Top Ten Tuesday: Most Recommended

Credit astromoali

Since Wyrd and Wonder coincided with a Top Ten Tuesday topic, it seemed rude not to join in. Even if it’s a day late and this one presents a bit of a problem for me.

See, when you’ve made 982 posts over the last two and not quite a half years, you talk about your favourite books a lot. I have mentioned Tigana eight times on this blog already this year. Eight.

It gets difficult to find new ways to talk about these books. One gets sensitive to the idea that frankly people might be a bit sick of it. For a while I toyed with twisting this somehow.

But here it is, straight down the middle. My ten most recommended reads, with reasons why you should and shouldn’t listen to me about them.

1. Discworld by Sir Terry Pratchett

Yeah, it’s just going in as a oner.

Why: If you want a quick read, then we’re talking 400 page books that bounce along with riotous imagination, quickfire humour, and powerful emotional moments. If you want a slow read, then the exact construction of Pratchett’s lines offer endless amusement and his prodding at the human condition is a mix of gentle thoughtfulness, firm conviction, and downright excellence. He remains a genre unto himself, a reimagining of fantasy’s and humanity’s potential unlike any other with very memorable characters.

Why Not: Not everybody gets on with Pratchett’s humour, and the books are virtually impossible to read if you don’t. He won’t fulfil anyone’s desire for lyrical prose. Some find his prodding at the human condition become preachy. Some of his earlier works have very loose plots at best.

2. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

I should note now that most of what I say carries over to his other works, but The Fionavar Tapestry reads quick and has a very high fantasy voice, while the second half of his career is virtually devoid of fantastical conceits.

Why: Tight, vivid prose straight from characters’ hearts. Deeply emotional. One of the best marriages of fantasy conceit with plot and theme you will ever see. Pure adventure and intrigue in a way that captures the highs, lows, and confusions of such a life, yet still deeply thoughtful and empathic about what culture means to humans. Uses plenty of PoVs for a full picture of events. Full of showstopper scenes.

Why Not: The prose has a formal voice and uses lots of storyteller tricks (i.e. “if only he’d known what’d happen when he set out that day”) that isn’t for everyone. Glacially paced with lots of PoVs. Not afraid to use unsympathetic PoVs, or to try and evoke sympathy for them in places. Characters are very open about sexuality in ways that aren’t always comfortable.

3. The Rigante Series by David Gemmell

Setting aside, just about everything I have to say about one Gemmell book can be said for the others.

Why: Quick-moving, action-heavy thrill rides that are filled with a cry for heroic values and a somber appreciation of the hurts that both drives and come with such behaviour. Pared down, easy to ride prose. Big ideas in simple worldbuilding (Rigante covers ancient Celts vs ancient Rome and 1700s Scotland vs England). Uses multiple PoVs effectively to provide multiple views of the same conflict. Some real tearjerker moments and great healing arcs.

Why Not: The prose can also be described as workmanlike. Lacks the sense of deep immersion in the world some seek from this sort of fantasy. Very focused on conflict as a masculine activity (although not short of memorable female characters). A dramatic view of conflict.

4. The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Went with one book as there are some tonal differences if you went with series; the Penric novellas are more light hearted. I’ve found Vorkosigan similar, but more hijink-based and variable in quality.

Why: An excellent mix of healing, intrigue, and coming of age (as an older man finding a new life). Crisp, flowing prose filled with wry humour. Tightly plotted and full of uncertainty. Excellent worldbuilding in terms of divine metaphysics, which helps power the book’s theme and narrative.

Why Not: I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like this book so I’m going to struggle here. Hmm. Some people found it slow based on the Goodreads 1 star reviews, which I can see. There is a long build up here. Most of the other ones seem to be from people who struggle with epic fantasy in general, or who vehemently dislike the age difference in the romance. This is close enough to most epic fantasy that someone who likes most epic fantasies they read will be at home.

5. The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z Hossain

This mostly extrapolates to the author’s other works I’ve read, but maybe not quite so much.

Why: Features the most bombastically entertaining pair of leads I’ve seen in just about forever. A very tightly packed mix of post-disaster worldbuilding, mystery investigation, and memorable characters. Tar-black humour. A novella that zips by and leaves you wanting more.

