Fantasy booklist: some Englishmen

Some Englishmen. To see websites and other books, click on author’s name.

51Y2rs8yjWLTerry Pratchett is funny, as in laugh out loud goofy (the gods of the Discworld live in a place called Dunmanifestin), as well as …how you say…satirical. It takes me awhile to get satire. So no surprise I started with Nation, which doesn’t take place on Discworld, but in an alternate 19th century South Pacific island world. Nation is about what happens to a shipwrecked English girl and a boy who is the sole survivor of his village after a tsunami; how they learn to communicate and take care of the people who wash up on their shores. Nation is more heroic fantasy than Discworld, but without swords and spells. Although there is one battle, Nation is much more about what Le Guin calls “how we harvested the wild oats”. (See her essays in Dancing on the Edge of the World.) It’s about the way societies are built and grow, outside of A Big Fight. It’s a beautiful book, and if I’d had it for more than a few years would rate the * that means it’s now falling apart.

On to Discworld: Pratchett’s female characters are full of what my grandmama called ‘piss and vinegar’ – from the witches in Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, The Wee Free Men, Hat Full of Sky, to the runaway girls and women, the female troll, vampire, and Igor in Monstrous Regiment, to Adora Belle, even though she’s only got a bit part in Going Postal and Making Money. (The con man turned post office director Moist von Lipwig is not only nuts about Adora Belle, he needs her around because she’s so scary. Without her he nearly reverts to his criminal ways, just to get the adrenaline pumping.)

Like Angela Carter, Pratchett notices a naked Emperor (and then points out the lack of clothing in a loud voice).

His Dark Materials Trilogy, by Philip Pullman: *The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass

Because these went into film you may know what they’re about: amazing parallel universe worlds, and what happens when the barriers between them are breached. The first book begins in an alternate Oxford, where everyone has a daemon – an animal whose soul is linked to their human’s. The animal changes shape throughout an individual’s childhood but settles on one shape around puberty. For instance, the scary villainess’s daemon is a golden monkey, a sailor has a seabird daemon, while the protagonist Lyra’s daemon can be a bird, a mouse, a tiger, a moth. There’s also a polar bear who is deposed bear royalty and a drunk; a cowboy parachutist; zeppelins, witches, gypsies, and scholars. And that’s only the first book. In the second book, there is also a boy from our world whose father has disappeared, and whose mother has gone a little crazy with fear of the shadowy men who are after them.

Pullman also wrote The Sally Lockheart Quartet, which he describes as Victorian thrillers, that feature a smart young woman making her way on her own.

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