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Best Fantasy Books of the 70's

The Best of the Best Fantasy Written in the 1970's

The 70's saw us Afro hairstyle, the Me generation, the continuation of the Cold War, the end of the Vietnam war, and death of the hippy trail. 

It was also a golden decade for fantasy, with the invigorated genre taking everything great about the 60's -- complex heroes, grand worlds, interesting characters and making it better and bigger. 

However, more focus was given to complex characters, well-defined worlds, and an emphasis on strong, independent female characters mark fantasy in the 70's. 

We also see the rise of the anti-hero in fantasy, pioneered by books like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and the Amber series -- a decidedly anti-Tolkien vision of fantasy.

Not all fantasy was complex or subversive though; the 70's also saw a rise to 'bestseller fantasy' -- highly derivative fantasy written specifically to address the tastes of the market place -- appetites singularly whetted and honed by Tolkien's grand fiction.

Thus we saw the launch of the Terry Brook's Shannara empire -- a highly inspired version of Lord of the Rings re-written for the modern market.  

Regardless of the quality of this kind of fantasy fiction, what remains undisputed is how well these types of books did in the marketplace, which is proving through strength of sales that readers were indeed eager for a Tolkien-like tale.

And because the selection of fantasy available was rather slim at the time (as compared to now), these bestseller fantasy books influenced generations of future writers.

This list is our selections for the best fantasy of the 70's: those standout fantasy books that made a real dent in the genre and proved highly influential (or at least, highly successful in the marketplace).

If you love the 70's, you'll want to check out our Best Fantasy Books of the 80's for arguably one of the best fantasy decades and the genesis of many of the best fantasy books ever written (and still highly regarded in 2000's). You'll also want to look at our Best Fantasy of the 60's to see the top books that in many ways inspired 70's fantasy.


Lord Foul's Bane

(Stephen R. Donaldson)
Comments (0)
Awards Won:1979 BFS
Award Nominations:1978 WFA

Before the loathsome creature that is (was?) King Joffrey Baratheon, there was Thomas Covenant. He may not be deranged (incest isnt fun for the whole family) or as blatantly sadistic, but any hatred you feel towards him is justified. This is partly because hes a bitter, twisted man, but mostly because his journey to self-improvement starts after he rapes someone. Wait, it gets worse: Before he assaults her, she heals him from leprosy.

Why it made the list

Its not an accident that Thomas Covenant is a whiny and disgusting bag of a man. One of the driving forces of the plot is his inability to believe in the magical world he finds himself in. Hes probably the most challenging protagonist youll encounter. Actually, everything about this book is a challenge the content, the language and the writing style. And thats exactly why a serious fantasy fan should at least attempt it. We read fantasy because it forces us through our imaginations to confront things that are out of our comfort zone. While you wouldnt want every book you read to be difficult as this one, every now and then its refreshing to be pushed to the ends of mental frustration.

Confronting this idea of a horrible person put in a powerful position with no guarantee that theyll do the right thing is an interesting one. This book may have been written in the 80s, but this issue is something were confronted with on a daily basis.

If theres one thing to be said about Donaldsons writing, its that it is confident. Hes comfortable throwing complex sentences and obscure words at his audience.

Also, the world that Donaldson has created is a bizarre cross of Dali-esque imagery and horror-inspired scenery. Its not something youll come across in any other fantasy series. Seeing it through the twisted lens of Covenants bleak worldview makes for a unique, if unsettling, reading experience.

Of all the books on the list, this is the one youll struggle with the most. Give it a go anyway.

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Nine Princes in Amber: Book One

(Roger Zelazny)

In the 70s, this was considered the freshest kind of fantasy, and today's writers often point to it as one of their inspirations.

Why it made the list

The world-building concept in The Chronicles of Amber is intriguing: There are multiple worlds, but each one is just a copy of one main world. The magic system, where characters with magic can influence the copied worlds is equally fascinating. That it's easy to understand these ideas is a testament to Zelazny's writing ability. In the hands of a lesser writer, these could be difficult to grasp.

