I was a firm believer of “pfft Nerds, i’ll just wait for the graphic novel, movie or tv show”. Then one day on the way to the bus, I picked up Hannibal by Thomas Harris and read it on the way to and from a concert and I’ve been hooked on books since, so I started out with crime series, Thomas Harris, James Patterson, John Connelly etc. Then I got into scifi, Alistair Reynolds, Dan Simmons and anything star-wars, my mates had been bugging me about fantasy and I thought again “pfft nerds”. One night after finishing a book and having nothing else to read I saw Legend by David Gemmell on a shelf that a mate had tried to force on my about a year before. So I started it, 2 days later I was on amazon, ordering as much Gemmell books as I could find. I started to pay attention to Amazon’s “you’ve read why not try”, crack cocaine does not get a look in with this feature. I’ve been hooked since, I’ve read a lot of series over the past years, some great, some bad and some downright epic. Hopefully this will bring some of you a trip down memory lane, introduce new series or bring fresh meat to the genre.
5. George R R Martins’s A song of ice and fire.
“A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid. ”
Welcome to Westeros, a land where Robert Baratheon rules through an alliance of kingdoms after deposing the mad Targaryen king and ending it’s dynasty. All seems well when the King makes an unexpected visit upon his old friend, ally and steward of the north; Ned Stark. Meanwhile on a distant continent 2 Targaryen siblings thought dead plot to take back the Iron throne. Unawares to all, something stirs in the North, Winter is coming.
I’ll probably get stick for putting this in at 5. I’ll give my reasons why it’s not higher. First off do not invest yourself in any character because chances are they’ll be knocked off. Like The prince of nothing these are not your typical fantasy books, sure the knight might save the princess in the end but not after she’s had a really bad time of it and he’s had a few limbs knocked off.
For me it’s a standout series because of it’s sheer unpredictability and it’s WTF!!!! moments. As soon as you think you’re onto something, he pulls the rug out from under you. As for the WTF!!! moments, all i can say i was finishing up book 3 at around 3 in the morning and i was thinking, ok it’s 3 in the morning and i’m hallucinating, i went downstairs did some push ups to get the blood flowing, went to the fridge for a red bull, went back upstairs and re-read the last 30 pages; i was not hallucinating. I’ve read a lot of books, seen a lot of films but i’ve never experienced such an unpredictable scene. The scary thing is, that’s not the only scene\plot twist, the books are littered with them and always keeps you guessing.
The books are pretty grim too, you think, nah he’s not going to do that and sure enough he does. Martin does a great job of making characters that you hate, no hate is not strong enough, characters that you loathe. He’s one person i would not like the piss of, i’d fear the retribution.
It’s not all battles and honor, it’s more about The politics, and what’s going on in the court more so than the battlefield, Machiavelli would be proud of it. There’s 1 epic scene with little finger and varys, both spies masters for different factions. They’re indirectly threatening each, the word play is fantastic. Last thing i like about is the hint of the mysterious the magic, he doesn’t go into much detail and vaguely refers to it but you know it’s there. Oh i almost forgot, Z0mg!!!! Drag0nz.
- The Good : The over all unpredictability of the books, who’s safe, who’s good, who’s bad, will this happen, most of the time it’s not what you expected. It’s got villains that you love to hate, i think a lot of fantasy has villains that lack a personal touch, they just are, Martin goes in depth on the villains. Like Lord of the rings, it’s got a tv show that does it justice. And lastly Tyrion Lannister who has an endless supply of witty quotes, be it put downs or summation of a situation, he’s even got his own spin off books, “The wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister”.
- The Bad : Why it’s no.5 and not higher, as much as i like the unpredictability i feel he’s relying on it too much, i feel sometimes he backs himself into a corner and goes back to old reliable lets kill this person off. Also the time in between books, he finished a Feast for Crows saying he’d the majority of the next book written and it would be out soon, soon apparently is five years. If you’re like me and need to know what happens next, it will kill you. Hopefully with the TV catching up it might mean quicker book releases.
