A History of Modern Fantasy
This is an attempt to provide a coherent view of modern fantasy, a fiction genre that has grown tremendously in recent times, and changed as it has grown. I will then give a bit of detail about the many of the main authors involved. This will be very much from my own perspective, and far from comprehensive as there are many writers whose works I have never had the opportunity, or inclination, to read. If you are interested in a particular author, you can jump straight to my comments using the bookmarks provided below.
It would be impossible for me to provide information on every author that would be able to rival the detail in the professional sites such as Fantastic Fiction, which I have used as a research tool.
It may be considered to be a rather arbitrary starting point, but in my opinion there is a compelling argument for declaring 1977 as the birth year of modern fantasy fiction, with the publication of Tolkienís Silmarillion. Whether or not it is coincidence, but let us presume not, this was also the year of publication of The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks and Lord Foulís Bane by Stephen Donaldson. This is not to say that there was no-one already producing fantasy novels, but all three of these books seemed to capture the imagination of the reading public in much larger numbers than before, to impinge upon the consciousness of the reading public.
Pure fantasy writing, of course, had been around for many years prior to this point. Obviously Tolkien himself, and C.S. Lewis had been published in the 1950s. From the 1960s, Robert E Howard and John Norman were pumping out sword-and-sandal pulp, while Michael Moorcock was ploughing a lone furrow in Gothic ostentation. However, in general, fantasy was viewed as a small offshoot of the larger, and older, genre of Science Fiction. Indeed many respected SF authors were wont to produce pure fantasy novels occasionally, or more likely novels that were SF but with a large fantasy element. This list includes, for instance, Ursula Le Guin, Piers Anthony, Gordon R. Dickson, Roger Zelazny, Fritz Leiber, Robert Silverberg, Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley, many of whom would go on to produce fantasy well into the modern period. Other authors, such as C J Cherryh, Tanith Lee and Patricia McKillip, had been hard at work at the coal face, producing quality work for years prior to the big bang.
However, there was no clearly defined genre for the fantasy enthusiast until a sufficient body of work became available, and 1977 defines the tipping point that allowed fantasy to occupy its own shelves in bookshops.
Many years ago I had occasion to attempt to describe what is meant by the term fantasy. In other words, what features or elements (a common word used now is "trope") of a novel could be identified that would lead one to consider it a fantasy rather than another branch of fiction. My conclusions are long-lost and no doubt questioned at the time. However, there are some obvious markers, for instance:
a supernatural element at odds with existing religions;
a consistently applied system of magic;
intelligent non-humans races that are not considered alien;
This list is subjective and incomplete, but I hope suggests the type of idea that may be involved. The abilities of the better authors in pushing, and blurring, the boundaries of fiction, makes constructing a definitive list almost impossible.
There are now many different types of fantasy fiction. The most obvious characterisation is the split between fantasy and pure SF. However, with many authors this distinction is blurred at best. For instance, many fantasy novels are set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, or planets colonized by future Earthlings. On the other hand, SF itself can be blurred by fantasy elements, making what I call science-fantasy. I am interested, in this article, in all fiction with an element of pure fantasy. These can be sub-divided into various strands, for example:
the Tolkien imitators; with lots of dwarves and elves as well as humans,
the world-builders; usually epic in scope with effort put into geography, history, language, etc. to give an all-encompassing experience,
the Gothic; a very specific style full of heavy overtones, where there are few, if any, similarities between our world and the one created by the author,
the fairytale; where an ethereal otherworldliness pervades,
the Dragon fantasy; for lovers of that mythical beast,
the Historic fantasy; where stories are set in fictitious historic environments, often with deviant technologies,
the military fantasy; where the accent is on strategy and violence rather than sophisticated character development,
the post-apocalyptic; where the story is fantasy but linked in some way to the present,
the high concept; where an original and thought-provoking central idea is expanded,
the straight adventure; where the accent is on races against time and exciting set-pieces;
Needless so say, most fantasy novels will cross over sub-genres to a greater or lesser extent, and some with focus more on character development than others. It is an indication of the huge explosion in fantasy writing that we can sub-divide in this fashion.
In the earliest days of the post-Tolkien era, as I have said, the first major names to appear were Brooks and Donaldson. Though obviously totally different in style, they were mysteriously always mentioned in one breath, perhaps simply because of the scale of their works. Brooks is the more obvious Tolkien imitator, what with elves and dwarves abounding. However, it was obvious from the start that his world was indeed post-apocalyptic, and his later books cement this by describing the transition from one state to another. Donaldsonís approach, to drop a present day character into a totally new world that may or may not exist, is much bolder, if darker, and the ideas retain their originality to this day. An additional feature introduced by both of these writers was the trilogy concept, which became a staple idea in fantasy and is still in heavy use. Brooks subsequently produced a sequence of tetralogies and trilogies related to the same invented world, while Donaldson, after one more related trilogy, broke out to develop entirely new series.
The year 1977 also saw the publication of A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony, the beginning of a very long series of books, the Xanth novels. Though the quality dipped markedly after the first few, I mention this for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it introduces another sub-genre, that of comedy fantasy, which is a very difficult thing to get right; secondly, because it marks Anthonyís transition from a gifted SF writer to a big name in modern fantasy; and thirdly, because it begins the divergence of fantasy from a couple of standard forms to the point where now anything goes. Another writer who was in a position to benefit from both the increased interest in fantasy and the new flexibility was Jack Chalker, whose Well of Souls series began the same year, and retains a special place in my memory.
The gate was now open, and what once had been a trickle became a flood. In the early 80s, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman started to produce trilogies of novels, beginning with the Dragonlance series, based on the Dungeons & Dragons board game, Raymond Feist began the Riftwar Saga, with a very modern, open, swash-buckling tone. Other names to start appearing in the late 70s and early 80s are Joan Vinge, George R R Martin, Tim Powers, Nancy Springer, Gene Wolfe, David Eddings and David Gemmell, bringing a variety of different styles. By the mid to late 80s, most of the sub-genres mentioned above had begun to take shape. One recognizable grouping, for which I have no specific name, is of a very light, sophisticated, exotic style, epitomized by the likes of R A MacAvoy, Barry Hughart and Richard Grant amongst others. Unfortunately, it seems that this style faded in popularity until recently. I must also mention the beginning of the series of Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett, which redefined comic fantasy, in that it is made far more effective if it has a heart. By the late 80s also, came the rise of the high concept fantasy, championed initially by Tim Powers, and later joined by James P Blaylock, Sheri Tepper, and to a related but lesser extent by Guy Gavriel Kay, whose books are a mass of misdirections and denouements. The Tolkien imitators also came back to prominence with Tad Williams, with his epic Memory, Sorrow, Thorn sequence, and Robert Jordanís continuing monster Wheel of Time, which has only recently come to an end, continued to a proper conclusion by Brandon Peterson after the unfortunate early death of the original author.
The early 90s is a lean time for new names, with most of the established giants of fantasy continuing to produce. However, by the mid to late 90s a couple of new threads began to appear. The first one was the rise of the big trilogies, slightly-plotted but heavy of the characterization, and written by women. Before the uproar begins, I will say that pure fantasy as a distinct genre has always had a large proportion of female writers, which has continued to this day. I, for one, am happy to include many female writers in my list of favourite authors. However, it just seems as if there was a bit too much jumping on the bandwagon at this point, and as such the quality suffers. I will mention Maggie Furey, Robin Hobb, J V Jones, Sara Douglass, Juliet McKenna, Julia Gray (yes I know heís a man), Jennifer Fallon, Fiona McIntosh, while allowing others to decide the leaders and followers in this movement. Suffice it to say that having read at least one book from most of these I was very disappointed. Where is the imagination and subtlety of Tanith Lee or Sheri Tepper? The second recognisable group is the high adventure of the likes of Paul Kearney and James Barclay, very gung-ho and full of incident. This has recently been superseded by a drift back towards larger multi-volume epics, albeit with a continuing focus on action and careful plotting, such as Steven Eriksonís Malazan series and George R R Martinís Song of Fire and Ice. The most recent sub-genre to make a comeback on the back of these successes is the world-builder, with the likes of Scott Lynch, R Scott Bakker, Tom Lloyd, Joe Abercrombie and Russell Kirkpatrick, though again the quality is hit-and-miss. Another modern trend is a return of the high concept, epitomized by China Mieville, Hal Duncan and Adam Roberts.
Below I give my opinions on authors I have read, whether that is one book or a dozen. The list includes many who have not been mentioned explicitly above.
The Blade Itself (2006), Before they are Hanged (2007), Last Argument of Kings (2008) - First Law
Best Served Cold (2009)
The Heroes (2011)
Red Country (2012)
Portrayed as one of the new stars of fantasy, Abercrombie does not disappoint when he promises a more gritty, nobody wins, tale, and it is quite dirty, dour, downbeat and grisly, though leavened with gallows humour. I was unconvinced about the first novel but the second was a very solid piece of work. The final volume of the First Law trilogy was perhaps a let-down, simply because the downbeat kept spiralling ever downward, and though most of the central characters found some sort of Pyrrhic victory of circumstance, mostly well deserved, there was no true pay-off. On the other hand, there were some stunning set pieces, including a final unleashing of lethal magic, and some great characters, so I will probably keep reading.
Helliconia Spring (1982), Helliconia Summer (1983), Helliconia Winter (1985) - Helliconia
Brian Aldiss was one of the most established of SF writers when he began his experimental trilogy of Helliconia in 1982, charting the long slow awakening of a planet from it's own Ice Age winter into spring and around to winter again across the span of millenia, all the while being watched from afar by more advanced life-forms (that is, us), from a distance. An interesting diversion that straddles SF and fantasy and historical fiction, but ultimately to little end. Well that's him written off then!
ANDERSON, Kevin J
Hidden Empire (2002), A Forest of Stars (2003), Horizon Storms (2004), Scattered Suns (2005), Of Fire and Night (2006), Metal Swarm (2007), The Ashes of Worlds (2008) - Saga of Seven Suns
The Edge of the World (2009), The Map of all Things (2010), The Key to Creation (2011) - Terra Incognita
Often found as a co-writer, in particular with Brian Herbert in the continuation of the Dune books of Frank Herbert, Kevin Anderson departed on his own space opera series in 2002. I just didn't find it deep or involving enough to continue (a fault with many SF writers I may add). However, his Terra Incognita series may reveal some meatier work.
