1. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson's first published work in 2005 opens the reader to a world of magic and intrigue. The plot follows the fall of the city of Elantris and the devastating effects that has on the worlds around it. The Elantrians were basically gods. With the ability to create and heal on a whim. A cataclysmic event known as the "Reod" changes all that in an instant and the Elantrians go from being gods to be the lowest of society effectively cursed to live out a miserable existence behind the great walls of Elantris. If that wasn't bad enough, people outside of the walls felt the same effects if they suffered from the "Shoad." The Shoad turned normal people into cursed Elantrians and what do the
rulers of the other kingdoms do to people that become cursed? Well, they toss them into the cursed city that's what.
The novel itself follows three major characters: Raoden, Sarene and Hrathen all of which are intertwined in one form or another. Raoden's story begins as a prince of the nearby kingdom of Arelon and he gets transformed into an Elantrian and without mercy is tossed into Elantris. Now, the crazy thing about being an Elantris is that you cannot die, but you can suffer from pain and endless hunger. The cursed Elantrians must be careful not to injure themselves because they cannot heal, but they cannot die. Raoden is careful not to nosedive off the top of a building. In fact, he does the opposite and works tirelessly to change the way Elantrians lived.
Sarene was the betrothed in an arranged marriage to Raoden, but when she arrives in Arelon from the kingdom of Teod she's already a widow. Sarene and her Aon (basically a mystical cloud of energy and wisdom) take it upon themselves to improve the monarchy of Arelon and restore faith in the people.
The final principal character is named Hrathen and he is a high ranking priest from the kingdom of Derethi. His story is as close to an antagonist as you will get in Elantris, but he's not meant to be portrayed that way. As with Sarene and Raoden, he has a separate task from a different kingdom. The storyline focusing more on religious conversion to Shu Dereth and political undermining.
It isn't a quick read, but that's a good thing. There's something for everyone here. There's magic, romance, political intrigue, religious conflict and betrayal. I'm not an expert in literature, but I can tell you this, Brandon Sanderson has the potential to be the next great fantasy author that will be a household name. You can find Sanderson's work here.
Cover art by Jasnah Illustrations
2. The Promise of Blood (Powder Mage Trilogy) by Brian McClellan
The Promise of Blood , by Brian McClellan, is one of those fantasy novels that really digs into the realm of action and intrigue not focusing on world building which is typical of the majority of fantasy novelists. I wouldn't consider Promise of Blood high fantasy, but I would consider it a delectable read that is absolutely worth your time.
Promise of Blood is actually the first book in a trilogy (which I'm still working through) and gives the reader a taste of what is to come by opening up with a brutal coup against an incompetent king. The coup is led by the character Field Marshal Tamas and results in the death of the entire Royal Cabal. The Royal Cabal is made up of mages known as "the privileged" who are individuals that are naturally gifted sorcerers that were tasked with protecting the king. Suddenly, a character named Adamat comes strolling in and is tasked by Tamas to uncover the secrets of "Kresimir's Promise."
The plot follows Adamat has he tries to uncover the secrets of Kresimir's Promise all the while dodging his own demons. He's a retired investigator with a gambling debt that needs repaid. Little did he realize that Tama's coup would have him digging deeper into a larger and much more dangerous conspiracy. Adamat is also a "knack." A knack has the ability to sense magic and he can tell when a privileged is nearby.
Now, perhaps the most unique part of the story is McClellan's creation of "powder mages." Powder mages are unique people that have a unique connection to gunpowder. They can sense it, use it to gain strength, remotely control it and even direct bullets. The powder mages directly oppose the privileged and are being used by Tamas to give the kingdom back to the people. The most prominent is Tama's son, Taniel.
McClellan's world includes a bevy of magically infused people. Promise of Blood is a fast and engaging read that opens the read to a world devoured in chaos, mystery and magic. You can find it here.
Cover art copyright Brian McClellan
3. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The first two books on this list were by a couple of authors that are beginning to flex their muscles on the fantasy scene, but I figured I'd toss in a book that is one of my personal all-time favorites onto the list because, well....it's my website and I really can do what I want with it can't I?
Neverwhere is classified as urban fantasy and follows Richard Mayhew in London. Mayhew is a young businessman that let's everyone trample all over him including his girlfriend. One night on the way to an art show he comes across an injured woman named Door. Despite his girlfriends objections, he takes Door back to his flat and that is where all the trouble begins.
Unbeknownst to Mayhew, Door is from London Below and tasks him with finding an individual named The Marquis de Carabas. Mayhew is naturally skeptical, but as he tries to go about his daily routines he quickly realizes that the Richard Mayhew the world knew no longer exists. He loses his girlfriend, his job and even his apartment so he undertakes finding Door who disappeared back into London Below where she is being tracked by two assassins, Croup and Vandemar.
The plot follows Mayhew's otherworldly attempts to track Door and his immersion into the London Below world as it transforms him from normal citizen of London into a denizen of a fantasy realm. It affects his mind and while the people of London Below warn them of their troubles and the dangers of the world, he can't help but be attracted to it's mysteries and of course, Door.
Neverwhere is loaded with characters and the world of London Below is dangerous and somehow inviting to the reader at the same time. It's a different take on fantasy, but Neil Gaiman is one of the greatest authors of the last 40 years and that isn't up for debate. Neverwhere is a glimpse into his genius creates and takes the reader on a fantasy journey that is without compare when it comes to uniqueness and creativity.
You can find Gaiman's Neverwhere here.
Cover Art Copyright Neil Gaiman