Fantasy is one of my favourite genres and I feel like I don’t spend enough time talking about it. While I have a tendency to read many genres across a wide spectrum, fantasy is one that I always turn to and one that I love seeing as the foundation for some remarkably brilliant narratives, ones that are quite imaginative and atmospheric especially, which is actually a difficult feat to pull off. But when it’s done right, it can be such an exhilarating experience.
Today I wanted to share with you five fantasy authors that I appreciate dearly and respect very much due to their unique creative capabilities and also because of the ways that they have enlightened my adoration for this very classic genre of literature. It’s because of them that I aspire to write a work of fantasy that shall be good enough for publishing one day.
Neil Gaiman is a British author who writes dark fantasy, magical realism, and urban fantasies, to name a couple of his specialities, and he could do them for an array of audiences and mediums. It’s kind of impossible for me to leave Neil Gaiman off the list because of that. It’s partially because of him that I fell down the dark and delicious hole of wickedly strange stories and never ever wanted to crawl back out.
My first ever Neil Gaiman story was The Ocean at the End of the Lane and that was a wickedly fantastic tale. It’s quite disturbing and tragic, but it was so marvellously atmospheric, and it used the environment to build upon the characters. Showing us their fears and their secrets. Their losses and their callous sacrifices. It was also the first work of magical realism I had read that wasn’t penned by a Japanese author.
Coraline continued to highlight his genius with macabre dark fantasies, however this was for a younger audience. A lot of authors can write for one genre so exquisitely and then not as well for others (not true for all authors, of course, but true for some) and to see Gaiman accomplish that deed almost flawlessly filled me with a great sense of awe.
American Gods is another one of his works that’s quite masterful. Granted, this was his first novel so it’s not nearly as well polished as its descendants, however, the way that Gaiman ties together even the most minute of details into a much vaster scheme takes patience and a meticulous level of planning that I aspire to everyday as I work on my own authorial pursuits. Plus, this novel is a humongous allegory for humans and their complicated relationship with faith and the higher being(s).
Ken Liu is a master of epic fantasy and one of the most brilliant translators of the contemporary era. His epic fantasy series The Dandelion Dynasty is so phenomenally rich with Chinese culture and history, and is one of the first serials that I read that shows us people of colour and diverse inspirations can not only help to craft an expansively rich world, including politics and faith, but it can do it on a level that even surpasses many, many Western classics and narratives. It also showed me how much I fucking love Asian genre fiction!
Liu has also written a short story collection called The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Within these pages there are many fantasy and magical realism tales that further highlight the versatility of diverse storytelling in the likes that I have never experienced. They are so magically originally and mesmerising while being fiercely contemplative and intelligent.
Amongst his other works, Liu is also a translator of Chinese literature. One of my favourite collections that he worked as both an editor and translator is Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, which is an anthology of science-fiction narratives from some of the most gifted Chinese writers in the world.
Miyuki Miyabe writes a lot of mystery and crime thrillers, which are absolutely superb, however, she also writes quite a bit of fantasy, and I fucking love her fantasy novels with every bit of my heart.
One of her more famous works is Brave Story, which a story about a young boy who has a fucked-up life with his dad abandoning him and a mother who attempted suicide. Searching for a way to bring some light into his existence, he embarks on a journey. This book is one of the most intelligent novels within the genre I’ve ever read, as it works as both a classic story of a boy on a quest, while being an intensely provocative examination of mental health, abandonment, broken families, loneliness, the lack of hope and a desire to find it, and so much more. This novel is the one that cemented Miyabe as someone whom I would never be able to get enough of.
A few of her other works include the novelisation for the high fantasy game, Ico: Castle in the Mist and an anthology of supernatural ghost stories set in the Edo Era in Japan, called Apparitions. With Appartitions, Miyabe explores the ghosts of an era that had many secrets and complications. Her fluid and simple yet stimulating look at the mystical beings makes it perfect as a study for the Edo period and also a great read for October’s spoopy atmosphere.
Saladin Ahmed is the author of Throne of the Crescent Moon and a short story collection called Engraved on the Eye, and he does for Arab-inspired fantasy that Ken Liu does for Chinese fantasy. He shows us that fantastical tales built on culturally inclusive experiences can create the most compelling of narratives.
Throne of the Crescent Moon is so wonderfully sweeping with its desert landscapes and plethora of Southwest Asian creatures of folklore, myth, and legend. There’s also the spectacularly enriched narrative with political intrigue, awe-inspiring ruins, and blood-soaked moments of badassry. Between the magic, the world-building, the impeccable characters, and this story of power struggles, it has everything that a fantasy-loving human could possibly desire, and it’s all inspired by Islamic and Arab cultures and beliefs.
Engraved on the Eye has short stories that also utilise inspiration from folklore and cultural traditions and practises, but it also works as commentary on systems that are broken or oppressive, while highlighting many misunderstood aspects of Arab society. Combined with the flair of clever characters and accessibly yet sharply witty penmanship that Ahmed is so damn glorious at, it reads quite fast and is one-hundred-percent all-encompassing in its allure.
Joe Abercrombie is an author of grimdark fantasy whom I stumbled across this year. While I’ve only read one set of his trilogies (and two books out of the trilogy thus far), I’m floored by his work and have established a great respect for his authorial skills.
The Shattered Sea trilogy is the series I’ve been working through and the first book blew my fucking mind because it was quite literally everything I had been craving in a fantasy book and it was all wrapped up in a small package of three-hundred-some-odd pages. It was fast-paced and wickedly violent. It was filled with twists and turns that made you ponder what the bleeding finale would be like—happy, sad, in between, or nothing even close. Each of the characters were incredibly flawed and they didn’t compensate for it, which was beautifully refreshing to read about. There was no romance either. Lastly, the first book is so damn good that it can comfortably be read as a stand-alone no problem. My full gushy review for it is here.
The second novel in the trilogy focuses on a different set of main characters and this was a dynamic that I wasn’t expecting, and to be blunt, I didn’t think it would work in the long run. Granted I still have the last book left to read, but what I have read thus far has left me impressed yet again. I feel like I need to just learn to trust Joe Abercrombie’s storytelling because no matter what my doubts have been, they always seem to be allayed by the end.
Some of things that make Joe Abercrombie so thrilling is that even his descriptions of the environments are provided with the taste of the world the story is set in. For example, whenever Abercrombie described the sun rising and setting, or the harshness of an ocean storm, he always referred to them as deities that the people of the realms believed in, in one form or another. While this can be confusing to some folks at first, I fucking loved it because it came off akin to Method Writing, where even the author is a character in his books and the ways that he looks at the world around him is exactly as the characters see it. It made the story and the universe that Abercrombie crafted feel all the more genuine and real, which further contributes to the escapism qualities that I tend to obsess over in fantasy books.
These five authors are beyond brilliant and their award-winning works really do speak for themselves. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading their works, I recommend it with every bit of biblio-infused energies. They each have very individualistic storytelling styles, from their prose to the actual narratives themselves, and each one is quite gratifying and insightful in their own special ways.
If you’re an aspiring author of fantasy, then I recommend them even more so because there is a lot of inspiration and wisdom that can be found with the pages of their works. Even if your own style and story types differ vastly, the technicalities of the craft provided are tremendous at the very least.
Who are some of your favourite fantasy authors? Which of their books made you smitten like a kitten?
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