Because I love books, and because I was the only one in this excellent compilation to recommend fantasy, I present you with this: The Really Cool, Not at All Dorky, Fantasy Summer Reading List. Seriously, try to contain your excitement.
I’m going to attempt to spare you Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings and aim toward slightly lesser known fantasy novels (meaning –they haven’t made a show or movie out of them… yet). When you get done with your far more important and distinguished readings (like 50 Shades of Gray or you know, whatever) give some of these a chance.
1. Prince of Thorns: Mark Lawrence
This dark book is ripe with elegant prose and quick, sharp humor that has your blood pumping one moment and you laughing the next. The main character, Jorg (I hesitate to call him a protagonist), is a prince turned thug on the war path to avenge his brutally murdered mother and brother. Rarely have I read a book with such a strong first person narrative. Jorg has no delusions of heroism or grandeur and his gritty, realistic view of leadership and what it takes to be a King is as refreshing as it is brutal. I seriously cannot praise this book, and the two that follow, enough.
2. The Black Company: Glen Cook
Few authors have been able to so seamlessly weave high fantasy with gritty military fiction as Cook. It’s a war story that spans countries, years and larger than life enemies which Cook effortlessly diminishes into bite-size portions. He gives a true, dark sense of realism in a disjointed, yet spectacularly iconic voice that leads us down the road with common soldiers while the heroes are elsewhere. This is a book you will either love or hate but it certainly deserves its rank among fantasy cult classics.
3. The Blade Itself: Joe Abercrombie
This book has such a fantastic and realistic array of characters that are multidimensional and fascinating, that it often inspires comparisons to the ever lauded Game of Thrones. What I truly love about The Blade Itself (a title derived from Homer, by the way), is where it wholly differs from GoT. There is plenty of bleak, bloody, violent beauty but, whereas GoT is drenched in angst, I found Blade light hearted and humorous. It’s a book that never takes its violence too seriously, a fact which I found very refreshing. Follow a down on his luck barbarian, an arrogant military officer, and a once glorious war hero turned crippled torturer for a truly enjoyable read.
4. The Lies of Locke Lamora: Scott Lynch
Personally, it’s the well executed, succinct sarcasm that gets me. The main character, Locke, is hilarious, dangerously intelligent, and leads the reader on a wild and twisting ride. Just when you think you’ve got your finger on him, he does something that genuinely surprises and delights you. The ending will have you reeling and there is never a dull moment.
5. Gardens of the Moon: Steven Erikson
This book requires a pretty steep learning curve and is the first of a ten book series. Don’t let that scare you off though! His world is brilliant, sheer artistic, epic, brilliance. It is a book full of history, mystery, murder, death, intrigue and powerful, interesting magic. Erikson gets you right down into the trenches with his characters; from the all-powerful gods to the lowliest foot-soldiers. You often share their confusion as Erikson encompasses an entire world that spans thousands of miles, but his writing style keeps you in the character’s heads and you often understand only so much as they do.
6. The Name of the Wind (and The Wise Man’s Fear): Patrick Rotherfuss
A two book series so far that has a great deal of people singing its praises. It’s funny, it’s dramatic, it’s magic and political systems are brilliant and well executed. The protagonist, Kvothe, tells his story from the general ambiguity of a small village inn years after achieving his notoriety. His tale shapes and stems away from the rumors and tales told about him as he endeavors to set the story straight and shed light on the reality of his circumstances. Brilliant, graceful writing full of wit and enlightenment will keep you turning.
7. The Sword: Deborah Chester
Despite the less-than clever title, I fell in love with this book and the rest of the trilogy. Dain is our wayward protagonist. He is the lost, alienated prince of a fallen kingdom in a foreign country whose fanatical religion has made him all but demonic in their eyes because of his race. Orphaned with no clue to his heritage (done before, I know) he finds himself serving a Lord to a small holding where he slowly comes to view the childless man as a father figure. The Sword is a riveting tale that gives the ever popular ‘underdog’ struggle to readers without making it too clean, or too easy.
8. The Left Hand of Darkness: Ursula K. Le Guin
National Book Award, five Hugo awards, six Nebulas, and a record-breaking nineteen Locus Awards for her fiction, not to mention the fact that she’s been named just about every type of Grand Master there is pretty much sums up Le Guin. Arguably one of her most famous and highly celebrated pieces, The Left Hand of Darkness explores sexless androgyny in science fiction. The book follows Genly Ai, sent to the planet Gethen to represent an intergalactic community of humanoids. Gethen is populated by ‘ambisexual’ beings that have the potential to be of either sex at specific times (like when they are ready to have children). The book is really about Ai’s attempts to understand the sexless character Estraven as they unravel the complicated political strife of the Gethen populace and come to understand and respect one another. It’s a beautiful book about what is left when gender has been removed from the equation over a back drop of alien cultures and landscapes.