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Guy Gavriel Kay has written many very good books. They occur in worlds of his own making that are obviously modelled on parts of our world in particular times. Magic or the supernatural make appearances but generally do not dominate. They but add insight into the principal characters that drive the narratives forward. I encountered the Fionavar Tapestry in 1997 after returning to Canada from Zimbabwe and liked it well enough, but then I got my hands on The Lions of Al-Rassan and fell absolutely in love. It was the first time I had ever read fantasy that aligned with what I thought the genre really should be and it was encouraging for me to see that what I was calling Fantastic Realism had a market. It helped me drive through to the end of the first draft of The Gallows Gem of Prallyn.

I still think Lions represents his best work, although I have greatly enjoyed almost all of his subsequent novels. His last two, Under Heaven and River of Stars are compelling reads set in an unlikely setting for much “fantasy” writing. They are all well worth checking out.


I haven’t read as much Barbara Hambly as I probably should (and there’s a LOT to choose from … she has been very prolific!) but what I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed. I particularly enjoyed The Magicians of Night. It picked up on one war in our recent memory that was as much good versus evil as likely possible for us humans and served as a reminder to me that the good versus evil motif really can have resonance in our world.


With all the exposure that Game of Thrones has received, it seems daft that my own insignificant website should bother highlighting the work of George R.R. Martin. Acres of space on websites, newspapers, magazines, etc. have been given over to the Song of Fire and Ice but he has achieved something incredible. I first came across Game of Thrones in 1998 while nearing the end of my first draft of Gallows Gem and thought, again, that here was someone investing the thought necessary for developing a great narrative and anchoring it in the foibles of human experience rather than simply the easy fall-back of a super-natural menace. The menace is there, certainly, but the story is about the humanity of the characters and the events that spiral out from them because of that very humanity. If you haven’t read his stuff (hard to credit these days), well then, you have a great series of books on your reading horizon.


Although his works are largely categorized as Historical Fiction, Bernard Cornwell has written some books that creep into the domain of Fantastic Realism. In his Warrior Chronicles usually don’t involve happenings that we would normally call “magic,” but every now and again he introduces elements that can’t be explained: a curse that comes true, for example. He does it so artfully that it’s hardly noted and it never draws from the fact that the characters are moving (inexorably?) towards their personal objectives, not out to thwart some omni-powerful DARK LORD (tm). His novel, Stonehenge, perhaps drifted more into elements of the magical, but again, those happenings do not detract from the soundness of coherent characters acting out their lives within the context of the broader story. Of course, the Sharpe novels have absolutely NOTHING to do with magic … except that somehow Sharpe manages to find and lose love in every book and gets killed only once! His other series are well worth reading as well.


Patricia McKillip greatly impressed me as a writer of fantasy. Now, one thing that sets her apart from the other writers I have singled out is that her works clearly are works of fantasy. Indeed, the novels that I have read very much border into the realm of fairy tales. So it may seem daft to categorize her as among the greats of putting realism into a fantasy setting, but what is unwavering in what I have read is that her characters are well and truly motivated by the things that motivate real human beings. They aren’t doing the noble thing to save the world, they don’t exist to thwart the all-powerful dark lord, they are doing it for human reasons. I personally liked Winter Rose.

ian at ianmckinley dot com (written this way to guard against spam … you know how to interpret it) © Ian McKinley 2016