Ten Recommended Books for Urban Fantasy, Modern Magic and General Weirdness

Last week, Abstract XP posted ten must read books. It’s a varied bunch and care was taken not to include the usual suspects, like The Lord of the Rings. After a quick trawl through my Goodreads log, here’s my own list of inspiring fiction. It focuses on stories that fall in the zone of the mixing the modern and the fantastic, because that’s the kind of game I like to run. They are, in no particular order:

  1. Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones. An transdimensional wizard charged with keeping the peace on a number of worlds searches for his new apprentice amidst the lunacy of a British science fiction convention.
  2. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. Ancient magic and a hidden struggle between dark and light in then-contemporary England. Particularly notable for drawing on British folkways for its supernatural elements.
  3. Godwalker by Greg Stolze. Based in the Unknown Armies universe, this brings a lot of the characters and cosmology in the corebook to life. Yes, it’s “game fiction.” It’s also good.
  4. Aegypt by John Crowley. The novel mixes multiple levels of reality as characters in the vaguely magically realistic, meaning-laden setting of the Faraway Hills read about characters in other times and places.
  5. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Tuesday Next is a literary detective who chases a master criminal through fictional worlds. It’s fast and loose plane-hopping that blends the “real world” and fiction.
  6. The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs. A young boy goes to live with his eccentric uncle in a rambling old house with oddness behind every door. Fortunately, both the uncle and his next door neighbor are magicians, so they’re well-equipped to deal with any strange doings. Bellairs also wrote an extensive array of fiction in the same gothic horror vein using several casts of character.
  7. The Last Coin by James P. Blaylock. A would-be innkeeper and restaurateur stumbles into the final days of a story that began with Judas and his thirty pieces of silver.
  8. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke. An alternate history in which England develops a strong magical tradition, which mysteriously peters out between the Renaissance and Enlightenment. It reads like a Georgian novel, so be ready for a meandering narrative with footnotes that tell parts of an entirely other, but entwined, story.
  9. War for the Oaks by Emma Bull. It’s the grandmother of urban fantasy and faeries in the modern era in many ways. A Minneapolis rock singer is caught up in a hidden war between the Seelie and Unseelie courts.
  10. Last Call by Tim Powers. Exemplar of the “secret history” story, where factual historical events are given hidden and often supernatural causes, Last Call mixes Arthurian mythology, Jungian mysticism and poker into one brain-tickling whole. It’s also a great example of how old magical practices change and adapt in a modern era.

Honorable mentions include Matt Ruff’s Bad Monkeys, John Ford’s The Last Hot Time and Michael Chabon’s Summerland.

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10 thoughts on “Ten Recommended Books for Urban Fantasy, Modern Magic and General Weirdness

  1. I’ve read The Dark is Rising – or at least I’ve read the first three of the five stories. I found it hit and miss, but it’s certainly worth picking up.

    Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – how did I fail to include this in my list? It’s a different read but entertaining throughout.

    And I can’t wait to pick up Deep Secret on this recommendation alone.

    • Thank Neil Gaiman for the Deep Secret rec. He mentioned it on his blog some time back while reminiscing about his visits to Eastercon, which serves as the basis for the convention in the book. I got it on the strength of his suggestion and loved it.

    • What I read of De Lint’s work didn’t really work for me. While acknowledging his popularity, I wouldn’t recommend him myself.

      I’ll keep an eye out for Mercy Thompson novels next time I take a stroll through the used books.

  2. Pingback: Recommended Readings « worlds in a grain of sand

  3. I would also highly recommend Laurell K Hamilton’s (although she isn’t everyone’s cup of tea) Anita Blake (Guilty Pleasures) or Meredith Gentry (A Kiss of Shadows) series. Ilona Andrew also has an amazing series with her Kate Daniels novels (Magic Bites).

  4. Pingback: Six Months On « Held Action

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