I would have done two separate lists, but that wouldn’t have been fair, as I read so much more fantasy than sci-fi. These are in no particular order, for how could I rank them? Descriptions will be brief, for I can’t do justice to such powerful and lovely works of fiction. (Note: my descriptions are likely quite similar to the books’ blurbs.)
Til We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis
A retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, but the narrator is the lost voice of the sister, Orual. Orual undergoes a dramatic character arc, in which she betrays her sister not out of envy, as the traditional myth tells us, but out of love and hubris. The ending is profound and unforgettable.
Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
Part dystopia, part bildungsroman, all heart. Butler’s penultimate novel follows an African-American teenager as she watches the world she knows crumble around her, discovers her calling and her religion and her truth, and leads her people out of the desert in a desperate bid for survival.
The Secrets of Jin-Shei, by Alma Alexander
A lyrical and enchanting story that follows the lives of eight women from childhood to adulthood in the fictional kingdom of Syai. A place of magic and alchemy, its throne is in turmoil – and the ascendency of one girl leads to her unceasing quest for power, one that will leave none of these women untouched. It’s a tale of trust and betrayal, of love and redemption, and above all, the bonds of sisterhood.
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
One of the few modern epics, this story follows a small group of rabbits who, through the actions of mankind, lose their warren and must embark on a quest to form a new one. Along the way, they embark on adventures, find new loves, battle their enemies, and eventually form their own family. It’s a tale that calls to the heart, one that echoes the deepest part of all of us – the search and struggle to find home.
Finally, for the fifth entry, there are too many to list, but I’ll give it the old college try: Ficciones, Jeorge Luis Borges; Peony in Love, Lisa See; The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury; Sandman, Neil Gaiman; Frankenstein, Mary Shelley; Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Gregory Maguire; Lavinia, Ursula LeGuin…