There's some great dialogue in this series witty quips and retorts illustrate the conflict between the characters without detracting from the plot. There isn't an over abundance of wittiness either, which is a good thing considering how irritating snarky characters can be if they don't show some seriousness. (David Eddings, this means you.)

If you're looking for good female characters, you'll need to manage your expectations a bit: Like many books written in the 70s, the need to create well-rounded women didn't exist the way it does today. You'd think this would detract from the readability of the series, but it doesn't. This is mostly because the plot moves along at a good pace with a number of surprising twists that will keep you entertained.

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The Silmarillion

(J.R.R. Tolkien)

The Silmarillion is to The Lord of the Rings as the Old Testament is to Westboro Baptist Church. Minus the offensive stupidity. If you're a fervent Tolkien fan, you'll love The Silmarillion. If you're a casual reader or a post-Peter Jackson convert, you might find it heavy going. Actually, either way, it's a tough read. But if you're a fan, you'll appreciate the context it provides for the rest of the books.

Why it made the list

What The Silmarillion will do is increase your respect for Tolkien's genius. There is nothing in The Lord of the Rings series that doesn't have a back-story. His respect for the characters and places in the books is evident in the details of each piece of history he creates. There are elements of linguistics, of myth, and of legend woven through the narratives of The Silmarillion (this isn't a single tale) that do two things: Make it a dense work and increase your appreciation of The Hobbit and LOTR.

If you ever wondered at how Saruman fell, where Sauron came from or how Middle-Earth was created, you'll find the answers in The Silmarillion. Once you get through it, re-read the other books and you'll discover things you never noticed before and see Middle-Earth in a whole new light. And when you do get through all of it, award yourself with a doughnut. Because, damn! That was hard work.

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With a Martin-esque plot and Jim Butcher pace, The Axe and the Throne is a definite "must read" for even the pickiest fantasy fans.

In his stunning debut, Ireman has built the type of world so vivid and engrossing that leaving it at the end is agony. In spite of leaning toward grimdark, where authors often enshroud every scene in depressing darkness, there is no lack of cheerful moments or brilliant scenery. Yet the pangs of near-instant nostalgia that come after you put down a book like this have less to do with the inspired setting, and far more to do with those who inhabit it. 

From savage, unremorseful heroes, to deep, introspective villains, the cast of this story is comprised of believable characters capable of unthinkable actions. And it is these characters -- the ones you wish you could share a drink with or end up wanting to kill -- that forge the connection between fantasy and reality. Keethro, Titon, Ethel, Annora. These are names you will never forget, and each belongs to a man or woman as unique as they are memorable. 

No book would be complete without a its fair share of intrigue, however, and there is no lack of it here. Each chapter leaves you wanting more, and Ireman's masterful use of misdirection leads to an abundance of "oh shit" moments. Do not be fooled (or do -- perhaps that's part of the fun) by storylines that may appear trope-ish at first. This is no fairytale. 

Available on Amazon & Audible, Barns & Noble, iTunes, Google, and Kobo.


The Michael Moorcock Library Vol.1: Elric of Melnibone

(Roy Thomas)

Before the comments section roasts this list, we know Elric appeared in a short story in the 60s. It was only in the 70s that the novel form would be published.

Why it made the list

Elric is one of those characters that fantasy readers still single out as one of the best ever created. He has swagger. He's inclined to brooding. And he has enough self-doubt to keep him relatable. He's an intelligent character and Moorcock paid special attention to ensuring that the reader can discover this for themselves, without feeling like you're being beaten over the head with his cleverness. These characteristics work well as part of the pulp fiction feeling Moorcock has created in Elric of Melnibone.

Other than it being a short and easy book to read, the first novel in the series also gives you just enough information to want to keep reading the series. That sounds obvious, but it's rare to find an author that can balance the detail of one story with hints and clues to the rest of the series without telegraphing them or overdoing it the amount of information. Without giving too much away, you might find the ending of the first book frustrating especially when you feel like you know Elric well but it only makes you want to read the rest of the series.

