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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
I’ve only been tracking formats since September, but this is still 33% of the year’s worth of data. Starting on September 5, 2010, and reviewing the data weekly, 48 times Kindle editions of books were in the top 5, and only 37 times hardcover editions of books made the top 5. One interesting note here: Kindle sales were stronger in September and October, then as Thanksgiving rolled around, hardcover sales surged. But, once we got to the final week of the year, the day after Christmas marked the first week where all five novels in the top 5 list were Kindle editions. An inkling of what’s to come in the new year?
Epic Fantasy vs. Urban Fantasy
In the epic vs. urban smack-down urban fantasy wins, hands down. Urban fantasy novels appeared in the top 5 a whopping 198 times, to only 43 for epic fantasy. Epic fantasy was helped tremendously by the Jordan/Sanderson novels, but it just wasn’t enough to come close. Even though we see a traditional spike of epic fantasy sales around Christmas every year, urban fantasy is riding strong from 2010 into 2011.
Most Weeks at #1
Towers of Midnight spent the most weeks in the #1 spot, with 16. Second was Dead in the Family, with 11 weeks. Tied for third were Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer, and Dead Witch Walking, by Kim Harrison. Rounding out the top 5 novels in #1 for the most weeks was Bite Me, with two weeks in first place. The following novels all grabbed first place for one week only: A Game of Thrones, No Mercy, The Legend of Sigurd & Godrum, Calling Home,Changes, Once Bitten, Wit’ch Fire and Eclipse.
Longest Streak at #1
Towers of Midnight spent 14 weeks at #1, from September 5 through December 19, showing that even with the influx of urban and vampire fantasy, traditional epic fantasy still holds a place in fans’ hearts. Second was Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris with 7 weeks at #1, and third was Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison with 6 weeks at #1.
Longest Streak in Top 5 (any position)
Amazingly, both Dead in the Family and Breaking Dawn tied, for spending 33 consecutive weeks in the top 5 each. In second place for this category is Towers of Midnight, which spent 19 consecutive weeks in the top 5 list.
Book review of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings
The Way of Kings was probably one of the most highly anticipated fantasy novels of 2010, with the popularity of The Wheel of Time series and Sanderson being selected as the author to complete the series after Jordan’s passing. The Way of Kings is the first novel in an extremely ambitious new ten novel series, titled The Stormlight Archive. This series is undoubtedly Sanderson’s offering to fantasy fans that will make an attempt to reside upon the shelf next to other such large fantasy series, ala The Wheel of Time, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, and A Song of Ice and Fire. How does this first novel fare as a stand alone novel, and how does it stack up against other first novels in similar series? Let’s dig in.
First and foremost, The Way of Kings brings classic Sanderson to the table. The heroes and villians are fairly apparent, like previous Sanderson novels, not the truly multi-faceted characters we see in A Game of Thrones, for example. This really isn’t a problem for me, and I think its really a matter of reader preference. I personally enjoy having a character that holds hope and good intention above all else, and will make huge sacrifices in order to uphold these beliefs. I think its noble, and a fairly essential element to any fantasy novel. The Way of Kings focuses on three main characters, very similar to Elantris, and chapters rotate between their view points. There are also intermissions where Sanderson gives us glimpses of other aspects of the world he’s created, and these were some of the most enjoyable scenes for me in this novel.
The world building in The Way of Kings is fantastic. This is a believable world with believable characters. Humans who fight for personal gain. A vast plateau terrain, dubbed The Shattered Plains, where military action takes place on a grand scale. Troops move like chess pieces using permanent and temporary bridges to span the area between the plateaus, in search of gemstones which power the suits of armor and other magical items used in battle.
The magic system in The Way of Kings is on par with previous Sanderson novels, which is to say, head and shoulders above magic systems in modern fantasy fiction. The magic systems Sanderson has created in Elantris, Mistborn, and now The Way of Kings are not only unique and inventive, they are all believable in that they all have some grounding in science or nature. The Way of Kings offers a magnificent system, in which small stone-like spheres are the form of currency, but they have to be infused with storm light by leaving them out in a storm, lest they become dun. The energy from these spheres is what is used by talented knights to fuel their special powers, which include heightened strength, endurance, and the ability to “lash” themselves or objects in different directions than gravity normally dictates. This same storm light is what fuels the coveted swords and armor in The Way of Kings, which Sanderson has dubbed shard blades and shard plate, respectively.
In The Way of Kings, we see Sanderson maturing as an author, as he brings in more subject matter for the reader to ponder than his typical themes of hope and belief. While his theme of hope is present and strong as ever:
“Somebody has to start. Somebody has to step forward and do what is right, because it is right. If nobody starts, then others cannot follow.”
He also touches upon other topics, such as maturity:
“A man’s emotions are what define him, and control is the hallmark of true strength. To lack feeling is to be dead, but to act on every feeling is to be a child.”
“Authority doesn’t come from a rank,” Kaladin said, fingering the spheres in his pocket.
“Where does it come from?”
“From the men who give it to you. That’s the only way to get it.”
and he even manages to mix in a little comedy:
“All right. First, find a cliff.”
“That, it will give you a vantage to see the area?”
“No”, Kaladin said. “It will give me something to throw you off of.”
