Top 25 Best Fantasy Books

Griffin

Journeyed there and back again
#61
It would be nice if anyone who has an interest to make his own top 25, explain his/her choices and link to the list.
It would be great if we did that, worth a new thread, maybe?
I, myself, do feel inadequate to compose a top 25 best fantasy books list, because I'm not that well read yet. At the most it would be a top 25 best fantasy books I've read list.

Concerning old books/new books better:
I wouldn't say old books are worse. There are some very good series out there that can stand toe-to-toe with most contemporary fantasy books. The old books do tend to be more limited on the innovative side in comparison nowadays (although this just might be a generalization).

And Ben's list is just that, Ben's list. It is a great list, but it's not my list. The top 25 fantasy book list based on our collective opinions composed by @Antoxx (where art thou?) is a better approximation. You can find that list here.
 
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Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#62
I, myself, do feel inadequate to compose a top 25 best fantasy books list, because I'm not that well read yet. At the most it would be a top 25 best fantasy books I've read list.
Same here.
It would be great if we did that, worth a new thread, maybe?
Possibly, if enough people care to actually do that.
The old books do tend to be more limited on the innovative side in comparison nowadays (although this just might be a generalization).
I wouldn't even go that far because I haven't read enough. Remember, there's 30 years worth of material between LotR and the 80s Fantasy, and we consider 80s books as old. And there is so much more before the LotR as well. The only thing I know is that it fantasy is like a giant wall going up, each year you get a new layer of bricks. But I don't think that new bricks are particularly more inventive then the old ones. They are just different.
 

Griffin

Journeyed there and back again
#63
Remember, there's 30 years worth of material between LotR and the 80s Fantasy, and we consider 80s books as old. And there is so much more before the LotR as well. The only thing I know is that it fantasy is like a giant wall going up, each year you get a new layer of bricks. But I don't think that new bricks are particularly more inventive then the old ones. They are just different.
You are right of course (hence this might be a generalization). I know next to nothing about the fantasy in between LotR and the 80s. All I really know are the farmboy with a sword-fantasy, but I am convinced there's plenty of other stuff. I was just comparing with the golden days we experience now with highly innovating books (and also some blantly rehashes of stuff we've seen a thousand times). But my end conclusion remains the same, old or new, it does not matter, it can all be good!
 

Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#64

Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#66
What's before Tolkien and Mouser? There was no fantasy literature at all (except maybe the bible).
That's not really true but it is a common prejudice ;)
https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/2365.Pre_Tolkien_Fantasy
And that a lot of todays great writers became fantasy authors because they read the Tolkiens and their succesors and because they could use the staff those fantasy grandfathers created.
Tolkien can be credited as a father of only one brand of fantasy and that's Epic fantasy where you have a secondary world, ie not Earth.
A lot of my favorite authors owe diddlysquat to Tolkien and much more to the fathers of sword and sorcery like Robert E Howard, or Edgar Rice Burroughs or Fritz Lieber or even Moorcock. Im talking about Abercrombie ofc.
Or take new weird fantasy with China Mieville who owes so much more to Lovecraft and Mervyn Peake among others.
One more of my favs, Neil Gaiman. You wont see much Tolkien influence with him either.
Or how about urban fantasy which is a thing of its own, and a world apart from anything Tolkien.
The father of epic fantasy has his place in this genre, but it's not at all so omnipresent as you may think.
 

Shorty

Philosophizes with Kellhus
#67
When I wrote...

the Tolkiens and their succesors
I didn't mean him as a single author, who inspired every writer who came afterwards. I ment him, his Generations and those that came after him. What's nothing different , than your (of course more detailled) list of people who inspired or created a genre.

By saying no fantasy at all I might have exaggerated a tiny bit.;) Especially not if you include fairy tales and mythologie like in the list.

The point I was trying to make with my previous posts is, that there are more subgenres and a wider spectrum of fantasy books, than in there have been in the age of Tolkien (and before).

