Fantasy Novel Roundup

22:30 Mon 06 Oct 2008. Updated: 17:33 28 Jan 2009
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I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy novels recently. I tend to read a fair number of them per year, but the last several months have been almost entirely focused on that genre. I’ve read nineteen of them since mid-June, when I started Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law series.

I might write longer articles about some of these works, but for now I’ll call out those that I really liked, and those that I didn’t.

I really enjoyed Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy, The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings. Their tone is what really stood out, mixing irreverence, wit, and humor with unflinching takes on human nature and the workings of power. I also appreciated the fact that it didn’t end up going where it might be expected to go. This felt like quite traditional fantasy told from a very different point of view.

The first two books in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series, The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies, were good. The first was excellent, the second not as good but still worth reading. The series (at least so far) follows the exploits of some thieves/con artists, and it’s not a stretch to call it a cross between The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Heat, and Ocean’s Eleven.

Speaking of The Malazan Book of the Fallen, I recently read Toll the Hounds and enjoyed it, although I did feel as if the author were almost rewriting Gardens of the Moon in certain aspects.

I read the last two books in Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son series, and as previously stated didn’t like them. I also read M. John Harrison’s Viriconium works, which I was impressed by.

On quite the other end of the fantasy spectrum from Viriconium, I’ve unaccountably read more than one of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, “historical fantasy” that follows a British dragon pilot during Novik’s imagining of what the Napoleonic Wars would have been like if dragons existed. Highly dubious stuff, and very much airport fiction.

K.J. Parker’s Engineer Trilogy, Devices and Desires, Evil for Evil, and The Escapement, was quite good, and was a very different kind of fantasy—almost like ‘hard’ science fiction in a fantasy setting, and not in the so-far-future-it’s-like-fantasy style of the Viriconium novels. No magic in the series at all, enough to make it stand out even if it weren’t also well-written and precisely structured. I do worry that it’s somewhat misogynistic, however, and in a rather more subtle way than the typical “women are there to be rescued from dungeons and towers” style.

I’m uneasy about putting Jim Butcher’s Storm Front in the fantasy category. It’s about a mage/private detective in more-or-less modern America, so clearly it has fantasy aspects, but it feels different from “other world” fantasy, and seems much more influenced by cyberpunk and Shadowrun (not to mention noir). In certain respects it feels even more out of place than Viriconium, which could be slotted into the science fiction category. In any case, genre confusion aside, I wasn’t that impressed with it. Not terrible, but not too polished.

I was similarly unimpressed with Sean Russell’s The One Kingdom, which was okay, had some interesting ideas, but wasn’t enough to make me likely to buy any of the other books in the series.

Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind was excellent in parts, but off-putting and derivative in others. The lead character seems quite interesting, but his younger self, who goes through various trials as a young boy, is at times like so many young fantasy protagonists, and the struggles of a young mage as he learns about love, social politics, and magick are just so commonplace in the genre that it takes extraordinary skill to escape the gravitational pull of all the works that have gone before. Rothfuss doesn’t get there, but I’ll probably get the next volume nonetheless.

Finally, I just finished Winterbirth, the first in Brian Ruckley’s Godless World series. It was quite good, very gritty, and pulled me in quickly. The world Ruckley’s created seems very familiar, but with enough alien touches that it’s interesting. It’s not groundbreaking fantasy, but it’s well done.

Now, I just have to wait for Martin to finally finish A Dance with Dragons, and also hope that Bakker’s Aspect-Emperor works start coming out soon.

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