There’s a bit of a debate going on right now in the r/fantasy sub over on reddit about what people consider ‘underrated’ novels/authors. After a post talking about how the same few books/authors seem to be discussed frequently in the sub, there’s been a rash of posts (including this great response) trying to make an effort to start discussions around authors and works that the community doesn’t bring up as often. I’m all for variety and can’t wait for this discussion on underrated works to really start, but in the meantime, how does one define ‘underrated’?
You could use a more ‘scientific’ approach and measure data off of various websites (how many ratings a book has on goodreads, how many reviews on amazon, how many people have the book shelved in their collections on librarything, etc). But then you still need someone to make the nomination in the first place. What moves a person to think a book is underrated? There are books that have been on the NYT’s bestseller list that I consider underrated. An example would be Rob Thurman’s Cal Leandros Series. She has some very loyal fans, but, even among fans of Urban Fantasy, I’ve rarely seen her name brought up in discussion outside of her fandom. Because she’s one of my favorite authors, I try to recommend her books whenever I get the chance. So I guess my perception of ‘underrated’ is lack of discussion about the author/book.
I think a lot of this is about perception. For example, I think there are many authors and works that were once very popular but now rarely come up in fantasy book discussions, especially on reddit. Authors like Charles de Lint, Tanith Lee, and Mercedes Lackey. Mercedes Lackey especially has been a popular author, and yet I rarely see her mentioned. But because they used to be discussed a lot, at some point (probably years ago) some people may feel like they’ve had their day and not want to include them in an ‘underrated’ discussion. Personally, I think that’s wrong. Often there are younger readers just getting into the fantasy genre and I feel like it’s important to include authors that perhaps aren’t as talked about today as they were ten or twenty years ago in these types of discussions.
Then there are some authors that I’d consider underrated that the community discusses on a regular basis. For example, Joe Abercrombie. I hadn’t heard of him until a little over a year ago. His writing is fantastic, but you don’t often find a lot of his books in stock at the store. And yet, I’d say he’s one of the most popular authors in the r/fantasy sub right now.
So, I think it’s tough to conclude in any way what is and isn’t underrated, simply because taste is subjective and perception has a lot to do with it. That being said, any discussion about underrated books will hopefully bring about some talk of authors that I’ve never heard of and I’m really looking forward to that. (Like I really need to add anything else to my TBR pile though…hah.)