Looking for recommendations for fantasy novels.
November 30, 2010 6:38 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently looking for some new fantasy books to read. The last thread I found that was closest to this was in 2004, so I figure some new stuff has come out since then. I'm looking for books that are actually well written, and aren't overly dense or ridiculous.

I've read all of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Dark Tower, the Belgariad, and His Dark Materials. I've also read a fair amount of Discworld. American Gods was an excellent book, and I've read some of Gaiman's other stuff. And I've read all of Harry Potter (and obviously LotR).

Wheel of Time is not in the list because I made it three and a half books in before I realized that I had no idea what was going on.

I guess I'm not restricting myself to straight fantasy; if there are any well-written steampunk novels, for example, I'd look into those. Oh, and if anyone has advice on blogs, etc. for ways to keep track of new books coming out. Thanks!
posted by gchucky to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of good recent recommendations here and here. From those I have particularly enjoyed Erikson, Bakker, and Abercrombie.
posted by dfan at 6:41 PM on November 30, 2010

although, now that I look more closely at your requirements, Erikson is very dense with information.
posted by dfan at 6:42 PM on November 30, 2010

-Sabriel and it's sequels.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:44 PM on November 30, 2010 [7 favorites]

I like all of Robin Hobb's series. Love the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies.
posted by goblinbox at 6:46 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

The first three books in the Symphony of Ages series by Elizabeth Haydon - Rhapsody, Prophecy, and Destiny - can be a little romance-y at times, but are among some of my favorite books.
posted by alynnk at 7:00 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Barbara Hambly's The Silent Tower & it's sequel, The Silicon Mage, are among my top fantasy go-tos. For more gritty fun, you can't beat Glenn Cook's The Black Company. Series gets darker & more mature as it continues, but it's excellent down through the last book.
posted by Ys at 7:12 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is pretty general dude, you might need to narrow it down some more, or I suspect you're going to be swamped by everyone's favourite fantasies (expect to see lots of Wheel of Time and Jonathon Strange in the next 24 hours), which honestly won't be any more use to you than one of the gazillion fantasy review or list web sites out there, which are easily googleable.
posted by smoke at 7:12 PM on November 30, 2010

I really like the Kronos Chronicles series by Marie Rukoski. There are currently two books in the series, The Cabinet of Wonders and The Celestial Globes. I heard that she is working on the third. HIGHLY RECOMMEND these books.

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer is also excellent. She has written two other books to follow that one, but I haven't read them yet.

Anything by Brian Jacques, particularly his vast Redwall series.

Snow-Walker by Catherine Fisher

Books by Cornelia Funke, in particular The Theif Lord, Dragon Rider, and her Inkheart trilogy.

R.A. Salvatore writes pretty good fantasy novels as well.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 7:15 PM on November 30, 2010

Also, possibly my favorite fantasy love story of all time is in Cheryl J. Franklin's Fire Get. It's quite satisfying as a one-sie, but actually one of a pair of books that later turned out to be part of a broader canvas that involves quite a bit of universe. Probably 5? 6? books all told, and several appear completely unrelated until things get tied together in the final books. Love the scope, but possibly more complicated than you'd be up for. As noted, though: Fire Get works very well as a stand-alone love story.
posted by Ys at 7:23 PM on November 30, 2010

Seconding Abercrombie -- the First Law trilogy is very good dark fantasy; fascinating, morally ambiguous, and very well-written, with a strong and artful ending. The standalone follow-up, Best Served Cold is also good, but too long.

Everyone likes Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind. I like it too, though he's taking his sweet time writing the trilogy, taking four years to the second book (coming out in March), and God knows how long to the third.

I am a fan of David Anthony Durham's Acacia trilogy -- 1 and 2 with 3 forthcoming. That one is traditional epic fantasy stuff, similar to GRRM, etc., but hugely entertaining.
posted by eugenen at 7:24 PM on November 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

You mentioned steam punk, so I'll throw out China Mieville. I've read Perdido Street Station and The Scar, and have been thoroughly impressed.
posted by PhatLobley at 7:32 PM on November 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

I really enjoyed John Bemis's book The Nine Pound Hammer, the first of three books in his Clockwork Dark trilogy. They're steampunk-y fantasy, notable because they are set in the US. I am really looking forward to the second book in the trilogy, the Wolf Tree.

Also, based on a recommendation somewhere here on Metafilter, I just read and enjoyed Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief.

Note: these are YA/young reader books.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:39 PM on November 30, 2010

Of the pure straight fantasy variety, I rather enjoyed Raymond Feist's The Riftwar Saga, starting with Magician: Apprentice. It's the very definition of magic and grand battles/city sieges. It's much less dense the any GRRM book. I also enjoyed RA Salvatore well enough, but I would consider it rather less dense than Feist. That's just me, though, and I've read most of the Drizzt books.

My favorite, though, is The Great Book of Amber, particularly the first half (the whole series is kind of split 1-5 and 6-10). Easily my most favorite fantasy series of all time.
posted by jmd82 at 7:39 PM on November 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

Seconding China Mieville (though he isn't steampunk (he predates the genre), more fantasy with a political bent).

