So, Troy Wiggons has a post at Book Riot: 9 Diverse Fantasy Books That Will Challenge Your Idea of Fantasy Fiction
Fantasy recommendation lists are characterized by their safety. Curious newcomers to the genre, having enjoyed their sample of escapist literature, request more stories, more worlds to lose themselves in. More often than not, though, the recommendations that they receive are the same few critically acclaimed authors whose work is all too often presented as representative of the genre.
This is no doubt true, though I roll my eyes at the use of the term “escapist” in this context. Also, I see absolutely nothing wrong with recommending stories that are excellent even if a long-time fantasy reader would say they fit smack dab in the middle of mainstream fantasy. Not only that, I would be cautious about recommending a book that might appeal to the jaded palate of the long-time fan but would perhaps be likely to turn off a newcomer to the genre.
Still, interesting idea for a post, isn’t it?
I have not read a single one of the recommended works, although a couple have been on my radar for a while, including A STRANGER TO OLONDRIA, for example. Troy comments: Samatar’s novel examines the power of words and literacy … Jevick bears a powerful interest in the country of Olondria, and when Jevick’s father dies, he finds himself taking a pilgrimage to Olondria, where he is thrust into a community in flux. A religious war looms, with traditions of literacy representative of the disagreement. Olondria examines some vividly human themes, indeed, examines humanity itself with prose so beautiful that you’ll be recalling passages in your sleep.
Yes, it is comments like prose so beautiful you’ll be recalling passages in your sleep that keep this book from fading off my radar. Of course, one might well argue that many, many fantasy novels examine some vividly human themes, probably including many of the standard works on a typical fantasy recommendation list. Why, I might be able to identify one or two such themes in, say, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, which I imagine is on every single list of fantasy recommendations ever compiled.
Still, fantasy that pushes the boundaries . . . fantasy that steps outside the basic medieval setting and the orphaned-heir type of plot . . . what would you recommend? Off the top of my head, I might suggest:
1. The Sharing Knife series. I think of this one because of the continual focus on ordinary life and ordinary people. Yes, yes, I know that Dag is not just *all* that ordinary. This is still a far cry from a medieval Europe-ish setting with a focus on princes and magicians, kings and warriors.
2. The INDA series by Sherwood Smith. I think of this epic fantasy series in contrast to Troy’s suggestion of THE MIRROR EMPIRE by Kameron Hurley. Not that I have anything against the latter, except that I have read plenty that indicates it is grim grim grim, probably too much so for me, with all the male characters being victims and all the female characters being rapists, and you know, that is not an attraction. Thus, in contrast, INDA, which does odd things with culture and gender without marching off the cliff of sadistic grimdark tropes.
3. BRIDGE OF BIRDS by Hughart. That steps outside the default European-ish setting to an alternate China, plus it’s a total delight. Or UNDER HEAVEN, which of course is longer and darker and different, but still a beautiful alternate China setting.
4. At the moment, I’d also think of THE DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, with its war between the “angels” and the “devils”, not to mention working in both contemporary Earth, including Prague and Morocco, and the world of Eretz. It gets grim, but not grimdark; and although complex I don’t think it’s hard to follow, and since it’s beautifully written, maybe it could be both welcoming to newcomers to fantasy while nudging a few boundaries. By the way, have you all read “Night of Cake and Puppets” yet? Well, what are you waiting for? Go read that!
5. Let me see, let me see. How about THE CITY AND THE CITY by Mieville. I’ve only read three of Mieville’s books so far and this one is my favorite so far. Of course I like detective stories, too. But the setting, so very peculiar, is one that *almost* worked for me,and I mean “almost worked” in a good way. I really enjoyed this book and have re-read it twice so far. In fact, now that I think of it, I would like to re-read it again.
6. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norril by Suzanna Clarke. Because, wow. Hand it to anybody who likes literary fiction and thinks all fantasy is basically The Sword of Shannara.
7. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.
8. Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip. Those interweaving stories — the myths and legends that frame the main story — very beautiful and unusual.
Okay, eight, that’s enough for now, especially since this is just off the top of my head. Which “unusual” or “pushing the boundaries” fantasy novels spring immediately to your mind?