Top Ten Fantasy Novels

It is too late to flee.

China Mieville

  1. The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien. SURPRISE, right? I don’t know what I can say about The Silmarillion that I haven’t already said about a million times – except, perhaps, that this isn’t the kind of fantasy I usually go for, precisely because this specific instance is heartbreaking and consummately crafted and no-one, no-one, can do Tolkien like Tolkien does Tolkien.
  2. Going Postal – Terry Pratchett. I think the Discworld books are a great introduction to fantasy, because they are like and yet unlike this idea we all have in our heads of what fantasy is. They’re hilarious, witty, easy to swallow and, above all, believable.
  3. Perdido Street Station – China Mieville. I believe the expression is “all the feels”. This book runs the gamut of everything literature should do to you: it is terrible, oppressive, scary, and it is uplifting and hopeful and vivacious. It celebrates difference, and life, and the soul of a city.
  4. The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant – Stephen Donaldson. OK, so I said above that nobody does Tolkien like Tolkien does Tolkien. Well, Donaldson doesn’t, either; but, unlike so many other Tolkien imitators, he actually plays off Tolkien, using the cultural saturation that the Professor’s works have achieved to think about our notions of reality.
  5. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne M. Valente. This is, quite simply, the most perfect fairytale. Valente captures all the right rhythms, the right plot points, the way in which objects in fairytale take on significance, and wraps these up in musical, playful prose, in a properly diverse Fairyland and a stirring aura of menace.
  6. Titus Groan – Mervyn Peake. A dense and hypnotic Gothic novel whose setting is irresistibly strange and resonantly mythic. What fascinates me about Titus Groan is how heavily psychological its character portraits are, and yet how deeply fantastical its world manages to be: this is fantasy-as-inner-landscape, fantasy at its most symbolic.
  7. Lirael – Garth Nix. Lirael wins out, just, over Sabriel, for its Awesome Library and its quiet, troubled heroine: it’s simply a lovely narrative of finding strength, finding a home, finding one’s way in a terrifying world.
  8. A Madness of Angels – Kate Griffin. I love the prose in this novel, the half-compromised fluidity of its subject, the ragged and sing-song overwriting. I love this novel’s London. I love that it celebrates the life of a city, its energies and its deep magics, where a lot of fantasy sees urbanity as threatening and polluting.
  9. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke. I am seriously going to have to reread this sometime soon. It’s simply a magical novel, deeply immersive and imaginative, one which confronts head-on the colonialism and misogyny lurking at the heart of Regency society.
  10. Throne of Jade – Naomi Novik. I just think that this novel, the second in Novik’s Temeraire series, is a layered and nuanced exploration of culture clash, with Regency dragons.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

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