Monthly Archives: January 2011

Fantasy Blogosphere: January 31, 2011

Let the fantasy onslaught begin! Everyone seems to have finally returned from their New Year’s hangover/vacation, because the fantasy blogosphere was hectic this past week, to say the least. Kick it off with reviews of the most recent novels by Joe Abercrombie, Jim Butcher and Steven Erikson, skip on over to interviews with George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie and James Enge, and round out the week with news about the Dark Tower tv series, D&D appearing on tv, and Orbit acquiring three new Dresden novels.

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Amazon’s Top 5 Fantasy Books, January 30, 2011

Moon Dance and Fire Burn swap places, but the top 5 remains the same from last week. George R.R. Martin going strong!

  1. Shadowfever (Kindle) by Karen Marie Moning
  2. Moon Dance (Kindle) by J.R. Rain
  3. Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble, a Paranormal Romance (Kindle) by H.P. Mallory
  4. A Game of Thrones (Kindle) by George R.R. Martin
  5. Toil and Trouble, a Paranormal Romance (Kindle) by H.P. Mallory
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Top 10 eReader Features

I recently finished reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson on my iPod Touch, and it was a revolution in reading for me. It wasn’t the first book I’d read on the device – I’d read a few non-fiction books (Rework by 37Signals and HTML5 for Web Designers by Jeremy Keith, to be exact), but this was the first fiction novel I’ve read in electronic format. With a novel, the expectations are a bit different.

All the things I’ve come to enjoy about reading fantasy literature were contrasted with reading in digital format: the comfort of getting cozy on the couch with a paper novel, escaping to a different world, and the ease with which I can accomplish both. I decided to highlight some of the features I enjoyed while reading on my iPod Touch, and that I’ll look for in the future in any device I decide to read eBooks on.

This is the fifth in a series of Top 10 posts covering the fantasy industry. Last week, we covered the Top 10 Fantasy Video Games of All Time.

Reading Without a Light

I found that reading on my iPod Touch, which is a device with a back light, was a significant advantage over paper books. Being able to read without a light means you don’t have to sit next to a lamp, and for me, being next to a hot light in Brazil is not fun this time of year. Other eReaders like the Nook and Kindle don’t have back lights, although newer color versions of the devices do. Having a back light is a feature that I’ll consider essential when deciding on purchasing a larger eReader in the future.

Reading with One Hand

Probably the most convenient feature of reading on my iPod Touch (and I could see doing this on an iPad or a Kindle as well), is the ability to read with one hand. Its like a Rondo no-look pass in basketball. I was able to dedicate my other arm, which is usually stuck holding the other half of a paper book so it won’t close, to other essential tasks, everything from hugging my wife on the couch to snacking to adjusting the music volume on my stereo. I never thought I’d want to be doing other stuff while reading, but this really just gives me the opportunity to read when I would normally be sitting on the couch with my wife watching some Brazilian novella I have absolutely zero interest in. Bravo, iPod Touch, bravo.

Search

Searching books for keywords is something that has always taken a while with print, especially for me digging through web development reference books. With regard to fiction, being able to search is great for reviewing books here on FantasyBookNews.com – I don’t have to stop every time I encounter a quote that I want to pull for my review. I can make a mental note and then go back at the end of the chapter and search, in order to pull the exact quote. Of course, this feature is tied very closely with the next, which is…

Bookmarks

Bookmarks are like the all-star feature of digital book readers. I can’t count how many times I’ve, in the past, stopped reading, found my notepad, picked up a pencil and jotted down a page number. No more! The bookmark feature in iBooks is fantastic, you can simply touch the bookmark icon in the upper right hand corner and iBooks will remember every page you tag. This is a revolution for me with regard to reviewing fantasy novels. Marge, I think I just tripled my production time.

Pages Remaining

I occasionally flip forward while reading paper books to see how many pages I have remaining in each chapter. With iBooks, you’re able to toggle whether the pages remaining appear on screen or not, letting the reader decide whether this is information they want to see, or whether they consider it a distraction and want to hide it. I played around with toggling this on and off the entire time I read The Way of Kings, if for nothing more than the fun of toggling. Toggle, toggle. No, seriously, this is a really nice feature that I’ll definitely look for in future eReader purchases.

