The moose has been reading a few fantasy novels lately, the first time in many years. While in many ways this is the psychic equivalent of staying in bed with the covers over my head, it has been an enjoyable process.
Went online and snooped around for recommendations. Seems the field has developed a bit in the last decade. Read, in order of availability from library:
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Tightly plotted, consistently entertaining, refreshingly nasty. An impressive debut novel by any standards. Essentially the tale of the ultimate con man in a fantasy context. The hero, Lamora, can’t fight for shit, which makes for a fun dynamic. Quick wits and acting are his forte. The scale works well – one large complex city with messy factions, horror and brutality – and magic, on the rare occasions when it appears, is genuinely disturbing. The dialogue is modernised – no ponderous stretching after high fantasy – which really appeals. (Hey, it’s amazing when Eddison does it, but most don’t have the knack.) When the hero can say things like “Now cut out that bastard’s fucking tongue” – and mean it – something has grown up. Possibly the most straight out pleasurable read of the bunch, as it has a much greater emphasis on the humourous side, though definitely harshly tempered with ouchie ouchie nastiness.
Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erickson
Holy shit. I am a little jealous of what this guy has done – single-handedly redefining epic fantasy, injecting it with a post-modern sensibility and pure scale that is a little awe-inspiring. Getting away from the excessively clear cut Good vs Evil motif and muddying the waters is something traditional fantasy desperately needed – and i realise it has been seeping through – but this feels like a benchmark. The world is dense, dark, and complex; rich with history, positively drowning in chaotic magics, with always a new level of freaky weirdness beyond what has been revealed. A world where men can become Gods, where Gods interfere in the lives of men, where magical dimensions intersect, and it really doesn’t matter how badass you are, there is something out there that can tear your face off and use it for toilet paper. Great characters going through the wringer. So many races, cultures, factions; so much murder, betrayal, double-dealing, and pyschological devastation… yup. Impressed. And he can write pretty well. There’s a real philosophical angle behind the scale, brought out by emotionally aware and mature characters. I’d definitely recommend Gardens of the Moon to anyone into fantasy, and even those who are just curious and want a good read. It’s a little confusing at first, but holy crap does it deliver, and keep delivering. Pretty much no guarantees on who will live and die, or what fates worse than death will befall them. Also a plus is that it is completely satisfying as a standalone novel, which is handy at the size Erickson churns them out.
The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
The first volume of the Prince of Nothing took Bakker 15 years to write. It’s pretty damn extraordinary. Anasurimbor Kellhus is basically the most interesting, philosophically fascinating, and flat out ballsy (to undertake the writing of) fantasy character I think I’ve ever seen. Across the board, the characters, the intrigue, the world, are excellent. What really pulls me in, personally, is the philosophical resonance. Kellhus is somewhere between a genuine adept (or Conscious Man) and a babe in the woods. His power is awareness; the question is what does one do with the freedom accorded one who is aware and awake in a world of sleepers?
I really like the way this book goes about things. How many books would follow a character like Drusus Achamian, theoretically one of the most powerful magicians around, and never show him using any magic? The world is a curious analogue of our own, with its religious wars and the specifics of the time scale and its history. The bad guys are kept mostly in the wings. We are aware they are present but rarely see them or their works. Humanity is the focus – the desires, drives and flaws of characters as they vie for worldly ends – and the way those drives are dwarfed by the horrors they unleash.
Biggest bummer is it is in no way a stand alone novel. If you start this journey, you’re going to need to read the next two books. Excellent stuff.
Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erickson
Second of the Malazan Books of the Fallen. The full scale of the epicness becomes clear. Set on a different continent, in another war, with a cast drawn unexpectedly from minor characters and rumours from Gardens of the Moon, a long, hot, nasty desert tale unfolds. We learn a lot about the history of the world, and the tangled fates of certain characters. Nothing is what it seems. Much becomes clear. More becomes unclear. There are no fixed poles in this book, just people struggling to find meaning in the face of horror, to make choices in an unforgiving world, and flat out struggling to stay alive, because in the end what else is there? And any book where a powerful character can turn his back for a moment, and, without warning, another character turns into a flood of rats and eats him in a couple of seconds has something going for it. But yeah. Breathtaking scope and invention. Seriously. The mind boggles trying to hold it all. I wonder how much of this he knew in advance and how much was retrospective juggling? Still, requiring some dedication to get through at this point, 900+ pages? May do another of them, but probably not anytime soon, though the series is an obvious towering masterwork of the field.
Currently reading The Warrior-Prophet, book two of The Prince of Nothing. Vaguely planning on reading the first book of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire sequence, since that has been talked up a bit too, and I think I actually have it in a box somewhere. Is there anything else out of the last decade of fantasy that is particularly noteworthy? It’s about that long since I’ve paid any attention…