Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “ten books for readers who like _____”. I’m gonna go with epic fantasy, since I do love a good epic fantasy and it can be difficult to find ones that are to your taste. I’m going to assume that Tolkien’s work is a given, in this category…

  1. Poul Anderson. He did a lot of sci-fi stuff, but also some fantasies. I love The Broken Sword (I posted my old review as one of my Flashback Friday posts here) and Three Hearts and Three Lions. This is fantasy that isn’t directly affected by Tolkien, so it doesn’t have all the same aesthetics — but The Broken Sword in particular draws on some of the same sources, and has some of the same interests. The poetry, for example, in The Broken Sword — there’s definitely comparisons there with the way Tolkien used verse.
  2. David Eddings. No, okay, I know all his series are basically the same stories and characters recycled, so I’d only recommend reading one. But for brain candy, I do like a bit of Eddings. Personally, I would go with The Diamond Throne et al. I think Sparhawk was my introduction to Eddings, and I still have affection for those books.
  3. Jacqueline Carey. Specifically Banewreaker and Godslayer for a flipped around version of The Lord of the Rings, something that goes into a lot of shades of grey and finds that few people are irredeemable, and that there’s more than one side to any story. If you like court politics more, then Kushiel’s Dart is more likely to be your speed. (And she’s even written some urban fantasy more recently, too.)
  4. N.K. Jemisin. I liked her more recent duology, but it was the Inheritance Trilogy that really hooked me. Court politics, gods and men. And women. Interesting mythology, various different perspectives, and it’s not a multi-volume epic. Each book doesn’t stand completely alone, but one level of the plot is certainly accessible without reading the other books. Lots of interesting narrative voices, too.
  5. Raymond E. Feist. This is a case of a multi-volume epic. I’ve never read them all, but I do love his Riftwar Saga. It’s something I want to come back to. I fell for so many of the characters and ideas, and this is a case where there is a ferocious amount of world-building. You’re never gonna go off the edge of Feist’s maps and find the writer’s forgotten to account for the world outside his tightly controlled setting.
  6. Robin Hobb. So many characters to love and to hate. I’m not at all sure what I think of the Soldier Son trilogy — there were some persistent themes in them that I just didn’t like — but the Farseer books are great. Assassins, quests, dragons, magic, animals, politics… It has a little bit of so many things that I love, with a convincing narrative voice too.
  7. Steven Erikson. Willful Child was really disappointing to me, but I loved Gardens of the Moon, and I can’t wait to dig into the rest of the books. And this is another of those wide worlds with lots to dig your teeth into.
  8. Tad Williams. The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn books are awesome. I started reading them and thought it all fairly typical — you know, kitchen boy is probably going to turn out to be a hero, etc, etc. I was probably reminded of David Eddings, actually. But there’s a lot of world building, a lot of other characters to love, and I found it all so compelling that I read all four massive volumes in less than a week.
  9. Scott Lynch. I hardly need to say this, do I? The Lies of Locke Lamora is great; the world the books take place in is rich and full of wonder (things the characters wonder at, and things that the readers wonder at while the characters take them for granted). “High” fantasy? Maybe not; we’re not dealing in princes and kings, nor even kitchen boys who turn out to be knights, just a bunch of orphans from the streets who turn out to be real good at scamming people. But there’s epic background.
  10. Guy Gavriel Kay. Particularly the Fionavar Tapestry books, which seem like a synthesis of so much else from the genre. There’s hints of Stephen Donaldson, Tolkien, Anderson, so on. These were his first books, but he was already very powerful with the details of character and relationship. Tigana is also highly recommended, and stands completely alone, with all the politics and magic you could wish for.

I thought I’d find this week’s hard, but actually, I quite enjoyed doing this. Let me know what you think — and let me know what you’ve posted about!

Review – The Broken Sword

Cover of The Broken Sword by Poul AndersonThe Broken Sword, Poul Anderson
Review from 18th June, 2011

I was really excited about reading The Broken Sword, because when I first toyed with the idea of buying a book by Poul Anderson — this was actually the first I bought, it’s just took me longer to read — I realised how closely it was based on the style of the Norse sagas I’ve studied. It draws on the mythology, of course, and the path of curses and thwarted love and raiding echoes that of the sagas, but it also echoes their form: the narration, especially to begin with, is very much like a saga, and the verses all comply with the Old Norse metres. In many ways, The Broken Sword is a (relatively) modern example of one of the Skáldasögur — a saga about a skald, or poet, like Kormáks saga. The tale of lost love, and the verses of first love and desire and then lament fit that pattern, albeit not like a glove.

The verses really, really impressed me. They’re written in dróttkvætt metre, which is extremely difficult. A verse is made up of eight lines, divided into equal halves (‘helmingr’). There are six syllables per line, and two syllables in each even line must alliterate with one in the following odd numbered line. Even lines must have a full rhyme within the line with the penultimate syllable; odd lines must have half-rhyme within the line with the penultimate syllable. Each line must end with a trochee.

Add to that the poetic words that would only be used in verse, heiti and kennings, which Anderson imitates to some degree, and… Well, I’m very impressed. It might seem less compelling to someone who hasn’t read verses in Icelandic — translations tend to make it a bit more flowery.

The story itself is perhaps less fresh to me, but I still enjoyed it: basically, it melds British/Irish and Norse mythology, with both the Sidhe and Æsir present, along with the coming of Christianity. Skafloc is stolen by the elves and replaced by a doppelganger, Valgard; the two eventually, and inevitably, come into conflict. In the course of this, Skafloc and his sister Freda, not knowing their relationship, fall in love…

It’s fun — adventure and love and doom and a tragic end, quite fitting for a skald.

Rating: 4/5