A while ago, when I was looking at my bookcase a thought hit me. It’s been 20 years now since I discovered that fantasy is actually a genre on its own. It was Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings that gave me the love for the fantastical genre and that love has never died since that moment, 20 years ago. To celebrate that anniversary I decided to do a top 20 of my favorite fantasy books. This list is purely my personal opinion, with no one else involved. That doesn’t mean that I’m not curious about your reactions to this list. I’ll be happy to find out what you think of this list, so let those comments coming.
20 The First Law (Joe Abercrombie)
Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy is considered as one of the best grimdark series and also as one of the best fantasy series ever. And it is rightly so. The main characters of this trilogy are probably the most flawed characters you’ll ever meet in a book, but it’s hard not to care for these guys. Abercrombie’s trilogy is full of dark moments, but also a lot of funny ones, with a great storyline and an ending that you’ll like or hate. I liked that special ending because it fits perfectly with the subgenre this is written in. The best book of this trilogy is the first one, The Blade Itself, where Abercrombie can go all out with his talent in characterbuilding. You can read my review here.
19 Elantris (Brandon Sanderson)
Brandon Sanderson’s debut novel Elantris marks the start of the career of one of the best fantasy authors from the last decade. It tells the tale of three people that are seeing their futures becoming intertwined when they are fighting to save the city of Elantris from invaders. This book contains all the elements that Sanderson is known for: a superb world, great characters and a very original magic system. This is the first book by Sanderson that has ended up in this top 20, but definitely not the last, so if you’re looking for a fantasy author to follow, be sure to check this one out.
18 Golden Trillium (Andre Norton)
Andre Norton’s Golden Trillium is a standalone in the Trillium series co-written with Marion Zimmer Bradley and Julian May. This book tells the tale of Princess Kadiya, who has to undertake a long and dangerous journey to stop an evil disease from spreading throughout her world. It’s been a long time since I’ve read this book, but the one thing I remember was that this story was hugely epic, in the truest meaning of the word. Norton’s great writing style delivers a classic tale of good versus evil, but in a slightly different way than we were used to back then when the book was published. A wonderful world and great characters makes this book one of the best epic standalones on the market.
17 A Turn Of Light (Julie E. Czerneda)
Like I said, I’ve read fantasy for twenty years now, but I started my blog only a year ago. During that year I’ve met (online) a lot of interesting and very nice authors and people from the publishing industry. Quite a few were so kind to send me a book for reviewing. And between those books there are a few that have made it to my top 20. Julie E. Czerneda’s A Turn Of Light is one of those. As you can tell from my review is this first book in the Night’s Edge series not only a wonderful and magical tale, but above all a very beautiful story about a girl and her dreams, set against the backdrop of an epic war. Czerneda’s style is beautiful and addictive and if you like your epic fantasy looked upon in an original way, you won’t be disappointed with this great novel.
16 Your Brother’s Blood (David Towsey)
David Towsey’s Your Brother’s Blood is a beautiful tale about humanity set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world. It’s a very refreshing take on the zombie tales and definitely a must-read. It’s probably the most unconventional of all the books in my top 20, but at the same time also one of the most beautiful written. It’s haunting and left a deep impression on me after I’ve closed the book. And although it is a book about zombies, it’s also one of the most human I’ve ever read. You can read my review here.
15 Faerie Tale (Raymond E. Feist)
While Raymond Feist is mostly known for his big epic series in the Riftwar universe, it is his standalone, Faerie Tale, that has left the most impression on me. It is a dark and haunting tale about a family that is going to live on a farm in rural America. When they discover an ancient item in their new home, a dark and terrible force is awakened in the woods near their farm and they get entangled in a war that started centuries ago. With some very creepy scenes is this one of the books that I’ve read almost 20 years ago, but that stills lingers in my head. You can read my review here.
