I don’t know about you, but some fantasy really gets on my nerves (this one, for example, didn’t quite do it for me. This one, however, was quite interesting.). There is a type of adult fantasy literature that I really can’t stand. The fantasy books that bother me take themselves too seriously. Usually, the universe has its own lore, strange names, and dialogue that is full of made-up phrases and references to in-universe creatures and events.
A line in the book might read, “Her eyes glowed like the caverns of Ga-th’ulolo after the fall of the third moon. “By Krackfulvtan,” he swore. Your eyes are piercing indeed.”
Sorry, but no.
Anyway, since there are so many fantasy books out there that are like that, I think that is what turns a lot of people off of the fantasy genre. I feel like that is too bad, because I happen to love fantasy done well. To me, a fantasy book has to have certain elements that ground it to the real world to make it readable and enjoyable. For example, Tolkein used characters who were much like ordinary people as the main characters. Terry Pratchett places real-world concepts into his books. Even George Martin has his characters speak in plain English.
So, to help you guys out, I have compiled a list of my favorite fantasy books that are grounded enough to avoid the ridiculous.
The Lord of the Rings: Who could leave out the best fantasy series of all-time? Not me, obviously. Lord of the Rings is the book that goes to show you that if you spend your entire life crafting languages, backstories, and a brand-new universe, your story will be well-written and lasting. Tolkien’s characters are grounded enough to make the story seem relatable, even though they are fighting spirits and monsters.
Discworld: Discworld stories are probably my favorite fantasy books. Although at first glance the stories are fun and light-hearted, there is something about these stories that sweep you up into the universe until you can’t wait to see how the problem is resolved this time. Terry Pratchett also has some of the best insight into the human mind that I have ever read in any book. Some of my favorites are actually off-shoots, like the The Wee Free Men series.
Stardust: This is my favorite kind of modern fairy tale. Neil Gaiman takes a straightforward fantasy story full of magic and adventure and makes it real. He does this by adding in just enough cynicism and human nature to make these stories relatable even though they take place in a magical world. There are no rose-colored glasses in these fantasy stories.
A Song of Ice and Fire: I hesitated to put this series on the list because it is one that is full of its own universe and makes references to made-up gods and such. However, as I mentioned before, he does allow the characters to speak plainly. Although his writing style often grates on my nerves (does everyone have to be naked all the time?), I think the universe is very well thought-out. Overall, I am always interested to see what happens next, even though I think he could get there in about 400 fewer pages per book.
The Book of Lost Things: A Novel: I had forgotten about this book completely until I saw it on a list of fantasy books recently. However, I remember this book was intriguing to me. It had that feel of spooky and magical all at the same time. This book will take you on a spooky fantasy adventure that you won’t want to leave until it is over.
The Pendragon Cycle: This series of classic Arthurian legend is the best I have read. This series is based more on how the Arthur stories could have actually happened. It’s been a long time since I have read the stories, but from what I remember, there was actually little or no magic involved.
The Tales of Alvin Maker: I bet many people will disagree with me on this inclusion, but this series has stuck with me. This story about the seventh son of a seventh son is all about the folklore of 18th century America. I think I like this series because it shows the potential for evil in everyone, and how it can creep in before you realize how far you have come. In this story, danger is around every corner, which makes it a fun read.
The Princess Bride: And who could forget one of the best fantasy stories of all time? The Princess Bride is a fun story of adventure, pirates, true love, and all that. If Neil Gaiman is the modern twisted fairy tale writer, William Goldman is his grandfather.
What are your favorite adult fantasy books?