November 18, 2019, 08:01:10 PM

Author Topic: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre  (Read 1869 times)

Offline Elfy

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Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« on: July 14, 2019, 07:42:03 AM »
I was inspired to make this list by a topic that @Eclipse recently resurrected: “What do you consider required reading in the fantasy genre?” I was somewhat underwhelmed by what was suggested in the thread. Most replies (including my own) were brief and confined themselves to particular sub genres by and large.
I thought about my own experiences with reading the genre over something like 40+ years and figured I could come up with a fairly decent list of recommendations that covered most (probably not all) of the subgenres over the bigger heading of Fantasy.

A few things about this list, it is not definitive, it’s confined to what I have read, enjoyed and would recommend to others if they wanted something. With that in mind, it’s also going to be skewed to my tastes, which I know won’t agree with those of everyone who reads it.

If you read through this and can’t find your favourite book, series, author or even sub genre then it’s for a few reasons: I haven’t read it/them, I have read it, but it didn’t impress me enough for one reason or another to recommend it to other people, I’m trying to include things on this list that have stood the test of time (sort of), so it’s highly unlikely that anything here had its first publication in the last 5 years.

There is one notable exception I probably have to mention. That’s A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. I’ve read the series, I really liked it, but I cannot in all good conscience recommend it. It’s unfinished and unfortunately is likely to remain so. Each book has left the reader on successively higher cliffs, so I find telling people to read it is an exercise in frustration. The series that I do put on the list (even the unfinished ones) tend to be relatively self contained stories leaving the reader with some sense of resolution.

The list will be alphabetical (there will be a few exceptions, I’m really hard put to find authors with surnames beginning with E, I, O, Q, U, X or Z). The year it was first published (as best I can track it down) will be next to the title/s. I’ll also where I can try to include a subgenre (this will get tricky with things like horror/dark fantasy or epic vs high fantasy. I won’t call something YA or children’s as those are categories, not subgenres). I’ll include a few words to give people an idea of what they’re getting into, but I’ll try my best to avoid spoilers.

Because the list became rather large, I'm just going to post it in more manageable bits.

I think that covers everything, so here we go:

A
Aaronovitch, Ben – The Peter Grant series. The first book in the series; The Rivers of London (called Midnight Riot in the US) was published in 2010. (urban fantasy)

Since first appearing in 2010, Peter Grant has gathered quite a following, comics have been done based on the series and there is now talk of a TV series. Aaronovitch is native of London, and he clearly loves the city, all but 2 of the 6 novels and 2 novellas (Foxglove Summer and October Man) have been set in and around London and in some cases like Rivers of London are virtual love letters to the city. There are a lot of cool little known history references in them as well.

The central character and narrator of Peter Grant is a bi racial policeman who accidentally discovers that he has a talent for magic when a ghost comes to have a chat to him at a crime scene, that brings him into the radar of Thomas Nightingale, and he becomes the legendary wizard’s apprentice. He also gets involved closely with the women who are the goddesses of London’s waterways.

They’re cleverly written and involving urban fantasies with a likeable, relatable protagonist. They do sometimes become a little too heavily involved with the police procedural side of things, which smacks of the author saying ‘look, I did research’.

Abercrombie, Joe – The First Law trilogy and 3 standalone novels set in the same world as The First Law. His first book; The Blade Itself was published in 2006 (grimdark)

Inspired by the success of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and its low magic, gritty approach to fantasy, Joe Abercrombie embarked on The Blade Itself. It takes a walk on the darker side of the genre (the author jokingly refers to himself as Lord Grimdark on Twitter). There’s little to no magic in Abercrombie’s books (that includes his YA Shattered Land trilogy, which reads kind of like his other work, just with the language toned down and the sex removed). No one in Abercrombie’s books is precisely good, but there are a few who are rotten to the core. He does employ some laugh out loud dark comedic moments at times, which I find sets him apart from other grimdark authors, whose works I find lacking in humour. He does some fascinating characters and his battle scene in The Heroes remains one of the best I’ve ever read.

Anderson, Poul – The Broken Sword published in 1954 (heroic fantasy)

Anderson was writing grimdark before anyone had hung a name on it, and The Broken Sword is a great example of it. For all that the book is not much longer than a novella it contains a mighty adventure in those few pages, involving fights, love, sex, heroes and myths. It proves that you don’t have to write a lot of words to write a big book.

