Friday, January 20, 2012

10 Great Fantasy Series to Read While You’re Waiting for George R.R. Martin’s Next Book

My husband posted this list on facebook a couple days ago. Fantasy books tend to get a bad rap, although with the success of HBO's Game of Thrones, it seems like the genre is slowly getting more respect and growing more popular. The downside of fantasy is that the books are often dragged down by cliche story lines and archetypal characters. Tolkien is considered the "father of modern fantasy" in a lot of circles, but that doesn't mean that every fantasy series needs a token elf or dwarf character. George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" books are outstanding because the plot is fantastic and (mostly) well paced. Every character is fully realized and whether you love them or hate them, they act according to their own motives and you have to respect that. Yes, his books are long and (sometimes) overly detailed, but they are truly excellent.

In terms of the list above, I've only read a couple: The Kingkiller Chronicles and Shadowmarch. I got out of reading fantasy for a long time because of the issues I mentioned above, but I think the Kingkiller Chronicles are pretty solid. There are some stretches towards the end in both books that drag a bit and feel either unnecessary or too long. Shadowmarch, on the other hand, was insufferable. I quit halfway through the second book and I almost never stop reading books in the middle. I was pretty disappointed because I absolutely loved Tad William's other major fantasy series called Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, which I highly recommend. I really want to read The Way of Kings (the Stormlight Archive books) by Brandon Sanderson, but haven't gotten around to it yet. On one hand, I think he's done a fantastic job of finishing up The Wheel of Time books after the original author, Robert Jordan, died, but then again he's planning on writing 10 books in this series and I just don't think I have it in me to start another set of books that takes up fifteen years of my life. I'm going to try and wait until he's done the series.

I've read all of The Wheel of Time (starting when I was 15) and loved them. Granted they slowed down in the middle a bit as Jordan dragged the story out too much, but the first two are solid and three through seven are awesome. Sanderson's completion of the books are great. He's making things happen in the world and I'm really happy that he was chosen to complete the saga. The last volume is due to come out in the fall so this is the perfect time to pick them up. I've been contemplating rereading the entire series, but again, I just don't think I have it in me to start from the beginning and read all fifteen (I think that's how many there are).

One of my other favorites series is David Eddings' Belgariad. Eddings, who is now deceased, created a classic story. Poor farm boy gets swept into an adventure and is clearly destined for bigger things. The characters are definitely archetypal but the story itself is good. The sequels and prequels are weaker, although it's still nice to see the characters come back. He wrote a couple other series, but I didn't really get into them. There were too many similar characters between his worlds and they felt repetitive, although I did like the Sparhawk series a lot.

The best stuff happening in fantasy these days (in my opinion) exists in the young adult world. Growing up, there weren't a ton of options like there are now. But even then, I loved Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles and think they held up really well. I also read and re-read M. M. Kaye's The Ordinary Princess and Lynne Reid Bank's The Farthest Away Mountain. These days, kids can read so much more in the fantasy genre from Cornelia Funke's Inkheart Trilogy to Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. These stories are fun, well written and have kids walking around with thick books in their hands like I haven't seen in years. Of course Harry Potter remains popular, as does Twilight and Eragon, neither of which I think are any good at all, but overall, if you are interested in fantasy, keep an eye on young adult lit. There's a lot of great, inventive stories being written and published all the time. And if you're looking for something grittier, like George R. R. Martin's books, see my recommendations above.

Happy reading!

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