It’s been one year since Melbourne entered it’s first stage three lock down and let’s just say it’s been a wild time. Looking back, it’s unbelievable just how drastically our lives have all changed since March 2020. I mean, remember when we were all worried about the Australian bush fires? It almost seems like an entire lifetime has past since.
Anyway, because travel seems to be off the table for a while yet, I wanted to share some recommendations. I’ve personally curated a selection of hauntingly atmospheric books to take you on a sweeping fictional journey. These books blend genre and explore different cultures – perfect for any bookish vagabond to get lost in.
And while we’re at it, here’s the perfect song to get you feeling those vibes:
Sent in 1910 to live with distant relatives who own a rubber plantation along the Amazon River, English orphan Maia is excited. She believes she is in for brightly colored macaws, enormous butterflies, and “curtains of sweetly scented orchids trailing from the trees.”
Her British classmates warn her of man-eating alligators and wild, murderous Indians. Unfortunately, no one cautions Maia about her nasty, xenophobic cousins, who douse the house in bug spray and forbid her from venturing beyond their coiffed compound.
Maia, however, is resourceful enough to find herself smack in the middle of more excitement than she ever imagined, from a mysterious “Indian” with an inheritance, to an itinerant actor dreading his impending adolescence, to a remarkable journey down the Amazon in search of the legendary giant sloth.
Harking back the the early exploration period of the 1900’s, Journey to the River Sea is a beautifully written ode to the Amazon Basin – an epic voyage brimming with eccentric characters and adventure.
Legend says that Aurora Pavan’s ancestors first gained their magic by facing a storm and stealing part of its essence. Aurora has been groomed to be the perfect queen…but she’s yet to show any trace of the magic she’ll need to protect her people.
To keep her secret and save her crown, she’ll have to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom: He’ll guarantee her spot as the next queen and be the champion her people need to remain safe. But the more Aurora uncovers about him, the more a future with him frightens her.
When a handsome young storm hunter reveals he was born without magic, but possesses it now, Aurora realizes there’s a third option for her future besides ruin or marriage… She might not have magic now, but she can steal it – if she’s brave enough.
With lore, mythology and turbulent storm magic, Roar features a band of rouge storm hunters in an epic Twister-esque quest across the unclaimed wilds of Gaelira.
In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Pulled back through time to 1776 in the midst of a fierce sea battle, she has traveled not only miles, but years from home.
With the arrival of this unusual passenger on his ship, privateer Nicholas Carter has to confront a past that he can’t escape and the powerful Ironwood family who won’t let him go without a fight. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value; one they believe only Etta can find.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by an enigmatic traveler. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta from Nicholas, and her way home, forever.
Full of pirates, sweeping romance and a lost treasure shrouded in mystery, Passenger is a riveting adventure through time itself. Think National Treasure meets Indiana Jones meet Pirates of the Caribbean.
Caroline Oresteia is destined for the river. She longs to take her place among the river captains – all she needs is for the god beneath the water to whisper her name and seal her fate. But at seventeen, she may be too late.
When her father is arrested, Caro agrees to transport a mysterious cargo in exchange for his freedom. Secretly, she hopes that by making this dangerous journey the river god will finally speak her name. But the cargo is more than Caro expected, and soon she finds herself caught in a storm of danger, lies… and love.
Criminally underrated, Song of the Current plays host to one of the most intricate, atmospheric fantasy worlds you’ll ever read. Brimming with witty sailor lingo and a fiercely independent, highly capable heroine, this book will give you all the Jungle Cruise vibes.
Kamzin has always dreamed of becoming one of the emperor’s royal explorers, the elite climbers tasked with mapping the wintry, mountainous Empire and spying on its enemies. She knows she could be the best in the world, if only someone would give her a chance.
But everything changes when the mysterious and eccentric River Shara, the greatest explorer ever known, arrives in her village. This is Kamzin’s chance to prove herself — even though River’s mission to retrieve a rare talisman for the emperor means climbing Raksha, the tallest and deadliest mountain in the Aryas.
The challenges of climbing Raksha are unlike anything Kamzin expected —or prepared for — with avalanches, ice chasms, ghosts, and other dangers at every turn. And as dark secrets are revealed, Kamzin must unravel the truth about their mission and her companions — while surviving the deadliest climb she has ever faced.
Inspired by the early explorers of Mt. Everest, Even the Darkest Stars takes us high above the clouds on a trek through a snow-laden mountainous empire. There’s witches, dragons and demons – not to mention the constant threat of exposure.
On the fringes of the Great Spice Road, Maia Tamarin works as a steamstress. She dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land but, as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well.
When a royal messenger summons her ailing father to court, Maia poses as his son and travels to the Summer Palace in his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to save her family from ruin and achieve her dream of becoming the imperial tailor. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.
The competition is cutthroat, and Maia’s job is further complicated by the unwelcome attention of the court enchanter, Edan, who seems to see straight through her disguise. But nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge to sew three gowns so dangerously beautiful, it will take a quest to the ends of the earth to complete them…
Steeped in Chinese tradition and folk lore, Spin the Dawn is a lush and whimsical debut featuring a quest to the far reaches of an imperial kingdom to sew three magical dresses.
As princess of the island kingdom Visidia, Amora Montara has spent her entire life training to be High Animancer – the master of souls. The rest of the realm can choose their magic, but for Amora, it’s never been a choice. To secure her place as heir to the throne, she must prove her mastery of the monarchy’s dangerous soul magic.
When her demonstration goes awry, Amora is forced to flee. She strikes a deal with Bastian, a mysterious pirate: he’ll help her prove she’s fit to rule, if she’ll help him reclaim his stolen magic.
But sailing the kingdom holds more wonder – and more peril – than Amora anticipated. A destructive new magic is on the rise, and if Amora is to conquer it, she’ll need to face legendary monsters, cross paths with vengeful mermaids, and deal with a stow-away she never expected… or risk the fate of Visidia and lose the crown forever.
A riveting, swashbuckler adventure spanning the high seas, All the Stars and Teeth boasts an incredible cast of characters which sweeps you up into the shifting politics of a watery world.
It’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets to the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.
Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.
Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.
A high-stakes survival adventure with a science-fiction twist, These Broken Stars is a timeless love story about hope and survival against all odds. Think Titanic meets Man vs. Wild.
So there you have it, my recommendations for bookish vagabonds alike. Have you read any of the books on this list? Did I miss your favorite? Let’s chat in the comments below – happy travels