Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Great books I haven’t mentioned for a while

So, last week Brandy had this post up at Random Musings: Books I love But Haven’t Talked About in a While, which is a very large category for us all, I’m sure, and a particularly good idea for a post. For me the standout from her post was Sorrow’s Knot, which I ought to read one of these days.

Also, Chachic picked up the same Top Ten meme and did it for books by Australian authors.

Well, over the weekend I gazed thoughtfully at my shelves and came up with a lot more than ten, but rather than going by country-of-author or whatever, I thought I’d try to list one book in each genre and subgenre. Of course I then engaged in some possibly somewhat torturous definitions of subgenres in order to include the books I really wanted to include, but hey. Also, I’m not sure when I might last have enthused about some of these titles, but I’m pretty sure not this year or last year, and I kind of think not for quite some time, if ever, so with that nebulous definition of “a while”, I’m sure they all count.

Since I couldn’t stop at ten, here: TWENTY books I love but haven’t mentioned for a long time, by genre or subgenre or sometimes subsubgenre:

High Fantasy: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. This is a beautiful retelling of the Wild Swans fairy tale. Actually imo the second book, Son of the Shadows, is even better, though I didn’t like the third book quite as well.

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Low Fantasy: Jhereg by Steven Brust. Talk about the range of works one finds in fantasy, this could not be more different from Marillier’s beautiful high fantasy. I love most of the series . . . not Teckla, I must admit . . . but honestly, I still think first of Jhereg and Yendi when loaning books to a friend I hope to hook on fantasy.

Fantasy with a non-European setting: Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart. What a delightful narrator Number Ten Ox is. And of course we all enjoy Master Li, despite the slight flaw in his character.

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Urban Fantasy: Wide Open by Deb Coates. Setting is important to me and I really loved the wide open country in this story, which sort of crosses ghost stories with UF. Coates has a knack for dialogue and I love how she handled Halley’s father.

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Contemporary Fantasy: Tea With the Black Dragon by RA MacAvoy. *Is* it a fantasy? A little hard to decide for sure, except naturally I totally believe Mayland Long truly is a dragon. “Contemporary” is a little bit of a stretch, although this was a contemporary setting when it first came out in 1983.

Historical Fantasy: Lord of the Two Lands by Judith Tarr. This might be the novel that hooked me on historicals in general. I didn’t distinguish between historical fantasy and straight historical for a long time. (I still don’t, really.) Anyway, in this story we get Meriamon, daughter of Pharaoh and Priestess of Ammon, coming from Egypt to find Alexander and persuade him to come to Egypt and throw out the Persians. A wonderful story, and if I’ve never mentioned it before, well, it was an easy choice for this list.

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Hard SF: The Integral Treesby Larry Niven. What a wonderful setting: a gas torus, a ring of air around a neutron star. Also, Niven was lucky enough to get a great Michael Whelan cover.

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Softish SF: The Gaian trilogy, Titan, Wizard, and Demon, by John Varley. I cannot believe Varley is so forgotten these days, even if he did switch to writing near-future thrillers. His SF is fantastic, especially this trilogy, and imo is one of the older SF works that ought to particularly appeal to the modern SF audience.

Space Opera: the Vatta’s War series, starting with Trading in Danger, by Elizabeth Moon. I hereby declare (as I believe I have before) that space opera is not the same thing as military SF, and this series is the former. Really well done; this series managed to keep my attention even when the number of pov protagonists started to proliferate later in the series.

Military SF: Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos. Now, this one is military SF. Fast paced, snappy dialogue, fairly grim world where one of the few pathways out of poverty is military service. I never have quiiite gotten around to reading the sequel, but that’s just because I am so desperately behind with my TBR pile all the time. Eventually I will re-read the first and then go on.

Sociological SF: Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler. What brilliant books these are — disturbing and fairly dark, but brilliant. I want to re-read them, though re-reading doesn’t help much with whittling down the TBR pile. Also, these would not be books I could re-read while working on my own manuscript. They’re too compelling, even if I’ve read them before.

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Alternate History: Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle. In this cleverly designed world, Ptolemaic astronomy, Aristotelian physics, and Taoist alchemy are all true. The story features a scientist who travels on a spaceship carved from a piece of the moon to bring a piece of the sun back to Earth. It’s rather light on characterization, but the ornate worldbuilding is very cool.

Alternate Contemporary: Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden. Australia has been invaded by . . . somebody. That bit is never really clarified, since after all it doesn’t make a bit of sense. And it doesn’t have to make sense because the story is SO GOOD. Marsden totally captures the teenage voice of the protagonist. It’s a wonderful series that I’m dying to re-read, eventually.

Thriller: The Blue Place, Stay, and Always by Nicola Griffith. I’m not completely sure these are thrillers? Maybe they’re mysteries? Or kind of literary? You see how I dissolve into questions when trying to place this trilogy into a genre or subgenre. I’m defining them as thrillers for the purposes of this list, though. A wonderful trilogy, with a fascinating protagonist whom I would totally want on my side in a tight spot. This is one of those odd trilogies where I liked the second book best — though they’re all really good.

Mystery: the entire Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout. My mother has all these. How many are there? Okay, Wikipedia says 33 novels and 39 short stories. Anyway, you can get your snappy dialogue riiight here. This might be the very best mystery series ever written.

Historical Mystery: The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton / Barbara Hambly. Okay, listen, as a *mystery*, there are better. But hardly anybody does a historical setting better than Barbara Hambly, and I love her characterization. When I read this book, I’d forgotten that “Barbara Hamilton” was a pen name for Hambly, but I recognized the way she was handling the characters and knew it was her before I googled it to confirm. Also, let me add that this series is gentler than the Benjamin January series, not that terrible things don’t happen, but still. And it is just so cool to have Abigail Adams as the protagonist.

