Sean Russell was a fairly prolific Canadian fantasy writer who, over the course of eight years (1991 through 1998) churned out unique fantasies which blended fantasy together with the history of 19th Century science before turning his pen to something in the Tolkien “traditional” Epic fantasy vein with The Swan’s War trilogy. Since then; however, Russell stepped out of the SFF genre and has been crafting historical naval fiction under the name Sean T. Russell. But back to The Swan’s War, the subject of this column which begins with The One Kingdom published in 2001 under EOS, HarperCollins’s then SF imprint. Prior to reading The One Kingdom, I read and enjoyed Russell’s linked duologies Moontide and Magic Rise and River into Darkness so my expectations for an engaging fantasy read were relatively high. Those expectations were met, which I’ll expand upon below in this installment of “The Completist.”
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Freshly blooded from the defense of Lissen Carrak, the Red Knight and his company venture to Morea where they find themselves in the midst of a civil war. Elsewhere in the realm factions move one step closer toward total warfare. Alliances are made and schemes are fulfilled.
PROS: Larger-than-life characters; authentic descriptions; densely woven plot; bold scope; high stakes; complex and mysterious magic; enthralling action.
CONS: The large cast of the first book is expanded even further, and while the characters are well developed, it results in a slowed pace.
BOTTOM LINE: The sequel to one of my favorite novels of 2013 continues to deliver on the promise of the first book. This series is bound to please fans of Epic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, and likely even Historical Fiction.
Jacqueline Carey burst onto the fantasy scene with her alternate history/fantasy/erotic series of novels which began with Kushiel’s Dart and in recent years, she has turned her pen to modern/urban fantasy. The focus here will be on her deconstruction of Epic Fantasy, The Sundering duology comprised of Banewreaker and Godslayer. Many people are familiar with Lord of the Rings (one can safely assume) and to a lesser extent, people are likely familiar with Wicked (either the musical or the Gregory Maguire novel which inspired it) wherein The Wicked Witch of the West is cast as protagonist. Think the same thing here with The Sundering, wherein the villain is cast as the protagonist (and slightly renamed). Since this is really one novel cut in half (an entirely different discussion*), much like Lord of the Rings is one novel broken into three books, I will be discussing The Sundering primarily as one story.
The tag-line of the first novel, and the theme of the duology is best summed up as: “If all that is good considers you evil…are you?”
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
On episode 224 of the SF Signal Podcast, a discussion began about how epic fantasy can sometimes be too long, too detailed, too sprawling, often getting weighed down by its own epicness, and running the risk of losing the reader. With that podcast and the comments it generated in mind, I asked our panelists this question:
Q: Is something Wrong With Epic Fantasy? If yes, how might it be fixed?
Here’s what they said…
Are you in the mood for a gritty (and graphic) fantasy animation? Then check out Exordium, described thusly:
A group of warriors confront that which stands between them and the power to save their people in this rotoscoped animated fantasy short created by Morgan Galen King’s Gorgonaut studios. Starring Jon Tomlinson, and featuring music by Strand of Oaks, Ice Dragon, and Jonn Ollsin
When Brent Weeks’s first novel, The Way of Shadows, was unleashed the publisher and author of course had high hopes for his career as an author and the first book in The Night Angel Trilogy. In a very smart move (modeling the approach Del Rey books used to amazing success on Naomi Novik’s Temeraire novels), the publisher opted to release the three books in three months, creating immediate shelf presence and eventually landing Brent Weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. While Orbit had a presence in the US for a since 2007 these books publishing in late 2008 and early 2009 helped to further establish the imprint as one of the premiere English language science fiction and fantasy imprints.
On to the story within the pages of the books…
Much of fantasy, especially Epic Fantasy, has some basis or inspiration in real world events and history. In Greg Keyes’s Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, he uses the lost colony of Roanoke as the launch point for this four book series. This isn’t Keyes’s first foray into the genre, but it is perhaps his most ambitions. Under the name J. Gregory Keyes, he published the two-book Chosen of the Changeling saga and the alternate history/fantasy quartet The Age of Unreason.
