Goldilocks ISO juuuuuust-right fantasy novel
December 18, 2012 4:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm just finishing up the third book in Ben Aaronovitch's "Rivers of London" series, and I've really enjoyed these books. What fantasy book(s) should I read next to suit my current mood?

I'd like something relatively lighthearted but not silly; light romance elements okay but probably not interested in any big love/sex focus, and definitely not interested in the sexy vampires / sexy werewolves genre; well written is a must; would prefer some sort of novelty over tired tropes; probably not interested in the swords and dragons kind of thing; not too dark or bloody; not sexist or racist. Wry is nice. Eccentric/unusual is very nice. I dig character development, and am not so fond of Mary Sue-ish archetypal heroes/heroines.

What I've enjoyed about the "Rivers of London" books: the magic is fun, but not usually overdone (with a couple of exceptions); I like the London setting and the fact that the city is intrinsic to the characters and plots; I love that the protagonist is mixed race, a little dorky, not OMG POWERFUL WIZARD (he's still learning, and tends to occasionally fuck up), and that the books don't make me wince at racist/sexist stereotypes (greatly appreciated). I like the police "procedural" aspect combined with the magical, and that it sort of gently pokes fun at pretty much everything, without trying be zany comedy (which is usually pretty tiresome to me). I like that there are various interesting female characters who could each as easily be the main character in a different book. (And I say "female," because some of them are not exactly human women.) Obviously, the next book is not going to duplicate all these aspects, but this should give an idea of atmosphere, I guess.

I have read most of Christopher Fowler's "Bryant and May" and Jasper Fforde's "Thursday Next" books, btw; I have read "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell," and a whole bunch of Neil Gaiman and Connie Willis; love Victor LaValle's "Big Machine," and have the rest of his books in my stack. If there is a genre label for these sorts of books, I'd love to know what it is.
posted by taz to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Harry Connolly's Twenty Palaces is similar, but not quite as lighthearted or as literary.
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:32 AM on December 18, 2012

Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. The books featuring the City Watch have police-procedural aspects. There are quite a few female main characters, like The Witches. And sex is pretty downplayed.
posted by neushoorn at 4:52 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was recently really blown away by Daniel Abraham's "Long Price Quartet". It starts a little slow while it introduces you to the world and how te magic works, and the characters we'll be seeing more of, but each book is richer and more complex, wrestling engagingly with the pride and pitfalls of being human. I can't recommend it strongly enough!
posted by rosa at 5:00 AM on December 18, 2012

Welcome to the genre I call "Wizard Detective." It's an offshoot of urban fantasy with a bit of noir thrown in.

Series in this genre include:

The Dresden Files - Harry Dresden is Chicago's only wizard. He solves problems. - The quality of the books in this series ranges from good to great. Jim Butcher has seized on an endgame for the series, so later books pick up steam and move into the epic, but are still enjoyable reads. This is the 500 lb gorilla of the genre.

Felix Castor - Felix Castor is a freelance exorcist, and London is his stamping ground. - You might know Mike Carey from his comicbook work such as Lucifer (sorta sequel to Gaiman's Sandman) and Unwritten(this one would also fit your requirements, imo, shades of Thursday Next), but I prefer Felix over them. Nice world building, great character development.

Sandman Slim - James Stark was stuck in Hell for years, forced to be a hitman for one of the infernal powers. Having escaped, he finds himself picking up the pieces of his shattered life in a different hell: LA - This one is a bit more noir than the others with plenty of action and chin-music. Still, Stark does crack wise and Richard Kadrey gives everyone a unique voice.

The Laundry Files - (Lovecraft + Spies)/Nerdity + Fun = Good - I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to say MeFi's Own Charles Stross here. This is a fun series (think Thursday again) featuring the travails of a sysadmin turned spy whose job is to keep the eldritch horrors safely on the the far, far away from humanity side.

Simon R. Green - Vague recommendation here. His Nightside and Drood series fit the genre pretty well, but they go off the rails pretty quickly. Things are a little bit Just So for my tastes as main characters tend to be able to beat up/stare down almost any threat, so it's hard to get a sense of danger. That said, the world and the characters are pretty vibrant. If your local library has these, I'd suggest picking them up there. It's okay to get a little tipsy when you read these too.

