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The Need to Read

I've been on a non-fiction tear for at least six months now and I need some escapism. Good fiction is in order and I'm taking reading suggestions. I'm looking for something in the fantasy realm, but not sci-fi fantasy. As an example, I've read the His Dark Materials trilogy twice and I'd love to come across another story as compelling, well written and far away from reality as that. No romance, no murder mysteries, no alien invasions. I want something with magic, something fantastic, something that, for a few hours each evening, will take me away from Earth, 2004. Think a much darker Harry Potter. Sure, maybe I'm being to specific and/or picky. In that case, feel free to recommend anything else. I'd even go for some good (non-cheesy) horror. But I'd prefer something that a) will take me more than two days to read and b) stirs the imagination. I've got a Borders gift card that I want to use this afternoon. Thanks in advance. Update: I should have mentioned that I've read everything Neil Gaiman already. Update again: I read the Dark Company books and Snow Crash as well as a slew of the Discworld books. We're not going to Borders until tomorrow, so there's still time to give a suggestion. I'm leaning towards Roofworld at the moment, but I have enough to get more than one book.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Need to Read:

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Barrie's Peter Pan is much better than I thought it would be.
"At the Back of the North Wind" is a very odd book about a boy who makes friends with lady death. It's usually called a children's book but it really defies categories. It's author is George MacDonald. It was written over a hundred years ago and the Victorian sentimentality can be a little saccharine.
A book of John Cheever's short stories is always fun and could be described as dark (modern) fantasy.

I really liked William Gibson's last offering, Pattern Recognition. It's not really what you're looking for, but you might want to take a look.

If you haven't gotten to them yet, try these three old books:

Ada, by Vladimir Nabokov

The Short Stories of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu (Dover Press)

The Tale of Genji, (the Arthur Waley translation in Modern Library)

Have you read the Mary Stewart Merlin/Arthur books? The first is The Crystal Cave, followed by The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment and The Wicked Day. Excellent series.

Another favorite is The House On The Strand by Daphne DuMaurier, author of the great novel Rebecca.

Happy reading!

Hmm. Tricky. His Dark Materials is something special.

Garth Nix's Sabriel / Lirael / Abhorsen is a good, original fantasy series, somewhat dark, and I found at least the first two volumes compelling.

C. J. Cherry's The Chronicles of Morgaine might work. It's technically science fiction rather than fantasy, but feels more like fantasy. Other Cherry books like the Fortress series (starting with Fortress in the Eye of Time) might also suit.

Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books are comic and dark by turns, and very original and well-written. The earlier volumes are made up of short stories, though, so this might not be what you are after.

Try The Seer King by Chris Bunch (it's part one of a trillogy) - http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0446605247/qid=1091282441/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/002-9644978-2275219?v=glance&s=books

C S Lewis, "That Hideous Strength"...even Merlin himself makes an appearance.

If you want dark and involving, you might like George R. R. Martin's "Song Of Ice And Fire" series. It's not completed, but so far it's really grim.

If you want some magic involved. Katherine Kurtz' Deryni series are also compelling. The earlier two trilogies (Camber of Culdi and Heirs of Saint Camber) are especially grim. The later books (Deryni Chronicles and Chronicles of King Kelson, along with "King Kelson's Bride") are a bit happier.

Since you're skipping the "Alien Invasion" theme, I'll avoid mentioning David Gerrold's "War with the Chtorr" and the aforementioned George R. R. Martin's "Wild Cards" series.


(Confessed biblioholic)

Oh, I just thought of another one. "Little, Big" by John Crowley. More than a day or two to read, but a fantastic book. It's set in modern times, and is about a family of changelings. The narrative shifts into new configurations as you read it, sort of like a constantly turning kaleidascope. The real world seems to be more magical while your reading it. A real treasure.

The Amulet of Samarkand. By Jonathan Stroud. It's much, much better than His Dark Materials. Much better.

Dan Simmons - Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, The Rise of Endymion (four books, in case it's not obvious, sci-fi with a bit of the mystical thrown in)

Anything by Charles De Lint, but start, if you can with Moonheart and Spiritwalk. "Urban fantasy" they call it, I call it genius. Memory and Dream after that...then the rest of the catalog.

Everything by Chris Moore.

Definitely second the John Crowley recommendation! "Little, Big" is just the first of a series of books that intertwine. They flip from the contemporary to the 1600s, focusing on John Dee, "the Queen's alchemist". Very dark in places, absolutely rhapsodic in others.

Don't argue... go get it!

I know how you feel, Michele. Weather gets warm, news starts to irrate one rather than inform, time to pull out some fiction and lose oneself in another world for awhile.