- The Ugly : Theon Greyjoy aka Reek, yikes!!!!
Overall : Great series with fantastic characters and not your usual fantasy. Just pick it up, there’s too many reasons to list. Definitely not for the kiddies.
4. Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles.
“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs to make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.”
The story of Kvothe the bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, Kingkiller. The story begins with chronicler, a historian traveling through some back of beyond village and stopping in a bar. He recognises the inn keeper and after much convincing, the keeper relents and admits he is the infamous Kvothe and tells chronicler of the beginnings, the rise and fall of Kvothe. Noone in the town is aware of who the innkeeper is.
It’s a pretty interesting format. The format is Kvothe telling his story to chronicler, 80% of the books are from Kvothe’s point of view, returning back to the present every now and then, when Chronicler asks him to clarify something or customers walk into the bar. You’ve no idea why he’s in a bar in the middle of nowhere and how he got there, which leads to some amount of speculation. There’s hints left, right and center and the author loves to play on words. I’ve spent hours on Reddit and Goodreads speculating how it will end, what this means etc.
The story follows Kvothe from his origins as an Adema Ruh, who are like travelers\tinkers that travel town from to town, entertaining people, fixing and selling items. Like in this World there is a particular bias against them. From there it’s all about his separation from his family and his pursuit of what happened to them and his enrollment in and progression through the college of Arcane arts.
Character-wise it’s hard to say as 80% of it is through Kvothes eyes, there are some great characters but you don’t get much of insight into them. One character in particular stands out, Denna, this young woman that Kvothes keeps randomly bumping into, first impressions is that she playing him and likes to play men but the more you read, the more there is to her and it’s the same with other characters.
Now i know I’ve stated my love for “Less magic, moar swords”, there’s a few fight scenes in this but the magic system is pretty intriguing. There’s several types of magic. The main 2 used are Sympathy and Naming, sympathy is like voodoo dolls that can be used on people and objects, it involves creating a link between the mind and the desired object and transferring energy between, the stronger the mind or link to the object the more you can do. I won’t even get into splitting the mind. Naming for me is central to the story, it’s the ability to know the true name of an object or person, once you know that, you have mastery over them. Learning the name is problem. Like i said earlier he likes his wordplay and i feel it’s essential to the story and fits in perfectly with the Naming magic system.
One thing running throughout the series is how history becomes legend and becomes a bedtime story. There’s some cracking scenes of where Kvothe is telling a story and the locals come into the inn. They might be talking about something Kvothe done(unaware of who the inn keep actually is) and the difference between how he told it as it happened and what they tell is fascinating. Kvothe surviving an attack from 2 thugs turned into him summoning lightning, demons etc to beat them.
The beauty of the book for me is because it’s from his point of view, you pick up on things that he doesn’t, sometimes you’re screaming at the book, ffs it’s that guy or it’s right in front of you. Also the word play, everything can have different meanings, which ties in with the “Naming” magic system. If you do read these, i’d highly advise re-reading immediately as there’s many instances that seem insignificant but make so much more sense on a re-read. For instance there’s what a seems to be some random poem but after reading the 2 books, the poem can have 3 different meanings. I don’t often say this but there’s some beautiful and emotional scenes in this series.
Now the bad news, there’s only 2 parts out so far with a third to come and you still have no idea why or how he’s in an Inn in the middle of nowhere. Supposedly the original draft of the trilogy was 13 years ago and he’s been reworking it and it shows the level of detail is top notch. If this was a finished series there’s a good chance it would be 1 or 2 on my list.
- The Good : Has one of the best re-read values i’ve ever seen, i always pick up something new on a re-read. A pretty unique magic system and a story that will have you going to sleep thinking, what does this mean, is it significant.
