Fantasy booklist: some Englishwomen

Some Englishwomen. The English are great at fantasy. They also review their fantasy authors’ books in the London Times. 

Angela Carter wrote many collections of short stories, including retellings of fairytales, that are dark, definitely adult reading, like The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (which includes a Bluebeard story), but my favorite is her last novel, which is very bright: *Wise Children, about the twins Dora and Nora Chance, ‘who love to sing and dance’, and are the illegitimate daughters of a famous Shakespearean actor. The novel follows their picaresque life, first in vaudeville, later in movies, as told by Dora. (I call this ‘fantasy’ because of its tone – but maybe it’s ‘fabulist’?) And Nights at the Circus, about a 6 foot tall cockney trapeze artist at the turn of the century (last one, not this one, so early 1900s) who has wings, and goes on tour in Russia.

Also, Shaking a Leg, a compilation of her essays and journalism, is one of those books that has something interesting to read no matter where you open it. Carter was one of those acute observers who noticed a naked Emperor. Click on her name for her biography (1940-1992), and links to other articles about her plays, articles, and many other books.

51oOJm4QBwLTanith Lee does hard-core adult fantasy, as well as light-hearted YA, as well as horror. Her *Flat Earth Series (5 or 6 books) is wonderful and a bit creepy, like an X-rated Arabian Nights (as when one of the Lords of Darkness steals an infant boy as his mother is dying in childbirth, because the infant looks like he’ll grow up to be pretty.) The Lords of Darkness include Death, the Demon, Madness (or Delirium, Delusion), and Fate (or Destiny), who appear as people, and have linked stories that intersect throughout the series. One book about the Demon’s daughter (Delirium’s Mistress) is more like a novel, following the fortunes and misfortunes of the daughter, her love affair with Madness, over centuries of life. This series and many of Lee’s other stories have an undercurrent of spiritual awe based on Eastern philosophy; they take reincarnation for granted, along with the working out of karma over many lifetimes, and the potential for good and evil in each character. Even the Demon is not simply dark; he has another side, but in some way it is up to his daughter to live out both sides fully. (Lee’s Lords of Darkness predated the Sandman comics; I like the way Neil Gaiman took inspiration from her, and that his Death did not appear as a man but as a young woman.)

Lee is prolific, so just some favorites (I’m skipping the horror because I can’t manage the scary stuff): a collection of short stories called *Tamastara, or The Indian Nights, magical events in past, present, and future Indias; a book of linked short stories plus novella about the adventures of *Cyrion, a swordfighting, nomadic Sherlock Holmes in an alternate historical Middle East that is rife with sorcery; *The Silver Metal Lover, about a poor little rich girl in a futuristic world who falls in love with a musician android sex toy; Sabella, about a young woman who is a Martian colonist and a vampire; and Saint Fire, a retelling of Joan of Arc in a medieval, alternate-world Venice, about a slave who can make fire come through her fingers. Lee is good at toppling reader expectations – she turns on a dime. Click on her name for a link to a Guardian UK blog post about her many, wonderful, underappreciated (and under the radar) books.

Doris Lessing also made forays into science fiction/fantasy, some stiff, some transcendent. One book was almost a fable, *The Marriages Between Zones 3, 4, and 5. A page-turner, with vivid characters and other worlds (the zones), despite the cumbersome title. Click on her name for a link to a site that has a bio, a list of all of her books, etc.

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