Sunday, July 5, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (W)

I'm kind of sad that this will be the final post in the series. I can't find any X, Y or Z authors that I can add in the list. Yes, there is Jane Yolen and Roger Zelazny, but I've only ever read one Jane Yolen that I can remember and it didn't stay with me, so I can't very well rate her a favourite, and for all my good intentions I've never been able to get around to reading Zelazny's Amber series.

I did however find a few W's, so here we go for one last time.

Jo Walton is probably not that well known to people unless they're very into the genre, or attend conventions. She was born in Wales, but moved to Canada in the early 2000's, after the publication of her first book and lists herself as Welsh-Canadian. Her first book, The King's Peace, part of the Sullen series, appears to be rather standard high fantasy, with the harder edge that was just starting to appear at the time. Jo Walton is a keen student of the genre and she rarely writes the same thing. Her published works have dabbled in high fantasy, alternate history, I'm not even sure how one categorises Tooth and Claw, but it's definitely fantasy. She rose to high prominence in 2011 when her semi auto biographical love letter to the genre; Among Others, won the 2011 Nebula and the 2012 Hugo. A series of essays she wrote as a passionate and thoughtful reader for appeared in the collection What Makes This Book So Great? and created a lot of buzz. It connected with me even though I hadn't read a lot of the works spoken about, but more because they were written as a reader and not a reviewer, a very personal, warts and all look at a book and what effect it has on the reader at the time and later on. Jo Walton is an advocate of rereading.

She's published 3 books since that: My Real Children (2014), The Just City and The Philosopher Kings both in 2015. Jo Walton blogs regularly, most often at and she's also a regular attendee of cons, during con season in the northern hemisphere.

My introduction to Jo Walton's work was Among Others, I actually voted for it in the 2012 Hugo, and I read and enjoyed What Makes This Book So Great? I'd seen Tooth and Claw before, I loved the idea and I knew it won the World Fantasy Award in 2004. The idea definitely did appeal to me. It's hard to categorise and even harder to explain. The best way to tell someone about Tooth and Claw is to imagine if Jane Austen was a dragon and wrote one of her books about other dragons and their society. That's what it is, it's a book about dragons and their dealings with each other. I can't remember reading anything else quite like it. Sometimes when authors try to emulate Austen's style, which has become popular of late, it grates on me, because they very often can't pull it off successfully. Jo Walton did it in Tooth and Claw. I find it hard to believe when reading the book that she didn't somehow find a portal to an alternate reality where Jane Austen was a dragon and wrote books about them. If you like either Jane Austen or dragons, possibly both, then you MUST read Tooth and Claw!

Further and related reading: as encapsulated above, Jo Walton does have a body of work. I can also highly recommend Among Others, for anyone who loves the genre and has ever been looked at funny for admitting it. As it's set during 1979 - 80, it has plenty of recommendations of older genre work, largely science fiction, but there are a few fantasies in there as well, which may encourage a reader to delve deeper into the genre and expand their horizons a little. For things that have something in common with Tooth and Claw by other authors, there's Susannah Clarke's acclaimed Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which features that faux Austen style and language, and an alternate England in which magic works. I recommend the Patricia C. Wrede/Caroline Stevermer collaboration, the Cecy and Kate books, which also contain that Regency setting and language, I felt they did it better than Susannah Clarke did, it came across as less forced. Neither of those have dragons, but Naomi Novik's Temeraire series does, and it's also set in an alternate reality where both sides had access to dragons during the Napoleonic Wars.

Chuck Wendig was named a couple of years ago as a young writer to watch. I'm not sure how young he actually is, but he first came to my attention with the publication of Blackbirds in 2012. In additional to the Miriam Black urban fantasy series, of which Blackbirds was the first, he also writes the Mookie Pearl series, which reads to me like it's directed at younger readers, but has the same gritty violent style as the Miriam Black books. Chuck Wendig was originally published by Angry Robot books, but recently split from them and is now publishing the Miriam Black books with Simon and Schuster, according to the new covers (personal aside here: they're nowhere near as good as the original Joey Hi-Fi covers) it's also going to be a TV series. I'm not sure on the status of the Mookie Pearl series. Chuck has also written scripts and for role playing games. He tweets often as @ChuckWendig about pretty much anything that comes into his head and he also blogs at terrible, often about writing, but also about whatever takes his fancy at the time.

As readers of this blog, or anyone who has seen me post as Elfy over at Fantasy-Faction, would know, I enjoy urban fantasy. I wasn't exactly sure what I was getting into when I picked up Blackbirds. It had some good buzz from people whose opinion I respect, and I couldn't resist that cover. Joey Hi-Fi's covers were as important to the Miriam Black books as Josh Kirby and later Paul Kidby's were to the Discworld series, that's part of why I'm little cheesed off that Simon and Schuster have had to repackage them and don't seem inclined to use the artist in the future. If you look closely enough at the covers they contain little hints as to what the story is about. Despite being urban fantasy, no one could ever accuse the Miriam Black's as being paranormal romance. Not a vampire or a werewolf in sight. Miriam has been cursed, if she so much as touches another person she can see the moment of their death and knows when, where and how they will die. This ability ruins her life and forces her to the fringes of society and while it may destroy her life, it may also save it. It's the visceral descriptions Wendig uses to illustrate Miriam's hand to mouth existence that I love about the books, especially Blackbirds. There's also Miriam herself, if I met her in real life I'd probably run a mile, but in the books she's sort of tragic and a proper hero, even though she openly and often admits that there's nothing heroic about her.

