Book Reviews

Fantasy Reading List

This year I’m on a quest to read more Fantasy books. The reason? I wrote a Fantasy novel by accident (it happens 😉 ), and now I need to familiarise myself with the genre. Normally I don’t focus on particular genres and just read books that appeal to me based on story or interesting characters. But when I started looking for good Fantasy novels to read, I discovered I’d already read many of them. Turns out I’m a Fantasy fan! However, there are some glaring omissions. I haven’t read many of the classics – Dracula, and Frankenstein, for example.

So I’ve compiled a list using the helpful suggestions on Best Fantasy Books, and 1,000 novels everyone must read from the Guardian. I’m not including every book, only the ones that appeal to me, so there’s not many Sword & Sorcery, Epic, or High Fantasy novels. My list includes Fantasy for adults and YA, Magic Realism, Science Fiction, and a bit of Horror. I’ll be plundering the local library, so will probably add to the list as we go…

The Book of Legends
So many books, so little time…

Fantasy Reading List

Ben Aaronovitch – Rivers of London (series)*

Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy*

David Almond – Skellig (YA)*

Kate Atkinson – Life After Life*

Kate Atkinson – Human Croquet*

Kate Atkinson – Not the End of the World*

Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale*

Margaret Atwood – The Blind Assassin

Margaret Atwood – Oryx and Crake

Paul Auster – In the Country of Last Things

Paolo Bacigalupi – The Windup Girl

Paolo Bacigalupi – The Water Knife

Iain Banks – Transition*

Iain M Banks – Culture series

Frank L Baum – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Greg Bear – Darwin’s Radio

Robert Jackson Bennett – City of Stairs

Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451

Algis Budrys – Rogue Moon

Emma Bull – War for the Oaks

Anthony Burgess – A Clockwork Orange

Jim Butcher – The Dresden Files (series)*

M R Carey – The Girl with all the Gifts*

Lenora Carrington – The Hearing Trumpet

Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland* and Through the Looking Glass*

G K Chesterton – The Man who was Thursday

Wesley Chu – The Lives of Tao (series)

Cassandra Clare – Mortal Instruments series (YA)

Arthur C Clarke – 2001: A Space Odyssey*

Arthur C Clarke – Childhood’s End

Arthur C Clarke & Stephen Baxter – Sunstorm

Genneveive Cogman – The Invisible Library (series)

Harry Connolly – Child of Fire

John Connolly – The Book of Lost Things

Susan Cooper – The Dark is Rising (YA series)

Edward Cox – The Relic Guild

Sarah Crossan – Breathe

Samuel R Delaney – The Einstein Intersection

Charles DeLint – The Onion Girl

Philip K Dick – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep*

Philip K Dick – The Man in the High Castle

Jerry Dubs – Imhotep

Umberto Eco – Foucault’s Pendulum

Susan Ee – Angelfall (series)

Michael Ende – The Neverending Story

Michel Faber – Under the Skin

Jasper Fforde – The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next series)

C S Friedman – Black Sun Rising (series)

Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere*

Neil Gaiman – American Gods*

Neil Gaiman – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Alan Garner – Red Shift (YA)

William Gibson – Necromancer

William Golding – Lord of the Flies

Lev Grossman – The Magicians (series)

Matt Haig – The Humans*

Patrick Harpur – Mercurius*

Charlaine Harris – Sookie Stackhouse series*

Joanne Harris – Chocolat*

Joanne Harris – Runemarks (YA)*

Robert A Heinlein – Stranger in a Strange Land

Hermann Hesse – The Glass Bead Game

Hermann Hesse – Steppenwolf*

Russell Hoban – Riddley Walker

Peter Hoeg – The History of Danish Dreams*

Peter Hoeg – The Quiet Girl*

Robert Holdstock – Mythago Wood

Hugh Howey – Wool (series)*

Aldous Huxley – Brave New World*

Aldous Huxley – Island

Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go*

Kazuo Ishiguro – The Unconsoled

P D James – The Children of Men*

Peter James – Perfect People

Franz Kafka – The Trial

Stephen King – The Gunslinger (Dark Tower series)

Stephen King – The Shining

Stephen King – The Dead Zone

Stephen King – The Green Mile

Ted Kosmatka – The Flicker Men

Stephen R Lawhead – The Paradise War

Ursula K LeGuin – A Wizard of Earthsea (series)

