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Best high fantasy novel
At first, when I saw this category I alternated between thinking it was going to be an easy choice and thinking it was going to be a really hard choice. I thought it would be easy because some of my all time favourite books are high fantasy. And then I thought it would be hard for the same reason, how was I ever going to choose? Turns out I wasn't as spoiled for choice as I thought, ended up only having to really choose between 5 or 6 series in particular. That's because as it turns out, most of my high fantasy novels aren't pure high fantasy and so I didn't want to choose them. The two I immediately thought of, Narnia and Fionavar seem like high fantasy at first glance; but according to my former Tolkien and Fantasy professor, because they start off in the real world before moving into the secondary world - they don't count as pure high fantasy, they're called portal fantasies. Which sucks because I think Fionavar has some of the best high fantasy out there. So I decided that I'd stick with a pure high fantasy choice, and maybe also one that wouldn't really be thought of by other. I didn't want to go Game of Thrones even though it's awesome, and I thought Eragon was too predictable (and also derivative even though I do like it), so that left me with 3 options: Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Hilari Bell's Farsala Trilogy, G.A. Aiken's Dragon Kin and Garth Nix's Abhorsen series. Let's see which one I chose:
Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #1) by Patricia C. Wrede
Once upon a time there was a bad princess...
Take one bored princess. Make her the seventh daughter in a very proper royal family. Have her run away.
Add one powerful, fascinating, dangerous dragon.
The Princess Cimorene has never met anyone (or anything) like the dragon Kazul. But then, she's never met a witch, a jinn, a death-dealing talking bird, or a stone prince either.
Princess Cimorene ran away to find some excitement. She's about to...
-- via Goodreads
This may have been one of the very first feminist books I ever read. At least it's the earliest one I remember reading. I read this series for the first time in the 9th grade, so I was about 14 or 15. I feel in love with it immediately and I've probably read all 4 books at least a half dozen times since then. They really have everything you could ever want in a high fantasy novel and they are funny and fun and just really engaging. I accidentally read the last book first not even realising it was the 4th book in a series until I got to the climax and had no idea what was going on. But that didn't make the books any less enjoyable!
So what makes this the best high fantasy to me? Well you take one badass mofo of a princess who throws pretty much every stereotype out the window, you add dragons, witches, wizards, inept knights, mountain caves filled to the brim with mystery, and a fantastic enchanted forest (among other elements) and add them together and to me you've got a recipe for high fantasy success. All of the tropes are treated just a little differently than you come to expect from high fantasy. Cimorene can take care of herself and proves herself much more than capable. The dragons are a truly egalitarian society, their King doesn't actually have to be a male because King of the Dragons is just a job title and the job that goes with the title Queen of the Dragons is actually so boring no one wants it. Wizards can be melted by lemon water - which seems deeply inspired by Baum's Oz of course.
As the first book in a series, it's a solid offering that sets up the expansion of the world in the following three novels. For example, the forest, which is one of the best high fantasy elements, is only briefly seen in this novel, but it becomes the main setting for the next 3 books. It's more of a middle grade bordering on YA series, but if you've never read it I highly recommend giving it a try, for me it's just as enjoyable now as it was the first time I read it. If anything, being older I find myself actually finding new ways to appreciate the fantastic humour in the series.
Do you think novels that aren't 100% set in the fantasy world still deserve to be classified as high fantasy or should they have another label?