If that did not came out right I again am sorry for beeing not better undestandable in English or at all :)
 

Boreas

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#68
I'll wait until you read a few more to have this discussion again
Will do!
Finally you got to realize that BFB's Top 25 isn't an ultimate truth. It's one man's list.
No list can be the ultimate truth. If it's btkong's purely personal list, then it's better served being in a blog or on that thread where members leave their own lists. But I see it as an official BFB site list, so I wonder what criteria was used, if any, since one person's preference can't be generally representative for an entire site made up of diverse members, especially a list that tries to present to neophytes the supposed best the genre has to offer. Although, it's possible for a well read member to make a pretty good list and btkong definitely seems well read in the fantasy genre, but I see this particular list as having too narrow a scope by its exclusion of examples that have had far greater impact, or have enriched the genre as a whole with greater style. If this were a 'best of contemporary fantasy' list, then it might make more sense, but there would still be major omissions.

Like @Shorty, I find it difficult to include unfinished trilogies, no matter how good the first instalments might appear. A 'best of' list necessarily needs to include some classics, since by definition they stand the test of time (at least, through one generation) and because they were either game changers or offered something very different. Some recent examples can also be included if they've made a huge impact on the genre. Say, like "Perdido Street Station", because to me it seems that this book has essentially codified an entire subgenre, much like "Neuromancer" did for cyberpunk in the 80s, or Hell, like "Lord of the Rings" did for the fantasy genre entire. It also helps that PSS was a bloody brilliantly written book with imagination and verve that shoots most of the listed examples out of orbit.
I however find nothing dismissive in the concept of evolutuion.
For most natural phenomena and processes, yes. Man made cultural constructs can also devolve over time. But I get what you're saying. Sorry for being a twat.
In the context of fantasy literature it also means that there a a lot of new (sub)genres then in the old days. What is a big plus for me.
I agree, that's a big plus. Although, you have to keep in mind that with every widening in the scope of a genre (with subgenres), there's also a corresponding increase in the dross that's put to print. There are a few key novels that light the way and truly do something unexpected, not just with what they might say but in the quality of how they say it. In those new paths they pave, or hitherto undiscovered lands they lay bare, there are lots of imitations (call them exploitation novels, if you will) that try to follow on that success. Some of those examples following do it well and enrich the subgenre, but the vast majority do not.
What's before Tolkien and Mouser? There was no fantasy literature at all (except maybe the bible).
Shakespeare, Goethe, Thomas Moore, Jonathan Swift, Tennyson, Coleridge, Lord Byron, Bram Stoker, the Greek epic poems, the Indian poems, Mesopotamian fables, Beowulf, Prose Eddas, Epic of Gilgamesh, Dante, Don Quixote, Arabian Nights, the Brothers Grimm, Thomas Malory, George MacDonald, E. R. Eddison, Edgar Allen Poe, Bulgakov, ETA Hoffmann, Lovecraft, Clarke Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and lots and lots more.

Of the examples I had issues with (those I've read in their entirety):

The Broken Empire was fun, but it brought nothing new and was not spectacular in any way. I really enjoyed the science fictional underpinnings of it, but it was ultimately a parody of grimdark by talking all those qualities that I've read in Glen Cook or GRRM or Abercrombie, and heightening them purposelessly (it seemed a bit for shock value, especially in the first book). Still, it was fun. "American Gods" instead of "The Sandman"? The latter is superior in every way, did everything first that AG tangentially tried to do, changed how fantasy could be portrayed in another medium, was a top example of excellent collaborations between a writer and a diverse range of artists and...a comic shouldn't be excluded from a 'best of' list because it's a different medium. It's very viable and offers things that prose texts don't - Gaiman's single issue short story "A Midsummer's Night Dream" even won the World Fantasy Award, the first time for a comic. "Heroes Die" was very, very fun, and while the fantasy action (the majority of the novel) was super enjoyable, it was the science fictional dystopia that was the most interesting aspect, and how the protagonist was ultimately able to use the fantasy realm/setting as a subversive tool (through himself and inadvertently so) to begin the destabilising process of an unfairly, socially rigid hierarchy. Good novel and a good addition that enriches that science-fantasy-type novel lying on the boundaries, but a game changer? "Under Heaven" is a great novel; well-written, like most of Kay's works, and Guy Gavriel Kay definitely deserves to be on a best of list when talking about fantasy, but I think he's written better books.
 
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Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#69
But I see it as an official BFB site list, so I wonder what criteria was used, if any, since one person's preference can't be generally representative for an entire site made up of diverse members,
It's his site and his list so for me there's no question there. As for criteria, you would have to ask him, but Im sure his enormous reading experience has a role to play there. As for whether or not he wants to represent entire site of diverse members, you have to ask him again about that. Im not so sure he wants to do that in the first place, although he has made some concession to the crowd's voices with the latest site installment.