14 The Shadow Saga (Jon Sprunk)
Jon Sprunk’s debut trilogy is an action packed tale full of great battle scenes and emotional interludes. We are swamped with assassin’s tales this last decade, but this trilogy is in my opinion the best. It starts out as all of the other assassin’s books, but very soon it changes to a more epic struggle between light and dark with the main protagonist Caim right in the middle of it. In its heart is The Shadow Saga a very emotional tale about a man in search of his heritage. The best book of this trilogy is the first one, Shadow’s Son. You can read my reviews of this series by clicking on following links: book 1; book 2; book 3.
13 The Chronicles Of Sword And Sand (Howard Andrew Jones)
The Sword and Sorcery subgenre has seen a revival these last years and Howard Andrew Jones’ series about Dabir and Asim is one of those series that is responsible for that feat. The Chronicles of Sword and Sand is a fantastical example of Sword and Sorcery, set in 8th century Middle East, with influences from 1001 Nights. The second book in this series, The Bones Of The Old Ones, is even the best book I’ve read in 2012. If you like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, you’ll love this series. Check my reviews of this series by clicking on following links: book 1; book 2.
12 Watership Down (Richard Adams)
I don’t think that Richard Adams’ masterpiece Watership Down needs much of an introduction. His tale about a group of rabbits in search for a new home has been made into a movie and an animated tv-series and was single-handedly responsible for a boom in animal fantasy novels. It was an instant classic and millions of readers have enjoyed the adventures of Hazel, Fiver and their friends since the publication of the book in 1972. Adams never managed to get the same success with his next novels and Watership Down is today still one of the greatest classics in fantasy literature.
11 Tailchaser’s Song (Tad Williams)
Just like the number 12 in this list is Tad Williams’ Tailchaser’s Song a book in the subgenre of animal fantasy. But this novel about the cat Tailchaser is even more epic than Watership Down and thanks to the fantastic worldbuilding and Williams’ superb writing style is this book the best I’ve ever read in this subgenre. The final battle between Tailchaser and the monster is breathtaking and even a little scary. This is a book that can stand alongside the great epic fantasy books of all time and one of the few books I’ve read more than one time.
10 The Broken Sword (Poul Anderson)
This standalone novel by Poul Anderson is the oldest book in this top 20 (together with the book that made it at number 2 in my list). The Broken Sword is a tale set in the age of Vikings, set against the backdrop of Norse Mythology. It tells the tale of Skafloc and Valgard, two children that are switched upon birth by the elves. Skafloc, the human child, has been raised by the elves and Valgard, a mix of elf and troll, is raised by humans. Valgard wants nothing more than claim his birthright among the elves and uses his evil personality to make sure that Skafloc will pay for taking his heritage. Skafloc, on the other hand, wants nothing more than live in peace with his loved ones, but ends up in the war that is about to break loose between the different races. The Broken Sword is a classic tale, full of emotion and heart wrenching drama and one of the greatest fantasy classics of all time.
9 The Forever Knight (John Marco)
John Marco’s The Forever Knight is one of the best books of 2013 and even one of the best of all time. It’s the fourth book about Lukien, the Bronze Knight, and tells a wonderful emotional tale about a man in search of his true self. With superb characterbuilding, a splendid writing style and some very good dialogues is this book a definite must-read if you like character driven fantasy tales with Sword and Sorcery influences. This is one of the few books that made me cry when reading. It happened in chapter 24, which is a beautiful written, but heart wrenching chapter that touched my heart in its very core. You can read my review here.
8 Thieftaker Chronicles (D.B. Jackson)
D.B. Jackson is the pseudonym of award-winning author David B. Coe and under this pseudonym does he write this historical urban fantasy series set in Colonial Boston. The main character of this series is Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker who has magical powers. Ethan tries to make a living in Boston and wants to start over again with his life after he made some mistakes that have landed him in a penal colony. While the first book, Thieftaker, was a great book, is it the second novel, Thieves’ Quarry, that made this series the number 8 on my list. Thieves’ Quarry has it all: a great storyline, wonderful characterbuilding, superb battles and a very intriguing murder mystery. One of the best books of 2013. You can read my reviews of here: book 1 and book 2.
