look at the realities of pirate life, balanced with philosophical musings. It’s a sea shanty sung in Wolfe’s unique baritone.
So there we have it, a treasure trove of nautical fantasy novels that will satisfy even the most insatiable sea dogs amongst you.
It’s time to haul anchor, unfurl those sails, and embark on a literary journey across the high seas.
May your winds be fair and your pages ever turning.
Which are your favourites? Which ones have I missed? Let me know in the comments.