Last weekend I decided to catchup on the Harry Potter series (I had only read the 1st one) and I read the next four books. #4 and #5 are both much darker then the earlier ones. Still humorous, but with some events that are moving these books out of the juvenile genre. Worth a read if you haven't yet. I look forward to #6 & 7 (#6's title has just been announced "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"

Right now I'm halfway through (because I'm sharing it with my daugther, I've been sneaking it away from her when she's at work and gulping chapters here and there) The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of The West by Gregory Macguire. It certainly is a very different take on the land of Oz!

I recommend Neverwhere , by Neil Gaiman, about a regular guy who gets pulled into an alternate London that exists in the subways and tunnels below modern day London.

His short book Coraline is a great young fiction book that's a lot darker than Harry Potter.


Gaiman's Stardust is also a good bit of escapism, and while not precisely "dark" ceratinly doesn't skimp on the nastier side of Faerie.

Mark, you're preaching to the choir there. I'm a Neil Gaiman junkie.

Neverwhere is exactly what I'm going for, though. Something along those lines.

Neil Gaiman is great. Neverwhere, Coraline, and also Stardust.

Little, Big isn't for everyone; it's very slow to get started. Great if you're in the particular mood for it, but otherwise irritating.

Hyperion is very good - a dark science-fictional take on the Canterbury Tales - but the series goes rapidly downhill after the first volume.

A Song of Ice and Fire is blighted by unremitting nastiness and a complete lack of sympathetic characters. Very well-written but thoroughly unpleasant.

I'll also mention Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates and The Stress of Her Regard, which are fascinating - and very odd - works.

I am a big fan of R.A. Salvatore. One of my favorites is the Icewind Dale trilogy.

It's hard not to see the Tolkien influences in the characters and the story, but Salvatore is able to make the characters his own and introduces one of the more memorable villians in the genre.

Okay, now that we've established Pullman and Gaiman as two data points, definitely give The Anubis Gates a try.

I know it doesn't meet your criteria, but I recommend these to everyone:

"The Honor Harrington" series by David Weber. Just from reading your writings, I know you'd love these.

Oh, duh.

Lois McMaster Bujold's The Curse of Chalion and The Paladin of Souls. Beautifully written, wonderful characters, and the most sensible theology I've seen in or out of fiction.

Hyperion is very good - a dark science-fictional take on the Canterbury Tales - but the series goes rapidly downhill after the first volume.

Reminds me of Frank Herbert's Dune series. Love the first book, the rest of them are forgettable.

Kage Baker is an incredible writer. I've loved all of her "Company" novels and stories, but they're hard to find. Her newest series seems to be more fantasy. And have you read Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and The Diamond Age?

Seems like everybody is either embarrassed by The Wheel of Time, hasn't read it, or figures you've read it. If you haven't, it's a worthwhile read, almost as good as its hype. And it kills a LOT of time.

Something like "Neverwhere"? Maybe you should look into Laurell K. Hamilton, I'm not too impressed with her Anita Blake books, but the Meredith Gentry books are good.

David Eddings - The Belgariad

Darleen - I agree with your recommendation of The Life And Times Of The Wicked Witch Of The West - what a great book!

Definitely wholeheartedly enthusiastically excitedly and WARMLY second the George R. R. Martin, "Song of Ice and Fire" recommendation. Wowzers! But you won't thank us -- you'll go mad waiting for the next book to come out.
And the Belgariad, of course, but I thought everybody knew that.

Kage Baker is good, definitely worth trying at least the first Company novel (In the Garden of Iden).

Laurell K. Hamilton? Anita Blake starts well - a sort of grown-up Buffy - then descends into supernatural S&M porn. Meredith Gentry starts out as supernatural S&M porn.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I second KC on Snow Crash and Diamond Age for Sci-Fi classics. If you're looking for fresh new fantasy authors that everyone doesn't already know to recommend (but will in a few years) I suggest Elizabeth Haydon's Rhapsody trilogy and Kristen Britain's Green Rider.

I second and third Crowley and Tim Powers and agree that Crowley requires the proper state of mind to really get into. Also along the same lines of esoteric fantasy is James Blaylock. He writes some remarkable stuff.

Emma Bull had a few very good novels, The War for the Oaks is one I remember. If you like Neil Gaiman, try Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood.

I know the rules say no SF, but The Stars My Destination owes more to Alexandre Dumas than Issac Asimov. Its great fun and won't last more than two days once you start.


This comments section is really great. Maybe there should be a compiled "ASV's Readers List" culled from it.

I know I've been scribbling notes and am looking forward to running out to a bookstore later.


I finally got around to reading Mythago Wood recently, and agree with you there. Also the first couple of sequels - Lavondyss and, um, the other one.

Jack Vance! The Dying Earth series or the Lyonesse series are good places to start. But just about anything he's written.

Gene Wolfe! The Book of the New Sun is the place to start; you can find the first two books published as a compilation called "Shadow & Claw", followed by "Sword & Citadel". Amazing work. Sort-of-followed by the Book of the Long Sun, which is nearly as amazing.

