So let’s get to it.
King of Thorns
by Mark Lawrence
To be fair, you should probably read Prince of Thorns before you read its sequel, and if you’re going to go that far you might as well finish out the trilogy with Emperor of Thorns, but, as is often the case, the middle book is my favorite. Mark Lawrence’s terrific epic fantasy series takes lots of things I’m frankly a little sick of – anti-heroes, a first person narrative, spirited child characters – and takes them down a dark and twisted past that is at times hauntingly familiar and yet all comes across as new and fresh.
Lawrence writes with wry wit and an amazing sense of pacing and plot, and even his minor characters are well fleshed out. This epic story (told in two time-lines) of a prince brought up by outlaws and his bloody rise to power is rife with new versions of familiar fantasy elements, and the world isn’t so much full of moral ambiguity as it is utterly defined by it. The deeper into the story you get the more you realize that the good guys are really pretty bad, the bad guys are probably even worse, and somehow this obnoxious and murderous boy king is actually a halfway decent guy. Jorg isn’t the sort of boy you girls would want to bring home to Mom…in fact, you probably wouldn’t take him anywhere, but when it comes down to it you’d be a fool not to want him on your side in a fight.
Sleek, fast-paced, remarkably written and surprisingly moving, The Broken Empire trilogy is terrific fantasy, a classic story told with a very modern voice, and once you pick it up you’ll find it hard to put it down.
by China Mieville
I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of China Mieville, and this novel reminds me of why I hold him in such high regard. A dreamy, mind-bending tale of humans living on the strange world of the double-languaged Ariekei, Embassytown fully showcases Mieville’s prize talent for crafting startlingly original settings and milking them for every ounce of their potential. Told in multiple time frames and filled with vivid, nightmarish details, Embassytown tells the tale of the collapse of human relations with the Ariekei, as seen through the eyes of a girl who was instrumental in helping to craft the alien’s bizarre language.
Mieville can be something of an acquired taste – his fluidly poetic prose, intense details and dense narratives can be somewhat off-putting to casual readers – but for those with the patience and willingness to submit themselves to something different his work can be extraordinarily rewarding. His characters sometimes disappear within the fantastic surroundings and his works are always slow-boiling affairs, but if you’re looking for a new world to immerse yourself into, look no further than Embassytown.
The Emperor’s Blades
by Brian Staveley
Every few years a fantasy author comes along who manages to create something pretty old fashioned in a seemingly new and different way, and that’s what Brian Staveley does with The Emperor’s Blades. The children of a recently murdered monarch are forced to survive attempts on their lives and come to terms with the roles they’ll play in bringing their father’s murderers to justice, but none of them are in much of a position to do anything – the lone daughter, Adare, is locked into a position with power but little authority, and her siblings have been sent away to the furthest reaches of the Empire to undergo training, eldest brother Valyn as an assassin and heir to the throne Kaden as a monk.
The Emperor’s Blades tells a compelling story which unfortunately outstays its welcome after about the halfway mark. Staveley’s world is imaginable without being revolutionary, and his plot is fairly by-the-numbers, but the amount of life he infuses into his characters and his excellent sense of detail and storytelling make The Emperor’s Blades an enjoyable, if somewhat predictable, ride.
What have you been reading lately?
Steven Montano is an author, reader, and all-around wacko. Learn more at http://steven-montano.com/