Guest Post: Five Lesser-Known Fantasy Authors by Kelsey Lecky
April 4, 2023
The following is a guest post from our enchanting friend, the talented and magical Kelsey Lecky – she was inspired by our previous post on this topic and wanted to share a few more amazing writers!
I am a keen wanderer. Let me loose in a used bookstore (especially the old, winding sort with a resident cat) and I’ll disappear for an entire day. I find myself wandering in books as much as I do in forests and libraries, hunting for references to other beloved and magical books, and well, you can guess where this leads. So I thought I’d share a few of my “literary paths less traveled” with you, and the lesser-known fantasy authors whose words I love to wander. Who knows, perhaps one of these writers will spark some literary explorations of your own!
You’ve heard of Shakespeare and Joyce, but have you heard of Greer Gilman?
I once described Greer Gilman to a friend as “if Shakespeare and Joyce had a love child who was a folkloric witch running wild through midwinter moors, singing ballads to the moon.” Her prose is unlike anything else I’ve encountered in modern English, let alone fantasy.
Her first novel, Moonwise, follows the adventures of two witchy best friends (remind you of anyone?) who create a world through marbles and tarot cards, only to venture through a midwinter wood and into its shadowland, “a world where ballads were constellations and the moon hunted souls by night…”
Her more recent collection, Cloud & Ashes, delves further into the world and folklore of Cloud, its prose as savagely sublime as a winter night. This is a book of dark and ancient hearthlore, played by guisers on the longest and darkest nights, whispered by constellations in hedgerows, and sung by fiddlers to the moon’s daughter as stars and seasons turn.
A retired forensic librarian and polyglot at Harvard, Gilman’s work is festooned with her love of language, landscape, ballad, ritual, and folklore. She also keeps a delightfully ecclectic blog of miscellany, like the best sort of oddity shop that you know has magic squirreled away on its bookshelves or tucked between wooden jigsaw puzzles.
You’ve heard of Laini Taylor, but have you heard of Sofia Samatar?
Samatar’s fantasy duology A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories is not only a haunting and beautiful love letter to “the strange necromancy of books” but also a diverse and inclusive reimagining the landscape of fantasy. From tropical isles, to sweeps of desert, to verdant plains, to spiraling cities breathless with wonder, Samatar creates a world begging to be explored. As N.K. Jeminsin so rightly said “there’s a good chance readers will ignore the plot and spend a few hours just chewing on the words, slowly, to draw out the flavor.” I couldn’t agree more. Like the best fantasy, I find reading Samatar to be transformative: changing the way I perceived the world, making even the most mundane details seem magical.
Holding a PhD in Arabic and African Literature, Samatar is a professor of English at James Madison University, as well as a writer of diverse talents: writing everything from nonfiction, memoir, fantasy, science-fiction, and academic studies.
You’ve heard of Naomi Novik, but have you heard of Marina and Sergey Dyachenko?
If you enjoyed the dark academia of Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series, buckle up. Marina and Sergey Dyachenko’s Vita Nostra is a tour de force and hands down the best fantasy I’ve read in years. Part dark academia, part metaphysical fantasy, this book nearly defies description. It is a testament to the depths and power language can wield. And the best part? It’s planned as a trilogy, with the second book released in English in March 2023.
The Ukrainian husband and wife team, a former psychiatrist and former actress, write in both Ukrainian and Russian, with works spanning speculative fiction, literary fiction, plays, scripts, and fantasy.
You’ve heard of Tamsyn Muir, but have you heard of Mervyn Peake?
Mervyn Peake took the gothic and grotesque to new heights (often literally) in his seminal Gormenghast trilogy. The trilogy follows young Titus Groan, heir to the Earl of Gormenghast and its webs of ritual. But no one really reads Gormenghast for the plot; it’s the world that Peake builds that ensnares. So influential was Peake that I’ve seen “Gormenghastery” used by writers since (okay, so that writer was Greer Gilman, which hardly proves the word is in common use, but still.)
It is also, coincidentally, home to one of my favorite two paragraphs ever written:
“There was a library and it is ashes. Let its long length assemble. Than its stone walls its paper walls are thicker; armored with learning, with philosophy, with poetry that drifts or dances clamped though it is in midnight. Shielded with flax and calfskin and a cold weight of ink, there broods the ghost of Sepulchrave, the melancholy Earl, seventy-sixth lord of half-light.
It is five years ago. Witless of how his death by owls approaches he mourns through each languid gesture, each fine-boned feature, as though his body were glass and at its center his heart like a pendant tear.”
Peake (1911-1968) was a multi-faceted artist, beginning his career as a British war artist in WWII and going on to create illustrations for books such as Alice in Wonderland and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, poetry, plays, sets and costumes for theatre, in addition to writing and illustrating his own monumental books.
You’ve heard of Shveta Thakrar, but have you heard of Amal El-Mohtar?
I first discovered Amal El-Mohtar through The Honey Month wherein a friend sends her twenty-eight honeys, each delightfully unique. Every day for an entire February, she unstoppers a vial of honey and uses it as inspiration for a piece of short fiction: poems and stories that dip in and out of synesthesia, sensuality, and sun-scented longing. This is writing that deserves to be licked from the page, savored to the last drop.
El-Mohtar writes poetry, fiction, and criticism, as well as reviewing science fiction and fantasy for The New York Times.
Bonus: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Okay, so technically Susanna Clarke isn’t lesser-known, but I feel like her most recent book, Piranesi, definitely falls under the radar. It is a quiet, rambling exploration of hidden worlds and ideas, where the ocean flows through the lower levels of an endless manse. As Piranesi navigates the tides and the labyrinth, he learns he’s not alone.
Bio: Kelsey looks like a ghost and smells like a forest. She is neither. Yet.
Visit her at https://kakleckyillustration.com/