He says in the opening post of top 25:
In my 20 or so years of devouring fantasy books, certain fantasy books have really stood out far above the rest. This is a list of those books.

That's perfectly clear to me. It's his list, his opinion.

I didn't mean him as a single author, who inspired every writer who came afterwards. I ment him, his Generations and those that came after him. What's nothing different , than your (of course more detailled) list of people who inspired or created a genre.
Yeah sure after Tolkien, there have been a mass of Tolkien imitators. They are not so important. But the people I have mentioned didnt come after Tolkien. They were his contemporaries who did something different then him and their works had just as diverse and as big influence on fantasy as Tolkien's did.

Just to put things in perspective
Tolkien 1892-1973
Robert E Howard 1906-1936
Edgar Rice Burroughs 1875-1950
Fritz Leiber 1910-1992
Lord Dunsany 1878-1957
Lovecraft 1890-1937
Clark Ashton Smith 1893-1961
Hope Mirrlees 1901-1978
George MacDonald 1824-1905
E.R. Eddison 1882-1845
Fletcher Pratt 1897-1956
L. Sprague de Camp 1907-2000

and there as so many more....

The point I was trying to make with my previous posts is, that there are more subgenres and a wider spectrum of fantasy books, than in there have been in the age of Tolkien (and before).
YES! But that is not all thanks to Tolkien! Only one part of it, mainly epic fantasy as I said can be credited to him and even that is on the wobbly legs because of all the epics before him.
 

Boreas

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#70
Never disputed this fact from the beginning. Mainly wanted to know whether other members thought this list was contentious or not, and what their own criteria for such a hypothetical list might be. As for asking btkong about any criteria he may have used, that question was posed quite early on.
 

kenubrion

Journeyed there and back again
#71
My very first impression upon somehow discovering the site (not the forum, I've been lurking a long time) is that someone was kind enough to such an exhaustive work as this site, and that the choices didn't matter one bit. I used it as a resource for new books to read from day 1 and still look at it that way. I think disagreeing with his lists is completely missing the point of the site's existence.
 

kenubrion

Journeyed there and back again
#72
My very first impression upon somehow discovering the site (not the forum, I've been lurking a long time) is that someone was kind enough to create such an exhaustive work as this site, and that the choices didn't matter one bit. I used it as a resource for new books to read from day 1 and still look at it that way. I think disagreeing with his lists is completely missing the point of the site's existence.
 

Boreas

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#73
I think disagreeing with his lists is completely missing the point of the site's existence.
Na, I wouldn't go that far. I like most of the lists on the site. I went through a lot of the more focused lists when I first joined. Somehow, I never seemed to have considered the main 'best of' list carefully until I decided to check how many I had read from there on this thread, and I wondered how some of those choices got there, is all. Disagreeing is perfectly acceptable.

But you're perfectly right to point out the luck of finding such exhaustive lists. @btkong's done a hell of a lot of work on the site and deserves gratitude. I am grateful!
 

Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#74
Mainly wanted to know whether other members thought this list was contentious or not,
Well I certainly don't think that. I wouldn't contest any of the top 25 any member makes. I might not agree some choices, but I certainly wont go and tell somebody, hey you should take that book off, and put this on the list. Why the heck would I want to?
In other words:

Granted I might think some opinions are backed up more, and that relies mainly on if somebody has read fantasy books for 20 or for 5 years.
 

Boreas

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#75
I wouldn't contest any of the top 25 any member makes.
I wouldn't either. It's just that I saw the 'best of' list on BFB as an official list and thus open to questioning. Can't fault that. You can go to other sites and see what their 'best of' lists/recommendations are and you would definitely wonder whether about some of those choices according to what you know/have read. That's why I made the suggestion that if it is a purely personal list without heeding any sort of criteria usually reserved for such official 'best of' lists, then it might be better served on a blog or a specific thread. Otherwise, I was wondering what the criteria used, if any, were.
 

Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#76
It's just that I saw the 'best of' list on BFB as an official list and thus open to questioning.
I think that was your first mistake. From everything he wrote in his opening to that list and all other lists for that matter, I have concluded it's his attempt(s) backed up by his reading experience to make a list.
He elaborates more on criteria in the opening text of each list. And of course his criteria may not coincide with yours or mine.
Personally I see no difference between top 25 and any other list, and no reason why that list is better suited for the personal blog, while others are fine to stay on the site. All of them are personal, backed up by a lot of reasoning and even more reading experience.

