GRIMDARK FANTASY IS FUN. WAIT, WHAT? – THE BLADE ITSELF

I all but gave up on fantasy not too long ago; as little as one year ago I refused to read a fantasy novel. The reason I gave to myself is that I read too many fantasy books growing up, so many that I’ve been indoctrinated into every trope there is in the genre. What is original to someone else, is tired and worn out to me. Turns out I was being really picky and choosing the wrong books to read.

The genre of fantasy is filled with stories that use the same old tropes—good vs. evil, chosen one who happens to be a peasant and 4 years old, old gods wanting to get back into the game. However, the same goes for every genre out there, and it’s that way for a reason. Tropes are not to make a story original, rather they are used for familiarity, to increase reader enjoyment and, at the same time, sales.

So, when I gave up on fantasy because I claimed everything to read was just tired and worn out, that was just me not giving the genre a fair chance. Instead I wrote the entire genre off and ran to the sci-fi side of the fence. There I learned my reasoning for giving up an entire genre sat on thin-ice, and the tremendous value of Goodreads Groups; for I got to a point that I didn’t even like reading sci-fi.

How do Goodreads Groups and really awful picking of books figure together? If you’re a connoisseur of Goodreads, then you know the answer.

Movies. There are so many of them out there, so many painfully awful ones, that most of the time it’s better to wear an old hat than to pick out a new one. It’s one of the reasons Rotten Tomatoes was created; to help people learn which movies to stay away from and which to watch. The rating system on that site is so uncanny that if there is a green splat next to the rating, just about everyone is going to agree it’s not a good movie.

The rationale behind Rotten Tomatoes is more or less the same as the one Goodreads uses. What would happen if, in one place, anyone could rate and post a review of a book? Not only that, what would happen if people could create groups on that site, with posts that linked to the books that anyone—not just a book critic—could review and rate? You, I, get a site that is an absolute boon to your, my, book choosing needs.

Goodreads, the reviews I read there, and a Goodreads fantasy group are the sole reason I wandered back into fantasy with The Emperor’s Blades, and the only reason why I read The Blade Itself. And oh how happy I am for that.

The Blade Itself is a feat of storytelling. Joe Abercrombie somehow takes the old trope of a quest of strangers and turns it into THE MOST ENTERTAINING FANTASY NOVEL I HAVE EVER READ. If you read my thoughts on The Emperor’s Blades, you’ll know I love that book. However, The Blade Itself is in its own class.

I’ve read books that are more thought provoking; stories with sentences that are a feast for the mind; novels with plots vastly more complex, but never have I read a fantasy novel more entertaining.

It’s the little things that create the amazing entertainment value. Jezal yelling really loudly when talking to someone he thinks can’t speak his language. Glokta angry at stairs because he moves like a wizened ancient man. Logen’s practicality. Everything, and I mean everything, fits together so seamlessly that Joe Abercrombie has joined the short list of authors I will reread with glee:

  • Neil Gaiman
  • Neal Asher
  • Robert Jordan
  • Dan Simmons
  • Joe Abercrombie
  • Rachel Bach
  • Peter Watts

Should you purchase, or check out from the library, The Blade Itself? Do I really have to answer that? Yes? Well then, do yourself a favor and give in to the hype surrounding Joe Abercrombie; I did and found it to be completely justified, which is why I am so happy I stopped being a book snob and jumped back in the fantasy pool. Read The Blade Itself like I did. Read it now.

YOU’RE WELCOME. 5 BINGE-READING WORTHY SERIES

Lots-of-books

 

It’s Friday afternoon, management told everyone to talk a halfday because the universe took a sudden liking to you. Traffic is light on the way home, every green light caught; everyone you know is off doing something for the weekend; your calendar is as empty as the pie plates at The Golden Corral; and your bookshelf is proudly displaying wonderful works of fiction in all their glory. Or it’s reality and you’d rather read than talk to people.

Whatever the reason, these book series will keep you so entertained you’ll wish a weekend is a year longer than it is.

 

THE PARADOX TRILOGY

fortunes pawn (Small)

What do you get when you combine Frank Castle, Black Widow, Jason Bourne, Joan of Arc, and Achilles? Answer: Devi Morris, the badass of all badasses.

The Paradox Trilogy follows the mercenary Devi Morris in a story with such tightly paced action you’ll give yourself papercuts flipping the pages as you follow her through a conspiracy, that if solved, could have horrific consequences for the human race.

This is action upon action set in a science fiction setting. Think: Expendables (if it were a good movie) + Star Wars.

 

THE FIRST LAW TRILOGY

Abercrombie_BladeItself-TP-300x463 (Small)

Welcome to grimdark fantasy, authored by none other than Lord Grimdark himself. Visceral style of storytelling that reimagines classic tropes, protagonists and antagonists who walk a moral gray line, bloody battles, raw animalistic magic, dead gods, a grim rather than romantic epic quest, and political backstabbing create a story that will go down in the annals as one of the finest fantasy series ever written.

At three books—hence, trilogy—if you start late afternoon on a Friday, you could finish Paradox and The First Law, and by saddened by how boring your life suddenly seems on Monday.