7 The Chronicles Of King Byren’s Kin (Rowena Cory Daniells)
Rowena Cory Daniells’ quadrilogy is a perfect example of modern epic fantasy. The superb characterbuilding, along with the fantastical world makes this a fast paced series, written down by an author whose talent in storytelling is near perfection. This series reading experience is like a rollercoaster and the books are almost impossible to put down. The best book in this series (I haven’t read the fourth one yet) is the first one, The King’s Bastard. While the next two aren’t of the same high level as the first one, are they still superb and good enough to land this series on the seventh spot of my list. You can read my reviews by clicking on following links: book 1; book 2; book3.
6 Mistborn (Brandon Sanderson)
Brandon Sanderson’s trilogy tells the tale of Vin, a street urchin and thief, who will be discovered by Kelsier, a Mistborn. Kelsier discovers that she has the same powers as he does and together they set out on a quest to destroy the dark lord. Remarkable on this books that it tells the tale of the world in which it takes place after the hero is beaten and the dark lord rules. The best book of this series is the third one, The Hero Of Ages, with one of the most perfect endings I’ve ever read. This trilogy is a superb example of how fantasy can still be as original as it was 60 years ago. Lovingly written characters and an original magic system, mixed with Sandersons’ extraordinary storytelling talent is what makes this trilogy a definite must-read.
5 Memory, Sorrow And Thorn (Tad Williams)
Tad Williams’ trilogy tells the story of Simon, a kitchen boy, who will reluctantly become a pawn in the never ending war between Sithi and men. The most remarkable part of this series is the fact that it was one of the first books where there wasn’t a solid good or evil side in the war. Each race could have its heroes and betrayers. To Green Angel Tower, the final book was the best one. It brought an already fantastical tale to a conclusion of stellar proportions. One of the best classic epic fantasy series you’ll find and a perfect example that ‘coming-of-age’ tales can be compelling.
4 The Way Of Kings (Brandon Sanderson)
Brandon Sandersons’ The Way Of Kings is actually the first book in his 10-book series The Stormlight Archive, but since there’s only one book written so far will I put the name of that book above this part of my list. Off course, if Sanderson doesn’t keep up the same level in the rest of this series, it will go down on my list. But for now is it one of the best books I’ve read, ever. This mammoth of a book (1,000+ pages) is of such a high level that everything is right about this tale. The main protagonist, Kaladin, is one of the best developed characters I’ve ever read about and I’m pretty sure that this series about a universe threatening war will become the greatest fantasy series ever written if Sanderson can keep up this level.
3 The Riddlemaster Of Hed (Patricia McKillip)
Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster trilogy tells the tale of Morgon, a prince of Hed and a riddle-master who wins a riddle-game and with that the hand of Raederle, a princess and friend of old. Morgon is born with three stars on his forehead and no-one knows the meaning of it. In search for an answer to that riddle Morgon embarks on a quest that will shake the very foundations of the world. This tale is as beautiful as fantasy can be, compelling and breathtaking at almost every page. The second book, Heir Of Sea And Fire, is the best of this trilogy and especially the breathtaking finale where Morgon confronts Deth is one of the most beautiful scenes in the history of fantasy literature.
2 The Lord Of The Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
I don’t think I can tell you much about J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings that isn’t already said a thousandth times and more. I can only tell you that this book, which marks the start of modern fantasy, still stands tall, even after 60 years. The tale of Frodo and his companions is etched in the memories of every fantasy fan. Sam, Gandalf, Bilbo, Gollum, Sauron… All these are characters are loved by millions of readers all over the world. So it is nsurprise that this book is the second best sold book of all time and, probably just like half of the fantasy fans out there, is this book the one that made me fall in love with fantasy.
1 The Wheel Of Time (Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson)
‘The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.’