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Watership Down: A Novel

(Richard Adams)

Yes, we're talking about that book about bunnies. No, we haven't lost our minds. Take note: This isn't a children's book, despite it being about fluffy animals. If you've read Watership Down, you'll understand it's on the list. And if you haven't, you're wrong. It's impossible not to be moved by this tale even if it is about rabbits.

Why it made the list

The themes that underpin the plot of this book of survival, of the influence of storytelling and of man's destructiveness get deeper as the plot of Watership Down progresses. This is due to the personalities of the rabbits: As you get to know them, you'll not only identify with them, but feel for the things that happen to them. And, while they have some anthropomorphic elements, Adams hasn't erased their animalness in favor of human characteristics. That is to say, there are no bunnies in waistcoasts. Or squirrels smoking cigars. There's never a moment when you forget that you're reading about rabbits, but there's also never a time when you won't be able to identify with them.

Adams has created a well balanced novel here: When it gets too dark, he throws in some humor. When the rabbits share their fables, it's because they're relevant to the action at that point in the plot. When the adventure becomes harrowing, there are moments of reflection. It's a rare writing skill, and if it's the only reason you pick up this book, you won't be disappointed.

The action never stops moving, which considering the intense emotions the book will inspire in you is both a blessing and a relief. Watership Down may not be fantasy in the most obvious sense, but it's a classic and deserves to be on any Best of' lists.

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The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

(Patricia A. McKillip)
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Awards Won:1975 WFA

Considering that this was written in the 70s, the fact that the hero of the series is a woman makes it all the more impressive. Especially because, even today, Sybel is one of the most well-rounded and fascinating characters in fantasy.

Why it made the list

You can't help but be intrigued by Sybel's world. McKillip's lyrical writing style is perfect for the imaginative beasts she describes. She's able to paint each of them so that you could believe they exist, and wonder if she's encountered them.

Sybel's personality - and its development - is the primary reason you'll love this series, but there are a number of reasons it's remained a timeless fantasy.

McKillip is excellent at making the reader feel like they're growing with Sybel. In the beginning, you'll be drawn in by the descriptions of the beasts, which include a riddling wild boar, a flamboyant lion and a murderous falcon. As Sybel moves from detached observer to willful protagonist, the language changes to become more emotive. And thanks to McKillip's enchanting prose your journey as reader mirrors Sybel's.

This work manages to be enchanting, engrossing and romantic without taking itself too seriously. While the book has the feel of a fable, there's enough ambiguity in the ending to make sure it doesn't fall neatly into the romantic fairytale stereotype.

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(Patricia A. McKillip)

The second Patricia McKillip work to make this list, The Riddle Master of Hed is another example of how her books were some of the best to come out of the 70s. There are elements of this series that are very Tolkien-like, but partly due to McKillip's impressive imagination it doesn't feel like it follows a strict epic fantasy formula.

Why it made the list

In most fantasy, having magic even if it's dangerous or unpredictable is portrayed as something that, given the option, you'd choose to have. This is not the case for Morgon the protagonist of this series. Like most heroes with modest beginnings, the series sees him transforming from an unknown entity into a powerful force. Unlike most of those books, the path isn't glorified. There's a sense that a quieter life, one in tune with simpler things, is actually the better choice.

McKillip makes sure you understand that Morgon, in choosing the former, finds it a painful journey; one that takes him away from the things he understands towards something that's as frustrating as it is difficult. There isn't a fantasy reader in the world who wouldn't choose the option to be a sorcerer of some kind, but this idea that magic isn't all it's made out to be, is a more realistic perspective.

A large portion of the series is focused on a female character another choice that is subversive (at least by 70s standards), but not so much so that it feels pointed. It always seems like McKillip is writing what she'd enjoy reading, which is why it's so easy to read.

The other elements that make this book such an enjoyable read include the strong relationships between the characters, the subtle layers of meaning, the natural feel of the romance at the heart of the plot and the upbeat nature of the series.

