Diana Wynne Jones is hard to beat. Fortunately the Harry Potter craze has jerked her publishers into reissuing her books (and what took them so long?) Try the Chrestomanci series: Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, The Magicians of Caprona and Witch Week. Howls Moving Castle, while not part of the Chrestomanci series, features an extremely engaging wizard, not to mention a fast-moving plot and plenty of witty humour. Although having nothing to do with wizards and witches, the same authors Dogsbody is one of the best fantasies around. The reader can almost believe Diana Wynne Jones was a dog in another life!
Unfortunately, it isnt always the best things in this world that win the day, and nowhere is this more evident than in the world of books. Otherwise the likes of Diana Wynne Jones would be millionaires instead of Joanne Rowling. Its the same in the world of consumer products, of course. For instance, if the best product always won the market, or most of it, wed have been playing videos on the Beta system instead of VHS.
And now for my list of recommendations (not in any particular order of preference or age range):
Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones.
Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones. One of her best.
A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin.
The Wednesday Wizard, Denzils Dilemma and Denzils Great Bear Burglary by Sherryl Jordan. Humour abounds in these delightful books for younger middle-grade readers.
Rocco by Sherryl Jordan. (A Time of Darkness to American readers.) This (and the following four) are for older readers.
Secret Sacrament by Sherryl Jordan. Possibly my favourite Sherryl Jordan novelso far anyway.
Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan.
The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan. Believed by many to be her best novel so far. I still prefer Secret Sacrament. I also felt The Raging Quiet read more like a book for adults than for young readers.
The Juniper Game by Sherryl Jordan. Well down the list of books by my favourite New Zealand writer, but other readers might prefer it to my own favourites. J
The Night of the Medlar by Agnes-Mary Brooke (now Amy Brooke), a New Zealand writer who appears to be shamefully neglected by the New Zealand literary scene. This book has been compared to Susan Coopers The Dark Is Rising and has a sequel, published as The Owl, the Two and the Medlar, though I have yet to read it. Visit Amys web site to read more about her books.
The Mora Stone by Agnes-Mary Brooke. A totally absorbing read.
The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper:
- Over Sea Under Stone
- The Dark is Rising
- The Grey King
- Silver on the Tree
Seawards by Susan Cooper. West and Cally, who speak different languages and come from different countries thousands of miles apart, are wrenched by catastrophe out of reality into a perilous world through which they must travel toward the sea. This is not as famous as The Dark is Rising but is every bit as magical.
The Shadow King by Susan Cooper.
The Boggart and The Boggart and the Monsterand by Susan Cooper. I didnt think the sequel was quite as good as the first book. But maybe that was just me.
Sabriel by Garth Nix. This is one of my favourite finds. Garth Nix is definitely a major fantasy writer whose work appeals to both adults and young readers. When youve read this book, look for its sequel, Lirael. Unlike Sabriel, Lirael doesnt have a definite ending; the story will continue in Abhorsen, which I can hardly wait to read. Lirael was shortlisted in the YA novels category of the Aurealis awards 2002.
Shades Children by Garth Nix. See above.
The Half-Men of O, The Priests of Ferris and Motherstone by Maurice Gee. This is a trilogy. Highly recommended. I wish Maurice Gee would return to fantasy. The only reason I can see for his switch to realistic fiction when writing for young people is that publishers for young people dont want fantasy. Mostly they seek social realism, i.e., realistic stories with a dysfunctional family setting. This is a really weird phenomenon. The success of the Harry Potter books has proved just how wrong they are.
Under the Mountain by Maurice Gee. This was televised years ago by Television New Zealand. They never repeated it, and yet they repeat less deserving stuff ad nauseam. Theyre nearly as one-eyed as our publishers.
The World Around the Corner by Maurice Gee.
So You Want to be a Wizard by Diane Duane. This now has four sequels: Deep Wizardry, High Wizardry, A Wizard Abroad and The Wizards Dilemma.
Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce, comprising four books:
- Alanna: The First Adventure
- In the Hand of the Goddess
- The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
- Lioness Rampant.
For a long time I wondered why Tamora Pierce wasnt more popular. Well, now she is.