- The Bad : It can feel a bit Teeny at times and the whole Ross\Rachael will they won’t they saga from friends wouldn’t get a look in with Kvothe and Denna.
- The Ugly : A pissed off Kvothe and when the hell is the 3rd and final book coming out.
Overall : A well written series, on reading it you can understand how he’s been revising it for the past decade.
3. Brandon Sanderson’s Mist Born
“Oh, come on. You have to admit that you’re unusual, Vin. You’re like some strange mixture of a noblewoman, a street urchin, and a cat. Plus, you’ve managed – in our short three years together – to kill not only my god, but my father, my brother, and my fiancée. That’s kind of like a homicidal hat trick.”
For a thousand years the Overlord and his underlings the Aristocracy have ruled the world through fear. For a thousand years the Skaa have lived in total fear, used as slaves, treated no better than cattle. Hope is at hand with Kelsier, his gang of criminals and his young apprentice Vin.
I’m going to talk more about Sanderson than i am about the series. The story itself was good was not great, apart from Kelsier the characters were not too remarkable, however what i did like was the idea of the Overlord, i’m not going to say anything but your initial impressions will differ when the series ends. Where the series and Sanderson comes into it’s own is the magic system. Like I’ve said before magic isn’t my thing in books but Sanderson’s magic is a totally different story.
I do not use Hyperbole when i say this but the magic system is astounding. It’s like nothing else you’ll see or read. It’s called Allomancy and it’s based on metals, burning(ingesting) certain metals give certain powers and only 7 yet discovered metals have these effects. Only a select few can burn metals, 99.9% can burn just 1 metal but there’s a select few who can burn all 7 metals. There’s powers such, as pushing, pulling, strength, one metal(the most precious) allows you to see a second into the future etc. Later on there’s Feruchemy, again based on metal but it allows to store attributes for later use, such as weight, strength, health, memory. It’s the same across all his books, most writers will go he put up his hand and there was fire and leave it at that, Sanderson will go into the mechanics of it.
It doesn’t just stay the same, there’s a fourth book set a couple of hundred years afterwards, where through intermingling of the people you have people with both Allomancy and Feruchemy. It’s set in a time like our early 20th century so you’ve got guns in the mix and he’s adapted the magic system to work with the guns and the time’s tech.
Sanderson is a beast, he’s currently got the mist born going with more books to come, set in the present day like our and a series set for the future. He’s also got the Stormlight archive again with a brand new magic system, the Rithmatist series with a crazy magic system and the reckoners series with yet again you guessed it a new magic system. He’s evolving his writing book by book, the Stormlight archive has many impressive characters as does the rithmatist, I’ve yet to start the reckoners. Oh yeah he finished off the wheel of time when Robert Jordan passed away, adding his unique touch to the series, he introduced 2 new characters, their scenes and interactions were one of the highlights of the last WOT book. This is a guy to watch\read.
- The Good : The magic systems are just wow. Pevara and Androl from a memory of light.
- The Bad : Characters were a bit bland in the mistborn but like i said above, he’s getting better with each book.
- The Ugly: He’s costing me a packet with all the books he’s outputting.
- Item #3
Overall : Definitely someone to watch. If you like magic, this is your guy.
2. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of time
“And it shall come to pass that what men made shall be shattered,
and the Shadow shall lie across the Pattern of the Age,
and the Dark One shall once more lay his hand upon the world of man.
Women shall weep and men quail as the nations of the earth are rent like rotting cloth.
Neither shall anything stand or abide…
The Shadow shall rise across the world, and darken every land, even to the smallest corner, and there shall be neither Light nor safety.
And he who shall be born of the Dawn, born of the Maiden, according to Prophecy,
he shall stretch forth his hands to catch the Shadow,
and the world shall scream in the pain of salvation.
All Glory be to the Creator, and to the Light, and to he who shall be born again. May the Light save us from him.”