B

Barker, Clive – Weaveworld published in 1987 (dark fantasy)

Barker’s best known for horror work and Weaveworld would have been thrown in that basket if he’d written and published it a decade or so earlier. It’s the story of a carpet into which has been woven an entire world full of people. Then there are people who will stop at nothing to own it. Barker writes achingly beautiful prose and in this he gives one of the best descriptions of a faerie world that I’ve been privileged to read.

Bulgakov, Mikhail – The Master and Margarita published in 1967, although it was written between 1928 and 1940 (literary fantasy)

Mikhail Bulgakov led a fascinating life and he poured the best of his creativity into this his masterpiece. He genuinely suffered for his art and at one point burned a lot of this manuscript and had to rewrite it. It was unfortunately not published until after his death and even then the first version was heavily censored in his native Russia. It concerns the devil, the writer (possibly Bulgakov himself) known as the Master and his lover Margarita. It’s hard not to be blown away by this and it’s had a deeper influence since it became more widely available. It inspired some of Salman Rushdie’s work in The Satanic Verses and Mick Jagger has cited it as being part of the inspiration for Sympathy for the Devil.

Butcher, Jim – The Dresden Files. The first book in the series; Storm Front was published in 2000 (urban fantasy)

In writing The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher, largely redefined the sub genre of urban fantasy. The story has come a long way from Storm Front where Harry Dresden was a down at heel, private eye type who advertised in the phone book.

The first few books were largely episodic in nature until it became apparent that a bigger story was unfolding. He’s only cliff hangered massively at the end of one book of the 15 that have been published. It’s a rocky start with the series for many people, Storm Front is a fairly unpolished read, but Butcher improved and before long he was a much better writer taking people on a wild ride through everything that readers now expect from their urban fantasy these days.

Offline Skip

Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2019, 07:12:34 PM »
Thanks for A and B here. The comments are extremely useful and I appreciate how much work goes into that. Looking forward to the rest of the alphabet!
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2019, 06:30:33 AM »
As threatened/promised, here's part 2. This comprises the letters C, D and F.

Carroll, Jonathan – The Land of Laughs published in 1980 (literary fantasy)

This one starts off quite sedately with a largely aimless young man trying to write a biography of his favourite author as a child. At times I felt I was reading a John Irving book. It has that feel and setting, but then a dog talks to the central character and from that point on the story becomes a very different beast with no one quite sure what is real and what isn’t anymore.

Carroll, Lewis – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland published in 1865 (fantasy)
Through The Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There published in 1871 (fantasy)

They kind of have to be spoken about in the one breath. They’ve made a massive impact on the psyche since first appearing in the latter half of the 19th century. Carroll made quite an achievement with these and it’s a great shame that he was never able to write and publish more of young Alice’s adventures. I feel you need to read both books (they’re quite short) to get the full impact of Wonderland and besides if you don’t read Looking Glass then you’ll miss out on one of the greatest epic poems ever and a true literary achievement in Jabberwocky.

Carter, Angela – The Bloody Chamber published in 1979 (literary fantasy)

The Bloody Chamber is a collection of fairy tales retold in Angela Carter’s own inimitable style. These aren’t the ones you read as a child, oh dearie me, no. These are bloody and brutal and quite scary and rarely have happy endings. It’s hard to be shaken by reading a book, but that’s what The Bloody Chamber did to me.

Clarke, Susanna – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell published in 2004 (alternate history)

It took Susanna Clarke over 10 years to write her magnum opus and reading it you can see why. While most of the story concerns a struggle for control of magic between the dour, humourless Mr Norrell and his dashing young rival Jonathan Strange, there’s also the story of the fae and what influence they exert on our world. I found the footnotes in this fascinating, they tell a story of an alternate England where magic greatly altered the course of history as we know it. A lot of people tend to like the Austenish language used in this, but I found it affecting and rather gimmicky.
 
