The First Post – Part 2: Hidden Gems of Fantasy

In contrast to part 1, below are a few unknown and under-read books that are phenomenal. I will likely do longer reviews of each of these to give them more justice in the future, but for now here is a blurb:

Heroes Die (The Acts of Caine) – By Matthew Stover

When people ask me if there are any good Fantasy/Sci-Fi crossovers, I hand them these books. Welcome to Overworld, a fantasy world that Sci-Fi actors teleport into in order to broadcast fantasy adventures as live entertainment to a futuristic Earth across dimensions. Now I know that sounds awesome, and it is, but it is not even the best thing that makes these books so good.

Matthew Stover is one of a few authors I have read to get a really interesting and expansive character cast. These perspectives include a self absorbed violent anti-hero, an abusive father, a cripple, a loving mother/father, the young, the old, a tyrant, the list goes on. It is a really unique reading experience that honestly gave me a chance to put on the shoes of people I never really had a chance to before, while also being incredibly action packed with an amazing plot and really well done fights. If you are looking for an original story mostly following an anti-hero, this is for you.

Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats) – By Sebastian De Castell

For those of you who haven’t read Alexandre Dumas, I implore you to give him a shot. His literary classics like the Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers are amazing stories and you are often introduced to very pared down versions of them when you are younger. There is a lot to enjoy in their more full stories.

Someone who seems to agree with me is Sebastian De Castell. Traitor’s Blade clearly draws inspiration from The Three Musketeers, but carries most of the weight of the story on its own. The relationship of the three main characters is what makes the books special. It feels like you are reading a description of friendship. The dialogue between them is laugh out loud funny and makes your heart swell constantly. If you want to read a tale about you and your best friends fighting the world, this is for you.

Retribution Falls (Tales of the Ketty Jay) – By Chris Wooding

Who here likes Firefly? Ok you can all put your hands down. We all love Firefly, and we all wish it got its full run. Well…. how about something just as good to fill that hole in your heart? With how popular Firefly is I am always surprised at how few people know about these books. The Tales of the Ketty Jay are a series of four books that tell the stories of a crew of individuals on a ship. There is a captain with a sorded past, and a female crew member with a dark supernatural secret… and at this point many of you are assuming it is a rip-off.

Except the Ketty Jay does a lot differently than the Serenity and it makes for a very different experience with that same Firefly flavor. The crew is more dysfunctional, with each of them having a well developed reason to be on the ship and away from society. The society itself is much more deeply explored, and more time is given to the historical conflicts. In addition, I feel like the books do a much better job hitting that “western” feel because they avoid outer space, and stick to trans-continental airships duking it out wild wild west style. If you loved Firefly, you will likely love this series.

Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen) – By John Gwynne

This book is clever. I think the premise is pure brilliance and the execution is almost as good. Everyone has read the “farmboy destined to be king” story, where an unlikely individual is unbelievably gifted and must go on a story of self discovery to come into his power. But what if there were 6 destined farmboys, they all thought they were the figure of destiny, and one of them was actually in fact  the anti christ?

The story is about an age old vague myth that tells of the coming of both a bright and black sun, one to save the world, and one to end it. In a rare turn of events, instead of the protagonists vehemently denying that they are gods gift to the lands, the opposite happens and multiple people think they are the good sun. Except, one of them is the dark and doesn’t realize it. After reading so many stories about reluctant heroes, the breath of fresh air that is this book really appealed to me. If you are looking for a twist on the classic epic fantasy I highly recommend it.

The First Post – Part 1: What Makes the Great Great?

Many people often read popular fantasy books and question why they appeal to such a wide audience. While obviously no book will appeal to everyone, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about what makes some of these series so impressive to many people.

The First Law – by Joe Abercrombie:

Joe Abercrombie has an incredible talent for writing real people. His characters all live and breathe in the story and act as normal people would instead of formulaic characters or catalysts who just are there to move the plot forward. They learn from their mistakes, grow-up, don’t always do the right thing and generally feel like people you could meet on the street instead of two dimensional characters from a book.