Even though it's classed as epic fantasy, the series is more fun than many of the heavier epics that would follow it. McKillip manages to write dreamy prose without it being complex. It's the ideal style for the subject matter in the book allowing the reader to feel like they're reading about a real-world historic saga. It's even more impressive that she manages to evoke this feeling without writing numerous, lengthy volumes a la Robert Jordan.

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The Stand

(Stephen King)
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Award Nominations:1979 WFA

You either love him or hate him (and if you do hate him, it's probably because every second sentence is a ridiculous metaphor), but there's no denying that Stephen King deserves a spot on this list. Even if it's only because he's the Stephen King.

Something to keep in mind before you pick this up: There are two versions of The Stand. One set in the 80s and one in the 90s. King rewrote the 80s version to reflect 90s pop culture and add things that he'd left out of the initial publication. It probably depends on when you grew up as to which of the two you'll find most horrifying, but if you do read the original version, remember that it was written post-Vietnam and during the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

Why it made the list

While there are many comments sections devoted to arguing over which of his books is the best, The Stand is almost always listed near the top. This is because, of all of them, this is the most quintessentially KING. There's no one better at making the reader feel so uncomfortable. This doesn't happen as a result of the horror genre aspect of his books, it happens because he takes the real world and then distorts it so that the world we're familiar with becomes one of horror.

There are elements of this book that are simplistic to the point of immaturity (the obvious delineation of good and evil is a good example), but as always the strength of the book is in the way King uses a (very) large canvas to allow the characters to grow. Every one serves a purpose, whether it's to move the action along or to provide an extra shade to the greyness of human morality.

It's a long read. But it's one of the greatest examples of dystopian fantasy. And the length King goes to in order to show the breakdown of civilization after most of humanity is killed puts The Walking Dead to shame.

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Gate of Ivrel

(C. J. Cherryh)

It wasn't until the 90s that really gritty fantasy became the norm for the genre, which is why The Morgaine Stories were so different to the standard epic fantasies of the 70s. Unlike later grimdark works, there's a definite sense of good and evil. And Morgaine, Cerryh's heroine, is an example of a character that is unequivocally good, without being boring. (This means YOU, Rand al'Thor.)

Why it made the list

Morgaine is one of the most well written female characters to come out of the genre an impressive achievement considering when this series was written. There's a tendency for heroes to feel unreachable it's difficult to relate to beings that are perfect but Morgaine has weaknesses and flaws that make her easy to relate to.

The plot follows an obvious path, but it's the relationship between the two primary characters Morgaine and Vanye that's the true strength of the series. This is character-driven fiction at its finest. There's some subversion here: Rather than the female lead needing rescuing, Morgaine often has to come to the aid of her male counterpart. This doesn't feel contrived though, because both their relationship and their story feel natural.

Cerryh hasn't written characters at the expense of creating a rich world. The world they inhabit is well realised and it's clear that Cerryh spent time thinking about the world she created. This is important because this series takes place on four different worlds. Each world is well defined and provides excellent backdrops for the development of the most rewarding aspect of The Morgaine Stories: The relationship between Morgaine and Vanye.

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Tales from the Flat Earth - The Lords of Darkness

(tanith lee)

In blending A Thousand And One Nights with fantasy elements, Lee created an original world by departing from the Euro-centric mythology that Tolkien had drawn upon in The Lord of the Rings. This is probably what Aladdin would look like if George R.R. Martin wrote it. And it's a work that's huge in scope: It spans several centuries and was published over a period of ten years.

Why it made the list

If you're the kind of reader who needs a character driven plot or at least one character to identify with, you might want to give this one a miss. But if this is something you can live without, then you'll love the rich, enchanting prose and the depth that Lee has imbued these pages with.

There is darkness in these tales, as well as a sensuality that was likely shocking in the time it was published, but only adds to the depth of the book. And, while there is no central character, the tales are linked by the Prince of Darkness whose influence impacts the life of each character you meet.

