Help Me Find Better Fantasy Novels
October 6, 2016 9:16 PM   Subscribe

I love the fantasy genre, but I am super picky, and lately I can't find anything to read. I'll be very obliged for your help. More info after the jump.

I tend to love fantasy authors and books that very few people have ever heard of. I think this because I have weird taste that most people don't agree with, so the books I like dont seem to have any luck getting a very big audience (well, some of them do I guess). I like YA and Adult fantasy equally. Authors I love are Tanith Lee, Jane Gaskel, Catherine M. Valente, Francis Hardinge, and Barbara Hambly. Authors I like really well most of the time are Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Sarah Monette, Dianna Wynne Jones, Patricia Mckillip.

Examples of books or series I love are:
The Claidi Journals series by Tanith Lee, The Abhorsen series by Garth Nix, The Doctorine Of Labyrinths series by Sarah Monette, Fly By Night by Francis Hardinge , Not Wanted On The Voyage by Timothy Findlay, The Riddle Master of Hed series and The Forgotten Beasts Of Eld by Patricia McKillip.

What it is that these folks/books seem to be doing that I really dig:

Excellent character building. A character's physical attractiveness or lack thereof is rarely mentioned and doesn't factor much into the story. Central characters have plenty of flaws, often they are not heroic at all, even by the end of the book. Central characters are usually women or girls.

Excellent world building, the environment is a big presence in the story.

Often a sort of meandering story line. So the story just follows the characters as they try to live their lives. No big, dramatic "save the kingdom" or "bring magic back to my people" type plots.

An excellent command of language. Beautiful writing. A sense of humor.

Originality! Very few of their stories include vampires, werewolves, gargoyles, orphans who are really royalty, dragons, sappy romances, etc. When such things do appear the authors manage a very fresh take on a fantasy cliche.

Authors I do not like (for various reasons, not necessarily having to do with the above) :
Marriott Zimmer Bradley, Ursula K. Leguin, Elizabeth Bear, Lois, McMaster Bujold, C. J. Cherryh, Diana Galboldon, Tanya Huff, Mercedes Lackey, Elizabeth Moon, Jodi Lynne Nye, Tamora Pierce, Margaret Weiss and most male authors from the 60s till present (very much including Neil Gaimen).

I'm miserable these days, wanting great books, then not being able to find anything I like. I appreciate your ideas and hope I haven't made it an impossible task to come up with some.
posted by WalkerWestridge to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 103 users marked this as a favorite
Sarah Monette wrote The Goblin Emperor under the pen name Katherine Addison. I'm reading it now; it's great. Deep worldbuilding, relatable protagonist with plenty of flaws. I think you will like it.
posted by quaking fajita at 9:21 PM on October 6, 2016 [17 favorites]

Steven Brust's Vlad novels?
posted by Chrysostom at 9:24 PM on October 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

The Steerwoman series by Rosemary Kirstein, up to four books and she's working on #5. Not "exactly" fantasy but fascinating and thought-provoking. The world-building is the best I've ever read, and I've been reading this stuff since the 1950s.
posted by MovableBookLady at 9:28 PM on October 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

You know that Garth Nix has new Abhorsen book out just this week, right? (Goldenhand, just in case you didn't).

I was about to recommend the Goblin Emperor as well.

A few books/series you might enjoy: The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater, the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (there's a second book that I haven't read yet), the Apothecary books by Maile Meloy, Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon.
posted by mogget at 9:29 PM on October 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I can't recommend N.K. Jemisin's "The Fifth Season" (and the just-published sequel, "The Obelisk Gate") enough--they meet most of your criteria, especially in terms of character strength, female protagonists, environmentally-focused world-building (and how!) plus beautiful language. The plot does involve dramatic and catastrophic events, but avoids the cliches you dislike.
posted by karayel at 9:29 PM on October 6, 2016 [12 favorites]

The obvious addition to your list above is NK Jemisin, whom, if you haven't read yet will be right up your alley.

I don't think there's a book I would not recommend by her, but she has been getting better with each outing. She won the Hugo for The Fifth Season this year, which was one of the easier choices in years, IMO.
posted by bonehead at 9:31 PM on October 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

One more trilogy: book 1 is The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove.
posted by mogget at 9:36 PM on October 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Traitor Baru Cormorant?

