Release Date: 20120927
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books UK
In a fantasy marketplace that has only recently seen a conclusion to Robert Jordan’s iconic Wheel of Time, and long suffering delays to George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, I’ve compiled a list of authors and series I can recommend in their place, which includes: Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle, Elizabeth Bear’s The Eternal Sky, Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin, and Brent Weeks’s Lightbringer. That established, David Hair’s first adult novel, Mage’s Blood is one of the better epic fantasy series first instalments I’ve read in recent years.
It should be noted that when I refer to the term epic fantasy, I really mean it. Sweeping conflicts, clashes of cultures, political and personal entanglements, rich and in-depth magic, and mighty warriors dot the landscape. There’s even lavish descriptions of food,
…they ate a cold meal of dried meat and breads, washed down with a small flask of arak and some water, all from the wagon’s spoils. Tanuva Ankesharan’s best cooking could not match so wondrous a feast as this scavenged meal.
Written in limited third person from multiple points of views, Mage’s Blood does maintain some notion of good and evil. It walks a fine line though, often refusing to color individuals entirely one or the other. In that sense it’s quintessential modern epic fantasy, but couched in a very expected setting. Continue reading
Release Date: 20020107
Publisher: Tor Books
I have spent the past eight commentaries talking about where I was as a reader in my early-to-mid 20′s when I first read (and then re-read, in some cases more than twice) the first eight volumes of The Wheel of Time. For the first seven, I read them all within a two-week stretch in-between and just after my MA exams in November 1997. The eighth volume, The Path of Daggers, I bought on its release date and re-read either once or twice (memory is faint) before November 7, 2000, when the ninth Wheel of Time novel, Winter’s Heart, came out in the US.
The astute readers probably have realized by now that if I am talking about books last read around 10 years ago, then it must have been Winter’s Heart that gave me a long pause in my reading. That is indeed true, as not only was there a shade over two years to wait until the tenth volume, Crossroads of Twilight, but I never re-read any of the first nine in the interim, nor did I read that volume until 2006 on a lark. What happened in this reading that finally caused me to do the metaphorical throwing up of hands in surrender? Continue reading
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Release Date: 20120508
Publisher: Square Fish
It’s difficult for me, personally, to read portal Fantasy without comparing it against Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, especially those with a fairy tale lilt to its voice. It’s hardly fair to hold one novel against a work of fiction that still, just by evoking its name, transports me, like its protagonist, to another time, another place: a rainy December afternoon, just after Christmas, when I first discovered the beauty of Gaiman’s whimsical imagination. The Girl Who Circumnavigated the World in a Ship of Her Own Making (furthermore, The Girl Who…) has such soul, such a wonderfully commanding and joyous relationship with language, myth and fairy tale, however, that soon after its opening scene, I stopped comparing it against other works, and, in a critic-proof manner that makes this review difficult to write, began to read the work without thought. I fell into its pages, and only crawled out again alongside September, a girl who loses and finds herself in Fairyland.
September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying.
Though September’s tale is familiar, the telling of it is extraordinary. She is an intelligent girl, though her intellect is often lost behind the naivety of her youth and gets her into as much trouble as it solves. Much of what a reader needs to know about September is summed up in a particular passage that caught my attention:
One ought not to judge her: all children are Heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb high trees and say shocking things and leap so very high grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless At All. September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown.
The Path of Daggers
Release Date: 19991215
Publisher: Tor Books
If A Crown of Swords is the first WoT book that I bought, A Path of Daggers (October 1998 publication) is the first WoT book that I bought in hardcover, on its release date. I read the first seven volumes while I was finishing up my MA in History at the University of Tennessee in 1997, but this volume I purchased while I was halfway through my 16 month teacher education/student teaching coursework. I remember using the internet in the university computer lab to look for several release dates for books I had a vague interest in and I saw when The Path of Daggers would be released in a few weeks, so I used some of my student loan money that I had at the time (between classwork and my required 60 hours of classroom observation, no way was I going to be able to hold even a part-time job) and bought the book in a local mall. Continue reading
The Alchemist of Souls
Release Date: 20120327
Publisher: Angry Robot
Before I became re-enamored with fantasy, I was an avid reader of historical fiction (or as I like to call it — fantasy for people who don’t want to be seen reading fantasy). I read Shogun (Clavell), Pride of Carthage (Durham), Musashi (Yoshikawa), Gates of Fire (Pressfield), and their ilk. It’s exciting to me now when I come across a fantasy concoction that blends that historical sensibility with the speculative. Anne Lyle’s debut novel is just that kind of brew. Set in historical Elizabethan England, Alchemist of Souls of Souls shows what might have happened if the Virgin Queen had children, secured her rule, and made an alliance with a heretofore undiscovered alien race from the New World.
Lyle’s protagonist is Mal Catlyn, a down on his luck swordsman with a checkered past and an unfortunate family connection to Catholicism. The skraylings, a new race from the New World, have been allied with England for a generation, but an ambassador had yet to treat with the Queen. With word of the first skrayling delegation, Mal is hand picked, rather unexpectedly, to serve as bodyguard during the controversial visit. Assassination attempts are the least of his concern as layers of espionage and political jockeying begin to pull him in unexpected directions.
Along with the intrigue, Lyle sets the stage with a tournament of stage performances in honor of the ambassador’s visit. Put on by the three most esteemed theater troops in London, the tournament becomes a set piece for the larger story. The theater sections are told mostly through the eyes of Coby, a young woman hiding behind men’s clothing, and connects to Mal’s thread through his friend Ned, a scribe with a penchant for theater men. Between the three of them they’ll be asked to prevent a conspiracy at the core of the monarchy. Continue reading