Monday, March 4, 2013

What to read next...

Below is an email I wrote for a friend who has finished all the Song of Ice and Fire books and wants something to "read in the meantime." She was never a reader of fantasy and is now fascinated by the genre and its possiblities.

Hey C...,

Here is the list I promised you. If its too long and wordy…oh well. Don't ask me to speak on a subject I love so much.

A good place to start is the first law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie: The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and The Last Argument of Kings. Since you seem to like the darker aspects of the Martin books: the violence, the backstabbings, betrayals, affairs etc. you should really dig these. On his blog Abercrombie writes that in his teens and twenties he had been a devourer of fantasy but then grew out of them. That changed in 1996 when he picked up A Game of Thrones. Fantasy, he wrote, could do some very adult things.

After the Trilogy you can read Best Served Cold, The Heroes, and Red Country. These are all stand alones but set in the same fantasy world. He gets better with each book. I think of these the strongest was probably The Heroes but read em for yourself and decide.

He writes on the blog that one of the highlights of his career as a writer was when Martin himself wrote positive reviews of his books. Abercrombie is seen, at least in England, as the natural successor to Martin.

Once you get through them the next place to turn would be The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. Book 1: The Name of the Wind, and Book 2: The Wise Man's Fear. (Book 3 is unpublished and he's still working on it: tentatively titled The Doors of Stone). These are my current favorites in the fantasy genre and are a storyteller's feast. His books are intelligent, literate, action packed but very subtle as well. They have nasty scenes like the murder of a boy's parents in front of his eyes but also some powerful poetry and some of the best world building I've ever encountered. Whereas Martin's characters tend to be a little outrageous in their behavior Rothfuss's are more subtle and more deadly. Kvothe, the protagonist goes against type in the books by being literally one of the most intelligent characters ever created. He's like a red haired tyrion who also happens to be a musician. Not exactly your usual sword swinging protagonist.

After this my next favorite and a real charmer of a series is The Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch. The first book is The Lies of Locke Lamora and the second is Red Seas Under Red Skies. If people describe Game of Thrones as the Sopranos with swords then this series is best described as Ocean's Eleven with Swords. It follows the adventures and screw ups and heists and general con man Locke Lamora who is Camoor's best thief and his crew. What surprises about this series is the way it starts out as a bit light hearted (the opening chapter is titled "The Boy Who Stole Too Much") and it gets dark. Like the parts of Game of Thrones where the series gets into the old gods and melisandre and you realize you in a deep and dangerous place in human consciousness, he throws into the mix of organized crime all these mythic religious overtones. This series is probably going to some day be made into movie or tv show. Its that good.

Speaking of the HBO brand: the network signed a contract to make a series based on Neil Gaiman's American Gods which is the best work of fantasy in the world(IMH). Its what is known as urban fantasy, by which I mean there are magical elements such a magic and gods old and new battling. But the character of Shadow and what happens to him is a real page turner. I've actually seen this book in a collection of american literature.

Speaking of Urban Fantasy: a good series to read is The Magicans by Lev Grossman. It’s the one I described to you as "What would really happen if teenagers were given magical powers.."

After that it might be good to get some female perspective: There are several women writers who have a good reputation, but I've only read two of them. The first is Robin Hobb and a good place to start with her books is Assassin's Apprentice. Her books have adult themes like adultery and illegitimate births but for me were a little too formulaic. Its as though she knew she were writing a specific style of book that had certain expectations from readers. Even though the books didn't blow me away I still enjoyed them.

The other female I've read is K.J.Parker. She is bitingly sarcastic and you sometimes get the sense she hates her characters. But these books are brilliant in their analysis of human behavior and the ways we delude ourselves. Her characters fall in love and destroy everything in their lives as a result. But she is also charming. Reading her you will have a wry smile on your face the entire time.

Another female who by reputation is among the best is Jaquiline Carey. Her book Kushiel's Dart is the beginning of a long and complicated fantasy with adult themes that a lot of reader praise. Some day I'll get around to them.

But back to the dudes: Martin himself once wrote that one of the inspirations for A Song of Ice and Fire came from a series by the American writer Tad Williams called Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. There are four books: The Dragonbone Chair(notice any resemblences?), Stone of Farewell, and To Green Angel Tower which is split into two books parts 1 and 2. Williams takes fantasy and does some adult things with it at a time when it was not allowed. It was reading these betrayals and adulteries and dark characters(among which you will see the inspiration for Jaimie, as well as Cersei, and Varus) that Martin realized he could "get away" with the things he wanted to do.

Ive read these but it was more out of curiosity to see what ideas if any Martin stole. I don’t think he really took too much except the idea that fantasy could be much more relevent and speak to people's sense of the world.

After that you can check out the novels of Guy Gavriel Kay: Tigana, Sailing to Sarantium, Lord of Emporers, The Lions of Al-Rassan, A Song for Arbonne, Last Light of the Sun, and Under Heaven. He writes fantasy novels that are more like a historical novel but very poetic.

There are more but hopefully by this time GRRM will have finished The Winds of Winter.

Peace and Enjoy,


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