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Tags  →  fantasy novels

I have read a lot of science fiction and fantasy books in my time, and this trilogy is top-of-the-range in either category.

It is unique in many ways, but most of them I can't tell you about without seriously spoiling the plot.

I can say that it's the only work I have read in which the “science” part is geology, and that the style of story-telling includes passages addressed to “you”, putting you in the story as one of the characters - but which one, and who is telling you the story, is something you don't find out until the end.

The whole trilogy, in fact, is a gripping and apparently endless series of reveals.

The excellent review (click the image above to read) contains spoilers, so please don't read too far if you read it at all.

I will risk one extract from the review:

What also makes this work unique is the author herself, the first black winner of SF and Fantasy's prestigious Hugo Award (which was given to each of the novels in this trilogy as it appeared).

If you click the image below, which comes from a different excellent review in The Guardian, you will learn more about the author and also about the trilogy (relatively spoiler-free).
N.K. Jemisin

If you like this...

[More SF and fantasy books from my Books Page]

Elizabeth Moon

If you don't recognize this person, then you might guess that she is someone's favourite granny or aunt (I can find no information on this, although anyone would be very lucky to have her as either).

You might also guess that she is a historian, and you'd be right. You'd probably be surprised to learn that she became a 1st Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps while on active duty and is an experienced paramedic.

She is actually Elizabeth Moon, an author of Fantasy and SF fiction who has given me more reading pleasure, in quantity and quality combined, than almost any other.

Her masterworks, for me, are the main “Paksworld” novels, set in a fictional medieval world, which begin with The Deed of Paksennarion (or Sheepfarmer's Daughter) and end with Crown of Renewal. They form a single very long adventure-filled story in two parts, spread over many volumes.

For these novels Elizabeth Moon has created an extraordinarily realistic world, showing a deep appreciation of diverse cultures, politics, economics, historical development, real military campaigning and trading and legal systems.

The novels also demonstrate, as no others that I have read, what honourable and competent leadership really means, something particularly relevant in today's political culture.

If you are interested, you can read my full review of them here, which includes a list of all the volumes in order.

Most of her other works are set in the far future. My favourites are Vatta's War followed by the (misleadingly titled!) Vatta's Peace, and The Serrano Legacy, both of which (like the Paksworld novels) are very long adventure-filled stories in multiple volumes. These have been described as “military action SF” (and by me as “great holiday reading”, especially if you are e.g. a Tom Clancy fan) but they are far richer and more complex than those phrases would suggest.

Leadership and personal development again feature in these books, as do many of the Paksworld novels' other strengths, including some great world-building. In addition, the author has created extraordinarily real spacecraft, whether commercial vessels or fighting ships, in which much (but by no means all) of the action is set. This sense of reality extends not only to the environmental, engineering, weapons and command sections of each ship, but to the detailed functions of the crews who man them. I am oddly reminded of C.S. Forester's WWII book The Ship, which tells the story of a single critical engagement in the war in the Mediterranean, from the viewpoints of individual men of all stations serving on a destroyer.

The Serrano Legacy has a particularly rich background, and storylines that go well outside the military. One of its central concerns is a fascinating exploration of what might happen to societies and hierarchical organizations when the human lifespan can be significantly extended.

Vatta's War revolves around another complex issue, namely what happens when an essential monopoly-controlled galaxy-wide communication system (based on the “ansibles” that Ursula LeGuin invented for other SF writers) comes under attack.

If you enjoy Elizabeth Moon's books, don't miss her “stand-alone” novel The Speed of Dark, set in the near future, which draws on experiences with her autistic son. It was highly acclaimed by the critics, and you can find many links about it here.

If you like this...

[The Fantasy section of my Books page, including my full review of the Paksworld novels]
[The SF section of my Books page]
[A useful publication list for Elizabeth Moon's books, with Amazon purchase links]

[...and try clicking the entertainment tag at the top of this post... just a suggestion!]

The World of Paksennarion

If you like fantasy books such as those by J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R.R. Martin, Anne McCaffrey or Christopher Paolini, and have never heard of Elizabeth Moon, then a real treat is in store for you.

