Recommend a fantasy newbie some books

Hey all, long time lurker, first time poster, as it goes.

So, being aware of the general demographics and reading habits of the straight dope masses, I felt like here was a place to turn for some good advice on books. Specifically fantasy books.

Now, I am an avid reader, but I never got into fantasy. Sure, I read Lord of the Rings way back when, but other than that, nothing.

So I was looking for a book to read and decided to go with something different. I found some online advice, (the onion av club, don’t shoot me please) which recommended Patrick Rothfuss’s the Name of the Wind, and so I went out and read it…

…and loved it. Like I said, I don’t read fantasy, but the plotting, the characters, the writing… I couldn’t put it down. What had I been missing, dismissing an entire genre as Tolkien ripoffs written by gawky, neckbearded teens with cheeto stained hands and all the other various nerd cliches. So I decided to check some other things out. Here is what I read, and my feelings on them…

GRR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire - I think I read all four books in the span of 2 weeks. Once again, I couldn’t put it down. Honestly one of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had.

Half of the first book of the wheel of time. Super cliched, with ham-fisted writing, IMHO. Didn’t care for at all.

Acacia by David Michale Durham - could have been interesting, but boring as hell to me. Didn’t finish.

Perdido Street Station - Cool premise, good writing, couldn’t stand the characters. Did not finish.

Lies of Locke Lamorra - sometimes it tried too hard, but it was entertaining as hell. I’m currently reading (and enjoying) the sequel, which is what prompted me to start this thread.

So what I’m looking for is good fantasy, but with a certain requirement - the prose must at least be decent. Show don’t tell, make the dialogue and characters at least somewhat believable, keep me turning pages. I look to you, anonymous dopers, to determine the next fantasy book for me to read. I’ve heard some good things about Brent Sanderson’s Mistborn - is it readable? Give me some titles, a plot summary, why you liked it, and why I might like it (based on my reading list.) Thanks, I really appreciate it!

I loved Lies of Locke Lamorra :slight_smile: there is a third book coming out in the spring.

Here are some of my favorites (I put in all the amazon links so you could read blurbs to see if you’d be interested)

Mists of Avalon


A Song for Arbonne

Magician: Apprentice - first book in the Riftwar saga. Some excellent world building, if you like it, you can read Jenny Wurt’s books about the culture on the other side of the rift (which I also really enjoyed).

Magic’s Pawn - while I think Mercedes Lackey is a complete waste of time now, her early books were great. I loved this series and the Arrows of the Queen books. It’s the genre I call “My Friend Flicka” (hero gets a magical animal companion!) but I still love her early stuff.

Dragon Prince - loved the first trilogy, was bored by the second trilogy.

Pawn of Prophecy - the first 5 books are classic. And then Eddings writes them again. And again. And again. But the first 5 books are awesome!

Dragon Singer - more of the My Friend Flicka stuff. These books can be considered a little sci-fi (particularly if you read The White Dragon) and the current books in the series are AWFUL. I still have a soft spot for the Harper Hall trilogy (Dragonsinger, Dragonsong and Dragondrums) and the first Dragonriders of Pern series (Dragonflight, Dragonquest and the White Dragon).

I want to second the Magic’s Pawn series by Mercedes Lackey. I also want to add The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson. It’s… not your typical fantasy. Well, it is on the surface, but it’s also something of a deconstruction… It’s deep dude, it’s deep.

Oh, and for lighter fare, check out Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos books. Very fast-paced, with prose that will bring a smile to your face.

And for something that straddles the line between fantasy and sci-fi, look up Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun and its sequels. The prose is not easy to slip into (well, not for me, at any rate), but it’s well worth it.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion is excellent. She also wrote two other books, Paladin of Souls and The Hallowed Hunt, in the same setting which are very good but not quite as much as the first.

Last Call by Tim Powers

“The scene is Las Vegas, the subject supernatural poker using Tarot cards. Bugsy Siegel is the reigning Fisher King whose new Flamingo Hotel gambling casino is modeled on the Tarot’s tower card, with the Flamingo as an inverted tower. Overthrowing Bugsy is Georges Leon, who assassinates Bugsy in his mistress’s home in L.A. and prepares to become Fisher King. Leon has two sons, Robert and Scott. He has already spiritually gutted Robert and now can see through Robert’s eyes, and is setting up five-year-old Scott for the same treatment while inducting him into playing-card magic.”

Nothing. All fantasy sucks, and it killed SF.

It’s readable but not particularly worthwhile.

I’ll second Yookeroo’s mention of Tim Powers. Avoid his first two books; all his other stuff is good.

