Guest Post | Janny Wurts on A Select List of 8 Astonishing Overlooked SFF Titles

About the Author

Janny Wurts is the author of War of Light and Shadow series, and To Ride Hell’s Chasm. Her eighteen published titles include a trilogy in audio, a short story collection, as well as the internationally best selling Empire trilogy, co authored with Raymond E. Feist, with works translated into fifteen languages worldwide. Her latest title in the Wars of Light and Shadow series, Initiate’s Trial, culminates more than thirty years of carefully evolved ideas. The cover images on the books, both in the US and abroad, are her own paintings, depicting her vision of characters and setting.

Through her combined talents as a writer/illustrator, Janny has immersed herself in a lifelong ambition: to create a seamless interface between words and pictures that will lead reader and viewer into the imagination. Her lavish use of language invites the mind into a crafted realm of experience, with characters and events woven into a complex tapestry, and drawn with an intensity to inspire active fuel for thought. Her research includes a range of direct experience, lending her fantasy a gritty realism, and her scenes involving magic crafted with intricate continuity. A self-taught painter, she draws directly from the imagination, creating scenes in a representational style that blurs the edges between dream and reality. She makes few preliminary sketches, but envisions her characters and the scenes that contain them, then executes the final directly from the initial pencil drawing.

The seed idea for the Wars of Light and Shadow series occurred, when, in the course of researching tactic and weapons, she viewed a documentary film on the Battle of Culloden Moor. This was the first time she had encountered that historical context of that brutal event, with the embroidery of romance stripped from it. The experience gave rise to an awakening, which became anger, that so often, our education, literature and entertainment slant history in a manner that equates winners and losers with moral right and wrong, and the prevalent attitude, that killing wars can be seen as justifiable solutions when only one side of the picture is presented.

Her series takes the stance that there are two sides to every question, and follows two characters who are half brothers. One a bard trained as a master of magecraft, and the other a born ruler with a charismatic passion for justice, have become cursed to lifelong enmity. As one sibling raises a devoted mass following, the other tries desperately to stave off defeat through solitary discipline and cleverness. The conflict sweeps across an imaginary world, dividing land and people through an intricate play of politics and the inborn prejudices of polarized factions already set at odds. Readers are led on a journey that embraces both viewpoints. The story explores the ironies of morality which often confound our own human condition – that what appears right and just, by one side, becomes reprehensible when seen from the opposite angle. What is apparently good for the many, too often causes devastating suffering to the nonconformist minority. Through the interactions between the characters themselves, the reader is left to their own discretion to interpret the moral impact of events.

Says Janny of her work, “I chose to frame this story against a backdrop of fantasy because I could handle even the most sensitive issues with the gloves off – explore the myriad angles of our troubled times with the least risk of offending anyone’s personal sensibilities. The result, I can hope, is an expanding journey of the spirit that explores the grand depths, and rises to the challenge of mapping the ethereal potential of an evolving planetary consciousness… explore free thought and compassionate understanding.”

Beyond writing, Janny’s award winning paintings have been showcased in exhibitions of imaginative artwork, among them a commemorative exhibition for NASA’s 25th Anniversary; the Art of the Cosmos at Hayden Planet

Learn more about the author on her website.

A Select List of 8 Astonishing Overlooked SFF Titles

by Janny Wurts

Sometimes the boggling happens: a title with huge scope or depth or originality, done with panache and quality writing, gets buried. Maybe because the concepts were ahead of their time, and the readership was not ready; maybe because they had a deep vein of philosophy, courageously expressed; maybe because – who knows?

Each of these books marked me in some way – more than delivered a read of sheer pleasure. These works provoke thought, or own a quality of originality that’s stayed remarkable and fresh, years after I discovered them. For reasons that mystify, these titles are not just “under the radar.” They’ve been so extremely buried, not one has (yet) accumulated a thousand ratings on GoodReads. For no imaginable reason, because each is an awesome voyage of discovery, a treasure in its own right, a list of my favorites fitted to expand your horizons.

Buy the book

Space opera that becomes a powerful examination of conflict from a one sided view that expands, unfolding with unexpected twists and turns. The prose is beautiful, the characters well drawn, and the topic, serious and deeply examined, and never more timely and current than today. R. M. Meluch throughout her career has consistently done solid work. This book stands out as exceptional. It had great critical review on release, but somehow failed to find its momentum. Don’t let the title mislead. Jerusalem is not today/here and now earth, but altogether SFnal, otherworldly and different.

THE MERRO TREE – Katie Waitman
Buy the book

This book is amazing. Poetic prose, gorgeous style, and an exploration of cultural differences intersecting with the profound impact of art as entertainment. This theme is done so exceptionally well, it is hallmark. Read this book, you will never, ever forget the raw tension, the tender examination of relationships between species, and what it means to be human, or other. Critical review for this title also was very high on release. The ideas are never more pertinent. This book might have swept the awards, if the field had today’s sense of focus, scope and vision.

