Tired of the Olympics already? Me too. So while my colleagues offer you some… normal… titles by which you might find a reprieve, I am going to offer you some more fantastical ones. Here are 5 worlds of wonder you can jump into to escape this one – if only for a couple of days (or hours depending on how fast you read).
Please note I am not including ‘Lord of the Rings‘. I understand that the books I am talking about owe their existence on many levels to J.R.R. Tolkien but – meh.
I’ll stick to the movies thanks (give me modern fantasy masters any day).
But first let me offer a caveat. While below I mention one title by each other, I am also referring the series that they are the beginning of. Very few books in fantasy are stand-alones, and quite frankly I rarely bother with those that are because I want to get engrossed in a series that will take some time to get through – and I don’t care if the author hasn’t finished the series when I start it. Hells! this is fantasy we’re talking about. There is always another story to read while you wait to for the next!
So – in no particular order:
Wheel of Time #1
By Robert Jordan
The first book in the mega-series the Wheel of Time. Jordan purposefully wrote this story introducing Rand al’Thor and his cohorts in such a way that it is very reminiscent of Lord of the Rings – legend has it he wanted readers to have a familiar starting point before he immersed them in his world of Trollocs, Myrddraal and the Dragon Reborn. Of course that went completely over my head but I am told that is in fact true – he leans a lot on LotR. Well I don’t hold it against him. This series is one of my all time favourites.
I remember looking at this title in 1991 and being hesitant to spend my pocket money on a such an expensive book (trade paperback rather than my paperback norm). So I borrowed it from the library. All it took was the prologue and I was hooked. Rich in history, drama, forgotten magics, political machinations (mortal and immortal alike) and vibrant characters – I have never looked back.
Next year sees the end of this series as Brandon Sanderson completes the late Mr Jordan’s epic, and I am already dreading trying to fill the hole it will leave in my forthcoming-books-to-read list.
By Raymond E Feist
Feist’s first, and to my mind best book (the Empire trilogy he wrote with Janny Wurts not withstanding) burst onto the scene in 1982 and is widely considered to be responsible for the resurgence in popularity of genre fiction since LotR.
A classic coming of age story, Magician focus’s predominately on two tales – that of Pug, the ‘Magician’ and his childhood friend Tomas, a warrior. It chronicles their divergent paths in a time of war, and explores slavery and freedom and the corruption of the power, along side men and women who hold personal honour and right action as as dearly as they hold their own lives
This was the first big book I ever read and it was/is an awesome place to be introduced to scope of epic fantasy. Feist holds to tradition that many newer authors disdain and peppers his world with Dwarves and Elves, Goblins and Trolls. But he also broke genre moulds by introducing what amounts to an alien invasion into a fantasy story. Like all my favourites Magician is steeped in history, because if you’re going to do epic fantasy you have an epic world that holds up to scrutiny.
Magician has as much for the ladies as it does for the guys, and even if you don’t read any of his other books you should read this one.
by Michelle West
West is one of those writers who creeps up on you. You pick up one of her books to read and all of a sudden you are late for work, or the sun is rising and you haven’t been to bed.
Like most of the genre novel’s I rave about, her work is big. 200,000 + plus words is the norm for a West book. And while she fills her stories with the traditional explorations of good versus evil, those events are the back drop. Her stories are about characters where some fantasy authors can get carried away with the tropes of the genre and the characters become the back drop to how clever they are. West’s novels are about human sacrifice in the face of overwhelming (and inhuman) odds; they are about family – the families we make when the ones we are born to disappear or abandon us – they are about destiny and fate and the human compulsion to stand before them and say ‘No!’.
Her books are epic in scope and deep in the telling. She pulls you in and I am usually so drunk on her writing by the time I am finished nothing else will do for days but more.
Kingkiller Chronicle #1
You know why you should read this one? because it’s good. And I said so.
But truly, it is really good. I wasn’t going to read it myself. I had one of those ‘judge a book by it’s cover moments – actually it was the blurb – and yes I have those moments a lot. I thought the blurb was appalling and that the main character (and narrator) Kvothe sounded like a tosser. Well he is arrogant, to an extent, but his arrogance is well deserved and his charm overrides. Rothfuss weaves magic between the pages, in language and in story. His characters are vibrant and he hooks you as you follow Kvothe on his journey from cherished child of a loving family, to orphan, to protege. Rothfuss conducts in words his very own version of the dance of the seven veils, delighting in what he reveals as much as he does in what is promised.
This is the start of what I believe will be a very promising and influential writers career.
Song of Ice and Fire #1
By George R.R. Martin
Okay, so this one is a bit of a cheat, but I’ll have you know that I was reading this years before it became ‘popular’ – and unfortunately given that each book has taken GRRM longer and longer to write I do literally mean years.
I’m pretty sure I don’t need to say much about this one, even people who don’t usually read genre novels have heard of The Game of Thrones or seen the HBO series.
GRRM is a really good place to start reading fantasy for those who are hesitant; mostly because his work can read more like historical fiction rather than actual fantasy – that, and the fact that GRRM’s plotting just blows you away. Full of love, hope and honour; betrayal, passion and greed (not to mention dragons and brutal politics) this series is a benchmark in genre fiction and the author’s magnum opus.
He’s written a lot of fine novels but these will be the books he’s remembered for.
Guest Blogger Booktopia’s Mark Timmony