Chthon (1967), Phthor (1975) - Aton
Omnivore (1968), Orn (1971), Ox (1976) - Of Man and Manta
Sos the Rope (1968),
Var the Stick (1969), Neq the Sword (1975) -
Vicinity Cluster (1977), Chaining the Lady (1978), Kirlian Quest (1978), Thousandstar (1980), Viscous Circle (1982) - Cluster
God of Tarot (1979), Vision of Tarot (1980), Faith of Tarot (1980) - Tarot
A Spell for Chameleon (1977), The Source of Magic (1978), Castle Roogna (1979), et al - Xanth
On a Pale Horse (1983), Bearing and Hourglass (1984), With a Tangled Skein (1985), Wielding a Red Sword (1986), Being a Green Mother (1987), For Love of Evil (1988), And Eternity (1989) - Incarnations of Immortality
Refugee (1983), Mercenary (1984), Politician (1985), Executive (1985), Statesman (1986) - Bio of a Space Tyrant
Shade of the Tree (1986)
Latterly falling into the safe and steady, lazy and financially rewarding rut of churning out yet another novel in the successful "Xanth" sequence, as well as co-authoring dodgy series and pouring out personal soul-searching in extensive after-words, Pier Anthony's earlier work was fairly hard-hitting, tightly-written SF, for example in "Phthon" and "Chthor", with an early peak in the larger scale "Macroscope". A move towards more overtly fantastical ideas gave the highly impressive "Tarot" sequence, then the original "Xanth" trilogy, the "Incarnations of Immortality" series and the first two books of the first "Split Infinity" trilogy. Unfortunately there is nothing to recommend anything more recent, although as of 2012 he is still churning them out.
Lord of Snow and Shadows (2003), Prisoner of
Drawing heavily on Russian mythology, which gave it a bit of novelty, these books are on the whole pretty weak. I felt that in general her characters were stereotypes, the plotting was signposted and the canvas too parochial. We have just seen most of this too many times before.
BAKKER, R Scott
The Darkness that comes Before (2003), The Warrior-Prophet (2005), The Thousandfold Thought (2006) - Prince of Nothing
The Judging Eye (2009), The White Luck Warrior (2010), The Unholy Consult (2012) - Aspect-Emperor
I recommend the Prince of Nothing trilogy to any serious fantasy reader. It is hard going and at times distasteful, even downright creepy, but some of the set-pieces are magnificent, including a couple of titanic battle scenes and a surreal desert-crossing, and it is sometimes good to be challenged in one's reading. By heck, though, it doesn't half leave a sour taste behind, and I cannot being myself to continue with the next trilogy.
BANKS, Iain M
Consider Phlebas (1987), The Player of Games (1988), Use of Weapons (1990), The State of the Art (1989), Excession (1996), Inversions (1998), Look to Windward (2000), Matter (2008), Surface Detail (2011), The Hydrogen Sonata (2012) - Culture
Against a Dark Background (1993)
Feersum Endjinn (1994)
The Algebraist (2004)
As he is also a well-known writer of mainstream fiction as Iain Banks (without the middle initial), I was looking forward to a quality SF product, only to be extremely disappointed. Consider Phlebas is one of the few novels I have given up on before the halfway point. It seems to be a catalogue of isolated events connected loosely by characters of negligible interest, with an unpleasant and totally unnecessary streak of sexual violence infused. A quick way to alienate me.
Dawnthief (1999), Noonshade (2000), Nightchild (2001) - Chronicles of the Raven
Elfsorrow (2002), Shadowheart (2003), Demonstorm (2004), Ravensoul (2008) - Legends of the Raven
The Cry of the Newborn (2005), Shout for the Dead (2007) - Ascendants of Estorea
Once walked with Gods (2009), Rise of the TaiGethen (2010), Beyond the Mists of Katura (2013) - Elves
Barclay's first book, Dawnthief, is a rip-roaring fantasy adventure with a high level of excitement, imaginative set-pieces and plenty of surprising twists and shock tactics. The following books, centred on the same angst-ridden bunch of mercenaries known as the Raven, though very well written, tailed off in excitement, probably explaining his temporary departure to a separate series. I would say that a larger canvas is needed to contain all the ideas, though I remain a loyal fan and am sufficiently interested to keep reading.
Coalescent (2003), Exultant (2004), Transcendent (2005), Resplendent (2006) - Destiny's Children
As a writer mainly of SF, Baxter has tried to push the boundaries of the genre, investigating various facets of sociology and philosophy. Destiny's Children addresses a potential hive mentality within humanity with fictional overlaps with various times in history. His writing is solid, apart from an annoying overuse of the word anyhow, and I may sample more of his work in future.
BLAYLOCK, James P
The Elfin Ship (1982), The Disappearing Dwarf (1983), The Stone Giant (1989), The Last Coin (1988) - Elfin
The Digging Leviathan (1984), Zeuglodon (2012) - Digging Leviathan
Homunculus (1986), Lord Kelvin's Machine (1992), The Adventures of Langdon St Ives (2008), The Ebb Tide (2009), The Affair of the Chalk Cliffs (2011), The Aylesford Skulls (2013) - Langdon St Ives
As Blaylock was touted as a rival/confidante to Tim Powers during the eighties, I read The Last Coin out of sequence. It didn't make much sense, and it is very difficult to locate most of his published work. He might just be worth the effort.
BRETT, Peter V
The Painted Man (2008), The Desert Spear (2009), The Daylight War (2013) - Demon Cycle
One of the few new writers to make a genuine impression on me, the first book of the above series had a brilliant central concept that was pushed to the limit, giving ample room for some great scenes. The second book was very different in pace and style but still manages to keep me interested in the characters and their predicament, and I look forward to the third.
Sundiver (1979), Startide Rising (1983), The Uplift War (1987), Brightness Reef (1995), Infinity's Shore (1996), Heaven's Reach (1998), Gorilla. My Dreams (2011) - Uplift
Kil'n People (2001), Kil'n Time (2006) - Kil'n
The Practice Effect (1984)
The Postman (1985)
Glory Season (1993)
I read his first book and was mildly entertained, but never got round to the rest. There is always a part of me that considers that I might have done him and injustice.
The Sword of Shannara (1977), The Elfstones of Shannara (1982), The Wishsong of Shannara (1985) - Shannara
The Scions of Shannara (1990), The Druid of Shannara (1991), The Elf Queen of Shannara (1992), The Talismans of Shannara (1993) - Heritage of Shannara
Ilse Witch (2000), Antrax (2001), Morgawr (2002) - Voyage of the Jerle Shannara
Jarka Ruus (2003), Tanequil (2004), Straken (2005) - High Druid of Shannara
Armageddon's Children (2006), The Elves of Cintra (2007), The Gypsy Morph (2008) - Genesis of Shannara
Recognised, along with Stephen Donaldson, as being one of the first successful Tolkien imitators, Brooks has been writing large-scale fantasy novels for many years. The largest part of this output is the "Shannara" series, which continues to grow, although the books are separated into a set of connected groups. It all started with "The Sword of Shannara" in 1977, which took us to what is now a very familiar world, peopled by Men, Elves, Dwarves and various other less palatable species, with a lot of Dark Magic thrown in for good measure. This first novel took a while to get going, spending much of its first 100 pages loosely explaining the post-apocalyptic history of the world, but then settles down to an entertaining adventure. The style and content were refined and improved over the next two books in the first trilogy. There is then quite a gap in time before the next set of four books, which although still entertaining, have lost some of the originality and sparkle of the first three, and also spend a little too much time on motivation and rationale to the detriment of pace. I have now drawn a line under any further reading, since there is too much new stuff out there, and I couldnít help but feel that I was getting diminishing returns.
Jhereg (1983), Yendi (1984), Teckla (1987), Taltos (1988)
The Raymond Chandler of fantasy, Brust writes in a quirky, blackly-comical, almost tongue-in-cheek way, which is entertaining if a bit shallow. This makes him interesting for a while before the irritation level gets too high. The first couple of books should give a good indication of whether it is worth the effort of continuing. I didn't.
BUJOLD, Lois McMaster
The Curse of Chalion (2001), Paladin of Souls (2003), The Hallowed Hunt (2005)
Although more well known, and highly respected as, a writer of space opera SF, Bujold took a step aside to write a more traditional fantasy series, based around a vaguely Spanish, sword-fencing background. These books have been feted with honours, but I simply came across a pleasant, undemanding and ultimately unrewarding story that seemed to be going through the motions.
The Magicians' Guild (2001), The Novice (2004), The High Lord (2004) - Black Magician
Priestess of the White (2006), Last of the Wilds (2006), Voice of the Gods (2007) - Age of Five Gods
Her first novel is so derivative that I just gave up.
CARD, Orson Scott
Ender's Game (1985), Speaker for the Dead (1985), Xenocide (1991), Children of the Mind (1996) - Ender Wiggin
Seventh Son (1987), Red Prophet (1988), Prentice Alvin (1989), Alvin Journeyman (1995), Heartfire (1998), The Crystal City (2003) - Alvin Maker
The Memory of Earth (1992), The Call of Earth (1992), The Ships of Earth (1994), Earthfall (1995), Earthborn (1995) - Homecoming
I would encourage everyone to read the original Ender books. This man knows how to write books that entertain but also place demands on the reader. The revelation in the first book is breathtaking, and the last book, Children of the Mind, is a very strong product on its own. I have always been a bit fearful of reading anything else by Card in case it's not as good, but perhaps that's just my insecurity rather than his.
Kushiel's Dart (2001), Kushiel's Chosen (2002), Kushiel's Avatar (2003), Kushiel's Scion (2005), Kushiel's Justice (2007), Kushiel's Mercy (2008), Naamah's Kiss (2009), Naamah's Curse (2010). Naamah's Blessing (2011) - Kushiel's Legacy
I have a sneaking respect for the Kushiel books. They have that erotic fantasy element that I don't really go for, but there is a lot going on, and some strong characters in unusual positions (is it OK to say that?). Not for me, but nevertheless worthy.