With these historical words began Robert Jordan, 23 years ago, the first chapter of ‘The Eye of the World’, the first book of the greatest fantasy series ever written: The Wheel of Time. Now, in 2013, is this series of 14 books finally finished (Brandon Sanderson took over the job after the death of Jordan in 2007) and it is this final volume, A Memory Of Light, that is in my opinion the best fantasy book ever written. It brings this superb series to a beautiful conclusion and while this series may not be to everyone’s taste (it is a different type of storytelling and pacing that we are used to nowadays, after all) it stands proud at my number 1 and it’s going to take a very good book to dethrone this one. You can read my review of the final volume right here.
Thank you for taking a look at my personal top 20. I hope you have discovered some books that you haven’t read, but want to try out after reading my description. Feel free to express your feelings about this list in the comments section and let me know what books you think that should be on this list and which not.
Today’s guest post features an interesting piece on humour in the fantastical genre, by Steve K. Peacock, author of the humourous fantasy novel Diplomancer.
I’ve always been a believer in the idea that humour comes from characters rather than situations. How a character reacts to the world he’s put in, how he finds his place and carves a little niche where he can feel safe. The sort of thing that differentiates Terry Gilliam’s Brazil from George Orwell’s 1984. Not that Brazil is laugh-out-loud funny, but that dark comedy comes from somewhere.
When I was building the world for Diplomancer, I hadn’t really intended it to be humourous. I hadn’t intended it to be all dour and serious either, I just wanted to build something that would work for a story with magical assassins and ancient conspiracies, which actually meant I didn’t need to do much to Britain. There’s always the feeling that you need to preserve some sort of masquerade when writing urban fantasy in particular, and the moment you realise that bureaucracy does that for you, you can’t help but start taking a more humourous path.
When pressed, I’ve often described the world of Diplomancer as absurd, which it is. It’s a world where there exists a memorial fief, privatised emergency services, policemen who spend their entire department’s budget on plastic surgery and, of course, the odd sprinkling of magic, and no-one has really bothered to notice how crazy this is. But then, it’s not as if the real world is any more sane, we just find ourselves overlooking how crazy it can be because it is normal to us.
So finding humour in a fantasy land is easy. The instant you give your characters the ability to spot just how bonkers their world is, the humour is going to flow just from them moving through it. Boil everything down to its basic nature and you’ll find something you can laugh at if you view it the right way. It doesn’t have to be laid out as a parody or a satire, the thing itself can be funny if you view it from all angles.
It’s even easier with fantasy because you have a bit more leeway in how obvious you can make it. Diplomancer let me put together a world where one of the protagonists calls herself a theologist – rather than the correct title of theologian – precisely because it annoys people who use the correct nomenclature. It’s such a little thing, a simple tiny thing, but you can’t help but sit back and think that yes, this is the power words hold. How ridiculous is that, a single word can contain so much meaning that it can manipulate how we feel? How can that not be at least a little bit funny if your protagonists can see this but your other characters can’t?
Although, maybe that’s just me. I’ve never really connected with the sort of character that is cool as ice when under pressure, the steely-eyed badasses who spit out gritty one-liners and have a sort of gravitas when they speak. They always seem a bit too TV for me, too rehearsed, purely because I am fully aware that in any sort of stressful situation I will resort to levity just to get myself through it.
Besides, why not have a world where people can talk you to death? Isn’t that what magic is?
At its very base level, isn’t that what politics is?
©Steve K. Peacock
Writers always say they wanted to write from the very beginning, that they plopped out of the womb with a quill in one hand and a deadline in the other. But Steve wanted to be Indiana Jones when he was little, and then Robocop. Then he hit GCSE and A-Levels and decided he wanted to be Prime Minister, skipping out on the whole astronaut stage.
It was while studying politics at university that he realised where his true passions lie, spending more time building worlds in his head than writing essays.
When his time as an undergraduate concluded, he turned his attention fully towards writing, taking a Masters course in media writing to help build his skills.
