Saturday, 2 May 2020

Recs for New Fantasy Readers Part Two

Day Two of Wyrd & Wonder and today's prompt is Start Here (Get Into Fantasy). Well, I already did that pretty recently and I have to say I'm super proud of what I did because I feel it's one of the most comprehensive such lists I've seen, aimed at trying to find the reader connections rather than what I want. It's how recs should be if you ask me and I always get excited when I see other people do similar things, like this W&W tweet from Dianthaa.

Anyway, looking back at my first version, and looking at what Dianthaa did, and after doing some thinking in general, I can see omissions and there's a few things I'd like to update. It involves a bit more travelling into things I know only by reputation, but it is still useful I think. So here is Part Two and we'll start with...

I really like fantasy computer games/RPGs/wargames, what would give me the same sort of experience?

There's a lot of licensed products from the publishers of these games to start with and most of its pretty good and by authors you've heard of. The Dragonlance chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman are probably the most famous of the type but there's many others like R.A. Salvatore's Icewind Dale books, William King's Gotrek and Felix (I just got an omnibus of this from Netgalley and am FUCKING HYPED), Brandon Sanderson has Infinity Blade wars and etc.etc. Honestly, pick your favourite franchise and internet search, you've got a good chance of finding something.

If you want something that just has the feel though, then Raymond E. Feist's Magician was written in his gaming group's world (as are the sequels, which includes a few adaptions of the videos games made using his licence). Jen Williams' The Copper Cat very much bears the imprint of a gamer. Joseph Brassey’s Skyfarer didn’t totally hit the mark for me but should feel a bit like home to people whose idea of fantasy is Final Fantasy. And then there is LitRPG, the booming sub-genre in which characters are literally playing in games. I know nothing about it so I shan’t make recommendations, but for anyone who has somehow found this but doesn’t know about it and is interested in it, hit up the search engine. I shall make a LitRPG webcomic recommendation though - Rich Burlew’s The Order of the Stick should be recognised as one of the great fantasy stories of this generation, regardless of medium. And speaking of comics...

I'm into comics and want to try some fantasy

Lets answer this a couple of ways. First off, a shout out for some great fantasy comics. Neil Gaiman's Sandman is seminal, a beautiful, haunting, powerful ride through myth and possibility, and the greatest accomplishment of a very accomplished career. Mike Carey's Lucifer hits similar notes and is a huge amount of fun. I'm a big Slaine fan and while I never got much into Saga or Fable, they deserve shoutouts. The Invisibles is what I wish Urban Fantasy had huge amounts more of, and I keep meaning to return to Artesia one day. I wish I could give more information about Japanese publications but alas I can't.

What if you like these and want books like them? Obviously, Neil Gaiman is Neil Gaiman whatever he's doing, and Neverwhere and Stardust might scratch that itch. There's plenty of mystery-driven Urban Fantasy that might hit a Lucifer or Invisibles itch, with Hearne's Iron Druid and Kadrey's Sandman Slim maybe fitting those who want it very high mythology. Come to think of it, Aliette de Bodard's Dominions of the Fallen might appeal very much to a Lucifer reader. I don't have a huge amount for the others, but Tchaikovsky's The Tiger and the Wolf has a certain primal feel to it that might fit for Slaine fans.

However, if its less about the topics and more about that high action, impossible feats storyline, then I would suggest Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn and Fonda Lee's Jade City as really bringing that over the top fight scene feeling. 

I'm a big mythology buff and like the idea of retellings, or even creations of own mythology

I've yet to read Madeleine Miller's Circe or Song of Achilles but they have such a huge rep that I feel like I have to start there. Another decent one is David Gemmell's Lord of the Silver Bow for a spin on Troy. The Arthurian cycle is also well served with Giles Kristian's Lancelot, Cornwell's The Warlord Trilogy, and T.H. White's classic The Once and Future King. There is also the equally classic Mists of Avalon - I will never not point out Bradley's alleged failings as a human being for those who can't always seperate art from artist, but it is a very good book. Speaking of celtic-tinged classics, how about Lloyd Alexander's loose interpretation of Chronicles of Prydein? I wish I could share a tighter interpretation - or more from non-European sources - but the pickings feel a little slim for direct retellings right now. Fairy tales have it a bit better but for the life of me I can't remember anything other than Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver and Aliette de Bodard's The Vanisher's Palace.

The pickings could be better in invented mythology too. Lord Dusany's The Gods of Pegana is still very readable all this time. Tolkien's The Silmarillion is a little marmite because of its prose and starkness, but I love it and it's ambition is incredible. I am a huge fan of Tanith Lee's Night's Master which is beautiful and enchanting and takes its cues more from the Arabian Tales than Europe. But do I have anything current? For the first time, no. It feels like nobody is mad enough to do this right now which is a gigantic shame.