Pros: main character is a common-born woman (Baru Cormorant, natch), the story is intimately entwined in real-seeming geography and economics (but is still fantasy), and the story is not like much else out there.

Cons: Author is a guy, protagonist wants an empire to fall, agents of empire treat non-cis people (like the protagonist) violently and mercilessly.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:41 PM on October 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Perhaps you might enjoy Guy Gavriel Kay's work? Most of his novels are historical fantasies, so there's really detailed world-building/descriptions of places with close historical analogues. I adore his works but sometimes find them a bit slow because of the world-building, but that pace sounds right up your alley. He does tend to have male protagonists, but there are always women who are central to the plot and who do interesting things.
posted by TwoStride at 9:59 PM on October 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Have you read any Jonathan Stroud? You might enjoy the Bartimaeus series (starring Bartimaeus, the otherworld's snarkiest djinn), and I think you'd definitely enjoy the Lockwood & Co. series (book 1 is The Screaming Staircase). (sorry for so many posts, I just keep thinking of books you might enjoy)
posted by mogget at 10:03 PM on October 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

I enjoyed Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, a great deal. The sequel, Shadow Scale, was also very good.
posted by sarcasticah at 10:32 PM on October 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

The Gentlemen Bastards, really.

Stop after the followup book and pretend everyone lived happily after. Even if someone got screwed.
posted by porpoise at 10:34 PM on October 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Charles DeLint hits many of your requirements - he has loads of short stories and novels, maybe start with Moonheart or Forest of the Heart or Tapping the Dream Tree.

Also if you haven't read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, please check it out -- it's fantastic.
posted by ananci at 10:35 PM on October 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

City of Stairs and City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett, which are secondary-world fantasy, with female characters, and yet the first one feels more like an Alan Furst novel set at the end of WWII, in a city under occupation by a people only recently freed from centuries of oppression. The lead characters are mostly female, and the world-building is vivid and creative. There isn't much like this out there right now.

You might like Pamela Dean, who I believe is releasing a lot of her work in ebook nowadays. They are very well-written, with plots that only slowly become clear to the reader, and generally reward rereading. Try The Dubious Hills if you really want your mind warped. Or Tam Lin, for a real slice--of-life at a midwestern college in the 1970s.

Mary Gentle's Ash: A Secret History is a four-volume novel with strong characterization, immersive world-building, and another plot that slowly reveals that the story is not what you thought it was. Like, at all. It is, on the surface, the story of a female 15th-century mercenary leader, but it turns into something else. Really fascinating, and another work that is worth rereading, despite the density.

If you like Barbara Hambly, I suspect you'd like Martha Wells. Try The Cloud Roads, which is certainly unique in its world-building, and in its social structures. And yet for all the creativity, there's a warm character-rich story there about an orphan finding a home. Good stuff.
posted by suelac at 10:57 PM on October 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Diane Duane's The Door Into... series?
posted by MsMolly at 12:56 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you would enjoy Sofia Samatar. I'm currently reading A Stranger in Olondria and loving it. Gorgeous writing and world-building that feels very fresh. She's got a new one out called The Winged Histories.

Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison is an underappreciated classic that meets a lot of your requirements, recently rereleased by Small Beer Press.
posted by Prunesquallor at 4:58 AM on October 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Seconding Sofia Samatar. A Stranger in Olondria was the best fantasy book I had read in literally years.
posted by snorkmaiden at 5:27 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hild is technically a historical novel, but it's a history where people believe in magic, and felt much more like fantasy than history to me (the historical details we have about the characters are almost nil). It has almost everything you describe.

Seconding trying NK Jemisin.

Another author you might try: Jo Walton. I'd start with The King's Peace. Tooth and Claw is amazing but might not be meandering enough for you. The ones with money titles aren't fantasy but are also good. I've heard great things about the more recent ones but haven't read them so can't confirm.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:58 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nalo Hopkinson's Sister Mine, character-driven urban fantasy

Ursula Vernon's fairy tails for adults, written under T. Kingfisher. She has a free serial on her web site now:

Nnedi Okofor's Binti novella

Agreeing with NK Jemison, Goblin Emperor, Jo Walton (Among Others is what I read)
posted by JawnBigboote at 6:09 AM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

You could try Steph Swainston's Castle Novels. I think there's now an omnibus edition of the first few.
posted by pipeski at 6:34 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lawrence Watt-Evans Ethshar books are set in the same world but independent. The first is The Misenchanted Sword.
posted by fings at 6:43 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you read anything by Tad Williams? The Memory, Sorrow & Thorn trilogy might be up your alley, and there will shortly be more books set in Osten Ard.
posted by amf at 6:43 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy Kage Baker's book The Anvil of the World. She's better known for her science fiction series (which I adore) but this is a funny, and charming book featuring caravans, strange passengers, demons, and fun worldbuilding.