Maybe Steven Brust. Quite different to Pullman or Gaiman; for the most part it's fairly straightforward (but very good) fantasy adventure. (Not epic-quest stuff like Eddings or Jordan, but not out-there like Powers either.)

And if you like Dumas, Brust has re-written the Three Musketeers books into his universe. If you don't like Dumas, there are still a dozen or so normal books set in the same world.

I've got Ilium sitting here, but we've been ignoring each other so far.


Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana is another great one. Avoid his first work, the Fionavar Tapestry, though; it's a mess.

A little afield of what you're asking for, but check out anything by Jeff Noon, especially "Vurt" and "Pollen". They're science-fictiony, but in a very unusual way.

Glen Cook's Black Company novels are a good series. My fantasy-loving friends and my friend who served in Gulf War A (and his buddies who were dying for anything to read) were big fans. It's got wizards and politics and battle and creepy bad guys. And you can view it as a parable of colonialism and mercenaries or as escapist fantasy with evil undertones. It's good reading either way.

Chabon's Kavalier and Klay is something you likely have. Then there's the City of Golden Light series by Tad Williams (loads of atmosphere, evil conspiracies, futuristic, loads of pages).

Or you could read the escapism from reality that Michael Moore provides. (I'd provide a suitable emoticon, but I am against them in principle).

C.S. Friedman's "Coldfire Trilogy". The first one is called "Black Sun Rising".

I would also recommend George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series - it's brutal, intricate, and often unpredictable. He's not afraid to kill off major characters, and the layers of politics and personalities are engrossing.

If you haven't read David Eddings' The Belgariad, I would place it high on your list. Quite exceptional, one of those series that you cannot put down once you've started.

Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series started off strong, but the last few books have gone nowhere. I still love it, but I look forward to each new volume with less and less excitement.

Lastly, I loved Joel Rosenberg's Guardians of the Flame series. It's a series based on the premise of seven college age D&D gamers sucked into the actual world/characters they are playing. Sounds a bit geigh, but I swear it kicks ass. It's fun and dark, and the characters are quite complex. One of the few series of books I read as a teenager in the '80s that generated real anger at what some characters were doing to other characters. Highly recommended.

Tropic of Night
Altered Carbon
The Various

Oh, second for Eddings "Belgariad". And for something funny, sort of a social comedy, but very literate, with a teensy bit of future-tech, and time travel: Connie Willis' "To Say Nothing of the Dog". It's priceless.

I second the earlier suggestion of Steven Brust; his stuff is excellent. One series that strongly reminded me of His Dark Materials is J. Gregory Keyes Age of Unreason- you might want to check those out.

"Roofworld" or "Rune" by Christpher Fowler.
Very Neverwhere.

If you can find it "Portals" by Edward Andrew Mann.

Actually, tell you what. You get Roofworld and if you don't like it I'll reimburse what you paid for it.
No 1st edns mind you, simple paperback is the deal.

I know that the request called for non sci fi fantasy, but I still have to recommend the Night's Dawn trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton.

***light spoilers ahead***

The broad story concerns a rip in the space-time continuum that allows the souls of the dead to possess the living, and how humanity deals with this around the year 2600. It's a combo sci fi-fantasy-horror epic. And it's quite English too, if you like that sort oif thing. One thing it will definitely do is take you away from Earth 2004 for a few hours each evening.

It's a trilogy in hardcover starting with The Reality Dysfunction, but a sextet in paperback, starting with The Reality Dysfunction Part I: Emergence.

Stephen R. Donaldson - The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

Bitten by Kelly Armstrong is very very good.

It takes a serious stab at portraying what the life of a modern were-wolf would be like as well as having a very strong female protaganist.

A couple of suggestions that combine the best of both worlds:

"Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist"


"Bugs Bunny: Fifty Years and Only One Grey Hare"

As much as I enjoyed "To Say Nothing of the Dog", "Bellwether" is my favorite Connie Willis book, and I'd recommend everything she's written.

The best trilogy written in the genre, surpassing even Tolkein, is Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy; Assassin's Apprentice; Royal Assassin; Assassin's Quest.

Infinitely better than Feist, Eddings or the other mundane contemporary author's mentioned above.

If you're still on the fantasy kick, I would recommend Eragon by Christopher Paolini.

I would ditto the Gene Wolfe recommendation but start with Shadow and Claw.

I was going to steer clear of recommending Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books, because they aren't particularly dark (except in parts). But another has recommended them, so I heartily second that.

I also second the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant books. There are two trilogies, both brooding and pessimistic and propelled by their hero's reluctance to accept the fantastic land he finds hinself in.

Surprised nobody has recommended the Elric of Melniboine books of Michael Moorcock. I strongly recommend them.

Ghormenghast, by Mervyn Peake. Particlarly the first two novels - by the third I think he was fully insane, and it's mostly a confusing blend of the fantasy of the first two with the reality of our own world. Now I'm sure there will be furious denunciations of my ignorance by Peake fanatics, claiming the third book is the most elegantly sardonic and allegorical yada yada yada...