I want my kids to read Fantasy

I am really not up to date here. Really, really not up to date. I suppose the good news is neither is anyone's kids. I can tell you a little about YA, although as far as I'm concerned anyone old enough for YA is old enough for 90% of fantasy is not more. But as bedtime stories, or books for kids under ten? Brian Jacques' Redwall series and Tolkien's The Father Christmas Letters did more to build a sense of wonder in me as a kid than anything else, although I started with The Hobbit. Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen could fit this age group as well but the absolute greatest that could fit - might be pushing it a little, and certainly fit for an adult - is Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea. Again, this is something I'll update if I can find some good recs.

Romance Updated

Speaking of updates, last time I recommended Jacqueline Carey, Sarah Maas and Cassandra Clare. I've had a few more recommendations and done some research since then. Cupiscent of the Fantasy Faction forum, whose taste is normally impeccable, has suggested Laini Taylor's Strange the Dreamer and Kathleen Cheney's Golden City. Also, thanks to twitter watching, I've now got T. Kingfisher's Swordheart (described as Terry Pratchett + Sex by Alix E Harrow) and The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho. Maybe I should get around to reading some of them myself and stop being such a romance-o-phobe.


This wasn't a genre I covered last time but I know this is an idea that'll appeal to some, particularly Sci-Fi fans who love fantasy tinged works like Star Wars or Dune, or who just love the idea of boundless possibilities and don't see why that shouldn't involve mingling the both. Some of us do better the madder the idea is. It's an idea with proud history, such as C.J Cherryh's Morgaine Cycle and Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, and plenty of current work. Three recent books that are firmly on my TBR list in the genre are A Memory of Empire by Arkady Martine, This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, and Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.


I'm admittedly a little unsure how many people want to read fantasy books, but only if they're funny. It seems a thing that most appeals to established fantasy fans, particularly as many of these books riffs off the genre's conceits. However, there's always one. Always. And plenty of us pick up the genre's conceits without ever opening the books, right? In any case, comic fantasy starts with Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld. He is the undisputed champion of the sub-genre and a writer whose flexibility and mutating interests means there's almost definitely something there for those who love funny fantasy, to the point introducing him would be an article all unto itself.

He is not alone though. Robert Rankin wrote some wonderfully absurdist urban fantasy (with sci-fi touches), particularly The Brentford Trilogy. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Dianna Wynne Jones is beloved by many veterans of the genre's more generic worlds and while I've never gotten into Tom Holt, his reputation deserves a mention. There's not been a recent breakout trad published author of this ilk that I'm aware of, but for people who are looking for more conventional fantasy that still has its share of laughs, Nicholas Eames' Kings of the Wyld is worth a shot with its mix of adventure fantasy and rock references. Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora also has more than its fair share of zingers.

Intelligent and Literary

And so from the light to the heavy - although plenty could do both; Pratchett, in particular, was found guilty of literature. This is for the readers who like the idea of the fantastic but are unwilling to compromise on the prose and weight of theme found elsewhere. Since I mentioned Pratchett, I'll continue - his prose isn't literary, but the weight of theme is. No fantasy author rewards breaking down stories better than Pratchett. And prose wise, Patrick Rothfuss' unfinished The Kingkiller Chronicles stacks up to anyone.

Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana features both prose and theme. Some might find the prose a little too purple, but it fits the dramatic nature and the thematic nature of its musings on memory and identity are definitely worth a think. And best of all, the fantasy conceit is needed for it to work. What's the point of permitting the impossible if not to make certain choices starker? And Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant and Margaret's Attwood's The Hag Seed are highly touted fantasy works by some of the greatest literary authors alive today.

And with that I bring part two to a close. Frankly I feel like it has given me more questions than I have given answers to others, but between this and part one, I feel fairly sure there's something for everyone here!


  1. For laughs I always recommend "Here be dragons" by David MacPherson, it's superb!
    (note: he's OnlyOneHighlander in the forum, used to be quite active on the monthly contest)

    For mythology, interested in arabian djinns mixed with crusades? I love Judith Tarr books, "Alamut" and "The dagger and the cross" (old-ish, I wish she'd written more...)

    1. I'll have to look up Judith Tarr! I keep meaning to get around to Here Be Dragons, but I keep meaning to get around to a lot of things...

  2. Bravo! And hooray for a shout out to The Order of the Stick, which remains the best way I've ever spent lunch times in the office (and many happy hours curled up on my sofa, too). I might need to revisit those now...