Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

If you want more intricate, literary fantasy, try these next…

Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake for an elaborate and bizarre gothic epic

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly for a dark fairy tale

The Magicians by Lev Grossman for a melancholy urban fantasy

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor for superb YA world building

(for rionybay)

LITERATURE MEME | 10 works of prose - (6) the gormenghast trilogy by mervyn peake

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.

She likes to dream that she’s the queen and that when the rest are dead there’ll be no one who can order her to do anything. She said, dear, that she’d burn down the whole place, burn down Gormenghast when she was the ruler and she’d live on her own, and I said she was wicked, and she said that everyone was – everyone and everything except rivers, clouds, and some rabbits. She makes me frightened sometimes.
—  Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan
What makes Gormenghast a masterpiece?

Marcus Sedgwick: Mervyn Peake’s gothic fantasy has never matched the success of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Maybe it’s just too good

This sums it up:

…For some people it is just too peculiar, but even those that may like it may never come across it simply because it defies classification and easy journalism. The usual term for it is “gothic fantasy”, and though that’s a useful enough shorthand, it does pigeonhole the work somewhat, which can be limiting, especially when it’s a pigeonhole with nothing else in it.

The Gormenghast Trilogy
Mervyn Peake. 1946 - 1959.

3 vol., comprising Titus Groan, ink inscription to front pastedown, spine a little bumped, first state jacket without quotes, some soiling to lower panel, 1946; Gormenghast, spine a little bumped, jacket with some light foxing, 1950; Titus Alone, frontispiece by Peake, jacket with light foxing, 1959, first editions, occasional light foxing, original cloth, spotting to fore-edge, dust-jackets, spines a little browned, but otherwise a good set, 8vo.
“Withdrawn and ruinous it broods in umbra: the immemorial masonry: the towers, the tracks. Is all corroding? No. Through an avenue off spires a zephyr floats; a bird whistles; a freshet bears away from a choked river. Deep in a fist of stone a doll’s hand wriggles, warm rebellious on the frozen palm. A shadow shifts its length. A spider stirs…

And darkness winds between the characters.”

In dark alcoves I have lingered
Conscious of dead dynasties;
I have lingered in blue cellars
And in hollow trunks of trees.
Many a traveler through moonlight
Passing by a winding stair
Or a cold and crumbling archway
Has been shocked to see me there.

I have longed for thee, my Only,
Hark! the footsteps of the Groan!
Lingering is so very lonely
When one lingers all alone.

Will thou come with me, and linger?
And discourse with me of those
Secret things the mystic finger
Points to, but will not disclose?
When I’m all alone, my glory
Always fades, because I find
Being lonely drives the splendour
Of my vision from my mind.

Come, oh, come, my own! my Only!
Through the Gormenghast of Groan.
Lingering has become so lonely
As I linger all alone!

—  Mervyn Peake, from “Linger now with me, thou Beauty”
From Titus Groan

There is a love that equals in its power the love of man for woman and reaches inwards as deeply. It is the love of a man or a woman for their world. For the world of their center where their lives burn genuinely and with a free flame.

The love of the diver for his world of wavering light. His world of pearls and tendrils and his breath at his breast. Born as a plunger into the deeps he is at one with every swarm of lime-green fish, with every colored sponge. As he holds himself to the ocean’s faery floor, one hand clasped to a bedded whale’s rib, he is complete and infinite. Pulse, power and universe sway in his body. He is in love.

The love of the painter standing alone and staring, staring at the great colored surface he is making. Standing with him in the room the rearing canvas stares back with tentative shapes halted in their growth, moving in a new rhythm from floor to ceiling. The twisted tubes, the fresh paint squeezed and smeared across the dry on his palette. The dust beneath the easel. The paint has edged along the brushes’ handles. The white light in a northern sky is silent. The window gapes as he inhales his world. His world: a rented room, and turpentine. He moves towards his half-born. He is in Love.

The rich soil crumbles through the yeoman’s fingers. As the pearl diver murmurs, ‘I am home’ as he moves dimly in strange water-lights, and as the painter mutters, 'I am me’ on his lone raft of floorboards, so the slow landsman on his acre’d marl - says with dark Fuchsia on her twisting staircase, 'I am home.’

—  Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan