13 Fantasy Books Worth Gushing About

4 Comments

I believe that every person, to some extent, has a natural inclination towards fantasy that is inherent since they were children. But, like an unused muscle, our imaginations become inflexible from lack of exertion. I listen to the children I teach play sometimes, and I am always floored magical worlds they inhabit when allowed to let their imaginations furnish their play. Now don’t get me wrong, I love realistic writing. I need it, like everyone does. Yet, time and time again I come up against this adversion towards fantasy that I can’t make sense of. My only conclusion is that too often, the book market becomes saturated with fantasy stories that don’t do for us what the genre has the power to do, (by the way, that’s anything, anything at all, there are absolutely no limits) but rather, tend to regurgitate the same Dungeons and Dragons nonsense about sword wielding warriors, scantily clad damsels and some dark lord who wants to take over the world (It’s always about taking over the world isn’t it? I mean, why? They never actually say. It’s what dark lords do because they’re bad … and that’s it isn’t it? ZZZZzzzz.)

But there are lots and lots of fantasy stories that do SO MUCH MORE! They get down and gritty with the reader, asking tough questions, and making us feel for characters in tough situations. That’s because these worlds were built to be read as real worlds, inhabited by real people, with as many struggles and triumphs as we have. But because a good fantasy story is set in a made-up world, anyone can identify with the plight of the characters, or feel a sense of longing for the setting of the story. Just like a fairytale can evoke the first feelings of empathy in a toddler, so too can fantasy wake us up to the loves, fears, wonders and losses and everything else it means to be human, in a someone much older. Here are some of my favourite fantasy stories (in no particular order) that do just that.

1. Inkheart (Inkspell, Inkdeath) by Cornelia Funke

 Image

Guaranteed to leave a lasting impression. At the heart of these books is a story about the love of books. I always find that when I try to explain the plot of Inkheart, I sort of let the book down. Suffice to say that it’s like letting your brain slide down a helter-skelter of wonder and fear. Also, the sequels are best for children aged 11+ and adult readers who don’t mind children’s books with a dark side.

2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Image

Like much of Neil Gaiman’s work, it’s kind of baffling to work out exactly what kind of readership it’s intended for, unless you’re me, in which case, I would say that it’s for everyone! Think of Kipling’s The Jungle Book – an orphaned boy raised by animals in the jungle, so logically, The Graveyard Book is about an orphaned boy raised by ghosts, vampires and werewolves in a graveyard. No prizes for guessing. This classic story of the journey from innocence to experience is poignant and funny at intervals and scary to boot all the way through.

3. The Tiffany Aching Books (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight) by Terry Pratchett

Image

There are a lot of books out there about witches. The good ones are written by authors who know how to use witchcraft to make the story work. Pratchett, blows them all out of the water though, with this trilogy. Preteen Tiffany no sooner begins her training as a witch when she learns that there is a big difference between real witches and women who drape themselves in pentagram jewelry and gaze in crystal balls. Real witches are the backbone of a community, from delivering babies, to laying out the dead, and every task inbetween be it as unmagical as clipping an old person’s toenails. Tiffany’s story is that of a young girl learning about the things that really matter in life, about growing up to be a responsible adult. Did give the impression that these books are serious? Ooops! Well there’s also a band of smelly, violent, kilted blue Scottish pixies that both help and hinder her along the way.

4. The Poison Throne (The Crowded Shadows, The Rebel Prince) by Celine Kiernan

 Image

I hope the author doesn’t hate me for saying this, but these books are perfect for any reader who is thinking about tackling A Song of Ice and Fire (that’s Game of Thrones for those of you who don’t read and haven’t left the house in three years), but isn’t quite ready for such a .. erm… mature series. Perfect for 11+, readers, the Moorehawke Trilogy is fiercely political and actually, just fiercely written in general. The female protagonist is wise, strong and generally KICK-ASS. The plot asks a lot of morally challenging questions of the reader and brings many of the characters to the point of breaking and beyond. Yet, they are lovable, hilarious, courageous and you want them all to survive and live happily ever after. Ahem… about that… no, nevermind.

