With new game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings series set to stream, 2022 is shaping up to be the year of the fantasy novel. In other words: there’s never been a better time to read one. But where to begin? We asked Marlon James, author of the epic Dark Star Trilogyto recommend five standouts from the genre’s exciting and inclusive new frontier.
This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Esquire—subscribe here.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueby V. E. Schwab
I’ve been sold on the idea of eternal life since I was six years old, so it says something that this novel finally cured me of it. Addie meets a guy. Sparksfly; clothes fly off. Addie wakes up first and starts counting down the minutes, for she knows that before the sun even rises, he will forget her. It’s a thing that Addie has lived with for 300 years. She gets eternal life, but in exchange, everybody forgets her. Then one day, somebody she met only once remembers her name of her. It’s the kind of book that makes you realize that not getting your heart’s desire might be a good thing.
Ring Shout, band P. Djèlí Clark
Lovecraft Country and Ring Shout might seem similar. Both are interested in that moment when 19th-century slavery congealed into 20th-century racial terrorism. But Lovecraft Country bit off more than it could chew; Ring Shout sets its simple premise ablaze. In 1915, The Birth of a Nation mesmerizes white America, kickstarting the modern Ku Klux Klan. The film infects white America with a lethal, demonic force that threatens to destroy the world. Coming to the rescue is who always rescues America from itself: a Black woman. But this time, she’s brought guns. And bombs.
A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar
The best stories throw a wrench in our characters’ best-laid plans, and nobody throws a wrench quite like a ghost. Jevick is the stranger of the title, sold on tales of a wonderland called Olondria in much the way I was sold on the idea of that wonderland called New York. What Samatar does is pull us into a world so thoroughly strange yet so familiar that you think it’s one kind of story until it shoves you off course and becomes another. It’s about a man who has too much to learn and not much time to learn it, but it’s also about how little knowledge really is a dangerous thing.
The Gormenghast Trilogy, by Mervyn Peake
Usually when writers are ashamed of coming out as fantasy nerds, they call their novels “speculative fiction,” as if all fiction isn’t speculative. It makes fantasy sound like child’s play, which is ironic, given that fantasy makes children feel grown-up. Gormenghast is not children’s fantasy, but I reach for it whenever anybody suggests that fantasy is something one outgrows. Massive, dense, with more interiority than a Virginia Woolf novel, it is a thick swirl of madness, vengeance, cruelty, and power. At its end, you realize that the most privileged people are also the loneliest.
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, by Amos Tutuola
It’s fascinating to read this book’s early reviews; most critics dismissed its simplicity as Black cultural primitivity. Maybe they were not sophisticated enough to appreciate a story with no allegiance to the Western form, other than using English. Tutuola smacked the shit out of the language and jazzed it up with light, magic, sensuality, and terror. A small boy is captured by ghosts, meets the fantastical and the grotesque (usually the same thing), and even accepts his fate. But then escape comes, and we’re forced to ask what return means. Is this world, once you’ve cut it loose, really worth returning to?
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