Repairman Jack - Repairman Jack doesn't deal with electronic appliances-he fixes situations for people, often putting himself in deadly danger. - Another demi-recommendation. The first books in F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack series are great. Later ones, once he decided to tie Jack in with his previous works (The Keep) got really frustrating, really fast. Still, I'd stick with it up to Haunted Air or so.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:09 AM on December 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

Paul Cornell's new book, London Falling, is supposed to be very Rivers of London-esque without being derivative. Getting some good reviews too!
posted by Wysawyg at 5:10 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, nuts! I forgot some!

Anything by Tim Powers. My favorites are Declare (Tinker, Tailor meets Lovecraft), Last Call (a ritualistic cardgame for the mystical kingship of the American West), Anubis Gates (time travel) and Drawing of the Dark (Beer as salvation of Europe in the face of the Turks).

Also to add to the Wizard Detective list:

Remy Chandler - Boston PI Remy Chandler is no ordinary man. He’s an angel who chose to renounce heaven and live on earth. - I found this series from Thomas Sniegoski's contributions to the Hellboy mythos. The main character's name points to its noir heritage, but there's still a good number of characters and some complex worldbuilding that happens over the course of the series.

The Grimnoir Chronicles -Magical creeps dispatched in heaps! Jake Sullivan is a war vet, a licensed private eye, and the possessor of a seriously hardboiled attitude. - Again, more noir/chin music, this time from Larry Corriea. I admit I have not read the books in the series, but instead listened to Cousin Balky from Perfect Strangers read them to me via my Audible account. In this setting, certain people have exceptional powers (flight, strength, gravity control, teke, etc) and of course the guy with the most of them wants to take over the world. Think roaring 20s X-Men without the costumes.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:26 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised nobody has recced Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus series. It's set in alternate history (read: magical) London, following the adventures of a summoned demon as he finds himself paired with an inexperienced boy magician. The writing is excellently witty and sharp, the characters are strong and it's perfectly on the line of not-too-magical. You will love them.
posted by fight or flight at 5:41 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I liked the Fanuilh series by Daniel Hood, which I feel like I'm the only person who's ever read! Liam Rhenford is a foreign, freelance detective who ends up working with the authorities in a loosely Roman-ish setting to solve various magical crimes. I don't think it fits all of your criteria (women characters are thin on the ground, but there are a few), but the protagonist is an outsider who becomes an accidental magician by inheriting a small dragon he doesn't want. The mysteries are well-constructed and the magic is generally appropriate and consistent. It's pretty light reading (although I remember the last one as being more serious) and engaging, and the world is a bit different from standard fantasy, and well-conceived.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:26 AM on December 18, 2012

Kate Griffin's Matthew Swift and Magicals Anonymous series should do you.
posted by evoque at 8:50 AM on December 18, 2012

Assuming because you've mentioned Gaiman that you already read Neverwhere...

My pick would be Diane Duane's Stealing the Elf-King's Roses, which is described by the author as "CSI fantasy" and features a truth-magician at the LA district attorney's office and her attempts to, well, solve crime.

Also it isn't quite what you requested, but I always recommend them to everyone because they are awesome: the Astreiant series by Melissa Scott is a fantasy police-procedural series set in a secondary world (though, relatively uniquely for fantasy, it is approximately at a Renaissance level of technology; the gimmick of the magic system is that astrology really works). The main characters are men, everyone is bisexual, and the world is a complete matriarchy but it's so subtle about it that I missed it the first time. It just, you know, seems completely normal that everyone in a major position of power is a woman. (And a character is described as "the best male playwright" once.) They are my very favorite fantasy procedural mysteries, so maybe you'll like them.
posted by sineala at 9:46 AM on December 18, 2012

Response by poster: These are all great!! Thank you, everyone, I'm going to be reading a ton of these, and feeling pretty happy to have a new stack.

(The Astreiant series looks really interesting, sineala, thanks for including it.)
posted by taz at 2:52 AM on December 19, 2012

Response by poster: Just in case anyone is reading this on Christmas day / Boxing day, I was just checking out the 20 Palaces series Comrade_robot recommended, and went to the author's blog where he mentions that he self-published the fourth book in the series, which is a prequel, as an ebook and it's on sale for $2.99 through December 26 from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

One commenter at Amazon says someone new to the series could start there, so I went ahead and picked that up. The font in the Amazon book is Typewriter or something, which is fairly annoying, but it looks interesting.
posted by taz at 12:56 AM on December 25, 2012

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