5. The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Long

Image

One of my favourite sub-genres of fantasy are books that draw inspiration from fairytales. Actually, I should say that my favourite books are the ones that do it well, because some are appallingly contrived. While many authors have weakened their plot by doing this, Treachery of Beautiful Things is a great example of a book that draws strength from folk and fairy tales, and creates an atmospheric world just seething with magic, where modern day characters meet the enticing but dangerous beings of the faerie realm. Here we see a female protagonist who is both feisty and vulnerable. In the midst of so much one-sided feistiness on the part of recent heroines, Jenny is really a refreshing character. I hope there is a sequel!

6. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There) by Catherynne Valente

Image

Alice in Wonderland meets The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I can’t even begin to describe the richness of the writing that you will find in these books. I find myself not remembering lines so much as actually remembering the actually images they evoked in my minds eye while I read the book, as well as the smells, sounds and emotions. They’re also funny, witty and totally unexpected. They are set in a fairyland where anything (but not everything) goes and the heroine is entirely lovable.

7. Magus of Stonewylde (Moondance at Stonewylde, Solstice at Stonewylde, Shadows at Stonwylde, Shaman of Stonewylde) by Kit Berry

Image

Okay, okay, so it’s not strictly fantasy… but I had to mention them here. I’ll mention them anywhere if given half a chance! These books spanned a year’s readership that left me in emotional turmoil and suspense that I hadn’t experienced since Harry Potter. I became so attached to this characters to the point where I felt almost haunted by them. Stonewylde could be classed as magical realism. I personally don’t recommend it for anyone under the age of fourteen, because the plot gets pretty sinister and the morality of the characters is very grey because they live in a community which has been cut of from the outside world since pre-Christian times. I love the books all the more, however, because of their often challenging dilemmas.

8. The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea

Image

I had to, I just HAD to! I wrote my M.A. thesis about this book. It’s an absolute jewel, based on Irish mythology but with a contemporary setting,and a nice little subversive hint that perhaps we don’t give our pagan roots as much attention as we should. Admittedly, the plot is long and rambling, with so many twists it’s hard not to turn the book inside out while reading it, but it’s so so beautiful and funny and filled with wonder. I still quote lines from it. The author’s use of language is nothing short of acrobatic. I dare anyone to reach the end whilst remaining both straight-faced and dry eyed.

9. Magyk – Septimus Heap book 1 (Flyte, Physik, Queste, Syren, Darke, Fyre) by Angie Sage

 Image

J.K. Rowling meets Trudi Canavan and Raymond Feist. Definitely for children though. I love the characters, and the gothic feel of the story. More on this when I finish this satisfyingly long and bulky series.

10. Sabriel (Lirael, Abhorsen) by Garth Nix

 Image

YOU HAVE NOT LIVED, until you’ve met the sarcastic cat who’s actually a  – oh wait, no spoilers, I forgot. Sabriel is an eighteen-year-old girl who can summon and dismiss the dead with a brace of bells?  Nix’s concept of magic is so original, almost scientific, but not at all heavy-handed or tedious to read. I love Sabriel as a heroine, because she is so dead  -pan and independent, but not at all given to the stereotypically feisty female lead characters we all seem to be favouring these days

11. Tithe (Ironside, Valiant) by Holly Black

Image

A twisty, tricksy tale about fairies, changelings and all things that go bump in the night. The sweetly seductive style is one I recommend for teens and upwards only.

12. Thirteen Treasures (Thirteen Curses, Thirteen Secrets) by Michelle Harrison

 Image

Another series about fairies, this time suitable for younger readers (9+) and yet, still very creepy and twisted. This one is worth reading for the seamless working of fairy lore and plot alone, if not for the entertainment supplied the the fairies themselves, who make people’s lives absolutely miserable.