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patrica C Wrede:
- Dealing with Dragons (also available in a Scholastic Point Fantasy edition as Dragonsbane).
- Searching for Dragons
- Calling on Dragons
- Talking to Dragons
Foiling the Dragon by Susan Price. If you enjoyed the previous titles, youll also enjoy this one.
The Bone Dog by Susan Price. A chilling tale! Read more about this book.
The Sterkarm Handshake By Susan Price. Moving between the sixteenth century and the twenty-first, this is a riveting and very unusual time travel story with a strong flavour of what sixteenth-century life must have been like for rural folk. For older readers.
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, a rich blend of mythology and Welsh legend. The five books are:
- The Book of Three
- The Black Cauldron
- The Castle of Llyr
- Tarran Wanderer
- The High King
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and its sequel, The Moon of Gomrath, by Alan Garner.
The Owl Service by Alan Garner.
Elidor by Alan Garner.
A Dark Horn Blowing by Dahlov Ipcar.
The Lake at the End of the World by Caroline Macdonald. Told alternately in journal form by the girl and boy protagonists, this brilliantly written book is possibly its authors most well known.
Spider Mansion by Caroline Macdonald. The fantasy element in this book is provided by the unbelivably evil paying guests at the isolated home of the Days. At first the Todds seem ideal guests, but then they refuse to leave when their weekend is over. By the time the Days discover what the Todds really want, it is too late
While this book was an absorbing, nail-biting read, I was disappointed in the ending.
Visitors by Caroline Macdonald. Terry, bored and lonely in the school holidays, spends his days watching television. But one day he realizes he isnt alone: somebody or something is trying to get his attentionthrough the television set. The Visitors have finally made contact.
The Eye Witness by Caroline Macdonald. The setting for this book is Tasmania in the year 2046. By then, as a result of the Whole World Movement, the world is one, with no national boundaries, no wars. Conservation of the planet has become the new religion. It is a gentle and benign world. But
Speaking to Miranda by Caroline Macdonald. From the time she was a baby, when her mother died, Rubys constant companion has been a spirit named Miranda, and now Rubywith Mirandas helpsets out to discover her mothers roots.
The Game of the Goose by Ursula Dubosarsky, an Australian writer. Fred, Rowley and Rabbit pool their savings to buy a second-hand board game. But one by one as they roll the dice they become drawn right into the game, where dangerous adventure lurks. I was very much aware, in the beginning of this book, of a writer consciously addressing the lower age-range thats normally described as middle-grade, but once the story really got going her style seemed to relax. Maybe it was just me.
Hex by Rhiannon Lassiter, who was a teenager when she wrote and had this published. Its a remarkable novel, especially from so young a writer. I believe there is at least one sequel.
The Whispering Mountain by Joan Aiken. Theres a section in this book where Aiken leaves the hero for quite a long stretch to take us into the minds of the villains. Although the villains are making incredibly evil plans to get rid of the hero, these scenes are hilariousmainly because the dialogue incorporates words Ive never heard before. Maybe Aiken invented them. However, the reader is never left in any doubt as to what they mean! Joan Aiken wrote so many books I cant possibly list them all here. Also, I havent yet read them all. But her name on the title of a book is a guarantee of a good read.
The Afterdark Princess, The Swan Sister and The Witch Rose, by Annie Dalton. These are for younger middle-grade readers.
The Alpha Box, Naming the Dark and Night Maze, by Annie Dalton. These three are for older readers.
Dragons Milk by Susan Fletcher. When I discovered this book I thought I had found another Tamora Pierce, but it seemed I waited ages for this authors next title. Now, unfortunately, I cant remember its name. (Okay, I decided to stop being lazy and find out. Its Flight of the Dragon Kyn and its actually a prequel to Dragons Milk but can be read on its own, either before or after Dragons Milk). Fletcher also has other titles out now but I havent read them.
The Wind Singer by William Nicholson. A truly amazing novel, and fortunately one of a projected series. Awarded the Nestlé Smarties Gold Award in the nine to eleven category.
