Normally, I like every entry in a series to stand on its own. Not entirely—it’s (obviously!) fun to have a larger narrative that runs through each book, grows and complicates along the way, and doesn’t fully resolve until the finale. But I generally find it more satisfying if the novels are independent enough to conclude with an ending that wraps up a smaller storyline.
Robin Hobb’s FitzChivalry Farseer trilogies don’t really work that way.
I think part of why I enjoyed Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories so much is that his collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories isn’t just about technological and magical wizardry (although there’s plenty of both). The true through-lines are the related themes of identity and memory.
Liu alludes to this in the preface by suggesting that “We spend our entire lives trying to tell stories about ourselves—they’re the essence of memory. It is how we make living in...
The first two trilogies in Robin Hobb’s FitzChivalry Farseer series contain some of my favorite fantasy books. Fitz is a compelling protagonist, the supporting characters are often just as fascinating, and the worldbuilding is top-notch. Sadly, Fool’s Assassin, the first book in the third trilogy, didn’t quite measure up for me.
The story begins about a decade after the events of the previous book. Fitz is well into his forties now and living a quiet life at Withywoods, the estate his...
Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf is one of the most challenging books I’ve read in a long time. It’s also one of the most fascinating.
Let’s start with the structure. The story is mostly told in first-person by Tracker, a bounty hunter who has “a nose” (the ability to track by scent), “an eye” (a wolf eye in place of one of his human eyes), and “a mouth” (a habit of saying caustic things). But Tracker isn’t relating his tales directly to the reader. He’s being interrogated by an...
I'm thrilled to announce that my historical-fantasy novella "Magic in the Mud Show" (set in the Barnum & Bailey Circus of 1892) is in the Winter 2020 issue of The Colored Lens. The story will eventually serve as a prequel for my forthcoming novel Magic in the White City. But for now, "Magic in the Mud Show" stands alone. You can pick it up (along with some other great stories) on Amazon.
World Without End is a worthy follow-up to Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett’s epic tale of medieval cathedral building.
World Without End isn’t strictly a sequel, though; the novel still takes place in Kingsbridge, a fictional English city, but the story begins in 1327, 150 years after Pillars of the Earth leaves off. The main characters from the first book—particularly Jack Jackson, Lady Aliena, and Prior Philip—are remembered, and a few of the new characters are even descended from...
Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld is essentially a Blues Brothers version of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). It’s pretty awesome.
The story is set in a fantasy world teeming with a monster manual’s worth of beasties. Mercenary adventurers chase glory by hunting these creatures, and the most-famous group of exterminators was Saga—“was” being the operative word. Two decades after going their separates ways, the groups’ members are old, fat, drunk, married, etc. But when the former leader’s...
Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files are some of the fastest-paced books I’ve read. Set in modern-day Chicago, the intensity of these fantasy-noir novels ramps up almost immediately and barely leaves you time to catch your breath as the story hurtles forward. Sometimes they’re a little too fast; I often feel a bit exhausted after finishing one. So when I picked up The Aeronaut’s Windlass, the first book in his new Cinder Spires series, I wondered if that frenetic speed would carry over.
Here's the text of an article Janice Hardy was kind enough to let me post on her excellent Fiction University site.
I’ve never really had long-term writer’s block. But short-term? Far too often. The daily race to pen at least a page or two is almost always littered with obstacles, some of which trip me up on a regular basis.
Here’s how I get over them.
A lot of times I’m stuck because my characters are acting against type, and I just haven’t realized it yet. O...
Would I have liked Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass as a child? Probably. I certainly did as an adult.
This young-adult, modern fantasy—the first in Pullman’s His Dark Materials series—stars a scrappy girl named Lyra who grew up as an orphan looked after by the staff of a fictional college in Oxford, England. But when her friend Roger is kidnapped by a mysterious group known as the Gobblers, she sets out to save him, a journey that takes her to the Arctic and beyond.