You also might want to try Charles De Lint. What I've read has been wonderful.
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:49 PM on November 30, 2010

I really liked the His Majesty's Dragon series by Naomi Novik. It's a blend of fantasy and history, where tamed dragons are used during the Napoleonic-era in Europe.
posted by SDH30 at 7:51 PM on November 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Tooth And Claw by Jo Walton is written in the style of Trollope, with dragons as the main characters. Dead fathers, inheritance denied, young daughters, trying to marry well, eating the children of your peasants if they don't grow big enough fast enough, great stuff.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:15 PM on November 30, 2010

Most of the fantasy I've read in the past five years has fallen short. One that stands out is Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastard Sequence. The first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, was so fun and had the classic feel of a genuine good story. The atmosphere and tone impart such a good feeling and you feel like backslapping the main character as you laugh. The main character is like Robin Hood in that he's technically a bad guy, but really you root for him because you understand his motivations. It's not cut from the same cloth as Jordan or Martin in terms of substance and grit, but it's perfectly enjoyable lighter fare. The second book, Red Seas Under Red Skies was mostly a continuation of that feeling and was a similar kind of story. The third one comes out late winter or spring and it looks like he's planning for there to be a total of 7 books in the series. Normally I'd say wait so you don't get stranded for years between books, but the two books out so far can really stand on their own.

I also got started on the Acacia trilogy mentioned above. The first book was decent enough to make me want to get the second one at some point. Not a home run but not bad.

I also started the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, which starts with The Name of the Wind, mentioned above. That book got such high praise across the board. I liked it enough to want to read the second one at some point, but I didn't see the reason for such high acclaim.

The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, the guy picked to finish the Wheel of Time after Robert Jordan died, was interesting. I can't recommend it as a top pick but it stands out for having a very interesting and original magic system. The first book is not bad but I felt like the latter two suffered.

Steering out of traditional fantasy, the post-apocalyptic Riddley Walker was very interesting. Society has reverted back to medieval levels, so it's not as sci-fi as you'd think from the genre, not really much at all.

Also outside of traditional fantasy, I really enjoyed a couple by Tim Powers, namely The Anubis Gates and Declare. Both deal with magic and the supernatural, but set in our own world. They're very original, well done, exciting, fun, and enjoyable.
posted by Askr at 8:59 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

I always recommend Guy Gavriel Kay. He does a lot of historically-based fantasy, not exactly on Earth but in a sort of parallel world. The magic/fantastic elements are less important than characters/story, and the writing is really good. Much more literary than most fantasy books I've read, without being dense. His books are mostly standalones, with the exception of The Fionavar Tapestry (3 books) and the Sarantine Mosaic (2 books).

The ones I liked best were Tigana, The Last Light of the Sun, and The Sarantine Mosaic (Sailing to Sarantium, Lord of Emperors). Hell, they're all great, but those ones really stand out.
posted by number9dream at 11:21 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin.

Also seconding Barbara Hambly, Roger Zelazny, Steven Erikson, etc.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:35 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lots of great recommendations in this post. I would personally direct you to Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson's "Mistborn" trilogy, Joe Abercrombie, and China Mieville in regards to the concise and uncomplicated department but I absolutely would not stop there.

Recent SFF novels I've read that I liked are The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin and Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson. (REALLY liked the latter.)

In regards to blogs that stay up to date with this kind of stuff, I would check out Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. His reviews are all over the place, but as an indicator of what's out now, what's notable, and what's coming up it's pretty good. I would also keep an eye on Tor.com, as it's not a review site specifically but still has a lot of new SFF stuff. (Full disclosure, I write for them. Sometimes competently.) They recently did a big steampunk event that you should check out for pointers on respected and upcoming steampunk novels. Oh, also, there's a blogger there who does a genre round-up at the beginning of every month. She's doing one now for December.
posted by greenland at 12:04 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (you can read the first three chapters online) and Tor.com.

Are you only looking for books? Short stories are a great way to find & taste new authors. Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Shimmer, Ideomancer, and Electric Velocipede all have fiction up that you can read for free. GUD and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine sell PDFs.
posted by brainwane at 2:22 AM on December 1, 2010

The Curse of Challion and the sequels by Lois McMaster Bujold. The second in the series (Paladin of Souls) won a Hugo.

(Bujold, incidentally, is tied for second most number of Hugos with Heinlein)
posted by Hactar at 3:06 AM on December 1, 2010

Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:55 AM on December 1, 2010

Okay, "everybody" loves The Name of the Wind, but if you are a snob about the writing quality, beware. I got through the book because the plot was decent, but the writing was so clunky to my ears that I was annoyed throughout the process.

I recently enjoyed The Sharing Knife for its worldbuilding and charming love story.

