Archive for Epic Fantasy Books
This epic adventure has it all, vast harsh landscapes, dangerous bad guys who are beyond simple evil and beautiful mysterious girls. Beyond this, the YA fantasy has dragons, beautiful ones and we have the illustrations to prove it.
Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell are best known for their award-winning Edge Chronicles, so it is no wonder that this trio of stories is captivating and filled with memorable characters. If you are a fan of their original series, then this may be the time to check out their latest, The Wyremweald Trilogy.
A Western Setting for Epic Fantasy
Most epic fantasy tales have a more forest and castles type of setting. Although we get a taste of this at the beginning of the series when Micah, our young hero, is working at a farm in his home village we quickly leave this behind. For it is the Wyremweald, a vast desert outback, much like America’s Wild West, that calls to the boy. He ventures into the harsh and largely forgotten territory in search of “returner’s wealth”. It can be the egg of a great whitewyrme or a handful of gems, but either way it will be dangerous to procure and set you up for a life of luxury. He is determined to bring it back from the Wyremweald and win the hand of the local lord’s daughter.
But even that dream is soon lost in the wild country as we visit trading posts where a man can have his throat slit as easily as his boots stolen. Chris Riddell is like a painter, showing us the wild landscape that is every bit as important as the characters that populate it. It is almost unbearably hot and dry in summer, so cold in winter that the locals who do live here simply burrow into the earth until spring’s thaw.
And the locals do exist, though they are scattered across the land. We meet the desperate and the dangerous men (and a few women) who have chosen to come and seek their fortune. Mostly they do this through violence, including some quite horrific scenes where the dragons, called the wyrems here, are hunted mercilessly. Despite the dragons, this is not a series for young children, I will warn you.
That wyrems are sentient is obvious by their bonding with the kin, humans who have a unique connection and ride with the dragons to help protect them from the “two-skins” as they call humans who wear the skins of dead wyrems. For this trio of tales concerns more than just the humans who come looking for adventure in the Wyremweald. It is also a tale of the great herds of the many kinds of wyrems who live here, and their search for survival. Like the vanished buffalo of the old Wild West, I found myself wondering if man’s greed is even capable of letting such power and beauty survive.
The beginning of our epic adventure, we meet Micah as he makes the decision to leave his village and seek his fortune in the Wyremweald. Although 17, he is a bit of a dreamer and hardly ready for the harsh realities of this land. Close to death, he is rescued by Eli, a tracker who has grown accustom to the solitary life. In time, Micah shows that he is worth having along, and the quiet man finds himself warming to the boy.
Together they cross windswept country, visit hidden pocket canyons of grace and beauty and watch the sky for the wyrems. But when they find a kin, a companion of a great whitewyrem, they also become involved with saving a valued hatchling. The beautiful slender Thrace is kin, one who can never mix with others. And yet, there is an undeniable attraction between Thrace and Micah, one that can only in the end spell sorrow. Can they save the hatchling, protect the wyrme from the marauding poachers and still find themselves in this unforgiving land?
Originally released in a stunningly illustrated hardcover, this has been recently made available again, this time in paperback and a new kindle edition. If you are a fan of Paul Stewart’s art, the kindle edition does not do them justice, just a warning. It is really my only complaint of the series.
Disclosure: I received a copy of Returner’s Wealth through NetGalley.
Having survived the harrowing adventures of the first book, our heroes Micah, Eli and the wyrme-rider Thrace are holed up for the winter in Eli’s winter den. The winter cold outside is brutal, and even the most hardened of adventurers knows better than to venture out into it. But their actions have drawn the attention of an evil and dangerous group.
They have sent their assassin out to track the trio down to their den, and destroy it. Normally it would be impossible to convince anyone to leave the shelter of the deep caves and venture through this winter wasteland. But bloodhoney is a powerful blend of alcohol and potions that can make anyone attempt the impossible. It might even give them the ability to accomplish it. As the three friends settle in for a long winter hidden below ground, they may not be as safe as they think they are.
This is the final book in the epic adventure’s saga as everything that has gone before comes to a head. The wyrems are being hunted viciously by kith bandits who will stop at nothing to gain the treasured oil sacs within the throat of the great whitewyrems. The slaughter has grown enormous and although Micah and his friends have never stopped in their battle to protect the creatures, they feel it is a losing proposition.
