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The author that introduced me to an ongoing love of fantasy books, David Eddings, passed away on Tuesday 2 June 2009, at the age of 77. Eddings’ two most popular series, the Belgariad and the Malloreon, are still two of the most popular bildungsroman series written, and haven’t been out of print since they were first published back in the early 1980s. The series is still one of my favorites, and holds a very special place in my heart.

[David's publisher, Jane] Johnson said he would be missed “tremendously” at HarperCollins, which published his last title, The Elder Gods, in 2006. “He was a towering force of modern commercial fiction, a master of the epic, and a delight to work with,” she said. “The Voyager team and I were immensely sad to hear the news.”

My condolences to David’s family. The world of literature is far, far poorer for the loss.

[Link: The Guardian - Fantasy master David Eddings dies aged 77]

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Such a weird day for news. Turns out that, unlike certain games becoming books, certain books are now becoming games. George R.R. Martin’s excellent Song of Ice and Fire series has been opted for a video game. Expect the game to look and feel a lot like Oblivion and other such WJRPGs.

My feeling about books-turned-games is that sometimes it works, as was with the well-acclaimed and award-winning Betrayal at Krondor. And when it works, it works beautifully. Other times, not so much. The problem is usually that the game director has a vision of the book that doesn’t sit well with the popular readership vision, and then things get ugly. Many of these games fall by the wayside, no matter how good they are (see the Dragonlance, Shannara or Wheel of Time games, for examples), and some of them reach acclaim as video games, but aren’t as well known as books (see I have no mouth and I must scream for example).

Anyhow, I’ll wait and see if this game blips on the radar again, which may mean it could be worth taking note of…or not.

[Link: Kotaku - Game rights snagged for George R.R.Martin's Song of Ice and Fire]

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Good news for all you Elder Scrolls and Oblivion fans. Turns out that Bethesda are releasing a book set in the Elder Scrolls universe. The book, to be penned by famed author Greg Keyes, takes place after the events of Oblivion.

The Infernal City is set after the events of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion®, the latest game in the video game series, and finds the citizens of Tamriel once again facing an uncertain future. Floating high above the land is a strange and mysterious city that is casting a horrifying shadow – wherever it falls, people die and rise again as undead. It is up to an unlikely duo – a seventeen-year-old girl named Annaig and the Emperor’s young son, Prince Attrebus – to rescue the kingdom from doom. Annaig and Attrebus’ quest will take them through the Elder Scrolls universe and their adventure is sure to add to the series’ already magnificent mythology.

Sounds awesome.

[Link: Lazygamer - Elder Scrolls novels announced]

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Gravity’s Rainbow

Tyrone Slothrop, a GI in London in 1944, has a big problem. Whenever he gets an erection, a Blitz bomb hits.

Has anyone read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon? Should I get it?

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Day of the triffids

Today I received the book “day of the triffids” from amazon.

This is the front cover:

Lucky me, my book’s cover picture isn’t obscured by the text box, so I get the full monty. Pray, tell me how disturbing is this image! I can guarantee you that I am not thinking “plant spores” or “walking plants” when I look at this image!

Now, imagine: you are walking down a high street, whistling, and then you turn the corner and see … this! Coming towards you! What do you do? And does your answer depend on how big this is?

I think, given previous exposure to ronald macdonald and disney characters on street corners, I would take this in my stride and figure it’s a marketing campaign. Which makes me wonder – I need to read this book in context of the when (let’s use Dark Tower terminology here); I don’t think we have the same fears today. Today, thanks to Bush, the west is afraid of “terrorists”; which now leads me to another thought: If I was in the Middle East, would I also be afraid of “terrorists”, as defined by Bush? Triffids seem to classically simple now.

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Satan in Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost by John Milton is an enthralling and amazing epic poem. Yes, it tells of the battle between Heaven and Hell in glorious detail. And yes it tells how Adam and Eve lose paradise. But, just as moving for me, was how someone else lost paradise and lamented that horrible loss in beautiful prose: Satan.

The devil made him do it

It’s not often that you sympathise with the devil and even side with him (unless you’re an Al Pacino fan in The Devil’s Advocate). But reading Paradise Lost, it’s hard not to.

There’s a heroic feel about the way he goes up against heaven and how he dares to challenge his creator who seems to mock him endlessly. There’s a beauty in the battles that he wages with himself and his maker and how his ambivalence about causing the downfall of humanity makes you want to curse him in one verse and cheer him on in another.

And as you feel Adam’s shock and sadness when he sees Eve eating the fruit and drops the wreath he made for her, you wonder if the devil isn’t silently shedding a tear — both for Adam and Eve and for himself. Because the fledgling war between heaven and hell signalled another paradise lost for the angels of heaven. Now they would forever battle, the outcome seesawing between them and never able to return to the joy of days when they celebrated their existence and creator together.

Satan seems all so human.

