I own a library of a thousand books or a little more, and I love every one of them. Those I have bought and not adored, I have given to friends or charities, or left behind on my many travels. I therefore have too many favourite books to list them all, and I deeply apologise to the many, many authors, past and present, who remain much prized on my shelves, but make no visit to this list.
I also have a large collection of illustrated books, mostly quite old, with the works of the great artists of the past and illustrators such as Rackham, Dulac, Heath Robinson and many others. It seems pointless to list these.
Frankly, I just have too many favourites …
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LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R.TOLKIEN
This is the book which defines modern fantasy, and which introduced most of us to the true indulgence of escapism. The writing is not always without fault – but the book is, in general, a masterpiece. The plot wanders, but the realism grows. We are led step by step into Middle Earth until we feel that we have lived there for years. Naturally the book has remained the passionate love of almost everyone who has ever read it. Yet for me the most poignant and gripping element of the entire book is the underlying sadness and melancholy – even in the face of success – which I found and still find utterly gripping.
THE LYMOND SERIES by DOROTHY DUNNETT
Dorothy Dunnett is often considered to be the all-time master of historical fiction, and I believe she entirely earned that reputation. Her Lymond series is masterly. Fans argue over which series is superior, Lymond or Niccolo. For me the Niccolo series was unnecessarily melodramatic, although still excellent. I disliked the principal female characters (whereas I love Philippa) and others are unconvincing, especially for that era. But I cannot criticise her brilliance of plot and wealth of detail, which pulls me into her work, until I want to curl up in her books and never leave. My favourite of all these books is the heart breaking Pawn in Frankincense, but I love them all, even those I criticise.
THE MALIGNED KING by ANNETTE CARSON
I have done mountains of research while writing my historical novels. Most, although not all, of this has been based around the late medieval, the life, personality and times of King Richard III, and the consequences of whether or not this king was a tyrant. I have studied so many books on the subject that it is amazing that one should stand out in my memory, but it does. Many of the books I read were poor, misleading or inaccurate themselves. But many were brilliant and immensely helpful, whatever actual stance they chose to take on the subject. This non-fiction book on Richard III stands out as the most exceptional. A comparatively unbiased study ends in re-affirming my own belief that Richard III, although a warrior and man of his times, was no Shakespearean monster, but simply a nobleman of honour, trust, ambition, loyalty and religious scruples. It was not this book alone which convinced me, far from it. But Annette Carson’s book is comprehensive regarding the relevant time period and covers every detail with alluring logic, strict accuracy and matter-of-fact presentation. I recommend it to anyone interested in the truth, and not simply in prejudice.
THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING by T. H. WHITE
This is undoubtedly a work of genius. Although now a classic of many years past, it remains one of the most moving and readable works of fantasy concerning King Arthur and the old myths turned around. We start with the entirely delicious and brilliantly written story of young Wart, the child-Arthur, in The Sword in the Stone, and then move on to an entirely different mood with the dark sadness of Morgana and the knights as Arthur ages. Brilliant humour twists back on itself. This is a novel of amazing depth.
FLASHMAN by GEORGE MACDONALD FRASER
This is not one book, of course. I adored the first three or four andthen became less enamoured, but they are all certainly beautifully written. This author has a true understanding of humour and wit, and a vast understanding of history. These books have been criticised for their sexism, and yes, Flashman is no feminist’s dream, but the books are humorous, clever, and original. George MacDonald Fraser leads us through a series of magnificent historical adventures with tongue-in-cheek and good-natured romping.
DEVIL’S CUB by GEORGETTE HEYER
Georgette Heyer taught me about romance when I was still too young to experience it myself. I think Devil’s Cub is her very best, although all her thousands of fans probably have different choices. Her plots are simple but delightful, but her great strength is characterisation. Her heroes can be so utterly alluring they practically create their own genre. I certainly wouldn’t want Dominic in real life, but in this book he is the ultimate romantic dream. Without using one single direct sexual word, action, or even illusion, Ms. Heyer sparks pure sexual longing in the reader’s breast.
