The book that was most responsible for getting me into the genre, though, was Juliet Marillier's fabulous debut, Daughter of the Forest, the first book in the Sevenwaters trilogy (but now there's a sort-of fourth book). In Daughter, Sorcha, the only daughter in a family of six sons, and also daughter of a seventh son, is the only child left untouched after her father's new wife curses his male heirs (excepting the child that she recently bore him). Sorcha is the only one who can break the curse but it comes at great expense. She is must weave each of her cursed brother a shirt of nettles and she must not speak until the task is complete. Sorcha is captured by Britons, but an act of kindness from earlier in her story saves her. Granted this one boon, Sorcha is taken back with the Britons where she continues to endeavor to save her brothers.
It's been ages since I read this, but it's one of my favorites. Marillier's fourth Sevenwaters book, a sort-of stand alone that takes place in the same world as the trilogy, was only released this year and I can't tell you how excited I was to see that it was out. I really set my fantasy standards on this author and it's all thanks to this trilogy. With each of her books, she incorporates classic fairy tales and mythology from all over the world. Daughter of the Forest is based on a Grimm's tale called The Six Swans; Celtic mythology is also prevalent in the series. I can't tell you exactly which stories, however, because I'm not sure at this point which appear in this book and which appear in the subsequent books. They're all fantastic, though, and once you read Daughter you'll definitely have to jump into Son of Shadows, and then Child of Prophecy.
If you want to ease into fantasy, I think these are perfect. I was lucky in that I had just signed up for Dear Reader, a sort of on-line book club where you get to sample a chapter from a different book each week. Even though I had seen Daughter on the shelves while I was working, it was when it was the Fantasy/Sci-Fi pick that I sat down and realized how fabulous the book was. Of course when my sample was all read up, I bought the book at work the very next day. I'll let you in on a little secret, though, if you hit "more editorial reviews" at amazon, you can read a bit of Daughter. It's just enough to whet your appetite, but trust me the book is totally worth the buy (there's a longer excerpt on the Look Inside option at BN.com as well).
Readers who enjoy historical fantasy, fairy tales (who doesn't?), and a little romance will love this series.