15 fantasy novels I’ve bought that I probably should read

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I feel like I need to make posts like this every once in a while (see also my 2015 reading resolutions) to remind myself of all the fantastic looking books I’ve actually paid for, but which are just sitting around, waiting to be read. Revisiting reviews and plot descriptions, and remembering why I bought them in the first place, might encourage me to devote more time to reading instead of the hours of aimless internet browsing I do most days.

So I’ve spent a little time looking over my bookshelves (in reality and on Goodreads), and came up with a small list books of each genre that I really should make time to read. These lists don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the hundreds of unread books I own, but they’re a start. I don’t know whether I’ll read them this year, or the next, or later than that, but at least I’ll be able to look back at this post for some motivation.

First up, 15 intriguing looking fantasy books, listed by author. The only rule I’ve imposed on myself is to focus on books by authors I’ve never read. Some of the following are standalones, and others are the beginnings of series. There’s a theme common to many of them of non-human protagonists (probably my favourite trope in all of genre fiction). Let’s hope they’re all as good as they sound!

fantasy_etchedcityThe Etched City by KJ Bishop

I think this is the book that I’ve owned the longest on this list. I sought it out almost 10 years ago, when I was looking for other work similar to China Miéville. This book has been compared particularly to Iron Council, in that it also meshes western and New Weird genres. There’s a gunslinger, a surreal city on the edge of a wasteland, and melancholic and literary prose. Sounds pretty nifty. It’s a shame that Bishop hasn’t written a novel since.

fantasy_tidesofavariceThe Tides of Avarice by John Dahlgren

This is one I picked up for a couple of dollars in a bargain bookstore. I’ve been wanting to read more anthropomorphic-animal fantasy (think Redwall, etc) and this looked pretty interesting. It has pirates, voodoo, and, in a pretty unique choice for protagonist species, lemmings! It doesn’t have many reviews on Goodreads and I get the feeling this book was never destined to be huge, but the reviews that are out there are quite positive, so I’m game.

fantasy_covenantsCovenants by Lorna Freeman

Another novel with anthropomorphic animals, although this time they’re mixing with humans, which is the sort of world I find fascinating. Other than that, I honestly can’t remember when or why I heard about this and decided to buy it, but it’s been on my Kindle for a couple of years. Looking at Goodreads now, the plot seems interesting enough from the description. But the main attraction for me will be the worldbuilding, providing it lives up to my expectations.

fantasy_halfmadeworldThe Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

Another New Weird tale mixed with western and frontier elements. I’ve heard so many good things about this book, in terms of both critical acclaim and personal recommendations from people online. It seems like it will evoke the exciting time of industrial expansion in the American wild west, with trains, guns and so on. Throw in some reality-bending weirdness à la Miéville’s Cacotopic Stain, and this sounds like it will be a fun ride.

fantasy_dwarvesThe Dwarves by Markus Heitz

One of my favourite sections of The Lord of the Rings is the subterranean journey through Moria. I’ve yet to see dwarven culture thoroughly explored in fantasy since then — it seems like elves get far too much of the limelight. Hopefully this book scratches the itch I have for vast, ancient, underground cities and proud, stocky, axe-wielding dudes. Wait, does that sound weird? Anyway… I think this is a translation of a German book, and I’m always keen on reading more genre fiction from around the world. Granted, it has silly cover art, and rather mixed reviews on Goodreads, but I’m willing to give it a try.

fantasy_bridgeofbirdsBridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

I get this short 1980s fantasy novel recommended to me all the time in online forums, and a few years ago I ordered the paperback. It’s supposedly a light, fun fantasy adventure based on ancient Chinese fables. It has farce, mystery, a heist, and all sorts of mythological beasts. It has excellent reviews on Goodreads, and a nice handful of literary awards. Almost all the fantasy I’ve ever read is based heavily on European culture, so it will be a nice change to read something entirely different!

fantasy_earthseaThe Earthsea Quartet by Ursula K Le Guin

An omnibus rather than a novel, I know, but each of the four novels within is really only novella-length. Le Guin is an author I’m ashamed to not have read, even though I own 6 or 7 of her books now — both fantasy and science fiction. Her SF classic The Left Hand of Darkness is actually more of a priority for me than this book, but as this is a fantasy list, I decided to include Earthsea anyway. What appeals to me most is not the magic, but the setting: a vast archipelago. I love fantasy novels involving the ocean and ships thereon (see The Scar), so this series has interested me for a while.

fantasy_wolfshourThe Wolf’s Hour by Robert R McCammon

Actually more of a blend of horror and historical thriller than pure fantasy, this is a WW2 action novel which happens to feature a Nazi-killing werewolf as a protagonist. In a word, awesome. Now, I’m interested in WW2, but I don’t exactly expect this to be rich in historical detail. I’m much more interested in it because it comes up time and time again when people talk about intriguing and sympathetic portrayals of werewolves in genre fiction. It’s waiting on my Kindle… perhaps I’ll read it on the next full moon.