The strangers created a weird structure of wood and metal to protect the Manth people and their walled city from evil. The Manth people called it the Wind Singer. Then the Morah stole the Wind Singers voice and Amaranth succumbed to the Morahs evil rule. But the people believe the Morah to be only a legend. Kestrel and her brother Bowman rebel against a society where exams and endless hard work are everything and set out on a terrifying journey to the true source of evil that grips Aramanth.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine LEngle. Winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal, this book is now deservedly regarded as a classic.
Toms Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. This book, a Carnegie Medal winner, is also a modern classic. Tom, staying with his aunt and uncle because his brother has measles, expects to be bored out of his mind. Then one night the landladys antique grandfather clock strikes thirteen times, leading Tom to a wonderful, magical discovery and marking the beginning of a secret almost too amazing to be true.
Switching Well by Peni R Griffin. In 1891 Ada Bauer wishes she lived a hundred years from now when women would surely have the vote and all the problems of the world would be solved, while Amber Burak in 1991 wishes she lived a hundred years ago when parents didnt get divorced and the problems of the world hadnt started. Each gets her wish in a fascinating tale that absolutely enthralled me. Peni R Griffin must have done a lot of research for this book. The San Antonio of a hundred years ago leaps to life as the reader learns what it was like for a girl living in an orphanage there in 1891. The other side of the coin (an orphan girl from the nineteenth century coping with life in the twentieth) is every bit as engrossing.
The Ghost Sitter by Peni R Griffin. Although much shorter than Switching Well, this story about the ghost of a girl who didnt know she was dead is every bit as absorbing and contains similar themes of family caring that cant help but move the thoughtful reader. Peni says she rewrote the ending five times and cried each time. Its easy to see why.
The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat OShea. For all its faults, I simply have to include this book because its such an enthralling read. Its very long674 pages, which is adult lengthand is marketed for young adults, yet it contains so many things that simply dont belong in a book for young adults. Much of the time I felt Pat OShea was addressing a middle-grade audience, until along came a (very funny) section full of dialect that would challenge all but the most competent middle-grade readers. The heroes, 10-year-old Pidge (a name more suitable for a younger audience than YA) and 5-year-old Brigit seem much older than they areespecially Brigit, who often sounds a mature twelve. There wasnt any plausible reason (as there was in Philip Pullmans His Dark Materials trilogy) for the main characters to be too young for the intended readership. Then there are all those creatures that are more like humans than what theyre supposed to be; spiders who wear clothes, for instance. Such characters belong more in books for early middle-graders and younger than in a long novel for young adults. Please dont let any of this criticism put you off, though. This book really is a great read.
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. Although this has long been a favourite with me (Elizabeth Goudge was my favourite writer when I was in my mid-teens) I hesitated at first to place it here and am doing so mainly because Joanne Rowling claims its her favourite book. Its a much longer novel than most young readers are accustomed to finding on the shelves today and is considerably slower-paced. However, its a thoroughly enchanting read for anyone who wants something different. Because of Rowlings interest, it will probably be re-issued very soon (if this hasnt already happened). I hope it leads to a revival of interest in all of Elizabeth Goudges work. Elizabeth Goudge is also the favourite writer of Annie Dalton, by the way.
The Nimbin by Jenny Wagner. There are two sequels to this delightful book about a strange and magical creature that takes up residence in Philippas beach bagReturn of the Nimbin and Catching the Nimbin. However, so far I have read only the first book. Jenny Wagner is an Australian writer who has published mostly picture books in her long career. Judging from The Nimbin, this is a real shame.
Doomspell by Cliff McNish. This is book one of a trilogy, and book two, The Scent of Magic, is also available. Rachel and her brother are pulled through the wall into a strange, magical land ruled by the evil witch Dragwena, who wants to remake Rachel in her image to help her seek revenge on the wizards. I couldnt helping noting that the author chose witches (all female) as the evil beings and wizards (presumably all male) as the good ones. The main wizard, Larpskendya, is an extremely godlike creature, almost too beautiful for mortal eyes to bear. So many books featuring sorcery tend to be sparing with the magic effects, which is disappointing for young readers, who normally cant get enough of magic, but this book really indulges them with a fast-paced, imaginative read and its also very well written.
Candle Iron by Sally Odgers. I was very pleased to hear that this book won the 2002 Aurealis award for long fiction for ages 8-12.
