This was hard, but I did eventually narrow it down to ten!
1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
review of RotK — I need to revisit this review sometime, and I think next time I read the book I will want to read the one volume edition. I will have to get that one from the library, though. My favorite character is probably Sam Gamgee, and of the non-hobbit characters, I would probably go with Boromir and Faramir.2. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
review Sadly, that is not the cover of the one I own; I like it much better than mine, though. I have a really hard time choosing between these two. Among other things, I’d have to choose between my favorite characters… my favorite character is Maedhros, and I just wrote about him in a blog tag. As long as I’m singing the praises of this book, I’d like to quote from Jeff La Sala’s introduction to The Silmarillion Primer at Tor; this is great:
… Sure, The Silmarillion has its share of virtuous Aragorns and Faramirs and it definitely has its dominate-everyone-LOL Sauron types (including actual Sauron), but most of its characters wade through a murky spectrum of honor, pride, loyalty, and greed. Heroes fall into evil, good guys turn against each other, high-born kings turn out to be dicks, and powerful spirits tempted by evil may either repent of it or double down. It’s all there.
3. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
review I have read this twice and listened to the audiobook once. Simon Prebble’s narration is fantastic! I love everything about this: the setting, the writing style, the intricate plot, the two main characters (even though I don’t usually like antiheroes) and the secondary characters. My favorite of the minor characters is probably the mysterious Childermass, but they’re all great.
4. Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman
review My favorite volume of The Sandman series. I loved it to pieces! I would not rank all the individual volumes this high, but Brief Lives is one of the best. It is wonderfully dramatic, and arguably the climax of the entire series. This one gets everything right. Hilarious and tragic.
5. The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien
review I’m really unsure where to rank this; I think it belongs somewhere in my top ten but I can’t quite put it with LotR and The Silmarillion, personally. Anyway, the best thing I have ever read about this book is Lintamande’s The Children of Hurin Is Not Relentlessly Depressing. I think I forgot to link to it in my review, but I definitely had it in mind when I wrote it.
6. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchettreview One of the funniest books ever written! Crowley and Aziraphale, the angel and the demon who team up to avert Armageddon, are some of my favorite fantasy characters.
7. Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley
review Technically this is one of my first reviews, but I didn’t have much to say. So here is the first paragraph, to give you an idea of the writing style: “The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk-dust and over floors and shelves like sticky plaster-dust. (House-cleaners in that country earned unusually good wages.) If you lived in that country, you had to de-scale your kettle of its encrustation of magic at least once a week, because if you didn’t, you might find yourself pouring hissing snakes or pond slime into your teapot instead of water. (It didn’t have to be anything scary or unpleasant, especially in a cheerful household – magic tended to reflect the atmosphere of the place in which it found itself — but if you want a cup of tea, a cup of lavender-and-gold pansies or ivory thimbles is unsatisfactory.)”
Charming! I would like to reread this someday. I have picked it up to reread individual passages, but I have read it cover to cover only once. This is a Sleeping Beauty retelling, but there’s much more than that to this book. This is one of my favorite fantasy settings.
8. The Once and Future King by T.H. White
At this point, I’m having a hard time deciding which books to include and what to leave out. This is a long-time favorite, though: the definitive Arthurian retelling. I love the characters, and it is highly quotable, with some wonderful observations on life, war, and politics. I have never reviewed it. I guess I should get around to that someday.
9. Midnight‘s Children by Salman Rushdie
Another one I want to reread (and review!) someday. I read this in 2012, a year after my first attempt to read it. The writing style takes some getting used to, but I loved it. In a newly independent India, 1,001 children born at midnight are endowed with various magical powers. For Saleem Sinai, the narrator, this is his wildly sensitive sense of smell. Clever and emotionally intense. I know this is supposed to be influenced by One Hundred Years of Solitude, but I liked Midnight’s Children much better for some reason. (Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by the same author, is also really good).
10. Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
I think this is probably my favorite Discworld book. (I could easily have chosen Small Gods, though.) Another one that I have never reviewed! And I just reread it in January, too. The dragon is definitely one of my favorite villains in fantasy, due to the way its presence brings out everyone else’s greed and pettiness. And Vetinari’s speech at the end has stuck with me for years.
“But we were dragons. We were supposed to be cruel, cunning, heartless and terrible. But this much I can tell you, we never burned and tortured and ripped one another apart and called it morality.”