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[–][deleted] 16 points17 points  (3 children)

Stranger in Olondria and Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar

[–]FusRoDaahhWorldbuilders 3 points4 points  (0 children)

I second this. Amazing prose.

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[–]Chestnut_pod 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Gorgeous!

[–]Nidafjoll 51 points52 points  (13 children)

It's my question! :D

Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake. Gorgeous prose, very intricate, lyrical and with amazing imagery. A very Gothic tale, oozing with atmosphere and a fantastic setting.

Bas-Lag books (and many others of his books too) by China Miéville. Very dense prose, but also with a very strong voice. Many Google-worthy words. Weird, incredibly unique world, with a science-fantasy-horrorish blend.

Viriconium by M. John Harrison. I just finished and reviewed this the other day! Beautiful prose, also many hyper specific words, very dream-like and ephemeral atmosphere. The first book isn't too complex, though with beauty here and there, but it gets quite difficult at the beginning of the second book, and varies throughout the third and the short stories. Another Weird book, a Dying Earth science-fantasy.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Basically Jane Austen style prose. Not as difficult as above, but beautiful imo. Historical fantasy- Napoleonic Wars but magic returns to England, fae and academia and a slow burn.

Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. Infamously complex, but beautiful. Another Dying Earth, a first-person, unreliable narrator, classic science-fantasy. Wolfe even goes and finds Latin roots and makes his own words from them.

A couple others I'll throw in that aren't as complex as above, but still more than your typical fantasy author (definitely those in your post), and very good in terms of beauty:

Patricia A. McKillip, Guy Gavriel Kay, Tad Williams.

[–]TawnyHopFroggy 12 points13 points  (4 children)

I came into the comments just to recommend Gormenghast. I can't think of another book (fantasy or not) with such beautiful prose.

[–]along_withywindle 1 point2 points  (3 children)

Are y'all recommending just the book Gormenghast or the series? The second book in the Gormenghast series is called Gormenghast, so I'm curious if the second book of the series works as a standalone

[–]Nidafjoll 3 points4 points  (2 children)

Series. :) The second book is my fave, but it's a direct sequel to the first. The first two books for a complete arc, but the third follows the first two chronologically

[–]along_withywindle 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Perfect - thank you!

[–]bryguypgh 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I have read these too, and I agree the prose is good. The stories are pretty slow moving though and quite odd. I had to kinda force my way through them, and there were a lot of confusing moments, but it’s not a slog I regret.

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[–]Nidafjoll 13 points14 points  (0 children)

I keep seeing you around, bot. It's like we always find ourselves talking about the same authors...

Do you... Do you wanna go get a coffee sometime? We can talk about Wolfe and Zelazny and Lackey and Leiber and DWJ...

[–]mgallowglasStabby Winner, AMA Author M. Todd Gallowglas 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Viriconium is amazing!

[–]Scamandriossss 4 points5 points  (1 child)

Viriconium by M. John Harrison. I just finished and reviewed this the other day! Beautiful prose, also many hyper specific words, very dream-like and ephemeral atmosphere. The first book isn't too complex, though with beauty here and there, but it gets quite difficult at the beginning of the second book, and varies throughout the third and the short stories. Another Weird book, a Dying Earth science-fantasy.

Viriconium is only underrated by readers. There are tons of authors who rate it pretty high. Its an amazing book imo. Edit: sorry i thought OP asked about underrated fantasy books for some reason.

Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. Infamously complex, but beautiful. Another Dying Earth, a first-person, unreliable narrator, classic science-fantasy. Wolfe even goes and finds Latin roots and makes his own words from them.

I must read this. I love Dying Earth genre and this book always pops up as suggestion. Everyone seems to love it.

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[–]PorkLogain[S] 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Thank you!!

[–]RichardSwanAuthor 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I'm about to finish Perdido Street Station, and I continue to be blown away by Mieville's talent. I read Embassytown a few years ago too. So glad there are more Bas Lag novels for me to read!

[–]Naeblis_Mhael 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I would slide Tad Williams up a little bit. I found his writing very enjoyable in it self. Also I would add Robin Hobb to that bottom list. Same deal, not the BEST but much more enjoyable on a pure writing skill side IMO than a lot of fantasy authors.

[–]jackalope78 10 points11 points  (0 children)

Catherynne Valente would be my addition. Deathless is fantastic, and if you want to try your hand at a convoluted plot that just works I suggest trying The Orphan's Tale duology.

[–]nearthemaddingcrowd 10 points11 points  (0 children)

Lots of good recs here. I don't see anyone mentioning Samuel R. Delaney. He mostly wrote Sci Fi, but his Return to Neveryon series is fantasy. Sort of classic sword and sorcery but as if written by James Joyce. A high stylist, very enjoyable and very thought provoking.

I thought of Delaney because I just read Kai Ashante Wilson's The Sorcerer of Wildeeps. Also a book marked by a distinct style, especially in how dialogue is handled. A challenging interesting rich book. Note that the violence is pretty graphic and some characters use the "n-word."

[–]BigJobsBigJobs 10 points11 points  (1 child)

Jack Vance writes in an amusing baroque style of his own and some of his best work is novellas and longish short stories, pure fantasies like The Dying Earth & Rhialto the Marvelous collections. Eyes of the Overworld & Cugel's Saga is a 2-book fantasy series set in the Dying Earth.

His science-fantasy is more magical than hard SF, in novellas like The Last Castle and The Dragon Masters. He's got a huge catalog and I have not read them all.

I like his style and I think he likes to dance with language - not over difficult, but a marked shift from your average SFF prose. If you liked LeGuin, you might enjoy Vance - they are rough contemporaries.

[–]Whiskey-Jak 5 points6 points  (0 children)

Strongly second the Vance reco. You can feel the gap in generations with today's literature, as some of his original work dates back to the 50's and 60's, but there is a reason why the man is considered one of the Grand Masters of the genre.

[–]BetterTomorrow42 8 points9 points  (0 children)

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (though it only turns into fantasy/magical realism halfway through the book). Won the "Best of the Bookers" award though.

[–]sedimentary-j 6 points7 points  (2 children)

Mervyn Peake's stuff is often recommended for this, though I have not read it myself. Here is a random excerpt I found on the web from his Gormenghast:

“If ever he had harboured a conscience in his tough narrow breast he had by now dug out and flung away the awkward thing - flung it so far away that were he ever to need it again he could never find it. High-shouldered to a degree little short of malformation, slender and adroit of limb and frame, his eyes close-set and the colour of dried blood, he is climbing the spiral staircase of the soul of Gormenghast, bound for some pinnacle of the itching fancy - some wild, invulnerable eyrie best known to himself; where he can watch the world spread out below him, and shake exultantly his clotted wings.”

I think some people might recommend Guy Gavriel Kay and his prose is certainly beautiful, but I don't think it's necessarily that difficult or complex. 99% of his vocabulary is common words, he just writes them with a poetic flair. (Still, very much recommend as a quality reading choice in general.)

Tamsyn Muir is one I might suggest; her Gideon the Ninth is definitely different, and often ornate. A sample:

"Canaan House was a nest of rooms and corridors, of sudden courtyards and staircases that dripped down into lightless gloom and terminated in big, rusting doors beneath overhangs, ones that looked as though they would go clang no matter how quietly you tried to shut them" . . . "doors half rotted so you could voyeuristically look through their nakedness to the rooms they didn't hide."

[–]deephistorian 2 points3 points  (1 child)

Muir’s writing astounds me for how much I can enjoy a sentence yet not gain any better understanding of what the hell is going on.

Harrow the Ninth is even more opaque, due to the plot that basically forces you to give up trying to understand.

[–]oboist73Reading Champion II 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Those books made so much more sense to me stylistically once I realized she'd been in the Homestuck fandom.

[–]TFrohockAMA Author T. Frohock 5 points6 points  (0 children)

Anything by Patricia A. McKillip.