But deep in the wilderness the leader of the greatest of the whitewyrme bands has called for war. They will fly away and desert the land no longer. Prepared to defend their homes, they are a formidable enemy to all. But can they surmount the terrible odds? And if they do, will they seek revenge on all kin and kith? The final battle is about to begin…
There are a few used copies of the hardcover edition for those who want to track down those illustrations. For the rest of us, the paperback (which is still quite nice) and the Kindle edition (which is more portable but forget trying to see those chapter illustrations) are still available from the nice folks at Amazon.
Finding great historical fantasy that lives up to its premise is never easy. If you find a book with an historical setting, I often find the fantasy elements disappointing. It is probably because the writer is more interested in the historical elements than the fantasy ones. But Anne Lyle’s series most definitely does not fall into that category. Her Night’s Masque Series, which began with Merchant of Dreams, have been such a treat to read.
Set in Elizabethan England, with a slight twist, she uses fantasy elements so naturally in her story that I found myself wondering if perhaps I had read my history wrong. Plus her characters are the kind you are delighted by. You know what I mean. You find yourself thinking about them and possible situations when you are walking around after reading the books. They seem to continue to live with you even after you have finished the story.
That is a good thing because I heard from Anne recently. She sent out another of her irregular but wonderful newsletters and the third book of the series I reviewed here back in January is soon to be out and available.
The Prince of Lies
Yes! That is the title of the third book of the series. If you have been following it, you will understand right away where this title comes from. But, I don’t want to interfere with anyone’s enjoyment of the series if you haven’t yet read it. Let’s just say that there are some characters that will make you not sleep so well at night. But then, there is so much mystery and fantastical characters in the books, it is not surprising that this one should show up.
Anne says that her final revisions are in, and so we can expect to see the book in October. In the meantime, here is the gorgeous new cover for the final book in the series – The Prince of Lies:
Meanwhile, Anne is working on a short story that takes place in that same world, just a few hundred years prior. I am hoping it will be something that will give us more about the Skraylings, those lovely alien creatures in her series. I am fascinated by them and by how completely alien yet relatable she has made them. Of course, I want to know more! At this point the story is titled “A Thief in the Night” and is being done for the BFS – British Fantasy Society’s publication. I will let everyone know if there are any plans to release it to a more general public.
So stay tuned and we will be letting you know more news from the authors we cover here as we hear them. Anne’s writing is beautiful, the art for her covers by the very talented Larry Rostant are amazing. Now all we need is to get that next book in our hands to read!
I think Terry Brooks is someone you either enjoy or you don’t. I don’t meet too many people who are just wishy-washy about the long running epic fantasy series he does or his style. That said; I have been enjoying his books, off and on, for about twenty years now. So I would have to say that I am biased when it comes to this new series: The Dark Legacy of Shannara. It is indeed a darker tale of the world of Shannara, where pretty much most of his books have taken place the last 25 years. Of the several series he does, it is my favorite. Perhaps because it is a continuation of the one he began with, so many years ago.
But don’t think that you have to have been reading it all along to enjoy this one. It is true that it might help to have read the book before this one in this series: Wards of Faerie. The short stories he recently came out with, and that we just reviewed in the article Short Stories – Paladins of Shannara, might help you to get a feel for the world he builds. But even if you didn’t, you quickly pick up the threads of what went before. You will simply have everything in place that much faster if you begin with Wards.
The First Quest of Bloodfire Quest
There are two stories here, and they interweave about half way through the book. Initially we are with Arlingfant Elessedil, who is one of The Chosen. What this means is she has been chosen to care for the Ellcrys tree. It is more than just a tree, for its elemental magic is what keeps all that is evil trapped in The Forbidden Land and the elves, humans, dwarves and other folk safe from them. But the tree is dying, and the barrier between the two lands is weakened as a result. She will need a brave soul who is willing to sacrifice their life to take her place, and she has chosen Arlingfant.
While Arlingfant struggles to find a way to accept this fate, and it is a huge struggle, she goes to her closest friend and sister Aphenglow. She confides in her sister and asks for her aid in a quest. It will be dangerous, and its success may well doom Arlingfant but save her world. Accompanied by the brave elf hunter Camprian they set off.