And your request for something dark disqualifies the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett. A pity, because they are the funniest and most irreverent fantasy ever written. Why don't you try the first one, The Colour of Magic (they're British, hence the spelling)? You may enjoy the inept and cowardly wizard Rincewind's attempts to evade responsibility and other, more gruesome fates.

Finally, while I strenuously avoid fiction based on films, TV, and games, here's an exception: the Gotrek and Felix novels by William King. They are set in the Warhammer universe, but a familiarity with the game system is not relevant. The first book is Trollslayer. Think of a brooding homicidal psychotic Gimli and you've got one of the major characters.

And finally, you can't go wrong with Conan - the original. Find some of Robert Howard's books, ignore the many more numerous pastiches and homages and ripoffs.

Not exactly the right genre, but I really enjoyed The Time Travelers Wife.

Emma Bull's War for the Oaks, BoneDance, and Finder.

There are a lot of great books meantioned above, too.

Glen Cook's Dark Company series (mentioned earlier).
Most anything by Roger Zelazny.
For something a little different try Donald Harington's “Some Other Place, the Right Place.”
Speaking of Glen Cook, if you get in the mood for some straight science fiction I consider his “The Dragon Sleeps” my favorite of all time (45+ years of reading SF & fantasy).
Several people mentioned Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant fantasy series, but, as with Cook, his Gap Series is great SF (with a really dark edge to it).
Happ reading!

In my post above I recommended Glen Cook's “The Dragon Never Sleeps." I should probably point out that you won't find it in book stores, unless you go to a used book store. It was only issued in paperback and only had one printing. Used copies regularly sell on e-Bay in the $15.00 range.

I'm an avid reader of just about every genre except sci-fi (hate it!)and while I've never been a big fantasy fan, I have read some fantasy books that I've really enjoyed. The most interesting one (better than anything I've read by Gaiman)is Waking The Moon by Elizabeth Hand. It's absolutely fantastic. Her other books (titles escape me at the moment) are good also, but Waking the Moon is something special.

Can't believe no one's yet mentioned Stephen King's THE DARK TOWER series. Very long, exceedingly dark in places, and tackling a subject no less heady than the destruction or salvation of every possible universe in existence. There's some quibbling over the direction the more recent books have taken, but I personally love 'em.

In the semi-fantasy realm, I'd recommend the Repairman Jack series by F. Paul Wilson. Start with The Tomb. If you're not hooked, I'll refund your money.

It's Glen Cook's Black Company, not Dark Company. Though Dark Company's probably something different, seeing as how it's a good name, too.

Greg Bear - Darwin's Radio and Darwin's Children. It's near future techno-fantasy in which humans undergo and major upgrade - and how society would deal with kids who are very different from our ideas of normal today. Very thought provoking books. My reviews are at http://www.odonnellweb.com/mtarchives/000324.html#000324 and http://www.odonnellweb.com/mtarchives/000589.html

Also, anything by James Blaylock. Fantasy set in today's world. My reviews at http://www.odonnellweb.com/mtarchives/000239.html and http://www.odonnellweb.com/mtarchives/000323.html

Save the extra, you'll need that for "Rune" or "Darkest days" early next week.
I promise you will be a Fowler fan real soon.

Big ditto on Gene Wolfe. Personally, I prefer his "Book of the New Sun" series -- start with "The Shadow of the Torturer".

Then there's Elizabeth Moon. If you've ever enjoyed playing D&D then read "The Deed of Paksenarrion", starting with "Sheepfarmer's Daughter".

It's been 20 years but the Anne McCafree Dragon Riders of Pern series is pretty good.

That or the Chronicles of Narnia, which I have read several times and will probably have to go find and read again since they are making a movie now.

Sheesh, since Lord of the Rings, EVERYTHING fantasy is getting a look from Hollywood (or wherever movies are made). Elric, Eragon, His Dark Materials, and even a Xanth novel are getting made (or at least the rights are getting grabbed). Whether this is a good thing or a return to the (cough cough) glory days of Hawk the Slayer is to be determined later. I'm not optimistic.

I ditched Roofworld around page 3 when it contravened the laws of thermodynamics.

Maybe it got good after that, I dunno.

Just commenting on some other recommendations:

Elizabeth Moon's Sheepfarmer's Daughter (first volume of the Deed of Paksenarrion) is very good indeed. Second volume is completely pointless, and reads like a transcript of a poorly-run Dungeons and Dragons session. Third volume is just plain unpleasant.

The earlier Anne McCaffrey Pern books are quite good, also some of her other work such as Restoree and Get Off the Unicorn. More recent work not so good.

Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio has a major problem - if you know anything at all about biology you'll hurl the book at the wall, and then pick it up just so you can throw it at the wall again. His Infinity Concerto and The Serpent Mage are much better and might suit you.