Garrett Calcaterra is author of the epic fantasy novel, Dreamwielder, released earlier this month by Diversion Books, and touted by steampunk legend James P. Blaylock as “fast-paced, colorful, and richly detailed.” His previous titles include The Roads to Baldairn Motte and Umbral Visions. In addition to writing, Calcaterra teaches literature and composition at various academic institutions. When not writing or teaching, he enjoys hiking with his two dogs and quaffing good beer.
by Garrett Calcaterra
With Disney’s recent purchase of the Star Wars franchise and a new movie looming, everyone seems to be talking about Star Wars. I’ve been no exception. In a guest post at the very cool Inkpunks blog I confessed how the ending of Return of the Jedi inspired me as a young lad to go off and write sprawling stories with multiple viewpoints and climatic endings. More recently, I was a guest on the Defective Geeks podcast where I talked with the delightfully nerdy Gizzy B and Space Pirate Queen about why the original Star Wars trilogy is so much better than the prequels. The consensus among the three of us was that Episodes 1-3 are little more than Star Wars porn-sure we get our fix of exotic planets, light saber duels, and space battles, but the plot premise and characters are about as plausible as a buxom babe inviting a plumber inside to “check her plumbing.”
To me, the most disconcerting aspect of Episodes 1-3 is the fact that in the back of our minds we all know Anakin Skywalker is going to turn into Darth Vader. We all know the Republic will fall and Palpatine will create the Empire. This makes every one of the protagonists-even the most powerful ones like Obi-Wan and Yoda-utterly impotent. They can do nothing to change the fate of their civilization, and therein lies the weakness of the prequels. George Lucas had it right the first time when he started the story with Luke, Leia, and Han: the heroes who actually save the galaxy. But Lucas is hardly the first person to make this mistake. In fact, the grand-daddy of epic fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien himself, made a similar miscalculation a good 80 years before Lucas.
Writer Brian McClellan began writing Wheel of Time roleplaying fiction in his teens, and has been writing every since. Living in Ohio with his wife, two dogs, a cat, and bees. Lots of bees. Promise of Blood, out from Orbit in April 2013, is his first novel and the first in The Powder Mage Trilogy.
Brian kindly sat down to answer some questions about his work.
Paul Weimer: Who is Brian McClellan?
Brian McClellan: Brian McClellan is a lot of things.
I’m a husband; I’ve been married a little over five years to the love of my life. I’m a geek; I read science fiction and fantasy, play far too many computer games like Civilization and Skyrim, and host a small tabletop gaming group every few weeks. I’m a beekeeper; I started my first honey bee hive last spring and harvested ninety pounds of honey last fall.
I’m also an author. My debut epic fantasy, Promise of Blood, is being released internationally by Orbit Books in April. I’ve been writing since high school (probably about ten years now) and have told myself since freshman year of college that I’d someday make my living writing fantasy novels.
“Dreaming is impossible without myths. If we don’t have enough myths of our own, we’ll latch onto those of others — even if those myths make us believe terrible or false things about ourselves. Tolkien understood this, I think because it’s human nature. Call it the superego, call it common sense, call it pragmatism, call it learned helplessness, but the mind craves boundaries. Depending on the myths we believe in, those boundaries can be magnificently vast, or crushingly tight.” – N. K. Jemisin
“[I]t is a quintessential if not defining characteristic of epic to refer back to and revise what went before. . . .” – Catherine Bates, The Cambridge Companion to the Epic
I’ve been following the discussion that arose at the end of last week when someone at Gollancz tweeted a serious, if somewhat loaded, question:
Epic Fantasy is, by and large, crushingly conservative in its delivery, its politics and its morality. Discuss. And why? (Oh why?)
— Gollancz (@Gollancz) February 22, 2013
A lengthy debate spread across the Vales of Tweet with many responses, including my own:
DB Jackson, aka David B. Coe, was born on March 12, 1963, the youngest of four children who all grew up to be writers. David received his undergraduate degree from Brown University and then attended Stanford University as a graduate student in United States history. His novels include Children of Amarid, volume one of The LonTobyn Chronicle. In 1999, The LonTobyn Chronicle was awarded the William L. Crawford Memorial Fantasy Award by theInternational Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (IAFA). The Crawford award is given annually to the best book or series by a new fantasy author. Thereafter followed the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands, five volumes, and Blood of the Southlands set in the same world as Winds of the Forelands. He’s also written Robin Hood, a tie-in novelization for the Russell Crowe film and is a founding member and proud contributor to the Magical Words blogsite, dedicated to the craft and business of writing. The Magical Words crew collaborated on How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion from BellaRosa Books. His first urban historical fantasy, Thieftaker, released from TOR this year under the nom de plume, DB Jackson.