As Griffin and myself had said, and 'official' BFB list (if you wanna call it that) would be more in line with forum member's list. Hopefully we can get that when Antoxx returns.
 

Boreas

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#77
It's just that I saw the 'best of' list on BFB as an official list and thus open to questioning.
I think that was your first mistake.
I don't think that's a mistake, rather a natural thing to do.

Anyway, what started out as a rather enjoyable and interesting discussion (as I'd hoped) on considering criteria and what makes a 'best of' list (using the said 'top 25' as an impetus for the discussion) is turning out to be a chore, so let's just drop this particular line of tit-for-tat tangent with the theme 'Ben's list and therefore inviolable' that we've engaged in.
 

Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#78
with the theme 'Ben's list and therefore inviolable' that we've engaged in.
That's not what I was saying at all, and honestly I'm offended that you reduce all my arguments on that. By all means drop the discussion if you feel like it.
 

moonspawn

Journeyed there and back again
#79
I disagree. Mainly because of the often mentioned fact that it is just one man's opinion, everyone likes other stuff and it is impossible to please everyone , I think it is even impossible to find 2 people here who have exactly to same best 25 ranking.

Second of all the" back in the days, everything was better"-mentality. It wasnt. Even if everyone keeps telling it. It wasn't. Especially not in fantasy books and this again is only my personal opinion, because today there is a diversity that never has been before. You can chose between genres that did not exist back in the 80's, between books of well known authors who have also in the 80's written their books and between so much more. I agree in tha fact that there is a lot more pulp then 30 years ago, but the also a lot of really good books.

Last of all, everything you mention is again just your own opinion. With your username it is not surprising which book should be number one on the list. But you are knocking down the favourites of a lot of other readers.
The reason I'm so critical of the top 25 list is precisely because I know Ben has read so much. Considering he's read way more fantasy than all of us I would think he would take more into account the diversity of the fantasy genre. I know grimdark is the new thing but there's a lot of other stuff out there. Also in terms of creating a more diverse list I think this new top 25 might be slightly better than before. I just think it over represents grimdarks and contemporary fantasy.

Also I think he has too many contemporary best sellers on the list. This makes me think he is trying too hard to cater to a mainstream fantasy crowd. When I see top 25 I expect it to consist of the most top notch mind blowing stuff in the genre and when I see aSoIaF higher than Malazan or Lies of Locke Lamora and Name of the Wind chosen over PSS I don't see this happening as much as I would like. Name of the Wind and Lies of Locke Lamora are fine texts of course but they lack depth compared to some other fantasy I've read. Serious literature doesn't simply just entertain, it tries to dig deep and unveil truths about what makes us human.

In the context of fantasy literature it also means that there a a lot of new (sub)genres then in the old days.
It also means there is a lot more crap to wade through. When it comes to reading contemporary fiction I've become very wary and careful but I don't have to be as careful when reading really old fiction because in the old days writers were actually expected to master their craft. Some writers nowadays master their craft but not nearly as many as I would like.
 

Shorty

Philosophizes with Kellhus
#80
It also means there is a lot more crap to wade through. When it comes to reading contemporary fiction I've become very wary and careful but I don't have to be as careful when reading really old fiction because in the old days writers were actually expected to master their craft. Some writers nowadays master their craft but not nearly as many as I would like.
I agree with you, that it is much easier now to publish a book with new markets, ebooks and so on, which leads to the sea of crap you have to wade through :) But I think there are still a lot of skilled master craftsmen today who could have published their books under harder circumstances, because they are simply good books.

I also agree that, when you read older fiction, than you can be more certain that it's no crap. I think however that's partially beacuse the old crap is now forgotten and only the outstanding or at least medicore books survived in the collective memory. I'm sure, that you know which old book you are going to read and it will probably in most cases not be a book the noone ever recommended or mentioned to you, or that you never read or hear of in any other context.
So, even if there where the same amount of crap published in 1985*, which is not the case because of what i've written above, when you pick up a books from 1985 today, it's more likely to be a book that survived for a reason a good book.

*this is just an example year! - please dont hold me responsible for especilaly in this year published books. Neither good nor bad.