Best Novels to Read When You Want to Escape Real Life

Let's face it: real life can be tough sometimes. There are moments when all you want to do is escape into a fictional world for a while. Well, fear not: this selection of immersive novels will whisk you away to thrilling places and distant times to join heroic characters on amazing adventures, whenever you're in need of some escapism! See below for the best novels to read when you want to escape real life.

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1. The Buried Giant

Kazuo Ishiguro

The Romans have long since departed and Britain is gradually fading into ruin. Axl and Beatrice set off across a troubled land of mist and rain to find the son they haven't seen for years. They expect to face many dangers - some strange and otherworldly - but they could never have foreseen that their journey would reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for each other. Fierce, gripping, and intensely moving, this stunning novel is about lost memories, revenge, war, and love.

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2. Dragon Keeper

Robin Hobb

The first book in a two-part series, Dragon Keeper transports readers to Robin Hobb's rich and wondrous world - where dragons have returned... Guided by the dragon Tintaglia, the serpents come from the sea and fight their way up the Rain Wild River to their ancestral hatching grounds. However, the fledglings that emerge from the cocoons are a mockery of the dragons of old. Flightless and fractious, they soon become a danger to all and must be moved. The Rain Wilder Thymara answers the call to become one of the dragon keepers and accompany the creatures upriver. Their target is the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra, but no-one knows if it actually exists - and no-one expects the dragon keepers to survive...

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3. On Starlit Seas

Sara Sheridan

Charged with a mission by the Empress of Brazil, celebrated writer Maria Graham sets off for England as the Brazilian civil war rages. Newly widowed, she accepts an offer of passage from roguish smuggler Captain James Henderson, who is travelling back to his childhood home in Covent Garden. On-board his ship, Maria discovers not only a dangerous secret concealed in a chocolate bar, but an electrifying attraction to the mysterious captain. But someone of her social standing cannot possibly fall in love with a smuggler. Henderson is determined to forge a new identity as a London gentleman, but finds himself embroiled in a perilous tangle with a deadly smuggling ring. Can he ever prove himself worthy of Maria? This sumptuous tale is riddled with adventure, romance - and chocolate.

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4. His Dark Materials

Philip Pullman

Featuring three books - Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass - this captivating fantasy trilogy follows Lyra and her 'daemon', the animal embodiment of her inner self. Travel with Lyra to phenomenal fantastical settings, through snowy hills, to an otherworldly city, and even to the Land of the Dead, on all sorts of daring and dangerous quests.

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5. Under a Pole Star

Stef Penney

It is 1889, and Flora - a whaler's daughter from Dundee, dubbed by the press 'The Snow Queen' - sets out to become a scientist and explorer. Determined to be taken seriously, ambition and chance lead her back to northern Greenland at the head of a British expedition, despite the belief of many that a young woman has no place in this ruthless world of men. Yearning for wider horizons, geologist Jakob de Beyn joins a rival expedition, led by the ambitious Lester Armitage. When Jakob and Flora's paths cross, it is a fateful meeting. Flora, Jakob and Lester all become obsessed with the north, a place where violent extremes exist side-by-side: perpetual night and endless day; frozen seas and coastal meadows; heroism and treachery...

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6. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

Immerse yourself in a dreamlike world with this enthralling classic tale. Follow the white rabbit down the rabbit hole and tumble into a world where all your normal worries disappear, and you must instead contend with the grinning Cheshire Cat, the nonsensical Mad Hatter and the cruel Queen of Hearts. Full of wonderful wordplay and perplexing puzzles, readers young and old are sure to love this riveting read.

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7. The Essex Serpent

Sarah Perry

London, 1893. Cora Seaborne's controlling husband has died. Now, she must step into her new life as a widow - with as much relief as sadness. Alongside her son, Francis - a curious, obsessive boy - she leaves for Essex, hoping that fresh air and open space will provide a welcome refuge. However, on arrival, rumours reach them that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to claim lives whilst roaming the marshes, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora - a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for superstition - cannot help but go and investigate... Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2016, this book is guaranteed to grip you.

