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Underappreciated Fantasies

August 21, 2009
Underappreciated, originally uploaded by cHeLa.B..
I love fantasy novels. Hands down, they are my favorite and they encompass a huge spectrum of adventure. Considering that the genre is in vogue right now, especially among teen readers, you would think I’d be in hog heaven, right? Wrong! Okay, that was completely overly-dramatic and untrue. I am in hog heaven. I love that it’s ok for teens to read fantasy again. I love that the stigma has been lifted. You no longer have to be a D&D/Magic: The Gathering playing, Dune quoting, super-nerd  to like reading fantasy (I’m not bashing any of those things!). For breaking these stereotypes I have to tip my hat to books like the Harry Potter series, and the Twilight Saga. Honestly, I can do more than tip my hat to them. I love them! Harry is a wonderful character and through that series I’ve laughed and cried aloud. As for Twilight, well I honestly enjoyed those books as well. What girl doesn’t want to be loved by the cool/handsome/undead/super-power-having-boy—not just loved, by the way, but adored by said boy.

Yeah, it’s pretty great that these books are giving exposure and opening the door to a wonderful branch of fiction. I do feel a little twinge of sadness though, seeing the incredible volume of new fantasy titles flooding bookshelves—and it’s not the “I liked this before if was cool” blues.

Like many people who are fans of a particular genre,  I think it’s really too bad that so many of the  “greats”—the old standbys, the classics, and the littleknowns—are being passed over and forgotten in favor of the multitudes of here-today-gone-tomorrow works being published to meet the new demand.

So today’s post is paying homage to some of my favorites that aren’t (at least according to me) getting enough credit (or at least aren’t well known). Here goes!

Authors:

*Garth Nix– Lately he’s been focusing on childrens’ fantasy, but several of his books for teens number in my top fantasy works. Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen are all wonderful! They capture the imagination, are well written, and show thoughtful planning/outlining (Lirael is my favorite!). Nix is a fantastic storyteller, and has even drawn me to the side of scifi-fantasy with his book Shade’s Children, which is terrifying, exhilarating, and enthralling all at the same time.

Lynn Flewelling– The Tamir Trilogy, which is a prequel to her ongoing Nightrunner series, is dark and philosophical. I really enjoyed these books, which ask the question: when do the ends justify the means, and when do we go too far in the name of a greater purpose? (Note: Titles are more appropriate for mature teens)

Patricia C. Wrede– Ms. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series takes a humorous approach to the fantasy genre—playing with the ideas and archetypes that characterize so many myths/legends/tales. Her’s is a princess who is not blonde or in distress. Her dragons are clever and dry, and her wizards have some serious vanity issues. The whole series is pure fun, and a lot of laughs.

Juliet Marillier– Her books fall more in line with historical fantasy and they are well researched and well fleshed-out. She writes for both adults and teens, taking traditional tales and bringing them to life with factual detail and fantastic writing. They have depth and dimension, and have the added attention grabbing element of being recognizable and beloved stories. (Note: Some titles are more appropriate for mature teens)

Books:

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld– Patricia McKillip is a standby for many fantasy fans but The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is by far my favorite. It tells the story of a young sorceress who is the caretaker to a host of mythological creatures, and what happens when she is faced with the greater challenge of taking care of a human baby. While it has funny moments, this one is not a comedy; but it is by no means overly dramatic or depressing. It’s a great story to read alone, or aloud.

Sunshine– I love almost everything Robin Mckinley has ever written. The only reason I didn’t put her under “author” is because I think she is very well recognized as a talented fantasy author, and because I specifically wanted to highlight Sunshine. This is definitely an “If you liked Twilight you’ll might like this” type of book. However, if you didn’t like Twilight, and you’re a little turned off by the creepy “super sexy vampire” trend, you still might like this book. Mckinley’s vampires are not sexy, and Sunshine is not your typical fantasy with a romantic twist. Her take on the whole idea is interesting and unique—a feat that is hard to achieve when working with historically popular materials.

Libyrinth & Graceling– These two are new fantasy for teens and they are very exciting for a number of reasons. The first is that they are new, and also really good! They have interesting and different premises and after reading them I did not feel like I already knew the story. Graceling follows traditional fantasy, while Libyrinth leans towards the scifi side. Libyrinth definitely has some Farenheit 451 flavor, but is enough of it’s own story to hold the attention. Graceling features “coming of age and escaping societal definitions” tones but it isn’t melodramatic.

I’d like to also mention A Small Elderly Dragon, written by Beverly Keller. This book probably is considered more of a children’s book, but it is one of those you can enjoy at any age. Similar to Wrede, this is a humorous twist of the traditional norms of fantasy. Here, our dragon is old and grumpy, our princess is smart and has frizzy hair, and our knight is, how shall we say…? A few sandwiches short of a picnic. This title is hard to get, but worth it. This is especially great to share with someone else.

Well, that’s it for my list. There are many other books that I would gladly recommend and I’d love to give anyone more so please feel free to contact me. Also, if anyone knows a good database/site that is full of the  “If you liked…” type of recommendations, please let me know! I am currently stuck waiting for all of my favorite authors to finish the books they are working on and would love a new author to read.

Hasta!

* Garth Nix is probably a little to popular to be included here, but I did because I think his teen books might be going into a slump.

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