It’s Top Ten time again! I haven’t done a top ten list in quite some time, and they’re almost always fun, so I figured, “why not?” I’ve recently discovered that so many of my favorite books fall into the dark fantasy genre, so I figured it might be time to take a look at the ten that loom large over my own work. Without further ado…
#10: The Witching Hour by Anne Rice – Note here that I’m not talking about the Lives of the Mayfair Witches series. The series itself became increasingly disappointing, to the point that I couldn’t bring myself to finish the third book, Taltos. Well-written, with lots of twists and turns, this story of a dynasty of witches manipulated for the desires of a supernatural being grabbed me right from the start and didn’t let go. Unfortunately, it also marks the end of Rice’s good years.
#9: The Thief of Always by Clive Barker – Clive Barker dominates this list, and it’s no coincidence. He has probably been the most singular influence over my own work, and I continue to read and re-read these classics. I was fortunate enough to discover him when my parents picked up a copy of the Books of Blood based on the Stephen King recommendation on the cover. I read his early stuff over and over, and loved the path he followed as his career progressed. Featuring a child who goes to a seemingly perfect paradise for kids only to discover that it hides something sinister, the Thief of Always is a great, imaginative children’s book that really captures the dark side of childhood imagination.
#8: The City and the City by China Mieville – China is a more recent discovery for me, but I’ve rapidly come to love many of his books, none more than The City and the City. It strikes me as a bit odd, given that, while I enjoyed reading it, it didn’t feel like a classic; however, I felt a little bit of a loss when I’d finished it and have wanted to revisit it since then. Set in one city that has been split into two, its borders reinforced by strict social controls not to acknowledge the denizens of the other city, the story takes cognitive dissonance and plays it to its logical end, giving us a paranoid urban legend that grabs hold of you right to the end.
#7: I am Legend by Richard Mathieson – What can I say that hasn’t been said about this book already? It’s a classic of the genre and a classic of sci-fi/fantasy in general that has been adapted into several films, including the incredibly lackluster Will Smith version. Ignore those and go straight to the source.
#6: The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub – I’ve spoken about this book before in my series in the Most Influential Books of my Life series. This ultimate kids-road-trip book always delivers, no matter how many times I re-read it.
#5: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury – Another highly influential book, I discovered it via the 1980s movie but liked the book even more. For those few who don’t know the story, a dark carnival rolls into a small town, changing the life of two teenage boys. The book uses growth and aging as the central fulcrum of its horror, something that meshes well with two boys who stand on the edge of adulthood. It spoke to my soul at the time, and continues to do so to this day.
#4: The Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman – I have to admit that I discovered the first book, Black Sun Rising, due to Michael Whelan’s fantastic cover. Of course, I still had to read the back of the book and discovered a story that grabbed my imagination and wouldn’t let go. Set in an alien world, humans are plagued by a dark energy that can manifest humanity’s darkest fears as pseudo-living beings. To tell you too much more would be to spoil, so I just advise you to check the series out; it’s well worth your time if you enjoy dark fantasy.
#3: The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker – Weaveworld was the beginning of Barker stepping outside of his more traditional horror works, and the Great and Secret Show represents the biggest departure, plunging deeper into his imagination and his unparalleled world building abilities. The central conceit revolves around a man who discovers the secret of reality (known as The Great Work) as its outlines pass in letters through the dead letter office. Possessed of these secrets, he hires a man to help him reach the next level of human evolution, and all chaos breaks loose. Another of the most influential works of my career.
#2: Imajica by Clive Barker – Another repeat from my All-Time Influential Books series. Here’s what I had to say last time, and it still applies: “This is Barker at his imaginative best with themes that I find fascinating: hidden histories, multiple worlds, and compelling characters. The assassin Pie O’ Pah hasn’t really been equaled for me…s/he was just that compelling. I’ve read it several times since, and each time I pick up something new from it.”
#1: The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King – The daddy of them all. This series has influenced my works in untold ways, and even though the end of the series left a lot to desire, overall the concept of a cowboy-as-knight-errant seeking his world’s equivalent of the Holy Grail in a fallen world, in an attempt to save that world, is just endlessly fascinating. My imagination finds so many nooks and crannies to dig through with the advanced technology of that fallen world still existing around them and influencing their world in subtle, yet horrifying ways. A must-read for dark fantasy fans.