It’s no secret that I love The Adventure Zone: Balance. You might have seen my review of it last October, and even if you haven’t, I feel like I probably mention it often enough on social media that it shouldn’t be a surprise.
But honestly, what better way to celebrate how much I love this campaign than to do a list of book recs by character? So, figure out your favorite, and then waltz on down below the cut to see what I’ve recommended for them!
And hey, if you’re not done with Balance yet, or have any intention of starting it, don’t stray too far beyond the first few characters/wherever you’re at in the campaign. This post absolutely contains spoilers, but it’s organized roughly by appearance/moment of major relevant characterization so that you can quit while you’re ahead if you have to.
Magnus Burnsides || The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
I don’t really see Magnus as much of a heavy reader, but there’s something about The Way of Kings that really suits him in spite of it being a BRICK of a book. It’s mostly Kaladin, actually: like Magnus, he fights to protect people, and also like Magnus, he’s suffered some really tragic losses in his life.
The only thing missing? Lots of ripping arms out. Though I suppose that is a uniquely Magnus Burnsides trait!
“I protect those who can’t protect themselves.”
Taako, Y’know, From TV || With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
By the time Balance starts, Taako has a bit of a complicated relationship with cooking. He’s damn good at it, but he also doesn’t cook for people anymore, given the tragic events of the final episode of Sizzle it Up with Taako! But With the Fire on High is centered not only on the joy of cooking, but the importance of love and support from those dear to you. It’s very Taako, not that he would admit it.
“I wanna make a perception check to see if the concept of ground meat would occur to me.”
Merle Highchurch || The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees
To tell the truth, Merle has been the hardest one on this list to pin down, short of taking a deep and questionable dive into the world of erotica to see what plant-related stuff there is (and if you know, I’m begging you, don’t tell me). Ultimately, though, he gets The Waking Forest, because not only does it have plant-life woven into the threads of the book, it’s a journey about healing and taking steps towards better days, and it’s a book about family. And for all his terrible (truly TERRIBLE) moments of unhelpful spell casting and plant-related seduction, Merle is a character who’s learning to make a better version of himself, and by Pan, he’s going to take the rest of the world with him, one dwarven step at a time.
“Well, I’m a big believer in talking to my plants.”
Killian || The Afterward by EK Johnston
Honestly, The Afterward is probably just a peak AU for Killian and her good good rogue girlfriend. A knight falls in love with a thief and they orbit each other in search of a stable future? Yep, sounds like something that would happen to Killian! Gotta love her tbh. 💚
“So here’s my solution, and I think you’re gonna find it very equitable: I’m not gonna shoot you with this giant crossbow.”
Johann || This Savage Song by VE Schwab
Listen, there will never be a day where I don’t think about Johann, friend to the Voidfish and violin virtuoso of the Bureau of Balance Moonbase. He’s not nearly as tortured as August from This Savage Song, and his circumstances overall aren’t as dire, but music is central to his life and his choices and the way he wants the world to see him, which makes this book the perfect choice.
“See, there’s magic in a bard’s song.”
Hurley || Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire
If there ever was a book for Hurley, Sparrow Hill Road is it. Hurley may not be a ghost like Rose Marshall, but both Hurley and Rose live and die by the road, and both of them have a race to win, one with consequences that go beyond anything they’ve ever faced before.
Also, I adore both Hurley and Rose, so that’s an extra point of comparison. It counts, okay?!
“I don’t know, I didn’t think this through! I just drove off the cliff!”
Sloane || The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Much like Puck in The Scorpio Races, it seems like Sloane was born to race. Granted, Sloane races battlewagons and not carnivorous, kelpie-esque horses, but that doesn’t change the fact that racing brings Sloane a joy that she can’t find any other way.
Not to mention Sloane has something of a race against time going on with the Gaia Sash, the same way Puck doesn’t have long to prove herself in the races. It’s now or never in both cases, and maybe, just maybe, it even breaks my heart.
“Don’t let this happen again.”
Garyl the Binicorn || Ashlords by Scott Reintgen
Ashlords isn’t out yet (2020!), but it’s all about racing phoenix horses, beasts that can run all day, die at night, and have to be resurrected the following morning to keep going! They’re absurdly cool, incredibly fascinating, and basically? They’re Garyl, minus the incredibly unicorn flair he’s got going on. Garyl only makes his appearances when summoned, vanishes when time’s up, and is constantly outrunning the competition (and looking fantastic while doing it).
“I only last an hour, my dude. Let’s see how quickly these dipshits pull through.”
Lucas Miller || The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
Oh, so people keep dying and disappearing and one person keeps pushing at it all the same, pulling the strings for what might just be selfish but entirely human reasons? And these reasons put folks in danger? Also, it’s sci-fi?
Am I talking about The Luminous Dead or Lucas Miller’s involvement in the Crystal Kingdom arc of Balance? You decide!
“You guys aren’t going to let me do science to you anymore, are you?”
N0-3113 || City of Ghosts by VE Schwab
Oh, N0-3113, the best and bravest hug-sized bot who ever was. 💔 City of Ghosts is her perfect fit, given her ties to Phandalin on the day of its destruction, and her existence as a robot in Lucas Miller’s lab. Not to mention City of Ghosts is about friendship, too, and N0-3113 is one of the friendliest characters out there. Just a big sweetheart who deserves the world and a calm, quiet afterlife after everything she’s been through.