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8. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Alexander McCall Smith

The first of a series of wonderful reads, the adventures of Mma Ramotswe are sure to delight and enthral readers. If you've got a problem and no-one else can help you, pay a visit to Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's only - and finest - female private detective. With warmth, wit and sharp intuition on her side, she's sure to solve the most mysterious cases, including wayward daughters, missing husbands, philandering partners and curious conmen. Discover the vibrant Botswanan culture whilst enjoying the heart-warming and gripping story of Precious Ramotswe.

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9. Dark Eden

Chris Beckett

Dive into a dark, mysterious planet, full of sinister fauna and flora, where humans were never meant to go. Uncover the fascinating society that grew from just two stranded humans, a community riddled with mental and physical disability due to inbreeding, no-strings-attached sexual encounters, lots of fatherless children, plenty of baseless traditions shaped around stories and theories warped and corrupted over the years, and the unshakeable belief that other humans will arrive to take everyone back to Earth one day. 'Break the Circle' with John Redlantern as he rebels against this cultish community and shapes the fate of this new Eden.

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10. Frankenstein

Mary Shelley

Victor Frankenstein, obsessed with the idea of creating life itself, ransacks graveyards for the material necessary to fashion a new being. He shocks the creature into life with electricity, but his botched being, rejected by Frankenstein and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy its creator and all that he holds dear. This spine-chilling Gothic novel is full of moral quandaries, and remains one of the world's most famous horror stories.

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  • AUKRX
    Sara Sheridan
    • £8.89
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    Chocolate. Smuggling. Secrets and Lies. Brazil and London 1824. Charged with a mission by the Empress of Brazil, celebrated writer and the toast of Georgian London, Maria Graham sets off for England with the Brazilian civil war at its height. Newly widowed and a woman travelling alone, the stakes are high and when she accepts roguish smuggler Captain James Henderson's offer of passage on his ship, she gets more than she bargains for...Henderson is on a journey of his own, back to his childhood home in Covent Garden. Onboard Maria discovers both a dangerous secret concealed in a chocolate bar and an irresistible attraction to the mysterious captain. But falling in love with a smuggler is almost unthinkable for a woman of Maria's social standing. Though Henderson tries his utmost to abandon his life of crime and forge a new identity as a London gentleman, he is caught in a dangerous tangle with a deadly aristocratic smuggling ring. The only chance he has to save himself and prove worthy of Maria is to unmask the gang and break free from their clutches, but will it be enough?On Starlit Seas is a breathless tale of adventure, love and chocolate set at the height of the British Empire.
  • AQWHH
    Kazuo Ishiguro
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    The extraordinary new novel from the author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize winning The Remains of the Day. The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards - some strange and other-worldly - but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another. Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war.
  • AQNXO
    Robin Hobb
    • £8.89
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    The first book in a two part series from one of the greatest writers in the fantasy genre. DRAGON KEEPER returns fans to Hobb's best-loved world, full of dragons, magical ships and unforgettable characters. Dragons have returned to the world ...Guided by the dragon Tintaglia, the serpents came from the sea to fight their way up the Rain Wild River to their ancestral hatching grounds. But the fledglings that emerge from the cocoons are a travesty of the dragons of old. Flightless and fractious, they soon become a danger to all and must be moved. Thymara, a Rain Wilder born with scales and claws, answers the call to become one of the dragon keepers to accompany the creatures upriver. Their target is the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra. But no one knows if it even exists; and no one expects the dragon keepers to return, or even survive...
  • ATAWF
    Lewis Carroll
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    With an Introduction and Notes by Michael Irwin, Professor of English Literature, University of Kent at Canterbury This selection of Carroll's works includes Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, both containing the famous illustrations by Sir John Tenniel. No greater books for children have ever been written. The simple language, dreamlike atmosphere, and fantastical characters are as appealing to young readers today as ever they were. Meanwhile, however, these apparently simple stories have become recognised as adult masterpieces, and extraordinary experiments, years ahead of their time, in Modernism and Surrealism. Through wordplay, parody and logical and philosophical puzzles, Carroll engenders a variety of sub-texts, teasing, ominous or melancholy. For all the surface playfulness there is meaning everywhere. The author reveals himself in glimpses.
  • AVWWB
    Stef Penney
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    COSTA WINNING AUTHOR Stef Penney returns to the wild Arctic setting she brought so vividly to life in THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES, in an epic story of ambition, perseverance and love against the odds. Perfect for fans of TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD and THE ESSEX SERPENT. 'A supreme storyteller' Sunday Times Flora Mackie first crossed the Arctic Circle at the age of twelve. In 1889, the whaler's daughter from Dundee - dubbed by the press 'The Snow Queen' - sets out to become a scientist and explorer. She struggles to be taken seriously but determination and chance lead her back to northern Greenland at the head of a British expedition, despite the many who believe that a young woman has no place in this harsh world of men. Geologist Jakob de Beyn was raised in Manhattan. Yearning for wider horizons, he joins a rival expedition, led by the furiously driven Lester Armitage. When Jakob and Flora's paths cross, it is a fateful meeting. All three become obsessed with the north, a place where violent extremes exist side by side: perpetual night and endless day; frozen seas and coastal meadows; heroism and lies. Armitage's ruthless desire to be the true leader of polar discovery takes him and his men on a mission whose tragic outcome will reverberate for years to come. Set against the stark, timeless beauty of northern Greenland, and fin-de-siecle New York and London, Under a Pole Star is a compelling look at the dark side of the 'golden age' of exploration, a study of the corrosive power of ambition, and an epic, incendiary love story. It shows that sometimes you have to travel to the furthest edge of the world in order to find your true place in it.
  • AWMUP
    Sarah Perry
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    Shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award, Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent is based in London in 1893. Cora Seaborne's controlling husband has died, and it's up to her to step into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness.

