Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sword and shield, bone and steel

One of the leading lights in fantasy novels is George R.R. Martin. The great difference between his books and those of authors like Robert Jordan is the sense reality. Now, we are talking fantasy novels, so you will find magic, gods, and all manner of non-real things. The reality I mean is the focus on how people and societies operate. Martin and others like him don't focus on great battles between good and evil, but instead on the rivalry for power. In Martin's case the rivalry is between noble houses all seeking dominance of their continent.

Another difference is the cleanliness or lack thereof. So much of fantasy has the heroes escaping peril time and again and a unreal sense that everything is nice, clean and orderly. In Martin's books, people die, lots of them. Some are characters, some are the unfortunates upon whose land wars are fought. People are also ugly because of disease, war wounds, lack of hygiene and other realistic touches. Some people don't like this, but for me it makes for a more believable tale.

Right now I am reading the truly epic (ten volume) Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. I just finished Deadhouse Gates, which was a big step above its predecessor. There was less confusion and also more effective story telling. Like Martin, Erikson's world is not beset by tides of evil, but it is beset by an aggressive empire which is facing counterattack and rebellion the world over. On top of that, a number of gods play out their own games amongst the human squabbling. There are numerous wars and they are terrible. The death toll among major characters and the population in general is amazing. Its not all bleak thought, there are interesting characters that rise above the suffering.

You can probably already tell if you would like this one. If you are wavering, you probably won't. If you have found that fantasy novels are a bit too cheesy, you may like this one, or rather these..

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