So I've wondered for a while, what exactly are some people's lists of their top 10 favorite fantasy authors. Put down your top 10 favorites, and how exactly you're ranking them (world they make, characters, writing style, favorite foods). Obviously you don't need as much detail as I put in (unless you want to!) but I think it will be fairly interesting.
I've been considering making this list for a while, and finally decided to go ahead and do it. These are my top 10 favorite authors, based not on their contributions and writings per say, but on the authors themselves. It focuses on their writing styles and ability to present their works, as opposed to the works themselves which would result in a significantly different list. Also keep in mind that while I have read a wide variety of works, my "to read" list has 72 books on it, and there are quite a few fantasy novelists I have not read yet.
10: Margeret Weis/Tracy Hickman - Dragonlance novels
The "classic" fantasy authors, these two are the craftsmen of some of my favorite books. They are fundamental pillars of modern fantasy, and anyone who claims to appreciate the genre should at least attempt to read their works. Very solid authors, I first read the War of Souls and went backward from there, seeing the darkest and most grim aspect of their world and feeling the desire to see it in its brighter years. Dark or light, they are absolutely amazing authors, and even if I feel there are stronger authors in the genre their works are something I routinely return to and enjoy.
9: Laurel K. Hamilton - Anita Blake Vampire Hunter, Meredith Gentry
A very… interesting author, to say the least. She has a way of writing that is dark, gritty, and surreal. She can turn abstract scenes of chaos into powerful, potent descriptions to fill the mind with every detail, every nuance. I will never forget reading about the scene where the main character walked into a room where a massacre occurred, the blood so thick it squished under her feet in the carpet, pieces of the victim lying about in a mess all around her. Laurel K Hamilton essentially has two modes; extreme nymphomaniac or gory sadist, and despite how ridiculous her more erotic works are (freaking lust vampires…), the descriptors of her darker works make up for this in spades, and truly show how powerful an author can be in presenting the darkest depths of fantasy.
8: J. R. R. Tolkein - Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion
Some people who have read my views might be surprised that Tolkein is this low on the list. His laurels are many, and the fact that he is essentially the father of modern fantasy makes his place on most top 10 lists solid; were I writing about the top 10 series, the Lord of the Rings would definitely be in the top three. That said, I do not exactly appreciate his writing style. As absolutely wondrous as his world creation skills are, as deep as his lore and as many and varied and real his characters, his writing style has never meshed with me well. Compared to the others on this list, he is not very descriptive, not elaborate, and while I understand that a good author does not show you the story, but leads your mind to it, very often I have difficulty truly imagining what scene it is he is attempting to portray. It could very well amount to my language gap, with the subtleties of the English language escaping my notice, but either way, from my own perspective, I place the writing styles of other authors above his.
7: Steven Erikson - Malazan Book of the Fallen
This author is a new discovery for me; I am currently halfway through Gardens of the Moon. And so, I have hesitated and considered whether to consider him in my top 10. In the end, though, I would feel remiss if I were to leave him out, as I already have several hundred pages of his writing style and descriptive ability behind me. He is solid, descriptive, able to truly outline a character and story and bring it shining to the light. From what I can tell, although I have a long way to go, he is right up there with my favorite epic fantasy authors, and I am wondering where, after reading through several of his books, I will place him in comparison to the other epic fantasy authors on this list.
6: Brandon Sanderson - The Mistborn Series, Wheel of Time final books
An absolutely stunning and wondrous epic fantasy author, I first read his books when I heard he was doing the final Wheel of Time books. And I must say, Mistborn gripped me from its very first pages. He is an author that excels at the setup, at establishing the scene and then letting the pieces fall into place. I think of him as an architect, mostly. An example is his description of the balls. He describes the setting of the ball, the outside, the inside, the people, the dancing, the comings and goings, and then once he has established the setting with a truly amazing degree of skill allowed the story to dance through it, so that as you read it you can see the scene around them without him having to describe again and again the situation. It makes his books very descriptive and powerful, and yet easy to read considering the detail he puts into his works. That said, I never really enjoyed the world and storyline he set up after the first book, and going through books 2 and 3 of the Mistborn series was quite honestly a headache. His character development is also not exactly at its best, although the Vin portrayed in The Final Empire remains one of my absolute favorite fantasy characters of all time.
5: Karen Chance - Cassandra Palmer series
A name that I doubt many here are familiar with, she is a stunning modern fantasy author. Similar to Rowling in that she is a pseudo-urban fantasy author, where the magical world touches on reality but for the most part does not mingle, her writing compels you onward, forward and forward until there is no book left to read and leaving you wanting more. If she does have a failing, for me it is the time-projection aspect, but even with this aspect I have thoroughly enjoyed every book she has presented.