Further and related reading: I wasn't as enamoured of the first Mookie Pearl book; The Blue Blazes, as I was of the Miriam Black's. To be honest I didn't like it at all, and even though it contains the same sort of language, there's just something about it that turned me off. There are however three Miriam Black books: Blackbirds, Mockingbird and The Cormorant. Simon and Schuster has Thunderbird listed as forthcoming. There's not a lot else like it really. The closest I can come is V. E. Schwab's Vicious, which is about people cursed with powers not dissimilar to Miriam's and it contains that same short, sharp punchy style, if the author is less foul mouthed about it.

T. H. White May 29, 1906 - January 17, 1964. T. H. White is best known for The Once and Future King, considered by many to be the gold standard by which all retellings of the Arthurian legend since have been judged. The interest started early, with the author writing his thesis on Le Morte d'Arthur, which saw him graduate from Queens College, Cambridge in 1928 with a first-class degree in English.

He taught for a time, and wrote a number of novels on various subjects. He began The Sword in the Stone (the first part of The Once and Future King, and the part of the story that was later filmed by Disney under the same name) in 1938. He later completed the second and third parts, and edited the first one, and they came out in 1940.

He continued to write novels, most often fantasy, and wrote two further parts of The Once and Future King (The Candle in the Wind became the 4th part of it in 1958, and has never been published separately), the sequel; The Books of Merlyn, was published post humously in 1977. He did live to see the musical Camelot, which was based on his book, and also the Disney version.

The Once and Future King has become a classic and is regarded by many as the definitive Arthurian retelling. I don't know that many people know T. H. White wrote anything else, other than The Books of Merlyn, which is a sequel to this work. It's not the best Arthurian retelling I've ever read (that honour goes to Parke Godwin's Firelord), but it is up there and it became recognised as THE one, being required reading at plenty of high schools and having a Disney film based on it (it''s not one of Disney's better films, though) and the huge Broadway hit that was Camelot. There's an epicness to The Once and Future King that other works don't have for me, despite the subject material. I also find it remarkably accessible, and it's started many a person's interest in all things Arthurian.

Further and related reading: T. H. White did write other novels, and he seemed to like to put new spin on old ideas, one of his other works concerns a young girl discovering a group of Lilliputians living near her house. However his legacy is The Once and Future King, and there's so much Arthurian work out there that takes part or all of the legend that it's become a sub genre of it's own. Stephen Lawhead and Bernard Cornwell have published interesting takes on it. My personal favourite is Parke Godwin's Firelord, which also has a sequel Beloved Exile, which looks at what happened to Guenevere when Arthur fell.

I'm a big fan of Tad Williams. Before becoming a full time author, Tad Williams was in a band, he worked for radio and TV and even as a technical writer for Apple between 1987 - 90. I first encountered his work with Tailchaser's Song, an odd little fable about the mythology of cats. That in no way prepared me for the epic Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. The final book of that series, To Green Angel Tower still holds the record for longest single volume of anything in English, weighing in at a whopping 520,000 words. He followed that up with the cyber punk series Otherland, which showcased exactly the sort of weird places the author's mind went. After Otherland he took a real chance with The War of the Flowers, while it was long enough to be broken up into a trilogy or a duo logy, it was a standalone. While The War of the Flowers is classified as portal fantasy, Tad Williams himself has said that he actually regards it as urban fantasy. The Shadowmarch series saw him return to high fantasy and then he surprised everyone by doing an urban fantasy about a fallen angel called Bobby Dollar.

One of the things I've always liked about Williams is that he rarely does the same thing twice, or go over old ground. Plenty of authors find a nice comfortable little niche and then just continue to mine it. Williams never really has. That takes guts and talent.

The final book of the Bobby Dollar series came out in 2014, and after that it was announced that Tad Williams would return to the world of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn with The Last King of Osten Ard. He has also co-written The Ordinary Farm Adventures, a series aimed at younger readers, with his wife Deborah Beale, or as she tweets @MrsTad.

Tad Williams keeps a blog at and tweets along with MrsTad as @tadwilliams.

The War of the Flowers is epic in every sense of the word. It's huge, and really could have been broken up and worked quite successfully as a multi volume epic. It's many things, portal fantasy, epic fantasy, urban fantasy. It's about the fate of two worlds and drifts in and throughout the history of both of them. Despite it's length it's a book I've read a few times, and I'm alway struck by how damn good it is. Maybe it's because I like his version of faery a lot better than others, maybe it's the marvellous character of the feisty little faery girl Applecore or maybe it's because like the hero Theo Vilnius I also think there are other worlds out there that we just don't know about. This one just worked on every level for me, and if I put up a top 10 of my favourite works, it's up there.