Why Not: Requires an affinity with the author’s humour, which is sometimes bleak. Novella sized, which is obviously a bummer for some. Some might find a mix of djinn and post-apocalyptic Nepal not their cup of tea.

6. The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Tex Ox by Barry Hughart

Author only wrote one series, so all gucci.

Why: Features the most bombastically entertaining pair of leads I’ve seen since the above book. In particular the character of Li Kao, the venerable, devious, deviant genius who takes up detective work due to finding crime too easy, is far too entertaining. It’s got a twisty mystery, a lovely folktale-ish theme, and the ancient China that never was that it evokes is beautiful. They’re fairly short books so you can rip through them.

Why Not: Possibly a tad too cynical and picaresque for some. Has taken some liberties with the myth it retells, and possibly also the Chinese setting too. First person PoV which doesn’t work for some, and very voicey too.

7. She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

I am eagerly awaiting to see what Parker-Chan’s other books will be like, and am salty as fuck I didn’t get an ARC from Tor.

Why: My gods the prose. It’s so muscular and austere; it is effortless to read in its clarity yet evokes pictures I can still see in my head. It should be illegal for people to write this well in their debut. This book is full of captivating moments and people, and amazing intrigues and battles, and a grand sense of drama, but it is the prose that gets me.

Why Not: Characters won’t be everyone’s cup of tea; not super likeable. It’s a big book. Barely fantastical, being a very close riff on history with just enough fantasy stuff added that publishers can place it easily on the fantasy shelves. Bit bleak.

8. Daggerspell by Katherine Kerr

So I’ve never read any of Kerr’s non-Deverry stuff, and the series takes a quality dip to my taste, but the beginning…

Why: A pseudo-Celtic sturm und drang tale of love, hate, war, suffering, and restitution. It ladles on the drama thick and keeps the plot hopping. There is a genuinely other sense to the culture and characters as they make their way through tangled loves and loyalties; they go to war over small slights with only the slightest shading of modern disapproval. Has a very unique plot structure thanks to its focus on characters living multiple lives.

Why Not: Some will find the thick pseudo-Celtic accents and atmosphere offputting. You’ve probably got to love reading about men behaving badly to get on with this, although Kerr quietly condemns them frequently. The plot structure will probably lose some people. Does feature a love quadrangle and by feature, I mean it is all about a love quadrangle.

9. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

I am embarrassingly ill-informed on the comics career of these men.

Why: A superhero comic that has more layers than an onion. By turns murder mystery, superhero jaunt, critique of superhero jaunts, dissection of ideologies, moody noir thriller, sci-fantasy madness, and probably half a dozen other things. Looks fantastic. Rewards rereading. Gripping as hell. Breathtaking ending. Stupidly inventive while staying very firmly in a known genre.

Why Not: I guess if you don’t like superhero stories? It is also rather grim.

10. Kushiel’s Legacy by Jacqueline Carey

Carey’s work in general is not necessarily reflective of her flagship series, which dips very much in trilogy 3 for me. Those first two though.

Why: Elegant, flowing first person narratives that are easy to read but full of voice. Sagas that veer between the deeply personal and epic seamlessly. Some excellent set-piece scenes and use of fantasy conceit. Open and upfront about sexuality, particularly BDSM sexuality, which it then ties into some thoughtful themes about power and control. Knows how to tug at the heartstrings.

Why Not: Well, what I just said about the sexuality depending on how you roll. The books can overplay the heartstring tugging, particularly given how long they are. The worldbuilding (alt Europe) feels thin and uninspired at times given how much travel goes on. The characters can be a bit full of themselves.

There we go. The ten books I recommend the most. I’ll shut up about them now until the next time.


18 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Most Recommended

  1. Interesting choices. Your list stands out from the other posts of the same topic (including my upcoming one)! The books I’ve read that made it onto your list, I agree with your likes and your dislikes of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I had to do something different considering how much I talk about these books, I’d just been weighing GGK as a rec on another forum (I love him, but he’s a strong flavour), and it just came from there… now I kind of want to do another bunch of books this way!

      Liked by 1 person

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