Perhaps Martha Wells would work for you. You could see what you thought about Wheel of the Infinite which has great worldbuilding, a main character that I love (strong, a little crochety about things, tough as nails) who is also a woman of color. The setting is not traditional Europe with the serial numbers filed off either.
posted by PussKillian at 6:51 AM on October 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Since it's not been mentioned before, Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer has the most interesting worldbuilding I've seen this year.
posted by sukeban at 6:56 AM on October 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Two more: Sorceror to the Crown, by Zen Cho. Part fantasy, part Regency romance, all fun.

I'd read Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw over Among Others. Tooth and Claw is just delightful; a dragon comedy of manners.
posted by mogget at 7:09 AM on October 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Epic fantasy is basically my one true genre, and I agree that it's not always easy to find the best of the genre.

That said, I can't believe nobody has recommended Patrick Rothfuss yet. His writing is some of the best out there right now--he is both a good story teller AND an excellent writer who obviously loves language and words. Please, do yourself a favor and pick up The Name of the Wind.

I will second NK Jemisin (I just read Fifth Season and it's now in my top 5 fantasy novel list, easy), and add that her Inheritance Trilogy is also excellent. I will also second the Taltos series by Brust, a series I have loved for a very, very long time--Vlad is an excellent anti-hero, and the books are original and character driven. Start with Jhereg and go from there.

Oh, and the Goblin Emperor is so very worth a read if you enjoyed Monette's other work (which I did). I really liked her first series, but found it a touch baroque. In the Goblin Emperor, I felt like her writing was so perfectly spot on. This book also fulfills your desire to just follow characters without it being about saving the world, though possibly some world saving falls into place because of characters just being themselves.

Guy Gavriel Kay is also great, though possibly less character driven than you seem to prefer. However, to me there is a slight similarity between him and Diana Wynne Jones. I mean, he writes big fat epic stories and she doesn't so much, but the stepped back, epic tone is similar.

Oh, also! More ladies: Victoria Schwab's Darker Shade of Magic, and oh MAN I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

(Though, okay, I just looked and you say you don't like most male authors, so maybe not on some of these? Anyway.)
posted by hought20 at 7:46 AM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you read any Robin Hobb? I really enjoyed the Farseer trilogy, the Live Ship trilogy, and the first few of the Rain Wild books. I just petered out on the Rain Wild series - I didn't consciously stop with it. I was less happy with the Tawny Man books for Reasons.

Anyway, I think the first three series I mentioned meet most of your criteria, except female lead and there are some mythological creatures, but approached in a very original way.

Have you tried anything by Lynn Flewelling? I read the Tamir Triad, which starts with The Bone Doll's Twin. The series starts off quite dark and unsettling. I would avoid any detailed summaries of the first book.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:46 AM on October 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Ooh, how about Seanan McGuire? October Daye books sound right up your alley (the series starts with Rosemary and Rue), and maybe her InCryptid books as well.
posted by miratime at 7:51 AM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am not sure how you feel about urban fantasy, but if you (like me) were skeptical but curious and had happy memories of War for the Oaks and wanted it to be as good as that, I can heartily recommend the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. It's consistently good and fun and not as cliched as so much of the urban fantasy out there. No vampires, either.

Lots of blood, though.

[edited to add: JINX, buy me a coke!]
posted by hought20 at 7:52 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I feel like you must have read Robin McKinley already? But if not: Hero & the Crown stat. Also Sunshine for post-apocalyptic baking and vampires.
posted by scyllary at 9:26 AM on October 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

I second the suggestion of The Traitor Baru Cormorant. Beautiful writing, excellent world-building, and an engaging and interesting main character.

Some other possibilities:

Karen Lord's Redemption in Indigo is a beautiful story based on a Senegalese folk tale.

