Reviews take a back seat this week as we mark the passing of a legend. Legendary fantasy and comic book artist Frank Frazetta has died at age 82, and the world has lost one of its most famed fantasy artists in one single moment. Below you’ll find the obituary from Boston.com, along with a few galleries of some of Frank’s art, which I’ve enjoyed over the years. He’s the only artist for which I’ve ever downloaded fantasy art and used it as my desktop background image. He’ll truly be missed.
On a lighter note, Jones soda has created a variety of D&D Spellcasting sodas, which I strongly advise you check out. Also, Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay is getting some good press this week, and Joe Abercrombie has some surprising news regarding the launch date of his forthcoming The Heroes. Giddy up.
Okay, so I want to make sure we’re clear before diving in: this is not a list of the best fantasy books released in 2009, but rather the top books read and reviewed here at Fantasy Book News in 2009. That said, there are some newer books, and some classics, but overall this is an elite list of fantasy novels that any avid reader should check out. And away we go.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
While this series is going on fifteen years, I gave a re-read to the first novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series in 2009, in audio book format. The book still has the same enchanting effect as the first time I read it, and is still the standard to which I compare most other fantasy books, and absolutely any epic fantasy books. Check out the full review of A Game of Thrones.
Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
The second book in Lynch’s seven book Gentlemen Bastards series delivered what many creative people struggle to accomplish time and time again: give the audience a better experience than the original. Red Seas Under Red Skies upped the stakes from The Lies of Locke Lamora, and hit ended up hitting a grand slam. Read the full review of Red Seas Under Red Skies.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
This whopping freshman fantasy novel by Rothfuss completely transports you to another world, which is one of the goals that every fantasy novel aspires to. Believe me, I read most of it while lounging poolside in Araxa, Brazil, and I can’t tell you how many times I forgot my beautiful surroundings for the world that Rothfuss creates. Check out the full review of The Name of the Wind.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
The quintessential fairy tale, The Last Unicorn is simply a beautiful story. Get lost in a world of fantasy and magic, complimented with a fantastically original plot and a genuine sense of humor. Read the full review of The Last Unicorn.
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
Mistborn is an absolutely beautiful novel. Its got everything that a fantasy reader looks for: insanely original devices, characters you can identify with, tons of action, and wholesome undercurrents. We have a full review of Mistborn over here.
Urban fantasy is on fire. Over the past two years, it seems that all you hear about in the fantasy book arena is how urban fantasy is taking over the genre. I’ve traditionally been more of an epic fantasy fan, but I decided to try my hand at a bit of urban fantasy. I flew through two books that seemed like good starting points for the genre: Storm Front by Jim Butcher and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. With the eleventh book in the series, Turn Coat, released in 2009, Jim Butcher’s series The Dresden Files is wildly popular, and has been recommended to me by a few friends. Neverwhere is Gaiman’s first novel, after years of fame coming from his Sandman comic book series. Both weigh in a little over 300 pages, and I flew through both. I’ll give my take of Storm Front here, and be sure that a Neverwhere review is coming soon.
I have to say that urban fantasy overall is a nice break from the doorstops I typically consume. Storm Front is not my first urban fantasy, having read Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code years ago.
Butcher possesses great skill with description:
The house is full of creaks and sighs and settling boards, and time and lives have worn their impressions into the wood and brick. I can hear all the sounds, all the character of the place, above and around me all through the night. It’s an old place, but it sings in the darkness and is, in its own quirky little way, alive. Its home.
a bit of a comic perspective:
She was driving me crazy. That voice of hers inspired the kind of dreams you wish you could remember more clearly in the morning. Her expression promised to show me things that you don’t talk about with other people, if I would give her half a chance. Your job, Harry. Think about your job. Some days I really hate my job.
as well as the ability to truly inspire self-doubt in his characters:
Have you ever felt despair? Absolute hopelessness? Have you ever stood in the darkness and known, deep in your heart, in your spirit, that it was never, ever going to get better? That something had been lost, forever, and that it wasn’t coming back?
These different abilities shine through in a novel that is written with direct speech, similar to The Gunslinger by Stephen King. His main character, Harry Dresden, is a likable guy; he’s just a regular working class dude. With a bit of magic on his side. Butcher is able to work magic into an urban setting in a believable manner, although I think the originality of the magic system in Mistborn still remains on top. The magic system relies on different ingredients, partially on the weather, and partially on the random mix of items that, suggested by Harry’s talking skull, go into his different potions.
Harry gets himself into all kinds of predicaments, and this novel moves along at a brisk pace. Here you’ll find more action than much else, although I wouldn’t classify this as a 100% action novel. There are a number of great supporting cast members here, from Murphy, the woman on the police force who calls in Harry for different case work, to a sword-wielding sorcerer who is the enforcer of the White Council’s (the governing body of magic) rules. In addition, we see a number of great baddies, from giant scorpions to squat demons, and even a few mob thugs mixed in for good measure.
Storm Front is a very entertaining urban fantasy, and a great start to The Dresden Files series. Harry Dresden is a real character; you feel for him. He goes down to the corner bar when he needs to work out a few issues, and has to work a nine to five just to pay his rent. I should mention that although the novel itself is light and a very quick read, it definitely contains adult subject matter. If you’re looking for a novel where you can identify with any of these aspects, with a bit of crime-solving action thrown into the mix, then Storm Front is definitely for you.