Peacock is now a full-time author from his home in Hampshire.
When her friend and colleague dies, his soul apparently being struck from his body by supernatural means, the show of total indifference demonstrated by the emergency services forces Miranda Ertras to start her own investigation.
Teaming up with her former boss, university professor and retired assassin Raoul Fury, Miranda finds herself stumbling into a world of magic and ancient conspiracies fuelled by forgotten texts. Can the pair of them work together long enough to unravel a conspiracy that threatens to unmake the world itself?
You know, that old chestnut.
Author David Towsey
Number of pages 336
Publisher Jo Fletcher Books
Publication date 29 August 2013
Thomas is thirty-two. He comes from the small town of Barkley. He has a wife there, Sarah, and a child, Mary; good solid names from the Good Book. And he is on his way home from the war, where he has been serving as a conscripted soldier. Thomas is also dead – he is one of the Walkin’. And Barkley does not suffer the wicked to live.
Your Brother’s Blood is David Towsey’s debut novel and takes us to a future a thousand years from now. Earth is a barren wasteland with no technology, a wasteland that mostly reminds us of the Wild West. Mankind, as usual, has f@#!ed up the earth and now the dead won’t stay as dead as they’re supposed to be doing. The protagonist, Thomas, is one of those. A Walkin’, a monster in most people’s eyes. The only thing he wants to do after he wakes up in a pyre pit is going home to see his wife and daughter. But unfortunately for the poor man is Barkley, the village he comes from, not very tolerant towards the Walkin’.
My first thought about this book was: “A book about zombies? Oh, it’s one of those”. But looking around on the internet for information about the book and reading the blurb I found out that this probably wasn’t your average zombie novel and I decided to give it a go. And boy, am I glad I did that! Your Brother’s Blood is an intelligent tale about humanity, a tale that is told like a parable from the Bible.
The Holy Book is what forms the heart of this story, or more exactly how people can use that Book as an excuse to do things that are no less than religious fanaticism. The most prominent question this book makes you think about is the following: “Who’s the biggest monster? The Walkin’ or the ‘righteous’ people who kill these living dead and the firstborn of the Walkin’ to root out the ‘evil’?”. Feel free to change the word Walkin’ to any other minority of this world you can think of and you probably know by now that this book has more foundation in real life that you would expect from a zombie novel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not some lecture from the Bible that you’re going to read when starting this book. Your Brother’s Blood is a well-constructed story, about a man who wants to go home, where this question about humanity is expertly woven in-between the storyline.
The story of Thomas takes place in a future world where history still has a tendency to repeat itself. Humankind has, as usual, learned nothing from the past. So a new Civil War is happening in the good old US of A, with the only difference with the first Civil War the fact that North and South are now fighting about what to do with the Walkin’; instead of the issue of slavery from the first Civil War.
Thomas has to fight prejudices and his fellow villagers, and come to terms with his new existence. Towsey writes down that tale with a passionate style that makes the vividly drawn characters leap of the pages. On the surface does Your Brother’s Blood look like a mix of zombies and Western, but it is so much more than that. Yes, it is fantasy and horror, it is also science fiction, but above all this is this book a literary tale about mankind and their desires.
Thomas’ tale is beautifully written by an author that has a talent for storytelling that I’ve not come across very often by debuting authors. There isn’t much action in the first 100 pages, but there’s a creeping sense of impending doom. An uneasy feeling that something terrible is going to happen builds up very slowly, until everything burst open in a great finale where old wounds are reopened and new ones are inflicted. An uneasy feeling that is best described in the scene with Luke Morris and Simon Peekman. That scene is the most disturbing of this whole book and makes you think about how blind religious devotion can make people do things that a normal sane person wouldn’t think of doing.
But no matter how grim and dark it sometimes may seem to end, the actual ending of the story is full of hope and shows us that, despite some individuals, mankind still has some good left in them. An ending that makes you close this book with a feeling of satisfaction.
