If you're a fan of the literary genius of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and others of the sort, then you must not leave out Diana Wynne Jones, who has written over 40 books and who was in fact taught by Lewis and Tolkien both while she attended St. Anne's College of Oxford (my jealousy knows no bounds...)
I discovered this author only after seeing one of her works turned into an animated film by the reknowned artist and director Hayao Miyazaki-- well known for Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime), My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro), and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no Tani no Naushika) among others. I've grown up watching Miyazaki's films and was always utterly enchanted by them. Thus, reading the inspiration for one of his films, I became as equally enchanted at that which caught his own eyes.
"Howl's Moving Castle" is an utterly delightful book. You could read it in a day, if you tend towards habits I shamelessly embody of settling into a book for 7+ hours straight. In fact I spent almost all of today rereading another book by Robin McKinley called "Chalice". But I digress. The characters are charming and hilarious, the humor subtle and tending to the dark, and the 'universe' of the Land of Ingary and all around it is gloriously painted. I was hooked upon my first perusal of it. The white lines of a well-creased binding already exist in great quantity on the spine of my copy, even though I've only owned it perhaps a couple of years.
About a year ago I discovered that Jones had come up with two other 'companion' books to Howl's Moving Castle. I wasn't sure exactly what 'companion' was meant to mean in this situation, so I put them on an amazon.com wishlist and then promptly forgot about it. More recently, I came into possession of a Barnes & Noble giftcard (for those of you who know bookworms, always gift in either direct cash with a strict label of "for books" on it or give bookstore gift cards. It gives them the excuse to buy books in a way that doesn't make them feel like a person on a diet sneaking cake) which, as I just explained, gave me the excuse to buy a couple books. One of those was "Castle in the Sky", the primary companion book to "Howl's Moving Castle". The secondary copanion book (which is actually qualified as a down and out sequel, actually) for those of you who'd like to know is called "House of Many Ways" and I have not had the opportunity to either acquire it or read it as of yet.
I finished reading "Castle in the Sky" in a few days-- I would have finished quicker had the time allowed itself. But towards the end I found myself so utterly absorbed that the car ride I was currently enjoying slipped away from me. One moment we were travelling along the back mountain roads of northernmost Georgia and the next, as I was turning the last couple pages, we were speeding through Atlanta down the connetor. My reaction was...Ah? Oh.
At first I didn't see how this book was a companion to "Howl's Moving Castle" other than that it was somehow in the same universe as the land of Ingary. The main character, Abdullah, lives in Zanzib, which is somewhere south of where Ingary lies. That seemed, at first, the only connection. But when Abdullah's true love is stolen from him by a djinn, the quest to return her and the adventures that result really get the story going. And by subtle inference characters once long loved in "Howl's Moving Castle" begin to show up...at first merely the mention of witches and wizards in the distant northern land of Ingary...of a moving castle stolen by the djinn...of seeking a wizard's help to find said moving castle...
And then all chaos breaks loose when Abdullah finds himself inexorably thrown into a bunch of characters we all know and love. Though Abdullah I'm sure questions that sentiment at least initially...
In the end (truly) Jones' handle of the 'companion' delegation of this book is flawless. I was thrown completely off guard by the subtle inferences and utter lack of anything resembling "Howl's Moving Castle" at first other than land names, so that by the time the stories came full circle, I was page-turning in utter glee. There is nothing more delightful than stumbling upon a cherished character like a well-loved friend found in an unexpected place, especially when they've been lurking in the corners of hiding in plain sight the entire time.
I cannot wait to get my hands on the third book at this point. At some point in my life, buying books to read will be excused by the term 'research' for my job...I already have a list growing slowly. I am apparently rather antiquated when it comes to what's going on in the young-adult/adult fantasy genre, and seeing as how that is the genre I am looking to engage with, I need to better udpate my reading list with what is new and lively in the market. "Graceling" by Kristin Cashore is next on the list for eventual accrual and perusal. I did however finish the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, so I can't say I'm completely out of the loop.
But note to all potential authors out there: if you are looking to be in the market and say, hey, I read books that come out yearly all the time. I read one of my favorite authors' newest book this year already. I'm fairly up to date. Think about it. If that author, such as Robin McKinley, Tamora Pierce, Patricia McKillip, Piers Anthony, Ursula K. LeGuin, or Lois McMaster Bujold, (all favorites of mine, some of whom have new books fairly frequently) have been established for more than a decade, you're out of the loop. They can write anything and it will be published, because they're good and they've earned their place in the literary world. Up and coming new writers have to go beyond the genres and styles that these literary giants embody. We always have to be new, and not new in the way that these authors mentioned above have to be, but so new that it can look like nothing every written before. Ever. So if you're researching, you not only have to learn about the established writers, you have to read what is coming out from the new writers, the ones who are on their first or second or maybe third book. At least those who have only been out in the world in the last five years.
For example. Urban fantasy (as opposed to High Fantasy [ex: Middle Earth versus a magical Atlanta, GA]) is apparently the new hit in today's market. Something to consider.