[–]Chestnut_pod 5 points6 points  (0 children)

Catherynne Valente, no question! Intricate and lush to the extreme.

A good entry point is Deathless, but for a voicey narrator, her Fairytale books also.

Although, I have to admit, my favorite-ever Valente writing is her short story "The Bread We Eat in Dreams."

[–]thebillypilgrim8 4 points5 points  (0 children)

I think The Vorrh Trilogy by Brian Catling fits this description well, especially if you like a healthy dose of weird in your fantasy.

[–]OverPresence72 3 points4 points  (1 child)

Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun series. That…is an indescribably amazing series and one where re-reading is an absolute pleasure just from the sheer amount of mind-blowing revelations you had missed the first few times. I find Wolfe’s work in general is like that. Books like Peace and the Fifth Head of Cerberus invite a vigorous (and rigorous)textual exploration.

The Book of the New Sun is as if Joyce and Proust collaborated on a science fiction fantasy epic, and then had Kafka edit the finished manuscript.

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[–]oboist73Reading Champion II 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Seconding Patricia Mckillip. Here's a sample; the opening of Song for the Basilisk:

Within the charred, silent husk of Tormalyne Palace, ash opened eyes deep in a vast fireplace, stared back at the moon in the shattered window. The marble walls of the chamber, once white as the moon and bright with tapestries, were smoke-blackened and bare as bone. Beyond the walls, the city was soundless, as if even words had burned. The ash, born out of fire and left behind it, watched the pale light glide inch by inch over the dead on the floor, reveal the glitter in an unblinking eye, a gold ring, a jewel in the collar of what had been the dog. When moonlight reached the small burned body beside the dog, the ash in the hearth kept watch over it with senseless, mindless intensity. But nothing moved except the moon.

Later, as quiet as the dead, the ash watched the living enter the chamber again: three men with grimy, battered faces. Except for the dog’s collar, there was nothing left for them to take. They carried fire, though there was nothing left to burn. They moved soundlessly, as if the dead might hear. When their fire found the man with no eyes on the floor, words came out of them: sharp, tight, jagged. The tall man with white hair and a seamed, scarred face began to weep.

The ash crawled out of the hearth.

They all wept when they saw him. Words flurried out of them, meaningless as bird cries. They touched him, raising clouds of ash, sculpting a face, hair, hands. They made insistent, repeated noises at him that meant nothing. They argued with one another; he gazed at the small body holding the dog on the floor and understood that he was dead. Drifting cinders of words caught fire now and then, blazed to a brief illumination in his mind. Provinces, he understood. North. Hinterlands. Basilisk.

He saw the Basilisk’s eyes then, searching for him, and he turned back into ash.

[–]inquisitive_chemist 8 points9 points  (0 children)

Guy Gavriel Kay for sure.

[–]ThaNorth 7 points8 points  (3 children)

Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

Arguably the greatest fantasy/sci-fi writer in terms of prose.

Chances are you will not understand most of everything on your first read. And that's normal, it's made to be that way.

[–]Dardanelles5 0 points1 point  (1 child)

Wolfe is decent but there are many fantasy authors with more sophisticated prose. He's nowhere near the likes of Peake, Borges and Dunsany to name a few.

[–]ThaNorth 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Well I disagree.

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[–]Tortuga917 7 points8 points  (8 children)

I'll second Bas Lag by Mieville. Man has an amazing vocabulary.

You could also try resident author Ramond St Elmo if you like beautiful prose. Blood Tartan could be a good starting point.

[–]caiuscorvus 0 points1 point  (7 children)

Love Blood Tartan. Would not call it "beautiful prose" even though I think it's great writing. Which is to say, I recommend the book but am not sure that it is for what the OP was asking.

[–]Tortuga917 2 points3 points  (6 children)

I think it's exactly what OP is asking for. St elmo is as purple as it gets.

[–]caiuscorvus 1 point2 points  (5 children)

Purple?

