Greg Keyes should be a household name of the fantasy-genre, but he’s not. Greg Keyes should sell similarly to Robin Hobb, Tad Williams and Brandon Sanderson, but he doesn’t.

The Briar King by Greg Keyes

I don’t have an answer for this, but it continues to baffle me that he hasn’t been embraced by fans of Terry Brooks, George R.R. Martin, Raymond Feist and those authors listed above. He hits on everything that makes those authors successful, and does it better than many of them. Here’s what I had to say in my review of the concluding volume of his latest series, A Kingdom of Thorn and Bone:

Greg Keyes is the most underread author in epic fantasy.

There, I said it.

His most recent work, a four volume cycle called The Kingdom of Thorn and Bone sets the bar for how to write a multi-volume epic fantasy without all the bloat that plagues so many other series. Keyes manages to tell an engaging, fully realized story and bring it all to a satisfying close by just the fourth book, The Born Queen.

Where Keyes excels is in the characters he crafts. Taking familiar archetypes – The Princess, The Woodsman, The Scholar, The Cocky Swordsman – he strips them down to the barest essentials and then reinvents them. The Princess, for once, is likeable; The Woodsman is an unconventional ladies man; The Scholar ends up kicking some ass; The Cocky Swordsman is most honorable and self sacrificing. When we were first introduced to the characters in The Briar King, I had trouble seeing what the big deal was – I had seen all this before. But by the end of that first volume I understood, and that was only the beginning of where those characters would take me.

Well, now’s your chance to see what all the fuss is about. Suvudu has added the first volume of the series, The Briar King, to its Free Library.

You can download it in the following formats:

So give it a shot, I promise you that it’s worth it.

  • Shale August 5, 2009 at 10:47 am

    I agree completely. The characters are very well drawn, and I loved the series. I look forward to reading whatever Keyes writes next.

  • aidan August 5, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Shale – He’s working on a tie-in novel related to the Elder Scrolls videogames. The most recent of which was Oblivion on Xbox360, PS3 and PC.

  • Memory August 5, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Thanks for the heads up! I’ve been interested in Keyes ever since I saw his work reviewed at Dragons, Heroes & Wizards.

  • Adam Whitehead August 5, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    I don’t think you can underestimate what an impact the reviews of the last book (possibly the last two books, actually) have had on a lot of potential readers. A few people I know held off on reading the series until it was completed, but when it was completed the general consensus seemed to be that the last book was diabolically bad. That’s put a lot of people off reading the series in the first place, which is a shame as THE BRIAR KING and THE CHARNEL PRINCE are two extremely fine novels.

    I also don’t think the GRRM-lite tag helped either, as a lot of people thought that was meant in a derogatory sense rather than a positive one (as it was to start off with).

  • aidan August 5, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Both good points, Adam.

    I know I’m in the minority in terms of my opinion of the final book, but I really don’t think it’s nearly as bad as a lot of people see. Yeah, it was probably the weakest volume in the series, and Keyes did an unusually sloppy job by introducing a lot of elements that weren’t even hinted at in the previous books, but I still think it was a favourable end to the series.

    I’m actually taking that stance with the Wheel of Time novels. I’ve read a few of them (up to Path of Daggers, but I’ll be waiting to see what the consensus is once Sanderson’s finished off the series. I won’t be wasting my time reading 7 huge volumes if I find out that the ending sucks.

    It’s too bad that people perceive the GRRM-lite tag to be a negative, but I expect you’re right. More to the point, I think Keyes takes a bit of Martin, and mixes it in with the adventure of authors like Terry Brooks and Raymond Feist. It would be nice to somehow see Keyes series repositioned and given a better chance at success.

  • Jeff C August 5, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    While I also thought the last book was the weakest, I still enjoyed it and thought overall it was a darn good series. Good enough that I want to own the hardcovers.

  • Tom Lloyd August 7, 2009 at 1:09 am

    Yup, I agree with you there, and also I’d direct people to his previous books. The Waterborn and the Blackgod left a deep impression with me because of his ideas on the nature of gods – completely different to anything I’d ever read and a big influence on how I do it!

  • Jeff C August 7, 2009 at 6:23 am

    Tom..interesting. I have his first duology (Waterborn & Blackgod) sitting on my shelf in hardcover. Since I’m a big fan of yours, it sounds like I should make time for that duology before the end of the year.

  • edifanob August 7, 2009 at 10:28 am

    The whole Kingdom of Thorn and Born is on my shelf -unread. But I read three of the four books of the Age of Unreason series which I really like. For more information look at Greg Keyes.

  • Jamie August 10, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Well, when you put it like that . . . ;-)

    I’m definitely going to take it for a spin. I didn’t know such a site existed; thanks for the tip-off.

  • Marius Krinnan December 14, 2009 at 10:29 am

    I just finished the Charnel Prince, and I will be getting the rest of the series soon, as well as the Psi Corps trilogy (mostly because I’m a Babylon 5 fan).
    I started reading the Kingdom of Thorn and Bone by coincidence: I went into a book store, and randomly picked up books in the sci-fi and fantasy sections, looking for something new to read, and looked at the fronts and backs of the covers. Keyes’ book looked more appealing, so I chose that.
    This is usually how I choose new music and literature to buy. I look at the cover art and read the back, and If I like the look of it, I usually also like the contents, as I did in this case.
    I see what you mean by Keyes being underread and I agree. I liked the linguistics, the characters, the setting.
    I found it a bit funny that he chose to base the languages and nations of the books on real ones. I noticed German and Italian subtly altered to fit the story. I was especially amused by his use of my own language, Norwegian, though (understandibly) phonetically adapted for English speaking readers.

    I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves fantastic fiction.

  • aidan December 14, 2009 at 10:57 am


    Glad you’re enjoying the series! It’s interesting you picked up on the connection to our world. If you want even more insight into that, google the Roanoake Colony from Virginia. Very interesting stuff, and a clear connection to Keyes’ world.