World's End (1999), Darkest Hour (2000), Always Forever (2001) - Age of Misrule
The Devil in Green (2002), The Queen of Sinister (2004), The Hounds of Avalon (2005), The Queen of Sinsister (2010) - Dark Age
Jack of Ravens (2006), The Burning Man (2008), Destroyer of Worlds (2009) - Kingdom of the Serpent
The Sword of Albion (2009), The Scar-Crow Men
(2011), The Devil's Looking-Glass (2012) - Sword of
As more modern writers go, I cannot recommend this man highly enough. The
Age of Misrule is one of the most exciting series I have ever read. Give or
take the odd weakness of characterization, with some dodgy inter-personal
dialogue, the overarching storyline is just so good. Taking most of its ideas
from Celtic mythology, some of the set-pieces are amongst the most thrilling,
most evocative writing I have ever come across, and he doesn't flinch from
making a right mess of British landmarks! A scene in a boarded-up basement in
Midnight at the Well of Souls (1977), Exiles at the Well of Souls (1978), Quest for the Well of Souls (1978), The Return of Nathan Brazil (1979), Twilight at the Well of Souls (1980) - Well of Souls
Lilith (1981), Cerberus (1981), Charon (1982), Medusa (1983) - Four Lords of the Diamond
Spirits of Flux and Anchor (1984), Empires of Flux and Anchor (1984), Masters of Flux and Anchor (1984), The Birth of Flux and Anchor (1985), Children of Flux and Anchor (1986) - Soul Rider
The River of Dancing Gods (1984), Demons of the Dancing Gods (1984), Vengeance of the Dancing Gods (1985), Songs of the Dancing Gods (1990), Horrors of the Dancing Gods (1995) - Dancing Gods
Lords of the Middle Dark (1986), Pirates of the Thunder (1987), Warriors of the Storm (1987), Masks of the Martyrs (1988) - Rings of the Master
The Labyrinth of Dreams (1987), The Shadow Dancers (1987), The Maze in the Mirror (1988) - G.O.D. Inc.
When the Changewinds Blow (1987), Riders of the Winds (1988), War of the Maelstrom (1988) - Changewinds
Echoes of the Well of Souls (1993), Shadow of the Well of Souls (1994), Gods of the Well of Souls (1994) - Watchers at the Well
Chalker, now deceased, is the pulp fiction master of SF and fantasy, or rather a highly blurred version of the two, and wrote very obviously to entertain. His style is light, but highly detailed and explanatory, perhaps sometimes too much, if I can be over-critical. A common theme amongst most of his books is of the body-swap or body-change, and the problems, both physical and mental, his characters have in struggling to cope. However, his settings are always imaginative, and frequently on a massive scale. There's usually a touch of underlying mathematics as well, which I always appreciate. In particular, I recommend the first five "Well of Souls" books.
CHERRYH, C. J.
Gate of Ivrel (1976), Well of Shiuan (1978), Fires of Azeroth (1979), Exile's Gate (1988) - Morgaine
Kesrith (1978), Shon'Jir (1978), Kutath (1979) - Faded Sun
I have only ever read two of the early trilogies, Morgaine and Faded Sun, which were very readable. Inexplicably, though, I never felt the need to return to her writing, perhaps put off by the science-fiction element.
CLARKE, Arthur C
Rendezvous with Rama (1972), Rama II (1989), The Garden of Rama (1991), Rama Revealed (1993) - Rama (the last three with Gentry Lee)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), 2010: Odyssey Two (1982), 2061: Odyssey Three (1985), 3001: The Final Odyssey (1996) - Space Odyssey
Childhood's End (1953)
Against the Fall of Night (1953)
The City and the Stars (1956)
A Fall of Moondust (1961)
The Fountains of
The above list is only a fraction of the output of one of the greats of SF. One of the things which strikes when reading Clarke is how modern even the oldest work seems, a tribute to the man's sensible view of where science takes us. Married to this is a typical writer's skill in creating characters and situations that resonate, and of course each novel has that breathtaking moment of revelation. When one looks at the publish dates of some of this stuff, one is amazed.
Wit'ch Fire (1998), Wit'ch Storm (1999), Wit'ch War (2000), Wit'ch Gate (2001), Wit'ch Star (2002) - Banned and Banished
Shadowfall (2005), Hinterland (2006) - Godslayer
James Clemens is a pseudonym of James Rollins (aka James Czajkowski), whose other work is straightforward adventure fiction. Deciding not to commit to a five-volume series, I initially picked up Shadowfall, only to be grossly disappointed. This is absolute rubbish, stereotypical and boring from the outset, with no redeeming qualities.
Burying the Shadow (1992)
Sign for the Sacred (1993)
I only ever read Hermetech, which, while being very well written, was just a bit too sexed-up and gothic for me, and I tend to avoid the particular sub-genre of sex-horror fantasy.
The Wizards and the Warriors (1986), The Wordsmiths and the Warguild (1987), The Women and the Warlords (1987), The Walrus and the Warwolf (1988), The Wicked and the Witless (1989), The Wishstone and the Wonderworkers (1990), The Wazir and the Witch (1990), The Werewolf and the Wormlord (1991), The Worshippers and the Way (1992), The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster (1992) - Age of Darkness
Cook's series of 10 novels based on the same fantasy world, with occasionally overlapping characters and events, is a complete one-of-a-kind. The writing is a bravado combination of Feist's very open, relaxed style, and Vance's spooky, otherworldly prose, and the stories literally ridiculous, almost farcical, and yet surprisingly readable, though ultimately rather shallow, unless there's something else going on here that I've missed. Unfortunately, these books have disappeared from the shelves in recent years and I still have the last two to read.
The Ill-Made Mute (2001), The
Lady of the Sorrows (2002), The
The Iron Tree (2004), The Well of Tears (2005), Weatherwitch (2006), Fallowblade (2007) - Crowthistle
Dark-Thornton's work is characterised by beautifully written, Celtic-myth influenced, fairy tales, full of ostentatious prose and exotic vocabulary. The Bitterbynde trilogy is an almost elegiac evocation, an assault to the senses of the imagination. However, by the third book, the relentless eccentricity had begun to wear me down, which is a great pity.
Lord Foul's Bane (1977), The Illearth War (1977), The Power that Preserves (1977) - Thomas Covenant
The Wounded Land (1980), The One Tree (1982), White Gold Wielder (1983) - Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
The Mirror of Her Dreams (1986), A Man Rides Through (1987) - Mordant's Need
The Gap into Conflict (1990), The Gap into Vision (1991), The Gap into Power (1992), The Gap into Madness (1994), The Gap into Ruin (1996) - Gap
The Runes of the Earth (2004), Fatal Revenant (2007), Against All Things Ending (2010), The Last Dark (2013) - Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
To compare Donaldson's Thomas Covenant novels, as happened on their first release, with Tolkien, is wholly unfair. Although superficially similar, the style, tone, intent, characterization, and just about everything else, are completely different. Were it not for the fact that both are classed as fantasy authors, they are otherwise poles apart. Where Tolkien's primary aim was to tell a story and let the reader extract motives and rationales, Donaldson provides a more direct, introspective explanation for his principal character. A more valid comparison is with Frank Herbert, though even that is unsatisfactory. Be that as it may, the first Covenant trilogy is an outstanding piece of work. Disappointingly, the second trilogy, with an unwise change of lead character to one much less sympathetic, fails in its attempt to extend and improve on the first, though it still provides a challenging read. His later fantasy works pale in comparison, and I cannot comment on his SF work as I have never read it. It remains to be seen whether I can take the plunge with his final Thomas Covenant sequence, but you never know.
Battleaxe (1995), Enchanter (1996), Starman (1996) - Axis
Sinner (1997), Pilgrim (1998), Crusader (1999) - Wayfarer Redemption
After looking forward to what had the potential to be a quality epic, I was phenomenally unimpressed with her first book, BattleAxe, to such an extent that I gave up halfway through, and believe me, I have to be very disappointed in a book before I would do such a thing. There was no originality, no effort to create a distinct tone, no time spent in creating a consistent back story, ridiculously stereo-typical characterization. Such failure immediately closes off any further reading.
Lord of the Isles (1997), Queen of Demons (1998), Servant of the Dragon (1999), Mistress of the Catacombs (2001), Goddess of the Ice Realm (2003), Master of the Cauldron (2004) - Lord of the Isles
Though much better known as a no-nonsense, space-opera SF stalwat, I initially looked forward to his foray into pure fantasy. Having read the first book in the above sequence, I won't be reading the remainder. I have no complaints about the quality of his writing, or the depths of his characterizations, which are well and sympathetically drawn. I just found it all rather boring, too much like late period Feist.
Pawn of Prophecy (1982), Queen of Sorcery (1982), Magician's Gambit (1983), Castle of Wizardry (1984), Enchanter's End Game (1984) - Belgariad
Guardians of the West (1985), King of the Murgos (1988), Demon Lord of Karanda (1988), The Sorceress of Darshiva (1989), The Seeress of Kell (1991) - Mallorean
The Diamond Throne (1989), The Ruby Knight (1990), The Sapphire Rose (1991) - Elenium
Domes of Fire (1992), The Shining Ones (1993), The Hidden City (1994) - Tamuli
A highly successful and derivative fantasy writing team (with belated recognition that wife Leigh was an equal partner), Eddings' first major product comprised the five-novel epic "The Belgariad", within which he took an amiable collection of familiar characters and forced them to traipse around half a continent on the familiar pretext of tracking down mysterious treasures in order to reveal mysterious secrets, and very entertaining it was. Unfortunately, a second set of five books basically repeated the plot and degenerated into wise-cracking self-aware parody. This distracting tone continued in later works that really should be avoided at all costs.
King's Dragon (1997), Prince of Dogs (1997), The Burning Stone (1998), Child of Flame (2000), The Gathering Storm (2003), In the Ruins (2005), Crown of Stars (2006) - Crown of Stars
Spirit Gate (2006), Shadow Gate (2008), Traitors' Gate (2009) - Crossroads
Cold Magic (2010), Cold Fire (2011), Cold Steel (2013) - Spiritwalker
Having dallied with space opera, Elliott, an alias of Alis Rasmussen, invested substantial effort into building a detailed medieval world as a backdrop for an ambitious fantasy sequence. Perhaps aware that many other writers at the time had started to cash in on the burgeoning fantasy market but with inferior quality goods, she successfully imbued her work, though admittedly chock full of standard fantasy elements, with a sense of gravitas lacking elsewhere, resulting in a product of high quality. I shall continue to be a supporter as long as the quality is maintained.