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Fantasy Blogosphere: January 24, 2011

This week kicks off with the first review I’ve seen yet of the unreleased The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, and follows it up with reviews of two other kings in the genre, namely Neil Gaiman and Brandon Sanderson. Peter S. Beagle celebrates 40 years of The Last Unicorn, we get more than the usual dose of fantasy comic reviews, and even a fantasy magazine review to boot. Its all capped with Sean Bean talking about what its like to portray Eddard Stark in the Game of Thrones HBO series, a new Game of Thrones trailer, and a new Game of Thrones video on the battle tactics used in the series. Sweet.

New Game of Thrones Trailer

New Game of Thrones Artisans Video

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Amazon’s Top 5 Fantasy Books, January 23, 2011

Shadowfever jumps into first place with its Kindle edition, and A Game of Thrones holds strong leading into the launch of the HBO series in a few months.

  1. Shadowfever (Kindle) by Karen Marie Moning
  2. Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble, a Paranormal Romance (Kindle) by H.P. Mallory
  3. Moon Dance (Kindle) by J.R. Rain
  4. A Game of Thrones (Kindle) by George R.R. Martin
  5. Toil and Trouble, a Paranormal Romance (Kindle) by H.P. Mallory
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Top 10 Fantasy Video Games of All Time

Fantasy RPG video games have come a long way over the past 30 years, so I wanted to take a look at historically how we got from the text-based games of 1980 to the fully immersive online worlds where we play today in 2011. If you’re like me and you’re into fantasy books, you’ve likely played RPG video games, and maybe even played some old school role playing games as well. These video games combine the best of fantasy literature and role playing games, and are in chronological order starting in 1980 through 2011, not in order of goodness, or any other sort method.

This is the fourth in a series of Top 10 posts covering the fantasy industry. Last week, we covered the Top 10 Fantasy Books for 2011. Next week, we cover the Top 10 eReader Features.

Zork I (1980)

Yes, this is a list of the top 10 RPG video games of all time. Yes, Zork I was a text-only interface. That means no graphics, kiddies. Before the mocking commences, remember this was 1980. Remember that Zork I sold over 400,000 copies. I had to include Zork here out of respect. Not only this, but playing a text-only game accomplishes something that many games today lack: imagination. With a text-only game, the player is left to imagine the gaps, and the human imagination is the most powerful generator of ideas on the planet.  There was real problem-solving mental power involved in playing Zork I. Also, the literal definition of a role-playing game is one in which you imagine what your character is doing, and imagine the world they play in. In this regard, text-based RPG video games may be the best translation of pen-and-paper RPGs to the digital realm, and still remain at the top of this category after 30 years. My hat is off to Zork I, one of the founding fathers of the RPG video game genre.

Dragon Warrior (1986)

I spent countless hours of my childhood romping through the Dragon Warrior world on my NES. Dragon Warrior was the first RPG to be presented to console (non-PC) based players, and as such is the flagship title for the genre on consoles. Dragon Warrior offers a turn-based battle system, introducing a pen-and-paper style (ala D&D) battle system to millions of console gamers who had potentially never experienced such a game. Dragon Warrior also offered a simple inventory and item management system, again reminiscent of table top gaming. I recently found a Java emulation of the game online, and played through the first few areas, and was amazed by the simplicity of such classic games. Many newer games offer too many options, and playing Dragon Warrior for a few moments has me yearning for a more recent RPG that can offer such a simple experience.  Unfortunately, I think I’m out of luck, and I’m also disappointed that I can’t get the original Dragon Warrior on my Wii console. Boo Nintendo. But alas, Dragon Warrior stands in my memory as one of the most satisfying RPG video games of my life.

The Legend of Zelda (1986)

While I spent more time playing Zelda II as a child, the original Zelda game that spawned what has become a modern icon for fantasy video games had to make the list. Zelda, and its main character Link are perhaps the most recognizable game/character combo in fantasy video games in the world. It has garnered the top position for the best video game series ever by GameFAQ, with over 20 titles in the series. I mean, Robin Williams named one of his kids Zelda. The Legend of Zelda was the first console game to feature an internal battery for saving your game — meaning the player could take the cartridge to a friend’s house, stick it in said friend’s NES, and continue gameplay to the dismay of friends and family who were forced to watch. If you doubt Zelda’s true pimp hand, just check out this image on WikiPedia.