It is the struggle here that is central to the story, and it is a struggle we will see again on the other side of that barrier in the other story thread. For we soon discover that both of these struggles are about the call of sacrifice. In the end, we may find out that even that ultimate sacrifice does not guarantee that all ends as you wish. We see in the second quest that part of the deal is that you must be willing to sacrifice without knowing if what you do will succeed.
The Second Quest of Bloodfire Quest
I warned you this series is a dark tale; much more is at stake here. One of the things I like about The Dark Legacy of Shannara is that although it is still an epic fantasy tale, there is some very human darkness underlying it. The second thread, as you may have guessed, takes place in The Forbidden Land. Here, a band of elves continue a quest to find a mysterious set of stones. These may play a crucial role, no one is really sure.
The quest began in the first book and now turns tragic when the party is attacked. A group splits off and is led by the Ard Rys, Kyber Elessedil. They stumble into an entrance to the Forbidden Land that proves just how weak the protection has become. The land is filled with dangerous creatures and we watch the group try again and again to find their way back to that unknown opening between the lands. For they discover that attack from The Forbidden Land is imminent, and they must warn of it. How she can lead them and if she can find her way back becomes a more important question than any missing Elfstones.
Heroic Adventures and Strong Characters are Central
I think Bloodfire Quest reflects Terry Brooks love of high fantasy, of heroic deeds and strong women. It is his characters that continue to bring me back to his books time and time again. Even if you have never picked up one of his books, I venture that this one will make his world accessible to you in no time.
The story has a bit of a cliffhanger ending, not that surprising in a series. I am not a fan of this kind of ending, but somehow I forgive it far more in Brook’s books. It also doesn’t hurt that I was galloping along in the story, turned the page and was shocked to see that was it! Now I can’t wait to see just where the quests may turn.
If you love daring adventures filled with strong heroic men and women, this is a great one to delve into. Fantasy at its best takes us away from our lives, and few do it with such a sense of grand sweeping adventure as Terry Brooks. Yes, he does get bogged down in his descriptions from time to time. Yes he can sometimes be a bit floral in his language.
All things I can forgive because to me it is part of the charm of his writing. He has been called the greatest living inheritor of Tolkien’s storytelling, and I feel that he deserves it. If you love that kind of adventure and have never tried him out before; I say do so here. This new series may just be the perfect place to jump in.
Today we are going to take a look at Promise of Blood, a book by Brian McClellan that has been on my TBR (to be read) list ever since it came out last month. I am calling this my “oracle pick” list, and if you are like me you probably have a long list of books you read about and want to read. Well, some day when that giant pile gets whittled down to a reasonable level, at any rate. This is one of those books on that list.
If you have read your Greek mythology you know that an Oracle is someone who is good at revealing the future. In ancient Greece, if you were wondering whether a decision was a good one (an important one, mind you) you would go and ask the oracle. So – we are going to be your book oracle for the cool sounding books you may have missed along the way.
Promise of Blood is McClellan’s first novel, and from all appearances a great one. It is the start of a three part series that is one part epic fantasy and one part political/military thriller. If you like both of those genres, you should enjoy this one.
It begins with a coup that dethrones a king. The chaos that ensues is just one part of the story. The tale is told from three different perspectives: Field Marshall Tamas who engineered the coup, Adamat a private investigator who gives us more the everyman’s view and Tamas’s son Taniel.
Throughout the book is the mystery of why the king or Royal Cabal, should have said with his dying breath: “You can’t break Kresimir’s Promise”
What it means and how its significance could change the course of fortune is just the start of this adventurous story mixed with a mystery. There are mages to encounter, journeys to make and questions that need answers.
Soon events conspire to reveal things even gods shouldn’t know. There are rumors of strange happenings across the land. Some will have to deal with death and betrayal. In the end, while fighting enemies from both within his camp and from unseen outside forces, Tamas must find a way to the right solution.
As anyone who reads BestFantasyStories regularly probably knows, Robin Hobb is a favorite author in these parts. Her sense of wonder, her amazing characters and most of all her ability to take us all into her worlds have made her someone we return to again and again. We reviewed her Tawney Man trilogy with a great deal of delight here and looked at her wonderful Liveship Traders Series a while back before then.