Gardens of the Moon (1999), Deadhouse Gates (2000), Memories of Ice (2001), House of Chains (2002), Midnight Tides (2004), The Bonehunters (2005), Reaper's Gale (2007), Toll the Hounds (2008), Dust of Dreams (2009), The Crippled God (2010) - Malazan Book of the Fallen
Blood Follows (2002), The Healthy Dead (2004), The Lees at Laughter's End (2007), Crack'd Pot Trail (2009) - Bauchelain & Korbal Broach
I picked up on Gardens of the Moon more in hope that expectation, never having heard of this new writer. I was immediately hooked: it was one of the best fantasy novels I had read in a long time. With a staggeringly violent introduction, the reader is flung headfirst into a sprawling epic. Unfolding on a huge scale and against an incredibly developed historic backdrop, it has a vast array of well-drawn characters, ranging from the deadly serious to the quirkily comical, all given untold depths of motivation. I also felt that the obvious rawness of a first book added to what was for me the highlight of the read, which is a wonderfully jagged tone, emphasising the savagery and yet also the humour and honour (or lack thereof) behind the actions of the various cast members. The second book of a ten novel sequence, Deadhouse Gates, managed to ramp up the scale another notch, shifting the focus across continents to a mostly different cast of characters, while the third book, Memories of Ice, reached heartbreaking levels of emotion. Later entries in the sequence take on more philosophical and anthropological tone, as befitting the qualifications of the writer, but do not sacrifice the moments of breathless excitement. The system of magic is original and ultimately central to the overarching plotline, which is astonishing in scope, although it allows room for myriad smaller story arcs to unfold along the way. It is a perfect blend of the best qualities of Tolkien and Gemmell that has me shuddering in anticipation as I begin each new book. The Malazan Book of the Fallen is undoubtedly the greatest fantasy sequence I have ever come across, and in my opinion is one of the highlights of modern fiction of any type. The world-building is shared with fellow writer Ian Esslemont, who has more recently begun his own companion sequence that expands on some ideas that Erikson, even amongst the thousand-page blockbusters, cannot hope to cover. The side-bar involving two minor characters briefly introduced in the main sequence is, though inhabiting the same world, a complete change of pace, funny, absurd and a little perverted, while retaining a level of imagination few can emulate, and is also recommended.
ESSLEMONT, Ian Cameron
Night of Knives (2004), Return of the Crimson Guard (2008), Stonewielder (2010), Orb, Sceptre, Throne (2011), Blood and Bone (2012) - Malazan Empire
Esslemont and Steven Erikson worked for many years developing the shared world and ideas upon which was built Erikson's towering Malazan sequence, for which see above. Due to other commitments, Esslemont came late to producing published works, but he has now developed a companion sequence of novels that cover agreed-upon events, people and places of significance to the overall development deemed inappropriate for Erikson to handle. Though his writing style is several notches down from the philosophical complexities of Erikson, it has a freshness and directness that makes his books very enjoyable, while all the time there is that wonderful sense of being part of something bigger, so that the mere mention of some vaguely familiar concept from the shared history can suddenly add layers of meaning. I cannot foresee a time when I no longer read these.
Medalon (2000), Treason Keep (2000), Harshini (2000) - Demon Child
The Lion of Senet (2001), Eye of the Labyrinth (2004), Lord of the Shadows (2004) - Second Sons
Notwithstanding more recently published material, the above list is enough to cement impressions. Unfortunately Fallon falls into the category of completely derivative and simply not worth reading.
The Sum of all Men (1998), Brotherhood of the Wolf (1999), Wizardborn (2001), The Lair of Bones (2003), Sons of the Oak (2006), Worldbinder (2007), The Wyrmling Horde (2008), Chaosbound (2009), A Tale of Tales (2012) - Runelords
I eagerly anticipated the start of a good new series, only to come away vaguely disappointed. The Sum of all Men is not a bad book - some poor early characterizations start to tighten up around the halfway mark, when he seems to realize that the story needs a larger cast. However the main concept of magic power being a tradable commodity avariciously collected by the ruling classes at the expense of commoners, while being consistent is somehow sordid and vulgar, and one cannot commit emotional involvement with characters who are so cavalier with the lives and health of others.
FEIST, Raymond E.
Magician (1982), Silverthorn (1985), A Darkness at Sethanon (1985), Prince of the Blood (1989), The King's Buccaneer (1989) - Riftwar
Shadow of a Dark Queen (1994), Rise of a Merchant Prince (1995), Rage of a Demon King (1995), Shards of a Broken Crown (1998) - Serpentwar
Daughter of the Empire (1987), Servant of the Empire (1989), Mistress of the Empire (1989) - The Other Side
Providing traditional fantasy in a rip-roaring, swash-buckling fashion, Feist just keeps writing his stories until they come to an end, which means that his books are usually big but fast reads. The goodies and the baddies are well sign-posted and there is no pretence of art. All his stories are set in the same fictitious but vaguely European medieval lands, lending healthy continuity. Throw in some magic and a good old rift in the space-time continuum and the first few books in an extended sequence are a great read. However, as sequence progresses, it moves quickly down the generations, which doesnít allow the reader to attach emotionally to any character in particular, and ultimately the vague sense of repetition starts to annoy. Unfortunately a prime example of the law of diminishing returns.
FLINT, Kenneth C.
The Hound of Culain (1981), The Riders of the Sidhe (1984), Champions of the Sidhe (1984), Master of the Sidhe (1985), Heart of the Sidhe (2012) - Sidhe Legends
Challenge of the Clans (1986), Storm Shield (1986), Dark Druid (1987) - Finn MacCumhal
The Hound of Eire (2011),
The above sequence of Sidhe novels is the order in which I came upon them in the early 80s (though some websites have the Hound of Culain outside the sequence). Re-imaginings of Irish Myths as they are, I was captivated, but as with so many series of the time, succeeding books were very hard to come by and I never completed the sequence. After a considerable gap, while he moved into SF and wrote a couple of Star Wars novels, he appears to have returned to fill in some of the gaps in the stories.
FORSTCHEN, William R.
Ice Prophet (1983), The Flame Upon the Ice (1984), A Darkness upon the Ice (1985) - Ice Prophet
I read one book a long time ago, which was very entertaining. I have never seen anything else by this author, as he has never had a British publisher.
FOSTER, Alan Dean
Spellsinger (1983), The Hour of the Gate (1983), The Day of the Dissonance (1984), The Moment of the Magician (1984), The Paths of the Perambulator (1985), The Time of the Transference (1986) - Spellsinger
Forever remembered in my eyes as the writer of the Alien adaptation, Foster has also transferred several other major motion pictures into book form and has a large back catalogue. Within the fantasy realm, I only read the first three Spellsinger books, which are a little light, quite tongue-in-cheek, but a pleasant read, but it was going nowhere sufficiently interesting to stick around.
FRIEDMAN, Celia S.
Black Sun Rising (1991),
Feast of Souls (2007), The Wings of Wrath (2008), Legacy of Kings (2011) - Magister
The Madness Season (1990)
The Erciyes Fragments (1999)
The Coldfire trilogy is one of the darkest, moodiest, sometimes even despondent, reads I have ever come across: absolutely brilliant. Pathos, soul-searching, evil incarnate, demons, and many others, wrapped up in the blackest magic ever devised.
Aurian (1994), Harp of Winds (1994), The Sword of Flame (1995), Dhiamarra (1997) - Artifacts of Power
The Heart of Myrial (1998), The Spirit of the Stone (2001), The Eye of Eternity (2002) - Shadowleague
Picking up Aurian, the first book in a new series, I was looking forward to what I thought would be an enjoyable romp. However, the relentless shallowness of the main characters starts to dominate the proceedings, and what could have been well done is a bad let-down in the end.
Legend (1984), The King beyond the Gate (1985), Waylander (1986), Quest for Lost Heroes (1990), Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf (1992), The first Chronicles of Druss the Legend (1993), The Legend of Deathwalker (1996), Winter Warriors (1997), Hero in the Shadows (2000) - Drenai Tales
Wolf in Shadow (1987), The Last Guardian (1989), Bloodstone (1994) - Jon Shannow
Ghost King (1988), Last Sword of Power (1988) - Sipstrassi
Lion of Macedon (1990), Dark Prince (1991) - Lion of Macedon
Ironhand's Daughter (1995), The Hawk Eternal (1995) - Hawk Queen
Sword in the Storm (1998), Midnight Falcon (1999), Ravenheart (2001), Stormrider (2002) - Rigante
White Wolf (2003), The Swords of Night and Day (2004) - Skilgannon
Lord of the Silver Bow (2005), The Shield of Thunder (2006), Fall of Kings (2007) -
Knights of Dark Renown (1989)
Dark Moon (1996)
Echoes of the Great Song (1997)
Gemmell burst upon the fantasy scene with "Legend", which takes the familiar device of the siege scenario, and weaves in a host of very masculine, and admittedly sometimes hackneyed, emotional effects such as patriotism, bravado, self-sacrifice, gallows humour and male bonding, plus a little bit of the supernatural, to produce an epic sweep that is sheer entertainment. The same tone features in everything else that follows. In a very sparse but vivid prose, his panache is such that even his lesser works can be enjoyed immensely, with both major and minor characters quickly but memorably drawn, moody and realistic. For those who need a bit more in the way of structured plotting, the "Jon Shannow" novels tie-in such diverse and familiar devices as post-apocalyptic civilisation and time-travel to good effect. I encourage you to read every book he has ever written, as that is exactly what I did.
Although I read one book, which even looking at her published works I cannot recall, I was never a fan of the gothic alternate history subgenre.
Neuromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) - Sprawl
Virtual Light (1993), Idoru (1996), All Tomorrow's Parties (1999) - Bridge
The Difference Engine (1990)
Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Pattern Recognition (2002)
Spook Country (2007)
Zero History (2010)
I list William Gibson here because I read Neuromancer when it first came out. I was perhaps too young and not ready for cyberpunk, so I didn't enjoy it.
Wizard's First Rule (1994), Stone of Tears (1995), Blood of the Fold (1996), Temple of the Winds (1997), Soul of the Fire (1999), Faith of the Fallen (2000), The Pillar's of Creation (2001), Naked Empire (2003), Chainfire (2005), Phantom (2006), Confessor (2007), The Omen Machine (2011) - Sword of Truth
Goodkind could be brilliant. He writes confidently in a fast-flowing style, with lots of plots and counter-plots, good characterisation and dialogue. However, he stretches across too broad a canvas, trying to include too many disparate elements, and, more critically, there is an undercurrent of quite distasteful sado-masochism running through his books that I find unacceptable. Considering that I will generally be quite open to sex and violence in the books that I read, the fact that I feel genuinely uncomfortable with some of what Goodkind writes makes me wonder what he's all about. I reached 100 pages into the second book of his open-ended series before giving up in disgust.
Saraband for Lost Time (1985)
Rumours of Spring (1986)
Views from the Oldest House (1989)
Through the Heart (1991)
Kaspian Lost (1999)
Beautifully written flights of fancy, so difficult to come by.
The Dark Moon (2000), The Jasper Forest (2001), The Crystal Desert (2001), The Red Glacier (2002), Alyssa's Ring (2002) - Guardian Cycle
A pseudonym of Mark and Julia Smith, a couple who also use the name Jonathan Wylie to publish under, The Dark Moon turned out to be the first book in one of the well-written, but shallow and lazily-plotted multi-volume non-epics that bedevilled the late 90s and early noughties. I was not inspired to get the next one in the list.