fantasy_wayofkingsThe Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

I figured I should give at least the first book in Sanderson’s ongoing, eventually-10-book opus a try. I have the hardcover of this book and it’s absolutely gorgeous, with all sorts of illustrations throughout. I’m not too familiar with Sanderson’s writing but I’ve heard he likes convoluted magic systems. Like with other books on this list though, I’m more interested in the setting: a world with perpetual storms, and biota which have evolved to survive there. Cool!

fantasy_yearofourwarThe Year of Our War by Steph Swainston

Like The Etched City, this is a book I found out about early on in my search for writers like China Miéville. It’s a New Weird fantasy with a literary fantasy take on superheroes, and lots of insects. The worldbuilding and the style sound impressive. Apparently the book is also replete with puns, including these creature names I found in a Goodreads review: “Fibre Tooth Tigers, Laardvarks, Impossums, Whorses and Problemmings”. Weird… I had the first book of this trilogy for a long time before double-dipping and buying the omnibus (titled The Castle Omnibus).

fantasy_empireofblackandgoldEmpire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

A close friend of mine swears by these books and has begged often for me to read them. It’s a daunting series, with 10 thick volumes in total, but I figured since I have this first novel I might as well give it a go… I might end up loving it! The world sounds incredible: it’s populated by numerous humanoid races all based on various insects, who wield a mix of magic and machinery. This book series also got featured in a recent article on Barnes & Noble’s SF/F blog that piqued my interest, about weird fantasy worlds. It’s a cool article, check it out!

fantasy_golemanddjinniThe Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

I’m obsessed with New York City — I’d live there if I could. I especially love its history, so I was drawn to this literary fantasy book set in the city in 1899. As soon as I heard about it I knew I had to buy it. Broadly, it’s a story about immigration and the meeting of two cultures. The protagonists are two mythological creatures (as the title suggests) who are brought to the city and must make their way in this strange new land. It sounds marvellous.

fantasy_cloudroadsThe Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

This book is another that featured in the Barnes & Noble blog post about weird fantasy worlds. When I read that article, I suddenly remembered that I had bought the book several years before, recalling that I had been interested in it because it featured a unique race of gargoyle-like shapeshifters, and a non-human protagonist. After researching the book more in the last few days, I’ve moved this straight to the top of my fantasy queue, to be read after I finish the Robin Hobb book I’m reading. I can’t wait!

fantasy_katurranodysseyThe Katurran Odyssey by David Michael Wieger (illustrated by Terryl Whitlatch)

Not a typical novel, but a massive hardcover featuring an illustrated, full-length story, in the vein of Dinotopia and the like. I salivated over this book in stores for years before I finally bought it (it was pricey), but I haven’t had the chance to properly sit down with it yet. The illustrations (by the amazing creature designer Terryl Whitlatch) are gorgeous, and complement a colourful story involving sentient animals. It’s a book to treasure.

fantasy_bookofnewsunThe Book of the New Sun: Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe

Finally there’s this novel, which is really an omnibus of two short works. It’s constantly lauded as a masterwork of literary fantasy and science-fiction, it was an influence on China Miéville, and it’s one of the definitive works in the Dying Earth genre. Reviews put it on par with Dune and The Lord of the Rings. I just can’t believe I haven’t read it already, considering I own both a cruddy paperback and a beautiful hardcover edition of the book.

* * * * *

Apart from these 15 works, my house is stuffed with plenty of books I’m excited about by authors I have read before, and there’s also a number of amazing books coming out soon that I’m eagerly awaiting — notably The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, which has stunning reviews already.

And this is all just fantasy books! I’m scared to count how many unopened science fiction novels I have lying around; it would likely be in the range of 2-300. One day I’ll get through them all… or maybe at least half of them. Anyway, a companion list of SF books is coming soon, when I can get around to it.

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3 comments

  1. Bridge of Birds is everything you’ve heard — it is a really delightful book. This list is generally a mix of books I like a lot or have been meaning to read (Half-Made World and The Etched City in particular).

    I live in NYC but I am sad to report that I have yet to encounter any magic whatsoever. Though I have experienced some interesting cultural clashes on the subway.

  2. I just added The Etched City to my TBR for exactly the same reasons that you did ten years ago. Hopefully I’ll read it sooner than later, but yeah. COugh cough.

    Markus Heitz is def German, and if you end up liking that one he has written like sixty bajillion trakillion other books in the same world. I have yet to crack one because the way it is marketed here (in Germany, where I live) doesn’t really appeal to me, though I have a lot of friends who have gone down the rabbit hole and insist I will like them. Good luck to you there.

    The Empire of Black and Gold…so I got a copy of this at some convention or another, and my husband tried reading it recently and put it down almost immediately. He found some of the names of the insect tribe things so absurd that it threw him out of the novel every time. Would also be interested to hear another opinion on it as he’s a massively, weirldy picky reader.

    Anyway, happy reading.

  3. Have read or tried to read many of these. Bridge of Birds is fantastic. The Etched City has brilliant parts but not consistent. Swainston’s books really bother me and I am not sure why. I thought Thunderer by Gilman was a better book that his others despite a terrible title and cover. Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells is a great book but did not like the one listed here. A few more for me to check out.

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