De Larrabeiti, Michael – The Borribles Trilogy, the first book; The Borribles was published in 1986 (urban fantasy)

The Borribles are everything that characters in fantasy aimed at children are not meant to be. A Borrible is a runaway child who was never caught, as a consequence his or her ears grew long and pointed and they never aged physically beyond the pre teen years. The worst thing than can happen to a Borrible is for them to be caught, have their ears clipped and grow up nice, neat and normal. It would a great shame if there were no Borribles, too, because they are all that stand between our world as we know it and dominion by the Borrible’s mortal enemy; a Rumble, a large human sized rat like creature that seeks control of the world. The only thing that can stop a Rumble is a determined Borrible.

Deitz, Tom – The David Sullivan series, the first book; Windmaster’s Bane was published in 1986 (urban fantasy)

Tom Deitz seems to have been largely forgotten these days, which is sad, because he kind of kick started the whole teen urban fantasy thing with his David Sullivan stories. David ‘Mad Davey’ Sullivan and his friends are typical teenagers living in Georgia, USA, when they find out that the mountain near where they live has been made the home of both the Seelie and the Unseelie courts in the USA. David and his friends may not want to get involved, but mortals don’t have any say in it when the fae want to play.

Feist, Raymond – The Riftwar Saga, the first book; Magician was published in 1982 (high fantasy)

What Feist started with Magician back in 1982 turned into 30 books. I gave up partway through, but I did read the opening trilogy, which comprised Magician, Silverthorn and Darkness at Sethanon. The first book is a classic epic, set in a fairly standard pre industrial fantasy world called Midkemia, but it’s when a rift opens between Midkemia and Kelewan (a feudal Japan inspired world) that things really kick off. Magician is really the story of Pug and Tomas (more so Pug than Tomas) and the second and third books of the trilogy concern themselves with the story of Prince Arutha following the Riftwar and tie up the loose ends of Pug and Tomas as well. Feist’s elves, dwarves and dragons are fairly Tolkienesque, but Kelewan is a different creation that we never saw enough of, not even in the Empire trilogy set there that Feist co wrote with Janny Wurts.

Faerie Tale published in 1988 (urban fantasy)

Raymond Feist tried to move away from Midkemia with Faerie Tale. It’s a Stephen Kingish story set in New England and featuring a modern fay family getting involved with the myths and legends of the old folk that have made their way across the Atlantic. It’s still a really good story, although certain things like the introduction of the word processor tend to date it a little.

Fforde, Jasper – Thursday Next, the first book; The Eyre Affair was published in 2001 (comic fantasy/alternate history)

Jasper Fforde burst onto the scene with The Eyre Affair, a completely off the wall story set in an alternate 1985 where classic works of literature hold the same sort of profile that blockbuster movies do in our world (a particular highlight for me was the audience participation performance of Richard III that was clearly based on the audience participation screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and it’s up to Thursday to save the books when arch villain Acheron Hades finds a way into their pages and starts holding beloved characters and storylines to ransom.

They’ve been described as silly books for smart people and that’s a good line, it’s quite true. The series is broken into two parts, the first part contains four books and the second three so far. I feel it would have been better had it finished at the end of the first part, the second part has been nowhere near as entertaining and the last 2 books have been quite disappointing. A case of going to the well too often.

Offline NedMarcus

Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2019, 10:49:08 AM »
It took Susanna Clarke over 10 years to write her magnum opus and reading it you can see why.

I never knew that, and it makes me feel better for taking 7 to write my first. I enjoyed her novel, although several times I wished it'd been shorter.

Offline Bender

Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #4 on: July 15, 2019, 11:20:20 AM »
No Glen Cook? Black Company is a genre defining series imo.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #5 on: July 15, 2019, 11:59:19 AM »
No Glen Cook? Black Company is a genre defining series imo.
Read them, and did enjoy them, but they didn’t make enough of an impact on me to make the list.

Offline Skip

Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #6 on: July 15, 2019, 04:24:47 PM »
No Cook, but I agree. OTOH, I would've put Bancroft in the list, and Peter S. Beagle as well.

But this is your list, Elfy, and I'm happy to read it. It may well inspire me to make my own list. I have such, but without commentary, and it's really the commentary that adds value. I would address it to my kids and grandkids.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #7 on: July 16, 2019, 06:17:55 AM »
No Cook, but I agree. OTOH, I would've put Bancroft in the list, and Peter S. Beagle as well.

