Reviews of The Magician King, American Gods and Goliath this week, along with interviews with George R.R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Tad Williams and Terry Brooks. The Times profiles Jim Butcher, and A Game of Thrones makes first appearances in the comic book and video game industries.
An absolute tempest of fantasy fiction this week, with reviews, interviews and top 10’s forming the perfect storm. Reviews of a pair of new novels, and a pair of classics, interviews with a few new authors, and a classic, and top 10 lists from a new author and a classic. At the eye of the storm you’ll find George R.R. Martin and Tad Williams live at the Fox Theater. Batten down the hatches and dig in.
Interviews galore this week, featuring everyone from old hands like R.A. Salvatore and Neil Gaiman, to relatively fresh talent like Lev Grossman and Mark Charan Newton. A couple of Game of Thrones scripts set for charity auction were heisted this week, and we get a first look at the new free MMO based on Tad Williams’ Otherland. It looks absolutely sick.
If you’re lucky enough to be inside with air conditioning right now, you’ll likely have more time than usual to browse the interwebs. Luckily, the fantasy blogosphere is chock full of goodies this week, with reviews of books by Tad Williams, Mark Charan Newton and Glen Cook, and interviews with Mark Lawrence, Ellen Kushner and David Anthony Durham. A few big fantasy film happenings: Harry Potter concludes and io9 looks at potential fantasy series to replace it, and The Dark Tower gets cancelled. Bring on the Dragonlance feature film!!
Reviews of books by all-star authors Brandon Sanderson, Tad Williams, Terry Pratchett, the amalgamation that is Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm, Mark Charan Newton, Peter Orullian, and others. Also first pics from The Hobbit film.
The fantasy blogosphere onslaught continues this week, with reviews of books new and old alike, from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin to A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin. Interviews with Brandon Sanderson and Ursula K. Le Guin crossed this week, and we see releases from top authors Tad Williams, Joe Abercrombie and more. More buildup for the Game of Thrones HBO series with a spotlight at the L.A. Times and a new “artisans” video hitting the web. Even further GRRM news with Bantam purchasing the comic book rights for A Song of Ice and Fire, and cap the week off with a trailer for the new Lord of the Rings video game!
Tad 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.
A great week in fantasy literature, with an impending update from GRRM on A Dance with Dragons, Amazon emailing clients who have previously purchased Scott Lynch works (me) announcing the launch date of The Republic of Thieves, reviews of The Heroes and Shadowheart, interviews with Ursula K. Le Guin and Tracy Hickman, and it seems LOTR has gone Beatles. Whew!