David and his wife have two daughters and live on the Cumberland Plateau. He can be found online via Facebook, Twitter as @DavidBCoe and @DBJacksonAuthor or via his websites at http://dbjackson-author.com/ and http://www.sff.net/people/DavidBCoe/.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt talks to DB about his career and his exciting future projects.
SFFWRTCHT: Let’s get the big reveal out of the way first. You are the artist also formerly known as David B. Coe, no symbol, correct?
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Nimea and the surrounding nations are threatened by a faceless threat from the north. Standing against this threat are a young Empress, a tortured swordsman, and a boy struggling with fears of cowardice.
PROS: Well-plotted with a steady pace and good character development.
CONS: Drags just a little in the middle.
BOTTOM LINE: Readers expecting the quick-read sword and sorcery will probably be stymied by the bones of epic fantasy Sprunk uses to flesh out the story. For epic fantasy fans looking to expand their libraries with faster-paced work, this is a good place to start.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Iron Elves trilogy comes to a rollicking conclusion as they deal with enemies new and old.
PROS: Lots of action; character development; dry humour; satisfying series conclusion.
CONS: Konowa recovers from serious injuries remarkably fast; there is little downtime in the middle-third of the book causing reader exhaustion; Konowa’s and Visyna’s romance isn’t very convincing.
BOTTOM LINE: If you like elves but want something different, give this series a try.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The land of Westeros is held together by tenuous peace, while turmoil shifts and boils beneath the surface. The powerful houses of old plot and scheme, a threat rises across the ocean, and an old evil stirs from its icy domain.
PROS: Prose; characterization; gripping politics; a world that lives and breathes; heart wrenching.
CONS: Not for the faint of heart.
BOTTOM LINE: A must-read, you will be awed by the intrigue, gripped by the passion, and amazed at the realism in this magical, epic tome.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The world turns with danger at the background, while Kvothe tries to escapes a painful past in anonymity. A twisting of fate reveals his tale and thus the story truly begins as we go back. Back to when Kvothe was a child of rare ability, growing up in a traveling troupe of performers, learning his craft. His future was before him, showing nothing but the greatest promise, living in the brightest of light. But horror unfolds, and a mythical evil takes him down a path of deep despair. When he surfaces from the darkness, the ladder before him is now ridden with splinters and razor sharp edges that threaten to cut and bleed him with every rung. He rises high and he rises fast, climbing despite the pain, battling the obstacles of everyday and of his self.
PROS: Beautiful and engaging prose; witty characters; emotive.
CONS: Incomplete — I want more…oh, wait, that’s kind of a good thing; main plot is pushed to the background; somewhat slow to start.
BOTTOM LINE: Kvothe is an incredible character, wondrous to behold. While the book may not ensnare you immediately, Rothfuss weaves you into the story slowly, until you find yourself trapped by steel bands of style, substance and wit.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The action revolves around the politics within and without the Firstblood Kingdom of Antea. The kingdom is burdened by a weak king and the possibility of civil war. Court intrigues and skirmishes abound.
PROS: Good blend of developing characters, setting, and intrigue; great potential for the series.
CONS: “Hero-less” epic could be a turn-off.
BOTTOM LINE: Daniel Abraham is on the right path with great expectations for this series.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, nears the last battle. To save the world he will break the seals and release the greatest evil upon the world that there has ever been. Wherever he walks, light and life push back darkness and death from the Dark One’s ever-expanding touch upon the world.
PROS: Culminating plot points we have waited eons for; every scene with Rand.
CONS: Prose; inconsistency; rushed scenes.
BOTTOM LINE: For fans of the Wheel of Time this is an obvious must-read. The only question is when and where. For everyone else, start at Eye of the World and if you’re hooked, we’ll see how long you last. This one thing I can promise you: if you make it through the slow books, you will be rewarded.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Roshar is a fascinating land of strange cultures, animals and even plant life where magically-enhanced knights wielding fearsome Blades rule. Follow a thief, a highprince and a surgeon-turned-soldier as they go through the struggles of life to protect their family, hold together their kingdom and fight for what’s right on a path that is fraught with peril and leading to more.
PROS: Character, diversity, battle scenes, MAGIC!
CONS: Too much fluff, and too many extra pages added as a result. Book occasionally drags.
BOTTOM LINE: For those that like their books gigantic and epic, this is your book (i.e. Wheel of Time fans).