Abercrombie’s books are very popular with more veteran fantasy readers who have seen a lot of tropes time and time again (not that there is anything wrong with tropes). He has a way of writing an age old story in a way that no one has done before. I recently read Half the World and despite the story being similar to other books I have read, Abercrombie tells it in such a rich and vivid way that I feel like I am experiencing the true version of the story for the first time. He also writes some of the best combat scenes in the genre. Every fight feels memorable and is so much more than just two guys beating at each other with swords.

Gardens of the Moon (Malazan) – by Steve Erikson:

Few people really understand what they are getting into when they start Gardens of the Moon. Malazan has an absolutely INSANE scope, size, and worldbuilding. You know when you read something like Game of Thrones, and they talk all about Westeros, and they do some hand waving and say “yea there are other continents out there/empires etc but who cares?” Malazan does the opposite of that. Erikson creates a world where literally every culture and people is fleshed out (not to mention some pretty non-standard races and species). It often overwhelms people because it is like trying to explain every culture and history on the planet to an alien who just landed on earth. Gardens of the Moon is throws you into the story but as you continue, the context and world become more clear. The story is meticulously planned out so that despite being enormous in scope, it all weaves together beautifully.

But with such a huge world you would expect it to be too hard to develop more than a few meaningful characters right? Except not at all. Malazan has more of my favorite characters in fantasy than literally every other series I have ever read combined. It is a phone book of astoundingly interesting characters who are all incredibly varied. An interesting side note is that the female characters are often regarded as some of the best written in fantasy because the books do not care about what your gender is, just what you can accomplish. Added to all of this is a great plot that is exciting and thought provoking.

The Name of the Wind – by Pat Rothfuss:

The Name of the Wind has 3 components that make it great. First, the prose is astoundingly good. Rothfuss has a talent for beautiful writing and certainly meets the standard of George RR Martin that people have grown used to in the wake of his popularity. Second, the story is both incredibly long and extremely exciting. This is not a book where he spends hundreds of pages building to an exciting moment. Instead, this is a book where he is using an exciting moment to get to the next exciting moment. This is the kind of book where you need to tell a friend to take the book from you at a certain time because it is very difficult to put down. Third, and possibly most importantly, Rothfuss does not waste words. There is a scene I remember vividly that demonstrates this perfectly. At some point Kvothe needs to take a boat trip, and it literally lasts a page. It says something like:

“All you need to know about the journey is I got on a boat, some things happened on the way, and I ended up at my destination without any possessions and very wet”

Rothfuss’ ability to know when to not spend 80 pages explaining something boring is what makes the book so addicting. Also, for added measure the world is pretty cool and the magic pretty awesome.

The Gentleman Bastards – by Scott Lynch:

So taste is very subjective, but this is the only book on this list that if you do not like I am going to assume there is something wrong with you. This is quite literally the funniest series I have ever read. These books are such a good time that I had to stop reading them on the train because I sounded like a psychopath as I fell to pieces laughing.

Locke and Jean’s dialogue is just amazing. The books are infinitely quotable because almost every dialogue, internal monologue, or stray description is enough to make you laugh out loud. On top of this, the series follows thieves and their high jinks, something sorely lacking in the world of fantasy. The plot is interesting and versatile and the storytelling uses both the past and present simultaneously to teach you about the characters upbringing and show you how it shaped their present day actions. If you want to just feel good and smile (and occasionally cry) these are the books for you.

The Way of Kings – or Literally anything – by Brandon Sanderson:

Sanderson is hard to define. I will say short and sweet because I am not that sure what to say. Sanderson is kind of incredible. He churns out books at an ALARMING rate, and while they are not always the first time any story has been told, they certainly hold their own. His books are all above average in quality on almost any possible metric (plot, character, world, prose, etc.) and all have his spark in them. I have yet to find a writer who can make me stand up and shout “YES” the way Sanderson can. Every book he writes provokes emotions and connection that other books grasp at.

Way of Kings in particular achieves this in droves. It is hard to put my finger on it but the book is just epic: the plot is exciting, the trials excruciating, the triumphs exciting, the defeats heart-wrenching. Even when an event is predictable you are still excited to hear Sanderson write it for you. He is a writer to inspire you and put a fire in your heart.