The one blaring issue with The Way of Kings is the pace of the novel. The Way of Kings reads like the first novel in a ten book series, not like a quality stand alone novel that should serve as the flare to ignite reader’s passion to swallow a ten book series. It really is unfortunate, as this is a very well written novel, and everything else is extremely well done, all the way down to the quality of the hardbound edition with a Whelan cover and numerous interior illustrations. The Way of Kings just doesn’t have to be as big as it is, and that’s one of Strunk & White’s cardinal rules for writing: omit unnecessary words. I do enjoy character background detail, and also building believable scenarios, but The Way of Kings goes a few steps too far. I really enjoyed the bridge runs, but we could have cut back on a few, and the plot line with Shallan was good, but maybe just a little too extended for the eventual punchline.
Despite the pacing issues, The Way of Kings is a good first effort in a new epic fantasy series. How does it stack up against similar competition? I’d recommend the first novels in A Song of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time before The Way of Kings to people new to the fantasy genre, but would strongly recommend The Way of Kings to Sanderson fans. I am a huge Sanderson fan, and I think his previous work in Elantris and the Mistborn series is top-notch, so I’ll look to the next novel in this series to resolve the pacing issues, as everything else is there for this to be a home run fantasy series.
Like I did last year, I’m going to recap the top 10 fantasy novels of 2010. Unlike last year, this time I’m splitting the difference. Five novels in the top 10 are the favorites I read over the past year, and the other five are novels that I haven’t read, but spent a good deal of time on the Amazon top 5 fantasy bestseller list. If you’re looking for a gift, its likely that any book from this list will delight the recipient.
Lamentation was one of my favorite fantasy reads of 2010. A vibrant new world, painted with colorful, unique characters, all wrapped into a story with heart, makes for a fantastic package. This first installment promises a quality series to come in The Psalms of Isaak. Check out my full review of Lamentation.
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie was the best fantasy novel I read in 2010. Gritty, fast-paced, and filled with action, this first novel in a new epic fantasy series solidifies Abercrombie as one of the premier new authors in fantasy literature. The characterization isn’t just top-notch, the characters in The Blade Itself are unforgettable. Not only does Abercrombie deliver a quality novel, but there are moments of hilarity contained in these pages. Abercrombie is an honest, open-minded author, and these qualities shine in The Blade Itself. Check out my full review of The Blade Itself.
Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Yet another fantastic first novel in a series discovered in 2010. Empire in Black and Gold kicks off at a frantic pace, in the middle of a battle, and doesn’t relent for the rest of the novel. Absolutely blistering pace is combined with a truly original idea for characterization: all the characters in this novel are some derivation of what Tchaikovsky describes as kinden, which are half-human and half fill-in-the-insect. This makes for some truly unique elements in fighting, and opens up the opportunity for all kinds of historical backgrounds among the different kinden in novels to come. As if to match the blistering pace of the novel itself, Pyr has been releasing the novels in The Shadows of the Apt series every three months or so since this novel’s original release date. Looks like I’ve got some catch up reading to do. Check out my full review of Empire in Black and Gold.
Daemon by Daniel Suarez
Daemon was, hands down, the most addictive novel I’ve ever read. While blending elements of fantasy and sci-fi (something I normally don’t enjoy), this techno-thriller beats the pace of a Dan Brown novel into a quivering pulp and delivers a novel that you can’t help but devour in a week or so. The hook: a computer game design company founder writes a code that monitors news headlines online. When he dies, it triggers a series of events that attempt to takeover the economy and portions of the government. Oddly, the DDOS attacks on large corporate web sites recently in relation to the WikiLeaks site are eerily reminiscent of the themes discussed in this novel. Scary. Check out my full review of Daemon.
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
I’ve read a few Sanderson novels at this point, and Elantris is, if not tied for favorite with Mistborn, my favorite Sanderson novel. This novel contains similar themes as Mistborn, but was written prior, and I believe Sanderson had an insatiable appetite for writing fantastic fiction at the time. This is a beautiful story, self-contained in one volume, that is definitely worth going back and reading for any Sanderson fans who have tasted his more recent work. Check out my full review of Elantris.
A few good reviews this week, including Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb, but the real story is the number of quality interviews crossing this week. Patrick Rothfuss, Tracy Hickman, Brandon Sanderson, James Barclay, N.K. Jemisin and Peter V. Brett all offer their wisdom to the fantasy blogosphere this week. The cover for Tchaikovsky’s 7th novel in the Shadows of the Apt series, Heirs of the Blade was released this week, and its gorgeous. News on The Dark Tower movie, Moorcock’s Elric series, and the Frank Frazetta feud. A trailer for the forthcoming The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie dropped this week, check it out below.
The biggest news of the week for me is definitely the first real action promos for the HBO Game of Thrones series. Its great to see Sean Bean and crew in action, I’m so pumped for this series! Also really excited to see that Sanderson has sold another Mistborn novel, definitely looking forward to seeing that series extended. Reviews this week of newer novels from some of my favorite authors: Joe Abercrombie, Tad Willians, Jim Butcher and more. And please don’t miss the hilarious xtranormal video on publishing. If you have anything you’d like to share here on FBN, feel free to create a group and post your thoughts.