There are also a few open threads left, so I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in David Towsey’s world.
That brings us seamlessly to my conclusion. Your Brother’s Blood is a fantastical and very well written tale, in a pleasant writing style, about faith and what that emotion can do to a man. It’s not your average zombie novel, not by a long shot. It’s way better than that. It’s written in a literary and vivid style that makes this book a real page turner. I’m currently writing a blog post on my personal top 20 of SFF books and Your Brother’s Blood managed to get a spot on that list. And since I’ve read books in this genre for twenty years now, does that mean a lot.
Your Brother’s Blood in one sentence, you ask? Well, that would be something like this: David Towsey delivers with his debut novel a vividly and wonderfully written tale about a man who is looking for a meaning in his life and who has to fight against religious prejudices to get there.
One of the strongest debuts I’ve ever read.
Today I give to you a great guest post about travelling in the fantastic genre by Jonathan Oliver, editor-in-chief of Solaris and Abaddon Books. Jonathan is also a writer of two novels and editor of four anthologies. His latest anthology, End Of The Road, has just been released by Solaris Books.
The Road Less Travelled
I don’t do SatNavs. Maps are far more reliable. I have a strangely fond memory of a family holiday in France a few years ago involving a SatNav. My parents have one of those infernal devices but, for reasons best known to themselves, gave whoever was sitting in the front passenger seat the job of repeating everything the SatNav said. You know, like Sigourney Weaver in Galaxy Quest with the ship’s computer!
SatNav: At the next junction turn right.
Me: Okay, Dad. At the next junction you’re going to turn right.
SatNav: Turn right.
Dad: So, I’m turning right here?
Me: Right, just like the machine said.
SatNav: Turn right.
If I’m on the road, or partaking of a long journey, naturally I like to know where I’m going. But the same isn’t true when I’m reading fiction. In End of The Road, the first story, by Philip Reeve, is called “We Know Where We’re Goin” and the uncertainty in that tale, with its nod to the classic Talking Head’s song, sets the tone for the rest of the collection.
When I’m reading a collection of stories, I like to be surprised; I don’t want to read fourteen or so pieces of the same ilk. The joy of an anthology is that if you collect together as diverse a gathering of authors as you can find, you can be fairly confident that no one story will be like another. And though these varied voices will be unique, together they will produce a sort of literary harmony.
The travel tale is a path well-trod by the fantasy genre, where the journey usually makes up the greater part of the stories told. In horror and weird fiction, the travel story, the road story, is less ubiquitous.
Though there are classic examples I can think of: Russel Hoban’s Ridley Walker, The Hitcher, Near Dark and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The road story, then, is a vein not well mined and my hope is that this anthology adds to the genre while expanding it and showing us the many possibilities that the short story provides for literary exploration. And with our global collection of authors, including authors from the Philippines, Thailand, India and Australia amongst other territories, I hope that I show that genre fiction as a world phenomenon has never been in a more progressive and healthy state.
Each anthology is a journey for me, a discovery of new works by familiar and unfamiliar writers. And one of the first things I do before I start on these journeys is throw away the map and turn off the SatNav. I want to take that first step into the unknown and see what awaits me there.
Jonathan Oliver is the editor-in-chief of Solaris and Abaddon. He has previously had stories published in a variety of magazines and anthologies in the UK and the US. He has written two novels for Abaddon Books – The Call of Kerberos and The Wrath of Kerberos – and his four anthologies for Solaris have received widespread critical acclaim and awards nominations.
Each step will lead you closer to your destination, but who, or what, can you expect to meet at journey’s end? Here are stories of misfits, spectral hitch-hikers, nightmare travel tales and the rogues, freaks and monsters to be found on the road. The critically acclaimed editor of Magic, End of The Line and House of Fear has brought together the contemporary masters and mistresses of the weird from around the globe in an anthology of travel tales like no other. Strap on your seatbelt, shoulder your backpack, or wait for that next ride… into darkness.