Thursday, October 11, 2007

Epic fantasy recommendations

This is a PSA of sorts.

Over on EE's blog, robin s, our regular reader here, asked for recommendations of epic fantasy books because she's not familiar with the genre. EE did respond to her, but I thought we might have a longer discussion here without cluttering his blog. Anyway, here are my thoughts:

J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy (same names as the movies) is to epic fantasy what Jane Austen is to romance -- the touchstone to which all else relates. They are very good, but his writing style leaves many cold. Do you mind long breaks in the narrative for songs about elven legends? They are intentionally old-fashioned in style even for when they were written, whic is the 40s and 50s. The earlier "The Hobbit" might be okay as an intro to everything, but it isn't quite as epic in scale as LOTR. Still, it might be a good starter.

Other famous series that are "in the vein" of Tolkien are David Eddings' Belgarian series (5 books starting with Pawn of Prophecy, I think) and Piers Anthony (he did the Black Cauldron, right?). However, these might be more for the younger crowd. Similar young crowds often read Terry Brooks' Shanarra series, but there are like 40 of them now, and I'm not sure which is first. The normal trope is that a farm boy through prophecy or happenstance is whisked away to save the world from an ultimate evil.

Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time is one of the most popular now in the Tolkienian pattern, but it's something like 12 books, each over 600 pages, and there's no denying that it drags. Also, Jordan unfortunately passed away just a few weeks ago, and so we may never find out if the hero dies or not.

Other possibilities include: Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series. The first one, which is titled something like The Queen's Arrow kicks off the series and stands up pretty well on its own. It's not epic in the sense that the heroine must destroy the great evil lord living in a volcano, but it's a good fantasy novel. Similar classics include The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey, which is both fantasy and sci-fi at once.

More recent authors might be Elizabeth Hayden and Sara Douglas. N has read both of those, and I believed liked the Hayden books the best.

That's all I can think of for now. In short, The Hobbit, Queen's Arrow, or Elizabeth Hayden might be my recommendations.

What do other people who are far better read than me think?


Mamaebeth said...

I like the Raymond Feist books. The first one is magician Apprentice. There are several in the "series" but the books are written in trilogies and quartets. and i think there is one or two stand alone books, which is kind of nice since the plot lines of the main characters gets resolved by the end even if there are unresolved issues that may or may not get covered later.

i have alot more fantasy books i highly enjoyed, but they aren't in the epic catergory.

Robin S. said...

Hey paca,

Thanks for doing this! I'll be paying attention - I'll hold up on my Amazon order, as I may add a few more.

I feel inadequate to comment when fantasy queries come up on EE's blog, which made me realize I've got a lot to learn in this area.

I have to say - I liked the LOTR movies - but I tried and failed to read the books. That was years ago - but they aren't my style of prose.

I really enjoyed The Mists of Avalon.

The Dragonriders you mentioned - is that a stand alone novel? That might be a good one to add. And Buffy mentioned the Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Anyone here read that?
That seems like a good idea for a primer as well.

Question, please: Is anything considered trite or overdone in this genre, or is it like anyting else, all down to the prose and quality of the work?

pacatrue said...

Hi -e. I think Feist is a good recommendation. I say this just because N read them and enjoyed them as well. I really don't read all that much fiction, actually.

The Dragonriders of Pern, robin s. Yes, I think it is a stand-alone book. There have certainly been many, many other books in the same world since then. There's a new Pern book every couple years for around three decades now. However, I believe the first one did have a complete story by itself. It's not epic / heroic in the sense of Feist / Tolkein / Eddings, etc., but it's a very popular fantasy series.

Has anything been overdone in the genre? The two best candidates in my mind are Tolkien copies and dragons. Dragons are as ubiquitous in fantasy as vampires in paranormal. I can't imagine there's much else to say about either, and yet people keep buying both vampire and dragon books. So I guess it must come down the story and writing. Similar with Tolkein copies. There are series after series of farmboys going to fight the demon lord in the scourged volcanic land, but I think people still buy them.

Ello said...

Piers Anthony black cauldron? No! Piers Anthony did the Xanth magical land series - the first one A Spell for Chameleon was my favorite - it was so funny.

I love the Black Cauldron books but that was Lloyd Alexander with the Chronicles of Pyrdain series. which was awesome. The other one I heavily recommend is Ursula LeGuin's series on the Earthsea. A Wizard of Earthsea is the first and it is an awesome series. Of course Tolkien is king with Lord of the Rings but start with the Hobbit first!

As you can see - I love fantasy! I loved the dragons of perth novels also.

Ello said...

And I totally forgot Diana Wynne Jones whose magic Crestomanci series was so awesome!!

And Howl's MOving Castle is the best book!

pacatrue said...

I was just investigating Wynne's work this afternoon, which then got me to reading all the wikipedia entries about Hiyao Miyazaki and Studio Gibli and how amazing all that work is. And that I STILL haven't seen Graveyard of the Fireflies yet. I left the entries thinking, "that's it! I'm going to go rent all of their movies and watch them all again!"

Anyway, I digress.

Thanks for clearing things up about Xanth and Pigboy, ello.

Mamaebeth said...

there are also the books written by that kid. Eragon was the first, and i think Eldest was the second. there is supposed to be a third to come. it is pretty good, but basically LOTR, Star wars and a little bit of Wheel of Time all smashed together and written by a (talented) teenager.
i enjoyed both books though.

Ello said...

You haven't seen Grave of the Fireflies yet?!!!! OK - before you do, make sure you have a box of kleenex next to you. It is really really a tearjerker, even for macho men.

Also, Studio Ghibli did Howl's MOving Castle, but really different from the book. I liked it, but I love the book much better. FYI.

Robin S. said...

Wow, you guys-

I've gotten a lot of good ideas.

OK - I'm going to read up.

And thanks!

Sammy Jankis said...

I'm late to the game, but I would also throw Dave Duncan's series, "A Man of His Word" and possibly the follow up "A Handful of Men" (four books each). They follow the "farm boy" myth pretty closely and are probably one of my favorite fantasy series. I don't think they are well-known, though.

I'd also add in Fred Saberhagen's "Books of Swords" series. There were originally three Books of the Swords, followed later by eight Books of the Lost Swords. I don't know how much they would hold up over time to me now, but I really enjoyed the series as a teen and I see them show up time and again on fantasy fiction sites.

pacatrue said...

Thanks for all the recommendations, everyone. I got some good ideas for my next summer from this as well.

And, Sammy, sorry about the purple and yellow.

Melantha said...

You write very well.