But this is your list, Elfy, and I'm happy to read it. It may well inspire me to make my own list. I have such, but without commentary, and it's really the commentary that adds value. I would address it to my kids and grandkids.
I assume Bancroft is Josiah Bancroft, he missed out on one of my criteria, and that's that I haven't read him. He also may have just scraped in on my time list as Senlin Ascends was published in 2013.
The Beagle you'd be referring to is most likely The Last Unicorn and it did come close, but didn't quite make the cut.
I will expand your TBR pile.

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Offline Elfy

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Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #8 on: July 16, 2019, 06:28:17 AM »
Today it's time for the G,s, H's and J's.

Gaiman, Neil – The Graveyard Book published in 2008 (YA dark fantasy)

I’ve never been all that impressed by Gaiman, and consequently I haven’t read him widely. The Graveyard Book is a different story, though. It won Gaiman his second Best Novel Hugo award when it came out, and while it is very definitely YA (possibly even slightly younger), it’s one of those books that crosses generations and makes people of all ages think. It’s unusual as a story, anything about an orphan boy raised in a graveyard by ghosts and a vampire can’t be anything but. Despite that it does manage a happy ending, too.

Grimwood, Ken – Replay published in 1987 (literary fantasy)

I don’t think many people know about this one, for all that it did win the World Fantasy Award. I’ve recently seen it rereleased and that pleases me. There’s a lot of Groundhog Day about this, although it’s not as superficial and not played for laughs.

Jeff Winston seems doomed to die in his early 40’s and relive his life from the age of 18 no matter what he does to try and alter it. He eventually accepts it and then it changes again. There’s a wonderful twist at the end which I never saw coming.

Howard, Robert E – the first Conan story; People of the Dark was published in 1932. Gollancz issued The Complete Chronicles of Conan (collecting most of Howard’s Conan stories) in 2006 (sword and sorcery)

Despite dying by his own hand at the tragically young age of 30, Robert E. Howard left a massive amount of writing behind him, including the creation of Conan the Barbarian, which made him almost single handedly the creator of the sword and sorcery sub genre.

The Conan stories were published in the pulp magazines of the 30’s, and there’s only one full length novel written by Howard himself. The collection above contains most of the published Conan work written by Howard. It’s worth a look just to see the birth of a legend.

Hughart, Barry – The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, first book; Bridge of Birds was published in 1984 (historical fantasy)

When it first appeared in 1984 Bridge of Birds was a bit of a revelation. The heart of it was an amusing and clever take on the odd couple murder mystery story. What intrigued many was that it was set in ancient China (I refer to it as ancient China as it never was, but the way you wish it had have been). Asian settings and characters are under represented in the genre. All 3 of the books are fun, covering the adventures of the humble peasant Number Ten Ox (he narrates the tales) and his wily master Li, the venerable ancient with a slight flaw in his character.

There were originally intended to be 7 books in the series, but it finished at 3. Partly because of publisher error and also because Hughart himself felt after the 3rd book that they were becoming formulaic. Having read them a few times I have to agree with him. The first book is fantastic, the second also quite good, but by the 3rd it is becoming tired. Hats off for Hughart in knowing when to end it, rather than running it into the ground or going to the well too many times.


Jansson, Tove – The Moomins, the first book in the series; The Moomins and the Great Flood was published in 1945 (children’s fantasy)

Tove Jansson’s delightful Moomins are well known in her native Finland, and they also have plenty of fans in England, although I think they’re starting to disappear now. I and my wife both loved the books as children and we do now, too. I do however get blank looks when I mention them now.

Jansson wrote them from the 40’s to the 70’s. They’re a delight. There’s no bad language, no violence. They don’t even behave badly and on the rare occasion when they are mean to each other, they apologise and it’s over with a hug. Finn Family Moomintroll is my favourite, but that could be just for Thingummy and Bob.

Jinks, Catherine – The Reformed Vampire Support Group published in 2009 (urban fantasy)

I refer to The Reformed Vampire Support Group as the anti-Twilight. The group of the title are a small community of vampires living in Sydney, Australia. It points out the many reasons why being a vampire is not at all desirable. They can’t go out in sunlight, they never age (and when you’re permanently 14 years old that’s not fun) and they have to drink blood to survive. It’s a great little book that swam against the tide at the time.

There was a sequel; The Abused Werewolf Rescue Squad, but it wasn't as good as the original.