    Along with her son Francis - a curious, obsessive boy - she leaves town for Essex, in the hope that fresh air and open space will provide refuge.

    On arrival, rumours reach them that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for superstition, is enthralled and goes to investigate...
  • AADZG
    Mary Shelley
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    Obsessed by creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the material to fashion a new being, which he shocks into life by electricity. But his botched creature, rejected by Frankenstein and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy his maker and all that he holds dear. Mary Shelley's chilling gothic tale was conceived when she was only eighteen, living with her lover Percy Shelley near Byron's villa on Lake Geneva. It would become the world's most famous work of horror fiction, and remains a devastating exploration of the limits of human creativity.
  • AAFQZ
    Alexander McCall Smith
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    Wayward daughters. Missing Husbands. Philandering partners. Curious conmen. If you've got a problem, and no one else can help you, then pay a visit to Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's only - and finest - female private detective. Her methods may not be conventional, and her manner not exactly Miss Marple, but she's got warmth, wit and canny intuition on her side, not to mention Mr J. L. B. Matekoni, the charming proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. And Precious is going to need them all as she sets out on the trail of a missing child, a case that tumbles our heroine into a hotbed of strange situations and more than a little danger ...Delightfully different, THE NO.1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY offers a captivating glimpse of an unusual world.
  • ACYRC 11 years +
    Philip Pullman
    11 years +
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    A modern masterpiece from Philip Pullman, this slipcased collection includes all three books in the His Dark Materials trilogy.

    A bestseller all around the world that tackled a number of important and controversial issues, it also won many awards and has had a remarkable influence on literature since.
  • AEURW
    Chris Beckett
    • £8.79
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    You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of Angela and Tommy. You shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest's lantern trees, hunting woollybuck and harvesting tree candy.

    Beyond the forest lie the treeless mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it. The Oldest among you recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross between worlds. One day, the Oldest say, they will come back for you.

    You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of two marooned explorers. You huddle, slowly starving, beneath the light and warmth of geothermal trees, confined to one barely habitable valley of a startlingly alien, sunless world.

    After 163 years and six generations of incestuous inbreeding, the Family is riddled with deformity and feeble mindedness. Your culture is a infantile stew of half-remembered fact and devolved ritual that stifles innovation and punishes independent thought. You are John Redlantern.

    You will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family and change history. You will be the first to abandon hope, the first to abandon the old ways, the first to kill another, the first to venture in to the Dark, and the first to discover the truth about Eden.