Gateway to the Epics?
In a comment to the previous post, Sean M. writes:
So, I know that there are probably lists out there like this, but is there any long-epic series that a beginner should start with?
I have never really read a long series of fantasy books, but I like the idea of it. I would start with the Wheel of Time series, but just about half of the people I hear mention it say bad things about it.
It's a harder question than you might think, even leaving aside the ethical issue of whether it's a good idea to encourage the reading of long epic series (which many people object to).
The fundamental problem with things like the Wheel of Time or George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire is that they're not finished. It's hard to recommend either on the grounds that they might still go completely off the rails (some would argue that Jordan went off the rails about four books ago). I wouldn't want to recommend something that's incomplete.
The other major problem with coming up with a "where to start" recommendation is that the series that were the real gateway drug for this sort of stuff mostly aren't very good. I thought David Eddings's Belgarion was great stuff when I was about twelve, but it doesn't hold up that well. And while I enjoyed it at the time, with a little perspective, you can just about hear the dice rolling in RPG-derived stuff like Raymond Feist's Riftwar and sequels. I even kind of liked Terry Brooks when I first encountered it.
(A further problem is that many of these authors just don't know when to let go, so a reasonable trilogy can be retroactively destroyed by unnecessary sequels.)
The obvious recommendation would probably be The Lord of the Rings, but it's not quite the same thing, despite some similarities. A lot of people who like Tolkien don't like other epic fantasy, while some epic fantasy readers really don't much care for Tolkien. I think this has less to do with the relative quality of the works in question than with the fact that they're not trying to do the same things, but that's a different discussion altogether.
There are also some books that are great if you've read a bunch of epic fantasy before, because they play some interesting games with the format and readers' expectations, but I don't think they'd work as an introduction to the form. Steven Erikson's Malazan books (The first of which is reviewed here) are in this category, as are Gene Wolfe's recent duology (The Knight and The Wizard).
So, I'm left with a bunch of things that sort-of work. Dave Duncan has a couple of series ("A Man of His Word" and "A Handful of Men") that are perfectly competent epic fantasy with all the usual trappings (different races, exploring most of the map, a Dark Lord who needs defeating). Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry is sort of kitchen-sink epic fantasy, with a little bit of everything thrown in. It's got some lovely writing, but it's not entirely coherent. Susan Cooper's "young adult" series The Dark is Rising gets a lot of the flavor, though it's missing some of the elements of classic epic fantasy, and it's YA.
Comments and other suggestions are, of course, welcome. What am I forgetting?
Posted at 8:44 AM | link |
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Another Couple of Bricks in the Wall
Look! It's not dead!
I have been reading stuff in the last two months, I just haven't been good about blogging it. I'll try to get a few posts up here this weekend, though, so I won't feel like quite so much of a slacker.
The process can be sped up a bit by combining together two books in the Giant Epic Fantasy category: the latest books from Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin. It's a natural combination in several ways, mostly because they're both gigantic, heavy books that are far enough into their respective series that they can't really be discussed in detail without spoilers. (I'm happy to discuss spoilers in the comments, if anybody still reads this and wants to comment...)
It's a little frightening to realize that Knife of Dreams is the eleventh Wheel of Time book, with at least one more to come. Worse still is the realization that the series has been going on for fifteen years...
At least this volume shows some signs of plot progress. Two extremely annoying subplots, that have dragged on for the last book and a half, finally get resolved, though the resolutions aren't entirely satisfying. There are also some signs and portents from about eight books back that finally come through. And the non-annoying subplot is brought to a fairly successful resolution, which was nice.
As someone else commented, it's the best book in the series in about ten years. Now, granted, it's still a little long on the "Go Away, Scary Robert Jordan Id!" moments-- as a general matter, the reading experience would probably be more pleasant if you just skim any section with a female POV character. But the scene where Mat returns to his troops was terrific, and almost worth the excruciating Elayne plotline. (Really, you're better off skimming those sections...)
As for A Feast for Crows, it shows some worryingly Jordan-esque trends. For one thing, it's famously late in arriving, and what's been published is actually only half of what Martin wrote-- he split the manuscript into two parallel books featuring different subsets of the cast. More worryingly, despite the length, it's a much less eventful book than its predecessor.
Now, granted, some people have written whole series that were less eventful than the previous book, and there are multi-book epics out there with fewer deaths than you'll find in one chapter of A Storm of Swords. But this book is dangerously close to being a let-down rather than a respite, if that makes sense.
Part of the problem is that the characters he's chosen to focus on for this book are among the least interesting in the gigantic cast of the series. As Kate put it, "A whole book of the Lannisters, and no Tyrion? Bleagh." The Cersei point-of-view sections (which I believe appear for the first time in this book) are also much less successful than the Jaime POV sections from the previous book. While the Jaime sections provided some real insight, and go some way toward redeeming his character, Cersei is even more awful from inside her own head. I doubt that was the intent, but that's the effect for me, and it really weakens those sections.
There are some good bits here ("Good boots are hard to find."), but the book is basically seven hundred places of characters being shuffled around to position them for later events. Which is fine as far as it goes, but I can't help thinking about the Wheel of Time series, which started doing that around Book 5, and hasn't really stopped yet. I hope Martin can avoid the same trap, but as a reader, this worries me.
Posted at 10:27 AM | link |