De omnibus dubitandum
25 Jan 2012
The west is sliding towards economic disaster, our politicians are increasingly racist & homophobic, organised religion continues to force its Stone Age worldviews on the masses, the internet is being turned in to a restricted playground for corporate forces, and our continued reluctance to tackle global warming will mean your children will be truly and royally fucked by the time they’re our age.
So let’s indulge in some worthwhile escapism. Here are a few recommendations for fantasy novels that I’ve recently read:
Patrick Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind / The Wise Man’s Fear
A newcomer to the fantasy genre, Patrick Rothfuss’s debut novel The Name of the Wind and its sequel The Wise Man’s Fear are great wee tales. The protagonist is called Kvothe Kingkiller, a sorcerer of considerable reputation, and the books are basically the story of his life as told by Kvothe himself.
There are a lot of elements in these novels that have great promise, from the way magic works to the fae realm and its denizens. There are hints aplenty to the world’s long and chequered past as well as Kvothe’s own infamous deeds, but somehow the books never manage to convey a grand sense of scale. It all feels a bit confined and not quite as epic as I’d hoped.
Still, they’re very good books featuring a great leading character – though the supporting cast is very one-dimensional and needs work – and I’ll be buying the third instalment when it’s published.
Joe Abercrombie: Best Served Cold / The Heroes
Best Served Cold is the story of a female mercenary commander out to exact revenge on those who betrayed her, leaving nations destroyed in her wake. It is epic, gritty, and sometimes downright vicious, and I loved every single word of it.
The Heroes is about a single battle between armies of the Northmen and the Empire. While much more limited in time and geographical location, it somehow manages to feel every bit as epic – as if you are watching history being made. It’s even more violent than Best Served Cold (which is quite an accomplishment in itself) and is probably the finest fantasy (anti-)war novel you’ll ever read.
Richard Morgan: The Steel Remains / The Cold Commands
After a very successful string of science fiction novels, Richard Morgan decided to try his hand at writing fantasy. But Morgan being Morgan, it’s not just any fantasy. It’s fantasy as you’ve never read it before. I guarantee it.
For starters, a significant portion of his three main protagonists are gay – Ringil Eskiath is a homosexual warrior with a formidable reputation, and Archeth Indamaninarmal is a near-immortal lesbian descendant from a race of technologically advanced demi-gods. The third protagonist Egar Dragonsbane, a restless barbarian from the steppes, is positively mundane by comparison.
Not only is Morgan very good at characterisation, his world-building is also without equal. From the very first chapter you realise this is an old world – or, intriguingly, a potential young version of many different possible old worlds (you’ll need to read the novels for that to make sense, but trust me it’s a fascinating concept). Morgan also seems to have embraced Arthur C. Clarke’s edict that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, as much of the esoteric sorcery in these novels is probably – though not definitely – technology wielded by ancient post-human species.
Richard Morgan also manages to capture that ‘ageing warrior’ essence David Gemmell so adeptly channelled, and there are many more fascinating ingredients to these two novels that ensure he’ll continue to have a host of very loyal readers, myself among them. I can’t wait to read what comes next, and that is the highest praise I can give any author.