It seems that we are not the only one to have enjoyed Robin Hobb and her writing. While it isn’t surprising that fantasy fans that enjoy many of the books here would also know and love Robin Hobb’s adventures, it is nice to find out for certain. We recently had a fan of the site on Twitter ask about other books like the ones Robin writes. Well, it is not the first time someone has asked this question, her books are pretty amazing. So here are some suggestions. Some are from your truly and some are from suggestions made on various fan sites. I think they are all great books. Enjoy!
Guy Gavriel Kay
Guy happens to be a favorite of mine. So when someone suggested his writing, particularly with his book Tigana, has a great deal of the character and feel that you get in Hobb, well I have to agree. This is especially true when it comes to the use of language. Here are two I think would be a great read for any Robin Hobb fan.
This may be a good place to start with, for this author. Although there is no actual magic in the story, this alternate world history has a magical feel to it that is hard to describe. The setting is basically 12th century Europe, more or less in Moorish Spain. Kay has always been amazing at setting up these worlds, and this one gets you into it very quickly.
We see two sides, if not at war they soon will be. There is, of course, plenty of intrigue. There are also some amazing women characters, especially Jehane the accomplished woman who is also the court’s physician. When two warriors, each from a different nation, meet and share a fate only the gods can say where it will lead. A story both subtle and daring, it is told in a way that will have you soon smelling the desert air.
Although definitely a shorter story, many believe it to be his best. In a classic tale of good versus evil that is somewhat reminiscent of Tolkien, we learn of a land destroyed but not forgotten. When war and grief cause a sorcerer to not only destroy a land, but erase its name, how do its people find their identity? Only the survivors even remember the name, and to everyone else, such a place never existed. How then to rebuild a life, find revenge, live with your memories?
A complex story that presents the question of what exactly evil is, for all people are capable of some kind of wrong. Each character reveals in their own way how they manage to cope with loss, accept their lives and yet find within it a way to perhaps move beyond the pain. Only Kay could pull off a story of such complex emotions and still have it ring true for the depth of characters.
Everywhere I looked online, when anyone talks of Robin Hobb, the book and author that comes up the most often is this one. I agree that it probably compares well to Assassin’s Apprentice by Hobb. It is the first book by Rothfuss, and for a debut novel it is a killer. Into the Waystone Inn comes a biographer of tales called The Chronicler. He somehow convinces the owner of the inn to tell us his tale, which in truth is the story of a man who has become legend in that land.
Raised by a traveling troupe of entertainers, left to deal on his own as a wild child of the city when his parents are brutally murdered, Kvothe is not an ordinary man. He tells of learning higher magic and his obsession to find the killers of his family. In time he would become the most notorious magician that this land has ever known. It is a riveting tale that introduces us to Kvothe and The Kingkiller Chronicles. If you don’t believe me, believe Robin Hobb, who wrote a glowing review of it for Amazon when it first came out.
While I would say that most barbarian sword and sorcery stories are not my cup of tea, Dave Duncan pulls it off well with this series. We are introduced to Wallie Smith, a very ordinary guy who suddenly finds he is waking up from an accident in another body. Not just in any body, mind you, but the body of a swordsman on a decidedly different world. Not just any swordsman either, he is the best swordsman in the whole land. Add the legendary sword to go with it and a mission from a goddess and you begin to understand the scope of the first book – The Reluctant Swordsman.
With The Coming of Wisdom we follow Wallie as he grows up, comes to understand his place in this world and in the end make some very important decisions. He may have been given a legendary sword, but now that magicians have returned he isn’t sure it has any value. While trying to fit into this world as well as teach it some values from his own, Wallie continues to be that hidden hero that brought him here in the first place. By the third book – The Destiny of the Sword, Willie finally is coming into his own. He has been handed a mission that if successful will probably end with not only dooming any hope of the world he is in advancing. It will probably doom his goddess as well. What is a hero to do?
There is more here than just the heroic tale and Duncan does it well. Questions of what idealism is or should be and how to deal with power are just the obvious choices. Like any good fantasy writer, there are at least two levels of story within the tales.
Raymond has been writing the series that this book begins for years, decades now. I should know, I read Magician (the original, now broken into two books) the year it came out when I first met Ray. The story grew out of a love of D&D, and role playing games. It may be why he has managed to keep it so amazingly fresh year after year. This story introduces us to Pug, the hero of the series. Here he is simply a kid, learning a trade. He is an orphan and has come to study magic.