Carey Fangbattle || Fire & Heist by Sarah Beth Durst
Honestly, Fire & Heist could be Carey Fangbattle’s byline on business cards. Everyone’s favorite sweet flips lizard lesbian, she’s a dragonborn rogue with all the skills to keep up and even go beyond expectations. Plus, her friendship with Magnus is just so earnest and joyful, and she’s all about those loving connections. Friends and family to the end for Carey Fangbattle!
“All right guys, time to roll out! You guys ready to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’?”
Kravitz || Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Honestly, I think I’d be missing the point if I didn’t give Kravitz a book that stars grim reapers, and Scythe fits the bill! Centered on two teens learning what it takes to be a Scythe, the only beings that can bring a final death, and learning what they’re willing to sacrifice to become a Scythe proper, it suits Kravitz’s journey of trying to decide exactly how closely he needs to follow the Raven Queen’s orders and to make sense of these weird weird dudes who JUST KEEP DYING and…coming back?
Also, Kravitz is the grim reaper. Obvious point there, but HEY!
“Well, we need to talk, don’t we? Cause you boys… you’ve added quite a bit to your death count, haven’t you?”
Roswell || Timekeeper by Tara Sim
If someone finds me a book about a mud spirit enchanted to protect a town, then I’ll change my recommendation, but for now, Roswell’s rec is Timekeeper! They seem to share a fair bit in common with Colton the clock spirit, mostly given the whole spirit of an inanimate object with agency and power and a mission, and also? Timekeeper is steampunk, while The Eleventh Hour’s arc is something like a western that got swirled in with time travel fantasy. Basically, we’re getting historical and emotional about sentient spirits!
“Tell me that I made Refuge safe!”
Istus || Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
Istus knows so much about the fabric of time, but even she can’t always see how it ends. Because of that, Passenger makes a great fit! It centers on traveling through time to save family, to save the world, and it just keeps reaching for that happy ending, that chance that maybe, maybe things can really turn out okay.
And if Istus embodies anything, it’s hope for a better future.
“You’re going to be amazing.”
Julia Burnsides || Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
Julia Burnsides might not be a pirate, but Seafire suits her well, given that it’s about a group of girls with all kinds of practical skills protecting their own and standing up to a merciless regime. And while Magnus is the hero we see the most of, Julia fought by his side in the rebellion to protect Raven’s Roost, the both of them taking the carpentry skills they learned from Julia’s father and turning them into skills for war. She’s every bit the hero he is, and her patience and skill makes me wish we’d seen even more of her.
“I want to savor every second of this, and we got all kinds of time. So why don’t you some inside and tell me everything, okay?”
Barry Bluejeans || The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson
If there’s one thing Barry Bluejeans is good at (besides, well, wearing blue jeans), it’s the whole lich business. He’s an expert in matters of the undead, and it seems only fitting to give him a book about trying to puzzle out what it means when someone you’re close to comes back to life, what it means to have a second chance when it really matters.
“And right now, in this moment, you feel a dull weight in your chest. It’s the weight of a love that defined and redeemed you, but you’ve forgotten who that weight belongs to. “
Lup || Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
Only the best for the actual love of my life, Lup the Lich Who Also Does Incredible Fire Magic!! She’s one of my absolute favorite Balance characters for so many reasons, but giving her Of Fire and Stars as a rec comes down to two things: powerful fire magic, and a love story. 🧡
“Hear that, babe? We’re legends.”
Lucretia || The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron
A story about a girl who remembers everything when everyone else forgets, who knows the records and diaries aren’t telling the whole truth, who knows that this is a world people arrived on by spaceship, who knows the hurt of being forgotten by everyone she loves?
I don’t think I need to say much more about choosing The Forgetting for Lucretia.
“You wouldn’t know my name, but I’ve almost certainly ghost-written something that you’ve read, and this- this just seems like a story worth telling.”
Davenport || Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser
Maybe Davenport didn’t get a ton of screentime, but he was still there, and in the end, he’s as much a key player as the actual player characters. He’s Cap’nport, captain of the Starblaster, and the mission is his whole love, his whole life.
So I suppose it’s fitting to give him Song of the Current, a story about sailing your own path, taking hold of your own destiny, becoming your own captain. And unlike Lucretia’s recommendation, I’m not going to hit you with any heart-wrenching amnesia plot connections this time. You’re welcome.
“Joyfully yours, Davenport.”
Fisher and Junior || Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst and Paula Garner
Choosing a book for a pair of space jellies is a little weird and tough to do, but I think Starworld suits them just fine. For one, that space cover is exactly what the Voidfishes deserve. But two, this is a story about connection and friendship and using fiction to cope with reality. In some ways, Fisher and Junior’s powers help the cast of Balance do that, albeit…unknowingly.
“Okay, well I clearly recognize this is a special thing. Magnus bows before the jellyfish, just out of deference and respect.”
Lord Stephen Q. Fletcher Esquire the Goldfish III || The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
A story about sea creatures that are powerful companions seems right up Lord Stephen Q. Fletcher Esquire the Goldfish III’s alley! Well, maybe he isn’t THAT powerful in TAZ: Balance, but shhh. We love Stephen and will do anything to cushion his delightful fishy ego.
“STEPHEN’S NOT A WEAPON! He is an agent of love!”