Saturday, July 19, 2014

7 Under-appreciated Fantasy Reads

The history of sci-fi and fantasy is interesting. Most people know a little about it. Lord of the Rings setting the standard for adult high fantasy, the beginnings of sci-fi as early as Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe. The pulp books and dime novels. And then bigger and more popular books. But a lot of today's readers don’t know about the obscurity that has always plagued these genres. During the huge increase in growth during the sixties, houses and magazines were taking just about anything they could grab in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. Ever since then, most products of those genres have been woefully unknown. Even today, people see, I would estimate, maybe 10% of the fantasy and sci-fi books produced.

This week will be all about fantasy: what should you go and find, and why should you bother? I've got seven for you, and seven sci-fi books next Saturday.

7: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

Wait, what? Who doesn't know about The Neverending Story?

I hear you, I get it. But there's a reason it's on this list: movie vs. book. Most people know The Neverending Story through the movies, not through actually reading the book. That's how it made my list.

As with the movies, the Neverending Story tells the story of a young boy named Bastian. One day, he finds himself in a book shop and, against the advice of the shopkeeper, he grabs The Neverending Story. In the attic of his school, he begins to read all about Fantastica and adventures of Atreyu.

The first movie fairly faithfully follows the first half of the book. But that's where the similarities stop. Once you reach the second movie, which is theoretically based on the second half of the book, things take a turn for the… different. I won't say the worse, since the second movie isn’t necessarily bad, but it's certainly not as good as the book was. The movies were somewhat sanitized for an American audience (the book was originally German: Die Unendliche Geschichte.). What happens in the last half of the book is considerably darker than movie fans may expect but, in the interest of letting you enjoy it as I did, I'll keep my lips shut on the subject.

6: In The Name of the Father

In The Name of the Father was published in 1980, and, unfortunately, I don't believe it ever received a lot of attention. My explanation: I think it was before its time. Had this book been written in modern times, I think it would have hit a lot bigger than it did. You begin with a boy and a demon and a kindly priest who rescues the boy from a cave. But that begins everyone's problems. Before long, the boy is a man, a priest like his father. And he can perform miracles. He makes water spring forth from the desert. He can control the wind. And he's being stalked by three she-demons. As the plot thickens, the influence of these hellish creatures seeps into the papacy itself. A blurring of the lines between fantasy and paranormal, this book is well worth tracking down. It's been a permanent inhabitant of my bookshelf since I found it in a secondhand shop almost a decade ago.

5: The Changeling Race by Frances Pauli

It's no secret that I'm a Frances Pauli fan. At least, not if you've read this blog with a fair amount of regularity. And The Changeling Race books (A Moth in Darkness, A Fly in Paradise, Spiders from Memory) were my initial introduction to her work, and still hold a very prominent place on my bookshelf, down with my other beloved series like Harry Potter and The Looking Glass Wars. It also, to this day, contains one of, if not my favorite, opening line: 'The dancing would kill her eventually.'

The Changeling Race trilogy details the story of Earth dealing with the recently opened connection between our realm and the realm of the fair folk: gnomes, fairies, elves, trolls, sidhe. But Liz's love, an elf, has been lost, and she turns to the fairy revels and their candy and wine to bring back her memories of Lockland, even if only for the night. But in the background, something more sinister brews. And it's something that could bring down both worlds…

… and also spoil the entire plot if I told you. Suffice it to say that I consider these books among my regular rereaders.

4: The Watershed Trilogy by Douglas Niles

Fans of Dragonlance will recognize Niles' name. But this is him alone, and he's made a beautiful world: the Watershed. Divided by mountains into the realm of magic, the realm of man, and the realm of darkness, it's not the world's most innovative fantasy series. What sells these books for me is the details. The bits of old documents topping each chapter, the system of magic based on three waters (basic water, tarlike darkblood, and rainbow-colored aqua), the depth of the religions, the history. While these are normally given just enough time on the page to whet your appetite, by the end of the third book, you feel quite fluent in the characters and history of the Watershed.

The main plot is simple enough: Rudy, a human blessed with the powers of both darkblood and aqua, fights against the minions of Dassadec, the sleepstealer. But there's something about these books I just can't seem to place. But I like it. I like it quite a bit.

3: Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson

Not as obscure as some of the other entries, I still find that many people aren't familiar with this book, or Ibbotson's work as a whole. While I think anything she's written is worth reading, Island of the Aunts is my favorite by far. Three sisters living on an island take care of creatures both real and mythical. Seals, birds, mermaids, selkies. But they realize that, at some point, they will die. And so they go to the city pretending to be nannies and grab three children to take over for them after they die. At first, of course, the children resist. But they come around… except one. He gets word to his father, bringing hell down upon the sanctuary at just the wrong time: the kraken, guardian of the seas, has just left its baby under the care of the aunts so it can go bring peace back to the world. If you like mythology, I would highly recommend this book.

2: You are so Undead to Me by Stacey Jay

This is another book I found secondhand, and the first time I ever felt bad about not paying full price for a book. It was that good. Again, this one somewhat blurs the lines between paranormal and fantasy. And that's okay by me. The main character, Megan Berry, settles the undead. They come to her with problems and it's her place to do whatever it takes to get them back in the grave. Sure, all she wants is to live the life of a normal teenage girl, but she knows better. It's not too bad. At least, not until someone starts using black magic to raise the undead, that is. She, of course, has to figure out just who it is, just what they want, and how to stop them. Otherwise homecoming might be ruined. Not to mention, you know, life.

1: Krampus: The Yule Lord by Brom

This. This is a book. This is the book. I can sit there and read this, and then read it again, and then read it again. That's how brilliant it is. Not to mention the art, which is all done by the author. At the very least, I read this every holiday season.

Krampus: The Yule Lord poses, at it's core, a very simple question: if Krampus and Santa Claus got into a fight, who would win. If you don't know, Krampus is a European entity and the counterpart to Saint Nicholas. He takes bad children, stuffs them in bags, and beats them with birch switches. And in some places, people actually do this. You know, minus the actually hurting people part. Well, severely hurting people.

Krampus: The Yule Lord takes place in West Virginia. This year, Krampus has finally regained enough power to send out his servants, the belsnickels, to try and take down the dastardly devil Santa Claus. Because Krampus knows the truth about it all. He knows that Santa Claus wasn't always so jolly, and that he wasn't even always Santa Claus. He's suffered at the hands of Santa Claus for too long, and he intends to exact his revenge.

And this book, as a side note, has one of my favorite lines in any book, play, movie, TV show, or other form of medium: "Then let us go and be terrible."

So, what do you think? Have anything more for your bookshelves? Think I missed something vital in there? If so, tell me. And while you're at it, subscribe up at the top. Otherwise, I might just have to give Krampus your address.


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