Glen Cook is great. The Black Company yes, but also the Garrett, P.I. series (which is lighter, a sort of fantasy Nero Wolfe).

Connie Willis is wonderful, and To Say Nothing of the Dog is a fine place to start. It is science fiction rather than fantasy, but it's not the exploding-spaceships kind. Bellwether and Passage are also excellent. Doomsday Book is utterly compelling but deeply distressing.

Elric I quite liked when I read them years ago. Also Moorcock's Hawkmoon, Corum and Von Bek stories.

I quite like Joel Rosenburg, but the beginning of Guardians of the Flame is kind of off-putting. (Another D&D players transported into another world book? Pfui!) It gets much better as it goes along. Fortunately, I started with the later books.

Robin Hobb is good, but to say she surpasses Tolkien is, well... Tell me again in fifty years.

David Eddings is good for one series. All his series have the same plot and the same characters, just with different names, so if you've read one...

Robert Jordan's Waste of Time series is... Don't bother starting if you are expecting the story to ever come to some sort of conclusion.

I liked the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, but again, I read them many years ago, and I haven't re-read them. The Gap series I just found ugly. Apparently there's a new Covenant book coming out.; not sure that this is a good thing. But if you can find Donaldson's two short-story collections - Daughter of Regals and Reave the Just, grab them.

I read the first volume of King's Dark Tower series and was uninspired to read more. And I like King and I already bought the next three volumes.

Lots and lots of great stuff listed here.

Seconds for Eddings, Jordan, and Feist. But there's a name that I haven't seen listed here. Granted he can be more Sci-fi than fan-fi but...

Orson Scott Card and the 7th Son series might something interesting for you. Much more Fan-fi than most other stuff I've read of his.

and Horror? mind crawling horror that makes you reconsider the world around you? HP Lovecraft ;)

I was going to recommend Vance but Pixy Misa preceded me. I also agree with Steve Skubinna about the third book of the Gormenghast trilogy -- Peake had some sort of degenerative brain disease which I believe had taken hold of him by the time he was writing that (I have to read the introduction to the edition I bought again); anyway, it was clear his grasp on reality was a bit... looser.

One quibble I have with most fantasy written over the past twenty years is the way the language is often the same crass, prosaic English that is used in every other bestseller genre. Thanks, but I just don't get that feeling of fantasy when the warriors and elves and wizards and so on all sound like all you have to do is take out the costumes, magic, and funny made-up names and you could be reading the latest spy thriller or murder mystery.

I havn't read the previous comments yet, so I hope these aren't repeats....

Pretty much anything by Orson Scott Card is going to be good. Enchantment is a great fantasy-ish single novel and the Alvin Maker series (not finished) is also great. Browse his books and see what you think.

Another author to check out is Jonathan Carroll. His books are usually darker, sometimes strange, very well written. Off the top of my head, The Wooden Sea, The Marriage of Sticks, Outside the Dog Museum... well, hell, I've read them all and they're all great. Borders will probably have a couple. Pick one out and try it!

First, some comments on previous recommendations:

  • Someone mentioned Greg Bear's The Infinity Concerto and The Serpent Mage; these have recently been republished in one volume as Songs of Earth and Power. It/They are excellent.
  • Someone recommended Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates (which is a part historical, part modern fantasy with time travel); other good starting points with him are: The Drawing of the Dark, On Stranger Tides (which is a really strange mixture of pirate tale and voodoo, but not having seen Disney's recent "Pirates of the Carribean," I don't know how much similarity there is; I suspect not much), Last Call (a supernatural thriller set in Vegas), and Expiration Date, about a struggle for control of the ghost of Thomas Edison amidst the underside of modern Los Angeles. (There's a common sequel to the last two, called Earthquake Weather, but there isn't that much of a consensus about it). I have yet to read his rewrite of the Kim Philby affair, titled Declare.

On top of all that, I'd like to recommend: Patricia McKillip, The Riddlemaster Books : The Riddlemaster of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, and Harpist in the Wind; they're collected in one volume called Riddle-Master: The Complete Trilogy.

Also, although I'd be suprised if you hadn't read them yet: the first Amber series by Roger Zelazny. Start with Nine Princes in Amber. Opinions are mixed about the second series.

If you're willing to put up with sort of crossover sf/fantasy, I'd recommend Rosemary Kirstein's The Steerswoman, and John Ringo's There Will Be Dragons, both of which involve apparent fantasy millieus that result from the downfall of high-technology civilizations, althought they both take place at different points in the timeline of the process: TWBD deals with the collapse, while TS seems to deal with climbing back up towards technological civilization. Disclaimer: I "know" John Ringo from online conversation. Warning: I don't think either series is finished yet.

