Twenty fantasy books from the last 20 years

Yesterday I came across this post at Torque Control, which is about trying to put together a list of twenty ‘essential’ fantasy books from the previous twenty years. Although the post dates from 2008, I’ve been inspired to put together a list of my own (the TC discussion sprouted from a similar one about essential science fiction, but I’ve stuck to fantasy as I’m more widely read in that genre).

First of all, I should make it clear what this list is and is not. It’s not a list of ‘essential’ books, ‘recommended reading’, nor even a list of favourites. Some of these books are not, strictly speaking, fantasy — but I’ve included them anyway. Some of these books, I haven’t even read. These are simply books that I’m glad to have read, would like to read, or would like to re-read (because I think I’d appreciate them more second time around).

Ursula Le Guin, Tehanu (1990)
John Grant, The World (1992)
Michael Swanwick, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter (1993)
Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995; tr. 1997)
Christopher Priest, The Prestige (1995)
Philip Pullman, Northern Lights (1995)
Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (1997)
Mary Gentle, Ash (1999)
China Miéville, Perdido Street Station (2000)
Robert Holdstock, Celtika (2001)
Kelly Link, Stranger Things Happen (2001)
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind (2001; tr. 2004)
Graham Joyce, The Facts of Life (2002)
Jeff VanderMeer, City of Saints and Madmen, 2nd ed. (2002)
K.J. Bishop, The Etched City (2003)
Allen Ashley, Somnambulists (2004)
Margo Lanagan, Black Juice (2004)
Tim Lebbon, Dusk (2006)
Ramsey Campbell, The Grin of the Dark (2007)
Helen Oyeyemi, White is for Witching (2009)

Comments are, of course, welcome — and what would be on your list?


  1. I usually don’t know when books are written but I would probably put David Eddings and Ann Bishop somewhere on my list, though which book would take some thinking.
    There are some very interesting books on your list, some I’ve read and some I’ve heard of, but it was interesting to see what other people are reading and putting out there.

  2. Great to see you haven’t been too rigid in your selection of ‘fantasy’ books. Some great books there, and plenty that I (as someone who doesn’t read much non-Young Adult fantasy) will have to check out.

    Although it’s very recent, I’d have to have The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness in there, and depending on how broad your definition of fantasy may even include something like Junot Diaz’s Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. More homage to fantasy than fantasy, but a great book nonetheless.

  3. David Hebblethwaite

    20th January 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks for your comments!

    Cassandra: I’ve not read either of the authors you mention (and, in fact, had never even heard of Anne Bishop), so can’t add any of my own comments there.

    Sam: I have a very wide definition of fantasy, which I was trying to reflect in the list. I did consider putting The Knife of Never Letting Go on there, but I consider it sf rather than fantasy (more so than the ‘sf’ books in the list) — and I already had the Pullman and (perhaps) the Lanagan representing YA fiction (which is not something I habitually read) — so I decided that, on balance, it was best left off.

    The Diaz book is one I’ve heard of but never bothered (until now) to find out anything about. Sounds interesting!

  4. i read diaz last year enjoyed it ,not read many on list zafon and read other murkami’s and read le guins earthsea series as a young man ,it is a genre i need to try more of i feel thanks for posting list

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