I plan on writing about different fantasy authors or books I’m really into from time to time, so I figured I’d outline my history with fantasy novels as a whole.
Lord of the Rings to The Second Apocalypse
Fantasy books have always been near and dear to my heart. I picked up Lord of the Rings at about age 10 and fell in love with orcs and elves and all the typical fantasy tropes. I had a rough childhood and Lord of the Rings transported me to a different world full of heroism and adventure. It served as an escape from the difficult realities I lived in at the time. As I grew up I moved on to progressively more mature and less tropey fantasy authors. I read many different authors, but I always found someone specific I was really enamored with for a period of time. That progression looked something like this:
- J.R.R. Tolkien
- Terry Brooks
- Stephen King (Dark Tower)
- Robert Jordan
- George R.R. Martin
- Steven Erikson
- R. Scott Bakker
J.R.R. Tolkien ate up my preteen years for sure. Like I said, it was my introduction to the world of fantasy literature. I read through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings twice in a row, I just couldn’t get enough of that world. I had some rough things going on at the time and there was a huge element of escapism going on. I know that term ‘escapism’ has a lot of negative connotations in the world of fantasy literature, but that’s exactly what it was for me. I would read about the fellowship and picture myself as Aragorn, saving myself and my family from ‘the bad guys.’
From there I moved on to Terry Brooks. This was probably age 14 or 15, somewhere in there. I loved J.R.R. Tolkien, but you can only read the same 4 books so many times. I started looking for a replacement, and I found it in Terry Brooks. Terry Brooks, in my opinion, completely ripped off J.R.R. Tolkien with his first book, The Sword of Shannara. It’s almost beat for beat the same plot progression as the Lord of the Rings, and the characters and locations are almost a perfect stand in as well. I know that the books found their own voice later on, but even as a teenager I could see how much Terry Brooks lifted. Despite the copycat nature of the books, I was hungry for more content, no matter how unoriginal. I read through probably four or five books in his series before I aged out of it.
Next came Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I read these books around the time I got into Terry Brooks. It’s one of the most twisted and original works in fantasy literature that I’ve read so far. It still has it’s share of tropes and archetypes, but the way they’re played against the world Stephen King created is incredibly unique. Drawing from spaghetti westerns, post apocalyptic wastelands, science fiction, and traditional fantasy inspirations, it still stands as one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read. Can’t wait for the movies.
In my late teens I got into Robert Jordan. It took me two failed attempts and about 8 years to get through the whole series, but I eventually finished all the books. This series is really successful and very popular. My take on it is it’s similar to Terry Brooks books in that it’s another riff on J.R.R. Tolkien, but it diverts into it’s own original ideas fairly quickly. After about book 6, the pace REALLY drags down (and if I read about one more woman “smoothing her skirts” or “pulling her braids” I’m going to lose my mind). But it was a fun ride while it lasted. I can see myself going back to most of these books for nostalgia’s sake somewhere down the road, but I don’t think I’ll be able to pick up the Wheel of Time ever again.
What is there to say about this guy that hasn’t been said already. He’s easily the most popular fantasy writer in the world right now. A Song of Ice and Fire is a great series that pretty much everyone you know has read by now. I discovered it a few years ago on the recommendation of a coworker. I finished the first book right before the show came out. This series showed me that fantasy books could offer more to the reader than a guilty pleasure. Before I read ASOIAF, my obsession with the fantasy genre was a dirty secret I didn’t like telling people about. This series is the first I read that felt truly adult, and something that I would be comfortable recommending to people without shame. I don’t mean to disparage the fantasy genre as a whole, it’s my favorite book genre. But before these books, it was definitely something I didn’t advertise about myself.
This guy. He’s the man. He’s my favorite author. In my opinion, he’s the greatest living author we have in the world today. No one else comes even close. His books are hard to get into, especially the very first one. This makes him a well regarded author by those who’ve taken the time to appreciate him, but not a very popular author because of how steep the initial reading difficulty can be. Erikson certainly is not writing for the purpose of becoming a famous and popular author. This makes being an Erikson fan feel like being part of an exclusive club. The only people who really get how great he is are those few who have dedicated the time to his books.
Gardens of the Moon is his first book, and it almost eluded me. I started it in my early twenties. The first time I tried to read it, I petered out about a quarter of the way through. I had just finished the most recent ASOIAF book and I was looking online for a good series to replace it with. Everything I read pointed back to Steven Erikson and his series the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Gardens is a very difficult book to get through. It was initially going to be a screenplay that he adapted into a novel, and it was also his first novel. There’s a lot of rough edges to the book, but once I finally got through it and finished the second book, I was a true believer.
Anomander Rake attacks the Malazan army outside of Pale.
The second book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen is Deadhouse Gates. It’s my favorite all time book, followed closely by the third book Memories of Ice. Deadhouse Gates ending left me raw and emotional like no other book has ever done. I couldn’t believe that an author could make me feel that much emotion for a fictional character as I did for the characters in Deadhouse Gates. I can still picture my own internal version of Coltaine all these years later. Kulp is the character I identified with the most, and I still use that name when I have to name my character in a video game. This blog is for my own edification, but if anyone ever ends up reading this please, do yourself a favor and read Deadhouse Gates. Even if you have to skip Gardens of the Moon, read Deadhouse Gates. It changed how I looked at authorial skill.
I plan on writing about Erikson in a separate post(s) in the future. I can’t get enough of the guy. He is FOR SURE my man crush Monday. But I just want to mention a couple things that make him stand out. He doesn’t underestimate his readers intelligence. This is a dense series, with many overlapping characters and story arcs. Characters are introduced and set aside for five books. There are many intricate, repeated, and reflected themes that usually revolve around empathy and compassion. This is a series that rewards a reread like no other series I’ve ever read. I finshed my first reread earlier this year and I plan to start another one soon. I may include that second read in the blog in some way. To sum it up, Steven Erikson is my favorite author and he stands head and shoulders above his competition.
R. Scott Bakker
And this guy is Erikson’s competition. He’s the closest author I’ve found that matches the tone and depth of Erikson’s writing. I started reading his books probably about a year ago. His world is original and he’s not afraid to wander into philosophical and introspective musings for pages on end. I have read that some readers don’t appreciate the philosophical content so much, but I love it. I’m currently reading the first in Bakker’s second series The Judging Eye, and the quality of his writing has only increased from his first book to now.