The Flat Earth is vivid and full of life: No character feels like a waste. They all serve a purpose even if it's just to indicate the effects of a magic-wielding manipulator. Even for those of us who have been exposed to the violence of modern fantasies (poor Sansa), it's surprising how limitless Lee's imagination is.

It's also one of the few fantasies where the ending lives up to its promise.

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The Princess Bride

(William Goldman)

If you've never said, My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die, you're about as rare as a swear word at Hogwarts. Part of the reason the movie is so quotable is because the author of the book William Goldman is an Academy Award-winning screenwriter.

Why it made the list

What you don't get a sense of in the movie is the genius of the structure of The Princess Bride. There's a deceit involved in how it's told: It's supposedly an abridged version of a (longer, more boring) book by S. Morgenstern. This book doesn't exist. Why is this genius? Because it allows Goldman the opportunity to comment on his own work as if he's Goldman commenting on Morgenstern, when it's actually Goldman commenting on Goldman pretending to be Morgenstern.

This isn't only an excellent way to overcome any inconsistencies in his own narrative; it's also how we get into the heads of the characters and learn about their histories without sacrificing any of the pace of an action driven plot.

There's something for everyone here: Swordplay and romance, action and banter. And, while it's always snappy, there's still depth to it. The theme that's interwoven with the witticisms and quick dialogue is how the journey from youthful naivet to loss of innocence changes a person. The book also warns of something even more intrinsic: Sometimes (and often) life does not play fairly.

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The Neverending Story

(Michael Ende)

The Neverending Story is a perfect example of how badly a film version of a beloved book can go. For people who hadn't read the book, the film was probably enchanting. For everyone else, it's confusing. (Can we please talk about the luck dragon that was less dragon and more a flying puppy?) But the book is a complex exploration of power and how it corrupts even those with the best intentions.

Why it made the list

It's not often that you'll read a book where the integrity of the character you root the most for is as annihilated as it is in The Neverending Story. You'll have read about characters that fall from grace, but more often than not, it's a result of an external force. In this book, it's Bastians' good intentions that drag him down. And that's what will get you. Because we assume that, should we be given the power to change things, we'd do it for the better. But when you have that power and can have anything, how do you keep your moral compass intact?

It's translated from a German Text, so the language isn't always the smoothest, but the creatures you encounter as you're reading are full of life. Ende has an imagination that could rival Green Lantern's, and it's clear on every page.

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Thieves' World Series

(Robert Aspirin)

The Thieves' World Series is the literary equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or maybe it's closer to the DC Extended Universe in that sometimes Ben Affleck ruins things. The idea behind the series was to create a world that could be shared by multiple authors each of whom could use the characters and settings in that world in works of their own.

Before you read it, take a moment to appreciate that this was done in the 70s long before Tinder Skype. This entire world was created via paper mail and over the phone.

Why it made the list

Firstly, for its ambitious concept. Aspirin created the initial world and then left it up to contributing authors to grow the characters and plots. Part of the reason why this was such a great idea is that, with a new author for every installment, the storyline and characters would always feel fresh.

Secondly, sometimes you need to escape the lengthy reads that dominate today's fantasy. This is a great way to do that because each book is like a new episode in the series. Each one is different from the next one thanks to different styles and perspectives that each writer brought to it.

At a time when the genre was concerned with magic, Legolas and Gimli stand-ins and MacGuffins, these stories about assassins, rebels and thieves were something new. While we may be more accustomed to reading about these kinds of characters now, it's clear that the contributors were excited to be writing about them and it's palpable, especially when reading the early works.

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To Your Scattered Bodies Go

(Philip Jose Farmer)

There are some problematic things about this series, but it's an interesting concept and the action scenes are some of the most fun to come out of the 70s. The world Farmer created will intrigue and disgust you, but that's part of the draw.

You'll have to wade through some lengthy descriptions (which are often unnecessary) and you can expect to feel disappointed by Farmer's depictions of women, but if you can put those aside, you'll find a tight narrative with some interesting philosophical ideas.

