Until this week, I had despaired of ever finding a new fantasy novel or series that I could actually enjoy.
It seems the shelves are glutted with what I call “Urban Gothic”, or what the industry calls “Contemporary fantasy”, where the story is set in our familiar Earth, and magic, folklore, and the supernatural is injected into what would otherwise be an unremarkable fiction. Often these books are actually romances or mysteries disguised as and marketed as a fantasy. These frequently depict wizards and witches riding motorcycles and using credit cards, or feature a vampire or werewolf as its protagonist, struggling to deal with a xenophobic modern society.
I deplore this subgenre. My tastes in fantasy run towards the Epic (High), Dark, and Heroic (Sword&Sorcery) fantasies. I require complex stories set in completely imaginary worlds, filled with magic and battles of power, peopled by exotic cultures and complex characters struggling against evil and despair.
The short list (which isn’t that short) of my favorite tales includes
- The first five books of the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
- The Heralds of Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey
- The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
- The Bartimaeus trilogy by Johnathan Stroud
- Pretty much all of the books by Tamora Pierce
- The Daimbert/Yurt books by C. Dale Brittain
(I really could go on, but I’ll stop there. This short list is simply those that are my enduring favorites.)
If you too are a reader of fantasy, you will note that that list is comprised mostly of what is considered all-ages or young-adult fantasy. But now I am looking for more adult oriented fantasy, that are rich and complex, with a darker approach towards power, life, sex, death, and the human condition. I’ve read Jacqueline Carey, Juliet Marillier, Stephen R. Donaldson (another personal favorite, btw) Tad Williams and many others.
But I have not found anything recently that engages my interest. Every time I browsed the bookshelves at the library or bookstore, I saw stories that would be interesting, but turn out to be poorly written, or are contemporary urban fantasies that hold no appeal to me at all. I havn’t read a genuinely interesting new fantasy in over two years.
I just finished reading this book, and yes, it is everything I have been looking for: an adult, well-written, engaging high fantasy that left me breathless and wanting more. I wasn’t even intending to buy a book, but with an opening like this:
“Imnea knew when she awoke, that Death was waiting for her. She had seen the signs of his presence for some time now.”
How could I not buy it?
This novel asks the question and seeks to answer what happens to people when they seek power and immortality at all costs, even if that cost includes the lives of others. It is a tale of power, of choices and consequences, of good and evil, and the thin, almost non-existent line that delineates the two. It is a tale of hate–and I hope redemption.
It has been so long since I’ve read anything so captivating, it feels new. And it rekindled my desire to contribute my own ideas, to write again those novels that linger like coiled dragons in my creative spirit.
I dont want to promise myself too much, but this book may just have become my literary muse.