As perhaps you’ve noticed, the New Yorker’s list of Seven Essential Fantasy Reads caused a bit of a stir in the blogosphere when it was released a short while ago. Some people liked it (like me), some people did not (like Mark Charan Newton, author of Nights of Villjamur), and opinions popped up all over the place.
I’ve read a few best-selling fantasy series – Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, Twilight, Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, The Dark Is Rising – but I would never describe myself as an aficionado. First because all these books are on about a fourth-grade reading level, and second because I read them for their best-sellerness, not their fantasy-ness (to stay in the loop, I tell myself).
I asked [a friend] what he would recommend for someone like me – a beginning fantasy reader ready to graduate to more serious (but not too serious) fare. Here are his picks, complete with explanations of their greatness. He sent them to me with the reassurance that ‘there is no shame in being a real fantasy reader.’
It dismayed me a bit, to see that I think some of the commentors seemed to miss the point of the thread. Adam at the Wertzone and James at Speculative Horizons and Suvudu had nice,even responses, but Newton and Larry of OF Blog of the Fallen presented lists that, while great for someone like me who’s decently well-read in the genre, are probably unstuiable for someone who’s just come off of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.
In the spirit of the blogosphere and vanity, I figured I would throw my name into the hat, and present my own list of books I consider essential second-step Fantasy novels. Just keep in mind that my tastes (and history) in the genre tend towards Epic Fantasy, and also that we naturally want to direct people down the same path we followed into the genre we love so much. I took the Tolkien -> Brooks/Feist/Salvatore -> Goodkind/Jordan -> Martin/Erikson route into Fantasy, and my list will reflect that, if just a little. Of course, my tastes have broadened significantly, so I’ll slip a few wildcards into the mix as well, just for a bit of the variety that the New Yorker list was missing.
War of the Flowers by Tad Williams
This space could be occupied by Terry Brooks’ Running with the Demon or Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which are both fantastic examples of what Urban/Contemporary can be, but The War of the Flowers is the one that’s stuck with me the most. It’s an eerie look at the classic tale of a person from our world getting sucked into a mysterious Fey world, but told in a way unlike any other I’ve come across. Instead of a quasi-medieval setting, Williams’ version of the Fey world has progressed along with ours and is filled with Skyscrapers and and warring Fey lords, night clubs and goblins, skyscrapers and obnoxious pixies. It’s another stand-alone novel, and it’s been a huge inspiration on me as a writer. Is there any higher praise I can heap upon it?