I read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen because Neil Gaiman talked about what an influential writer of fantasy Alan Garner was. While it does feel influenced by Lewis and Tolkien (with its very English kids off visiting the romanticized countryside), it’s much better than most knockoffs. It’s written for children and thus does focus more on a clear plotline than on character development, but man, does it do a great job of it.
Garner describes terrifying creatures and situations so well. Hell, he describes everything so well. The story moves surprisingly quickly, eschewing faux mystery for having the kids do more stuff. There’s an underground chase scene that has hard choices foisted on them at every turn and they don’t do everything exactly perfectly and it hurts them. A lot of the story is about hiding from bird spies for three days trying to meet up with the wizard to return the stone to him, and getting rejuvenation from elves, which yes, is very Tolkieny, but the language he uses never feels like an academic writing it (though if you hate made-up words, or words from old European languages that sound made-up you will hate this book).
There are more books in the series, but the book does have an ending (though it’s a touch abrupt). This is the kind of thing I’d been hoping The City of Ember would be (and wasn’t). It is vastly superior to most traditional fantasy tales. I really liked it.