a reading list for fantasy enthusiasts

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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15 Responses

  1. L Palapala says:

    Library is good; used bookstore good. However, I own outright Erikson’s Malazan and ALL of Richard Morgan’s books, because I read and reread and still enjoy them immensely. The rest of the books on your list, not so much. Example: I found Butcher’s Dresden Files underwhelming and after the first book all the same. Geo RR Martin became tedious, and Gene Wolfe boring. Back to the used booksore they went.Report

  2. Dan Miller says:

    Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series would seem to tie in quite nicely with you earlier post about magic in fantasy, and they’re just excellently written. It’s a graphic novel series, so not in keeping with the rest of the list, but terrific fantasy just the same.Report

  3. Sam M says:

    “In fact, you could buy some of these books at a local used bookstore, thus keeping all that money in town and helping to pay some city sales tax to fund your local library.”

    As an author, I suggest reading only hardcover versions of books purchased on the first day of release. Pre-ordering on Amazon might be nice, as would sending a letter to any friends you have at the New York Times Review of Books encouraging a (rave) review.

    You might also assign the book and any subsequent additions in all college courses you teach, particulalrly if you teach a large survey course.

    Hey, authors have to eat, too.Report

  4. We LOVE our local public library and use them regularly. The fact that my kids would often love nothing better than to spend a good chunk of our Saturday there makes me a proud parent.

    I failed to contribute to the list so let me do so now. I would HIGHLY recommend Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising Series. It ties together the King Arthur legends, magic, etc beautifully. For readers i would recommend starting with Over Sea, Under Stone which is technically outside the series but introduces several of the main characters. Then proceed on with Dark is Rising, Greewitch, The Grey King and Silver on the Tree. I loved the series so much that I memorized the poem that framed it when I was in 8th grade (yes, I was that big of a dork):

    When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
    Three from the circle, three from the track;
    Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
    Five will return, and one go alone.

    Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long;
    Wood from the burning, stone out of song;
    Fire in the candle-ring, water from the thaw;
    Six Signs the circle, and the grail gone before.

    Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
    Played to wake the Sleepers, oldest of the old;
    Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea;
    All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.


  5. E.D. Kain says:

    Mike – loved that series as a kid. Really good stuff.Report

  6. Amy says:

    You missed my Stephen King recommendations. 😉Report

  7. E.D. Kain says:

    I did, didn’t I? Time for an update…Report

  8. E.D. – I used to reread it to kick off every summer when I was younger. Haven’t picked it up in 5 years or so. Thank god I avoided the movie. I hear it’s pretty bad.Report

  9. Andy L says:

    I would suggest Janny Wurts, The Wars of Light and Shadow.Report

  10. nadezhda says:

    What a fun topic. Hope I’m not too late to the party. Here are some misc comments & more rec’s for your list —

    GG Kay – The 3-volume Finovar Tapestry on your list was his earliest and is a bit of an undigested, sometimes OTT pastiche of LOTR, Arthurian legend, celtic and nordic myths, etc. Lots of lovely bits, and beloved by many, but not up to his later stuff.

    His best pure “fantasy” is his one-volume epic “Tigana”. A sort-of Aragorn’s “return of the king” story, with at least one charismatic villain who is a direct challenge to the “evil wizard” model. I particularly love his alt-history novels — especially Lions of Al-Rassan, an extremely dramatic, time-compressed retelling of the Reconquista, El Cid, etc. And for Byzantium, the 2-volume Sarantine Mosaic. Note that religions, and conflicts among them, are an important theme in his alt-history books — they play a central role in poltico-social-economic structures, tensions and violence.

    Definitely second R. Scott Bakker’s “Prince of Nothing” trilogy. Haven’t read the newest volume, which starts a second, follow-on trilogy. I think he’s got 3 3-volume sets sketched out for the whole thing.

    Robin Hobb is very good value and many find her addictive — fine writing, 3-D characters, adventure and world-building. Best known for her FarSeer sets. The first FarSeer trilogy starts with Assassin’s Apprentice.

    My favorite new series – Sarah Monette’s Labyrinth series, starting with Melusine. The 4th (& final?) novel, Corambis, was issued in April. Simply great characters and sparkling, cheeky dialog, in a dark, intensely-imagined world.

    Jo Walton — anything she’s written. An alt-Arthurian with a military heroine, the King’s Name duo. An alt-history of England btwn the wars with a different Hitler outcome, her highly praised trilogy – Farthing, Ha’penny & Half Crown. She blogs about “good re-reads” in Speculative Fiction (scifi, fantasy, etc) on Tor.com, and her posts are both highly entertaining and a source of great reading recommendations.

    Elizabeth Bear is perhaps in a special class of newish, youngish writers, because she does so many different things so well. My favorite is a quartet — or perhaps better, two linked sets of 2 novels — of her Promethean Age. The first two published (Blood & Iron, Whiskey & Water) are modern urban fanstasy, the second two (Ink & Steel, Hell & Earth) are Elizabethan fantasy. What links them, aside from the characters of Christopher Marlowe, Lucifer and Morgan le Fey, is Faerie, the scientizing forces of the Prometheus Club, and a time-shifting cosmology of hell and earth. The Elizabethan fantasy duo (really a single novel Bear calls The Stratford Man) centers around an intense relationship between Marlowe and Shakespeare and seamlessly weaves through the prose and dialog quotes and echoes of both authors’ works. I guarantee you’ll never read Shakespeare’s sonnets the same way again. Challenging food-for-the-brain, emotionally intense, and delicious prose.

    And for a fun, gender-bending, sword-and-cape “fanstasy of manners”, there’s Ellen Kushner’s classic, Swordspoint.Report

  11. Murali says:

    What about Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time?

    Stephen Donaldson’s 1st 2nd and last chronicles of thomas covenant.

    Terry pratchett’s discworld

    Terry Brook’s Shannara series

    TDeavid Edding’s Belgariad, Mallorean, Elenium and Tamuli

    Terry Goodkind’s Sword of truth series

    Any of Robin Hobb’s trilogies Farsser, Liveship traders, Tawny Man and Soldier’s Son

    Frank Herbert anyone

    I can probably think up of more

    Oh.. and why o why has nobody mentioned Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet?

    What about Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser?

    Tolkien anybody?Report

  12. Zeke says:

    What about C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy? It has a fascinating blend of horror and fantasy, and Gerald Terrant is a generally excellent character, who manages to tell the moral event horizon to go fuck itself.

    @ Murali: Terry Brooks, really? I have a hard time thinking of anything as derivative and repetitive as the Shannara books. Also, while I certainly enjoyed the Wheel of Time, Mr. Kain has already made his feelings clear in the previous post.Report

  13. E.D. Kain says:

    Murali – Zeke’s right, I did go to some length describing the sort of fantasy I really, really dislike – and Wheel of Time is on my “very bad fantasy” list, and though I didn’t mention it there, Brooks is equally loathsome. Not that there’s any accounting for taste. Goodkind was tedious beyond bearing, and while I really wanted to like Eddings, I just can’t. Pratchett, however, can be a good read. And Dune is fantastic though probably leaning a bit more toward sci-fi than fantasy….

    In any case, to each their own. Thanks!Report