Recent Reading: Unusual Fantasy Settings

All the way back in 2001, I got started on the whole blog thing by beginning a book log. That's long since fallen by the wayside, but every now and then, I do read stuff that I feel a need to write something about, and, hey, the tagline up at the top of the page does promise pop culture to go with the physics...

I've actually been on a pretty good roll with fantasy novels over the last few months, hitting a bunch of books that I've really enjoyed, without any real duds. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the first of these, Django Wexler's The Thousand Names. This got good reviews, but it's a fantasy novel with muskets, and I've always been a little leery of that. I really enjoyed this, though, and I think it helped me pinpoint the problem I've had in the past-- most of the books I've read in that kind of setting are by people who really like Regency England, and as a result, they're wayyyy into the manners and social class stuff, and that just makes me itch. Wexler's world is conscious of social class, but doesn't revel in it, presenting a much flatter sort of hierarchy, that's much more congenial to my American tastes.

And when you take out the irritatingly mannered stuff, the military tactics and so on are weirdly fascinating. And while Wexler's no Steven Erikson, he makes a decent stab at the military banter that's one of the best features of the Malazan books, so this was good fun. The second book, The Shadow Throne moves back to the capital of Wexler's imaginary empire, and basically does the French Revolution in a fantasy setting, only with good guys inside the Bastille to keep everything from going quite as horribly wrong. It's a very different book than the first, but still fun.

The realization that muskets per se weren't what bothered me, and the third book in Wexler's series a while off, I picked up the first of Brian McClellan's Powder Mage trilogy The Promise of Blood (a sale aided in part by McClellan saying smart things about book promotion...). These are more obviously epic than Wexler's books, but start out in a manner that appeals to my anti-class tendencies, with one of the protagonists staging a coup against a corrupt and dissolute monarch, then guillotining hundreds of aristocrats, declaring an end to the age of kings. This turns out to have some unforseen magical consequences...

The Promise of Blood was a fun read, with lots of twists. The next one's queued up, and the trilogy is complete, so I know that if it continues to be enjoyable, I can get to the end right away.

In between Wexler and McClellan, I plowed through a whole bunch of Kelly McCullough's Fallen Blade series, starting with Broken Blade. These are magical-assassin stories, with a cool backstory: the protagonist, Aral Kingslayer, was a member of the Blades of Namara, an order in service to the goddess of justice, who existed as a check against the abuse of power. When a king or another high noble got too far out of line, a Blade would be sent to kill them. But several years before the start of the series, the other gods decided to get rid of Namara, and the few Blades who escaped slaughter were chased into hiding. Except the story is more complicated than that...

Unlike the other two series, which I've seen reviewed in Locus and elsewhere, I had never heard anything about these. Which is a little weird, because they're successful enough to have run to five books, with a sixth due at the end of April. And also because they're pretty good-- the bits where Aral struggles with the drinking problem he developed after the fall of the Blades get a little tedious at times, but McCullough did a nice job setting up a scenario that limits and balances the badassery of his main character, while still allowing for fun ass-kicking when appropriate. I've got the fifth one lined up in the near future, and that's longer than a lot of series last for me these days...

While I'm plugging fantasy series, earlier I read Harry Connolloy's Great Way series, starting with The Way Into Chaos, which he referred to as "Epic Fantasy With No Dull Parts" on Twitter while writing it. That's not a bad description, either-- they start fast, and really don't slow down. I wasn't 100% happy with the ending, but then it's a rare series that sticks the landing, and getting 80% of the way there is pretty good.

I got those because I backed the series on Kickstarter some time back, which also got me a bonus copy of A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark, which Connolly calls a "pacifist urban fantasy." I'm about halfway through that, and at least to this point it's the opposite of all the other books in this post in everything but pace-- it moves along quite briskly and enjoyably without big epic battles. I don't know yet how it will end, but pulling this off for even half a book is an achievement. Connolly's a damn fine writer, you should go buy his stuff.

And that's what I've been enjoying reading recently. And for at least a little while into the future, at least to the limited extent I'll have time to read with the new term starting on Monday...

More like this

(This is a post about the concluding volume of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, so if you clicked through here because the title made you expect a rant about religion, you're at the wrong blog.) It's hard to say anything coherent about this other than "Wow." I mean, this is the tenth thousand-page…
I read Guy Gavriel Kay's newest book, Ysabel a while ago, but I've been dithering about what to say in the booklog entry. I've been dithering long enough, in fact, that Kate beat me to it, so now I have to post something. Kay is best known for a set of very loosely connected pseudo-historical…
(Alternate Title: "Epic Fantasy Is What We Point to When We Look Down on Epic Fantasy.") I've been on a bit of an epic fantasy kick lately, evidently due to the thousand-ish pages of The Crippled God not being enough. This means that I was in a weirdly appropriate mental space to catch the recent…
Three weeks in Europe means a lot of time on planes and trains, so I actually got to read some fiction for a change. I'm stuck in a meeting all day today, and need a morale boost on the way in, so I'll go back to my book-blogging roots and type up the books that I read: -- Lev Grossman, The…

I finished Connolly's urban fantasy last night, and it remained excellent all the way through. I definitely recommend it.

I just tore through all the of Broken Blade series, finishing the 5th one last week. Highly enjoyable, possibly better than the MythOS series.

Have you found Brent Weeks' Prism series yet? The Night Angel books were amazing, if incredibly grim, and thus far the Prism does not disappoint.

By Double Shelix (not verified) on 30 Mar 2015 #permalink