Why it made the list

Concept: After death, everyone comes back to life on the banks of a river. The key word here is everyone. Historical figures, including Mozart, Jack London, King John of England and the Nazi commander Hermann Gring, interact in this world.

Even today, this is a novel concept that is fascinating to imagine. It provided Farmer with the opportunity to play with how these people would act and relate to one another. To get an idea of how intriguing this idea is, imagine a scenario where Nelson Mandela meets Marilyn Monroe.

The most interesting thing about the series is how these resurrected people fall into familiar patterns the same ones from when they were alive. There's no assumption that after death people become better versions of themselves or that they go to a place that's better than where they were. They wake up as the same people they were in life selfish, manipulative and desperate for power.

It's worth noting that this series would inspire Alan Moore to write The League of Extraordinary Gentleman and result in numerous spin offs including a TV pilot and movie.

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In this retelling of the legend of Beauty and the Beast, there's nothing really new about the story itself. It follows the same plot as the Disney movie. It's a story that continues to fascinate us. (If you've watched Lana Lang play Beauty in that horrible CW TV show, you deserve an award.)

Why it made the list

McKinley's writing is exceptional. She takes a standard recounting of the tale and imbues it with life to the point where it feels like this is a world and story that could have existed. To achieve this, she uses her words the way a painter on a budget would: No brushstroke is wasted. There's just enough description to create a detailed picture, but never enough to cause you to zone out.

The story is told with a measured tone, which makes it all the more captivating, especially when it comes to the slow burn of the romance between Beauty and her beast. The development of their relationship feels natural and happens the way it would if it were to occur in the real world, with each side falling for the other as they get to know each other.

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(Anne McCaffrey)

Anne McCaffrey's world of Pern is one of the most well-known and well realized worlds in the genre. Dragonsong is a quick read that's perfect for anyone looking for a few hours of pure escapism. It's also one of those books that was probably written for a younger audience, but can entertain anyone of any age.

Why it made the list

If you read this book and don't wish you could own a firelizard, you're probably one of those weird people who don't like pizza. It's a great introduction to Pern because it's simple, beautifully written and full of life. It also occurs outside the normal Pern series, so you don't need to know anything about the world before read it. McCaffrey is especially good at writing great characters that feel like familiar friends.

There's nothing complicated about the storyline and the focus is on the journey of a single character, which next to McCaffrey's prose is why it's so readable. She doesn't go out of her way to create something original this is a great example of a well written, easy to enjoy fantasy book. Readers of modern fantasy might actually find this refreshing.

The themes of friendship, acceptance and the power of music and poetry are ones that any reader can identify with, but you'll never feel like you're being lectured. Sometimes there's nothing better than a simple, well-told tale. Especially if there are dragons in it.

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The Bloody Chamber

(Angela Carter)

If you've ever paid real attention to fairy tales, you'll have noticed that they're not at all friendly. It's kind of like what happens when you watch roadrunner cartoons and realize that it's a story about two characters that hate each other so much that they try to kill each other. Gruesomely. (Or did you think that being crushed by an anvil would be a peaceful way to die?) Fairy tales are full of latent adult themes and The Bloody Chamber makes them overt.

Why it made the list

College courses are structured around this book because, even 30+ years later, it's equal parts shocking and fascinating. Carter has a vivid imagination and has the writing skill to communicate it to readers.

To be clear, these are tales of sex and violence. There's a dark sensuality in every story. If you're a) offended by graphic scenes or b) not ready to ruin your favorite childhood fairy tale, this is not the book for you. If you enjoy multi-layered stories, exploring symbolism or broadening how you (and society) define gender and sexuality, then you'll love The Bloody Chamber. For short story lovers, you'll find that Carter is a master of this format always in control, always well paced and always enthralling.

There are many opportunities for intellectual discussion and disagreement in these stories, especially when it comes to gender and sexuality, and they're a good reason why you should read it, but there's a much simpler reason why you should: Because there's nothing else like it.