Also try Lord Valentine's Castle. It's not new, but it's good.
posted by freshwater at 7:03 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anything I've picked up by K J Parker I've blazed through, and loved. The Engineer Trilogy is great. The Fencer Trilogy is great. The Company is great. I'm halfway through The Folding Knife and it's great. The trilogies are somewhat dense on the nuts and bolts of weapon construction and siege warfare. I love that, but ymmv.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 7:47 AM on December 1, 2010

Here I go again recommending Jacqueline Carey. Her fantasy series (two complete trilogies and one with the third book coming in 2011) are complex and funny and incredibly sexy and wonderful. I will note that the writing drove me crazy for the first forty pages of the first book, because the character is (imo) pretty pretentious at that time. It gets better.
posted by epj at 7:51 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not exactly traditional fantasy, but I've really enjoyed S.M. Stirling's "Change Series". There are two complementary sets of novels. Dies the Fire is the beginning of the Oregon side of the story -- an event occurs suddenly that causes explosives and electronics to stop working. The survivors of this event need to find a way to survive and eventually develop a new non-technology-based society.

On the other side of North America, the event has a different effect on the island of Nantucket. Island in the Sea of Time is the first book in this chain. The island and everything in the surrounding water is thrown back into the Stone Age, but their technology still works. Fortunately, a Coast Guard vessel is patrolling the waters giving the Nantucketers the means to travel around the world.

The two threads come together starting with The Sunrise Lands where someone from the Oregon side of the story needs to cross North America to Nantucket.

I'm not a big fan of traditional "swords and sorcery" fantasy, but I have really enjoyed this series. The Oregon thread of the story does have swords, crossbows, and other pre-gunpowder technology. There is some magic involved in the quest that begins with The Sunrise Lands. It is an interesting twist on the time travel genre.
posted by elmay at 7:55 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell , actually all of Clarke. I'm sure she's been mentioned before, but she is the best.

Basically it's "Well what if magic was an actual thing but largely theoretical until the 1800s." Or more directly, the Napoleonic Wars ....WITH MAGIC.
posted by The Whelk at 8:48 AM on December 1, 2010

The Sword and Laser is a podcast about sci-fi and fantasy books.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 9:08 AM on December 1, 2010

Blogs! Forgot SF Signal! Very handy site for SF stuff. Suvudu, too.
posted by greenland at 9:11 AM on December 1, 2010

Since you mentioned both Discworld and Neil Gaiman, you may want to read Good Omens if you haven't already. It qualifies as ridiculous, so it may not be what you're looking for at the moment, but it combines the best of two authors you already like.

I'll second the recommendation of The Lies of Locke Lamora, which is a really fun confidence game in a fantasy setting. The sequel, however, suffers from bad pacing, and may disappoint you if you liked the first book.

Finally, a few people recommended Robin Hobb. I haven't read any books by her other than the Farseer Trilogy, but I found the main character to be intolerably full of teen angst. Additionally, he acted far more like a combination between a druid and a barbarian than an assassin, which may or may not matter to you.
posted by Logic Sheep at 9:37 AM on December 1, 2010

I had been away from the genre for years before picking up GRR Martin's Game of Thrones. It is excellent in all the ways a fantasy should be, and, HBO are making a series, and we all know the quality of hbo series, so it's a good idea to read the books beforehand, i think.

I have said it before and i'll say it again, jonathan strange is the worst book i've ever finished.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:51 AM on December 1, 2010

I enjoyed The Magicians. Harry Potter for adults, it's called.
posted by Windigo at 12:08 PM on December 1, 2010

nthing Joe Abercrombie, Zelazny's Princes of Amber, and In the Name of the Wind. You simply couldn't go wrong with these wonderful suggestions.

To which I might add Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series. These are more novellas than novels, but they are wonderful.
posted by halfguard at 12:41 PM on December 1, 2010

"Kraken" is the newest book by China Mieville and it is WONDERFUL. If you like urban fantasy and weird gods.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:42 PM on December 1, 2010

Sadly, I would recommend AGAINST Kraken - the OP asked for "not dense" and that book was the definition of dense and convoluted (take with a grain of salt, because I know a lot of people enjoyed that book and I had to force myself to finish it).
posted by Windigo at 4:20 PM on December 1, 2010

Thanks, everyone! Lots of good suggestions in here; I'm gonna compile all these answers into a huge Amazon wishlist. I also hope this question helps anyone who stumbles upon it.
posted by gchucky at 9:27 PM on December 1, 2010

Kraken is freaking awesome. Not at all dense; after working on Un Lun Dun, a children's/young-adult novel, Mieville really tightened his writing in Kraken while retaining all of the subtlety and raw flavour and his love of the English language of his Bas Lag novels - which were denser than Iridium. It rocks along at a pretty good rhythm - once he gets going, which is something that he still has to work on. Maybe he should try his hand at some short fiction before going for another novel. Great great great characters in that novel.

I read (well, listened) to The Magicians on Windigo's recommendation. Very interesting story, writing was technically competent (in the good British meaning of the word competent) but GAWD I hated the characters. It's not Harry Potter for adults rather closer to Harry Potter for emo 15 year olds who want the wish fulfillment of Harry Potter.
posted by porpoise at 7:54 PM on June 2, 2011

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