If you're interested in straight science fiction, I'd recommend Vernor Vinge; A Fire Upon The Deep is an interesting book about civilizations with godlike powers, how they have to deal with entities that have crossed over the line, and what happens when a particularly strange and evil one tries to take over the universe. Imagine the Borg, but done right. Disclaimer: I know via the net, and have met in real life, at least one person, and maybe more, caricatured in the book. There's a prequel that's a decent standalone, about the (pre)history of one of the characters: A Deepness in the Sky. In many ways it can be read as a tribute to Poul Anderson; I once described it as "A group of Poul Anderson protagonists struggle against a group of S. M. Stirling villians, while stranded hundreds of years' travel from civilization, and orbiting a planet full of C. J. Cherryh aliens, as translated by Bilbo Baggins, esquire." Not recommended if you're particularly phobic about spiders, as is (blank), who is eventually (blanked). (I don't want to spoil anything... but believe me, (blank) deserved it.)

Since you live near New York City, I thought I'd also recommend Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, which is a semi-historical fantasy about a thief, a horse, a newspaper, and the quest to build a bridge from Battery Park to some point southward (no, they weren't thinking, and yes, there's a reason behind it. I don't want to spoil it, either). Another good one of his is A Soldier of the Great War, which is about WW1 in Italy.

Hmm... Dark fantasy/semi-fantasy?... I don't know if they count, but I'm finding myself thinking of C. J. Cherryh's Rider at the Gate and Cloud's Rider, which can be described as nightmares loosely patterned after other author's telepathic horse fantasies.

If you're interested in something funny, I'd recommend Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds, about a large, complicated quest by a wizard/scholar/con-man and his loyal assistant to cure a medieval Chinese village's children of a mysterious sickness. Also has an allegedly good recipie for porcupine, but I've never tried it; when you read it, you'll understand.

AND I ALMOST FORGOT: Zelazny's A Night In The Lonesome October: it's an interesting pastiche of a lot of Victorian London's historical and fictional characters with a struggle for and against the Elder Gods of Lovecraft's mythos.

(And it just occured to me to ask: you have read Lovecraft, haven't you? If not, I recommend starting with The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. They just plain don't make books this strange any more).

Hopefully all that ought to be enough to get you to sleep tonight.

(Should I mention Terry Pratchett? I guess I just did. He's funny, and he's done some stuff with Neil Gaiman.)

Good night...

Ooh! Oooooh!!

Stephen King's "The Stand".

You must read it. It will change the way you see the world forever.

Trust me on this one.

Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodking.

Amazing 1st book in an amazing series. I was riveted.

I was going to suggest a couple of Discworld but you've already read those, and I assume that you've also seen "Good Omens", Gaiman and Pratchett together. I haven't read much modern sci-fi or fantasy so can't really help there. So a couple of recommendations of things that don't fit your criteria but are worth reading. " A Small Death in Lisbon" is a great novel (I originally got it because it is set where I live and has as background my industry, but well worth reading anyway) and many of the novels of Robert Goddard ("Sea Change" for example).
If you want something truly dark, and haven't read it yet, Gulag Archipelago. History but as dark as dark can be.Read the full version, not the abridgement (yes, all 3,000 pages, it is by a Nobel Laureate for Literature after all)).

For something completely and totally different, funny, uplifting, makes the world seem a better place when you read it, often laugh out loud funny, a series of three books of short stories by George MacDonald Fraser. Yes, he of Flashman. Called, in order, "The General Danced at Dawn", "McAuslan in the Rough" and "The Sheikh and the Dustbin". Based, loosely (the last story in the last book tells quite how closely), on his service in a Highland Regiment in 1945-7 they are simply the most glorious stories. Sufficient to make wannabe writers like myself weep with envy.

There is, of course, also Sgt Mom's new one, "Our Grandpa was an Alien" over at www.sgtstryker.com :-)

So, sorry, I know that I've not obeyed the guidelines. Just a few (especially Gulag and McD Fraser) books that I think are seriously worth reading. If not this time round, maybe sometime in the future?
(BTW, Gulag is better bought for 25 cents a volume from a thrift store. Vol I is easy to find, 2 and 3 less so.)

Boy, a lot of good recommendations. Dittos for anything by Orson Scott Card (including his latest project - an Xbox/PC game called Advent Rising, to be out early next year), King's Dark Tower series, (and forbidden dittos for the Chtorr series - alien invasion, and Vinge's Fire Upon the Deep).

I'm a little surprised that no one here has mentioned Shanarra. I'd personally recommend "Elfstones of Shanarra" by Terry Brooks. Although it's the second in a series, you don't have to read the first one to enjoy it.

A while ago, I was getting disenchanted by the lack of really good fantasy writing. I'd read the Belgariad (dittos for that, too), and a lot of other fantasy books, and I wasn't able to find anything that was sink your teeth into it good until I happened upon a book by David Drake called "Lord of the Isles". That gets my highest recommendation. Although David Drake normally writes military sci-fi (Hammer's Slammers, Northworld, etc.), this is an epic fantasy that doesn't fail to impress. It's a little thick, but good, talking about how power is worthless unless there's wisdom, reason, and forethought involved. (Actually worse than worthless, as the world is just recovering from a thousand-year dark age brought on by too-powerful wizards). Good, good, good reading. And plenty of sequels follow.

