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Thursday, February 16, 2017

New Year, New Series-Adult Fantasy

So, this week I am sharing a few of my favorite fantasy series for adults that are perhaps not as well known as The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

1. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss
You do not have to be a fantasy geek to get sucked into the mesmerizing world of The Kingkiller Chronicle. According to The Onion: The Name of the Wind is quite simply the best fantasy novel of the past 10 years, although attaching a genre qualification threatens to damn it with faint praise. Say instead that The Name of the Wind is one of the best stories told in any medium in a decade.

 Over the course of three days (each book in the planned trilogy is one day) a mysterious innkeeper named Kvothe shares his remarkable life story with a traveling scribe.  What follows is a first person narrative fraught with joy, tragedy, intrigue, magic, and music.  I have read the first two books twice and now I am desperately waiting for the publication of The Doors of Stone, which according to this May 2016 interview Patrick Rothfuss is in the process of editing so hopefully it will be coming out soon!

Lin-Manuel Miranda (Yes, the Hamilton guy!) must be a kindred spirit because he has said that "Pat Rothfuss' 'Kingkiller' books are among the most read and re-read in our home".  Speaking of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Rothfuss uber fan has signed on with Lionsgate to compose original music and produce the film and television adaptations of the Kingkiller Chronicle (Woot Woot!!!).  Ok, you may be wondering "Why original music?". Well, Kvothe is a gifted musician and since music is a recurring theme throughout the Kingkiller Chronicle it is hard to imagine a movie or tv series that did not highlight music.

As you know I am a children's librarian so I have to share this video of Patrick Rothfuss at the San Diego ComiCon last year leading a little story time of his own. I love it when an author turns out to be just as awesome as his books!

2. The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks
The Night Angel Trilogy is a grittier, more realistic fantasy but not quite as soul-sucking as Game of Thrones. So, what do I mean by that? Well, nothing against Game of Thrones. It is a superbly written, enthralling fantasy, but George R. R. Martin does seem to relish in killing off every character a reader can become emotionally invested in. Not that I need sunshine, rainbows, and happy endings in every book that I read, but I do like a hero or heroine that I can root for (especially in a fantasy).

The appealing, albeit flawed, characters are what make The Night Angel Trilogy a truly spectacular read. The story is primarily set in the dark, criminal underbelly of Cenaria in the mythical world of Midcryu.  Azoth is an orphan trying to survive by any means possible, when he witnesses the legendary wetboy, Durzo Blint in action. Seeing an escape from his impoverished existence, Azoth begs Durzo to train him in the magical and deadly arts of the wetboy, which "are to assassins like a tiger is to a kitten".

Yes, The Night Angel Trilogy is grim and many of the characters are thieves, assassins, prostitutes, and worse. However, Weeks makes you care and interjects themes of friendship, loyalty, and hope into an intricate and fascinating magical universe.

If you read the novels and love them as much as I did, check out the graphic novel adaptations of The Night Angel Trilogy. You have Weeks' amazing story accompanied by stellar artwork by Andy McDonald.

 3. The Belgariad by David Eddings
So now we have the opposite of gritty, realistic fantasy. I fell in love with David Eddings (and Leigh Eddings, his wife and frequent coauthor) when I was in middle school and first started obsessively reading a lot of high fantasy fiction.  In The Belgariad young farm boy, Garion, discovers that he is the subject of a centuries' old prophesy. Now Garion and a loyal group of companions are on an epic journey to find a magical orb and destroy the evil Kal Torak.

I would classify The Belgariad and the sequel series, The Mallorean, as fantasy light. If you want to read a series that is just escapist fun and a little more humorous Eddings is a great option. In fact, I find myself rereading the The Belgariad every few years because it is so entertaining. For parents out there that have tweens or teens that are interested in reading high fantasy Eddings' books are a little bit easier to read and do not include graphic violence or sex.

4.  The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
When I think of epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan is the first one that comes to mind. Fans of fantasy will happily lose themselves amidst the massive cast of characters in Jordan's expansive and detailed magical universe.

Rand, Matt, and Perrin  are best friends living in the isolated mountain village of Emond's Field. Their simple, yet happy lives are turned upside down after the arrival of Moiraine, a powerful sorceress (Aes Sedai), and her warder, Lan. For one of the three young men is the Dragon Reborn, destined to save the universe by returning Shai'tan, the Dark One, to his prison.

Jordan died in 2007 while writing the 12th book. Brandon Sanderson, who is an amazing fantasy writer in his own right (check out his Mistborn series which I probably should have included in this blog), was chosen by Jordan's family to finish the series. Books 12-14 were written using extensive notes and audiotapes left by Jordan and, in my opinion, Sanderson did an excellent job in concluding the The Wheel of Time.

If you do not want to read all 14 books of The Wheel of Time series the audiobook versions are amazing . The male characters are read by veteran narrator, Michael Kramer, and the female point of view is read by Kramer's real life spouse, Jennifer Mendenhall (aka Kate Reading). Listen to a sample in the youtube video below. 

5. The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind
If you read both The Sword of Truth and The Wheel of Time you will probably notice more than a few similarities. The protagonist of both series is a brawny, country bumpkin who discovers latent magical abilities and becomes a master swordsman before going on a harrowing quest to save the world. The Wheel of Time has the Aes Sedai, a powerful group of women who wield the one power and rule from the White Tower. Whereas, The Sword of Truth has the Sisters of the Light, sorceresses who have mastered the gift and reside in the Palace of Prophets. Despite the obvious parallels to The Wheel of Time, The Sword of Truth is an exciting and inventive fantasy with a memorable cast of characters.

The Sword of Truth series, was adapted for television by Terry Goodkind and Sam Raimi in 2008. Legend of the Seeker, which loosely follows Wizard's First Rule, only lasted two seasons but it was entertaining and featured gorgeous New Zealand scenery. If you're a fan of shows like Merlin, Xena, or Hercules and you enjoyed Goodkind's books Legend of the Seeker is definitely worth streaming on Hulu.

6. Shannara by Terry Brooks

Shannara may sound familiar since MTV launched a television series based on the books in 2016. I have not watched it so I do not know how faithful it is to Brooks' novels, but it looks intriguing. Also, it is exciting that John Rhys-Davies stars as Eventine Elessedil, king of the elves. I wonder if the makeup job to play an elf was easier than that required for Rhys-Davies to play Gimli the Dwarf in The Lord of the Rings. It looks like all he needed to play an elf were the ears.

John Rhys-Davies as Eventine Elessedil
Okay, back to the actual book series which is vast, complex, and completely unique. Whereas the majority of fantasy series take place in alternate worlds created in the authors' imagination, Shanarra is actually set  in a post-apocalyptic earth. The original Shanarra Trilogy (Sword of Shanarra, The Elfstones of Shanarra, and The Wishsong of Shanarra) is set two thousand years after a nuclear holocaust known as the Great Wars wipes out most of earth. The majority of technology is lost but magic and elves have been rediscovered and mankind has mutated into distinct races of men, dwarves, trolls, and gnomes.

Of the fantasy series that I have highlighted in this post, Shanarra requires the most commitment. There are already nearly 30 books that take take place in the Shanarra universe. I am not going to go into all of their plot lines because I would be typing for days and I have found that it is really difficult to summarize a fantasy series without sounding cheesy and/or confusing. Check out Terry Brooks' website for descriptions of all of the books as well as suggested reading orders of the books for new and old fans of Shanarra.

I know that thirty books seems excessive, but Brooks' brilliant story telling is worth the time and effort. The good news is The Black Elfstone, the first book in the The Fall of Shanarra, which is a four book conclusion to the Shanarra series is due out this June.