In the age of legends male Aes Sedai and female Aes Sedai working together,created wonders. It was a time of peace and prosperity, men used saidin, women saidar. In an effort to find a power that both sexes can use, they unwittingly open the ancient prison of the dark one. Darkness spreads across the world, influencing people, it is unnoticed at first but then people start to declare for the shadow. With its 13 forsaken the dark one brought pain, suffering and war to the world. At the worlds darkest hour the Champion of the light, The Dragon, Lews Therin Thelamon leads an assault of male channellers on the dark ones prison and seals the dark one and the 13 forsaken in Shayol Ghul. The dark ones counterstrike before being locked away was to taint saidin, gradually the male channeller’s begin to go insane and thus begins the breaking of the world, continents split, mountains fall and rise and the world will never be the same.
3000 years have passed, the Aes Sedai now all female try to influence and keep peace in the world and track down any male channeller and still them before they go insane. 3000 years of a divided planet and agents of the dark preparing for their lords return. Prophecies declare that champion of the light, the dragon will be reborn. The dark one stirs again in shayol ghul, will the dragon be reborn to oppose him?
It pained me to put this in at 2 but you’ll see my reasons later. Also the dark not defeated fully and returning 3000 years later, hhhmm that sounds familiar. Jordan created an extensive world and history, it wasn’t just the age of legends and present, there was a massive history in between, from the trolloc wars to the rise and death of Arthur hawkwing, the kingdoms that were and are and a history behind each one. There’s an extensive history on the Aes Sedai after the breaking. There’s a stand alone book on the history of the world that goes into a bit more detail, particularly on the forsaken and how they were before and after the dark one was unleashed, it’s not necessary but i liked it, i loved the history so the more the better, one bit of advice, don’t pick it up until after book 7.
So 14 books, the smallest is around 800 pages. It’s mainly based around 3 boyhood friends, Rand, Matt, Perrin(seriously), one is the dragon reborn, one controls the dream world and one has the soul of a gambler\great general who’s been reborn throughout the ages. It’s not just about stopping the forsaken and dark one, there’s so much more going on, the 3 main characters have their own story arc which generally are memorable and have some great moments, but there’s also plots with many of the female characters, unfortunately most of these go on waaay too long, Egwene’s is about the only interesting story arc.
The bad guys, the forsaken, some of them are just badass. They all walked in the light before the Dark one was freed and the transformation was fascinating in some, Semirhage going from a world renowned healer to a sadist who tortured an entire city just to hear how people scream differently, Graendel an ascetic who turned to a life of excess and debauchery, Demandred a former general of the army of light, 2nd only to Lews Therin, who turned to the shadow out of petty jealousy and who feed an entire city to the trollocs for having slighted him when he was with the light. They’ve all got a great background. There’s not much on the dark one, it’s more of an entity than a person.
Throughout the whole series, there’s prophecies about the final battle, these are fascinating, the quote above is from the Karaethon prophecies. One of the things i looked forward to in the end was how these would work out and the word play. Early on in the book Rand, matt and perrin bump into Min, who’s a precog. She see’s visions of the future and i loved trying to figure them out and then watch them unfold throughout the series.
I could go on for ages on this series. i’ll just touch on the magic, Jordan didn’t go into the mechanics of the magic, it was just done, although there was some pretty amazing weaves\spells, balefire which erases someone from the time, the more powerful the weave the further in time they’re erased, all actions within that time are reversed, it’s used to some interesting effects throughout the series.
- The good : Matt Bloody Cauthon. Some beyond epic scenes, the waystone trip, Rhuidean, Dumai’s wells, the final battle all 400 odd pages of it, the prophecies\veiwings and how they all fit together. The world, the history, the lore. The forsaken, semirhage puts a chill down my spine, the graendel before and after the unleashing of the dark one. Balefire. The list goes on.