In fact, if you'd like to sample Lord of the Isles, I have it in electronic format, with the publisher's (Baen) permission to copy and share it. (8.65 megs uncompressed, including word, MS Reader, html and rtf formats).

Dark fantasy? 'Rouse a Sleeping Cat' amd 'Sure Death of a Mouse'. It's... different.

"...be advised that my master is a necromancer and I am under no obligation to bring you in alive."

Miss Michelle-
If you've never read them, try and find Piers Antthony's 'Incarnations' series - about an alternate Earth where Death, Fate, Time, War, Nature and etc. are real people. The first two - 'On A Pale Horse' and 'Wielding A Red Sword' are for my money the best fantasy I've ever read. The rest tend to get a bit slower, but they're just as well done.

The first two of the Incarnations books are good, I agree, but Piers Anthony is the canonical "but the series goes downhill rapidly from there" author.

As for Wizard's First Rule, it is without a doubt the worst book I have ever read. There are, I'm sure, worse books I haven't read, but Wizard's First Rule is strangely compelling in its awfulness. I'm told the series, yes, goes downhill rapidly from there, but I'm not foolish enough to have read further.

Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds on the other hand is beautiful and lyrical and incredibly funny. Apparently Hughart got screwed over by his publisher and stopped writing after his third book, which has to be one of the great tragedies of our age.

The first 5 books of Zelazny's Amber series are well worth reading. The rest... Not so much.

And if you're willing to try a bit of SF, then A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky are two of the recent classics.

I also suggest yout ake a look at George R.R. Martins A Song of Ice and Fire. Best fantasy series I have ever read. Great story, intricate plot, interesting (and some likeable) characters. fantastic setting. Everything I wanted in a fantasy novel.

Harry Turtledove's "Between the Rivers" is a fantasy based in pre-literate Mesopotamia, with Gods and Ghosts & such. Also his Videssos cycle, which is military fantasy and somewhat dark. Turledove tends to run ideas into the ground, but the first two books in his series are usually pretty good.

"Lord Demon," by Roger Zelazny, is everything you want. Also his "Isle of the Dead." I consider "Lord of Light" to be my favorite novel of all time, but I had to read it three times to start getting a handle on it. Fantasy or SF? You decide.

Heinlein's "Glory Road." L. Sprague DeCamp's "Incompleat Enchanter" is pretty dark in places, but overall funnier than the Discworld stuff (or maybe I was just younger when I read it). What he said about the "Conan" stories. Howard was a very dark personality, and his writing sizzles; it appears easy to write sword and sorcery, but as every budding writer discovers, it's much harder than it looks. The published failures have turned this genre into a cliche, but Howard is the real thing. His non heroic fantasy is also often amazing. Accept no substitutes.

I'm saving this column. Why should Michelle get all the goodies?


Don't read "That Hideous Strength" without reading the first two books in the series first, "Out of the Silent Planet" and "Perelandra."

Having said that, I highly recommend books by Sean Stewart. He writes about a world in which magic still sort of seeps in at the corners. You'll enjoy it. I particularly enjoyed "Resurrection Man."

Yeah, I'm saving this thread too. There's a lot of things I haven't read, it seems. You might want to visit a used book store for a lot of these, though -- they aren't all currently in print.

Surprisingly, I haven't seen a mention of Melanie Rawn (if I've missed it, my apologies): her Dragon Prince and Dragon Star series are good (the first being the best of the two, though the second isn't bad); her depressingly incomplete Exiles series is definitely worth the read, even if the sociology is sufficiently topsy-turvy to require a second read-through.

For some fast paced hack-and-slash that's mostly well-written, try any of Simon Green's fantasies (but try to get them in sequence, otherwise you'll be trying to play catch up).

One series that's out of print but worth tracking down in Tom Dietz's series (no particular name that I can find) beginning with Windmaster's Bane: his A Tale Of Eron series is also quite good, as is his trilogy starting with Soulsmith (it's supposedly derivative from the Mabinogion).

I'd also recommend any of Poul Anderson's fantasies, particularly his historically based Scandinavian books, War Of The Gods and The Last Viking trilogy being especially good. The King Of Ys, written with his wife Karen, is not to be missed.

Simon Hawke's Time Wars and Wizard series is entertaining, as are his Shakespeare and Smythe mysteries.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's The Fey is one of the bloodier series I've read, but well-written; the two book Black Throne completes the tale.

Elizabeth Willey's books, The Well-Favored Man, A Sorcerer And A Gentleman, and The Price Of Blood And Honor are quite good.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s Saga of Recluce series is slow paced but worth the time.

