People don’t really have a high regard for fantasy books. They usually think about a muscled bound hero fighting dragons or orcs to rescue the princess (no doubt influenced by the Conan movies).
But as a kid, I have always loved the idea of a bildungsroman tale of a boy, driven by circumstances, leaves home to find he is a fulfillment of an age old prophecy, whereby the saves his people from the clutches of an evil wizard… This is no doubt help by a childhood of computer role-playing games (e.g. Wizardry, Ultima, Bards Tale…). But I never had any fantasy books to read. Some of my friends always talked about Belgariad or Wheel of Time, but I never got a chance to read them.
When I grew up and could afford my own books, I read a lot of everything else, but not fantasy. There were so many other books and genres I had wanted to read, so fantasy took a backseat temporarily.
One day, at the Wisma Atria closing down sale, I found a copy of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones for RM15. Fifteen bucks! Please do remember, this was long before the fanfare of the TV series and everything, when no one except the small circle of fantasy readers have heard of A Song of Ice and Fire. I think I breezed through the 500 page book in less than a week, and was amazed by how awesome it was. Granted, Martin’s new fantasy style is a progression and very much different from the 80’s style of David Eddings or Robert Jordan, and I was hooked. In a span of two years, I had caught up with Book 5, A Dance with Dragons.
Yes I do realize it might be a good 2 more years before George R.R. Martin releases Book 6, and probably another 10 more years before the series is concluded… so I decide to spend the time until then exploring other fantasy book series.
But the thing about fantasy book series – its like this. Its like buying cars in Malaysia. There are only that many series that are good. This is different from general fiction – there are thousands of novels and series out there, everyone has their own opinion on which are good (they all are good in their own way). But if you google ‘good fantasy book series’, you will roughly get the same few results. There are good reasons for this, but maybe that’s for another article.
Then there’s another thing. I know fully well that GRRM’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ is the VERY best in fantasy books – today and ever. And will probably be for the next 20 years. So I have to accept that any other series I read will not measure up to Martin’s tale of dragons and kings killing one another.
So with all the caveats, I set out look explore the world of fantasy books. I generally pick them up at book sales, and always at discounted price. God knows I can’t afford full price books.
The Magician, Book 1 of The Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist
I actually bought this one together with A Game of Thrones. Although it follows the classic bildungsroman tale of a poor boy discovering his destiny to defeat the evil overlord, I found the storyline too outdated (granted it was first released in 1982). Someone told me the later books in the Riftwar saga are quite good, but I don’t intend to find out. I am actually surprised that the Riftwar Cycle is still ongoing as of 2008.
Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson
Now, I had high hopes for this one. in fantasy book circles, this is usually regarded as the best there is, sharing the top spot with Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I found the first book ‘Gardens of the Moon’ for RM12 (hardcover!) at a sale. But here’s my problem with it. While it promises a vast meticulously crafted world and magic system, there are no protagonists you can root for, or at least identify with. Everyone says, ‘it really kicks in the 5th book onwards’ but do I want to hang around another 4 books of wondering what’s going on? For this first book, the storyline isn’t convincing and there wasn’t much of a closure to it. To me, the first book of any series should be strong (if not the strongest) to draw readers in, not muddle them. Currently, the series has been completed, but for me it is on hold as I’m not convinced it’s worth my time to continue on.
Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. LeGuin
These are 6 short novels about the wizard Ged’s journey of self-discovery. This is a different kind of fantasy writing, they are simple and short, and I really loved it. I like the concept of magic based on your name, and the conclusion of Tenar and Ged’s story in The Furthest Shore is especially poignant. I read them online.
The Blade Itself, Book 1 of the First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
Now this I really like. The series is short and completed (only 3 books) and it has a dark sense of humour. I read the first book online but am looking to buy the books on the cheap (don’t really like e-reading). I don’t think any bookstore sells this, other than Kinokuniya.
Assassin’s Apprentice, Book 1 of the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
Read the first book, thought it was okay, but never got round to finish it. Kind of slow-burning actually, not sure if i want to give it another shot.
Myrren’s Gift, Book 1 of the Quickening by Fiona Mcintosh
Almost halfway through the first book, did not like it.
The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson
I’ve read Way of Kings and I love this series. I think potentially this series can live up to be one of the best, if Sanderson keeps the momentum. It takes awhile to clue in to the big picture (there are 4 separate protagonists and storylines) but once you see the scope of it, you will appreciate the stage it has set. On the downside, we are currently only at Book 2 of 10, so its going to be a long long wait to conclusion.
I have also bought the Long Price Quartet (by Daniel Abraham) and Mistborn series (by Brandon Sanderson) but have yet to start them. Some of the series I am looking out for are Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams and Black Company by Glenn Cook. And since Brandon Sanderson recently recommended the Black Prism series by Brent Weeks, I must give it a try.
P/S I HAVE read Lord of the Rings (3X), The Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials and Abhorsen, but i don’t consider them similar to be above.