In addition to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke published a collection of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, which is well worth reading.

Ih you like Clarke's work, then you should definitely check out the novels of Mary Robinette Kowal (Shades of Milk and Honey, Glamour in Glass, et al.).
posted by JohnFromGR at 10:13 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes. It's a fantasy heist novel, where the crew includes a death priestess, a talking warhammer, and a unicorn. There are a pair of sequels—The Prophecy Con and The Paladin Caper. The middle book may be my favortite of the bunch, come to think of it.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:24 AM on October 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Keepers series by Lian Tanner
Cloud Atlas meanders and has great characters, but might not qualify as fantasy in your opinion
Seconding the Bartimaeus series!
posted by soelo at 12:24 PM on October 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Jim Butcher's "Furies of Calderon" series is fantastic. Great characters and world building.
posted by tacodave at 12:30 PM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

You should try Sharon Shin - she has many different series; but I really enjoyed the Truth Tellers Tales.
posted by krieghund at 1:13 PM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite book series is Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief, which starts as a YA heist fantasy romp set in pseudo-Renaissance Greece then unfolds in subsequent installments into a complex political drama. Complex characters who are even more endearing than they are infuriating (the overall lead is a man of color, but the main female characters are hugely important both narratively and politically), lots of worldbuilding (geographical, societal and mythological), and a plot that coalesces more than it moves from one specific event to another event. When standard fantasy tropes do show up, you can expect them to be played with--for example, Turner's version of the "chosen one" is less "destined savior" and more "your prayer to your patron goddess gets answered, but she just lectures you about how you've been a real jerk lately."

If this sounds like your thing, I suggest just jumping into the first book without seeking out reviews. Not only do the characters go through some very unexpected changes over the course of the series, unreliable narration is one of Turner's strengths, and part of the fun of the books is rereading them and stumbling on all the instances where she told you exactly what was going on in a way that made you think the exact opposite.
posted by bettafish at 1:21 PM on October 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Seconding The Goblin Emperor by Addison/Monette. Simply one of the best books I have ever read - everyone I know is getting a copy for Christmas this year. Incredible world building and use of language.

The Graceling Realm books by Kristen Cashore were lovely. Technically YA, but deep and with well developed characters.

Robin Mckinley's Chalice is an immersive read too.
posted by AliceBlue at 1:35 PM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Heartily seconding Mary Gentle's 4 volume "Book of Ash," though it's not for the squeamish. Also recommend her Soldiers and Scholars books, interconnected rather than serial. She's a fascinating author. Also, her duology beginning with "Ilarion." Well, just anything by her.
posted by MovableBookLady at 1:41 PM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have really enjoyed the Deryni series, and the Adept series by Katherine Kurtz. I feel as if the characters are my friends.
posted by Altomentis at 2:02 PM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


* The Steerswoman Series by Rosemary Kirstein - though it ventures into sci-fi territory, which may not be to your liking.
* Guy Gavriel Kay's psuedo-historical fantasies, such as The Sarantine Mosaic (Byzantine), Lions of Al-Rassan (Islamic Spain), A Song for Abornne (Late Medieval France), Under Heaven (Tang Dynasty China) and Last Light of the Sun (Early Medieval Celts/Saxons/Vikings). Avoid his Finovar Tapestry Series (cliche high fantasy), which doesn't seem to be your cup of tea.
* The Divine Cities by Robert Jackson Bennett. Has a bit of a 'chosen one' feel on par with Garth Nix's work - both main female characters are pretty singular in their experiences and station - but the deft world building alone would make them worth a read.

I haven't read N.K. Jemison's newer works, but her Inheritence Triology has a definite high fantasy, save the world, chosen-oney bent IMO. Same with Robin Hobb.

And I'd add Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence - which takes place in a fascinating setting where humanity has killed (most of!) its gods and has to decide how to move on. Three of the five books have main female narrators, and all are character driven pieces.
posted by givennamesurname at 2:31 PM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would avoid rothfuss, lynch (gentleman bastards) and weekes. They are nothing really at all like the books you've described as wanting.

Nthing Goblin Emperor, Zen Cho, Kay, Keirsten and Jemisen.

If you like language, I'm throwing it two examples that may or may not work for you.