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Historical Thriller: The Lymond series by Dorothy Dunnett. This giant series is so slow-paced at times that I’m not 100% sure it counts as a thriller. But the suspense builds so much that I think it does. The first book is wonderful and self-contained; the rest form a single long arc.

Historical Romance: Render Unto Caesar by Gillian Bradshaw. Not all of Bradshaw’s books are romances, but many have a strong romantic subplot, this one perhaps more than any. I love the businessman protagonist with his ruthless commitment to forcing the Romans to follow their own law, I love the woman ex-gladiator he falls in love with, I love the setting . . . honestly, if you haven’t tried Gillian Bradshaw, this is a fine choice to start with.

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Historical: The King Must Die by Mary Renault. I had to force myself to pick something other than another Bradshaw, but here you go! A splendid story that brings the first part of the Theseus myth to life. I totally fell in love with bull leaping when I first read this story.

Literary: Thursday’s Children by Rumer Godden. A practically perfect story about family and giftedness and what it takes to achieve your dreams, and the difficulty that sometimes attends figuring out what your dreams even are. Flawed characters who in other hands would have been thoroughly unlikable are eventually rendered so sympathetically by Godden that you wind up rooting for everybody. I’m not even interested in ballet, but this story is deeply compelling.

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There you go — twenty books (well, or series) that everyone should consider adding to their TBR pile, even if the pile is threatening to tip over and collapse in an avalanche of words already.

If you’ve got a favorite work that has vanished from the view of today’s readers, drop it in the comments! I bet some of you will pick books I should have thought of.

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10 Comments Great books I haven’t mentioned for a while

  1. Mary Beth

    Your book recommendation lists are SO terrible for my book-buying budget, but so wonderful for my leisure hours. (I’m fairly sure I’ve picked up more of your recommendations than anyone else’s, ever!) And after seeing “The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander” at the Field Museum last weekend, Judith Tarr’s LORD OF TWO LANDS has skyrocketed to the top of my list.

    (Fortunately my new office is one block away from Chicago’s biggest library, so my wallet may be spared a little of the blow…)

    ((I totally believe Mayland Long is a dragon, too. Though speaking of dragons-in-human form, have you read Zen Cho’s delightful short story “Prudence and the Dragon”? https://worldsf.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/tuesday-fiction-prudence-and-the-dragon-by-zen-cho/ It’s a delight.))

  2. Rachel

    Sorry, Mary Beth! But hey, always glad to know I can contribute to the TBR Avalanche for others! I’m envious of your access to a big library.

    And no, I hadn’t read Zen Cho’s story, so thanks for the link!

  3. Elaine T

    Michael Scott Rohan’s Winter of the World even though the main character does something really stupid – Miles V. in Memory stupid – to kick off the 3rd book. It actually makes sense when all is known, but it’s painful to read. Smart characters, well worked out world building, not exactly the faux feudal setting of many high epic fantasies (especially from that decade.) I originally forked over the money because I’d flipped through and seen the characters trekking through a redwood forest. Redwood? REDWOOD? (says the Californian who had never seen a redwood in epic fantasy before (or since). So I had to try it. And it was good. Main character is a ‘mage-smith’ – lots of inventiveness.

    Yes, there’s insta-love. Considering magical creatures are magical, not human I can go with it. Same for why the something really dumb. Magical beings think differently.

  4. Allan Shampine

    Long is definitely a dragon (IMO). He appears in several of her other books and stories, including in dragon form!

  5. Craig

    I was trying to think of something that doesn’t fit the finely-sliced genres you list, and came up with Silverlock (John Myers Myers)… but it looks like you glancingly mentioned it a mere two years ago.

  6. Rachel

    Uh, let’s see, Silverlock might belong to . . . literary fantasy, I suppose?

    Allan, where did Mayland Long appear in dragon form? Maybe I didn’t read that, or else maybe I’ve just forgotten.

    Elaine, in David Palmer’s Emergence, one of the protagonists semi-crashes an ultralight among redwoods, if I remember correctly. It’s true that you can hardly beat redwood forest for DRAMA; now that I think of it, it’s a little surprising that we don’t see that kind of forest more often in fantasy!

  7. Elaine T

    I must point out that the Palmer is a modern day story set in the West of the US, so redwood trees aren’t unexpected. (Although I don’t remember EMERGENCE that well, and certainly not an ultra-light.) In what appears to be secondary world fantasy, though, I’ve never seen another redwood forest. Shame, that. The forests almost always are generic and there’s so much variety you can have.

  8. Allan

    I’ve had Terms of Enlistment on my Kindle for quite a while, and your recommendation motivated me to move it to the top of the TBR pile. Quite enjoying it so far. It is reminiscent of Starship Trooper, although a bit darker. Here, the military is a way out of poverty. In Starship Trooper, you didn’t get the vote unless you served. Different philosophies, but similar outcomes in that people who don’t serve are second class citizens. At least this novel doesn’t have the political science high school class lectures in Starship Trooper beating us over the head with Heinlein’s philosophy.

  9. Linda S

    I thought Terms of Enlistment was well done, but it was a little too bleak for me. I haven’t tried the sequels yet, but I think people have said good things about them.

  10. Rachel

    The world is bleak, certainly. I don’t know that I thought the story itself was bleak.

    Oh, okay, I guess it was pretty bleak when you get right down to it.

    And yes, I appreciated the lack of political science lectures.

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