Review – 100 Must Read Fantasy Novels

Cover of 100 Must Read Fantasy Novels100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels, Nick Rennison, Stephen E. Andrews

This is a pretty good whistle-stop tour of some important, influential, or particularly interesting fantasy novels. I’ve got two pages in my notebook scrawled full of books to try now, and reminders of stuff I want to go back to. It’s a very accessible little book; it begins with an essay about the origins of fantasy, includes a glossary of various terms which can get confusing (the differences between sub-genres, for example) and a lot of extra suggestions after each book for further reading.

Normally, this sort of book doesn’t interest me much because they always pick the same novels. Well, this one had a fair amount of the staples on it — Tolkien, of course, C.S. Lewis, Ursula Le Guin, Lewis Carroll, Michael Moorcock — but it did have some others which surprised me — Megan Lindholm, for example, listed under that name and not as Robin Hobb — and some pretty recent ones too. It doesn’t claim to show us the best of fantasy fiction, which is a good plan, to my mind — only books which are worth reading.

Not exactly groundbreaking, but worth a flick through at least. Excuse me, I’m off to look up some ebook prices.

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17 thoughts on “Review – 100 Must Read Fantasy Novels

  1. Books like this could be really useful. Does it actually go into detail as to why we should read each book? Because that’s what I’d be interested in.

    • Not massive amounts of detail, but it does give a brief explanation of why the book is interesting, plus a summary of the sort of content. The essay at the beginning is good; the guy knows his stuff.

  2. And just by “accident” 99% of the worth to read fantasy literature is written by USA and UK writers? 😀 I’m not that stupid to believe that. The authors should obviously go outside their comfort zones and look around for fantasy literature in the WORLD. Otherwise it’s just a piece of shit.

    • They didn’t say that these 100 books were the only fantasy novels worth reading, or the best, but a good introduction to the field. I agree that the selection isn’t that wondrous — I remember some German, Russian, Italian and Finnish authors in there, so it isn’t quite 99%, but it is close — but I was already quite impressed with the range they did manage when it comes to a fair balance between male and female authors, which is historically a problem in literature. I’m sure even that wasn’t perfect if I went through and did a percentage, but still. I was quite impressed they had one or two Welsh writers in the line-up; I’m not sure where you’re from or how aware you might be of it, but Welsh literature has often gone unacknowledged, historically. So they weren’t thinking quite inside the box!

      Also, this book is five years old now, so I’d have been nineteen when it first came out: that was when I, as a reasonably plugged in reader, started to see discussions about diversity in SF/F writing and promoting more female, LGBT and POC writers. I have hope that if they wrote it now, it’d be more reflective of what’s out there.

      Something can be flawed and still not be “just a piece of shit”, in my opinion.

      • No, they didn’t write it explicitly. They just showed that. By picking the books.

        I’m from Poland. I’m a woman, if that changes anything, but I prefer to be just a “human”. I’m in 30s, and I’ve been reading sf/fantasy books for at least 15 years. I’m not sure when I started, I don’t remember. I’ve grown up reading Eddings, LeGuin, Norton, Tolkien. I’ve read Lackey, Flewelling etc. Lackey’s LGBT characters date to 80s, Flewelling’s – 90s.

        What’s out there, have been here for decades and longer. It’s not something editors of book from 5 years ago should be surprised about. The story of Carmilla was written before Dracula. Books fulfilling the “fantasy” requirements were written around the world for thousands of years.

        Most of the world’s literature goes unacknowledged because what’s been mostly promoted is UK and USA writers. And probably Canada. How “diverse” was World Fantasy Convention 2013 in Brighton? What “world”?

        I don’t want the books promoted just to fulfil the quota. If a “black gay fantasy story of South African writer” is better than “yet another British author’s fantasy book” (Rowling included), then I’d like to see that book promoted. If it’s worse than Rowling’s (whose books I don’t like) or Gaiman’s, then promote Rowling or Gaiman. But first somebody has to notice that. And that’s the problem. Btw, I don’t want Rowling promoted when Eddings was better author than her. Especially not for the quota.

        • I’m going to answer this in a somewhat backwards order, from what first strikes me, but I’ll try and answer everything if I can — pardon me if I miss something.

          I don’t want the books promoted just to fulfil the quota. If a “black gay fantasy story of South African writer” is better than “yet another British author’s fantasy book” (Rowling included), then I’d like to see that book promoted.

          But that’s just what this book wasn’t going for, which I don’t think you’ve taken on board. It’s talking about books that have been influential in the field, and the introduction explicitly states that some better books have been omitted in order to mention the most important books in the formation of the genre.

          Considering Eddings wrote the same characters for every different series, I’m not sure he was objectively better than Rowling at all. Not that I’m an immense Rowling fan, either. I don’t think there was any kind of quota at work here: the authors chose books they experienced as formative to the genre. That doesn’t mean they were right (I would have chosen more Arthurian works, for example, as I know our fantasy now is pretty closely related to chivalric romance), as you say — you’re preaching to the choir if you’re trying to explain to me that these selections are limited and according to only one view of the fantasy canon (to the extent that there is a canon).

          I’m not sure what assumptions you’re making about me, here. I’m female-bodied, too. I’m twenty-four years old, though if your estimate of fifteen years is right, I’ve been reading fantasy a little longer than you have. I grew up on fantasy and science fiction from before I could talk, let alone read. I grew up reading Cooper, Le Guin, Butler, Eddings, Feist, Hobb, Tolkien, Lewis, Jones, Pratchett, Huff… I’m not sure what relevance these facts have to the discussion, though.

          Most of the world’s literature goes unacknowledged because what’s been mostly promoted is UK and USA writers

          Again, preaching to the choir, although you’re lacking a little bit of granularity here — by UK writers, you mean English writers, and by USA writers, you mean white American writers. I hope, anyway. I don’t expect everyone to be aware of the Welsh/English issues, but I would think most people were aware of the issues people of colour from the USA have in getting published and fairly promoted, since that’s been talked about a lot in cultural discussions online and off in the last few years.

          What’s out there, have been here for decades and longer. It’s not something editors of book from 5 years ago should be surprised about.

          I don’t disagree. However, it’s just a fact that awareness of this kind of thing has increased over the last five years, and editors of a book like this might well make decisions differently now as compared to then. Even as a female-bodied, Welsh person, I was reading largely fiction by white men, because that was what was marketed most heavily, that was what was most available. I do believe, or hope at least, that that’s now changing in the current publishing and promotional environment.

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