Fantasy is one of the main genres I read, so when I saw this week’s topic, I thought it was the perfect chance to get involved with Top 5 Wednesday. It turns out selecting just five books/series is incredibly difficult! I finally narrowed down my list, so without further ado, here are my top five fantasy books:
1. Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo
Six of Crows completely stole my heart in 2015, and its sequel, Crooked Kingdom, topped my list of the ten best books I read last year, so it’s not surprising that this series ranks among my all-time favourite fantasy reads. There are so many things to love about these books. The world building that brings gritty Ketterdam to vivid life, the intricate plotting and twists that leave the reader on the edge of their seat, and of course, the characters. Flawed and fully realized, I loved all of them. Crooked Kingdom is also the rare book that made me root for all of the canon couples. If you like heists, found families, and banter, this is for you!
2.The Doctrine of Labyrinths series by Sarah Monette
When I borrowed copies of Sarah Monette’s (better known for her also excellent The Goblin Emperor, published under pen-name Katherine Addison) wonderful Doctrine of Labyrinths series from a friend a few years ago, I experienced the euphoria most readers are familiar with, the feeling of falling in love with a new series. I loved this quartet so much that I was at least a little annoyed at my friend when I found that the book was now out of print and it would be challenging for me to get my hands on keeper print copies of the books!
Beginning with Melusine, the series focuses on the relationship between Felix Harrowgate, a gay wizard and seeming nobleman, and Mildmay the Fox, an infamous cat burglar, as they’re thrown together by fate and turn out to have more in common than they initially appear to. The series is definitely not for everyone. It deals with dark issues, including abuse, rape, mental health, codependent relationships, and even touches on that old fantasy staple of incest. The first book also takes a bit of patience to get into, but the series is absolutely worth it in my view. Also, Mildmay is one of my favourite fictional characters.
3. The Divine Cities series by Robert Jackson Bennett
I’m honestly surprised that Robert Jackson Bennett’s fantastic Divine Cities series isn’t more widely known. As I said in my best of 2016 review of this series, fantasy is sometimes viewed as a genre dominated by white male writers and the same ideas, but the way that Robert Jackson Bennett writes women and women of colour is truly exceptional. The protagonists of his two books are an intelligent spy WoC torn between her passion for history and her practical career as an operative, and a disabled middle-aged WoC retired general with a foul mouth. Both are three-dimensional, nuanced, flawed characters that I would rank among my top female fictional characters from any form of media. The characters and diversity are not the only selling point for this series though. The world building is also comprehensive and I expect this is the kind of fantasy epic that will be enjoyed by those who liked The Silmarilion and other fantasy novels grounded in (fictional) history or mythology of a place. The third book, City of Miracles, comes out in May so I highly recommend catching up now!
4. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
At over 1,000 pages this is a brick of a book, but for me it was well worth it. I was hooked from the first page, which showcases the novel’s dry wit:
“Some years ago there was in the city of York, a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic.
They were gentleman-magicians, which is to say that they has never harmed any one by magic – nor ever done any one the slightest good. In fact, to own the truth, not one of these magicians had ever cast the smallest spell, nor by magic caused one leaf to tremble upon a tree, made one mote of dust to alter its course or changed a single hair upon any one’s head. But, with this one minor reservation, they enjoyed a reputation as some of the wisest and most magical gentlemen in Yorkshire.”
Set in Georgian England, my favourite historical period, this historical fantasy deals with the rise of two very different English magicians against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars. Although they may be a love or hate feature, I loved the inclusion of footnotes discussing the period and the history of English magic, and I found the novel incredibly original and well thought through. The recent BBC adaptation starring Bertie Carvel is also really good!
5. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
What is there to say about Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle that hasn’t already been said? I fell heart and soul for this series and thrust the books at friends and family who hadn’t read them. Although I had my quibbles with the final book in the series, it was still so well-written that even The Raven King, which I didn’t love as deeply as the others, still stands head and shoulders above many of the other fantasy titles I’ve read. The characters are three-dimensional and lovable and flawed. While there are romantic relationships, the most important thing is the platonic relationships between the central five characters. I can’t tell you how important it is to me to have a book where friendship and platonic love is celebrated like this, and particularly in a YA novel!
It was really difficult to narrow the list down to just five and there are definitely some other fabulous fantasy and science-fiction books out there, including Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga (which I’m slowly working my way through), V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth series, and Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint.
What are some of your favourite fantasy and sci-fi books?