Dungeon Master (1987)

Dungeon Master is the first 3D realtime RPG video game. ‘Nuff said. Ok, maybe not. But it is notable, being the first title that mixed traditional RPG elements like leveling, mana, weapons inventory and character party management with a non-turn-based combat system. I remember moments of sheer terror playing this game, when you actually hear a monster screeching somewhere in the distance, but don’t know what or where it came from. Even more terrifying was looking through your inventory when all of a sudden you get whacked in the face by a mummy. Dungeon Master is a testament to the fact that the realistic graphics of modern games don’t necessarily make a good game. While the graphics were fantastic for its time, looking back now they look extremely simplistic, but the gameplay doesn’t suffer for them one ounce. Dungeon Master was a truly engrossing RPG for the Atari ST (it actually reached more than 50% market penetration of all ST’s ever sold), and a truly satisfying solo RPG game to play. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Final Fantasy I (1987)

Final Fantasy is one of the most successful video game franchises in history, RPG or not, having sold more than 97 million units in all. What better way to honor the series, than to include the flagship title for the game in our list. Final Fantasy for NES was released in 1987, and expanded on Dragon Warrior style play, in that it retained the turn-based battle system, but players were now responsible for managing a party of four characters rather than the one character in Dragon Warrior. Final Fantasy also added a magic casting system, which was lacking in Dragon Warrior. For lovers of fantasy series, the Final Fantasy main series contains 14 titles, countless sequels, prequels and spin-off games, two feature-length films, tv series, novels, manga comics and soundtracks. In the words of Paris Hilton, “that’s huge”.

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Fantasy Blogosphere: January 17, 2011

Reviews from a wide variety of fantasy literature this week; everything from Joe Abercrombie to Paolo Bacigalupi and more. Top-notch interviews from Ian McKellen, Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss and Lev Grossman, and last but certainly not least, HBO announces the Game of Thrones premier date as April 17. Let the countdown begin!

The Lost Gate Book Trailer

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Amazon’s Top 5 Fantasy Books, January 16, 2011

Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble and A Game of Thrones hold the first and second slots, respectively, and a few authors that spent time in the top 5 in 2010 make a return in J.R. Rain and Karen Marie Moning.

  1. Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble, a Paranormal Romance (Kindle) by H.P. Mallory
  2. A Game of Thrones (Kindle) by George R.R. Martin
  3. Moon Dance (Kindle) by J.R. Rain
  4. Toil and Trouble, a Paranormal Romance (Kindle) by H.P. Mallory
  5. Shadowfever (Hardcover) by Karen Marie Moning
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Review: The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams

Book review of Tad William’s The Dragonbone Chair

Tad William's The Dragonbone ChairTad Williams is one of the big names in the fantasy genre that previously, I’d had no exposure to. I have always heard good things about his works, and so had fairly high expectations for the first novel in the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, The Dragonbone Chair. Lucky for me, Mr. Williams didn’t fail to delight.

Toward the end of this book, which only took me about a week for a novel of about 250,000 words, I read a few comments on the Shannara forum stating that the start of The Dragonbone Chair was a little slow. For me, this wasn’t true at all. I was finishing this book before I knew it. The pacing was perfect, starting out with a healthy dose of background for the main character, Simon, dabbled with action sequences, and steadily progressing to a fantastic finale. I think maybe some readers associate action with pacing, which just isn’t the case. An action sequence, if written poorly, can slow down and ruin the pace of a novel much more than a well written scene where characters are talking over tea. William’s ability to communicate a compelling story in a non-action fashion is not only brilliant, its what makes The Dragonbone Chair such a well-rounded novel. Here’s a perfect example of William’s ability at quality, engaging description:

Beyond the castle chapel the sea of roofs spread out in all directions: the Great Hall, the throne room, the archives and servant’s quarters, all pitched and uneven, repaired or replaced many times as the seasons in their passing licked at gray stone and lead shingle, then nibbled them away. To Simon’s left loomed the slender white arrogance of Green Angel Tower; farther back, protruding above the arch of the chapel tome, the gray, squat bulk of Hjelden’s Tower sat up like a begging dog.