- The Bad : The waffling, for ever great chapter there was a yawnfest chapter, some plots were over played and although he had some great characters however the majority were pretty bland, Sandersons 2 characters from a Memory of light blew most of the dialogue from the previous books away. If you were one of the ones who stopped reading the series, I’ll bet you a cookie it was book 10.
- The Ugly : Semirhage, Jordan passing away was a tragedy but also a tragedy in that somethings were left unfinished, apparently he’d intended a follow up series finishing off some of the plots.
Overall : do your best to get past the waffle, trust me it’s worth it. It’s another series that you could read again and again, partially because you know what to skip but there’s a lot of things you’ll pick up on that you missed first time. Hands down its one of the best stories out there, it’s a pity it was let down by the waffle.
1 Steven Erikson’s Malazan book of the fallen.
““You stand before a god! Speak your eloquence for all posterity. Be Profound!”
“Profound … huh.” Temper was silent for a long moment, studying the cobbles of the alley mouth. And then he lifted his helmed head faced Shadowthrone, and said “F*** off.” “
““Kallor said: ‘I walked this land when the T’lan Imass were but children. I have commanded armies a hundred thousand strong. I have spread the fire of my wrath across entire continents, and sat alone upon tall thrones. Do you grasp the meaning of this?’
‘Yes,’ said Caladan Brood, ‘you never learn.” “
After years of Conquest that spans continents, the Malazan empire has finally been halted outside the city state of Pale by Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii along with Caladan brood and his crimson guard. The continent of Genabackis and it’s free cities have almost bleed the best of the Malazan dry. Whiskeyjack and his bridgeburners along with Malazan armies prepare for one final push.
Firstly i warn you, this is complex, it took me 3 attempts to get past page 300, he even warns you in the foreword. The synopsis is brief because there’s so much going on in the first book. The book starts off easy with a brief chapter then drops you into the middle of it 20 years later in the next chapter. There’s so many plots, characters thrown at you it’s overwhelming. However once you get your head around it, it is truly an epic series.
Erikson can do everything, he’s fantastic at dialogue, characters, plots and comedy. His magic is just crazy, while he doesn’t go into detail like Sanderson does, his magic system is immense and diverse.
There’s not one character in this series that is bland or the same. He has a colossal amount of characters throughout the series, there’s more gods than you can shack a stick at, there’s different species, there’s demons, beings from other dimensions even an Alien. Every single one is memorable, from the tough whiskeyjack, to the industrious Fiddler, the genius and hilarity of Tehol, the nympho undead pirate Shaala(the circumstances for this are amazing) and on and on and on. The dialogue has everything, from being insiteful, to hilarity to downright brutal(the good brutal).
Plotwise it’s immense by book 2 he splits off into 2 story arcs and goes back to each arc every 2nd book. By book 5 he introduces a new continent and a whole new set of characters and story arc and keeps rotating between the 3 until they come together and finish off in books 10. I have one bit of advice, if you’re reading this, have a tablet or a browser close by, because he’ll go back to a character or story that you might not have heard of in a few books.
- The Good : Everything, Tehol and Bugg deserve a sitcom, Shaala, Karsa Orlong, the dialogue, the world, i could go on all day.
- The Bad : It’s complex, he really throws you into the deep end but it’s worth struggling through.
- The Ugly : The crippled god and Shaala with some of the unique problems an undead might have.
Overall: Hell Yes.
“His fingers bleeding, his eyes red raw, AnAsalBeag looked at his work. It was finished. “Finally i am done and may the gods(fexd, e, cas) forgive me, and thus begins the spell and format checking” he half heartedly muttered to himself, 2 minutes later there was a scream and it went on and on into the night”
PS, a few others series worth checking out, Scott Lynch’s The Gentlemen Bastards, con artists\thieves in a fantasy setting. Robin Hobb’s Farseer books, told in the 1st person, interesting. Brent Week’s Night Angel and Prism books. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadow of the Apt.
Featured image via Elfwood by Chasity e ijames
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