Ursula K LeGuin – The Left Hand of Darkness

Stanislaw Lem – Solaris*

Doris Lessing – Memoirs of a Survivor

Doris Lessing – Canopus in Argos series

Megan Lindholm – Wizard of the Pigeons

Cixin Liu – The Three Body Problem

Sergei Lukyanenko – The Night Watch

Alison Macleod – The Wave Theory of Angels

Ken Macleod – The Night Sessions

Emily St John Mandel – Station Eleven*

Hilary Mantel – Beyond Black

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude

Richard Matheson – I am Legend*

Cormac McCarthy – The Road*

David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas

Michael Moorcock – Mother London

Haruki Murakami – Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World

Patrick Ness – Chaos Walking trilogy (YA)*

Patrick Ness – More Than This (YA)*

Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls (YA)*

Patrick Ness – The Rest of Us Just Live Here (YA)*

Audrey Niffenegger – The Time Traveller’s Wife*

Claire North – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

Claire North – Touch

Ben Okri – The Famished Road*

Ben Okri – Astonishing the Gods*

George Orwell – 1984*

Chuck Palahniuk – Fight Club

Philippa Pearce – Tom’s Midnight Garden*

Tim Powers – The Anubis Gates

Terry Pratchett – Discworld series*

Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter – The Long Earth (series)

Christopher Priest – The Prestige

Philip Pullman – His Dark Materials trilogy (YA)*

Nathanniel Rich – Odds Against Tomorrow

J K Rowling – Harry Potter series (YA)*

Salman Rushdie – The Satanic Verses

Antoine de Sainte-Exupery – The Little Prince

Marcus Sakey – Brilliance

Will Self – How the Dead Live

Mary Shelly – Frankenstein

Dan Simmons – Hyperion

Olaf Stapledon – Star Maker*

Robert Louis Stevenson – The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Bram Stoker – Dracula

Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Simon Toyne – Sancti trilogy*

Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse Five

Jo Walton – Among Others

H G Wells – The Time Machine

T H White – The Once and Future King

Liz Williams – Snake Agent

Tad Williams – The War of the Flowers

John Wyndham – Day of the Triffids

John Wyndham – The Midwich Cuckoos

Carlos Ruiz Zafon – The Angel’s Game*

Roger Zelazny – Lord of Light

The books I’ve read are marked with an * , and over the coming months (probably years!) I’ll be writing short posts about each book as I read them. I may need to re-read some of them, so this could take a while.

Recommend a Fantasy novel! While I’m busy tucking into to this lot, you can recommend a book to add to the list – just pop the title and author in the comments below, plus why you think I should read it. You’ll have noticed I haven’t included A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. I haven’t decided whether to read it or not. Maybe I will. However, don’t bother suggesting I read Lord of the Rings, it ain’t going to happen!

You can see Best Fantasy Book’s Top 25 Fantasy Books here, and their complete Top 100 here.

Image: The Book of Legends


10 thoughts on “Fantasy Reading List

  1. Look, I know I said I wouldn’t, but … you can blame The Guardian.

    Read Ballard. You’ve gotta read Ballard. He was a genre unto himself. Several actually. And they all bore the stamp of his post-Freudian perversity. His and that of modern civilisation as a whole.

    The Drought. The Atrocity Exhibition. Crash. Vermilion Sands. Cocaine Nights. Super-Cannes. And High Rise too (another Hawkwind song, BTW).

    Dying astronauts. Drained swimming pools. Bejeweled reptiles. Colliding vehicles. Kennedy shot. Reagan raped. Decayed relationships. The putrescent rich. Differing place names that are all “Royal Mountain”. I don’t know what it means. But I do. I always did. It’s been hacked into my psyche from birth.

    First he’s jagged and idiosyncratic. Then he’s sick and revolting. Then he’s hypnotic and visionary. Then it’s like what he wrote has always been a part of you but it took him to rip it out and shove it in your face.

    Read Ballard.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. High Rise is diving into the deep end of Ballard as far as death and insanity goes. Perhaps The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash (also made into movies) are ultimately more disturbing but High Rise is probably the most explicitly violent.

        If I was recommending an aperitif to Ballard it would probably be the short stories of Vermilion Sands. They don’t pull any punches with respect to his favoured themes of social, cultural and psychological corruption and decay but by expressing them via the descriptions of various whimsical and unlikely art forms he turns it into the kind of joke you can tell in mixed company (unlike his notorious faux scholarly article Why I want to fuck Ronald Reagan).

        Running Wild is another easy intro. It’s about the investigation of a lurid mass murder but with the distance and sterility of an Agatha Christie novel. In fact I’m pretty sure he meant it as a send up of the genre.

