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Old 04-01-2004, 12:01 AM
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Time for another fantasy recommendation thread!


I just got back from a talk by S.T. Joshi and John Pelan, so I'm in the mood for some more fantasy recommendations. Here are my suggested guidelines:
  • Recommend three books--either novels or novel-length collections of short stories.
  • To make things easier to track down, your recommendations should be for actual volumes that someone could find (i.e., don't just say "the works of <foo>").
  • Provide a brief explanation of why you think people should read the book.
  • You get bonus karma points for recommending things that are obscure or have particular literary merit.
  • Try not to recommend things that other people have already recommended in the thread.

I'll start:

The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany. In my opinion, this is the single best fantasy novel ever written. The basic premise is the heroic human prince marries the beautiful elven princess--and then explores what happens if they don't live happily ever after. The writing is simply gorgeous; it's like a novel-length prose poem.

Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice by James Branch Cabell. This book shows what can come out of an author who has a rich education in the classics, a belles lettres style, and a droll sense of humor. Cabell is definitely oriented toward fantasy snobs (and I mean that in a good way).

The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson. Go for the version that was published in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, edited by Lin Carter (it was printed in two volumes, since it's a long book, and Carter edited out some of the more awkward prose). This is hard to describe--it's essentially a variant of the "quest for the girl trapped in a distant castle" story, and is a loooong piece of horribly awkward writing--but if you can get into it, it's a masterpiece. It's set on the earth millions of years in the future, when the sun is dying and weird creatures stalk the earth. Reading this book is like going through a fever dream.
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Old 04-01-2004, 12:15 AM
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Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville. Story set in the city of New Crozubon, which is vaguely based on turn-of-the-century London and Paris. Despite taking place entirely within one city, it has a huge scope and it's clear that the author put a lot of thought into the world's background. Many non-human races: Khepri (human bodies and insect heads), Vodanoi (mix of humans and frogs), Garuda (winged bipeds from the desert who live in a ghetto), and also sentient steam-powered machines. All characters have individual personalities, rather than having all members of each race linked together. Also interesting approaches to art, science, religion, government, and the press.

Children of the Shaman, by Jessica Rydill. Another novel involving industrial-level technology. Story about a family who travels into a frozen wasteland as part of a railroad construction project. Besides the usual story about an evil overlord and the young heroine developing her magic powers, there's some outstanding descriptions of landscape and supernatural features.

Feet of Clay, by Terry Pratchett. I trust no explanation is necessary.
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Old 04-01-2004, 10:35 AM
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If someone's suggesting Pratchett, let me suggest Night Watch, which is the best Pratchett book ever.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman. It reads like a fairy tale. And Tori Amos is a tree. And it's a very good, though kinda weird, book.

Imajica by Clive Barker. I'm reading it now. One of the guys in my class said it's the best messiah story he's ever read. I think it's worth reading just for the way it's written. I haven't decided if I *like* it yet (and I'm 200 pages from the end), but the story is great and the writing is very, very good.
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Old 04-01-2004, 11:55 AM
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Only Begotten Daughter by James Morrow. Great fantasy about religion -- very funny, too.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Anything Gaiman writer is worth snatching up.

Replay by Ken Grimwood. Asks the question: "What would you do if you could live your life over? And over? And over?"
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Old 04-01-2004, 12:01 PM
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Dangit, I was gonna suggest Perdido Street Station! Well, I'll second it, and then suggest three of my own.

[i]Swordspoint[/b], by Ellen Kushner. A low-magic, high-politic world inhabited by about a million Oscar Wildes. Tremendously fun and lush.
The Innkeeper's Song, by Peter S. Beagle. My favorite work by a master of the form, with terrific characterization, plenty of swashbuckling fights, and a great plot.
The Other Wind, by Ursula LeGuin. If you've read the first three Earthsea books, you can skip Tehanu -- but this latest volume in the series (I think it's the latest) is quiet and lyrical and absolutely beautiful.