Further and related reading: As I said in the bio of Tad Willliams, he's a literary chameleon, so it's hard to go wrong with him. There's epic fantasy with Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, science fiction with Otherland, portal fantasy with The War of the Flowers and urban fantasy with the Bobby Dollar series. I rate Clive Barker's Weaveworld as being a little like The War of the Flowers in that it also contains a unique view of faery and is about the struggle for the fate of it. Seanan McGuire's October Daye series often goes in between our world and the kingdoms of the fae as does Yasmine Galenorn's Otherworld series, although that deals more with our world than it does with that of the fae.

David Wong is the pen name of Jason Pargin. As well as writing off the wall fantasy novels he was also the editor of the humorous website While working as a copy editor at a law firm, he began the website Pointless Waste of Time (later absorbed into and it was there that he posted a chapter of a web serial every Halloween, this web serial would later become his first novel John Dies at the End. The sale of the book and the deal with enabled him to write full time. The success of John Dies at the End (it was also made into a film), allowed the publication of the sequel This Book is Full of Spiders. I was hoping there may be a further book about David, John and Amy following This Book is Full of Spiders, but nothing has been forthcoming, and as far as I know David Wong limits his creative appearances now to his work on

Reading John Dies at the End is rather like watching the film Tremors. I rewatched Tremors recently, and as I was watching it, I had the thought that the casting of Kevin Bacon aside, nothing about that film should work, but somehow it does. John Dies at the End is like that. It should be a horrible mess of a book, but somehow it all hangs together and is a bloody good ride. There's part of everything in there, it breaks every rule ever written about how to write a book, but again it just works. At times it's rather like Douglas Adams, Ben Edlund and Stephen King all got together one night, spent it smoking pot and then thought, hey let's write a book. The sequel is somewhat more structured, although it's every bit as chaotic. I only read John Dies at the End because of This Book is Full of Spiders. I have serious arachnophobia (one day I'll write the story of how I found a huntsman in my car), and when I saw a book that had little paper spiders crawling all over the cover I just had to pick it up. It does say at the start that you don't have to have read John Dies at the End to get This Book is Full of Spiders, but I did it anyway, and I was glad that I did so, because it was one of the weirdest and best things that I read that year.

Further and related reading: there's only This Book is Full of Spiders, which is more zombie apocalypse, rather than alien invasion, which is kind of what John Dies at the End is. For the same sort of sheer free form weirdness I'd recommend Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which in my opinion is fantasy masquerading as science fiction. Ben Edlund's The Tick also has that sort of lunacy, but that's a comic book, not a novel.

I'd never heard of Chris Wooding until I started to see rave reviews for a book called Retribution Falls. He had however been a published author since the age of 21 and had a few children's books behind him, including the highly acclaimed Braided Path series, for adult readers. Since the first book of The Tales of the Ketty Jay in Retribution Falls, he has gone on to finish that series with 4 books all up, and do a number of works for younger readers. His first book after completing The Ketty Jay series is Velocity, which I believe is due out sometime in 2015. He keeps a website at

Despite being a rather steampunky secondary world fantasy, Retribution Falls has a rather Firefly feel to it. If you really want to you can probably find direct analogues among the crew of the Ketty Jay to the crew of Serenity from the short lived Joss Whedon science fiction cult hit. Retribution Falls just has this wonderful mix of characters and concepts. There's a lot going on in it, from the roguish captain Darian Frey, to the battle between the ship's cat and the twitchy pilot Harkins, and the continual game of one upmanship that the other pilot Pinn plays with everyone else on the ship and seemingly himself, then there's the background's of the ship's tortured resident magic user and his golem Bess, as well as what happened to the ship's doctor the alcoholic Malvery and just what is the new hire Jez? All 4 of the books are great fun, but the opener just had more going for it than the other 3, although if you read one it will be hard to resist the 3 sequels.

Further and related reading: Chris Wooding has written at least 10 other books that are not Tales of the Ketty Jay, but I have the feeling that this will be what he's remembered for. I can't think of anything I've read that is really like Retribution Falls, and I have to go back to Firefly. If you've seen and enjoyed Firefly, then you'll like Retribution Falls.

Sadly this brings me to an end of the series. I can't promise anything, but I'll have a think and may do a top 10 from the list next week.


  1. War of the Flowers is the only Tad Williams I've read (and that was cos you gave it to me with instruction that I had to read it :), I've never really felt the need to read any others of his works though. Maybe I'm tired of lengthy series??

    Jo Walton's alternative history triolgy "Small Change" is well worth a read, I really enjoiyed her all-too-plausible alternative England. Tooth & Claw is my favourite of all her books i've read so far though.

    As you're not going to do "Y" authors, I'll leave a recommendation for "Briar Rose" by Jane Yolen here. It's a retelling of Sleeping Beauty set in WW2, and not enough people know about it. She's written approximately eleventy-billion books, but the only other ones I can recommend from personal reading is the Pit Dragon Trilogy. I've read others, but can't remember them off the top of my head

  2. If Briar Rose is also Jane Yolen, then I've read at least 2 of her books. The other one was something about dragons. Although Briar Rose didn't make my favourites list I will agree that it's well worth reading. One of the more interesting fairy tale retellings out there.