HAMILTON, Peter F
Mindstar Rising (1992), A Quantum Murder (1994), The Nano Flower (1995) - Greg Mandel
The Reality Dysfunction (1996), The Neutronium Alchemist (1997), The Naked God (1999) - Night's Dawn
Pandora's Star (2004), Judas Unchained (2005) - Commonwealth Saga
The Dreaming Void (2007), The Temporal Void (2008), The Evolutionary Void (2010) - Void
Watching Trees Grow (2000)
Fallen Dragon (2001)
Misspent Youth (2002)
I like to think of
Rhapsody (1999), Prophecy (2000), Destiny (2001), Requiem for the Sun (2002), Elegy for a Lost Star (2004), The Assassin King (2005) - Symphony
The Symphony for a New Age began as a trilogy, and is a very strange amalgam of several types of fantasy: a touch of gothic, some high adventure, a dash of dragons, wrapped within a peculiarly old-fashioned style. Somewhat surprisingly, I actually became very fond of these, and can recommend them thoroughly.
HEINLEIN, Robert A.
Unexpected perhaps in this list, I read Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) and Time Enough for Love (1973) many years ago, and though not my cup of tea, these clearly show evidence of a step towards fantasy elements within the hard SF canon.
HERBERT, Brian & ANDERSON, Kevin J.
House Atreides (1999), House Harkonnen (2000), House Corrino (2001) - Prelude to Dune
The Butlerian Jihad (2002), The Machine Crusade
Hunters of Dune (2006), Sandworms of Dune (2007), Paul of Dune (2008), The Winds of Dune (2009), Tales of Dune (2011), The Sisterhood of Dune (2012) - Dune continued
This entry should really follow the next, as it so obviously does so
chronologically. Be that as it may. The attempt of course was to flesh out the
original work of Frank Herbert, providing its setting in future history and on
gaps in the original timeline. I approached these with some degree of
trepidation, but was pleasantly surprised. The weightiness of the subject
matter is enough to dampen
Dune (1965), Dune Messiah (1969), Children of Dune (1976), God Emperor of Dune (1981), Heretics of Dune (1984), Chapterhouse: Dune (1969) - Dune
The Eyes of Heisenberg (1966)
The Green Brain (1966)
The Santaroga Barrier (1967)
The Dosadi Experiment (1977)
The White Plague (1982)
Herbert's status as one of the giants of SF and fantasy rests justifiably on the sequence of six "Dune" books. As with others of major talent, the concepts are on a massive scale, and yet made personal by skilful characterisation and dialogue. Add to this the fact that Herbert is a true master of the English language, wielding it with dazzling precision. Even in his lesser books, you can appreciate the sheer elegance and skill involved. I first read "Dune" itself when I was 16, and although I enjoyed it, I knew instinctively that I had not taken it all in. It was only on re-reading it a few years later that it's true worth came out. I cannot recommend this man highly enough.
Assassin's Apprentice (1995), Royal Assassin (1996), Assassin's Quest (1997) - Farseer
Ship of Magic (1998), The Mad Ship (1999), Ship of Destiny (2000) - Liveship Traders
Fool's Errand (2001), The Golden Fool (2002), Fool's Fate (2003) - Tawny Man
Shaman's Crossing (2005),
Robin Hobb is a pseudonym chosen by Megan Lindholm to produce works of more ambitious scope than those she had previously been known for, and her reputation is assured. I approached her first book with high expectations only to be extremely disappointed. Undoubtedly well written, it simply failed to provide the necessary level of interest that would be provided either by strong plotting or dramatic excitement. I felt that it was weak in both of these areas and relied too heavily on too many of the by now overly familiar elements that plague the more unimaginative authors. If this seems too strong a rebuke for a very highly regarded fantasy writer, I can only apologise and stress that this is my opinion only. Perhaps if I read more I would see the quality coming through, but there are too many other books out there.
The Story of the Stone (1988)
Eight Skilled Gentlemen (1990)
Delightfully genteel high fantasy, with a totally unique delivery, but perhaps simply too stylised for the average fantasy fan.
A Shadow on the Glass (1998), The Tower on the Rift (1998), Dark is the Moon (1999), The Way between the Worlds (1999) - View from the Mirror
The Last Albatross (2000), Terminator Gene (2003), The Life Lottery (2004) - Human Rites
Geomancer (2001), Tetrarch (2002), Alchymist (2003), Chimaera (2004) - Well of Echoes
The Fate of the Fallen (2006), The Curse of the
The Road to Underfall (1986), Palace of Kings (1987), Shadowlight (1988), Knights of Cawdor (1995), Citadel of Shadows (1996), Threads of Magic (1997), The Siege of Candlebane Hall (1998) - Loremasters of Elundium
Glitterspyke Hall (1989), Hall of Whispers (1990) - Heirs to Gnarlsmyre
Shadows in the Watchgate (1991)
Hidden Echoes (1992)
Stone Angels (1993)
Children of the Flame (1994)
The Ghosts of Candleford (1999)
Undoubtedly, some people will have difficulty with the exotic, Gothic style of Jefferies' writing. However, all it really does is dress straightforward fantasy in an unusual, very atmospheric coating. It's just a slightly different form of entertainment, worthy of the occasional change in the direction of your reading. Unfortunately his work is difficult to come by now, and there is no recent output.
The Eye of the World (1990), The Great Hunt (1990), The Dragon Reborn (1991), The Shadow Rising (1992), The Fires of Heaven (1993), Lord of Chaos (1994), A Crown of Swords (1996), The Path of Daggers (1998), Winter's Heart (2000), Crossroads of Twilight (2002), Knife of Dreams (2005) - Wheel of Time
Perhaps more fondly remembered amongst older fantasy fans as one of the
regular contributors to the Conan series, Jordan launched his own multi-volume
series in 1990, to considerable acclaim, the series continued after his death,
from detailed notes left behind, by Brandon Sanderson, for which see below. I
read the first volume in the series, but by that time had already been exposed
to Erikson, and in my view
JORDAN, Robert & Sanderson, Brandon
The Gathering Storm (2009), Towers of Midnight (2010), A Memory of Light (2013) - Wheel of Time continued
Sanderson, a writer of quality, helps to finish off this epic series, hopefully with due deference and not a little skill.
KAY, Guy Gavriel
The Summer Tree (1984), The Wandering Fire (1986), The Darkest Road (1986) - The Fionavar Tapestry
Sailing to Sarantium (1998), Lord of Emperors (2000) - The Sarantine Mosaic
Under Heaven (2010),
A Song for Arbonne (1992)
The Lions of Al-Rassan (1995)
The Last Light of the Sun (2003)
The distinctly unprolific Kay presumably spends a long time on each of his books. This is evident, especially in his earlier years, from the high incidence of cliff-hangers and revelation, which makes them great fun to read, as we wait expectantly for the next surprise to come along. The early "Fionavar Tapestry" trilogy contains just about every fantasy element you can imagine, almost too much too soon, but the later novels are much more carefully paced and focussed, allowing a more gradual build-up towards each finale. My recommendation is to read all of his books, even if you are not totally overawed by individual examples, simply to appreciate an expert at work. Though perhaps nothing will ever reach the heights of Tigana, of his later books, I recommend The Last Light of the Sun.
Hawkwood's Voyage (1995), The Heretic Kings (1996), The Iron Wars (1998), The Second Empire (2000), Ships from the West (2002) - Monarchies of God
The Mark of Ran (2003), This Forsaken Earth (2006) - Sea Beggars
The Ten Thousand (2008), Corvus (2011), The Kings of Morning (2011) - The Macht
I am greatly encouraged that
KELLOGG, Marjorie B.
The Book of Earth (1995), The Book of Water (1997), The Book of Fire (2000), The Book of Air (2003) - Dragon Quartet
The Wave and the Flame (1986), Reign of Fire (1986) - Lear's Daughter
A Rumour of Angels (1983)
A Rumour of Angels was one of the highlights of my early fantasy reading. Unfortunately it has been so long that I can't remember anything about it.
Daggerspell (1986), Darkspell (1987), Dawnspell: The Bristling Wood (1989), Dragonspell: The Southern Sea (1990) - Deverry
A Time of Exile (1991), A Time of Omens (1992), A Time of War (1993), A Time of Justice (1994) - Deverry: The Westlands
The Red Wyvern (1997), The Black Raven (1998), The Fire Dragon (2000) - Deverry: The Dragon Mage
The Gold Falcon (2006), The Spirit Stone (2007), The Shadow Isle (2008), The Silver Mage (2009) - Deverry: The Silver Wyrm
There is undoubtedly a lot to appreciate in the first four Deverry novels. In particular, there are some very poignant stories, told in a type of flashback form, which give dramatic bite to the interplay of several of the main characters. However, in general, it becomes a bit too formulaic and sub-Feistian (with apologies for the awkwardness of this morphological construction, but I hope it captures the essence of what I mean) and the fourth book is a big disappointment. As with many of the open-ended form of series, I fear diminishing returns.
The Waterborn (1996), The Blackgod (1997) - Children of the Changeling
The Briar King (2002), The Charnel Prince (2004), The Blood Knight (2006), The Born Queen (2008) - Kingdom of Thorn and Bone
The Infernal City (2009), Lord of Souls (2011) - Elder Scrolls
I am not familiar with his alternative history stuff in the Age of Unreason, but his strictly by-the-book sequence, Kingdome of Thorn and Bone, is a well written, well thought out, entry in the standard fantasy genre, borrowing some traditional legends to good effect.
Across the Face of the World (2004), In the Earth abides a Flame (2004), The Right Hand of God (2007) - Fire of Heaven
I was so looking forward to a the first tome from a new author, the promise of comprehensive world-building making my eyes water with anticipation. Unfortunately, reading the first book made my eyes water for a different reason, mostly in mirth at how badly this man writes. From the very beginning, vast holes in plot are strewn about for the unwary, and some of the characterization is dreadful. The inconsistencies are blatant: one of the characters who from time to time becomes the first person narrator isn't even in the bits of story that he narrates, and he is never given a personal name. I actually managed to reach the end of the book, simply holding out for even greater calamities, but in total contradiction to what had gone before, the last few pages actually made sense. Still, this one has to be read to be believed.