13. Wolf Brother (Spirit Walker, Soul Eater, Outcast, Oath Breaker, Ghost Hunter)

 Image

Loosely based on a kind of early North American, Canadian, or perhaps prehistoric human existence, this series follows the adventures of an orphaned boy and his wolf cub companion with whom he shares a deep bond. In this harsh world they face demons, spirits and supernatural powers, all against the backdrop of a richly imagined and well researched world. Prepare yourself for scary and sad bits.

Advertisements

Great Books for Christmas Part One

3 Comments

I want to start by recommending some books are that are really beautiful for younger readers and also some fabulous and gorgeous classics that have been re-issued for older readers.

Firstly for the younger ones

Dot . by Randi Zuckerberg illustrated by Joe Berger published by Corgi.

dot

This is a lovely picture book to remind kids that there is more to life than technology and that we also need to time to play. Age 3 upwards

Journey by Aaron Becker published by Walker Books

Journey explores this idea of recharging our batteries and using our imaginations in greater depth, it is a wordless book full of enchanting images. Check out the the video (see link below) for a small taste, Becker is a stunning visual artist and Journey will transport book lovers young and old. Age 4 and upwards.

http://vimeo.com/71778929

Oscar Wilde Stories for Children illustrated by Charles Robinson published by O’Brien Press

OscarWildeStoriesforChildren

Three classic Oscar Wilde fairytales The Happy Prince, The Nightingale and the Rose and The Selfish Giant. This is a stunning reproduction of the original illustrations by Charles Robinson first published in 1913. A perfect Christmas Present for young readers and a wonderful addition to any collection. Ages 5 and upwards.

Lizzy Bennet’s Diary by Marcia Williams published by Walker Books

lizzy

Inspired by Pride and Prejudice and released to coinincide with this year’s 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s fabulous and timeless classic, this is a gorgeous little gift idea perfect for Janeites but also a wonderful introduction for younger readers. With fold out letters, drawings, pressed flowers and ribbons this will transport readers back to the era of Darcy and Elizabeth. Perfect for ages 8 to adult.

Amy Green Wedding Belles published by Walker Books

amy green

This is not a picture book but I want to mention it here because not only is it gorgeous and an ideal gift for girls it is sadly the final book in the Amy Green series. Don’t despair however as author Sarah Webb is working furiously away on a brand new series for young readers. In the meantime though there are six books in the Amy Green series and in this one Amy’s mum Sylvie and stepdad Dave finally tie the knot but Amy’s own love life is not looking quite so rosy. Laugh out loud funny this is a fab series for ages 8 and upwards.

Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, Emily’s Quest by Lucy Maud Montgomery published by Virago

emily

Photo courtesy of http://bookwitch.wordpress.com/

This is a fantastic series from the author of Anne of Green Gables which have been difficult to track down in recent years; I do have some shoddy paperback copies but these gorgeous re-issued editions will, I hope tempt some readers who have yet to discover the series and older readers like me who just want to own them. I do however have the excuse that I can give them to my daughter Emily as they will make an ideal gift for girls aged 10 and upwards.

Not Gone Away, We Swear

Leave a comment

Image

We know we have been AWOL recently but we promise that is not a permanent state of affairs. We have all been very lucky to have been working like mad at our day jobs; which if you weren’t aware include teaching (Mara), bookselling (Mara, Lisa and Lisa) and librarianing (Lisa) (is that a word? ah yea sure course it is!) as well as our other major passion which is writing; hence the quote above. We promise to resume normal service with a post on some great gift ideas including some fab picture books very very soon.

Lauren Kate Event

Leave a comment

Lauren is doing her only Irish author event tonight at 6pm at Eason O’Connell Street so check it out if you are near Dublin City Centre. Lauren will be talking about and signing copies of her latest book Teardrop keep your eyes peeled for a review here on inkies soon.

If you can’t make it to the event Lauren will be appearing on Ireland AM on TV3 tomorrow morning.

Also check the Dublin Book Festival http://www.dublinbookfestival.com/ which starts tonight and has a packed schedule of events for young and old, readers, writers and book clubs.