Less-than-grand Fantasy With Gripping Dialogue?

FiftyTifty

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It's been over a decade since I finished my fantasy book binge, which burnt me out on reading. Went through A-Z the fantasy sections of the libraries in my town, getting my hands on books that had somewhat interesting premises. But now that I've gotten older, I've been drawn to fiction that focuses on inter-character drama. Rather than big bads ending the world, epic-after-epic battles.

If I had to point to something, the BBC series I Claudius from the 1980's has the vibe I'm after. The dialogue was very well written, and gripping performances by the actors. Big events? Sure, but it's how a handful of characters speak about it and play off each other that keeps you hooked.

It's the same with roleplay, which I've done on and off over the years in multiplayer games. Writing out the dynamics between characters is great, even over mundane matters. Some of my favourite writing that I've done (and read!) was by others just fleshing out their characters' perspectives and emotions in response to another doing the same.

Ideally high fantasy, as I love otherwordly settings. One of my favourite series was Dune (fairly common I reckon) from how alien the, err, alien world was written.

The usual recommendation I've come across are the Conan books by Robert E. Howard, but they were filled with sudden retcons, the main character was actually pretending the whole time and expected xyz, the protagonist is smartest, strongest, most beautiful person ever, etc. The books left me feeling more annoyed and disappointed, than wanting to read the next work ASAP.

(Obligatory LoTR) I also tried reading the Lord of the Rings, as well as the Silmarillion, but Tolkein is very, very dry. Felt more like large exposition dumps with the characters as vehicles, rather than gripping dialogue that made me want to comb through each line, and how it was said.

tl;dr: Serious high fantasy/sci-fi with gripping character interactions & naturally flowing dialogue.

Looking forward to any recommendations!
 
Conan the our of the Dragon by Robert E Howard
Bloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner. first book in the Kane the mystic swordsman series
Kothar Barbarian Swordsman by Gardner Francis Fox
Lest Darkness Fall by L Spageu de Camp
Day of the Giants by Lester Del Rey
The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson
Knights Wyrd by Debra Doyle and James D MacDonald
The Dark World by Henry Kuttner
Black Gods Kiss by C L Moore
Crom by Kenneth Flint
The Darwaith Trilogy by Barbara Hambly
John Balladeer by Manley Wade Wellman
The Dragon Lord by David Drake
Wolf Moon by Charles de Lint
 
High fantasy with quality dialogue and character development which is not a Tolkein pastiche. Not S&S. Not EFP, but reasonably close to standard fantasy tropes. Hmmm.

You could try the Lyonesse books by Jack Vance. Typically delicious Vancean dialogue and wry humour.

Three which are not typical high fantasy, but worth it for character development and quality writing:
Lud InThe Mist by Hope Mirlees
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones
 
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Conan the our of the Dragon by Robert E Howard
Bloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner. first book in the Kane the mystic swordsman series
Kothar Barbarian Swordsman by Gardner Francis Fox
Lest Darkness Fall by L Spageu de Camp
Day of the Giants by Lester Del Rey
The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson
Knights Wyrd by Debra Doyle and James D MacDonald
The Dark World by Henry Kuttner
Black Gods Kiss by C L Moore
Crom by Kenneth Flint
The Darwaith Trilogy by Barbara Hambly
John Balladeer by Manley Wade Wellman
The Dragon Lord by David Drake
Wolf Moon by Charles de Lint

Starting right out with a Conan book. Is that one better written than his other works? I've read Man-Eaters of Zamboula, and Gods of the North. Which, err, weren't great. Which of those in your list would you say have the best dialogue and character interactions?

High fantasy with quality dialogue and character development which is not a Tolkein pastiche. Not S&S. Not EFP, but reasonably close to standard fantasy tropes. Hmmm.

You could try the Lyonesse books by Jack Vance. Typically delicious Vancean dialogue and wry humour.

Three which are not typical high fantasy, but worth it for character development and quality writing:
Lud InThe Mist by Hope Mirlees
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones

I probably shouldn't rule out sword and sorcery tbf. That's a huge genre, and I do like mythical beasts and (especially evil) fantasy cultures. It's more the fighting avatars of gods, walking between planes of reality, etc., that are overused. I'm interested in other recommendations you've got.

I'll check those books out! Thanks for the recommendations
 
I too value good dialogues over anything else (except bad writing).
Though I am more of a SF fan, these Fantasy books I did enjoy:

Roger Zelazny - Amber series. (or anything written by him)
Robin Hobb - Farseer trilogy
Lois McMaster Bujold - The Curse of Chalion

and several others that will surface in an hour or so. (slow memory-banks)
 
I too value good dialogues over anything else (except bad writing).
Though I am more of a SF fan, these Fantasy books I did enjoy:

Roger Zelazny - Amber series. (or anything written by him)
Robin Hobb - Farseer trilogy
Lois McMaster Bujold - The Curse of Chalion

and several others that will surface in an hour or so. (slow memory-banks)
Sweet. I'm open to scifi as well actually, though I've barely read that genre. Using Star Trek as a reference, I'm all about Deep Space 9's Cardassians, Founders, and Romulan cultures with how they were used to explore starved and/or hierarchic societies in conflict. The only SF book that I still remember is Dune, which was a very well done portrayal of empire, and the victims of empire.

