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Fantasy Series to Read Recommendation
And give LotR a chance, there's some great stuff there, and some of the best writing in the genre.
I'd recommend The Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin, which I think is my favorite writer right now. Great story, great characters and great writing.
This is a classic on par with Tolkien, nearly as well-realized as Middle Earth but beautifully spare in its presentation.
Another series I would recommend is the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson (the guy who is finishing the Wheel of Time series). It's a three book series that's finished.
I strongly recommend nobody read The Wheel of fucking Time, because books 5 through 11 together have less plot than any given Dominion card.
There's also The Sword of Truth, which also starts out interesting and degenerates into complete shit.
Oh, and fuck His Dark Materials. Fuck it to hell. Worst last book ever written.
LOTR: Just watch the films. Unless you love language the books can be a bore.
Song of Ice and Fire is brilliant and pretty much ruined fantasy for me. However you have to be into character based writing, and be aware it is very dark.
The Narnia series is good if you want to see Rowling's influences.
One unmentioned so far are The Nightside books by Simon Green. Light reads but fun.
One big selling point on the Wheel of Time is that you can read strait through to The Gathering Storm, and that there are pretty set release dates on the last two books. The comments that the series can drag in the latter half are true, but are a good bit reduced with the abilty to rip right through to the current book. It was a much greater issue before. When you were aiting 5 years for a new book. This is the reason I have yeat to read more of A Song of Fire and Ice. I'll blow through it when finished.
The two Jim Butcher series as mentioned are good.
On the slightly kiddie book note, I am reading the Percy Jackson books right now, not on the level of Harry Potter but fun reads. Verry quick books as well.
Excellent suggestions guys, everything's going on my reading list.
I like little details hidden everywhere type, like how JKR hid some stuff in Book 1 that was relevant in the later books. I'm not a big fan of overly long epics, but I'll give it a shot.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke - Someone mentioned this already, and it may be the best novel I've read in the past 10 years. It's unique, rich in mythology, and has a certain dry wit to it that I loved. I cannot recommend this one enough.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss - This is book one of The Kingkiller Chronicles. Book two is due out any time now, although no date is set. The first one is great though. It has some of the worst excesses of fantasy (like stupid, hard-to-pronounce names), but it has some terrific characters, and the main character is given an enormous amount of depth and development. Patrick Rothfuss is also very good with words, and he has a better command of language than most fantasy authors.
The Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch - I'm currently reading book two (Red Seas Under Red Skies), but book one (The Lies of Locke Lamora) was very promising. The novel is set in a fairly unique world that isn't cribbed from Tolkien, and the plot has lot of intrigue and double-crosses. It's got a little bit of heist, a lot of revenge, and a cool narrative structure that reminds me of Lost in the way it uses flashbacks as a way to inform the current action in the book. The Lies of Locke Lamora is a great book, but it did take me a while to get into. Stick with it, it's totally worth it.
Abercrombie's great in that he keeps things fairly simple and straightforward and doesn't bog you down with endless descriptions or exposition. He plays around with the established tropes of a tired genre and comes up with something interesting. He's a breath of fresh air after you've read lots of Fantasy.
I'm halfway through the Malazan book of the Fallen series, and as a note of warning, this isn't for the faint of heart. It's huge in scope, breadth and ambition, and obviously word count, with MMPBs often reaching 1200 pages. Things often don't make immediate sense (sometimes not until a few books down the line), you can't really get attached to any particular character, the cast is really impressive, but the payoff is pretty awesome with some scenes that resonate in your mind for a long time. He's also got a pretty twisted and dark sense of humor that's not always apparent or as pervasive as in Joe Abercrombie's work.
The final book (number 10) is due out later this year. Steven Erikson has really created something great, although he's not necessarily the best wordsmith out there. Another criticism that is often leveled at the series is that too many characters, regular army grunts, turn into melancholic philosophers, but I haven't really been bothered by that.
You can't really go wrong with China Miéville's stuff, especially his Bas-Lag novels: Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and, to a lesser extent, The Iron Council. Weird stuff, a mix of SF, Fantasy and Horror. Totally engrossing upper-tier literature, totally unlike anything you might have read in the genre.
My personal favourite fantasy series of recent years is from another ambitious author, R. Scott Bakker. His Prince of Nothing trilogy (the opening in a larger sequence) is brilliant. The Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean setting is seldom seen, and if it weren't for the magic and some seldom-seen critters (in this first installment at any rate), it could almost pass as a recreation of the First Crusade (on which it is admittedly based). It's a very brutal and unforgiving world, where the war takes an incredible toll, and where the place of the few female characters seems to be to whore themselves out or to get beaten, raped and left for dead. Lots of exposition and philisophizing also goes on and some readers might find trouble with the pacing. But it's definitely worth checking out, especially if you're looking for high end fantasy with something to say.