These are the main “Paksworld novels”, which essentially form a single epic story in two very long parts, the second part split into 5 volumes.

(The first book by itself is nearly as long as The Lord of the Rings, containing far more than its title would suggest, and was also split into 3 volumes for paper publication.)

The unique flavour of these books naturally has to do with the author herself. Among other things, she became a 1st Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps while on active duty, is an experienced paramedic, has degrees in history and biology, and obviously knows everything there is to be known about horses (and mules).

These books, set in a complex medieval world, often read like a well-researched historical novel. However, no historical novels or epic fantasies that I have read contain the kind of action and adventures taking place here, nor the qualities shown by several of its main characters in the leadership and personal development of people.

Click the image or go here if you would like to read more about them in the Fantasy section of my Books page. You won't be sorry.

Sir Terry Pratchett OBE
April 28th, 1948 - March 12th, 2015

The world has suffered the loss of an almost universally loved fantasy writer, humanist and campaigner for the right to die with dignity and for Alzheimer's research.

He was an enormously prolific author, filling the bookshelves of people all over the world with many treasured possessions. As years went by his output became seriously funny, in every sense, and was often deeply humane.

Not all of his work was fantasy - for example “Dodger”, one of his finest works, is a gripping story set in historical London. As with many of his books for younger readers, “Dodger” can be (and is) enjoyed equally by adults.

He was knighted by the Queen in 2009 for services to literature.

He will live on in so many ways (a good number of which are described here). One of these ways is through his daughter Rhianna, already an author, who (with his blessing) will take over writing the Discworld series.

Click the image of Sir Terry for a superb tributes page (thanks, Karenak), and click the quotation for many of his best quotes.

“Downs in Winter”


Marvellous watercolours by the painter, designer, book illustrator, wood engraver and official War Artist (1940) Eric Ravilious, whose other work is well worth exploring (click either image above if you're interested).

For me, the spirit of Granny Aching still watches over these scenes of “The Chalk”. If you know what I mean then you might also be a fan of Terry Pratchett's wonderful books about Tiffany Aching (trainee witch) and The Wee Free Men (a bunch of tiny Caledonian hooligans), set in a mirror of this countryside (and assorted interconnecting worlds). The books are a unique combination of deep humanity, earthy wisdom and hilarious dialogue - if you have yet to try them, you might enjoy taking a look here.

What can I tell you about this cracking first novel by Sally Green, without giving away the plot?

Half Bad a young adult fantasy novel (a genre that contains many of my favourite books), set in a modern-day world of male and female witches. It's some distance away from the world of Harry Potter (muggles are fains in Half Bad, but any close resemblance pretty much ends there).

As the story develops, it reminds me oddly of the first “Jason Bourne” movie, as the hero becomes a boy with a mission, pursued by various evils, while his own nature and identity (as well as those around him) are an unfolding mystery.

The style of writing (for me) has a dash of Suzanne Collins, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman and even at times Quentin Tarantino, with a hefty slug of originality.

You will find plenty more about the book here (or click the image). It's also available as a good-value (and properly produced) eBook.

A word of warning: this is only the first book of the “Half Life” trilogy, and the next part, “Half Wild”, isn't due out until March 24th, 2015.

If you like this...

[Brian's Place - The Book Corner]

I have just finished reading The Night Circus, a very ambitious first novel of love and magic by Erin Morgenstern.

For me it is almost a really great book - there was so much that I liked about it, but sometimes (especially early on) what I call the "narrative drive" kept faltering, while various wonders continued to unfold. Eventually, however, I was gripped, and it would be worth reading if only to enjoy the author's wonderful imagination and descriptive powers. I shall certainly read it again.

An excellent review of it (which I fully agree with) can be found here.

The book is obviously a very attractive proposition for movie makers, and it seems that Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment are approaching some kind of deal on its production. Eager fans aren't waiting - the movie poster to the left, and the trailer below, are totally unofficial (click either image for more).

