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  • Writer's picturePhil Parker

Recommendations for Santa sack 2

Looking for a book for someone special this Christmas? Not sure what to get them? We've asked some of our Speculative Faction friends to make some suggestions, hopefully they will present you with some great ideas! Why not check out their catalogue too? Here is the second bunch in this series. (There are links in the title to take you to Amazon, if that helps.)

Recommendations from Cameron Johnston

Cameron Johnston is the British Fantasy Award and Dragon Awards nominated author of dark fantasy novels The Traitor God and God of Broken Things. He is a swordsman, a gamer, and an enthusiast of archaeology, history and mythology. He loves exploring ancient sites and camping out under the stars by a roaring fire. He lives in Glasgow, Scotland, and is trying very hard to fit even more books on his heaving shelves.




The Green Man's Heir by Juliet E. McKenna

Rural fantasy (as opposed to the ubiquitous urban fantasy) was the genre I didn't know I needed. Green Man's Heir scratches that itch yearning for deep dark forests and landscapes that haven't been paved over, the sort of places where we can really feel that older more primal forces still dwell. The sort of places that have you eyeing shadows warily and shuddering at the lonely howl of some unknown beast. The streets of a supernaturally-afflicted big city are all well and good, but this delving into English folklore is a different beast, featuring old myths and folklore of the wildwood, dryads, naiads, black shucks and boggarts and other monsters - what a wonderful change away from vampires and werewolves and their ilk. McKenna's writing and description really bring the rural setting to life, from the small town and farms to the lonely roads and deep forest. It's a quieter sort of life, one ripe for dark things to meddle with.

A dryad's son gets drawn into a murder mystery perpetrated by something dark and twisted dwelling in the deep woods...yep, that setup alone sold me on this book.

We Are The Dead by Mike Shackle

What's not to love about a gritty epic fantasy about a conquered people struggling for their survival against occupying forces and their dark magic and leashed monsters? I'd heard good things about this book but it surpassed them. It's a fast-paced thrill-ride that whips along while ratchetting up the tension as plans fall apart and people struggle to survive. The world building and characters fit together flawlessly, and as a sucker for underdog stories this book really hit the sweet spot for me. The characters all have their own motivations which conflict with each other, setting up a tale of conflict, cowardice and stubborn heroism.

Along the Razor's Edge by Rob J. Hayes

Mysteries, magic and monsters (both human and otherwise) are very much my thing, and Along the Razor’s Edge by Rob J. Hayes delivers all of that in spades and heaps even more on top. This was another book that I was sold on after reading the description: Eskara was trained as a weapon, a young sourcerer using her magic to destroy the enemy. The war was lost and all her power was stripped from her before she was thrown into the Pit, a mine ran by sadistic overseers intended to break its occupants.

A young hero?villain? (who knows...) thrown into the dark and hungry depths below ground and having to struggle for survival while plotting an escape is what I wanted, and it's what I got. She is no passive little mouse waiting to be rescued - she is vicious and merely biding her time to escape.

Most of the book is set within those dark and brutal mines, but there are a number of flashbacks to her training to flesh out the world, the really interesting magic system, and the mysteries yet to come. The world is an old one, with ancient races, forgotten ruins and secret knowledge - all great stuff for this reader!

Recommendations from Travis Riddle

Travis M. Riddle is a fantasy author best known for his books Balam, Spring and The Narrows, the latter of which received a positive review in Publishers Weekly. He currently lives in Austin, TX, where he largely spends his time eating food, playing games, and watching stuff. Find out more about Travis here: Twitter: // Instagram: // Website:

Island Book by Evan Dahm

Is it cheating to use my first slot for "all of Evan Dahm's graphic novels"? He has a ton of fantastic, surreal, unique work; I've blown through all of it this year and have loved every minute of it. For the sake of this exercise, I'll say specifically to check out Island Book, which is full of breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, bizarre locales, and interesting, charming characters. But really, those descriptors apply to all of Evan's work, so if you like Island Book then also be sure to grab Rice Boy, Vattu (vols. 1-3), and Order of Tales. Evan creates worlds like no other.

