A bit of Karen Miller news this week, and reviews featuring Brandon Sanderson and R.A. Salvatore’s most recent novels. We also found out who will portray the Stark sisters in HBO’s version of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Last but most certainly not least, Orbit has been putting out some entertaining fantasy industry stats.
The one item I think is missing from the fantasy novel cover chart is “Mysterious Hooded Figure”. This seems to be overwhelmingly the most recent popular trend in fantasy novel covers. Maybe I’ll round up a few of the covers and post for proof. For the record, out of my collection the Darksword trilogy seems to take the cake; each book cover containing swords and glowy magic, and in two cases the sword is glowing with glowy magic. Pure genius.
If there’s one thing I try to do here at FantasyBookNews.com when I review books, it is to give an honest assessment of books, without being swayed too heavily by who the author is, how famous the series may be, or any other outside influences. A novelist as big as Stephen King is hard to ignore, and treat in this manner. I mean, the guy’s written countless novels that have made the extremely difficult trip from page to screen, and had actors the caliber of Jack Nicholson bring some of his characters to life. This is my first Stephen King novel. I’ve never really dipped to deep into the horror genre, but The Gunslinger is supposed to be King’s adventure into the fantasy genre. He makes numerous mentions of Tolkien, hobbits, and the other fantasy genre novelists that followed Tolkien’s lead in the introduction to The Gunslinger. I should also mention that I’m currently listening to King’s On Writing audiobook, which is a fantastic read for any aspiring writer. In it, King details all aspects of writing, in particular his personal style of of not really planning the plot of his books prior to writing them. I can’t say that I didn’t have this thought in mind while I was reading The Gunslinger.
While King set out to write an epic fantasy, he decided he’d leave the elves, dragons and hobbits to the countless other authors who have attempted to recreate the experience that was Tolkien’s original classic. The setting for The Gunslinger is that of a western adventure. It has a quest feel to it, and you can’t help but notice the similarity with “The Dark Tower” to Tolkien’s tower of Sauron. The Gunslinger is a great character, well developed, with a very raw edge to him. King’s other characters in this novel are very well fleshed out, although we don’t get to see much of the Man in Black as I would have liked. The settings are quality, with a mixture of desert scenes and almost surreal experiences that the Gunslinger goes through. Its an interesting landscape, as while the tangible elements, like surroundings, buildings, and characters all seem to suggest early 1900’s western, it appears as if the novel actually takes place in a regressed future.
The story follows the current timeline of the Gunslinger, interspersed with flashback scenes of the Gunslinger’s childhood and coming of age. While both stories keep the pages turning, I don’t feel they had enough that eventually intertwined them. I would have like more from Roland’s past to have potentially adverse affects on his future, or other creative use of the flashback story line.
All things said, I can honestly say that I was tremendously underwhelmed by The Gunslinger. I’ve read the comics by Marvel, and I really believe this novel reads better as a comic or graphic novel than a book. It may have to do with the fact that The Gunslinger is actually five short stories originally written for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the ’70s. It may have had to do with the fact that I was studying King’s writing methods simultaneously, and was overcritical of the plot and where I felt the book was actually going. That said, I think I’ll definitely be back to see where King actually takes this series. It is a seven book series, with the first four being published with an average of five years between each, and the last three being published over the span of two years. I may just be curious to see if King went on a Kerouac-esque writing binge to finish the final three novels.
I think King could have taken this character and accomplished a lot more with him over the course of The Gunslinger, but I’m definitely interested in seeing where The Gunslinger eventually ends up. I’ll do my homework and keep everyone posted.
Whew! Seems like there’s a lot of people reading Brandon Sanderson and reviewing his work these days. I wonder if taking over the Wheel of Time series for Robert Jordan has anything to do with this popularity.
In my last review of Ship of Magic, I mentioned how I was going to take a departure from the more grown-up world of fantasy for a quick stop on the young adult shelf. The Last Unicorn, while a shorter novel, is not what I could classify as a light read. This is a fairy tale, but a satire about fairy tales, with strong undercurrents of truth strewn throughout. I had considered picking it up in the past, but was discouraged by the fact that there was a unicorn on the cover. Never, and I mean never, judge a book by its cover. It make take some a while to become comfortable with what others may judge of reading such a novel. All I have to say to that is, get over it. This book is fantastic, beautiful, magical, and hilarious. If you’re not into that type of stuff, then I’d recommend you go elsewhere. If you’re into completely absorbing fantasy, and are in for a change of pace from the hulking epic fantasies that are commonplace these days, then I invite you to read The Last Unicorn.
Being a fairy tale, the novel takes place in a few fantastic settings. The landscape can seem to stretch and contract as Beagle moves from one scene to the next, but it is the locations and characters that truly anchor this novel to reality, which is a tough thing to do when you have a cat that can blink into existence out of a fold in the air. In this sense, the novel shows some similarity with Alice in Wonderland. The irony comes in when the characters themselves acknowledge that they are in a fairy tale, speaking of what heroes and magicians are or should be, and how happy endings should actually end. All of this is accomplished masterfully, with real meaning hiding just under the surface. I can perhaps best illustrate with example:
“Robin Hood is a myth,” Captain Cully said nervously, “a classic example of the heroic folk figures synthesized out of need. John Henry is another. Men have to have heroes, and so a legend grows around a grain of truth, like a pearl. Not that it isn’t a remarkable trick, of course.”
Captain Cully, leader of the band of merry men that is undoubtedly a parody of Robin Hood and his merry men, speaking plainly of the mythology of Robin Hood, but delivered with a clear insight into the fact that we as a society like to have people to look up to and uphold as idols. Brilliant! The Last Unicorn is full of wonderful moments like this.
The characters in this novel are classic. From Prince Lir, a character based on Irish mythology, to Schmendrick, a bumbling magician who always seems to have the words to his spells on the tip of his tongue, these characters feel right. They all have their place in the novel, and while not overly developed, they all serve their own purpose perfectly.
Peter S. Beagle uses so many classic examples of fairy tale plots, I don’t believe it possible to detail them all here. What is worth mentioning, is how they are spun uniquely into a new yarn, woven with precision and intent, with the final product bearing signs of originality you wouldn’t have previously believed possible.
The pace is quick. The chapters are light, and I would definitely recommend this book for a younger audience, although it is just as enjoyable at an adult reading level, even refreshing in a sense.
The Last Unicorn is, in a word, delightful. If you have yet to read this classic fantasy fairy tale, I would highly recommend you give it a shot. You may be in for a few surprises.
The books from the number one and two positions remain (The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Assassin’s Apprentice), with The Briar King, The Brass Bed, and Queen of the Orcs: King’s Property all making first appearances in the Amazon top five.