I spent the entire return trip from St. Louis - floor to ceiling, beginning to end - reading a book called His Majesty's Dragon. That shouldn't be a good book, His Majesty's Dragon. It should be a flimsy, invertebrate creature, ill-bred and scrabbling. It is (in truth) a pitch-perfect tale of empire, where His Majesty's Aerial Corps protects England on the backs of dragons. Again: this should not be good. The book I just described could go wrong in so many ways. I would have written this book very badly. Naomi Novik did not, and the world is the better for it.
I continue to hurtle through Naomi Novik's Temeraire Series at an alarming rate, alarming because at my natural pace I'll be quite finished with the lot of them within the space of two weeks. I said that they were good, and if you have explored them, you know that I was not wrong: but I didn't explain why.
Generally, I'd prefer that you discover your own Why. That's part of what makes what I do here so infuriating for the reader, I'm sure - what I present is often purposefully incomplete. The moment where you seize an idea for yourself is what confers ownership, and I won't interfere with that if I can help it. What's happening in these books is so cool though that I have to call it out.
The book is good as a general assessment: it has good bones, and a strong profile. But the way it is written - as a historical novel, in a historical mode - elevates the proceedings considerably. Encasing what must be called a Novel of Modern Fantasy in measured, stable British idiom plays a neat trick: it actually grounds the story's fantastic elements, understating them, so that the end result is a thoughtful and textured work where draconic aviation is simply another way to serve one's country; not fantasy so much as another, hidden history.
Or Tim Powers. Most of his books are standalone fantasy works set in a particular historical setting, some of which are modern. For each work, he creates a unique system of magic grounded in the folklore of the setting and odd historical details. His only trilogy starts well, but is less entertaining after the first book. Fortunately, that first book (Last Call) stands nicely on its own. One of his best books, On Stranger Tides, was shamelessly ripped off by Disney for the Pirates series, but is now getting added in as the upcoming fourth movie in the series.
As mentioned before, Roger Zelazny's Amber series is great. More importantly, the first book is amazingly accessible, because the protagonist starts out with total amnesia in a (fairly) modern setting. For the first several chapters, the reader is discovering everything at the same time as the character, who is wily enough to bluff through his ignorance.
I recently read Snake Agent, by Liz Williams. The setting is Singapore in an alternate reality/near future... kind of a biotech twist on cyberpunk with magic mixed in. The hero is a cop who specializes in dealing with Hell. Chinese Hell. It's fairly entertaining, and the ending was cinematic and explosive. EDIT: I think this is the first book in the series. There are at least four books so far, and I will be starting another one soon.
Jack Vance is a fabulous wordsmith, and you should definitely try his Dying Earth books. Start with the short story collection, The Dying Earth and go from there. His prose is a delightful blend of dark fairytale and almost poetry, with vivid imagery and unforgettable rogues. The D&D magic system is derived from his Dying Earth stories.
For more rogues and plenty of swordplay, check out the Swords series from Fritz Leiber. He grew up watching his parents perform in various works by Shakespeare, so he has an uncanny eye for dialogue and staging. His memorable rogues, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, veer from one adventure to the next, swinging blades and dodging spells.
I'm inspired to gripe because I just finished Glen Cook's TYRANNIES OF THE NIGHT. It just sucked. I read good things on here about THE BLACK COMPANY, which was not in at the library, so I figured, what the hell, he wrote this series too. It's just confusing, par-for-the-course BS. It's obviously set in medieval Europe--but why call it that when we can change the name of every ethnic group and make me keep a fucking mental map in my head to keep every one sorted out (Devedians --> Jews, Andoryans --> The Norse, The Patriarchy --> The Papacy, The Holy Land -- > The Holy Land (convenient!)). The protagonist is a dervish.
What Cook is writing is alternate-historical fiction. There are "wells" in the holy land that magic leaks out of, and that keeps the world from icing over. Everything else is fucking (12th or) 15th century Europe and the Levant!
So the structure of the book is annoying in and of itself. Tack on the wooden prose, the stale characters, blah blah blah, terrible.
I really like good writing, and most everything printed by TOR is not that. Michael Chabon: Good. Cormac McCarthy: GREAT. Neal Stephenson: Good. Who's writing good books in SF or Fantasy? Or rather, who in SF or fantasy writes well? It ain't Glen Cook.
(currently checked out, but not yet started: THE BLACK COMPANY and A GAME OF THRONES).