One more plug for Roger Zelazny: if you read none of his other books, at least try Doorways In The Sand (I know, it's supposed to be science fiction not fantasy, but it's a d----d good read).

Now that I've plugged most of the books on that bookshelf, I think I'll give it a rest.

Second the David Eddings, Belgariad and Mallorean series. Roger Zelazny's Amber series. Also, Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone series for the darker side of things. And second the Anne McCaffrey Dragon Riders of Pern series.

Oh yeah, dittos for Elric (though it's not only dark it's twisted).

And I thought the second book in Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality was "Bearing an Hourglass", not "Wielding a Red Sword". I could be (and often am wrong), but I'm pretty sure about that one... the order is Death, Time, Fate, War, and Nature. (Then the Devil, and God, but I haven't read those two).

I have not seen these mentioned yet so may I recommend the Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula Leguin? The books, in order, are A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore. They are more of an overcast afternoon mood rather than dark.

There are also the three Nightside books by Simon R. Green. Something from the Nightside, Agents of Light and Darkness, and Nightingale's Lament. They have a flavor reminiscent of Glen Cook, something between his Garrett PI books and Black Company books.

You may also try Fred Saberhagen's Dracula series, The Dracula Tape, An Old Friend of the Family, Thorn, Dominion and a few more.

Hope this helps.

Well, how did it go?
What did you get?

I came to this via a link on Andrea's site, and I know I'm exceedingly late, so I'm going to WRITE IN CAPITAL LETTERS IN A BLATANT ATTEMPT TO GET THIS POST AND MY HUMBLE SUGGESTIONS NOTICED well, maybe not.

Anyway, try:

Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events - very dark, very funny, very easy to read. Not exactly fantasy - you might define it as some kind of surrealist-conspiracy-theory genre.

Stephen King's Short Stories containing some of his best work - especially Night Shift. His latest (I think) Nightmares and Dreamscapes also has some brilliant stuff, though I'm probably not the best person to ask about this.

I'm definitely not saving this thread, it'll only make me want to go out and buy books, and I bloody well don't have enough resources to do that!

Sorry if some people suggested these already... 91 comments is a lot to skim thru!

The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewellyn; high point is the scary undead sibling

Sword of Shadows trilogy by J.V. Jones; high point so far is the cool magic system and the anti-hero supporting characters

Bitterbynde trilogy by Cecilia Dart-Thornton; high point of the series is the utter vulnerability of the heroes

I'm assuming no one's mentioned HP Lovecraft 'cause he's a given.

Can't believe I forgot the Manga!

Berserk, Bastard!, XXXHolics, Rumiko Takahashi's Mermaid stories, Inuyasha are some cool fantasy/horror comics.

Going to second the Melanie Rawn choice. A plus for you, they're long, LONG books, but incredibly enjoyable. And maybe by the time you finish book 2 of Exiles, book 3 will be available.

I'm also going to recommend Kate Forsyth's The Witches of Eileanan series. It's got a large Celtic flavor, and it starts a little slow, but it gets going and is really good. I'm still in the middle of it.

Glad to see the late surge for Roger Zelazny. Ditto on the original five books in the Amber series. Check out also This Immortal, which I think was his first novel.

not dark, but interesting:

Diana Wynne Jones, Deep Secret (I like most of her fiction, but she is often positioned as a Young Adult author)--Fire and Hemlock also very good.

Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden--Wizard series is good value for money.

eluki bes shahar / Rosemary Edghill's series The Twelve Treasures is out of print, but probably available through Amazon. (The Sword of Maiden's Tears, The Cup of Morning Shadows, and The Cloak of Night and Daggers)--highly recommended.


John M. Ford picks up the Borderland franchise with The Last Hot Time.

I personally really like everything Ursula K. LeGuin has written--there are two more novels set in Earthsea after the trilogy--but she is not to everyone's taste.

Maybe I missed it somewhere in the thread, but I didn't see Guy Gavriel Kay mentioned. His earliest work, a trilogy called The Fionavar Tapestry, is a brilliant rendering of the standard fantasy tropes (he meant it to be thus); his later works pioneer a kind of "historical fantasy" in which the works would be historical novels if the worlds in which they take place actually existed. I'd strongly recommend The Lions of Al-Rassan.

If children's lit is on the table, there are the Prydain Chronicles and the Westmark Trilogy of Lloyd Alexander.

And for warped comedy, please please please read Christopher Moore. I saw his name mentioned above somewhere, and I second it heartily. The guy is utterly hilarious. You can start with his work anywhere, but I'd personally suggest either Fluke or Island of the Sequined Love Nun.

For pure and simple fantasy, T.H. White's The Once and Future King (especially the first part, The Sword in the Stone) is pure refreshment. And why has no one mentioned E.R. Eddison? The Worm Ouroboros is gorgeously archaic, and can still be found. His other work is, I think, out of print.