There is also a feeling by fans of the book, which I share, that the scope for making a real mess of bringing the story to the big screen is considerable. On the other hand, if done well, the movie could be a cracker. I await the outcome with eager nervousness...

This is a small fragment of a very large "Speculative World Map". It's a work of art produced by serMountainGoat, a dedicated fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin's epic (and still incomplete) medieval fantasy that begins with A Game of Thrones. I found it here.

(Click the map fragment to see the full map - and you'll need to click again to view it full size. I borrowed an A3 printer and made myself a (slightly reduced) tiled printout of the map on six A3 sheets, which when assembled covers most of our dining table!)

I have just finished reading all of the available books in this astonishing, engrossing and occasionally exasperating epic fantasy, which is still incomplete (only 5 of the planned 7 books have been written). If you haven't read it, you will find an excellent description of it in this Wikipedia article.

One of the few works it can be compared to (although it is very different in many ways) is J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Both stories live in a richly detailed invented world with a deep history, worlds which are in some ways alternative versions of our own. Both authors have "R.R." as their middle initials (Ronald Reuel and Raymond Richard respectively). Apart from that, there are many more differences than similarities!

Tolkien's story occupied 1,215 pages in the original 3-volume hardback edition, comprising a prologue, 62 chapters and the extensive appendices.

The first 5 books in Martin's story occupy 4,408 pages in the original hardback editions (many more pages in paperback), comprising 344 chapters and in each volume a prologue, epilogue and an appendix of characters. There are over 1,000 named characters in this vast work, with the story (so far) told mainly through the viewpoints of about 12 of them.

Tolkien's story is told principally from the viewpoint of the four Hobbits, with Frodo as the main character. The Fellowship of the Ring is a continuous narrative with one main viewpoint (Frodo and the hobbits as a group). In The Two Towers the narrative splits into several streams, each containing continuous narratives of several chapters at a time. In the first half of The Two Towers Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas track down the two captured hobbits, the two captured hobbits escape and encounter Treebeard, and the threads eventually come together at Isengard after the battle of Helm's Deep. In the second half of The Two Towers Frodo and Sam trek to Mordor, ending with the cliffhanger as Frodo is captured after encountering Shelob. The Return of the King follows the war through three narrative streams (Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas in one, Merry and Pippin separately in two others), before returning to Frodo and Sam's final achievement and reunion with the others, followed by the long unwinding of the Fellowship.

Martin's story (so far) is told from the viewpoints of some 12 main characters (good and evil, intelligent and stupid, in various shades and combinations), plus some extra relatively minor ones. Each such character is featured in a single chapter, before the narrative switches to another viewpoint and another chapter. This is surprisingly effective, but means that the reader often has to wait a very long time to return to an engrossing narrative thread. Also, the sheer size of the work means that he has had to split the story intended for Book 4 into two geographical sections, the second of which was postponed to Book 5, and he has postponed natural climaxes from Book 5 to Book 6 - which might take 3 years for him to complete.

In spite of all this, I can really recommend the books so far (and the above map, which is essential). They are all available together as a single eBook, with a free sample that contains a good-sized chunk of Book 1. (We now have two Kindles in the family, since it was my wife who originally wanted to read Martin's epic. We discovered that you can share an eBook amongst up to 6 Kindles bought by the same person, so we were both reading the same eBook on our recent holiday in the Cathar region of France - see below - which seemed very appropriate to the story.)

Sir Terry Pratchett, OBE
(Original post: September 4th, 2010)

O frabjous day! Another book by Terry Pratchett!

This is the fourth in possibly my favourite of all Terry Pratchett's sequences of stories, the sequence following Tiffany Aching, trainee witch (now full witch in this book) and the Wee Free Men (a.k.a. the Nac Mac Feegles), a hilarious bunch of tiny Caledonian hooligans.

(The previous 3 in this series were The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith.)

The stories are very funny, very serious and very wise, and best of all they have the witches. I suspect that (as with Samuel Vimes of the Night Watch in some of his other Discworld novels) his principal witches carry much of his own personal philosophy.