A couple of other names:

Lord Dunsany is the best fantasy author who ever lived.
Jack Vance wrote the “Tales of the Dying Earth” series, which is delightful picaresque adventure.
James Branch Cabell had a good education in the classics and it shows.
Thorne Smith was picaresque fantasy set around the 1920s.

Really Well Written Genre Novels:

Doomsday Book: Connie Willis
To Say Nothing of the Dog: Connie Willis
Passage: Connie Willis

The first two are straight up fantasy/alternate reality/time travel (the same one). They are very well written-the first is intense, the second is funny. Passage is more an attempt at a “novel of ideas” than a real fantasy-it’s set in the modern world where 2 doctors are attempting to research near death experiences. It’s mostly successful, though I think it could have used some editing.

I’ve also heard great things about Mary Dora Russell’s The Sparrow. Replay and The Time Traveller’s Wife potentially cross genres, but they’re still very well written with elements of fantasy (specifically, time travel).

Young Adult:

This book…about a boy wizard…can’t recall the name :smiley:

Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Series

Alternate/Fantasy Reality:

Jacquelyn Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, and the following 2 books in the series. She has a new spinoff series that also has “Kushiel” in the titles-read the ones about Phaedra Delauney first.

Bridge of Birds: set in ancient China, very humourous.

And I have not read him yet, but Gene Wolfe is on my to-read list.

Almost anything by Barbara Hambly.

Roger Zelazny is excellent; his Amber novels ( the first is **Nine Prince in Amber **) are classics.

I like Simon Green; I’m currently reaing from his Nightside series ( begins with Something From The Nightside ). His Drinkling Midnight Wine is a good stand alone novel; he likes series.

I’ve recently gotten into the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher.

LE Modesitt, Jr is good; his Spellsong Cycle series ( starts with The Soprano Sorceress ) is a favorite of mine.

The Deryni series by Katherine Kurtz

The Videssos Books by Harry Turtledove.

The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie.

The first two Black Company books by Glen Cook. The series starts to fall apart by the third.

Your tastes are very, very similar to mine (I liked Perdido Street Station more than you, having a pretty high tolerance for unsympathetic characters). Just finished Name of the Wind last week, and was really impressed.

First, some seconds: I second the recommendations of Last Call (I think it’s far and away Tim Powers’s best book and can’t especially recommend anything else by him), the Black Company books (not quite as good as some of the others, but still a great read), The Dark is Rising, and His Dark Materials.

I’d hesitate to recommend The First Law trilogy. The characters make Perdido Street Station’s cast look positively cuddly. I ripped through the trilogy, but am not sure now how I feel about them.

The Sparrow is a wonderful book, but it’s science fiction, not fantasy. Don’t let that stop you, though: it’s definitely worth picking up! One of the most thoughtful SF books I’ve read.

Ursula Le Guin’s books starting with A Wizard of Earthsea are marketed as children’s books, but I think that’s inaccurate: they’re easily complex enough to keep adults interested. One book in the series, Tehanu, comes across like Le Guin’s a bitter old manhater, but the rest of the books are amazing.

I’ve been making some good tracks in the genre recently and would recommend:

As paladud said: The First Law trilogy - standard quest / rampaging horde formula but with great characterization. Loved it

Malazan Book of the Fallen (Steve Erikson) - first one is gardens of the moon. Truly epic and mindblowing stuff. In my top 3 series but takes some getting used to. Complex plots, rediculously powerful individuals including god meddling and a wonderful idea of the deployment of magic (Warrens).

Now on to Adrian Tchaikovsky(sic) Empire in Black and Gold - really enjoying it. Humans with Insect aspects. So your beetle kinden are industrious engineers, your Ant Kinden are efficient soldiers. Really interesting how the author is weaving general character traits of each aspect - haughty Mantids and cunning Spider kind. Sounds strange, and is. But a great read so far.

Song of Fire and Ice by George RR Martin - Game of Thrones starts it off. Sublime in it’s treacherous dealings and sheer scope - think medieval rather than elves and magic. Really really good.

Oh, before I finish - The Painted Man. (cant recall author) - World where demons rule the night. Humans protect themselves with runes etched on their homes and await the dawn. Again, great characters and a good setup for future.

Older but IMO better then most present day Fantasy…

The Elric of Melnibone’ stories in particular but mostly anything by Michael Moorcock.

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson.

For present day enjoy Terry Pratchetts DiscWorld novels which are incredibly popular with readers and rightly so.

I’m currently in the middle of reading all of the World Fantasy Award winners so I’ve read a lot of fantasy lately. I also have a very low tolerance for pseudo-medieval Tolkien rip-offs. Fortunately the juries of award generally select other things. I had been having a fairly good run of books until the most recent two I’ve read: Koko, which was by only the absolute broadest definition “fantasy” and to even say that it requires that you take narrative flourishes literally and Madouc which might as well have been titled Generic Fantasy Novel.

