Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Listing the Best of Recent Fantasy Novels

Over at the Locus Roundtable, Graham Sleight has offered a list of the best, recent, adult, literary, fantasy novels:

Wise Children, Angela Carter
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke
Little, Big, John Crowley
Coraline, Neil Gaiman
Ash, Mary Gentle
Perdido Street Station, China Mieville
The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers

To winnow the list:
1. Wise Children -- I can't comment because I haven't read it.
2. Coraline -- I found this to be well-written, yet superficial. It hasn't made a lasting impression on me. Also, since Graham Sleight specifically describes his list as adult books rather than books for younger readers, this doesn't really fit.
3. Perdido Street Station -- This is uneven work. It seems to me to belong more to the horror genre.
4. The Anubis Gates -- A madcap, gonzo, roller-coaster of a book. It's quite good, however Powers has written better since this. I would substitute Declare, except it, too, belongs more in the horror genre.

That leaves:
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke
Little, Big, John Crowley
Ash, Mary Gentle

We are in agreement that these three are among the core works of fantasy in recent years. Each is an exemplar of fantasy world-building, and each creates worlds within worlds, or perhaps layers of worlds. Each is challenging and rewards re-reading.

I would add to this list Paul Park's Great Roumania quartet, a single novel published in four parts: A Princess of Roumania, The Tourmaline, The White Tyger, The Hidden World. (I suspect the total word count is similar to Ash or Perdido Street Station or Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.) An argument could be made that Park's Great Roumania is a work for young readers -- it certainly starts in a YA mode. It quickly moves beyond that and adults will find it just as challenging and rewarding as the other three on the list.

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