I'll check these recs out!
 
Sweet. I'm open to scifi as well actually, though I've barely read that genre. Using Star Trek as a reference, I'm all about Deep Space 9's Cardassians, Founders, and Romulan cultures with how they were used to explore starved and/or hierarchic societies in conflict. The only SF book that I still remember is Dune, which was a very well done portrayal of empire, and the victims of empire.

I'll check these recs out!
Ah well, Dune is by many considered to be Fantasy, not SF. I am in the SF-group.
I will get back to you with SF recommendations.
 
Starting right out with a Conan book. Is that one better written than his other works? I've read Man-Eaters of Zamboula, and Gods of the North. Which, err, weren't great. Which of those in your list would you say have the best dialogue and character interactions?



I probably shouldn't rule out sword and sorcery tbf. That's a huge genre, and I do like mythical beasts and (especially evil) fantasy cultures. It's more the fighting avatars of gods, walking between planes of reality, etc., that are overused. I'm interested in other recommendations you've got.

I'll check those books out! Thanks for the recommendations
Sorry , Im a huge Howard Fan :) Conan The Hour of the Dragon a very good book but if you big on Howard probably best to skip and the Kothar books by Foxx might not be your liking either,

You might find Bloodstone By Karl Edward Wagner to be of interest . The main prptaongist is man named Kane, he's an immortal a heroic Villain/antihero . Very compelling an amoral character. in terms dialog and character interactions I think you really might like this one . :cool:
There are other books and stories in this series but this the book to star start with. I think you'll kite Kane.


Most of the other on this list will fit what you looking for .

Some there that have come to mind ,:)

The PI Garret detective Fantasy series by Glen Cook , it long running series . The best way to describe it is talk harboild Humprey Bpart type of Detective and plop him down in world filled with Eleves, Ames Fairies and all manner of magical being . And have ll speak like something out a The Maltese Falcon . The dialogue crackles in this one and the interactions.

Jack Faust by Michael Swanwick. He take the dr Faust story and give a far different spin insets of demons , the good doctor makes a deal with Malevolent extrdimesional alien beings . This author check alll the boxes too

Jerheg by Steven Brust Fransy world in which there are three domient races . The Dragnarains whore immoral and look very human and are rules, pelican header faction heads, The Humans , do all the skilled and unlike work an help run things The Dragone ., small dragon very intelligent and self aware about the size of large horsecar , In this society ig you are assassin , to be too in you find you go to a mother dragon and you bargain for one of her unheated you, you agree to provide it with. food and place to live . In in ten becomes telepathically linked to you, it become you boon companion , assistant and advisor and extra set of eyes Telepathically you talk to it and it can in turn talk to you. Vlad is the name of the assassin and Losh is the name of the dragon.

The Complete tales of Jules De Grandin by Seabury Quinn Jules De Grandin is supernatural detective /investigator . He and associate Dr Trwobridge investigate and do balls with forces of supernatural /darkness and Human chicanery. It's got a bit of x files vibe to with Sherlock homes and Drew Watson and a little Hammer Horror rthorne in for good measure in all Quine wrote 93 of the stories.
 
I would happily rule out S&S for someone looking for snappy dialogue and lots of character dynamics, except perhaps Leiber's Fahfrd & The Grey Mouser.

What I would suggest

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold - Some adventure, some politics, lovely characters and wry humour
Song of Ice and Fire by GRR Martin - He may never finish it, but this is an absolute highlight of fantasy with big character dynamics
The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay - Bit of a dicey rec as his prose is very mannered here, but I love the way the characters bounce off each other and it's very high fantasy

A bit more unconventional

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner - Magicless fantasy-esque setting, bouncy plot and dialogue
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir - Odd mix of ornate description and bouncy modernisms, but has some crackling dialogue and character interactions
Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans - Borderline weird in its setting? Has a good swashbuckly feeling and great dialogue
 
Escardy Gap by Peter Crowthers and James Lovegrove
Moorlock Night by K W Jeter
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
The Mines of Behemouth by Michael Shea
Tales From the Dying Earth by Jack Vance
Songs From the Dying Earth Edited by Gardener Dozios and George R R Martin
The High House by James Stoddard
The False House by James Stoddard
The Mis-enchanted Sword by Lawrence Watts Evans
Empire of the East by Fred Saberhagen
Silverlock by John Myers Myers
The Complete Enchanter by L Spageu De Camp and Fletcher Pratt
A Personal Demon by David Bischoff.
The Magic Goes Away by Larry Niven
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip
Another Fine Myth by Robert and Lynn Aspirin
And the Devil Will Drag You Under by Jack Chalker
 
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Sweet. I'm open to scifi as well actually, though I've barely read that genre.
Sounds to me like you should read some Ursula Le Guin. She writes in both genres.
The Left Hand of Darkness is really Fantasy although it's classified as SF, and is certainly more about character interaction than gadgets. It's also a very good book under any classification.
You may already have tried her Earthsea books, which are fantasy, but you may have missed them because they may be in the younger section of your library, or bookshop.

Stephen Donaldson writes in both areas.
Thomas Covenant, of course.
The mirror of her dreams is Fantasy, but not very high.
 

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