People who come to this blog regularly will know there’s a few books and authors you’ll hear about a lot. This place is a memorial to Sir Terry Pratchett. David Gemmell always gets his due and so does Guy Gavriel Kay. If you haven’t heard about the Deverry Cycle, Dominions of the Fallen, or The Wounded Kingdoms by now, you probably don’t want to. Or are a recent reader and should. You’ve probably heard as much about Eddings as anyone wants to. The Curse of Chalion, Kushiel’s Legacy, Jirel of Joiry, The Empire Trilogy… I’m a man who’s very, very clear about what I really like.
But there are a few books that I really like that I tend to forget about. Or that I have a few reservations about that keep them from being talked about as much as I should. Or… well, you get the idea.
This is me trying to put things right:
Aanasi Boys by Neil Gaiman: I’m a Gaiman fan. Not a huge one, but he writes good stuff, and this is his best novel. I had the fortune to read it shortly after returning to London from a holiday to Florida, kinda experience the book’s journey in reverse, and being really struck by a sense of place. It’s everything Gaiman does well; dark surrealism, sly humour, the everyday thrust into the crazy worlds of the myth, but with a fantastic sense of character and a brisk absorbing plot that I maybe don’t always associate with his novel work.
The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker: I was excited when I heard of it. I was very happy with it when I finished reading it. I believe it’s a fantastic book about two out of the ordinary lives, dripping with detail. It moves a little slow at times for me but that’s the only major flaw. I guess that it doesn’t lend itself well to making lists or articles comparing takes on fantasy archetypes so I don’t say as much as I could or should, but it’s still a very good book.
The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan: Do I really need to say much about this series? How much is there to say that isn’t known by those who care to know? Probably not but well, look, it’s all about me here and I have so many great memories of this series – but I rarely remember to mention them. There’s so many interesting uses of myth and fantasy archetype and I do mention them, but maybe not as regularly as I could. Admittedly, I’ve zero interest in re-reading the whole thing, but that doesn’t really matter for writing blog articles.
Cold-Forged Flame by Marie Brennan: I really loved this novella when I read it. It’s one of the books that convinced me novellas are great and that Marie Brennan is absurdly over-talented as a writer. It was one hell of a trip. I own the sequel, which I should read but haven’t. Maybe I’ll do so in the next few days. I guess it’s also not a very good book for articles but I have to admit, the visceral sense of wow faded very quickly and made it a little forgettable. But, that’s not a mark against reccing it, right?
Master Li and Number Ten Ox by Barry Hughart: Does a series I hold as my current fourth of all time really qualify for “I don’t talk about enough”? I think so, yes. Why? Because I should never shut up about it. But it’s a hard series to recommend these days. It’s not always that easy to find, humour’s always very subjective, the style’s a little dated… I love it but when I’m trying to find books others will love, it’s rarely on the tip of my tongue.
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett: The first book including large usage of present tense that I finished and enjoyed, which is quite an achievement considering I will often joke that authors who use it should be sent to jail. Which isn’t a very pleasant joke that doesn’t mask the negative feelings behind it at all. I’m getting better, honest. But – you’d think I’d never read this book, and it’s a very good book, one that does interesting and different things.
Burning Brightly by Mercedes Lackey: I’ve not read this one in forever. I keep meaning to but always pick something else up instead. But of all the Valdemar books, this one stands out as the best and most powerful to me – and also the most tragic. I guess I’d need to reread it before I start recommending it wholesale, which may happen soon.
The Goddess Project by Bryan Wigmore: Some books I’m slow to recommend because they’re written by friends, and I dislike wondering if I’m feeling biased – also people I like disliking books by people I like. The Goddess Project is one of these books. It’s a Steampunk/Shamanistic adventure that takes a lot of cues from conspiracy thrillers and I do really like it a lot. It’s a little different to some fantasy books, and can be a little slow moving, but I can more than live with it. I’d maybe talk about it more if I talked more about magic systems, but I think the genre hears a little too much about them.
The Woven Ring by M.D. Presley: The Woven Ring fits into the same category as above – written by a friend. Also a book I’d talk about more if I talked about magic systems more; The Woven Ring would make a really cool computer game. It also makes a good story, with its canny use of the split narrative and driving action based narrative. The character dynamics aren’t bad – there’s a good example of untrustworthy semi-friendship here – either.
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri: When I rack my brains over books, this debut comes out. I struggled with it because compared to a lot of books, I didn’t find much hook. Which is part of why it lodges there. The fantasy genre is the tale of bold choices most of the time; agency. This book is the tale of what happens when they’re stripped away and only resilience is left. I don’t like the book as much as most on this list, but I do think it’s more important and worthy of talking about than most.
The Serpentwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist: Most people talk about Magician when talking about Feist. Or The Empire Trilogy. For me, my favourite work by him is this quartet, which was the first time I saw someone take the feeling of Epic Fantasy and talk about the foot soldiers and the merchants and the poor bastards trying to find something around the edge of the whole bloody thing. Others have passed Feist in this field but I think this remains a very entertaining story.
A Hero Born by Jin Yong: I like my classics me. Well, I mightn’t actually like them, but I like to show comparables and give people a chance to know them. Obviously comparables means the classic of Wuxia isn’t all that talked about here, but A Hero Born is nevertheless a classic. Good fun too. I think there’s a lot of people who just want to see a bit of carnage all over the place and A Hero Born does that very well indeed.
Lud in the Mist by Hope Mirrlees: From one classic to another. I didn’t perhaps enjoy this one as much as I might have to when I read it, but it’s place in my imagination and memory is only growing afterwards. It’s incredibly self-contained and full of mythology, and a great little mystery.
Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone: Finally a book that I absolutely loved the first time I read it. Absolutely. It wowed me, both as a story and as a fresh new concept. I’ve soured on the series a little since as it feels like it’s got a little preachy – if the villain is always big business, it’s a pretty shit murder mystery, whatever we might want to say about reality – and while the fact it’s about a revolving cast of characters is cool, it means there’s no pull through thread. But I shouldn’t let that make me forget just how great Three Parts Dead is and how much it should be talked about. Maybe I’ll press on with the series soon – or do a re-read.