I heard part of a fascinating interview (link above) with author and book critic Lev Grossman on public radio recently. He talked about the popularity of fantasy fiction and the blurring of genres, and about two of his own fantasy novels (The Magicians and The Magician King). Since I myself don’t read much fantasy, the interview made me wonder what my colleagues are reading in this area, so I asked them.
I read a lot of fantasy. Lately I’ve been reading the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. There are five books in the series so far and more than 1.7 million words, with more to come. I love them because Martin created this vast fantasy world with thousands of years of history. There are real knights, duels to the death, and wars. There are many minor and great lords who hold castles with epic names (Winterfell, Harrenhal, the Eyrie) and wield swords passed down in their families for thousands of years that also have cool names (the Sword of the Morning, Oathkeeper), and sit on thrones that, yes, also have heroic titles. There is some magic such as dragons (very rare) and an evil sorcerer or two, but mostly the books focus on the kingdom and the constant struggles for power.
I also recently read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which was awesome. The Night Circus is a book about a mysterious magic circus. It’s romantic and full of beautiful imagery, very dreamlike. I can’t really describe the plot without spoiling it, but there is some suspense.
1Q84 is a Japanese novel by Haruki Murakami. I like it a lot so far, but it’s a massive book and I’m only about 200 pages into it. It’s about a young woman who climbs down a service ladder (rabbit hole?) from a Tokyo freeway and finds herself in an alternate Tokyo. Some of the differences are subtle (the police carry modern pistols instead of the old revolvers the hero is used to) and others are not (there are two moons). There is some kind of mystery involving a young girl and a cult, but the plot is still unfolding.
I always find it difficult to say what is fantasy. I think a lot of what I read (both in adult and YA) is considered fantasy, or urban fantasy. What I have found is that almost all the books I read now that are considered “fantasy” are really mysteries with a supernatural element, with some romance and other things thrown in. The best of all the worlds, if you ask me.
My favorite semi-fantasy books/authors right now are Charlaine Harris (author of the Sookie Stackhouse books, which are the basis for the HBO show True Blood, as well as other series), Rachel Caine (YA Morganville Vampires series, plus adult novels. I really enjoyed her recent book Working Stiff, the start of a new adult series that is supposed to be a new spin on a zombie theme), and Richelle Mead (YA fantasy author with several series). I also loved the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, like everyone else. And I have really enjoyed books by Maggie Stiefvater, though I haven’t yet read her newest, the Scorpio Races [see Andrew below].
Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater is every bit as good as the hype. It’s a magical horse book, I suppose, and I am allergic to horse books, but Maggie has managed to obliterate all my prejudices and preconceptions. The combination of borrowing from history, appropriating from myth, and outright invention is breathtaking, plus the plotting is masterful and the characters are memorable. It’s a good audio book, too.
Fantasy stories don’t make it to the front of my library queue often—Patricia Highsmith and Dashiell Hammett are the big genre writers in my life right now. Robert Holdstock’s 1984 novel Mythago Wood had been on my to-read list for a while, after Paul Kincaid praised the book effusively at Big Other.
The book follows two brothers in England as they become obsessed with the mysterious local woods that had earlier been an obsession of their father’s, drawing, as it progresses, from every era of British folklore. Mythago Wood is sometimes guilty of my least favorite feature of fantasy, the world-building information dump (be prepared for digressions about what X did to escape the clutches of Y in the bygone era of Z), but it also includes cleverly integrated meditations on authorship and the mutability of myths.
Check in for more from TFCB in two weeks! And be sure to let us know if you have any favorite fantasy titles to recommend.
[book covers from amazon.com]