08 January 2010

Best Fantasy books of the '00s

There's a compilation of reviews of books of the 00s put up today by Johnny of Tower of the Hand, including a few of my contributions. Following are my reviews extracted to succed or fail on their own; please also check out my co-reviewers posts: Aidan at A Dribble of Ink put in one on Perdido Street Station that I like and Adam across the pond at The Wert Zone contributed a good review on The Shadow of the Wind.  Both books have been hovering on the edges of my TBR pile but now reading their thoughts I should really read them now. Johnny, our blog host, and James from Speculative  Horizons rounded out our reviewing cadre. If you missed these books from the last decade now's the time to set things aright.

Neil Gaiman - American Gods - 2001
American Gods: A NovelAny list of the best books of the decade would be remiss without including Gaiman. But which of his many works to choose? For my money,  I recommend American Gods. For me, that was the book that brought Gaiman to my attention and sent me back onwards to find the Sandman, and made me eager for anything else Gaiman ever writes. Gaiman starts with a character with a mystery heritage a'la Corwyn of Zelazny's masterwork Amber series, adds in all the fables and legends of the 'old world ' - particularly the Norse legends for which I am fond, and gently drops in elegant and mind bending atrocities and humble victories. And he ends it all with a war to end all wars, and a love story ending in a second death. Brilliant. But don't just believe me - the book garnered a Hugo and a Nebula award as well.

Jacqueline Carey - Kushiel's Legacy series - 7 books from 2001 through 2009
So you like your fantasy worlds well thought out and coherent? But you don't want a rehash of the dwarves-elves-humans-
Kushiel's Avatar (Kushiel's Legacy)halflings-and-orcs melange that Tolkien established for the genre? Check out Carey's world building skills, wherein she plays out an alternate reality of Earth, an Earth where angels were made flesh and left their progeny to do as they please - in the catchphrase of the novel, "to love as thou wilt." The geography is similar, the cultures are familiar, but everything is pushed so-slightly askew, so that for example an encounter with her world's version of Vlad the Impaler seems utterly rancid and completely original. Start with Kushiel's Dart, which introduces courtesean Phadre.  The cleverest piece of the work is how little is owed to the supernatural - similar to masterworks like George RR Martin's, there is magic and mysticism but it is rare and otherworldly, more dreamt than lived, and the characters have to get through mainly on their wits and skills.  And her sex scenes are possibly the best written of anything outside of specifically erotic literature, and tend towards the more exotic and unusual encounters. Also of interest is the thriving fan community, including readers who get body art in imitation of the characters. Final kudos: Carey's put out two finished trilogies in this world encompassing two separate story arcs, and shows every indication of completing a third trilogy by next year. She doesn't leave her fans hanging out forever waiting to find out what happens next in the Kushiel's Legacy series (but, sadly, there are no collectible miniatures either).
Neal Stephenson - Anathem - 2009
AnathemFor my last pick of the group, I'll take a risk and choose Anathem, although I have yet to meet someone I've recommended it to who thanked me (although it did win a Locus Award). Have you ever read a book that, for weeks afterwards, you were reminded of in many ways? Or that inspired you to make a movie? This book is like that - I'd read something in a science journal or in the news a month later about hieroglyphs or the North Pole and instantly be put in mind of a scene in the book. Stephenson builds a intricate and complicated world, barely believable in its restrictions and interactions, and then interweaves explanations to make it all plausible. The characters start mildly enough but then become more and more interesting until finally one is reading at a fast pace to find out what happens next to them. Imagine Name of the Rose meets Minority Report (minus Tom Cruise), and you'll have an approximation of the story than what Stephenson provides, but much stupider (and neither Eco nor Dick was writing for idiots). Oh - and although I feel this book fits solidly in the fantasy genre, there's a bit of space travel and science chatter to make the science fiction reader at home.