highly recommended reads ...

Fantasy formula: naive young day-dreamer is coerced into a quest against all-consuming evil, becomes a too-reluctant Hero, and by some tortuous path finally topples said evil. Carbon-copy worlds, anorexic characters, clichéd and stilted writing, and an ultimate magical artifact mark complete the script. Sadly, an unfortunate and utter lack of depth is the magic missing in much of fantasy today.

Here, I recommend books and authors that defy this formula, that have grabbed me most.


Deadhouse Gates

Steven Erikson:

Magnificent but heavy, heavy stuff - possibly the best hard-core fantasy since Tolkien. Perhaps as good as Tolkien; I can't make up my mind, since Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is so utterly different from The Lord of the Rings. This fantasy cycle comprises ten volumes (one through six already in print). Each book is an opus, each stands alone, though they are wonderfully interwoven. Erikson's world is old, intensely old; hundreds of thousands of years of dirt and crumbled bone, soaked in blood. Morality is ambiguous, and betrayal the norm.

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Patrick Rothfuss:

Name of the WindPatrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind is an incredible debut - he instantly places himself in the select company of Tolkien, Erikson, and few others.

Quothe is the typical hero protagonist: young, naive, sympathetic, and thrust into chaos by a cruel world. And less than typical - he is the prodigy we'd all like to be, and ultimately, a greater failure than any of us.

Rothfuss's writing is masterful: compelling, supple, robust. At times, it is sublime. A half-feral Quothe mastering music is one wonderful moment of triumph, and it is one of many. His trying for his pipes is my favorite in this book - achingly beautiful stuff.

My only complaint - Patrick, please, write faster! I need the second book.


Brandon Sanderson:

Mistborn, The Final EmpireBrandon Sanderson is another new and breaking star - though already a prolific, intelligent, entertaining writer with a number of great novels to his name. Elantris and Warbreaker are worthy stand-alones; the former is a little better. But it is his Mistborn Trilogy that is truly superlative.

In Mistborn, Sanderson gives us some classic fantasy, and some that's turned upside down. He brings us great characters. He creates religions and destroys them. And he conjures up some of the most brilliant and novel magic I've ever come across.

Sanderson has also been selected to complete Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. The Gathering Storm is the first installment of the final three (really!) books. While not perfect, it's very good, and one of the better books in the series. Book two of three, Towers of Midnight, is scheduled for release in Nov. 2010.

I review both Brandon's Mistborn Trilogy and Warbreaker, here.


Elizabeth Moon:

The Deed of PaksenarrionI cannot praise The Deed of Paksenarrion, by Elizabeth Moon, enough - do not be put off by the terrible cover art on the individual volumes of this trilogy. Great stuff. Says Quantum:

"... superb writing, a sound and gritty knowledge of military life and action ... a psychological/ethical substratum of enviable intricacy and depth..."

"This is the first work of high heroic fantasy I've seen that has taken the work of Tolkien, assimilated it totally and deeply and absolutely, and produced something altogether new and yet incontestably based on the master ... This is the Fourth Age as it has to have been ... Worldbuilding in the grand tradition, background thought out to the last detail, by someone who knows whereof she speaks. Her military knowledge is impressive, her picture of life in a mercenary company most convincing."
says Judith Tarr.

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George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones

George R.R. Martin:

All right, I like Martin. More sword than sorcery, heavy on death and betrayal and deep intrigue, believable and uncompromising - hard-core fantasy. And it's more honest than most. Characters are solid, competent, sometimes wildly unpredictable. Still, often the plot just drags. Definitely not Erikson, but better than 95% of what's out there. Not for the faint of heart.

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Also recommended:

    Moonheart and most everything by Charles de Lint.

    Songs of Earth & Power, by Greg Bear. Beautiful stuff, well-imagined and well-executed.

    L.E. Modesitt, Jr., has produced some great imaginative fiction in his Recluce series, starting with The Magic of Recluce.

    Guy Gavriel Kay, as well, is producing some wonderful, well-wrought tales, culminating in his Song for Arbonne and The Lions of Al-Rassan.

And, finally, I'll always return to Tolkien.

Paul's Tolkien page

Middle-Earth, and all Fantasy, are firmly rooted in J.R.R. Tolkien's magnificent The Lord of the Rings. It's odd, finally coming back to J.R.R.'s opus, after 20-odd years. Slow getting started, even, the prose being simple in tone, and old as the earth - a child's tale from another age. Yet the prose builds, grows, develops, so I've shed tears more than once before even completing Part One of the trilogy. Amazing language, compelling, simple and driven eloquence. Incredible - and though I may estrange the readers of Jordan, Feist, and others whom I also enjoy - none comes close to the Master.

hobbits on WeathertopIf you've discovered Middle-Earth through director Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, do yourself a favour - read the books! And the converse holds as well; if you haven't yet seen the movies - do so. The movies may not be entirely accurate, but they are superb, and are as true to Tolkien's vision as humanly possible.

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Paul's Top Ten

  1. Lord of the Rings
    J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. Name of the Wind
    Patrick Rothfuss
  3. The Deed of Paksenarrion
    Elizabeth Moon
  4. Ysabel
    Guy Gavriel Kay
  5. Malazan Book of the Fallen
    Steven Erikson
  6. Mistborn Trilogy
    Brandon Sanderson
  7. The Magicians
    Lev Grossman
  8. Harry Potter series
    J.K. Rowling
  9. Black Company novels
    Glen Cook
  10. The Magic of Recluce/The Death of Chaos
    L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

The Full List:
Fantasy Novels Ranked and Rated


Other Links

My Tolkien Page



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