Jack Vance's lyonesse fantasy trilogy. In some ways they are very typical, but as is often the case with Vance, he had the ability to make the old seem fresh again. His prose is singular and delightful, and there is a slightly digressive flow I think you might like.

John Crowley, in Little Big and his Aegypt books is likewise known for the prose. I find them a bit too wandering for my tastes, but they might suit you.

Finally, no one read these and I think it's a bloody shame, but Paul Park's Princess of Roumania quartet is a really stunning, otherworldly series with two female protagonist, gorgeous dream-like prose and a beautifully original setting and execution. They are YA in the sense that the protagonists are young people, but the story is so strange and compelling.

Best of luck in your search.
posted by smoke at 3:17 PM on October 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I came in to recommend Robin Hobb and see I am not alone. Start with Assassins Apprentice - the rest of the Farseer books and the Liveship books are all rooted in those first 3 I don't much like Naomi Novik's Temeraire series but I absolutely adored Uprooted, you might as well. And Katherine Kerr's 12 or so Deverry book cycle, I loved those.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:16 PM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

here are some authors who do not write fantasy in the strictly genre sense, but who will likely scratch that itch:

Helen Oyeyemi - all of her books have a slight touch of the fantastic about them; White is for Witching, which is a haunted house story, is both the most fantastical and probably my favourite.
Angela Carter - any and everything she has written. all of it.
Ludmilla Petrushvskaya - she writes short stories that read like bleak fairy tales, and she's had a few collections published in English.

and you said you haven't had much luck with male writers. if you're willing to overlook his gender, I find China Mieville to be an astoundingly good world builder.
posted by spindle at 6:28 PM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Thank you, thank you, lovely people of Meta Filter! What a treat to have personally tailored book recommendations from a bunch of well read people like you! My five dollar MF entrance fee just paid itself fifty times over! All your answers are very appreciated. I can't wait to start trying out your suggestions!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:38 PM on October 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Here to recommend Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series (5 books and counting). The first one was published as Midnight Riot in North America. They are police procedurals set in modern London, but with magic, and a wonderful sense of the "spirit of place". The writing is excellent.

3rd-ing City of Stairs by R.J. Bennet and the Ash series by Mary Gentle, both mentioned above.

I'm also a fan of [mefi's own] Charles Stross's Merchant Princes series (the first book is The Family Trade) in which the protagonist discovers she can step across into a parallel world. I perceive these to have a little bit of the same spirit as Barbara Hambly's Silent Tower and Time of the Dark series, of which I'm also a fan.

One more that may seem out of place here but I think isn't: The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod, in which the protagonist goes looking for her heritage in a tiny ex-Soviet republic and finds something not at all expected.
posted by heatherlogan at 12:48 AM on October 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Strong, unqualified agreement with The Goblin Emperor, Megan Whalen Turner's Thief series, Jo Walton.

I've only read N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance trilogy which is more chosen-one-y, as a previous commenter said, but otherwise fits very well with what you like. Enough people have mentioned it that I'd certainly give her a try.

Similar caveats go for The Traitor Baru Cormorant; a previous commenter's pros/cons summary is accurate.

Guy Gavriel Kay is one of my favorite authors ever and I know his body of works very well, so here's a recommendation: start with The Lions of Al-Rassan. DON'T start with Tigana or his Arthurian retelling trilogy. Lions is about a female physician just trying to live her life in the middle of the fantasy-Crusades, and it's the most character-driven of Kay's novels. One of his other novels will probably also be fine, but really, I think you'll love Lions and if you don't then you won't like the rest of his work. The high points that I predict he'll hit: worldbuilding, lush (some would say purple, but if you like Catherynne Valente you'll be fine) prose, lack of an epic quest plotline (except for the specific books I anti-recommended above).

You might like Ellen Kushner, who writes fantasy of manners--no magic and no epic plotlines, very character- and society-driven. Start with The Privilege of the Sword, which is not the first of the loosely connected series but the best entry-point for a strong female protagonist. Although Swordspoint is her most famous novel and my personal favorite, it's mostly about (gay) men. If you like Privilege of the Sword and want more Kushner women, she's also written some lovely short stories and is directing a cowritten serial story called Tremontaine on SerialBox (which is GREAT albeit unfinished).