But Pug is no ordinary kid, and the magic he does is no ordinary magic. He has a best friend, Thomas. Together they find themselves caught in a war when a rift opens between worlds. The Riftworld War will go on for several books, but if you ever wanted to read a series that truly channels the broad scope of universes at war while focusing on the individual loss and gains of a simple human being, this is the one.
I really do recommend reading this one as well as the second book in the series, Magician: Master. The original book, which was really long, was split into these two and Ray did the rewrites to make them work. There are elves and dwarves, magic and heroics. But there is also loyalty, friendship and love. More than twenty years have passed since I first read it and it still holds true. Now that is great writing.
If ever there was a writer who is destined to inherit the throne that Tolkien created, it is probably Terry Brooks. I know, there are many Tolkien fans (my brother amongst them) that would consider this statement to be heresy. But with Brooks’ books now numbering 23 New York Times bestsellers, I would say he is probably the single most followed epic fantasy writer around today. At least, that would be among the ones still alive.
While some may consider his writing verbose and over-done, he is widely followed and I for one have always found his adventure series to be a great deal of fun. Because if there is anything that I think Terry Brooks is great at doing, it is producing fun stories. His most beloved series, to my mind at least, is the Sword of Shannara series. It was his first effort, and although he has over the years swung back and forth between it and a few other series, he always seems to return to it. That to me says a lot about Terry’s affection for the characters. Believe me, that affection is greatly shared by many in the fantasy world, both writers and readers.
Terry Brooks, a Gentle Genius
I met Terry many years ago when we were both guests at some nameless fantasy convention. He has got to be one of the nicest folks. He and his wife Judine were just sweet kind people. Somehow, to have that confirmation that not only can he write entertaining fantasy but also be just a plain nice guy makes it even more enjoyable to read his work.
And that brings us to the two short stories I am reviewing here. They are done as part of the 35th anniversary celebration of the series. As anyone knows who reads this blog, I love short stories. They are just a great way to tell a character bit or introduce an idea, and they take very little time to read. They are a very different discipline from novel writing, and I happen to believe that they take a real writing skill to pull off successfully.
There is no room in them to gloss over poor characters or find a solution when you have written yourself into a corner. You gotta get in there, get it done and get out gracefully. When I discovered that Terry not only had a trio of short stories out but that they tie in to his Swords of Shannara series, it was not hard to convince me to read and review them. They won’t cost you much, less than a local bus ticket and certainly less than a cup of joe. But they will give you that little gulp of wonderful fantasy that can lighten up your day.
This is actually a great short story if you have not yet read Terry’s amazing Swords of Shannara series because it is an introduction to the first story. If you have read the series, you will recognize in it a story that all of us fans of the series have been asking Terry for years to write. In it we meet one of the most mysterious figures of the series, the Druid Allanon.
We learn the history of the sword, why it has so much power and how it came to be the weapon to destroy the Warlock Lord. We see parts of the druid’s character that will come to be hinted at in the series. The quest that Allanon is on is one that is crucial to the survival of all of the races. Here we see him at his best, working to find the solution that will lead him to the ultimate quest. It will be the quest that is told in the epic series Swords of Shannara.
You can download to your Kindle this great little story (sorry, we don’t have a link to a paper version) and curl up tonight with this wonderful introduction to Terry Brooks masterpiece Swords of Shannara.
Of all the heroic characters in the Swords of Shannara series, I think that Garet Jax has to be hands down the biggest fan favorite. And no wonder! He is a master of just about any weapon you can name, heroic in all the right ways and does not take his role lightly. Here we have a great little story that perfectly portrays why so many fans of Terry’s work have come to love the Weapons Master. While waiting for an assignment in a simple wooded glen, Garet is visited by a beautiful woman who begs him to come and aid her people.
They are in a city that is not only far away, but difficult to reach. He would be up against almost impossible odds and there is no real promise of reward. But true to his heroic nature, he agrees to come and help. What follows, what he discovers of the true nature of the city and the woman who brings him to their aid is what makes this such a satisfying little tale. If you have never read Swords of Shannara, this is another great introduction to the series.
Just like the other short story, you can download this one to your Kindle directly. Again, I don’t have a link to a paper version of it, though I have heard that in time Terry plans to collect all five short stories into a hardcover book. But if you want to read these now, I think the Kindle is your best bet here.