Some time in the next few years, a form of Alzheimer's will rob the world of one of its greatest living authors (Sir Terry was knighted for services to literature), but he will leave behind a truly wonderful legacy. In the meantime, as this book shows, the creative part of his brain is still in absolutely top form.

And that's not all...

This new DVD is possibly the best so far. If you liked the Sky productions of Hogfather and The Colour of Magic, then you will love this one.

Terry Pratchett specialises in sardonic, unsentimental heroines. Claire Foy does a great job of playing Adora Belle Dearheart in this one, just as Michelle Dockery did as Susan (Death's granddaughter) in Hogfather.

The rest of the cast is also top-of-the-range, and the movie is prefaced by a short introduction from Sir Terry himself. This is a joy not to be missed.

If you like Terry Pratchett...

[My review of 'The Bromeliad']

From my web site...

[My books page]
[My movies page]

I can really recommend this cracking 3-part thriller by Jonathan Stroud. Some of the best fiction nowadays seems to be written for young people but is intended to be enjoyed by people of all ages, and that certainly includes me in this case.

The flavour of these books is a mixture of Philip Pulman's superb Victorian thrillers featuring Sally Lockhart (starting with The Ruby In The Smoke), combined with the sardonic humour and intelligence of Terry Pratchett, together with a dash of J.K. Rowling. Jonathan Stroud is no imitator, however - this is unique stuff.

The three books form an almost continuous, multi-layered story, set in an alternative London, with a back-story stretching back to ancient Egypt. One of the things that I really like is the multiple viewpoints from which the story is told. The ancient djinni Bartimaeus has a wonderfully sardonic and (perhaps justifiably) conceited outlook on life, and tells his part in the proceedings in both first and third persons, with many entertaining footnotes. Nathaniel is a young magician who summons Bartimaeus. Initially oppressed himself, he becomes part of the oppressive Establishment and is then gradually reformed through much painful experience. The third main character, the feisty Resistance leader Kitty, doesn't really take the stage until later, her importance and quality only gradually dawning on the reader.

Adults familiar with the recent British government will pick up a whiff of sharp political satire (although it doesn't intrude on the story), and people familiar with history will get an extra kick from Bartimaeus's unique outlook on events.

The movies, when they come out, will have a hard job living up to these excellent books. The books deserve the best quality movie-making - I hope that they get it.

[More links on the Bartimaeus Trilogy]
[10 best books for treating Harry Potter withdrawal]
[Some of my additional suggestions]
[My books page]

Yes, we are in one of the worlds of Terry Pratchett. It is our own world in this case, as described in his trilogy for children entitled "The Bromeliad" (which you may have seen as individual volumes entitled "Truckers", "Diggers" and "Wings").

As always, Terry Pratchett makes us see all our absurdities in a wise and funny way, his use of the English language crackles with wit and invention, and his story grips the reader from start to finish.

Some of his best work is written for younger readers but is enjoyed by all ages, and this is well up to his standard. The Bromeliad is a single story in three more or less consecutive parts, concerning the lives and adventures of the race of tiny, fast-living nomes, who are not natives of Earth but whose racial memory has long forgotten this fact. One small group of nomes lives rough in the fields near a motorway, and life becomes so hard that they steal a ride on a lorry (a major undertaking) in the hope that it will take them anywhere that might prove better. This turns out to be a large department store inhabited by a larger group of nomes, living beneath the floorboards of different departments, apparently in the lap of luxury. Alas, the store is due to be demolished. The nomes in residence have become very set in their ways and in their beliefs, and the incoming band of nomes has to seriously shake things up (including themselves) if they are to survive. Their final mass escape from the store is only one step of an enthralling saga, involving hardship, computer assistance (when it feels like it), agonizing personal reappraisals, much hot-wiring and some increasingly awesome forms of transportation.

If you enjoyed his book "The Wee Free Men" then you will love "The Bromeliad". If you like reading and have never heard of either, and are curious to find out why Terry Pratchett was awarded the OBE for "services to literature" in 1998, do try either book - whatever age you are. You may be hooked.

[My review of Shel Silverstein's Official Site For Kids]
[My books page]