On the Bookshelf: five fabulous fantasy novels

Recently, I’ve been a bit bored with conventional literature. It’s all middle-aged male academics, who sit about moaning that their wives just don’t understand them, and it’s not their fault they ran off with that hot young student. And who cares, right? Here are five fantasy books instead.

1. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

This is an urban fantasy set in alternate universe, a sort of steam-punk Bladerunner with added aliens. Mieville’s New Crubuzon city is a terrifying police state, in which those who brush with authority are ‘re-made’ into hideous new cyborg-like forms. There are hive minds, gangsters, scientific and artistic obsession, and inter-species romance. There are moths that excrete a hallucinogen, inevitably called ‘dreamshit’. The plot is rather Dr Who, but it’s really inventive. My favourite character is ‘the weaver’, a giant spider that nips between dimensions, spouting poetry and doing crazy stuff no-one else understands.

2. Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf

This novel combines faeries with eighteenth-century surgery, S&M, romance, mental illness, a changeling child, a gypsy curse, and discourse on the philosophies of Locke and Descartes. Sounds like a hot mess, doesn’t it? But it’s actually a gripping narrative, well-researched, and with a compellingly awful anti-hero. It’s all written in faux eighteenth-century language with Totally random Capital letters and silly Spellyng. But Egads it is a Greate Reade!

3. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

A contemporary urban fantasy, in which young Peter Grant is just a regular mixed-race bobby on the beat until he sees a ghost and becomes an apprentice wizard. Then he has to track down a terrifying supernatural foe, aided by the capricious gods of London’s rivers. The blurb calls it ‘Harry Potter meats The Bill’ but it’s much better than that. Aaronovitch is no prose stylist, but he conjures up an incredible world. This book really sums up what it means to be a twenty-first century Londoner. Here in this heaving, modern, multicultural city, if you look for it, thousands of years of history are clearly visible like a great living palimpsest. You can’t deny there’s magic in that.

4. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell by Susannah Clarke

Clarke takes that most rational of English periods – the Enlightenment – and populates it with rival magicians, both attempting to restore the nation’s once-great magical tradition. The novel offers an alternative version of history, encompassing everything from the Napoleonic wars to the madness of George III. It marries history, myth and folklore with gothic romance, Jane-Austenish satire and comedy of manners. Clarke examines just what it really means to be English, where the boundary between reason and madness lies, and the nature of friendship and obsession, all in her dry, sparse, prose. The footnotes also rival Nabokov’s Pale Fire in terms of crazy things to do with footnotes.

5. The last werewolf by Glen Duncan

Jacob Marlowe has been a werewolf since Victorian times. What with the monthly mood swings – raging horniness, wild bloodthirsty slaughtering rampages, whimpering exhaustion – not to mention the terrible guilt and the trying not to get caught – it’s no wonder he’s suffering from awful postmodern ennui. This is an awesome book, with action, romance, kinky sex, lashings of gore, conspiracies, intrigues, and a whole host of brilliantly eccentric minor characters. It’s absolutely crying out to made into a big-budget Hollywood movie. Duncan also writes beautifully, a rare thing amongst writers of any genre.

Happy Reading!!!


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