‘The Princess Bride’ and other fantastical novels to help you escape reality

Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Lavie Tidhar

THE WASHINGTON POST – The world right now feels like an apocalyptic novel. We’re hunkering down on both sides of the Atlantic to compile this, Silvia isolated in an attic in Canada and Lavie looking out of his window, on the outskirts of London, onto a buried World War II era air raid shelter. There is nowhere to go, there is nothing to do and, in the immortal words of 1997’s As Good As It Gets, it’s all a little too much reality for a Friday night. Especially when this reality was considered impossible science fiction only last week.

For once, everyone wants an escape. With cinemas, restaurants and other public venues closing and movies and TV shows halting production in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, perhaps reading will become the next big thing? We’re not sure, but let us help you pick something to read just in case. So light up a candle, draw the blinds closed and settle in with a good book.

Lavie: My trusted go-to fantasy has to be Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master trilogy – The Riddle-Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire and Harpist in the Wind. Why these are not universally known, and why McKillip is not a household name, is a mystery to me. Originally published in the 1970s, and available now in the convenience of your own home as both e-books and audio books, the three books chart the life of Morgon, Prince of Hed, a riddle master caught in an impossible riddle game that threatens the land he loves.

Timeless, both intimate and epic, beautifully and poetically written, I re-read them whenever I can. More recently, I read McKillip’s strange, enchanting stand-alone fantasy The Forgotten Beasts of Eld for the first time, as it has been reissued. It follows Sybel, a woman with strange powers who collects fabulous beasts, whose power draws the attention of forces battling each other out in the world. Sybel must use her talent – but will she win, or lose, herself? The novel won the World Fantasy Award and the writing is simply beautiful. Want to get lost in a good book or four? You couldn’t do much better than these.

Silvia: A few years ago, I read Food for the Gods by Karen Dudley, a charming take on Greek mythology with the twist that the protagonist, Pelops, is not a heroic man out to save the world, but a celebrity chef. He becomes involved in a mystery while having to also deal with troublesome mythological creatures. In that sense, it’s a bit like Cassandra Khaw’s Rupert Wong urban fantasy novels – also highly recommended – but with an ancient world angle. But I guess my top escapist fantasy read would be Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber. As a teenager, I remember finding a volume that compiled the books and powered through them during a weekend. At the end, I was hallucinating from lack of sleep, but I had to find out the fate of Corwin, who wakes up one day in the hospital with amnesia and then discovers he’s a member of a royal family with magical powers. There’s parallel worlds, adventure and intrigue, and the series would make an excellent TV show.

Lavie: I love Amber, and everything by Zelazny. His Lord of Light is a masterpiece, but for pure fun you might like his final novel, A Night in the Lonesome October, a charming and macabre tale illustrated by the great Gahan Wilson and featuring several well-known Victorian characters, including a certain great detective and a well-known count. As far as my favourite current series goes, the Rivers of London books by Ben Aaronovitch have already made him a No 1 bestseller in the UK, and with good reason. Sometimes pitched as “what if Harry Potter grew up and joined the police force”, these are delightful, compulsive and fresh – with a love of multicultural London evident on every page, wonderfully diverse characters, magic, mystery and mayhem. Once you start, you will literally not be able to put them down. His latest, False Value, is out now.

Silvia: Erica L Satifka won a British Fantasy Award for her novel Stay Crazy in 2017. When I read it, I called it They Live meets Walmart. It involves a woman who had a mental breakdown, is now working at a supermarket and starts speaking to a box of chicken nuggets that warns her about an alien invasion.

Now, she has to save the world, while making minimum wage. Satifka’s wry sense of humour is a delight. Folks who liked Charles Stross and his Laundry Files series should check this one out, and a major publisher should sign Satifka up and give her a deserved big break. Finally, I think in times like these we could all turn to that classic tale of true love, rodents of unusual size and meta commentary, The Princess Bride.

And if you want to continue with something romantic but in an epic vein, there are L Penelope’s Earthsinger books, which are sure to sweep you into a world packed with magic and excitement.