At last, I made it

As some may know, this was my 3rd attempt at the book and without a doubt I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite a couple of overlong passages weighed down by an obscene amount of Greek and Roman mythology and Biblical references (but that’s probably because I didn’t know most of them). I did do a semester of Greek Mythology at varsity, but this was ridiculous.

It took me a while to finish the book, having to get used to the prose while commuting on the bus and tube. Once you do get into it, though, it flows smoothly and you start singing along with the meter unwittingly. It’s also a bit difficult at first to get into the language, although modernised, but once in you don’t want to get out. It’s a bit like hearing a song the first time that you really dislike and after a couple of hearings you find yourself putting it on your top playlist (I’m sure “Umbrella” by Rihanna comes to mind here for some people?).

My favourite scene is when Satan, just after tricking Adam & Eve, meets up with Death and Sin and tells them to go “prepare” things for him and his cronies. They merrily oblige and start organising things on Earth for the next big bash. Classic.

I can’t vouch for its accuracy and Adam does seem a tad bit dismissive of Eve at regular intervals (her being so “good with domestic affairs”), but it’s a brilliantly told story and really a fantastic read. It’s a bit of effort, but a paradise of payoff.

Quotes

I’ll end off with some of my favourite quotes:

Meanwhile inhabit lax, ye powers of heaven

– An angel telling Adam & Eve to relax and take a chill pill

The old favourite:

Thus Belial, with words clothed in reason’s garb, counseled ignoble ease, and peaceful sloth, not peace.

– Announcing Belial, the smooth-talking, car-salesman demon.

And my favourite:

How few sometimes may know, when thousands err.

– And the thousands never want to ask the few either

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I’m a huge lover of fantasy novels. My personal library at home is stuffed to the gills with them, so it was with great interest that I read a post at List Universe about 10 great fantasy series. The rules of the list were that the series must be complete (there’s one cheat in the list because of one book to be released in 09, but we can probably let it slide), which is to say, no further books must be forthcoming in the series, and the series must span more than one book. So this eliminates Pratchett’s Discworld series quite neatly, as brilliant as it is. Because it’s a list of fantasy novels, it also eliminates Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series and Herbert’s Dune series. (In case you’re interested-and to prevent you from shouting at me for missing a series-the list covers the following series: His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman; The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud; The Belgariad and the Mallorean by David Eddings; The Riftwar and Serpentwar sagas by Raymond Feist; Incarnations of Immortality by Piers Anthony; The Saga of Recluse by L.E. Modesitt, Jr; Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling; The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis; The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan; and the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.) So, without further ado, here’s my own list that adds to the list at the List Universe.

10. The Elenium and the Tamuli

The EleniumThe Tamuli

David Eddings’ second series was never quite as popular as his groundbreaking Belgariad/Mallorean series, but that was most likely becuase people were expecting another Belgariad. The Elenium (comprising The Diamond Throne, The Ruby Knight, and The Sapphire Rose), and its sequel series, the Tamuli (comprising Domes of Fire, The Shining Ones, and The Hidden City), however, stood up as excellent reads in their own right. The series follows the adventures of a knight, Sparhawk, as he tries to cure a poisoned Queen Ehlana. The Tamuli continued the adventures of Sparhawk and his friends into the Tamuli kingdom. The series mythos is built around that of the medieval church, and makes for some fine reading. If you’re not comparing this series to the Belgariad/Mallorean, you’ll like it just fine.

9. The Dark is Rising

Dark is Rising

Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series (comprising Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; and Silver on the Tree), although published back in the 1960s and 1970s, still stands as an excellent series of books based around the Arthurian mythos. The books introduce a series a children who are caught up in the fight between the Light and the Dark. The key character, Will Stanton, only makes his first appearance in the second book, but the series is well written, and an enjoyable read. A film version of the second book was created, but many of the events therein were changed significantly from the books. My suggestion is to stick to the books for now!

8. The Braided Path by Chris Wooding

Chris Wooding’s Braided Path series (comprising The Weavers of Saramyr, Skein of Lament, and The Ascendancy Veil) follows the adventures of Kaiku as she tries to understand the reason why her family was murdered. The series feels as if it were set in a fantasy version of feudal Japan, and it’s clear that Wooding has done his homework. The books are compelling fantasy, and I found it hard to to put the series down until I was done with it.

7. Mode series by Piers Anthony

 

Piers Anthony’s work is always enjoyable and highly compelling reading, but one series he wrote that stood out for me was his Mode series (comprising Virtual Mode, Chaos Mode, Fractal Mode, and DoOon Mode). The series dealt with many complex issues such as suicide, rape, gender issues, environmental issues…the list goes on. At the center of the complex collection of characters is Colleen, a suicidal teenager who falls in love with Darius, a man from another reality. The series introduces a number of alternate realities and strange characters such as Burgess, a character from an alternate Earth where the bizarre creatures in the Burgess layer had survived evolution. Colleen and her friends make their way across the many different worlds and realities to try getting back to Darius’s home. It gets weird, and the issues might be a little uncomfortable, but it’s an awesome read.

6. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams

Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series (comprising The Dragonbone Chair, The Stone of Farewell, and To Green Angel Tower, which was published in paperback as Siege and Storm) follows the adventure of the kitchen boy Simon as the world of Osten Ard is torn apart by war (when ISN’T it?). The series draws upon several types of mythologies from around the world. The title of the series refers to three legandary swords, the only hope that anyone has against the evil Kings bent on destruction.

5. The Farseer trilogy and the Tawny Man trilogy, by Robin Hobb

The Farseer and Tawny man series follow the adventures of FitzChivalry Farseer, a royal bastard who is trained as an assassin. The area of the world that the story takes place in, called the Six Duchies, is under attack by raiders from the sea, and it’s eventually up to Fitz to help stop the attacks. Set some years after the first series, the Tawny Man series describes Fitz’s adventures with the new prince, who first is kidnapped, and the who’s betrothed refuses to marry him unless he sets off on a daring quest, assisted by Fitz. Much of the charm in Hobb’s books is due to the insightful nature of her writing. Her characters are complex and multifaceted. The plots aren’t as world-shaking as other series, but the books are highly entertaining nonetheless.

4. The Last Rune series by Mark Anthony

 

The Last Rune series (comprising Beyond the Pale, The Keep of Fire, The Dark Remains, Blood of Mystery, The Gates of Winter, and The First Stone) is about two people from this reality, Travis Wilder and Grace Beckett, who journey, intially independently, to a world called Eldh. There they eventually face off against the Pale King, with Travis and his wild magic, and Grace and her nature magic. The series uses mostly gaelic and northern mythologies, and runes play a powerful part in the story.

3. The Secret Texts by Holly Lisle

 

The Secret Texts series (comprising Diplomacy of Wolves, Vengeance of Dragons, and Courage of Falcons) follows Kait Galweigh, a dplomat in training for House Galweigh. Kait has a secret, that she has an alternate wolf form, and this could cause her to be ostracized. When her family and home are destroyed by rival family, House Sabir, she sets out to get revenge. It turns out, however, that things are more dire than she thought, and eventually she will have to try saving the world. Ms Lisle writes a heart-thumping story, and the fate of the Galweighs and Sabirs makes for a wonderful story with some inventive magics built in.

2. The Quickening by Fiona McIntosh

The Quickening (comprising Myrren’s Gift, Blood and Memory, and Bridge of Souls) is seriously one of the most innovative and brilliant series I’ve read in a long time, and it says something that it’s very seldom that a series take me quite by surprise as much as this one did. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the twists and turns of the story, but it should be safe to say that it follows the adventure of Wyl Thirsk, the last of his line, as he tries to achieve justice in the most unlikely of ways. It’s sheer brilliance, and McIntosh writes some brilliant plots and characters together. I recommend this series very highly indeed!

1. The Old Kingdom by Garth Nix

Nix’s Old Kingdom series (comprising Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen) deals with the two worlds of Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom. The two are separated by a wall, and while magic works in the Old Kingdom, technology is what drives Ancelstierre. The stories take place mostly in the Old Kingdom, with some forays into Ancelstierre. Sabriel follows the adventure of a girl of the same name, when her father, the Abhorsen-a necromancer-dies and passes on the tools of his trade to her. Lirael, set some years after Sabriel, follows the adventures of Lirael and Sabriel’s son, Sameth as they try to stop an invasion of the dead into both the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre. The final book, Abhorsen, is a direct sequel to Lirael, and completes Lirael and Sameth’s journey. What I found completely brilliant about the series is the nature of Nix’s imagination: he dreams up wonderful stuff, and the books infuse you with a sense of wonder. Rare for a book to do that to me these days, but Nix certainly carries it well. It’s well worth the read, and will keep you entertained for quite a while.

Honorable mentions:

These series aren’t in the main list because they’re incomplete, and if I’d allowed these series in, I’d certainly have to shift some others out, or create a top 20 list!!

1. Keys to the Kingdom by Garth Nix – only six of the seven books in this brilliant series have been published as yet

2. Exiles by Melanie Rawn – It’s been more than 10 years since Rawn wrote the second book in the series, and has been promising the third one for a while now, but nothing happening as yet!

3. Shannara and Knight of the Word – there are several Shannara series, but Terry Brooks isn’t done, and apparently his new series links the Shannara and Knight series together. I’m keen to see how this all works out!

4. Dragonlance – Dragonlance is still an ongoing series spanning a heck of a lot of books. This series deserves a blog post of its own!

5. Forgotten Realms – likewise with Dragonlance!

So…let me know what you think. What have I missed? Are there any series that shouldn’t be here? If so, why?

[Link: List Universe - 10 Great Fantasy Book Series]

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