I mostly read science fiction rather than fantasy and watch crime shows on TV. However, every so often, I dip a toe into fantasy, particularly those books that don’t involve an epic door-stopper series. In 2022, the two favourite books I read, period, were both fantasy and I decided to record my impressions for posterity here.


I have not read Susanna Clarke’s much lauded fantasy novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell and so Piranesi was my first introduction to her work. I would recommend it unreservedly. It doesn’t seem to have won as many awards as I might have expected, despite being well-regarded critically. It has a unique world and character and is brilliantly written. I am still haunted by the images of the gigantic rooms and the faint but present homage to the worlds revealed in Lewis’ A Magician’s Nephew. The subtle revelation of Piranesi’s plight and the constant shifting of the literal and metaphorical tides create such a refreshingly unique world and a seemingly tragic inhabitant. Nothing is quite what it seems, right until the end. On my copy of Robert Holdstock’s fantasy, Mythago Wood, there’s a praise by Alan Gardner in which he says Holdstock’s book is “a new expression of the British genius for true fantasy”. I would say the same about Piranesi.

You can find this on Amazon, just search on the name. I tried to link but Amazon just emblazoned a whole lot of unwanted stuff into my article.

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms

By complete contrast in tone and execution, I very much enjoyed another masterful fantasy by another British author, David Gullen. An established writer, his short fiction is now turning up in hallowed genre magazines like The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Gullen throws into the melting pot a vivid portrayal of the British seaside town of Brighton and its visitation by a mermaid. There are many tropes here, the mermaid herself, ancient history, magic, and Tim Wassiter, the not entirely competent private detective who leans on magic as his modus operandi. Nonetheless, Gullen brings these things together in a seamless and refreshing way, lacing his story with romance, menace and subtle humour in equal measure. The characters are vividly portrayed, and I particularly fell for the seemingly independent ‘Hand’ of Persistent Smith, one of the detective’s assistants. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a book so much. Dave was also one of my tutors at the 2014 WorldCon writers’ workshop in London and his input to my short fiction was and is very much appreciated.