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Deryni Rising

(Katherine Kurtz)

That this series remains unknown by today's fantasy readers is a pity, because it's a great series especially for fans of political fantasy or fantasy that occurs in worlds similar to our own. There's not much action, but the characters and their relationships are more than enough to counter this.

Why it made the list

Deryni Rising is another one of those books where you need to keep in mind that it was written many years ago. It hasn't aged badly since realpolitik fantasy is so popular today. There are, however, some stock characters that people who have read extensively in the genre might find uninspired.

The reason this is a memorable series is thanks to the characters of Kelson and Morgan. They're well written and will hold your attention throughout what is a tight, short read. Kurtz is an author that knows how to communicate ideas through concise descriptions rather than long information dumps. Sound like an obvious skill? You'd think. But there are few fantasy authors today that can condense their thoughts into less than 4 billion pages.

It's a great series to give newcomers to the genre, especially if they're only interested in fantasy because of Jon Snow.

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Myth Adventures Series

(Robert Asprin)

Need a break from lengthy, dense and heavy-handed epic fantasy? Pick this series up it's lighthearted and easy to read. As with most 70s fantasy, don't expect great female characters. This shouldn't be too much of a problem, since the series doesn't expect you to take it seriously.

Why it made the list

The misadventures that the main character Skeeve gets up to are hilarious and entertaining. The humor isn't satirical or snarky and the creatures encountered are fun to read about. It's perfect for lazy afternoons where rather than watch another Big Bang Theory rerun you'd rather choose the literary equivalent.

Considering how short the book is, Aspirin has done a great job building this world. This is because the main idea is that there are multiple dimensions for these characters to visit. It sets the action up for many surprises and allows Aspirin the chance to throw ideas together without focusing too much on the minutiae of a single world.

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A Spell for Chameleon

(Piers Anthony)
Comments (0)
Awards Won:1978 BFS

When this came out, there was nothing like it. The consensus is that you'll either love the Xanth books or hate them. If you fell into the latter category it would be because it's clear that Anthony doesn't hold women in the highest regard and, if you were to focus on this, you'd find A Spell for Chameloen a painful example of sexism. Despite this, it is possible for you to enjoy this book.

Why it made the list

This is the Kubla Khan of 80s fantasy. It's bizarre, random and sometimes doesn't make much sense. But this is part of its appeal at no point do you need to take anything that happens seriously. You should apply this state of mind to the character of Chameleon especially.

His writing isn't that good - he struggles with descriptions and often resorts to vague redundancies like, absolutely beautiful, and his characters are as three dimensional as a pavement, but he is a good storyteller. He knows how to pace the action of a book so that all loose ends are tied up in a tight narrative. You can't help but be impressed by the number of ideas that he manages to cram into each book. Sometimes they're ludicrous, but they're always original.

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The Sword of Shannara

(Terry Brooks)

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who want to burn The Sword of Shannara and those who say they want to burn The Sword of Shannara but secretly love it. It's the height of uncool to say you liked this book. It's the broccoli of the fantasy world: Dry, tasteless and hated, but vastly improved if you're happy with adding a ton of cheese.

Why it made the list

A formula for fantasy writers by J.R.R Tolkien: (Reluctant hero) x (annoying (but loyal) companions) x (all-knowing old guy) + magic jewellery Satan-like bad guy = Bestseller

It's often been noted that Terry Brooks, using this formula, created a lesser version of the Lord of the Rings. But in the 70s, this was the norm. Literary classic this book ain't. But it was one of the first to be a runaway bestseller.

Most readers who are fans of the series will only admit to it being a guilty pleasure. Especially because it's technically painful: Brooks's writing style is clumsy and his characters mundane.

If you did read it and enjoy it, it was probably when you were younger and were just discovering fantasy. You may return to it and discover that it was enjoyable at the time, but doesn't live up to your memory. Here's the catch: It doesn't matter. If you can find enjoyment in a book any book then whether it's well written or not isn't important. Because that's the whole point of the genre: Enjoyment through escapism.