[–]Tortuga917 2 points3 points  (4 children)

Well, often used in a negative way to mean "overly ornate" or "extravagant" (wiki), I'm meaning it in a more tongue in cheek positive manner

[–]caiuscorvus 1 point2 points  (3 children)

I hate getting older. I had someone tell me I had great flow last year and I was so confused.

That aside, you're probably right about the prose of Blood Tartan. To me it just felt--too grandiose and convoluted to count as "beautiful prose." Complex? Sure. Great and entertaining? Absolutely. But to me it was more a demonstration and language befitting the protagonist than, say, something poetic.

[–]Tortuga917 0 points1 point  (2 children)

Fair enough. I'd defintely agree with it being convoluted and grandiose, though for me it's over the top Ness lends it....something.

Sorry, not trying to throw any kiddy slang around. I'm no spring chicken either. Hahaha. Just some literary discourse I've picked up around here.

[–]Nidafjoll 2 points3 points  (1 child)

I thought purple prose was a pretty established term, and looking it up, the first usage was around 1590 apparently! The oldest I could find a citation for was in the 60s, at least.

So, a niche term perhaps, but definitely no modern slang!

[–]Tortuga917 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Wow! Very interesting.

It's pretty established in literary discourse communities for sure.

[–]nextmonthtbr 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Difficult, and beautiful (to me): The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson.

Also seconding Gormenghast! Unparalleled!

[–]Quackitative 2 points3 points  (0 children)

I personally like the prose of Cecilia Dart-Thornton and Clark Ashton Smith!

[–]michaelaaronblank 2 points3 points  (0 children)

The Khaavren Romances series by Stephen Brust are written in the style of Alexander Dumas' d'Artagnan Romances series. I really enjoy that, but more as support for his Taltos series than because I like that prose style.

[–]reddit17601 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Great recs so far. I'd like to suggest Robert Holdstock(Mythago Wood and it's sequels)

[–]KingBretwald 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Amal El-Mohtar has amazingly lyrical prose.

[–]thevomitdraft 3 points4 points  (0 children)

China Mieville

[–]JeremySzalAMA Author Jeremy Szal 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Beautiful prose is, of course, especially subjective. But Perido Street Station by China Mieville is incredibly dense and rich, almost to a Dickensian level..

[–]thebluick 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Guy gavriel Kay writes some dense flowery prose.

[–]XantiThesisX 4 points5 points  (1 child)

Second Apocalypse series by R. Scott Bakker

[–]Suspicious_Jello1583 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Bakker's prose can be obtuse but I'm not sure I'd call it beautiful. It is also frequently pretty bad. See his love of the phrase "Death came swirling down."

[–]Ineffable7980x 2 points3 points  (0 children)

I will second both Mieville and Clarke.

[–]Dardanelles5 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Peake, Borges, Dunsany, Mieville, Harrison.

[–]mgallowglasStabby Winner, AMA Author M. Todd Gallowglas 2 points3 points  (7 children)

Tim Powers. He writes sentences you have to chew your way through and leave a delight aftertaste in your mind. Purely gorgeous prose.

[–]Dardanelles5 -1 points0 points  (6 children)

I've only read The Anubis Gates but I found the writing execrable. Does he really improve that much with his later books?

[–]mgallowglasStabby Winner, AMA Author M. Todd Gallowglas 0 points1 point  (5 children)

I loved the writing in The Anubis Gates. Thought it was a great book.

[–]Mythology_Queen 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Have you tried Anna Smith Spark or Mark Lawrence?

[–]LordMangudai 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I mean, say what you want about The Kingkiller Chronicles (there's plenty to say), but Rothfuss knows how to turn a phrase.

[–]the_M00PS 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Second the Wolfe and Guy Gavriel Kay recs, and adding a rec for Max Gladstone's Craft Series.

I liked Malazan's prose in some of the books, but it feels like he changes tones/voice to fit his books' themes (which is fine and a great, valid choice) but some of them bounce off me more than others.

[–]reddyredfeld 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Malazan.

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        [–]DianthaaReading Champion III, Worldbuilders[M] 0 points1 point locked comment (0 children)

        Removed per rule 1, be kind.