Deryni Rising (1970), Deryni Checkmate (1972), High Deryni (1973) - Deryni
Camber of Culdi (1976), Saint Camber (1978), Camber the Heretic (1981) - Camber of Culdi
The Bishop's Heir (1984), The King's Justice (1985), The Quest for Saint Camber (1986), King Kelson's Bride (1997) - King Kelson
The Harrowing of Gwynedd (1989), King Javan's Year (1992), The Bastard Prince (1994) - Heirs of Saint Camber
I was fortunate to come across Katherine Kurtz early in my fantasy reading path. The major part of her output is set in a fictitious medieval world with much in common to many other fantasy novels. The two major twists are that there is a mutant genetic strain that affects some strands of the aristocracy, giving them magic powers, which eventually leads to witch-hunts on the scale of the Inquisition, and that a very recognisable and traditional Christian church has an immense dramatic importance, not just to the pseudo-history being created, but directly to the characters portrayed, some of whom are actually ordained priests. The stories run in two arcs, separated by several hundred years, with the series set in the later period in my mind not quite so successful or internally consistent as those set in the earlier one. The whole enterprise, though, is very well thought out, and very well written, and I have a special fondness for these books. However, I have found it difficult to come by the more recent entries.
In the Hall of the Dragon King (1985), The Warlords of Nin (1983), The Sword and the Flame (1984) - Dragon King
Taliesin (1987), Merlin (1988), Arthur (1989), Pendragon (1994), Grail (1997) - Pendragon Cycle
The Paradise War (1991), The Silver Hand (1992),
The Endless Knot (1993) - Song of
The Iron Lance (1998), The Black Rood (2000), The Mystic Rose (2001)
I only ever read the first book mentioned above, and liked it but not enough to keep going with the series. However I have occasionally wondered about his version of the Arthur legend and I may return. His more recent work is of less visibility in the bookshops.
The Birthgrave (1975), Shadowfire (1977), Quest for the White Witch (1978) - Birthgrave
The Storm Lord (1976), Anackire (1983), The White Serpent (1988) -
Night's Master (1978), Death's Master (1978), Delusion's Master (1981), Delirium's Mistress (1986), Night's Sorceries (1987) - Flat Earth
Cast a Bright Shadow (2004), Here in Cold Hell (2005), No Flame but Mine (2007) - Lionwolf
Days of Grass (1985)
Lee was one of the first writers I came across in my fantasy reading, and her early novels are filled with a wonderful Gothic and exotic tone, almost erotic in places, much of which I can barely remember. I distinctly recall, however, that The White Serpent was crying out for a sequel which never came. She writes in a distinctly old-fashioned, almost eerie style, and a strong sense of atmosphere pervades all of her works (there are many more than I have listed above), a refreshing change of mood from the Tolkien imitators, and though I have not read much of her output in recent years I would have no hesitation in returning to the fold given a chance.
Le GUIN, Ursula K.
A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1970), The Farthest Shore (1972), Tehanu (1990), The Other Wind (2001) - Earthsea
Planet of Exile (1966), Rocannon's World (1966), City of
One of the earliest trailblazers for women in fantastic fiction, Le Guin's entry in the fantasy canon is one of the most famous of all such series, and many of those who will never have seen the Earthsea trilogy (as was before later entries in the series) on a bookshop shelf will have heard of it. I read the original Earthsea trilogy many years ago, and it was probably a little light at a time when I was looking for powerful drama. I may re-examine it, time allowing.
The Company of Glass (1999), The Riddled Knight (2000), The Way of the Rose (2001)
Valery Leith is a pseudonym of Tricia Sullivan, who was published books also under her own name. The Company of Glass is a very strange and ultimately very exciting read, but these books are so difficult to come by.
The Stormcaller (2006), The Twilight Herald (2007), The Grave Thief (2008), The Ragged Man (2010), The Dusk Watchman (2012) - Twilight Reign
Another hope dashed so cruelly. The first book in the above series just failed to ignite, and I gave up before the halfway mark.
MacAVOY, R. A.
Tea with the Black Dragon (1983), Twisting the Rope (1986) - Black Dragon
Damiano (1984), Damiano's Lute (1984), Raphael (1984) - Damiano
It has been quite a few years since Roberta Ann MacAvoy was one of the top names in fantasy. However, I recall the Damiano trilogy as a tour-de-force of the gentle Gothic style that was briefly popular in the 80s. In particular, the first two books are of outstanding quality and imagination. It is a shame there is so little published work.
The Jackal of Nar (1999), The Grand Design (2000), The Saints of the Sword (2001) - Tyrants and Kings
The Eyes of God (2002), The Devil's Armour (2003), The Sword of Angels (2005) - Eyes of God
I gave up on the first book because it was so boring.
Daughter of the
Wolfskin (2003), Foxmask (2004) - Children of the Light Isles
The Dark Mirror (2005), Blade of Fortriu (2006), The Well of Shades (2007) - Bridei
Wildwood Dancing (2006), Cybele's Secret (2007) - Wildwood Dancing
Marillier sets her stories in almost historic, but not quite, situations based around the Celtic and Viking mythologies that pervade the British Isles, emulating Kay in heavily borrowing from historical settings while delivering a quite different style of novel, more driven by mood and atmosphere than swiftly shifting plotlines, and producing a good product, if not quite setting the leather alight with dramatic excitement.
MARTIN, George R. R.
A Game of Thrones (1996), A Clash of Kings (1998), A Storm of Swords (2000), A Feast for Crows (2005), A Dance with Dragons (2011), The Winds of Winter (2012) - Song of Ice and Fire
I first latched onto Martin's books via the "if-you-liked-this-you'll-like-these" links on Amazon's website. As usual, these connections are totally subjective and sometimes mystifying. However, on dipping my toes, I was thoroughly hooked. A Song of Ice and Fire has 7 or 8 of the 10 most-wanted ingredients of good fantasy, that is, convincing historic backdrop, diverse and well-drawn characters, a plot that keeps moving forward, big set-pieces, a bit of mysterious, nay magic, going's on, and copious non-gratuitous violence (who am I kidding?).† Martin also has a tendency to kill of major characters at regular intervals, and what a shocker at the end of A Dance with Dragons! As much as everyone wants to find out what is going to happen, we are quite happy to delay the inevitable as long as the journey continues to fascinate. Grittily wonderful, but ineffably sad (a tone caught successfully by the television series), and not to be missed.
Jack the Bodiless (1991), Diamond Mask (1994), Magnificat (1996) - Galactic Milieu
Perseus Spur (1998), Orion Arm (1999), The Sagittarius Whorl (2001) - Rampart World
Conqueror's Moon (2003), Ironcrown Moon (2004), Sorcerer's Moon (2006) - Boreal Moon
The Saga of the Pliocene Exiles was probably the first non-fantasy series I ever read, and to this day holds great memories. However, it was probably eclipsed by the even more impressive follow-ups, beginning with the one-off Intervention before launching into an additional trilogy. Crossing effortlessly the divide between mainstream and science-fiction, you cannot help but get caught up in the mind-boggling scale of it all. Highly recommended.
Dragonflight (1968), Dragonquest (1971), The White Dragon (1978), Red Star Rising (1996) - Dragonriders of Pern
Dragonsong (1976), Dragonsinger (1977), Dragondrums (1979) - Harper Hall
Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern (1983), Nerilka's Story (1986), Dragonsdawn (1988), The Renegades of Pern (1989), All the Weyrs of Pern (1991), First Fall (1993), The Dolphins of Pern (1994), The Dolphin's Bell (1994), The Masterharper of Pern (1997), The Skies of Pern (2001) - Renegades of Pern
Dragon's Kin (2003), Dragon's Fire (2006), Dragon Harper (2007), Dragon's Time (2011), Sky Dragons (2012) - New Adventures of Pern
Although known also as an SF author, Anne McCaffrey was one of the earliest practitioners of dragon fantasy: her main sequence of "Pern" novels is no-nonsense story-telling with a light touch and pleasant style, though never a parody, and if ultimately undemanding then still an enjoyable read. It is best to read the books in the order they were written to see the development of ideas, from the straight fantasy of earlier offerings to the fantasy/SF crossover of the later. Her last series is written in conjunction with her so Todd McCaffrey, though to be honest I had given up by then.
Betrayal (2001), Revenge (2002), Destiny (2002) - Trinity
Myrren's Gift (2005), Blood and Memory (2005), Bridge of Souls (2005)
Odalisque (2006), Emissary (2007), Goddess (2008) - Percheron
Royal Exile (2008), Tyrant's Blood (2009), King's Wrath (2010) - Valisar
I read Myrren's Gift, and though it was OK, was too derivative and weak for me to continue.
McKENNA, Juliet E.
The Thief's Gamble (1999), The Swordsman's Oath (1999), The Gambler's Fortune (2000), The Warrior's Bond (2001), The Assassin's Edge (2002) - Tales of Einarinn
Southern Fire (2003), Northern Storm (2004),
One of the better of the new breed of female fantasy authors who appeared in the late 90s, her first book was a solid read but did not really provide enough justification for me to continue.
McKIERNAN, Dennis L.
The Dark Tide (1984), Shadows of Doom (1984), The
Darkest Day (1984) - Mithgar: The
Trek to Kraggen-Cor (1986), The Brega Path (1986) - Mithgar: The Silver Call
Into the Forge (1997), Into the Fire (1998) - Mithgar: Hel's Crucible
The Eye of the Hunter (1992)
Voyage of the Fox Rider (1993)
The Dragonstone (1996)
I read the
McKILLIP, Patricia A.
The Riddle-Master of Hed (1976), Heir of Sea and Fire (1977), Harpist in the Wind (1979) - Quest of the Riddle-Master
Author of many stand-alone novels, which I do not list here as I have never come across them, I faintly remember the Riddle-Master books. They were perhaps a bit light for me.
King Rat (1998)
Un Lun Dun (2007)
The City and the City (2009)
I have only read two of Mieville's books, but I have been greatly impressed. Kraken is a wonderfully evocative and thoroughly modern twist on the Tim Powers idea that there are things going on around us in the normal world that few, fortunately, of us ever discover, paranormal but realistic. I have high hopes for the rest of his output.
Altered Carbon (2002), Broken Angels (2003), Woken Furies (2005) - Takeshi Kovacs
The Steel Remains (2008), The Cold Commands (2009), The Dark Defiles (2013) - Land Fit for Heroes
The Takeshi Kovacs trilogy is hard near-future SF with a powerful sense of drama and an effectively conceived technology that provides a useful base for diverse plots. Very enjoyable noir.
The Fifth Sorceress (2002), The Gates of Dawn (2003), The Scrolls of the Ancients (2004) - Chronicles of Blood and Stone
To say that I thought that the Fifth Sorceress was one of the worst books I have ever read would be an accurate summation. Unappealing characters, tired plotting and titillating mysogyny. Quite dreadful. Avoid at all costs.
Ringworld (1970), The Ringworld Engineers (1979), The Ringworld Throne (1996), Ringworld's Children (2004) - Ringworld
The Magic Goes Away (1978), The Magic May Return (1981), More Magic (1984) - Magic Goes Away
I include Niven here as I read Ringworld, The Mote in God's Eye (written with Jerry Pournelle), and also gave The Magic Goes Away a try. I suppose the latter was pleasant enough.