Antkind by Charlie Kaufman

Kaufman is one of my favorite directors/screenwriters (seriously, his new film on Netflix "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" is my top film of the year so far), so I was anxiously awaiting his first novel. It definitely didn't disappoint, and I'm happy to report that Antkind is just as weird, hilarious, and mindbending as Kaufman's filmography. The narrator, B. Rosenberger Rosenberg, is bar none the most insane protagonist I've yet to encounter. The book follows film critic B.'s attempts to recreate a 3-month long film (yes, you read that right) that he is the sole person to have seen before accidentally destroying it. It's deeply satirical, full of Hollywood in-jokes, and has a hugely pathetic main character (as he himself would readily tell you), so it's definitely not for everyone. But this is the funniest novel I have ever read, and it kept me laughing the whole way through.

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

I should also say that this recommendation applies to the full Wormwood trilogy, which became one of my favorite sci-fi series after I read it this year, although there's just something super great about the first book. I think it's the fact that we're solely in the POV of Kaaro, who I absolutely loved as a narrator; his dry humor and attitude toward everything happening and the people around him was endlessly amusing to me. This series takes place in a near-future Nigeria, where a city has been built around an alien dome that exudes healing powers once a year and there is a group of citizens who can enter a mental world to help or hinder one another. The series tackles strange, fascinating sci-fi, political, and philosophical concepts which perfectly meld into an adventure I didn't want to put down.

Recommendations from Alex S Bradshaw

Alex S. Bradshaw is a fantasy writer and publishing professional who lives in the UK. His debut novel, Windborn, is a dark fantasy story about Viking superheroes and is tentatively scheduled to be released later this year. You can find him on Twitter at @AlexSBradshaw, or head over to his website at to find out about his latest updates.

Queens of the Wyrd by Timandra Whitecastle

Want a magical tale about shield-maidens, fantasy mothers going on their own adventures (finally)? Then get this absolutely brilliant Norse-inspired story that shows that just because someone has a child it doesn’t mean they have to stop adventuring (doesn’t that usually mean the adventures are just beginning?). This story is packed full of epic moments, wonderful characters, and gave me goosebumps towards the end!

Get this for people who want to see more fantasy adventures with mothers in them, who want to see a strong cast of female characters and love Norse-inspired fantasy and kick ass stories. The author has said that she was partly inspired by the equally wonderful Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames, so if you enjoyed that book then this is definitely for you.

Dungeons of Strata by G.D. Penman

The absolutely amazing cover of this book first dragged me in and the wonderful story kept me engaged. Dungeons of Strata is a LitRPG, basically a story that uses some of the mechanics and tropes from games and most usually MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games), and sinks its teeth into you quickly. The book’s protagonist, Martin, is someone we can all sympathise with as he’s zoned out in his job (something I think we’ve all done at some point or another, right?) and picks up the latest and greatest game - Strata Online - and he is determined for his guild to be the first to complete the seemingly unbeatable end-game. As with the best of LitRPGs there’s a story inside the game and one outside of it and both seem to have something sinister going on that I hope we will find out more about in later books.

You should get this for people who love well-paced stories that sink their teeth into you as well as fans of MMOs, RPGs, and underdog stories.

The Poison Song by Jen Williams

The Poison Song is the final book in Jen Williams’ trilogy The Winnowing Flame, so I may be squeezing out more than one book-gift recommendation here. I loved every aspect of The Winnowing Flame trilogy; the wonderful characters, the epic setting, the magic, and the story. When I first started reading this story it felt like I was reading something inspired by Studio Ghibli mixed with Dark Souls. It has a once-great city, magically twisted wildlands, fugitive witches, absolutely stellar characters, monsters, artefacts and an ancient enemy that is beginning to stir once more.

You should get this for anyone who loves sprawling epic fantasies packed with superb characters, snarky magical beasts, or for someone who might want to dive into a meaty, finished series.

Many thanks to Cameron, Travis and Alex for their recommendations!
There will be more recommendations from other Speculative Faction friends coming soon!

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