Buy the book

Why is every reader who loves the philosophy and tight thread of politics in C J Cherryh’s beloved work not reading this? Czerneda captures the wonder, the tension, the crowding, the restriction of space, and the tight quarters tension of a diverse population inhabiting ancient hardware in space. The central theme is so awesome, this book ought to be shaking up a new and visionary direction in the field. This is a standalone novel, and well worth looking up for a smooth read that delivers thought with entertaining verve.

LION’S BLOOD and ZULU HEART – Steven Barnes
Buy Lion’s Blood
Buy Zulu Heart

Ahead of its time? Definitely. Alternate history has really taken off, since these titles were written, and diversity is now a hot topic. How about a book that flips history and race – where the blacks are the Southern landholders and the whites are enslaved? These books explore an alternate history with a sensitivity and daring far ahead of the curve, at the time of release. Uncomfortable, thought provoking, well executed, unpredictable – what’s not to love?

CODE OF CONDUCT – Kristine Smith
Buy the book

SF, this is the first book in the Janni Killian series that carved some incredible new ground – so new, it was utterly overlooked. The stage of cultural diplomacy assumes a whole new level, between human and alien species – and the ‘ambassador’ caught on the line in between is a female combat vet who has been genetically altered (at first without her knowledge) to mix the qualities of both and perhaps avert a war of annihilation. Part thriller, part hard SF, part diplomatic war zone, this book shattered gender roles so thoroughly, and plowed new ground way before the topic became timely. Love these books for their verve, their complexity, for a totally relatable main character injured by war in body and mind, and for a vision that follows no stereotype. Honor Harrington with a Difference, I found the entire series strikingly memorable.

THE WILD ROAD – Gabriel King
Buy the book

This unworldly delight of a story puts feral cats in the protagonist’s seat, gives them astonishing powers of magic, and sets them loose in the human world with a sharp edged perspective, wit, and terrifying, sometimes beautiful insight. Actually a collaboration between the extremely literate M. John Harrison of SF renown, and Jane Johnson aka Jude Fisher, this series of books combines the talents of two very different writers and yields a bewitching urban fantasy beyond the world we know. No cuddly kittens here – these cats are feral to the bone and their way of dealing with the humans who are messing up their reality – and the crossings between what is other – provides magic, grit, and scary realism from a wonderfully alternate perspective.

TEOT’S WAR and BLOOD STORM – Heather Gladney
Buy Teot’s War
Buy Blood Storm

A duology under the title of The Song of Naga Teot that has a deadly serious, and deadly for real, protagonist who is a cultural fish out of water, depicted small in stature and huge in determination. Expect to laugh, expect to be entertained, expect plenty of grit and bloodshed, as the characters wise perspective and wrecking misadventures grab your heart. Also included, a close up relationship between two male characters that is tender, insightful, and peppered with angst and misunderstanding. These are fast moving, wonderful reads that handle tension and action with gorgeous ease, and are character driven to the max. Another book handling themes of diversity decades before such things were noticed.

GASLIGHT DOGS – Karin Lowachee
Buy the book

Don’t let the female byline fool you. Karin’s work has edges, stares unflinching into the grit and the horror, and walks the borderline half world between the sane and the insane, all wrapped in sublime prose and dimensional characters. An ambitious amalgamaton of themes, smelted into a visceral story line with graphic clarity: cross cultural conflict, psychedelic magic straight out of mythos, shapeshifters, Inuit, and the razor‑eged relationship between a son and a military father. I have always wondered if the soft edged cover art directed this title to the wrong market. Karin’s work has often dared the edges, handled taboo subjects with brazen directness, and not yet with the recognition she deserves.

7 Responses

  • Great post. I’m still woefully behind in The Wars of Light and Shadow, but it’s certainly one of the deepst, most immersive, most challening fantasies I’ve ever enjoyed. It takes a certain dedication and paitence, but pays off every time.

    The Merro Tree is a book I keep meaning to read, and Julie Czerneda’s stuff is always fantastic. Code of Conduct I’ll have to look into.

  • sweetjunkiegirl

    “Eat when you’re hungry, sleep where it’s dry. No one is ever what they seem.”

    The Wild Road had such a profound effect on me as a child, I’m not even sure how to describe it, but years later that quote still haunts and guides me. <3

    Can't wait to check out the other titles! Any writing approved by Janny has my complete attention, sorceress of prose that she is.

  • Just when I think I’ve got this genre figured out, now I have a whole slew of authors to add to my list. I agree with Bob, I need to jump back into The Wars of Light and Shadow, such a beautiful and immersive series.

  • Thank you for letting us know about these great books, they all sound quite interesting!

  • Awesome post. I love Janny, can’t wait for the next book! And I have now got more books added to my tbr pile…

  • Norma Secord

    Thanks Janny for these reviews. I’ll be looking for these books.

  • Joseph

    Thank you for this very interesting list!!! And I’m looking forward to your new book, The Wars of Light and Shadow are everything a masterpiece epic fantasy series should be, and I’m proudly current.

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