Friday, September 5, 2014

A Few of My Favorite (Literary) Things

All right, I recently got tagged in one of those Facebook games where you're supposed to list 18 books that had an impact on your life. And of course I cheated and listed entire series for some, because I have too many favorite books to be tied down to a mere 18. #StickingItToTheMan! Anyhow, because this is a pretty comprehensive list of my very favorite books in the whole world and I hope to entice others into exploring these literary gems further, I thought I would post my list here for all to see. So here it is, in no particular order.

by TriaElf9

1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
The first fantasy novel I ever read, it was my first step down a path leading to a lifelong passion for the genre. My love for this book is what made me start writing my own stories. In case you're not familiar with the story, it's about four children sent to live with a professor in the country during the London air raids of World War II. There, the youngest stumbles upon a magical wardrobe connected to a winter-bound world and sucks her siblings into a quest to help the talking animals of Narnia defeat the White Queen. Influences from the fairy tale, the Snow Queen, and from Lewis' own Christian faith abound.

Image: "A Spell for Chameleon" by BrokenApollo

2. A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony
Piers Anthony was the guy who showed me that fantasy didn’t have to be all “throw the ring in the fiery mountain lest we all be doomed.” It reminded me that there can be fun in the genre, that characters can fight evil and there can still be laughter and nonsense. Besides, who doesn't love a good pun, especially a magical world filled with puns that just happens to be shaped like Florida?

3. Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley
My childhood best friend's mom read this book to us one night while I was spending the night at their house. I think this is where I learned to love Arthurian legends, and I haven’t stopped hunting down good retellings since. Woolley's version of Guinevere is about the only version of the character I've been able to stand. She is a living, breathing, flawed character who I root for in spite of knowing her ultimate fate.

4. The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart (and all the ensuing books in that series)
Luckily, after Child of the Northern Spring created my thirst for Arthurian legends, I found stellar books like this to slake it. This historical, yet still legendary series is part of the reason that I love Merlin so. In Stewart's books, he's not just a wise old sage. You watch him grow from a shy child to an old man, and he feels like a real person. What's more, the likes of Arthur, Uther, Ygraine, and the gang come to life on these pages more so than in any other retelling I'd seen in ages by the time I discovered this series. I reread these books until they almost fell apart.

5. Merlin’s Harp by Anne Eliot Crompton
Another brilliant Arthurian legend that puts a relatable gloss on the story without losing its legendary feel. This is one of the most original takes on Mordred’s role in the story and on the Lady of the Lake's identity. The seamless way Crompton wove the pieces of the legend into a framework of her own creating is one of the many reasons I used to reread this book on a yearly basis. Add in her mastery of the language and it's a book I never hesitate to recommend.

6. The A Man of His Word series and the sequel series, A Handful of Men, by Dave Duncan
I had been writing my own stories for years by the time I read these books, and they influenced me heavily. I was awed both by Duncan’s brilliant imagination, which created one of the most interesting worlds and magical systems I've ever read about, and by his ability to juggle dozens of plot threads and then handily tie them all up at the end in a way that felt right and natural. And seldom have I been as engaged by any set of characters as I was by his. I still love Rap beyond speaking to this day. Notably, Rap was one of the first fantasy heroes I'd ever read about who wasn't described as ridiculously good-looking, too, and was, in fact, a bit on the unattractive side.

7. Deerskin by Robin McKinley
There are a lot of worthwhile McKinley books to seek out, but this one stands out to me as the best of them all. It takes a shallow French fairy tale that makes light of a father’s interest in marrying his daughter (insert this face here: O_o) and gives that plot weight and consequence. It takes the wronged princess on a journey from victim to survivor that was meaningful and moving using language so beautiful it's worth reading just for the effortless descriptions, alone. I have never been so torn apart by a fairy tale retelling, only to be put back together into a better version of myself. Every time I put the book down, smiling through my tears, I immediately want to go through it all again.

"Royal Assassin" by AlbinoNial

8. The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
These books came along when I was getting bored by the fact that every fantasy hero seemed like a noble, studly piece of beefcake with wicked fighting skills and a flawless mind. People who never do the wrong thing are kind of hard to relate to. Then Fitz came walking into my literary life. Fitz may be a good-looking sort, but he is far from perfect. Leaving aside that he’s the bastard son of a disgraced prince and ends up becoming a royal assassin, he’s a mess of a human being. His intentions are generally good, but he often acts selfishly or impulsively and makes his situation worse. Which is actually infinitely more interesting to read about than a bunch of perfect people who don't know the meaning of the word "mistake." The world Hobbs created in these books is one of the most well-developed and fascinating ones I've ever seen and her writing is beautiful.

9. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede
These books also came along to save me when I was getting bored with the same old tropes and  Super Serious Plots. They were also a ray of light in a world that seemed crammed with people trying to write spunky heroines who ended up coming across as annoying or overbearing. Cimorene was my ideal heroine: smart, capable, tired of being underestimated, but never beating you over the head with a sign saying, “I am woman, hear me roar.” The books were charming and light, but with just weight enough to be satisfying. One of the first novels I ever wrote that I was proud of when it was finished, The Humble Abode, was heavily influenced by these books.

10. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I didn’t discover that Neil Gaiman until I was in my early twenties. I don’t know where his books had been all my life before that, but clearly, I had been missing out. And though I love just about everything he's ever written, this is, by far, my favorite of his books. It’s so dark and rich and inventive, and Croup and Vandermar are my absolute favorite literary villains. I could've stayed in London Below forever, even if it slightly terrified me.

"The Red Bull" by Dreoilin

11. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Though I had known and loved the movie since I was a child, I was skeptical about reading the book. Growing up in a My Little Pony world had convinced me that unicorns were silly and girly. But Peter Beagle’s unicorn is not a My Little Pony unicorn. There’s magic and majesty and tragedy about this creature, mixed with a charming vanity and vulnerability that make her relatable. And Beagle's use of the language is some of the most gorgeous, imaginative, poetic writing I’ve seen. Not to mention the fact that the love story twists up my feels in the most glorious way. This book reminded me of why I wanted to be a writer at a time when I was wondering if it was all worth it. If there's a shot in Hell that I'll ever write anything as half as good as this, it mostly certainly is.

(Read my full review of this book here. Also, check out my review on Tamsin, which is my second favorite Beagle book!)

12. Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip
I’m gonna be honest: I did not like the way this book ends. And you know what? I don't even care a little bit, because it was the first McKillip book I’d read and it was so gorgeously written I’d have forgiven her if she’d just stopped writing halfway through. Within 6 pages, I was so heavily invested in the characters that I couldn’t look away. I’ve read whole books and not cared that much! Domina Pearl has also joined Croup and Vandemar in my villainous hall of fame, a sort of old lady Darth Vader to their pair of well-spoken brutes. And I swooned harder over a romance that was only mentioned in flashbacks in this book than I have about detailed romantic plots in other books. The world McKillip created here was absolutely fascinating, and there are too many characters that I loved to describe them all briefly. (I wrote a full review on this book, and you can read it here.)

Original image found here.

13. In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip
Yeah, I put her on here twice. And it’s not the last time, either. This book showed how cleverly one can take folklore and twist and combine different stories to make something utterly and gloriously unique. With Baba Yaga and her chicken-legged hut in one corner and the enigmatic and beautiful firebird in the other, one hardly knows what to gawk at first as one wanders across the pages of this book.

And Ronan. Oh Ronan. I have such a huge literary crush on tragic Prince Ronan, who went off to war in the hopes that he’d perish because he couldn’t live with the loss of his wife and child. McKillip takes him through a beautifully written physical and emotional journey through the forests of his kingdom and the haze his grief and brings him out of the other side. 

14. The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip
I could go on and on about Patricia McKillip. Stylistically, she’s probably one of the best writers I’ve ever encountered, and I have trouble finding anything I like half as much now that I’ve found her. This book is McKillip at her best. It’s short and romantic and tragic, yet so beautifully written that I’m glad to take the shots to the feels. And Peri is one of McKillip’s most relatable heroines. I loved her, I rooted for her, and I found her irresistably charming.

15. The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia McKillip
You know, I thought I could keep it to the three, but this book just knocked my socks off, too. The interplay of the various legends was incredible, especially the way she used the selkie legends. You also get a dashing knight worth throwing hankies at, a dragon to make other literary dragons tremble in terror and awe, and more of her unbelievably beautiful words. But lest ye think a tale of dragons and knights means there’s nothing an ordinary person can relate to, you get characters like Melanthos, who is an everywoman type with a goodly dose of spunk. (Also, her boyfriend sounds dishy and sweet.) Plus, you have concepts like loyalty and brotherly love woven throughout, which we can all relate to.

"Burning Heart" by Maripose-Nocturna.

16. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I saw the movie before I read the book, and that worked out well for me. Watching the movie first helped me enjoy it without punishing it for not being quite as clever as the book. Then I read the book, and it was captivating, a fairy tale with a lot of clever twists and a very relatable main character. And yes, Howl is one of my literary boyfriends. Cowardly though he may be at times, I’d live in his moving castle any day!

17. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
I don’t even know how to explain this book. Its wacky patter, the hilarious plot involving the antichrist being misplaced at birth (along with the resulting the identity crisis of his Hell hound), and the captivating characters (angelic, demonic, and human) make this one of the best pieces of brain candy I’ve ever savored.

18. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Deerskin may be my favorite McKinley book, but this book is nipping at its heels. It’s another great example of a heroine who is strong and compelling without being obnoxious. And despite the fact that the main character, Aerin, is not only a princess but a dragon slayer, she is STILL one of the most relatable heroines I've ever read about. The mechanism by which she fights dragons actually makes it believable that a princess is able to kick some reptilian bum, and the romance involved, while secondary to her heroic journey, is utterly swoonworthy.