Regular Guy Book Review: Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

Titus Groan is completely different from any fantasy book I’ve ever read. It’s surreal, poetic, brutal, and brilliant. Its characters, who have all wrapped themselves in different kinds of madness, plod and scramble their way through the seemingly endless sprawl of Gormenghast Castle. They vie for power, plot vengeance, and engage in long-followed but nonsensical rituals.

Author Peake’s wild, weird imagination puts this book in the echelon of The Lord of the Rings, while being completely different from it in every way. There is no quest here, no magic to speak of, no curious non-humans, and not even an obvious protagonist.

Titus Groan is engaging and wonderful, if you don’t mind your fantasy a little dark and twisted. It’s also the first book of a series.

Recommendation: Buy it. This is an odd sort of masterpiece every fantasy reader (and writer) should expose themselves to.


 

27 Best Epic Fantasy Books

Epic fantasy is usually big, loud fun: kingdoms in peril, good about to be obliterated by dark evil, and scrappy adventurers defying death in nearly every chapter.

While there’s plenty of fun to be had in the Quest for the Magic Thingy, the trend toward focusing on character and realism is welcome, and some of the books on this list flip on its head whole idea of what “epic” means.

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21 Best Pirate Fantasy Books

Perhaps nowhere does storytelling so totally reverse reality as when it deals with pirates. It’s difficult not to like swashbuckling rogues tweaking the noses of the uptight British ninnies as they ply their brave way across the wild, lusty seas.

Of course, actual pirates were about as romantic as the tortures they would inflict on prisoners, including holding lighted matches to the victim’s eyes or keel-hauling, where a sailor had a rope tied to each arm and thrown off the bow of a ship. The unfortunate was then dragged along the length of ship, scraping against the sharp barnacles and possibly drowning.

Fun fact: “Avast!” means “Stop!” or “Stand still!” not “Hello, fellow pirate!”

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Regular Guy Book Review: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

I’m seeing a trend in fantasy stories with extensive world-building. While many of them reveal the world through the usual quest for the Magical Thingamajig, the more recent trend is to reveal this strange world via the investigation of a murder. A detective must visit a number of dangerous places and confront strange characters (just like the folks on a quest).

I love this trend, and City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett is the best example I’ve come across.

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29 Best Fantasy Books of All Time

“Best” is a hugely subjective term, and not to be trusted. So here, “Best” means, “a consensus based on dozens of other lists, infused with my own personal bias.”

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25 Best Vampire Books

vampires
Detail from the cover of A Clutch of Vampires by Raymond T. McNally, drawn by Edward Gorey

Vampires have gone from being seen as unfortunate creatures operating under a dread curse (Nosferatu) to pretty, brooding superheroes (Twilight). They’re the ultimate bad boys: tall, dark, and handsome taken to a feral, gothic extreme.

There are all sorts of vampires in the list below: angry, scared, young, old, terrifying, hilarious, confused, weak, strong, monstrous, and human.

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29 Best Fantasy Series

series

Fantasy has more book series than any other genre. Science fiction is in second place with hundreds of series, but fantasy is at the top. Once we fantasy readers find a world and characters we like, we seem to want to go back again and again.

The longest fantasy series out there is Conan, with almost eighty books. Second is (my personal favorite) Terry Pratchett’s Discworld with forty-five books.

Discovering a new book series is a fantastic feeling. Here’s hoping you find something new below.

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Review: The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

The Night GardenerThe Night Gardener is great and reads like a classic that’s been around for 50 years. I was shocked to find out it was published in 2014. It feels like the kind of book that’s been on shelves forever, next to A Wrinkle in Time and Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s good, creepy fun for kids.

Two young orphans get jobs at an old mansion that’s shadowed by a massive, dark tree. New mysteries appear in every chapter with forbidden rooms, darting shadows, and at night, things do a lot more than go bump.

The two orphans must face the darkness inside themselves before they can hope to deal with the spirit that haunts the mansion and the poor family trapped there.

Recommendation: Buy it. It’s fantastic. If you have a kid, absolutely get it. It’s aimed at grades 4-6, so decide how badly you want to scare your kid.


 

23 Best Fantasy Books of 2016

Best of 2016

Fantasy writers worked their butts off in 2016, giving readers an avalanche of great stuff to read. In addition to the usual daggers-and-dragons adventures, we got robots, ticked-off old gods, and murder mysteries: a fun, genre-expanding year.

 

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