The Soldiers of Paradise is one of those strangely pleasant reads, very exotic, and I always wanted to keep reading but where on Earth are you supposed to find the sequels?
PARKER, K. J.
The Colours of the Steel (1998). The Belly of the Bow (1999), The Proof House (2000) - Fencer
Shadow (2001), Pattern (2002), Memory (2003) - Scavenger
Devices and Desires (2004), Evil for Evil (2006), The Escapement (2007) - Engineer
I don't really know what to think about K J Parker. The Colours of the Steel was a good enough read, perhaps lacking in strong characterization, and with a noted preoccupation with engineering over plotting, which is probably not the best way to write a book.
Which adjectives will I use here? Gothic, yet human, exotic yet involving, weird yet fascinating.
I thought that The Chosen is one of the most impressive first novels I have
read. It is certainly, as the author intended, unclassifiable, and it took a
while for me to get used to it, but it was a worthwhile effort. The sequel,
though good, was a bit of a let-down, since it took the action away from the wonderful
locations to which I had been introduced, including the amazing, and stunningly
conceived, capital city of
Epitaph of Rust (1976)
The Skies Discrowned (1976)
The Drawing of the Dark (1979)
The Anubis Gates (1983)
Dinner at Deviant's Palace (1985)
On Stranger Tides (1987)
The Stress of Her Regard (1989)
Last Call (1992)
Expiration Date (1995)
Earthquake Weather (1997)
Three Days To Never (2006)
Hide Me among the
A stunning practitioner of the fantasy adventure, Powers is one of the best story-tellers in this list. His modus operandi involves exposing the supernatural influences that pervade our seemingly normal world, whether in a historic or modern setting. The early peaks of this technique are "The Anubis Gates" and "The Stress of Her Regard", in which the fiction interacts with real-life historical characters, in particular the Romantic poets Keats, Shelley and Byron, in a fictional attempt to rationalise their actions. These are sophisticated stories for the heavy rock aficionado, gaudy and filled with action. In the 90s, there was a change of pace with a more modern-day setting for the same paranormal goings on, and Declare, set in the spy community during and after the Second World War, is one of the most accomplished novels I have ever read. Especially since he is far from prolific in output, I greet every new Powers novel with a sense of thrilling expectancy and excitement, so he must be good.
The Colour of Magic (1983), The Light Fantastic (1986), Equal Rites (1987), Mort (1987), Sourcery (1988), Wyrd Sisters (1988), Pyramids (1989), Guards! Guards! (1989), Eric (1990), Moving Pictures (1990), Reaper Man (1991), Witches Abroad (1991), Small Gods (1992), Lord and Ladies (1992), Men at Arms (1993), Soul Music (1994), Interesting Times (1994), Maskerade (1995), Feet of Clay (1996), Hogfather (1996), Jingo (1997), The Last Continent (1998), Carpe Jugulum (1998), The Fifth Elephant (1999), The Truth (2000), Thief of Time (2001), The Last Hero (2001), The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (2001), Night Watch (2002), The Wee Free Men (2003), Monstrous Regiment (2003), A Hat Full of Sky (2004), Going Postal (2004), Thud! (2005), Wintersmith (2006), Making Money (2007), Unseen Academicals (2009), I Shall Wear Midnight (2010), Snuff (2011) - Discworld
Pratchett is the perpetrator of the longest open-ended series of books in fantasydom, the openly comedic "Discworld", peopled by people strangely like us, but funnier. With several sets of occasionally overlapping characters vying to entertain us, Pratchett is actually very skilled in weaving in some quite important issues, but these complement, and never get in the way of, the fun. As is to be expected, there are high and low points, although the general quality is very good, and he can conjure some startling images in a very few words, mostly from that shared understanding of how the world really works that we so rarely stop to think about. These images can be hilarious, poignant or ironic in equal measure. For those of you who perhaps would otherwise avoid comic fantasy, give him a try.
Dragon Prince (1988), The Star Scroll (1989), Sunrunner's Fire (1990) - Dragon Prince
Stronghold (1990), The Dragon Token (1992), Skybowl (1993) - Dragon Star
The Ruins of Ambrai (1994), The Mageborn Traitor (1997) - Exiles
For decades, Sunrunner's Fire has been on my to-get list, but I have never got around to actually purchasing it. Too much time has probably passed, but the first two books were solid fantasy entries, if I recall.
The Shattered World (1984), The Burning Realm (1988) - Shattered World
These two books were wonders of high-concept. However, nothing else appeared for so long that I gave up.
Revelation Space (2000), Chasm City (2001), Redemption Ark (2002), Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days (2002), Absolution Gap (2003), The Prefect (2007) - Revelation Space
I read Revelation Space in the hope of finding a strong modern SF voice. Although there were elements of the story that were appealing, and the characterization was strong, I felt that there was something missing that would have elevated it.
ROHAN, Michael Scott
The Anvil of Ice (1986), The Forge in the
The 80s brought a host of new writers to fantasy, willing to try their hand at pushing the boundaries of the genre. Winter of the World was for many years a trilogy, and one that succeeded in expanding on the basic fantasy tropes. At that time, winter fantasy was a relatively rare branch, and one that Scott Rohan exploited to the full. I need to catch up on the newer entries of this series.
The Name of the Wind (2007), The Wise Man's Fear (2008) - Kingkiller Chronicles
Never have I been so expectant of good things. I was led to Rothfuss by all the "if you like these, then..." connections on the websites, emanating from Erikson, Martin, Bakker and the like. By all accounts, it could not fail. Boy, was I disappointed! It has all been done before, and done better. A principal character of revolting arrogance even in his youth, a sub-Harry Potter school of magic almost embarrassing in its similarity, and to cap it all an almost 100 page longeur towards the end that has not the remotest relevance to the plot. Best avoided.
Winterbirth (2006), Bloodheir (2008), Fall of Thanes (2009) - Godless World
A strong new entry in the fantasy trilogy firmament, nothing fancy or too taxing, but solid fair worth supporting.
A very otherworldly, ethereal tone permeates the Swan's War trilogy, gentle flowing as the river whose existence dominates the proceedings. Extracting some ideas from Irish mythology and wrapping it in a rather Gothic and mysterious delivery, Russell presents a superior product with some intriguing, almost beguiling, characters, while keeping the narrative tight.
The Final Empire (2006), The Well of Ascension (2007), The Hero of Ages (2008), The Alloy of Law (2011) - Mistborn
The Way of Kings (2010) - Stormlight Archive
Noted for his continuation and completion of Robert Jordan's Well of Time sequence, Sanderson has also produced his own original work. I was most impressed with The Final Empire, high concept but with a touch of a more straightforward adventure which promises much and will hopefully deliver in succeeding books.
The First Name (1985), Groa's Other Eye (1986), Three Trumps Sounding (1987) - Twilight of the Gods
An author with a brief publishing history, Schmidt presents in this trilogy a gritty and down-to-earth take on the familiar stories from Norse mythology. I quite liked these, but I never ever saw the last book in any bookshop.
SHEA, Robert & WILSON, Robert Anton
The Eye of the Pyramid (1975), The Golden Apple (1975), Leviathan (1975) - Illuminatus!
Familiar to most (older) fantasy enthusiasts, the Illuminatus! trilogy polarizes opinion. I must say that I thought it was a load of old nonsense.
Lord Valentine's Castle (1979), Majipoor Chronicles (1982), Valentine Pontifex (1983), The Mountains of Majipoor (1995) - Majipoor: Lord Valentine
This hugely prolific SF stalwart turned his attention to fantasy in the wake of the explosion in 1977 and created the vast world of Majipoor, across whose multifarious cultures he sent Lord Valentine awandering. To take nothing away from the fecundity of his imagination, there never actually seemed to be a plot. Of course, this is all a long time ago now, so maybe I missed something at the time.
Hyperion (1989), The Fall of Hyperion (1990), Endymion (1995), The Rise of Endymion (1997) - Hyperion
Summer of Night (1991), A Winter Haunting (2002) - Summer of Night
Ilium (2003), Olympos (2005) -
Song of Kali (1985)
Phases of Gravity (1989)
Carrion Comfort (1989)
Children of the Night (1992)
The Hollow Man (1992)
The Crook Factory (1999)
The Terror (2007)
Muse of Fire (2008)
The Abominable (2013)
A writer of great talent, Simmons switches back and forth between SF and horror. In both can be seen great imagination, solid science and careful plotting, and a sense that you are very much a part of what is taking place. This reaches a culmination in the absolutely outstanding, and multi-award winning Hyperion, which I would encourage anyone and everyone to read. Itís simply breathtaking, not only in scope, but in the philosophy, the pathos and the awe-inspiring imagery. From such a height, the sequels always struggle, but still provide a wholly rewarding journey. The same epic scale is reproduced in Ilium & Olympos, where just about every element of fantastic fiction is woven into a seamless whole. In addition to his SF work, he has written quite a few horror novels, mostly one-offs, some of which are also extremely good. In particular, The Terror is one of the best reads I have had in recent years. He is one of the few members of this list whose every work is worth checking out.
The White Hart (1979), The Silver Sun (1977), The Sable Moon (1981), The Black Beast (1982), The Golden Swan (1983) - Book of the Isle
Mostly noted for one-off novels, the Book of the Isle sequence belongs to that small set of ethereal, almost mythical, works that appeared around the same time, which I found very pleasant to read.
Quicksilver (2003), The Confusion (2004), The System of the World (2004) - Baroque Cycle
The Diamond Age (1995)
Famous for producing novels of huge size, in terms both of pages and of scope, I had avoided Stephenson as I am not a fan of the alternate history genre. However, being a mathematician, I decided to give Anathem a try. Lots of pages, very heavy going sometimes, but thought-provoking and with a good reveal. I may give him another shot once I build up a head of steam.
TEPPER, Sheri S.