Do you crossover into slipstream or science fantasy at all? If so, I recommend Yoon Ha Lee's Conservation of Shadows short story collection. (Not his recent debut novel, which is pure military space-opera SF.) Lee is a trans man who only recently came out to the publishing world, and IMO his writing still commits none of the flaws that many male writers do.

I'm trying to think of things similar to Catherynne Valente because she's obscure and not addressed yet. You might like Theodora Goss's In the Forests of Forgetting (a short story collection), although it skews more readable-story and less baroque-prose-poetry. I couldn't really get through Valente so there's my bias, but I do understand her appeal.

Looking at my bookshelf for inspiration... oh! The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. YA, great worldbuilding, strong if typical YA characterization, very meandering plot.

Books I haven't read but have opinions about:

You might like Uprooted by Naomi Novik. YA fantasy, Polish fairytale retelling, I've heard good things. I think it may be similar to Tanith Lee, which I remember fondly as one of my favorite childhood authors (as an adult I have some issues with most contemporary YA, which you probably don't share if you like adult and YA fantasy equally).

I haven't read Patrick Rothfuss in part because I dislike quest-driven epic fantasy about men. This assessment of The Name of the Wind and sequels hasn't been challenged by various Rothfuss proponents, although I'm happy to concede that his take is original and compelling. It's still, in the end, about a dude saving the world. So that's my anti-recommendation.
posted by serelliya at 10:43 AM on October 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

But if you're skipping Rothfuss altogether you're missing one of the best female protagonists in all of fantasy in his novella The Slow Regard of Silent Things.
posted by MsMolly at 10:58 AM on October 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Give Kate Elliott a try. I loved her Crossroads trilogy and she has just started another trilogy set in the same world, begins with Black Wolves.

Her Jaran books are also wonderful, although technically sci-fi rather than fantasy. Although I do like her description of the first one : "I flippantly call the first book Jane Austen meets Genghis Khan, in a society that is not a matriarchy but in which women have real authority, both public and private, within their specific spheres of influence"

Also here to second Mary Gentle's Ash. One of my favourite books of all time, and one I need to reread.
posted by Fence at 5:41 AM on October 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cherryh is super-hard. no, I mean, like, hard. but her work is so worth it, have you tried Ukraine History? it's a bit softer and more expository.

otherwise, Vance. Vance all day long. Demon Princes, Treasure-Adventure-Planet, Alastor, Lyonesse, Dying-Earth-Anything, the list keeps going as long as the VIE parked next to me.

I love these sort of threads for reminding me what's important - Wells, Duane, Kurtz, Hobb. Ms. Norton's Witchworld project. also, Wells.
posted by dorian at 5:00 AM on October 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Shameless plug*, but also genuine endorsement: Left-Hand Gods by Jamie Lackey.

I am also very choosy about my fantasy intake because so much of it does seem to boil down to "quirky flawed heroine swoons over hunky-hunk and saves the kingdom from certain doom with magic and/or love" or some such. And they're all like 800+ pages, and I am in grad school now, and ain't nobody got time to machete through self-indulgent high fantasy bloat.

But I really liked this novel because while it does indeed fall heavy on those fantasy tropes that you mentioned weren't normally your cup of tea, it does so in a way that celebrates them as sources of inspiration while also taking a more deliberate and contemplative approach to them.

Like, I'm not gonna lie: you could probably use this book to play fantasy trope bingo (evil sorcerer! haughty high priestess! warrior queen! chosen one! capricious and flawed gods! sheltered heroine who doesn't know how pretty she actually is! actual dragons! hunky love interest! magic horse, I shit you not! etc.)

AND YET there is not a single character that feels like they came out of a can. Even the minor characters have realistic motivations and pathos. So I think if quality character development and depth is your thing, you might really enjoy this book. Also, it's under 300 pages, so the plot never has time to drag. Bonus!

*She is a friend of mine IRL. But I would like this book anyway.
posted by helloimjennsco at 12:45 PM on October 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hello Lovely Readers of MetaFilter! Just wanted to tell you that I am revisiting this thread regularly and working my way through your suggestions with delight. Loved, The Fith Season btw. Also found a whole new favorite author from these suggestions, T Kingfisher. Love nearly everything she's written. Went on a sort of T Kingfisher binge actually. Anyway, thanks again everyone, for taking the time to make these suggestions! I am randomly selecting and reading through the list.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:54 PM on June 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

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