In my olden college days, while searching for the next movie that would let me procrastinate over not studying, I came across a website called Class Real. It’s a database of so-called “mindfuck” movies, organized by levels of just how much your brain will be fried upon consumption. I’ve always been a fan of narratives that will not just turn a premise on its head, but also make you question what you’ve read, and wonder how you got so tripped up on the rug they just pulled out from under you.
It’s not about throwing in plot twists just for the sake of it. It’s about hiding those tiny details so well, that when they get revealed, you let out a scream that’s either “I KNEW IT!” or “Damn, I never saw that coming.”
Today, I bring you five books that made me feel like that: books that start one way, and by the time you’re done with them, there have been so many twists and turns your brain will feel like it’s completely lost in a maze.
[Note: While there are no spoilers in this post, there may be some in the comments so tread with caution!]
This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada
I read this book three or so years ago, and it was like being in a fever dream. Emily Suvada’s debut is a YA Science Fiction novel about Cat, whose father was the world’s leading geneticist and probably the only hope at finding a cure for a deadly virus. Now, I realize we’re going through a pandemic at the time of this article, and not everyone wants to read about fictional viruses ravaging the planet.
The genetic-engineering science in this novel doesn’t exist, but it’s done and explored in such a way you will believe it. The worldbuilding is incredibly complex, yet accessible. There’s a Pigeon Poem—yes, you read that right, a pigeon poem. And there are so many plot twists between these pages, you will constantly find yourself screaming at just how it’s possible that Suvada packed so many things into this book and did it successfully. By the end of the book, you still won’t have found our way out of the maze, but you’ll be so into it you’ll be breathing the next two books like it’s the freshest mountain air.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
I kid you not, all the lists I pitched for this article had Legendborn in it. It’s just a legendary book, and I’m sure most of you have heard of it. But, in case you haven’t, let me tell you about possibly the greatest YA Contemporary Fantasy that’s graced our shelves.
Legendborn follows Bree Matthews, who just lost her mom in an accident. On her first days at her early-college program, she decides to go to a party. Which is all good, until a monster appears. The young mage who drives the beast away tries to erase Bree’s memories of that night—and fails, leaving Bree (and you!) with a whole lot of questions. What’s a Merlin? Legendborn? Secret Society? WHAT?
Not only is it a masterclass in worldbuilding, it’s full to the brim with surprises and twists, and a cast of characters you will love to death. I know I will lie down on the train tracks for them. And if you hear a small voice in the wind telling you to sit down and read this immediately, it’s me.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
You didn’t have to say anything beyond “lesbian goth necromancers in space” to get me interested in this book. Even though I’d bought this book months ago, I’d been delaying reading it because I like to start series when all volumes are out to spare myself the pain that’s the wait between books. But a friend made her case, so I sat down and I’m still reeling like I was put in the world’s greatest rollercoaster.
There is nothing out there quite like Gideon, both in terms of voice and the sheer madness of it all. It’s not just twisty in its narrative, but in writing as well. Because it’s with necromancers, you’d think death wouldn’t be of much of a stopping power—but then the bodies start piling up and you can’t help but read on as Gideon (and the others) try to solve what the heck’s going on. You will love some necromancers, you will hate a lot more, and you will be put through the wringer as you are dumped in the middle of bedlam. And you will love every moment of it.
Meanwhile, my copy of Harrow the Ninth hasn’t arrived yet, and there’s still a full year before Alecto the Ninth. And here I am, wrapped in my black cocoon, counting down the days for both. True suffering, I tell you.
The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling
I love me a good dark fantasy, and fantasies don’t get darker than The Bone Doll’s Twin.
The first volume in the Tamir Triad starts out with a horrifying bang: twins, a boy and a girl, are born. Typically, the girl would inherit the throne following the prophecy of the line of warrior queens who protect Skala, but ever since the usurper king Erius stole the throne from his half-sister, women haven’t been allowed to rule. To protect the girl who should be queen, the boy twin is… killed. And some very bloody magic is used to make the girl appear to be a boy for the first several years of her life. Which she has no idea about, leading to a ton of further horrifying problems.
What follows is a complex story that will leave you guessing until the very last page. I know I lost a lot of hair reading this, I was pulling it out so much. Even though I read this series over five years ago, I still think about it, and some scenes are imprinted in my mind with photographic accuracy. Pick up this gem. Get wrecked. Thank me later.
The Weavers of Saramyr by Chris Wooding
Chris Wooding is one of the most underrated fantasy authors of our times, and most of his fanbase is in Europe. Which is a damned shame, because honestly? His books repeatedly blew me away. The Weavers of Saramyr was the first book I read from him, and it landed in my hands when the translation hit our shelves. Portuguese publishing can be notoriously bad when it comes to finishing series they pick up, and so I was left waiting years for the second and third volumes. I waited for the second, but by the time I reached the third, I realized I could read full novels in English. So, no more waiting! Sure, my copy is full of pencil underlines for words I didn’t know (in my defense, I was 16) but don’t think that I was put in a maze because I needed a dictionary from time to time.
I am 31 now, and as with books mentioned above, there are so many scenes I still remember like I read them today, along with so many twists and turns that make a maze seem like a linear construction. Also, as a baby queer, I intensely appreciated the f/f romance at a time where finding one was a maze in and of itself.
Born in the sunny lands of Portugal, Diana Pinguicha is a Computer Engineer graduate who currently calls Lisbon home. She can usually be found writing, painting, devouring extraordinary quantities of books and video games, or walking around with her bearded dragon, Norberta. She also has two cats, Sushi and Jubas, who would never forgive her if she didn’t mention them. Her debut, A Curse of Roses, will be out December 1st 2020 from Entangled: Teen.