4: Brian Jacques - Redwall
I recognize that Brian Jacques stands out quite a bit from the other authors on this list. He is a solid children's/young teens author, while the most childish works of the other authors on this list is The Hobbit, by Tolkein, which despite its lightheartedness is still a fairly mature and detailed book. That said, Brian Jacques is quite simply a phenomenal author. He is solid in every way; world creation, characters, inner artwork, his writing style… and the world he creates is truly descriptive and powerful. Every scene is brought to life, every detail being touched on, and he has an ability to both paint a scene for the mind and let your own mind wonder, leaving you to fill in the pieces as you please. The only time I have ever, ever cried over a book, was in Martin the Warrior, in the climax of a book that was so powerful that I felt my heart trembling from the sorrow. There are quite a few people who say his works are childish, linear, and so based on Christian values that it is suffocating; but I have always disagreed. He is like the traditional Disney movies on paper; lighthearted, cheerful, bright, but beneath that color are lines of darkness and seriousness, a grave and dire world seen through the eyes of a child. I think, sometimes, the world would be better if we could occasionally see the world in such a light.
3: R.A. Salvatore - Various novels, Drizzt Do'urden.
I consider R.A. Salvatore to be the person who introduced me to fantasy, the author who truly drew me in and change it from an occasional interest to a passion. In a way, my fascination with his books even enhanced my interest in English, which in the end means his books were an influencing factor in my decision to come to the States. He is a far cry from the epic fantasy authors in this list because he is not an epic novelist, he is not a master of grandiose themes that rock the entire world, but is instead gritty, down to earth, and focused on the most minute details that a story could provide. He has a way, a unique way that I have never seen in other authors, of bringing every action, every decision to light. For those that tire of Robert Jordan's constant "tugs on her braid and folds her arms under her bosom," Salvatore is the opposite of this. Every single line is significant in its own way. And while this detail limits him from doing epics on the level of Robert Jordan or Tolkein, it makes each of his works a spectacular experience. There are failings in his works; his characters tend to be fairly linear, for example, and sometimes he gets so focused in the details that I feel other parts of the story do not get the attention they deserve. But to this day, I still look forward to each new book that comes out.
2: Robert Jordan - Wheel of Time, Conan the Barbarian
Without a doubt my favorite epic fantasy author. He is simply spectacular in that he doesn't just make a world.. he brings the entire world to spectacular, shining light. His descriptive powers are unmatched, if one has the patience to absorb and digest what he is giving you, and you can get lost in the world he paints around you. My greatest difficulty in reading his books now is not that I get bored, but that every 10 minutes I must put my book down and take a walk, because I feel absolutely compelled to let my mind wander freely, imagining myself in the world he has developed, with the characters. The hours I have spent imagining myself as an Aes Sedai, or a female warder, or even a darkfriend…. Even as the most basic and gritty details go, typically the (relative) bane of epic fantasy authors, he is consistently able to pull the scene from the pages into reality. Even as his weaknesses go, and there are weaknesses, I believe he has elements that balance it out. He is often criticized for his character development, for example… but even as women go, there are others that are simply astounding. If you give me Nynaeve, I will raise you Moraine. If you give me Egwene, I will raise you Siuan. Another fascinating thing about Robert Jordan is how absolutely novel the world he creates is. Many of the other novelists on this list have their roots in Tolkein and other classical works, in a sense… they are reworkings of existing elements in fantasy. His world is, by comparison, extremely novel and unique, and for every element that I see tying him to Tolkein, I see two that send him off in a completely different direction.
1: Kim Harrison - The Hollows
I have thought long and hard about who I want to put at the top. There are three obvious candidates for #1 in this list; Robert Jordan for the epic fantasy authors, R. A. Salvatore for general fantasy, and Kim Harrison for the urban fantasy. But in the end, I decided that of all the authors I have read, I enjoy Kim Harrison's books the most. Her works are far from the high themes and ideals of Robert Jordan, or the violent descriptive literary might of R.A. Salvatore, but in her relative simplicity lies a myriad of details and images that leaves the mind wondering. You do not read her books; you float through them, letting it flow freely through your imagination. I read through her first five books in the space of two weeks, because I simply could not put them down, and it took that long only because I often found myself backtracking, rereading entire sections of a book because I enjoyed the experience so immensely. Even if I have felt her latest books have been a little bit off, I feel no guilt in placing her as my absolute favorite fantasy author.
Those that didn't make the top 10:
J.K. Rowling - As wonderful as she is, and as descriptive and fundamental her writing… she's ultimately one long, long derivative. I see very little originality in her works, and found that when she did stray away from paths already trod her writing suffered. That is not to say that she wasn't enjoyable; far from it, the Harry Potter series was one of my favorites. But I never really felt anything special for them; they were nice to read through the first time, maybe again when a new book came out, but after reading through her last book for the first time I have never felt the desire to go back and read her works again.
George R. R. Martin - I do not like this author, at all, and it is only due to his prevalence among top author lists that I even mention him.
Mercedes Lackey - Wonderful, powerful author, her work Gwenhwyfar is among my absolute favorites, as is her Valdemar universe. She came very close, but in direct comparison to other authors I felt her lagging behind slightly.
Marion Zimmer Bradley - amazing author, but I can't think of any of her works that truly stick out as an epic piece of literature.
Terry Brooks - I've always enjoyed the Shannara books on a superficial level, but never been truly fascinated by them.