Translations in Celedon by Sally Odgers. This unusual book is possibly for an older age group than the previous title.
The Seer and the Sword by Victoria Hanley. This is Victoria Hanleys first book. If youre a Tamora Pierce fan (and who isnt?) you should enjoy it. My only criticism is that there are, perhaps, too many changes in viewpoints. While this wont be a problem for older teens, younger readers may have trouble coping with it.
Maphead by Lesley Howarth. A fascinating, different fantasy featuring a boy who is a visitor to Earth from the Subtle World. He and his father are seeking his mortal mother. Lesley Howarths writing is delightfully stylish.
Weather Eye by Lesley Howarth. There is more realism in this book than in Maphead and it doesnt have quite the same appeal. Nevertheless, its still a fascinating and unusual read.
Owl by Joanna Orwin. It was so refreshing to see a fantasy title win the NZ Post Book-of-the-Year for 2002. However, I couldnt help noting that the myths dealt with in Owl are Maori ones rather than European and I suspect if such wasnt the case the book wouldnt have been published. Not in New Zealand anyway. Owl is a very suspenseful, often terrifying read, made all the more frightening by the fact that the legendary Pouakai really did exist. I understand three complete skeletons are held at the Otago Museum in New Zealand, the Natural History Museum in London and the National Museum in Wellington. Joanna Orwin writes very well and is particularly good at capturing the flavour of New Zealand speech. I did find the switch from past tense to present for the big climactic scene distracting. It felt contrived, adding nothing to the story. I also wish that the expletive made popular by the (admittedly humorous) Toyota TV commercial had been deleted. Strangely, despite its disgusting meaning, it never has enjoyed the notoriety of the f word. (For the information of non-New Zealand visitors, this word has six letters, begins with b and ends in r.)
Charlottes Web by E B White. This book, which tells the tale of how a little girl named Fern, with the help of a friendly spider, saves her pig Wilbur from the usual fate of nice fat little pigs, is a deserved classic. I cant think why I didnt include it earlier. It is, of course, nothing like the Harry Potter books.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman. A very spooky book in which Coraline walks through a door into a flat very much like the one where she lives with her parents. There she find two people who look like her parents but have black button eyes.
Alchemy by Margaret Mahy. Susan Price describes this as a sinister story of a conjurer and his mysterious cabinet. The cabinet concerned is one of those boxes into which someone (ostensibly from the audience) climbs and seems to disappear. Margaret Mahy doesnt need a gloomy castle to create a creepy, scary backgrouind. She manages it in an ordinary urban New Zealand house.
Cold Tom by Sally Prue. I understand this was Sally Prues first published book. Its a fascinating slant on the Scottish ballad of Tam Lin.
Stravaganza: City of Masks by Mary Hoffman. This is the first in the trilogy of Talia. The second and third books have yet to be published.
Dragons Blood by Jane Yolen. This is book one in the Pit Dragon trilogy. Although repelled by the idea of pitting creatures against each other in a fighting ring for monetary gain (or even for some peoples warped idea of fun) I found this book a riveting read.
These are just a few suggestions, mostly from my own reading experience. Ask your librarian or bookseller for further titles. I will not be placing any more titles here. Instead I have started writing reviews of any books that I enjoy. You can find the list here.
As stated above, you could even try The Obsidian Quest, the first book of my trilogy Quest for Earthlight, which was published by CrossroadsPub but for which I have had to find another publisher. See my Home Page for details. Or read my own blurbs.
And why not read the samples from my 7-book fantasy series about Mark Willoughby, the One Marked by Willow? Start with Mark Willoughby and the Impostor-King of Lazaronia. Alas, I doubt I will ever be able to get it published. Although it was written before Harry Potter was published, editors seem to think I copied Rowling in giving my hero a mark by which people would know him. I was actually finishing the seventh book in this series when (around September-October 1997) I first heard of Joanne Rowling and how Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone had been bought by Scholastics US imprint, Arthur Levine, for a substantial six figure sum. It was only much later I learned that, like me, Rowling had planned six sequels to this book. However, I have to admit that when another writer suggested I needed a change of title for the first book in my series I deliberately used Rowlings formula. Not that its really hers. Many books before Harry Potter have been named using this formula.