Tuesday, March 2, 2010

fantastic fantasy series

Niki Bruce reviews the latest round-up in long-running fantasy series.
THERE are a number of long-running fantasy series that have kept readers enthralled for years. This is a particular quirk of the genre and one of the things that ensures that fantasy will be a mainstay of publishers around the world. In the last couple of months there have been a number of new installments released and here's a bunch of brief reviews to keep fans happy.

Chasing the Dragon by Justina Robson (Gollancz)

THE story of Lila Black continues. She's back in the human world of earth, having left her demon husband behind in Hell after he went missing during their trip to the further reaches of the various dimensions. Lila is also looking for her lover, Zal. He's dead but apparently that doesn't mean she can't find him and save him. At the same time, Lila's reconstituted body — still partially human but mostly a self-evolving robot — seems to have a mind of its own, changing and adapting without any conscious input from Lila. In Lila's world, a "quantum bomb" has allowed the various dimensions of the universe to fuse together and overlap and as Lila attempts to find her men, she comes to realise that changes are still happening years after the bomb detonated. Robson's world is completely unique, and if you haven't read the first books it is kind of difficult to know what's going on. Still, this is a fantastic blend of romance, religion, science, magic and fantasy and well worth getting into.

The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Orbit)

THE untimely death of Robert Jordan in 2007 saw fans of his epic The Wheel of Time series around the world completely devastated; after all he was in the process of writing the absolutely final installment in a series that has gone on for almost 20 years. Sanderson came to the rescue by invitation of Jordan's wife, Harriet McDougal. The Gathering Storm is actually the first book of three that will make up A Memory of Light — the final book of the series. As someone who's only dipped into the series on and off over the years, I'm hard pressed to find a definitive difference between the writerly voice of Jordan and Sanderson. Dedicated fans, however, may be able to pinpoint small differences. But for the general reader, this book continues the encompassing story of Rand al'Thor and his friends, lovers and enemies as they attempt to save the world from the Shadow. The characters are as they have always been, the convoluted plots as difficult to understand as always, the various alliances, loves and betrayals are there, as are the cryptic hints of how the story will play out. The joint-venture has generally been accepted as being successful by fans and critics and as such, will at least eventually bring the series to an end. Like most of these long-running series, there really is no way a new-comer will manage to enjoy this book without know something of what's going on. The Wheel of Time is a must-read series if you're into fantasy novels, so I recommend you start at the beginning and save this for last.

The Silver Mage by Katharine Kerr (Harper Voyager)

THIS is the seventh book in the Dragon Mage series from Kerr, an author whose fictional world of Deverry has spellbound readers of all ages for decades. Kerr is often described as a "scholarly writer" and her dedication to ancient Celtic myth, history and culture has been the backbone of all her Deverry novels. Again, like all of these long-running series, it's hard to keep track of who's who and what's what in The Silver Mage — even more so because Kerr's characters are almost always reincarnations of previous characters — apart from the elves and a few mages who manage to live for hundreds of years. Still, those following the series won't be disappointed. Kerr's renowned action and detailed plotting continue to astound — it amazes me how she keeps it all together — and the enemy Horsekin continue to harass the grasslands. The circle of time is closing once more and the plot lines are beginning to finally come together. Another great installment in the series.

A couple of newer series:

The Final Empire & The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson (Gollancz)

THESE are books one and two in Sanderson's Mistborn series. Sanderson (as mentioned above) has taken up the gauntlet of Robert Jordan's final The Wheel of Time series and you can clearly see where his credentials to do so come from in these books. The Final Empire starts with a world that's covered in ash and mist, separated into the Skaa, slaves, and the nobles who master them, and ruled over by an undying Lord Ruler. The Lord Ruler supposedly saved the world from; well a fate worse than the one they currently suffer presumably. But a small band of Skaa are planning a revolution and they have the help of a Mistborn — a person who can use certain metals to give them the power to be faster, stronger, smarter than ordinary people. The thing is, the Mistborn should only be nobles, but this one is Skaa. The second book follows the story of the Skaa as they try to take over the running of their kingdom after the death of the Lord Ruler — but they finally realise that they may of bitten off more than they knew; apparently the evil, repressive Lord Ruler really was protecting the world from something even worse. This is a tightly-written, well-plotted storyline with believable characters. It's clear what Jordan's wife saw in Sanderson, he's an authentic fantasy voice and writes a great read.

The Wounded Guardian & The Risen Queen by Duncan Lay (Harper Voyager)

LAY has created a classic fantasy world with a flawed hero, an idealistic princess, manipulative nobles and a smidgen of magic in The Dragon Sword Histories series. In The Wounded Guardian we meet Martil, a career soldier haunted by an event that is both his greatest battle and his worst nightmare. Known as the Butcher of Bellic, Martil is attempting to leave his name and history behind when he is tricked into taking care of a young girl. Against his will he's dragged into both protecting the girl and offering his services to a beleaguered princess about to lose her throne to evil relatives. In The Risen Queen, Martil is still tied to Queen Merren and his ward, Karia emotionally, but the burden of continually being identified as the Butcher of Berric is twisting his thoughts and he feels that he both needs to escape his current position as the bearer of the Dragon Sword, as well as his love for the Queen and his "adopted" child. These are classic fantasy tropes of anti-hero, sacrificial love and the burdens of responsibility. However, Lay has such a deft way of writing that one cares little about these generic themes and more about the outcomes for the characters. Martil is a complex man and in The Risen Queen, the action makes up for the more convoluted emotional too-ing and fro-ing. This is a great new classic fantasy series; well-worth getting your hands on.

First published on The Straits Times blogs on February 15, 2010


Post a Comment