Daniel
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Old 04-01-2004, 04:35 PM
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I'll go with fun and absorbing rather than deep and dark for my three.

Also by Ellen Kusnher and Delia Sherman, The Fall of Kings. A very richly described world, lots of sex, fascinating characters, and an absorbing depiction of the beginning of the modern study of history. There's an academic duel between professors! (Okay, maybe I'm a leetle bit of a nerd for being so interested in that part.) The plot's not half-bad, either.

A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer is one of my favorite books ever. It's set in a pre-WWI Europe very slightly different from our own. It's a great adventure story, complete with magic, politics, hair-raising escapes, and other assorted hi-jinks.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. This novel about time travel back to Victorian England is one of the funniest books I've read in a long time. Great characters, a fun plot, and wonderful writing. Her other time travel novel, The Doomsday Book is also good, but considerably grimmer.
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Old 04-01-2004, 06:55 PM
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The Briar King, by Greg Keyes. Just amazing book about a kingdom and a woodsman and a legend about the coming of an apocalypse. The best book I've read in the last six months.

In the Garden of Iden, by Kage Baker. Mendoza is a cyborg, rescued from the Spanish Inquisition by The Company, a corporation from the future that is trying to harvest extinct animals and vegetation from the past. Her first assignment is in England during the reign of Bloody Mary.

Sisters of the Raven, by Barbara Hambly. A foppish king needs to save his city from drought and corruption while the politics of his world get turned upside down when the subjugated women of his culture begin to show signs of magical powers.
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Old 04-01-2004, 09:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hunter Hawk
...Lord Dunsany. ... The writing is simply gorgeous; it's like a novel-length prose poem.
Sorry if I'm breaking The Rules by commenting on this, but I just had to say, I was scared off Dunsany precisely because he had this kind of reputation. I was afraid his "gorgeous" but archaic writing would be hard to slog through, and thought "prose-poem" = boring, plotless piece of writing-for-the-sake-of-writing in which nothing happens. Then I came across a couple of his stories in a couple of anthologies, and I loved them! Yes, his writing is poetic and archaic, but in a good way; and it's imaginative, evocative, and (what surprised me) often humorous. I am tempted to quote several lines, but I will limit myself to one:
Quote:
And the spell was a compulsive, terrible thing, having a power over evil dreams and over spirits of ill; for it was a verse of forty lines in many languages, both living and dead, and had in it the word wherewith the people of the plains are wont to curse their camels, and the shout wherewith the whalers of the north lure the whales shoreward to be killed, and a word that causes elephants to trumpet; and every one of the forty lines closed with a rhyme for "wasp."

-From "The Fortress Unquenchable, Save for Sacnoth"
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Old 04-01-2004, 10:06 PM
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It was hard to just narrow it down to three, alas, but here are mine (in no particular order):
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fford. Highly enjoyable story about a Special Operations agent, a SO-27 to be exact. An original manuscript is stolen, one of the characters suddenly disappears, much to the puzzlement of readers. I found it to be quite fun.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, a darker story it deals with the concept of a shadow world. One that lies just beyond our comprehension and what happens when the protagonist, Richard Mayhew finds that he is no longer a part of London Above, as the everyday world is know. Instead, he exist in London Below.
  • Daggerspell by Katherine Kerr. This begins her series set in Deverry. I love them because they have so many layers. They can be a bit confusing until you get the characters and timelines straightened out. They raise an interesting concept, not quite reincarnation but almost a question of balance. The mistakes we make in out lives must be reconciled in the next.
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Old 04-02-2004, 07:37 AM
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The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. Originally published as four separate volumes The Shadow of the Torturer, , The Claw of the Conciliator, ,The Sword of the Lictor , and The Citadel of the Autarch. He later wrote a fifth volume called The Urth of the New Sun. It's such a complicated story that it is difficult to summarize with any degree of brevity. Suffice it to say that it is the story of an apprentice torturer who discovers that he is a messiah. Wolfe's characters are complex and not always honest with each other or with the reader. This is a series that you can read repeatedly and each time find some new subtlety to the story.
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Old 04-02-2004, 09:45 AM
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Scumpup has mentioned one of my truly favorite authors: Gene Wolfe. I could go on and on about his recommendation – especially how the setting is nominally science fictional, but the story is pure fantasy, and how he reverses many standard tropes. (For instance, a retelling of Dr. Frankenstein, with the twist that the creation is the Doctor, and Frankenstein "works" on himself.)