        But if you think you’re ready to take Ballard full force like a pitchfork to the guts High Rise would be the ticket.

        The other Ballard book that’s gone to celluloid is his semi-autobiographical Empire of the Sun. It’s a kind of meta-Ballard. An insight into what made him into what he became. I suspect his 1950s training in psychiatry and psychoanalysis was a more direct influence though.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh yeah, forgot to edit.
    The William Gibson book is Neuromancer, not Necromancer.

    I kicked myself a bit when it first came out. For over a year I’d been sitting on an outline and several draft chapters of a novel that incorporated some of the elements that would come to define cyberpunk. Most of the action took place in cyberspace(s), though my words for the nested levels were ‘Apnet’, ‘Sys’, ‘Kernel’ and ‘Core’. Gibson coined the term ‘cyberspace’. The main characters were neurotic, maladjusted hackers. There were various technocratic factions who were not what they seemed. In fact nothing and no-one was. The main plot twists arose from the slow reveal of the ultimately all-encompassing nature of the software being hacked.

    I don’t kid myself it could have achieved anything like Gibson’s revolutionary breakthrough. It was far less action driven, far slower, far more geeky and even if I could have accomplished the unprecedented and completed it I doubt it would have been anywhere near as well written as Neuromancer. But one thing that had put me off finishing it was the assumption that its themes could only ever appeal to a tiny coterie of IT geeks interested in hacking, networked systems, AI and ontology. Gibson proved there was a much larger appetite for that kind of thing than I’d imagined.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A few comments on some I’ve read that you haven’t yet. This is very long-winded. I don’t read literary critics but on moonless nights I sometimes turn into one. I’ll refrain from adding a long list of SF&F books I think should be on your reading list.

    Paolo Bacigalupi – The Windup Girl
    A competent author but what makes him stand out is his thoroughly credible near-future post-climate change dystopias. The Windup Girl is set in Bangkok – a city I’m somewhat familiar with – and though I detected a bit of Orientalism and stereotyping of Thai society he manages to make the place feel right geographically. Definitely worth a read.

    Iain M Banks – Consider Phlebas (Culture series)
    Doubtless you already know he used his middle initial for his science fiction stories but omitted it for the rest. The Culture series is a cut above your average space opera and Consider Phlebas is the first and, IMHO, the best. As the series developed I think Banks somewhat lost sight of the moral and philosophical shortcomings of a galaxy spanning liberal-technocrat soft-power imperium that naturally assumes its own culture is superior enough to ‘guide’ other civilisations towards. Sort of a white man’s burden in starships. Or given the dominance of The Culture by advanced AIs, a white machine’s burden. I think a lot of Banks’ other stuff is better than his Culture series. Against A Dark Background is set in a very similar universe but with more interesting characters and plot development. Walking On Glass is maybe my favourite Banks novel – a sort of straight/SF hybrid that manages to tightly tie three apparently incompatible narrative strands together. The Bridge seems to be written as a homage to Kafka and is, I think, a very worthy one. That’s high praise from me. And I have a feeling you’d like Whit. Whenever I get the urge to write an SF novel I think of Banks and remember he’s already done it better than I could ever hope to.

    Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451
    You haven’t read it already? How slack can you get?
    Bradbury was a great SF author and this was probably his masterpiece but to be honest I think it was a somewhat inferior riff on themes Orwell had already developed in 1984. Still, it’s a classic and not to be missed. It’s fairly short too.

    Anthony Burgess – A Clockwork Orange
    Another great sci-fi dystopia. I guess you already know all about it from the moral panic it induced. Ultra-violence. In part it’s an attack on psychiatry and psychology so there’s no shortage of ‘experts’ telling people how harmful it is. All I’d add is that some people find it unreadable due to the Droog dialect throughout but I picked it up pretty quickly and I’d guess you probably would too.

    Arthur C Clarke – Childhood’s End
    Like most Golden Age of SF authors Clarke was massively over-rated. I guess he broke some ground for those who followed but IMHO he just wasn’t much of a writer. 2001 was more Kubrick than Clarke and much better than Clarke’s sequels. It was based on a fairly pedestrian Clarke short-story, The Sentinel. Childhood’s End is another one about transhumanity developing thanks to the intervention of paternalistic aliens and is probably as good as Clarke gets, but …

    Samuel R Delaney – The Einstein Intersection
    I love Delaney and this is one of his best. It’s short. It’s well written. It’s daringly experimental and breathtakingly imaginative. It’s beautiful. Just. Read. It.