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The Drawing of the Dark

(Tim Powers)

Other than a good cup of coffee (or tea), a beach or a fresh doughnut, there's nothing that relaxes many people than a cold beer. Beer lovers will talk metaphorically about it being a magical substance. In The Drawing of the Dark, it's literally a magical liquid. Sound ridiculous? Probably. But it makes sense in the book, which is an interesting and easy read.

Why it made the list

All the standard Capital E Epic fantasy elements are here: Powerful magic, an enigmatic sorcerer and destiny fulfillment. Unlike other similar fantasies from the 70s, there's enough to separate it from the rest. The protagonist, Brian Duffy, is easy to like and the atmosphere jumps of the page. The only real problem with this book is that the romance between Duffy and Epiphany feels stilted and forced. But it's not terrible enough to overwhelm the (many) positives.

The most enjoyable thing about this book is that it feels like something that could have happened in the past even though there are fantastic elements that don't exist. In this case, it's Vienna during the siege by the Ottoman Empire. That the Middle East threat is relevant over 40 years later is a coincidence, but it does add a level of believability to the narrative.

Powers is also skilled at writing realistic and vivid accounts of sword fighting with none of the flailing and over dramatic gestures of writers with lesser talent. (ahem Terry Brooks.)

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The Crystal Cave

(Mary Stewart)

Sometimes it feels like the Arthurian legend has been done to death. Because it has. But there are some retellings of the tale that are worth reading if only to give you another perspective on a tale that despite being over exposed is captivating.

Why it made the list

The difference in Stewart's Arthurian Saga is that it's written from Merlin's perspective. And, while Arthur is the hero of the legend, Merlin was always the most fascinating of the characters. There's no doubt that Stewart did her research before writing the series because it feels more like historical fiction than a strict fantasy. This is due to her ability to write settings that feel real as if they exist.

There are issues in the series: Stewart's Merlin isn't a great character and it's difficult to identify with him. It would've worked better if she'd written in third person instead of as first person. Fortunately, Stewart's fluid prose and talent for creating realistic environments redeem the book.

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Sorcerer's Son

(Phyllis Eisenstein)

The premise for this series of a humanized demon and his struggle for freedom isn't one you'll come across often. It's the kind of idea that could go horribly wrong, but Eisenstein is a talented writer, which is why this is a great read.

Why it made the list

If you're looking for a well-defined magic system, you won't find it here. But it's not that much of a problem, because the best thing about The Sorcerer's Son - other than the unique (and wonderfully bizzare) plot are the characters. The lead protagonist Cray is easy to like and his quest to find his lost father is much more believable than, say, a quest for a magic sword. And that's the greatest strength of this book: The characters' personalities and motivations are very real and very human.

If you examined the book a bit harder, you'll find some interesting ideas about love, gender and the path to adulthood, but they never overwhelm the story. And, while it's a coming of age story, there are enough twists that it doesn't feel stereotypical. After reading the first book, you'll want to find out more about where these character will go.

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The Shining

(Stephen King)

Disclaimer: Avoid King books if you're sensitive to the overuse of adverbs. Second disclaimer: The movie and the book are quite different, but neither will ruin you for the other since they're both excellent.

King has spoken about how Jack Torrance, The Shining's main protagonist, is an extreme representation of himself. It's not as conceited as it sounds though, because Torrance is written with a rage that borders on self-hatred.

Why it made the list

Firstly, King's influence on speculative fiction is undeniable. The Shining is an excellent example of the things that make his books so popular: An intense energy that drives the plot along, characters that grow (not always in the right direction) and an atmosphere that's both threatening and thrilling.

The Overlook Hotel is given such life that it becomes one of the characters in the book. And it's creepier than a bald Donald Trump. It's also one of the things the movie doesn't depict it's a supernatural force in the book. As with all of his books, the plot is filled with intelligent ideas and solid writing.

You might struggle to read this if you've watched the movie, but if you do give it a shot, you'll find it as much of a classic as the film.

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