Top Ten Portal Fantasy Books

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Portal Fantasy: A story in which an ordinary person is transported to another world, only to discover that they have an important role to play in its destiny.

D.K. Bussell is the author of the popular fantasy series, Trolled. Here is a list of her ten favorite magic portals in fantasy fiction.


1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

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The portal fantasy Mack Daddy.

A rabbit hole draws the titular Alice away from her humdrum existence and into a surreal adventure. Once at the bottom of the hole, Alice is confronted by a number of locked doors. The story follows Alice through one of the doors and into the magical dreamscape that is Wonderland. But where did all those other doors lead? Sadly, Carroll never got to tell those stories, as he choked to death on a bit of Lego. Probably. Go ask Wikipedia if it’s facts you’re after.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis

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There’s a line to be traced from my mum reading me these books in bed to the writing of my first fantasy novel. I should clarify that I was a child in the first instance and an adult in the second. No judgments if it was the other way around for you. Weirdo.

The Narnia books are a cracking read despite their sometimes overbearing Christian overtones; full of adventure, suspense, and unforgettable characters. That said, I do have to dock the series a couple of points for trying to trick children into believing that Turkish delight doesn’t taste like shite.

3. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

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Neverwhere takes the concept of a portal fantasy and transforms it into something uniquely Gaimanesque. When Richard Mayhew stops to help an injured girl, he is involuntarily drawn into the world of London Below. What makes Gaiman’s portal so original is that the people of London Below have always been there, but Richard simply can’t see them until he expands his mind. I had a similar experience once after a twelve-pint bender in Camden Town, except the mythical beast I slayed turned out to be a charity collector at Mornington Crescent Underground dressed like Goofy. The memories of that fateful encounter will never leave me. To this day, I still can’t bring myself to donate to a good cause. 

4. The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

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Quentin Coldwater is  grumpy teen, eyeing up an uncertain future in college until a seemingly routine college interview drops an undiscovered book in his grasp that leads to him learning magic. So far, so Harry Potter, except Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy is like a Hogwarts for arseholes. Wonderful, wizardy arseholes.

5. The Summer Tree, by Guy Gavriel Kay

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Kay’s portal fantasy barely acknowledges the gateway that allows his characters to travel to the magical land of Fionavar. Rather than focusing on the portal itself, the writer is more interested in exploring the transformative power of language, which mutates from clipped and perfunctory when describing the characters’ native Toronto, into beautifully descriptive prose once the students arrive in the story’s parallel universe.

Delicious and clever, like an ice cream sandwich with a PhD.

6. His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman

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Pullman likes to examine how portals work. His heroes begin the Dark Materials trilogy by bumbling through portals they find accidentally: a hole in the sky or an invisible window. That’s until they discover the Subtle Knife, a magical artifact able to cut anything, including portals between worlds.

Personally, I’d use the knife to travel to whatever universe it is that doesn’t have a truculent man-baby presiding over the world’s most deadly nuclear arsenal, but that’s just me.

7. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon

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WW2 nurse Claire is on her honeymoon in Scotland, 1945 when she walks through a stone circle and smack dab into 1743. The Outlander series is part portal fantasy, part historical novel, and part romance. It’s a story that dares to put a woman, her experiences and her sexual desires at the centre of the story. A fantasy in every sense of the word.

8. Mordant’s Need, by Stephen Donaldson

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Terisa Morgan is a rich girl living a vacant life in a NYC high-rise when a handsome buck from an alternate reality stumbles through one of her mirrors. Standard. He persuades her to come with him to his own land, where mirrors are magical gateways to other places. Guess what though, this strange new land is a shambles, and pretty soon Terisa’s up to her neck in fantasy nonsense. After a timid start, Terisa finally leans into the task at hand, transforming from a mousy whiner to a kick-ass sista who don’t take guff from no man.

9. Guardians of the Flame, by Joel Rosenburg

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A group of college students are transported to a fantasy world and must go on a quest to make it back home. If this sounds at all similar to the Saturday morning Dungeons & Dragon cartoon, that’s basically because it is, though without that dumb f*cking unicorn.Best read sat at your mom’s kitchen table surrounded by Doritos and Mountain Dew.

Best read sat at your mum’s kitchen table surrounded by Doritos and Mountain Dew.

10. Trolled, by D.K. Bussell

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The portal fantasy that I wrote, and by default, the best one on this list.

Seventeen-year-old student Nat Lawler doesn’t know her orc from her elf bow. She’s never swung a sword before, never ridden a unicorn, or fought a troll outside of the internet. And yet here she is, trapped in a fantasy world and tasked with defeating its evil queen, Drensila the Black. Thankfully, some of Nat’s roleplayer friends were thrown into the mix too, and join her on her epic quest. They’ve spent their lives preparing for this moment, but now it’s time for action, because this fantasy just got real!

Get your copy of the first book in the Trolled saga HERE.


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