Jones, Diana Wynne – The Tough Guide to Fantasyland published in 1996 (comic fantasy)

Diana Wynne Jones is a bit of a legend in the fantasy genre for her Chrestomanci books, her Dalemark series and Howl’s Moving Castle.

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is a bit of an oddity, but it’s well worth any fantasy readers, and aspiring writer’s time to look at it. It unerringly skewers every single cliché and trope that exists in the genre and does them all with its tongue firmly in its cheek.


I will expand your TBR pile.

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Offline Bender

Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #9 on: July 16, 2019, 11:31:38 AM »
Why did Erikson, Steven and Malazan not make the cut?  Edit - No Hobb, Robin either?

 :o

Is it a conscious decision to skip the popular ones and highlight the hidden gems?
« Last Edit: July 16, 2019, 11:34:44 AM by Bender »
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Offline Skip

Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #10 on: July 16, 2019, 03:38:19 PM »
>Why did Erikson, Steven and Malazan not make the cut?  Edit - No Hobb, Robin either?

Elfy doesn't ask to be defended, but I'll do so anyway. It's his list. Making the list is a lot of work--I know because I've done similar work--so I'm just happy that it's shared. Others will disagree, so make your own list. I don't say this to scold--it really is a worthwhile exercise. Then you can share it here, if you wish.

Personally I find Hobb dull and Erikson just oppressive, so they barely make my "books I have read" list. Everyone has their own tastes.

Here's another reason to make your own list. (NB: I'm speaking to the audience here, not the individual) Whether you are young or old, you're going to get older. You'll change. Making the list (and the comments are very important here) pegs in you time. A decade from now, after you've read more, come back to your list.

And another reason: if you have friends, give it to them. If you have children, give it to them. Twenty years later, give the (revised) list to their children. It's a gift.

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #11 on: July 16, 2019, 04:06:16 PM »
>Why did Erikson, Steven and Malazan not make the cut?  Edit - No Hobb, Robin either?

Elfy doesn't ask to be defended, but I'll do so anyway. It's his list. Making the list is a lot of work--I know because I've done similar work--so I'm just happy that it's shared. Others will disagree, so make your own list. I don't say this to scold--it really is a worthwhile exercise. Then you can share it here, if you wish.

Personally I find Hobb dull and Erikson just oppressive, so they barely make my "books I have read" list. Everyone has their own tastes.

Here's another reason to make your own list. (NB: I'm speaking to the audience here, not the individual) Whether you are young or old, you're going to get older. You'll change. Making the list (and the comments are very important here) pegs in you time. A decade from now, after you've read more, come back to your list.

And another reason: if you have friends, give it to them. If you have children, give it to them. Twenty years later, give the (revised) list to their children. It's a gift.
All this, seconded!
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Offline Bender

Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #12 on: July 16, 2019, 04:26:11 PM »
There absolutely is no reason to 'defend' anything as the intention is not to attack or poke holes in Elfy's list but rather to understand why certain series that are considered widely as best in the genre don't make the list. I can understand Malazan as the writing style ain't palatable to most, but was just curious on reasons behind Hobb omission.

Anyway it's a great list and I've already added some to my TBR bucket.
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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #13 on: July 16, 2019, 04:54:33 PM »
Oh don't worry, we get it :)
I guess Skip (and I) were just trying to say that whatever list is done, there will always be people asking "what about X?" - that was my initial reaction as well ;D
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Recommended reading in the Fantasy genre
« Reply #14 on: July 16, 2019, 10:41:52 PM »
Why did Erikson, Steven and Malazan not make the cut?  Edit - No Hobb, Robin either?

 :o

Is it a conscious decision to skip the popular ones and highlight the hidden gems?
I did start reading Malazan, but gave up halfway through the 3rd book, because I didn't care about any of the characters or what they were doing or where they were going. I have read Hobb, at least 2 series, but imo she doesn't stick her landings, she did that to me for 2 series and I wasn't going to start another one to have it let me down at the end. I did, however really enjoy a book she wrote as Megan Lindholm, but not enough to put it on the list.

It is a bit of a conscious decision to omit some of the things that are wildly popular and highlight some lesser known works. Not entirely, though. I think it was @ScarletBea who once told me when I did a similar exercise on my blog that I read some odd books.
« Last Edit: July 17, 2019, 06:47:26 AM by Elfy »
I will expand your TBR pile.

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