But three additional ones:
  • The Knight by Gene Wolfe: His newest one. In this book he has a child becoming a man as the protagonist, with all the immaturity he has to deal with; seven layers of worlds to set the fantasy in; elves (well, Aelf), dragons, giants, and gods, but all strangely twisted in a Wolfean fashion; a main character who is easily distracted, continually starting new quests without ever quite finishing his previous one; and a masterful use of language (both real and imagined) that never quite lets you put the book down.
  • Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny: An old classic. In the far future, men have used their mental powers to become new carnations of old gods from the Hindu pantheon. To fight them, Sam takes a different page from history, and introduces Buddhism. A very poetic high adventure story.
  • The Lords of the Dus by Lawrence Watt-Evans: A series of four books, consisting of The Lure of the Basilisk, The Seven Altars of Dusarra, The Sword of Bheleu, and The Book of Silence. An unusual fantasy about an overman who wants to be remembered by history – and gets more than he bargained for. Notable for lacking many of the standard fantasy tropes, and for having a very practical hero.

Hmmm… That last set may be out of print, so I'll offer another suggestion (I'm not good at threes, anyway) from Wolfe:

Soldier of the Mist, by Gene Wolfe: In ancient Greece, a head injury leaves a soldier with anterograde amnesia – unable to commit anything to memory. He also sees the supernatural – greek gods and mythological creatures – that others cannot. The story is told in the form of notes to himself that he writes each day as his only trace of his past. Wolfe has put a lot of effort into researching the period, and it comes across as very realistic. Definitely not a swords and sorcery story, though.
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Old 04-02-2004, 01:40 PM
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Dark of the Gods by P.C. Hodgell contains the novels Godstalk and Dark of the Moon which follow Jame, a young woman with missing memories and a penchant for triggering disasters, as she tries to make her way back to her people. They feature millenia of tragic history, crises of honor, dancing, underhanded politics, theocide, the practical application of faith to reality, and the tribulations of a monotheist in a city infested with gods--all wrapped up in a solid story full of dark humor. (OK, so I cheated a bit--this is two books. Read 'em anyway. They're good.)

Seeker's Mask, also by Hodgell, picks up Jame's story after she rejoins her people. It deals with the restrictions on women among the Kencyrath, the treatment of the god-touched among a race that isn't on speaking terms with its deity, ancient native powers, insanity, maledights, poetic werewolves, arboreal drift, and Jame's drastic effect on architecture. Best of all, it's characterized by the same wry humor and fascinating story that I loved about the first two books.

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart is a fast-paced, hilarious story about the adventures of Master Li, the smartest con-man--er--"scholar" in ancient China, and his musclebound client, Number Ten Ox. Their efforts to save the children of Ox's village from a terrible malady drive them through a sort of psychotic fairy-tale version of China as the venerable sage pieces together the clues that will enable them to find a remedy. (This is the first of three books, but it stands alone. The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen are separate stories, and aren't quite as good, although they are enjoyable.)
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Old 04-02-2004, 01:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Balance
Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart is a fast-paced, hilarious story about the adventures of Master Li, the smartest con-man--er--"scholar" in ancient China, and his musclebound client, Number Ten Ox. Their efforts to save the children of Ox's village from a terrible malady drive them through a sort of psychotic fairy-tale version of China
Hmm...do you know by any chance whether this is a riff on the old "Kai Lung" books by Ernest Bramah? (which I heartily recommend, BTW)
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Old 04-02-2004, 03:15 PM
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Hmm...do you know by any chance whether this is a riff on the old "Kai Lung" books by Ernest Bramah? (which I heartily recommend, BTW)
There are some similarities; Hughart may have been influenced by Bramah's work, although I'm not certain. They may just draw from similar sources. Hughart doesn't use elaborate circumlocutions nearly as much in the narrative, although they occasionally show up in dialogue. Still, if you like Kai Lung, I'm pretty sure you'll like Bridge of Birds.