Just a sort note:
There is a third short story coming out soon that you can pre-order. It is part of this series and is called The Black Ibix. For those Terry Brooks fans who have been following the series, this story centers on Shea Ohmsford and some trouble he gets into due to Panamon Creel. No real surprise in that, is there? It will be out in June, so not long from now. If you want to pre-order so you can get it as soon as it comes out, you can do so here.
Also, Terry just completed Bloodfire Quest, the second book in the Dark Legacy of Shannara series. I am reading it now and will probably have a review for you of it in another week or so. So far, it is everything I love and expect from a Terry Brooks book and more. Can’t wait to tell you all about it!
The Black Prism by Brent Weeks is epic fantasy, a genre that is often over-wrought and under-written. Instead we get three beautifully crafted characters striving to survive in a world realized with grandeur and grit all at the same time. The plot is almost evil in its complexity, if it weren’t so much fun to get wrapped up in. Because believe me, you will get wrapped up in it.
Weeks brings us powerful wizards who wield light like a weapon. There is political intrigue that would make Machiavelli proud and secrets that could shatter a kingdom. All are just part of the pattern in this first book in Weeks latest fantasy adventure series.
The Black Prism’s Trio of Tales
The Black Prism starts with the view of young Kip, a worried and hungry boy soon caught up in a war he can’t even comprehend. Over the course of the book he will grow from a foolish awkward child to a young man who is just beginning to understand his own power and destiny. I love Kip because he is such a real person, with all their faults and sometimes whiney problems. That he overcomes his tongue-tied personality to become someone we go from feeling sorry for to someone we admire is one of the strengths of this fantasy novel.
From our child’s eye view of the chaos that is beginning to seethe in this land we then meet Gavin, the most powerful of all the weavers of light, called The Prism. He is also the central player for their religion, which brings more than a little complication to his life and the story. The deeper we get into his own thoughts and desires, the more we understand that he is so much more than the surface. I found I went from actually not liking him much at the beginning to quickly not only liking him but also rooting for him. He is a complicated and truly compelling character.
Brent Weeks switches views from chapter to chapter, but somehow I not only was never lost – I looked forward to seeing who we would meet next. He has the plot unravel slowly, layer by layer like an onion. Soon a shadowy third character is revealed, one that we know is pivotal to everyone, but also unseen. His existence could change the course of this world’s history, if it is ever revealed. The question is, by whom?
Secret Pain and Secret Love
We see the secrets that Gavin keeps, the pain that the boy Kip carries and the destinies that weave their lives together, piece by piece. It is a wonderful involved tapestry that pulls the reader in as we begin to unlock the keys to the characters and see the bigger picture.
There is even a romance. I loved how the history of the romance between Karris the Blackguard warrior and Gavin is hinted at in places. It reveals so much about each of them, and our shadowy character in the background. However it is more talked about and acts as the fulcrum for much of the action then actually being the action. Karris was not always a warrior, and this revelation gives more depth to her character. It helps us to understand how she has become the stuff of legends without seeming to be aware of it. I just know it is going to play an even bigger role in the next book, The Blinding Knife.
Of course, what would an epic story be without a few battles? All of our characters secret and not so secret lives soon lead to a rush to stop a madman and save a city. You can be sure that the climatic fight to hold on to and save the city of Garriston will have more than a few twists and turns to it. This is where, I think, Brent Weeks really shows his stuff. I could picture the work that Gavin does to save the city; along with the sweat and fear everyone was experiencing.
But it is the battles within, for each of the three characters that truly shape this start of a great new fantasy series. The conflicts, the rumors, the need for acceptance and the heartfelt desire to be a better person, are all shown here. The characters are human and complicated, the conflicts grow as we come to understand these characters and what makes them tick.
Building the Epic Adventure
I frequently found myself in one of those “a-ha!” moments while reading The Black Prism. It comes when you see what Weeks was driving at with this particular character arc, and loved it for where it went. The doors those moments can open makes this particular epic fantasy tale such a treasure.
So grab your own copy of The Black Prism by Brent Weeks on Kindle or in paperback or even a hardcover at a bargain price, and join me in a great adventure. I am already hip deep in the next book of the series, The Blinding Knife and hope you will come around to read my comments on it next week. This promises to be a heck of a series!