Reading The Dragonbone Chair now shines a light on where it sits in the sequence of epic fantasy over the past century. It contains the classic epic quest elements, as seen in The Lord of the Rings and Shannara books, which were written prior. It also contains many elements that I recognized from novels that came after it, placing The Dragonbone Chair on a pedestal as an influencer of all modern epic fantasy. For example, the distributed kingdom, with each area having their own king, as well as the seasonal change of winter arriving in the summer months, both harken of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Martin upped the ante a bit, but the framework is contained here in The Dragonbone Chair, which was written around eight years prior.

Characterization in The Dragonbone Chair is unmatched. This is a large cast of top-notch characters, all displaying gritty attitudes and facing real problems, as we’ve seen more recently in A Game of Thrones, The Blade Itself, etc. From Rachel, the head maid of Hayholt castle, to Isgrimnur, a hulking Rimmersman from the North, these are characters you become involved with, understand, and learn to either root for or hate.

Amidst the great quest, the coming of a great evil, and the wicked deeds of a mad king, Tad Williams manages to work in a few other classic moments, ranging from comedy:

“Ah. A small aversion to menial labor?” The doctor cocked an eyebrow. “Understandable but misplaced. One should treasure those humdrum tasks that keep the body occupied but leave the mind and heart unfettered. Well, we shall strive to help you through your first day in service. I have thought of a wonderful arrangement.” He did a funny little jig step. “I talk, you work. Good, eh?”

to a little back-patting of his own art form:

Morgenes leaned forward, waggling the leather-bound volume under Simon’s nose. “A piece of writing is a trap,” he said cheerily, “and the best kind. A book, you see, is the only kind of trap that keeps its captive-which is knowledge-alive forever. The more books you have,” the doctor waved an all-encompassing hand around the room, “the more traps, then the better chance of capturing some particular, elusive, shining beast-one that might otherwise die unseen.” Morgenes finished with a grand flourish, dropping the book back up on the pile with a loud thump.

The Dragonbone Chair is the real deal. I’ve picked up many books recently that advertise themselves as the real deal, only to be disheartened upon diving in and finding mediocre writing at best. If you want to find a truly original work of epic fiction, that pulls from the greats before it, and influences all that comes after it, I recommend starting with The Dragonbone Chair, and not stopping until you’ve completed the four book series that is Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. I know I’m on board for the duration.

You can purchase The Dragonbone Chair over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 9 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Memory Sorrow and Thorn, Reviews, Tad Williams | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Top 10 Fantasy Books for 2011

As I did last year, I’ve compiled a list of what are perhaps the most highly anticipated fantasy novels for 2011. The first three are actually carried over from last year, as they failed to be released in 2010, which arguably leads them to only be more highly anticipated.

This is the third in a series of Top 10 posts covering the fantasy industry. Last week, we covered the Top 10 Fantasy Book Trends of 2010. Next week, we cover the Top 10 Fantasy Video Games of all time.

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

While fans are frustrated with the time between the previous novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series and A Dance with Dragons, 2011 would be a fantastic time for Martin to release the latest novel in the series, with HBO launching the Game of Thrones television series in 2011. Rumor has it Martin will be announcing something in the coming weeks. Pick up A Dance with Dragons over at Amazon.com.

A Dance with Dragons

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The Republic of Thieves has a tentative release date of Spring 2011, likely due to Lynch‘s bout with depression, which he’s discussed publicly. Here’s to hoping Lynch is hanging in there, as fans of Locke Lamora and crew are salivating for the next installment in this series. Pick up The Republic of Thieves over at Amazon.com, which recently announced the release date as February.

The Republic of Thieves

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Set for release on March 1, 2011 (according to Amazon.com), the second novel in Rothfuss‘ trilogy is likely to be one of the top-selling fantasy novels of 2011. Fans of Kvothe are extremely excited to see where Rothfuss takes the flame-haired hero next. Pick up The Wise Man’s Fear over at Amazon.com.

The Wise Man's Fear

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie is hands-down one of the best in the business at this point, and The Heroes is the second stand-alone novel following his First Law trilogy.  I’ve only read the first novel in the First Law trilogy, but I can’t wait to play catch-up and get to his more recent work. Pick up The Heroes over at Amazon.com.

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Requiem by Ken Scholes

Requiem is the fourth book in the Psalms of Isaak quintet. I’ve read Lamentation, the first in the series, and have read reviews of the second and third novels in the series. If Requiem continues the reported increase in quality, The Psalms of Isaak is shaping up to be one of the highest quality fantasy series of the current generation of writers.

[Book cover not yet released]

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