The Best Fantasy Books Of All Time

For a genre theoretically bound only by the author’s imagination, fantasy novels are too often depressingly unimaginative: simplistic tales of good and evil that slavishly riff of genre tropes. Yet every now and then a fantasy novel comes along which breaks the mould and raises the bar for all that follow. Here’s my list of the best fantasy books around.

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The Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
A series of seven books published between 1950 and 1956 (beginning with a little book called The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe), for many The Chronicles of Narnia remain the template for what great fantasy novels should look like. Centring on a magical land populated by talking animals and ruled over by a mighty lion, the Chronicles are rip-roaring stories of adventure and magic, even if the overt religious themes can occasionally make things a bit impenetrable for non-believers. Though The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe remains the most well-known and beloved title in the series, for me it’s third book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, recounting a physical and spiritual journey to the ends of the earth, which remains the most entertaining and evocative. Continue reading “The Best Fantasy Books Of All Time”

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Books Everyone Should Read: American Gods

“One question that has always intrigued me is what happens to demonic beings when immigrants move from their homelands. Irish-Americans remember the fairies, Norwegian-Americans the nisser, Greek-Americans the vrykólakas, but only in relation to events remembered in the Old Country. When I once asked why such demons are not seen in America, my informants giggled confusedly and said, ‘They’re scared to pass the ocean, it’s too far.”

– Richard Dorson, ‘A Theory for American Folklore’, American Folklore and the Historian. Epigraph to American Gods

It’s tempting to think of mythology as solely a feature of ancient societies. The word itself calls to mind images of togas and temples, of gods and monsters, of Zeus and Arthur. But every generation, in every country, from the beginning of time to the modern day, has had its own myths and icons, its own  heroes and villains, and its own devotions.  And in American Gods, Neil Gaiman turns his eye to 21st century America and asks just what deities the citizens of this high-tech melting pot really worship. Continue reading “Books Everyone Should Read: American Gods”

Books everyone should read: His Dark Materials

It’s my proudest task to join Lord Asriel in setting up a world where there are no kingdoms at all. No kings, no bishops, no priests. The kingdom of heaven has been known by that name since the Authority first set himself above the rest of the angels. And we want no part of it. This world is different. We intend to be free citizens of the republic of heaven.

Continue reading “Books everyone should read: His Dark Materials”

Books everyone should read: The Corner

The Maryland city of Baltimore was already being hit hard by deindustrialisation when heroin began flooding the streets in the 1970s. By the early 1990s it had the highest level of intravenous drug use in America. Addiction robbed its inhabitants of any ambition beyond the next fix and created an entire generation of children raised by the streets. With the drugs came crime, and as the gangs began tussling over territory the bodies began to fall, resulting in a murder rate that was one of the highest in the United States. Continue reading “Books everyone should read: The Corner”

Books everyone should read: Catch-22

“It was love at first sight.”

So begins Joseph Heller’s satirical anti-war masterpiece Catch-22, and it’s a fitting start, for rarely has a novel been so beloved by so many. So important has Catch-22 become in our culture that its very title has entered the English language, denoting a situation where an individual is trapped by two conflicting rules into an impossible situation – it’s a phrase so widely used that it’s hard to believe it only entered the lexicon on the novel’s publication in 1961. Continue reading “Books everyone should read: Catch-22”

Books everyone should read: Blood Meridian

Cormac McCarthy is widely considered one of America’s greatest living novelists, a powerhouse of Southern Gothic writing who found fame with the likes of All The Pretty HorsesThe Road and No Country For Old Men. His works all drip with the language and feel of the American South – they are harsh, violent and yet often ruggedly beautiful. But it is Blood Meridian, his bloodsoaked tale of savagery in the American-Mexican border region loosely based on the memoirs of Union soldier Samuel Chamberlain, which to me is his most successful.  Continue reading “Books everyone should read: Blood Meridian”