I once had a very slight acquaintance with the amazing author of this incredible and brilliant trilogy. This fantasy is gloriously unique, with a level of imaginative originality which, frankly, is rare. The characters are compulsively vivid, all fairly unpleasant of course, but with weaknesses that soon become endearing. I found this utterly essential reading and although it is so unusual that it would not be to everyone’s taste, to anyone who loves true fantasy, it is well worth reading and is so fascinating that once started, it cannot be put down.
THE KING MUST DIE and
THE BULL FROM THE SEA by MARY RENAULT
Mary Renault is beyond comparison. I adore absolutely everything she has written, but these are my favourites. Apart from the pure brilliance of her writing, she had the ability which I have so admired in a few rare others, of presenting myth and fantasy as if it is entirely believable and beautifully realistic, Again there is the underlying melancholy of pure myth, and her writing and her story-telling skills (which are two different things) are incomparable.
THE NIGHT ANGEL TRILOGY by BRENT WEEKS
I became quickly hooked on these modern fantasies. Brent Weeks was very young, but wrote with a real understanding of literary anticipation, characterisation and true adventure. I have bought all his books since this first trilogy, since I find his work quite compelling.
THE ISLAND OF CAPTAIN SPARROW and
THE SIEGE OF MALTA by S. FOWLER WRIGHT
S. Fowler Wright wrote many books and I was a passionate fan of them all when I was much younger. I was surprised to find that many of his amazing novels are once more in print and available on Amazon even though they were written so long ago. And yes, they are well worth buying, though the style will now be a little dated, for the excellence of imagination, gripping plots and pure underlying magic are still very much alive. The Island of Captain Sparrow was a deeply disturbing fantasy, which was filmed some years ago, and which has inspired many other authors, including me!
SONS OF THE SWORDMAKER by MAURICE WALSH
I wonder if there’s anyone else alive who has read this book. If so, tell me! It was never a best seller and was published long, long ago but I loved it as a child, and love it still. It awoke in me the understanding of myth and how to create fantasy and craft it into a semblance of truth. I adored those strange melancholy characters. I still remember the quote that used to make me cry, “To sleep and sleep and sleep. And that will be the best of all.”
RIVERS OF LONDON by BEN AARONOVITCH
There are a number of books in this modern series, and I have only read the first one, but I am hooked. The plot is nonsense, but the writing is excellent and the concept is pure delight. An endless stream of delicious wit and humour leads us through the urban fantasy of the London beneath London, and it is undemanding joy from beginning to end. So clever. Forget the plot. You don’t need it.
THE GLASS BOOKS OF THE DREAM EATERS by GORDON DAHLGUIST
This highly clever and original fantasy engaged me from page 1. It is deliciously absurd but extremely well written with constant surprise and enduring skill. This is a book of pure, glorious imagination, and that’s something I greatly admire.
INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE by ANNE RICE
Alright, so the series went steadily downhill. But this first book was the kick off for the whole Vampire-passion in recent years. Anne Rice crafted an incredibly clever novel and created details and background which went way beyond the limits of the original Bram Stoker, and of those vampires who came later. This deep and wonderfully atmospheric novel is simply and completely excellent.
MISTS OF AVALON by MARION ZIMMER
An old favourite and so rich in atmosphere and imagination. Skilled and immensely enjoyable. This is a book to lose yourself in. This is a perennial favourite, and deserves to be.
THE MERLIN TRILOGY by MARY STEWART
Such beautiful collection of atmospheric magic, beautifully written, and a constant inspiration to anyone who loves the Arthurian legends, and fantasy in general.
THE LITERATURE MACHINE by ITALO CALVINO
And almost everything else by this remarkable and unique Italian author. His work cannot be classed as fantasy, but they are unique and remarkably clever. His ‘voice’ is entirely original and refreshing. His books wake me up, makes me laugh, makes me think, and makes me want to write better.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO TRILOGY by STIEG LARSSON
The brilliance of these stories, although evident in many aspects of these exceptional books, lies principally in the expert creation of one of the most unusual, unlikely and delightful heroines in the history of literature. These books are addictive and absolutely entertaining.