The novels preceding them that stand out were:

Replay was a very clever story of a man who keeps repeating his life from college to his death and what he does about it. The author, Ken Grimwood, plays with the scenario in about every way that you could and has a good grasp on the complexities of the situation.

Perfume - A very European novel about an amoral man who defines his world by scent seeks to perfect the art of perfume making. There’s a lot of odd allegorical digressions but painting a world of odors was very distinctive.

Song of Kali - Dan Simmons’s first novel and it captures Calcutta at the depths of self-consumer destructiveness. The fantasy elements are low key but the book does atmosphere and pacing very impressively. The story is about an author lured to Calcutta because a new manuscript has emerged from a poet who apparently a decade before. Once there he finds a cult of modern day Thuggees is mixed up in it but the reasons are not clear.

Mythago Wood is another allegorical novel, this one about the nature of myth. And unlike most books that explore that situation it quickly does away with familiar stories for a set of “precursors” that echo the themes in earlier and earlier forms. This is about a tiny forest in Britain which is tied to the human subconscious and the closer to the center of the wood you get the bigger it becomes. A family has members who become obsessed with penetrating the primal myth and become wrapped up in a myth of their own.

Here’s what I wrote about Bridge of Birds a few weeks ago:

It’s a great novel that you need to read.

Finally I have to mention Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It’s a novel set at the turn of the nineteenth century about the reemergence of magic in Britain. It’s not a book for everyone and there is a simple test to know if it is for you: the book is written in the style of the period. If you said, “By Jove! That sounds like a delightful experience!” then this is the book for you. If, on the other hand, you said, “They had novels in nineteenth century Britain?” then you probably won’t enjoy it.

The Memmory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams (which starts with The Dragonbone Chair) is a great series.

I’d sugest revisiting the Wheel of Time books again. I think that if you’ve read the Song of Fire and Ice first then yeah, it’s going to seem too familar. Plus because the series has taken so long to write there are a lot of…unhappy fans. But now that the final book is being written (due out the end of this year I think), it’s not too bad to read through them all.

I like Modesitt, but prefer his Reculce books. The difficulty is figuring out where to start reading them. Since they jump all over the place in time for different characters/stories.
Edited to add Oh, Also I think the next Gentleman Bastard book is due out at the end of this month. To pick up where we left off with Locke and Jean.

I can definitely suggest Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus books : Amulet of Samarkand, Golem’s eye, and Ptolemy’s gate.

Marketed as juvenile, and not traditional fantasy, but I loved them all. They’re set in an alternate present-day world where magicians are well-known to exist, and rule certain empires and countries, though the general public aren’t aware of the details of their powers and fear them. Technology is generally behind ours, though he isn’t entirely consistent on this, (Early in the first book, he casually described a few magicians as having computers available in their workrooms, and by the end of the trilogy, neon lights were being described as the latest innovations.)

The writing is witty and engrossing, especially the sections from Bartimaeus’ own point of view - he’s a djinn spirit with a serious attitude, and the only character who speaks in the first person, (often rambling to the reader in footnotes.) Also primary are Nat/John Mandrake, a young boy trained to become one of the magicians of London, and Kitty Jones, a resistance fighter trying to overthrow the magicians’ empire.

I’d go for some classic Fritz Lieber. His Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series is truly something that no fantasy reader should miss - it is the pattern much imitated by other, inferior writers, much as there are endless trashy copies of Tolkein lying about. Start with this:

If you want something more than a little different, read the first two books of the Gormanghast trilogy (the third is unnecessary). Not for everyone - some find its purple prose dull; but quite unlike anything else - wierd beyond belief, and a work of world-building to rival Tolkein, surreal, haunting and in my opinion a true masterpiece:

You will either love it forever or hate it and not finish it - those being the two most common reactions.

I don’t read enough fantasy, but one recommendation I cannot stress enough:

It is an amazing series, in scope and quality. Steven Erikson is easily my favourite fantasy writer, IMO leagues beyond Martin and others. The eighth book out of a planned ten is out now (paperback in April, I can’t wait), and the quality has been very high throughout.

A warning is in order - the first book, Gardens of the Moon, tosses you right in the middle of an ongoing story, and you have to work to get into it. It’s a bit of a puzzle, frankly. Well worth the effort, though.

Besides Erikson, I liked Donaldson’s fantasy efforts, both Thomas Covenant and the Mirrorworld books (don’t know if that’s what they’re actually called). I also quite enjoyed Feist & Wurts’s Empire series, though I read that some 15 years ago, and can’t say how they measure up.

ETA: Oh yeah, you would probably enjoy Steven Brust. Very entertaining books, not to be taken too seriously.