    Philip K Dick – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
    Philip K Dick – The Man in the High Castle
    Dick was a master of paranoid sci-fi. His prose was deceptively simple – almost simplistic – his characters were a bit thin and his universes never diverged far from US suburbia. But no-one could fuck with your head and perceptions of society like him. I love his stuff. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep wasn’t one of his best and is only famous because of Bladerunner, but it’s still good. The Man in the High Castle was better and is set to get a big boost from a recent BBC series. But his best (and most prophetic), IMHO, was Through a Scanner Darkly. Dick was a drug-fucked mystic BTW.

    Umberto Eco – Foucault’s Pendulum
    Another paranoiac one, Eco somehow manages to undermine the genre of church conspiracy novels by writing a superior example. If Dan Brown had a reflective mind, a sense of irony and could write competently this is the sort of thing he’d turn out.

    Neil Gaiman – American Gods
    I think I’ve already mentioned this one is hugely overrated. It sort of works as a lightweight road story and the main character is likable enough but the underlying theme of old gods versus new ones is something I’d expect from Marvel Comics, as are the gods themselves. Gaiman excels at graphic novels. He should have stuck with them.

    William Gibson – Necromancer
    The grand-daddy of cyberpunk. A lot of emphasis on action and page turning plot twists but also a well executed, believable backdrop. Definitely not character-driven, but not much sci-fi is. Gotta wonder why none of his stuff has made it to Hollywood yet. Or did I miss it?

    William Golding – Lord of the Flies
    I had to read this in high school. I thought it was rubbish then and I still do. Mainly it’s because the author – a former school master – is absolutely transparent in flogging his thesis that kids are naturally savage and barbaric unless they have well structured discipline imposed from above. Many people say it’s an allegory of the savagery of WWII but Golding shows zero insight into how much of that savagery was imposed by authorities and taught by precisely the kind of school system that employed him. Not only that, he didn’t do even basic research and Lord of the Flies is riddled with scientific errors. Needless to say I clashed heavily with my schoolteachers over this book.

    Robert A Heinlein – Stranger in a Strange Land
    Another overrated hack from the Golden Age. Heinlein was a Libertarian fond of Randian heroes, had a 1950s adolescent grasp of ‘free love’, thought he was funny but wasn’t and used ham-fisted, shallow critiques of US society – especially it’s religiosity – as a springboard for most of his shoddily written, eminently forgettable novels. At least this one wasn’t overtly racist like some of his earlier efforts.

    Hermann Hesse – The Glass Bead Game
    Good but I think it would have been better at one third the length. One of my favourite examples of Hesse’s writing is a short piece tagged to the end called “The Indian Life” – supposedly written by the novel’s protagonist. I’m quite a fan of Hesse. I like Siddharta most of all.

    Aldous Huxley – Island
    Second only to A Brave New World, Island was his last novel and was easily the most modern in style. When I read it about thirty years ago I though his hybridising of shamanism, Buddhism and Shaivism seemed very natural. Now I find it compelling. Even over half a century later the realpolitik of the novel remains all too real.

    Franz Kafka – The Trial
    Boy, you’ve missed some biggies. As you may have noticed I love paranoid, dystopian fantasy. Kafka was the master and The Trial his masterpiece. You said in a recent post that we need fantasy because we’d go mad without it. In The Trial the narrative rambles all over the place and the protagonist spends most of his time repeating the same stupid mistakes and never learning from them, only to die and be forgotten. Kafka makes you read it nonetheless. Then you go mad.

    Stephen King – The Shining
    Stephen King – The Dead Zone
    A very skilled and readable author I nonetheless find King a bit uninspired and uninspiring. The Shining is one of his best but I think Pet Sematary is better. I found The Dead Zone pretty dull.

    Ursula K LeGuin – A Wizard of Earthsea (series)
    Ursula K LeGuin – The Left Hand of Darkness
    I’m a fan of hers. Earthsea is definitely YA but you might find it worth a read. She was still finding her literary legs with The Left Hand of Darkness but it was a cut above the genre standard and a huge thematic breakthrough for SF&F. Other favourites are The Dispossessed and The Lathe of Heaven.

    Gabriel Garcia Marquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude
    Another masterpiece you’ve managed to avoid thus far. It helps if you’re interested in Latin American history and politics but if you’re not it’s still a great read.

