… I find nothing more annoying than a fantasy novel that reads like a table-top game. Too many main characters, not enough back-story, and combatants walk away from every conflict as right as rain, because they still have that single hit-point left. Dungeons & Dragons has as much to answer for, as it has to be thanked for.
EDIT: This used to be 50 books in 50 weeks, but let’s face it, I can’t keep to a schedule, and even if I could I often forget to record which books I’ve read, or what I thought about them.
Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you’ve fallen afoul of the popular meme; maybe not. I have decided that if I’m not reading a book a week, then I’m really not keeping up with my field. So Starting now, it’s time to be catching up with what I’ve read, doing 2 sentence reviews, and then looking for the next literary fix.
Recently I did the unthinkable. I picked up the first book in each of three separate series. Traditionally I’ve avoided multi-part series unless they’re already finished. What if the writer dies? Or never gets around to finishing that series you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for (looking at you George RR Martin). This time, one of each and maybe I won’t be stuck reading a crap series simply because I bought all the books at once.
So here are the first 10, amazing in the fact that there wasn’t a novel here that annoyed me. All good (in their own ways) all books I’m glad I read.
Shadow and Betrayal – Daniel Abraham
The Long Price (Book One): Nice Asian feel to this one, nice story, interesting background concepts. Not quite to my taste, but good all the same.
Winterbirth – Brian Ruckley
The Godless World (Book One): Love the world, and love the story, not particularly in love with the characters. It’s not that they’re bad characters, just that they don’t particularly grip me and I find myself skipping the names just to get to the meat of the story.
The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie
The First Law (Book One): Kind of the reverse of Brain Ruckley’s work, here I love the detail and depth given to the characters but the plot seems a bit… meh….
Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson
A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen: Not a quiet read, this one gets you thinking, and in my case writing the rest of the story in my head at the end of each chapter. I have to say that this is one of those rare gems, epic fantasy that doesn’t seem to break suspension of disbelief.
Good Omens – Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
A read-reading a classic, what can I say? Two of my favourite thinkers writing together.
Small Favour – Jim Butcher
Dresden Files: I’m a big Butler fan and this book reminded me why. Like all the Dresden Files the novels are a bit on the light and pulpy side but still pack a great story. Great detective genre work with the arcane almost as a glaze.
The Shadow of Solomon – Laurence Gardner
Um…. Still digesting. Originally I picked this up as was research material, not so sure what it became by the time I put it down. I’ll go out on a limb here and give it an “Interesting” and leave it at that.
Blood Heir – Brain Ruckley
The Godless World (Book Two): Back in the godless world the story continues, but the characters remain bleached of real interest. Don’t get me wrong, still a good read.
Before They Are Hanged – Joe Abercrombie
The First Law (Book Two): Back in this world that seems to be looking more and more familiar, the novel follows basically three different story paths, all three of which are ultimately futile. The story has cemented itself as the frame for the characters, who while still intriguing, don’t seem to be evolving much.
Technically I’m supposed to identify my top 10 books… problem is I couldn’t narrow it down to my top 100. What I can do is write down the first ten that spring to mind, and explain why. Of course, if I did this again in a month, we’d probably have a completely different list. There’s the rub…
- A Rustle in the Grass – Robin Hawdon
- Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
- Lord of the Rings – like you don’t know who wrote this
- The Wars of Light and Shadow series – Janny Wurts
- Dresden Files – Jim Butcher
- Wizards First Rule – Terry Goodkind
- Malazan Books of the Fallen – Steven Erikson
- American Gods – Neil Gaiman
- Mindstar Rising – Peter F. Hamilton
- The Broken Empire series – Mark Lawrence
#1 As a child this book both traumatised me and opened my eyes to a new way of seeing the world. I would recommend it to anyone of any age. It is both epically awesome and terribly intimate.
#2 Snow Crash, cyberpunk in its earlier forms. So much of this book deals with far deeper concepts than simple technology development. Amazing how a book published in ’92 can be simultaneously dated, prescient, and timeless.
#3 Lord of the Rings. I first read this when I found it in my primary school library when I was 10 or 12. The starting point of modern fantasy, with all its inherent problems of sexism, racism, and yet makes the real world all the duller when you are forced to return to it. I re-read this every few years, but I confess I no longer read the hobbit chapters. I’m in this for the world, not the characters.
#4 Fantasy got complicated here, there was no good/bad line, and antagonist had motivation and justifications. The writing was dense, the politics Machiavellian, and the magic was awesome. Even the SF elements that crept in couldn’t derail this story for me. It also hammered home the fact that perception is often far more important than reality.
#5 Dresden Files. My guilty pleasure, these are the penny dreadful’s of modern fantasy offerings. Easy to read, a great way to pass the time and a bit of humour thrown in. These are books you walk away from thinking ‘what a rush’ without needing to sit down on the couch for the rest of the day to process some deeper meaning. The Dresden Files do what so many other books, even the good ones, don’t. They entertain.
#6 I enjoyed this on my first read, it was light, fluffy and didn’t fill you up between meals. There were moments when I wanted to reach into the novel and slap some sense into the characters, and that’s really what stuck with me all these years. When a book makes you mutter ‘you dumb mother %#@%er’ every few pages it leaves a mark… possibly a bruise. Then I read it again and realised this book wasn’t just frustrating, it was bad, very, very bad. A plot with no originality and no surprises, a cast of characters so 2 dimensional they’d cut you if you shook hands with them. Bad dialogue, worse pacing, and the ultimate magic was the power of being stupid. I still re-read Goodkind books occasionally, simply to harvest the elemental rage they generate.
PS I’m a huge fan of the TV show, Tabrett Bethell absolutely rocks.
#7 Now this is a world and mythology to lose yourself in. To be honest I a little astonished it got published given the style, but man I’m glad it did.
#8 I admit to my heresy, I’m not overly a Neil Gaiman fan. This book, however… downright awesome.
#9 Another heresy, I like his earlier work more than his later works.
#10 Lots of writers have done the anti-hero and done it well, Moorcock gave us Elric of Melniboné, even Pratchett gave us Havelock Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. Lawrence gives us a character that is no way likeable, but is very understandable. You want him to win even more than you want him to get a comeuppance. Consider the anti-hero nailed.