King's Blood Four (1983), Necromancer Nine (1983), Wizard's Eleven (1984) - True Game
Marianne, the Magus and the Manticore (1985), Marianne, the Madame and the Momentary Gods (1988), Marianne, the Matchbox and the Malachite Mouse (1989) - Marianne
The Song of Mavin Many-Shaped (1985), The Flight of Mavin Many-Shaped (1985), The Search of Mavin Many-Shaped (1985) - Mavin Many-Shaped
Jinian Footseer (1985), Dervish Daughter (1986), Jinian Star-Eye (1986) - Jinian
Raising the Stones (1990)
A Plague of Angels (1993)
The Waters Rising (2011)
The Revenants (1984)
The Gate to Woman's Country (1988)
Shadow's End (1994)
Gibbon's Decline and Fall (1996)
The Family Tree (1997)
Six Moon Dance (1998)
Singer from the Sea (1999)
The Fresco (2000)
The Visitor (2002)
The Companions (2003)
The Margarets (2007)
One of the most imaginative of fantasy authors, Tepper has veered away from the common practice of producing large multi-volume epics in order to focus on specific ideas, although there are threads of commonality running through some of her novels which lend a certain completeness to things, and her natural command of the language adds depth to even the lighter pieces. Her earlier work was along the lines of Piers Anthony, quirky ideas expanded on effectively. Often otherworldly in style, for instance with The Revenants, her characterisations are still sympathetic and her imagination bountiful. Her technique developed quickly in the 80s and her later works have grand ideas and depth to spare, though moving from pure fantasy to a fantasy/SF crossover. Of these, I recommend "Sideshow", which is a partial sequel, but can be read in isolation. Discouraged by the increasing effort required to sustain myself through a couple of her less successful books, I had set her aside for quite a long time before recently picking up The Family Tree, which turned out to be a delightful change of pace, and has encouraged me to pick up the baton once more.
TOLKIEN, John Ronald Reuel
The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The
The Book of Lost Tales I (1983), The Book of Lost Tales II (1984), The Lays of Beleriand (1985), The Shaping of Middle-Earth (1987), The Lost Road and Other Writings (1987) - The History of Middle-Earth
The Return of the Shadow (1988), The Treason of Isengard (1989), The War of the Ring (1990), Sauron Defeated (1992) - The History of the Lord of the Rings
Morgoth's Ring (1993), The War of the Jewels (1994) - Later Silmarillion
The Hobbit (1937)
The Silmarillion (1937)
Although his published work is not very large in extent, Tolkien, a classical scholar and philologist, spent most of his life attempting to create a distinct mythology based on English folklore, developing and re-shaping the history, geography, peoples and languages of a world not unlike our own, and centred on the continent of Middle-Earth. The culmination of this work is The Silmarillion, still one of my favourite books ever, which depicts the history of the world from cosmological birth, through thousands of years, and ending in continent-wrecking battle of the gods. Expanding beyond this point with tales of the survivors of this conflict who remain in Middle-Earth gave rise to succeeding Ages, and lay the groundwork for the quintessential fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings, spawn of countless imitations. It is laid out on a massive scale, skilfully constructed, jammed full of thought-provoking concepts and carefully drawn characterisations, and although it uses little of the earlier material directly, is played out before a backdrop dripping with antiquity, giving it a gravitas unlike almost any other fictional work. The sequence of books that were put together after his death by his son, Christopher Tolkien, contain earlier drafts of his published work and display the development of ideas during the years of gestation, from his earliest forays while serving in the First World War, through to The Hobbit and beyond. They provide a fascinating addendum to his work and contain some gems nowhere else recorded in print. He continued to tinker with, expand and re-write some of the main story arcs repeatedly, and there will probably never be definitive versions of the Lays of Beleriand, though as I have mentioned, I think the ones that appear in The Silmarillion are good enough for me.
The Dying Earth (1950), The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), Cugel's Saga (1966), Rhialto the Marvellous (1984), Morreion (1968), The Seventeen Virgins (1974), The Bagful of Dreams (1979), The Laughing Magician (1997) - The Dying Earth
Lyonesse (1983), The Green
Although a prolific writer of SF, many fantasy readers will be aware of Jack Vance only through the above exotic and otherworldly, and also a bit silly, stories from the Dying Earth series. A complete one-off (until Hugh Cook came along), these are set in a society whose cultures mores are so far removed from our own that they are almost like fairy stories.
The Flame Key (1987), Skeleton Lord's Key (1987), Key of Ice and Steel
(1988) - Keys to
I can barely remember anything about these except for the fact that they were probably not very good. What a recommendation!
Robert E &
The Sundered Realm (1980), The City in the Glacier (1980), The Destiny Stone (1980), The Fallen Ones (1981), In the Shadow of Omizantrim (1981), Demon of the Dark Ones (1981) - War of Powers
Again, I can barely remember this stuff, the first three books of which were published in omnibus and were probably very humdrum affairs with too many cliches.
The Snow Queen (1980), World's End (1984), The Summer Queen (1991), Tangled up in Blue (2000)
Although later a writer of several film tie-ins, Joan Vinge is famous for one book. But what a book! I remember being entranced by The Snow Queen when it first came out. The sequel was flimsy and weak by comparison, so I never got any further. A pity.
The Peace War (1984), Marooned in Realtime (1986) - Across Real Time
A Deepness in the Sky (1999), A Fire upon the Deep (1991), The Children of the Sky (2011) - Queng Ho
Tatja Grimm's World (1969)
The Witling (1976)
Rainbow's End (2006)
Vernor Vinge's work is always of stunning originality. Across Real Time has some truly breath-stealing moments of audacity, while the Deepness books have a more leisurely approach that allows ideas to be developed as befits their scale. Again, a far from prolific performer, but always worth reading.
The Lure of the Basilisk (1980), The Seven Altars of Dusarra (1981), The Sword of Bheleu (1982), The Book of Silence (1983) - Lords of Dus
Later developing a more open-ended sequence, this early tetralogy is a weak attempt at introducing a more down-to-earth hero.
The Way of Shadows (2008), Shadow's Edge (2008), Beyond the Shadows (2008) - Night Angel
The Black Prism (2010), The Blinding Knife (2012) - Lightbringer
Feted as he was by all and sundry, I was keen to depart on a modern fantasy trilogy - I barely made 100 pages, if that. Unmitigated rubbish, with stereotypical characters and scenarios, none of whom are remotely likeable, and no depth or significant action. Should I have kept going? Life is too short.
WEIS, Margaret & HICKMAN, Tracy
Dragons of Autumn Twilight (1984), Dragons of Winter Night (1985), Dragons of Spring Dawning (1985), Dragons of Summer Flame (1995) - Dragonlance Chronicles
Time of the Twins (1986), War of the Twins (1986), Test of the Twins (1986) - Dragonlance: Legends
The Will of the Wanderer (1988), The Paladin of the Night (1989), The Prophet of Akhran (1989) - Rose of the Prophet
Dragon Wing (1990), Elven Star (1990), Fire Sea (1991), The Serpent Mage (1992), The Hand of Chaos (1993), Into the Labyrinth (1993), The Seventh Gate (1994) - Death Gate
The above list could go on and on, but I had to stop somewhere. Inspired by the Dungeons and Dragons board game, The Dragonlance Chronicles, initially a trilogy, was one of the earliest Tolkien imitators, and at the time it was an entertaining read, if somewhat contrived. I toyed with the idea of attempting the Death Gate series, but never got around to it.
The Dragonbone Chair (1988), The Stone of Farewell (1990), To
City of Golden Shadow (1996), River of Blue Fire (1998), Mountain of Black Glass (1999), Sea of Silver Light (2001) - Otherland
Shadowmarch (2004), Shadowplay (2007), Shadowrise (2010), Shadowheart (2010) - Shadowmarch
Tailchaser's Song (1985)
The War of the Flowers (2003)
Memory, Sorrow, Thorn is perhaps one of the purest of Tolkien imitations. It is conceived on a similar world with similar peoples, with great effort applied to create realistically distinct languages and customs for various groups of sentient beings. In fact, probably more effort is spent in developing religions, rituals and practices than Tolkien ever did, from which it benefits overall by having a sufficiently different feel that it's never a straight copy. It is also enormously long, covering four large novels (the third one above being split into two for ease of publishing), while trying to keep focussed on a relatively small set of central characters. It is obvious that he was attempting to provide a depth that most of the earlier imitators had failed to do, leaving much of their work vapid and unworthy, adjectives that cannot be applied to Williams. For the most part it is a very good read, but the palpable build-up in excitement is let down for me by the inexplicably weak finale. As an abrupt departure, the Otherland sequence is near-future SF, which benefits from a more mature writing style and is equally elaborate, and with a stronger ending. I read the four novels in this sequence over a long period of time, with suitable gaps to steal myself for the effort of tacking such huge books, and am looking forward one day to beginning Shadowmarch.
The Shadow of the Torturer (1980), The Claw of the Conciliator (1980), The Sword of the Lictor (1981), The Citadel of the Autarch (1982), The Urth of the New Sun (1987) - Book of the New Sun
The Book of the New Sun is the quintessential modern Gothic sequence, famed throughout fantasydom. I found it nothing special. Perhaps I was too young, but I stuck with the whole of the original tetralogy and just did not get anything from it.
The Curse of the Mistwraith (1993), The Ships of Merior (1994), Warhost of Vastmark (1995), Fugitive Prince (1997), Grand Conspiracy (1999), Peril's Gate (2001), Traitor's Knot (2004), Stormed Fortress (2007), Initiate's Trial - Wars of Light and Shadow
I cannot say anything, as I am about to start reading the first book!
The First Named (1987), The Centre of the Circle
(1987), The Mage-Born Child (1988) - Servants of
Dreams of Stone (1988), The Lightless Kingdom (1989), The Age of Chaos (1989) - Unbalanced Earth
Dark Fire (1993), Echoes of Flame (1993), The Last Augury (1994)
The pseudonym of Mark and Julia Smith (they also use the name Julia Gray), I remember the first book here as being unexceptional and did not get any further, though to be fair I have occasionally toyed with the idea.
Nine Princes in Amber (1970), The Guns of Avalon (1972), The Sign of the Unicorn (1975), The Hand of Oberon (1976), The Courts of Chaos (1978), Trumps of Doom (1985), Blood of Amber (1986), Sing of Chaos (1987), Knight of Shadows (1989), Prince of Chaos (1991) - Amber
Damnation Alley (1969)
The first Amber book was light and exotic and so far back in my memory that I struggle to identify why I did not keep reading. I did read Damnation Alley, would you believe after the film of the same name came out. Nothing special.
A Sorcerer's Treason (2002), The Usurper's Crown (2002), The Firebird's Vengeance (2003), Sword of the Deceiver (2006) - Isavalta
A worthy attempt at introducing elements of Russian and Slavic mythology to the fantasy masses, this is very atmospheric stuff, almost Gothic, but just not involving enough.
The Broken God (1992), The Wild (1995), The War in Heaven (1998) - A Requiem for Homo Sapiens
The Lightstone: The
A strange brew of hard science, mathematics and Gothic tone, Zindell's Neverness is just a little bit different. Even now I can barely get my brain about it, though perhaps Neal Stephenson comes closest in style. I always meant to read more, but this stuff is not always available in print.
(Page Last Updated: 17/12/2012)