A good friend of mine was recently looking for some recommandations for fantasy books for her husband to read over an upcoming long weekend. I was happy to help and after quite a bit of back and forth (the library she was at was… lacking) she had a few books and was good to go. In the interest of helping out anyone in a similar situation, here’s the list of books that I recommended, along with some short blurbs about each to help you with your summer reading. By the way, the books are in no particular order, other than “as I thought of them”. And in the case of series where order matters, I’m just linking to the first book.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss My pick for the best fantasy book of the last 10 years. If you take none of my other recommendations, take this one.
Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett A series of loosely-connected series and stand-alone novels, the Discworld is funny, sharp, human, and a better guide to ethics than the Bible. I linked the “Guards, Guards!”, the first in the Sam Vimes/City Watch books because they’re my favorite, but they’re pretty much all good. Conventional wisdom is to stay away from the first two books, as it starts out rather differently than the rest of the series becomes, but I started with them and was fine.
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson Sanderson loves systems of magic. His various book series seem to be mostly a way for him to play around with different approaches to the question “if magic was real, how would it actually work?”, sometimes to the detriment of the plot and characters. In the Stormlight Archive (of which “The Way of Kings” is the first entry), he gets the balance just right.
The Lies of Locke Lamora A classic heist novel in a fantasy setting… kind of. Also a buddy comedy. And a bittersweet romance where you don’t see half of the main couple until the third book in the series. Thieves, gladiator fights above shark-infested waters, piracy on the high seas, double-crossing, gambling - it’s basically The Princess Bride for grownups†.
Storm Front by Jim Butcher The series starts with mixing together your standard “hard boiled private detective” protagonist with a dash of wizardry, and hangs out there for a few books. It grows into a meditation on relationships, our interdependency, the amount of responsibility we can take for other’s actions, family, and more. Luckily, it starts out really good and just gets better, i.e., you don’t have to “get through” the first few books to get to the good stuff.
The Book of Jhereg by Steven Brust Notable for - if nothing else - being Hungarian-influenced fantasy instead of “Yet Another Vaguely Western European Medieval World”, this is another series that starts one way (a fantasy spin on a “mob” book) and goes off in an entirely different direction later. Almost every book is written in a different style, and ranges from “low level guy in mob makes good” to the military, detailing a relationship ending, a book centered around a single fantastic meal, sorcery, and more. And if you like this series, he also wrote six book based on Alexander Dumas’s The Three Musketeers novels, down to the flowery language (it’s hilarious and exciting and just what you’d hope). I linked to a compilation that has the first three novels in the series, which is good since you won’t have to wait to read the next after you finish the first.
Goblin Quest by Jim C. Hines A group of adventurers go into a dungeon to retrieve a lost treasure, and along the way they fight monsters, dodge traps, and more. Except this book is told from the point of view of a goblin that lives in the dungeon and really wants nothing more than to be left alone. Well worth reading, especially if you’ve ever spent any time with a 20-sided die in one hand and a handful of doritos in the other.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison Another book about goblins and elves, but a completely different style. I tried to figure out how to explain what I feel but as it turns out, Ursula Vernon (one of my very favorite authors‡) sums it up better than I can here
The Folding Knife by K.J. Parker The rise and fall of a Great Man. And also a book about power. And relationships. And if doing everything right except one thing can still lead to ruin.
Those are all of the books that I had off the of my head. If you’ve read everything on this page and want more, let me know. I’ll see about putting up another list (and one dedicated to sci-fi) soon§.
† Yes, The Princess Bride is already for grownups. You’re very smart. Shut up.
‡ She isn’t on the list purely because I knew the library wouldn’t have any of her books. If you haven’t read anything by her, go! Go now! Start here or here or here or if you have younger kids here or here. She also has short fiction various places and she’s basically never written something that isn’t a joy to read.
§ Anyone that’s read my blog for any length of time knows that “soon” in this context means sometime between “next week” and “10 years”. Set your expectations accordingly.