    Michael Moorcock – Mother London
    I’ve grown up with Moorcock and it seems he grew with me too. As a kid I was strongly attracted to his fantasy anti-heroes – especially Jerry Cornelius, Karl Glogauer and Elric of Melnibone – and as I got older I grew into his sociological, pseudo-historical writing. Mother London is the standout of the latter, Behold the Man of the former. Moorcock is a former member of Hawkwind.

    Haruki Murakami – Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World
    Another favourite of mine. Like Banks’ Walking on Glass, Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World is a brilliant synthesis of apparently incompatible narratives. I think it’s meant to be a reflection of the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy that was a feature of 1980s pop-neurology but it goes much further in exploring the nature of consciousness and identity – especially as they relate to the inhuman and largely inexplicable societies we build for ourselves (or is that just me). All the Murakami I’ve read is outstanding but I reckon this is the best.

    George Orwell – 1984
    Oh come on. How could you not have? How can you hope to understand the world we’re living in? As the late, great David Bowie sang, “We love you Big Brother”.

    Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman – Good Omens
    I’ve already told you why I think this one is a failure. More pretentious than portentous and not very funny either. Many people disagree with me though.

    Salman Rushdie – The Satanic Verses
    The book that launched a fatwa and an orgy of liberal Muslim bashing. Yeah, it’s a good read anyway. But I prefer Midnight’s Children.

    Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
    Robert Louis Stevenson – The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll & Mr Hyde
    Bram Stoker – Dracula
    Oh dear, oh dear. Have you got something against the classics? School induced PTSD perhaps?
    Of the above three I’d only rate Frankenstein as a must read. It first asked many of the great questions of SF&F that authors are still struggling to answer today, as well as kicking off the whole gothic horror genre. I think modern vampire stories probably owe more to Sheridan LeFanu’s earlier Carmilla than to Stoker’s Dracula. Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde hits the Manichean trope of human good and evil that so appeals to Western sensibilities but it wasn’t the first nor the best.

    Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse Five
    Vonnegut was fantastic. Insightful, incisive, imaginative, funny and very easy to read. Slaughterhouse Five is semi-autobiographical and probably his best but there’s lots of other good ones in his back catalogue. Unlike most SF authors his stuff was excellent from the get-go, especially by the standards of the day. Check out Player Piano or Sirens of Titan, both written in the 50s.

    H G Wells – The Time Machine
    I dunno why but I never took to Wells, though I read a lot of his stuff in my teens. Too Victorian? Nah, there’s other writers of his era I like. Plots too slow? Characters too dull? Nope and nope. There’s no doubt he’s a giant, bestriding the SF landscape like a Martian tripod. I even prefer his politics to that of most other SF authors. Beats me why. He just doesn’t float my boat.

    T H White – The Once and Future King
    If there’s a better treatment of the Arthurian legend out there I’m yet to hear of it. White completely revamps the story while retaining its central features. I particularly like the way that as ‘Wart’ matures into King Arthur the tone of the story too develops from something childish and light-hearted – almost slapstick in parts – into something deeper and more serious and, eventually, dark and tragic. Another must read for aspiring fantasy authors.

    John Wyndham – Day of the Triffids
    John Wyndham – The Midwich Cuckoos
    As a teenager I loved Wyndham. Though I haven’t read him for about forty years his stories still keep coming back to me. Especially The Midwich Cuckoos, The Chrysalids and Chocky. I identified strongly with their alienated (or alien) adolescent protagonists, even though I thought The Midwich Cuckoos was fairly weak overall. Wyndham was fond of apocalypses but with the exception of The Chrysalids his post-apocalypse societies never rang true. A few people would revert to barbarism but most remained staunchly middle-class even in the face of the collapse of civilisation. Day of the Triffids is a prime example of this.

    Roger Zelazny – Lord of Light
    Zelazny was also special to me. Like Gaiman he borrows heavily from world mythology but unlike Gaiman he doesn’t reduce gods to dull, shallow caricatures. They definitely retain their magical and otherworldly natures in Zelazny stories even though there’s often more than a suggestion they’re actually transhumans who have reverted to mythic archetypes. He kinda blurs the distinction between sci-fi and fantasy that way. His Amber series is perhaps the only long chain of fantasy books I’ve ever read that doesn’t become boring and repetitive, maybe because it’s so sparse and abstract. Lord of Light is definitely among his best but I prefer Creatures of Light and Darkness and the somewhat perverse Jack of Shadows (yeah, it’s one of the sci-fi books Hawkwind sings about).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! Thanks, cabrogal 🙂

      I think school induced PTSD could be the reason for some of my embarrassing omissions. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Some I’ve seen the film versions but haven’t got round to the books yet. Better get back to reading…



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