For something closer to the elaborate wordplay Bramah engaged in, you might look at Steven Brust's "Paarfi of Roundwood" works--Phoenix Guards, Five Hundred Years After, and The Viscount of Adrilankha. Viscount is being broken into three books, only the first two of which have been published so far: The Lord of Castle Black and The Paths of the Dead.
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Old 04-02-2004, 03:25 PM
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I'll second Hughart's books - two of them, anyway. I still haven't found a copy of Eight Skilled Gentlemen.
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Old 04-02-2004, 03:38 PM
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Barnes & Noble has Eight Skilled Gentlemen, NE Texan. I got it in an omnibus of the three books (purchased when my copy of Bridge began to wear out), but that doesn't seem to be available any more.
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Old 04-02-2004, 03:45 PM
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Hmmm… the weird thing is that I've ordered it from Barnes and Noble before, when they said that they had it. I waited two months, checked up on it, and they said they didn't have it, couldn't get it, and would not be getting it. I have no idea what the problem was.

That was having a B&N store order it; perhaps I'd have better luck ordering it online and having it shipped directly.
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Old 04-23-2004, 03:47 PM
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you might look at Steven Brust's…
Well, damn you. Thanks to you and others on this board, I have officially had one to many recommendations of Steven Brust to ignore – and having found a copy of The Phoenix Guards at a used bookstore, I read it after finishing the Gene Wolfe book that I mentioned above. Then had to read the sequel. And as many other of his as I could get my hands on…

In the last two weeks, I've read fully 9 books by Steven Brust. I'm addicted – I'm itching to get my grubby eyes on more.

Damn. In a good way, of course.
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Old 04-23-2004, 05:06 PM
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Well, damn you.
Glad to be of service.

You'll get no sympathy from me. I've read all of his books (although I can't really recommend Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille and To Reign in Hell) and have the entire set of Dragaera books stacked up to reread in sequence as soon as the last book of Viscount comes out. The Vlad books lag a bit in the middle, but they definitely pick back up again.
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Old 04-23-2004, 05:59 PM
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The Fifth Sorceress, Robert Newcomb

A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin

Wolves of the Calla (sort of fantasy), Stephen King

The Tawny Man, Robin Hobb

1632 (again, sort of fantasy...or alternate history I suppose), Eric Flint

-XT
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Old 04-23-2004, 07:37 PM
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The Lyonesse Chronicles by Jack Vance made up of Suldrun's Garden, The Green Pearl, and Madouc. Great fantasy overlaid on semi Authurian ledgend and landscape.

The Dying Earth by Jack Vance. Takes place millions of years in the future, lots of magic and the real twist is the protagonist is a very unlikable person.
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Old 04-24-2004, 11:35 AM
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Feesters in the Lake , a collection of the short fiction of Bob Leman, published by John Pelan, Midnight House. These stories were originally published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1967 to 1988. The book is in print, Mr. Leman is still alive, and he deserves more attention than he's getting.

Every story in the book is a gem.

Quoting from the intro:

"Each tale demonstrates tight plotting, excellent characterization and an exemplary lack of adjectival fog. No effect for effect's sake is allowed, there are no atmospheric set-pieces, and no hysterical ramblings -- only recognizably real people responding to situations as real people must respond rather than as puppets created to aid the plot."

My other two recommendations are The Innamorati by Midori Snyder, a rich story involving a Venetian mask maker, a golem, and a real siren, and Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, a story about vengeance that will break your heart.
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