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!
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.
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.
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.