Discovering Fantasy

by Bruce Blake

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thehobbit-bookcoverLike many fantasy lovers of my generation (not to mention a few generations before and a couple after), JRR Tolkien introduced me to fantasy. I don’t remember how old I was when I read The Hobbit, but it was certainly before the more adult-aimed Mr. King’s rabid dog Cujo took a bite out of me.

Like so many others, Bilbo and Gandalf and their companions set me on a path to incredible worlds filled with magic, adventure, and amazing creatures. I’ve spent much of my reading life seeking out these unique places. The adventure continued with Frodo and the ring, and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series soon followed. Later, as an early teen, I discovered Robert E. Howard’s Conan and fell in love (in a manly kind of way, you understand). The list is long and includes hybrid fantasy like King’s The Dark Tower and Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept series. I’ve always endeavoured to find something new, fresh, something not as well-known.

I was an early adopter of George RR Martin (that means I read the books before the TV show came out, not because of it), and read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods the second it was published (to traipse down a different branch of the fantasy family tree). More recently, I politely point every urban fantasy fan I bump into toward Mike Carey’s brilliant Felix Castor series (I did it to you, remember?).

Ah, the wonder of discovering a new author to devour, fresh turns-of-phrase in which to bask. Joe Abercrombie took my world by storm recently with his grit and eloquence, his evocative characters and world painted gray. And speaking of prose every writer wishes they wrote, we can’t leave out the uber-talented China Mieville, can we? I think not.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself standing in front of the fantasy section at my local Chapters, salivating at the vast smorgasbord arrayed before me. But you know how difficult it is to order when everything on the menu sounds so good…no matter how your stomach rumbles, it’s too difficult to make a choice.  To make my task easier, I pulled out my trusty smartphone, called up my pal Mr. Google, and thumb-typed the words ‘Best Fantasy Novels of 2013’, then began matching names on lists with the spines taunting me from the shelves.

When the dust settled, I held in my hand a novel I’d never heard of written by a man with a name I didn’t know: The Red Knight by Miles Cameron.Unknown

And what was it, you ask, that made me choose this one from all those worthy suitors? It was due to one line I read in a review that applauded how adeptly he handled writing from eight different points of view. Since I’m currently writing a series that encompasses a similar number, I thought perhaps Mr. Cameron and I might become friends.

Turns out it was an excellent choice. With little time on my hands for reading these days, I’ve not gotten far into the book, but what I have read has impressed me. The writing is crisp, the battle scenes exquisitely drawn, and the characters alluring.The author’s knowledge of weapons and armour is so complete, one might guess he’s made the entire thing up, and the magic systems are like nothing I’ve ever read.

But this post is not meant to be a review of what promises to be a great book (I’m happy to find the second book in the series is now available), it’s meant to be an encouragement to try someone new. There’s nothing like taking a chance on something completely unknown and becoming all the richer for it. I bought Mr. Cameron’s book because an iPhone told me to, so how will you decide on your next great find. Will you close your eyes while you’re standing before the shelves at the library and reach out blindly, accepting whatever tome fate thrusts into your grasp? Will you pick a number between 2000 and 3000, then go to Amazon and download the book in that position on the fantasy bestsellers list without even reading the description?

Go on, take a chance. You never know where your new favourite writer might be hiding.

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Bruce Blake is the author of 8 novels and recently a watcher of too many television shows on Netflix. You can find him lurking in coffee shops–usually bathed in the glow of a laptop–or occasionally he has been sighted standing in front of a bookshelf with eyes closed and a shaking hand extended…

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