 

THE WHEEL OF TIME

eye of the world

The genre of fantasy is known for epics, so much so that there are entire blog entries dedicated to finding those fantasy books that happen to be standalone or not epic. And when it comes to epic people may automatically think of J.R.R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings, but it’s Robert Jordan’s successful The Wheel of Time that set has set the bar for what an epic fantasy series can be.

Wondering how that can be since LoTR is so well known, the movies so popular? Take a gander at these statistics:

10,188 pages. 1,379 POVs. 147 unique POVs. 23 nations.

The Wheel of Time is so epic, it redifines the the very word; and while a few of the books may seem like fluff, there just to make Tor Books and Jordan more money, the payout comes in the form of a jackpot with the last book, Memory of Light. The finale to the greatest epic fantasy ever written is so great, you better talk a month off when you begin on Eye of the World, to finish this classic struggle of good versus evil.

 

REVELATION SPACE

Revelation_Space_cover_(Amazon)

The Revelation Space books are not a series in the classic definition, but rather five books set in a shared universe. STOP! Don’t skip to the next series to binge on, now that you know this isn’t a series like a TV show. To do so would have catastrophic consequences to your imagination, as the books set in the Revelation Space universe are so amazing that they are the gold standard for hard sci-fi space opera.

What’s that? You don’t like hard sci-fi? I hear you, I’m not a big fan of the genre either. But the Revelation Space books are so marvelously written, to read them and not be entertained is all but an impossibility.

 

FIREFALL

echopraxia (Small)

Ahh the challenge of reading. For many, if they are told a storyline is so original it doesn’t follow normal tropes, and ideas are so…different the entire series reads like a piece of experimental fiction, those many would shake their heads and move on.

To do so with Blindsight and Echopraxia—books of Firefall—would be a disservice to your brain.

Yes, Blindsight has botany terminology that is difficult to wrap your head around and sometimes requires the use of a dictionary. True, Echopraxia has a plot arc that is, at best, challenging to wrap your mind around. However, the writing, plotting, pace, and original story are so wonderfully produced that very few authors alive—or dead—can match the superb results Peter Watts has achieved.

 

 

Finally. A fantasy book worth reading. – THE EMPEROR’S BLADES

emperorsbladespsd

I actually stopped reading fantasy a while back, maybe a year and half ago. It could be longer.  I got sick of the same old tired tropes that didn’t try anything new. Oh look. There’s a young child walking on a goat trail. Oh look. There’s a teenager tending to a flock of sheep. Hey. A wizened old mage and some dwarfs and an elf.

The Wheel of Time, Dragonlance Chronicles, and Drizzt paved a path so large that for decades just about every fantasy author followed upon the smooth path. Even Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ follows in their footsteps to a degree. It wasn’t until recently, about the last five years, that fantasy authors and editors looked at the carefully planted and manicured garden of books that had been growing for decades. They looked and saw how boring it all was.

I don’t know what author/editor combo it was, but there’s a duo out there who looked into that fantasy garden and decided to throw a barrel of dynamite into it. What was left after the smoke cleared was a rubble strewn crater-like path full of fissures, jagged rocks, and smoldering terrain that you learn how to traverse by jumping in feet first.

Which brings me to the greatness that is The Emperor’s Blades.

There’s no 800 pages of a little boy/girl who gets chosen by a wise old one. No raising the boy/girl in a lean-to in the woods that has a kitchen and a bathroom. No ridiculous apprenticeship. There are no chapters that are good for nothing but being an elaborate infodump to teach us what this new religion/government/culture is like all without furthering the story.

The Emperor’s Blades eschews those tired tropes that Jordan popularized and Martin has beaten to death. Instead, Brian Staveley deftly turns those tropes on their ears and spins a yarn as good as any I have read. The start of a tale that makes me want to run to the nearest bookstore (not library, because I need to see this on my bookshelf) and buy the next chapter in the saga.

I want to run (maybe drive really fast) to the bookstore, because–and I might be close to killing this poor horse–the Emperor’s Blades is not your run of the mill fantasy book. Let’s put it another way.

You think just because The Emperor’s Blades is the start of another fantasy epic that it places floaties on your arms, a lifesaver ring around your waist, a lifesaver around your chest, and then holds you under the armpits while you’re lowered inch by inch into the water?

Think again.

Stavely throws you off a bridge into chum infested, heavy shark traffic waters, then tells you to swim to shore while regaling you of stories about shark attacks.

The Emperor’s Blades harkens back to Glen Cook’s: The Black Company. Shit hits the fan from the opening chapter and just gets thicker in the air as the story progresses. The first book ends masterfully, though not without some quirks.

The quirks in the last few chapters don’t tarnish the great story though, and most will not even notice them. I may have picked up on it simply because I am an author and have done the same thing. What I’m saying is that there are times in a story that you just have to say, “hell with the buildup,” and let the tinderbox explode. Make the transition abrupt enough, say in the middle of an action/fight sequence, and the reader will likely not even know it happened. I think that’s one of the reasons why I like the story and Staveley’s writing style. I noticed the transition and appreciate the abrupt subtlety (yes, that’s a thing) of it.

Should you go out and buy/checkout from the library The Emperor’s Blades? If I didn’t make that clear enough, I’ll spell it out: YES. This is a wonderful story, and I am so happy I threw caution to the wind and bought it on Google Play Books. Now go. Buy or checkout The Emperor’s Blades. You’ll thank me.