Especially when I'm busy writing, I find it's very important to read a lot! Below are some of my favorite recent finds:
King of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence
I think this is my favorite book in an excellent trilogy,
because the odds are so severely against our anti-hero Jorg. The stakes are
high and the plot twists are perfect. Having killed his uncle and secured a
small kingdom in the mountains, young Jorg now faces a powerful, charismatic
enemy – the Prince of Arrow – who seems destined to unite the Broken Empire.
The action jumps back in forth in time, from the siege of Jorg’s capital to
several years before, showing us how Jorg traveled the empire and gathered his
resources to fight a seemingly impossible battle. We also see part of the story
from the viewpoint of Katherine, the woman Jorg wants more than anyone, and the
woman he is destined not to have. Though Jorg continues to be the most
Machiavellian of protagonists, not hesitating to kill, maim or destroy if it
serves his goals, we come to understand him more in this book, and it is
impossible not to cheer for him. He is a refreshing, brutal wind, blowing away
all the romantic trappings of high fantasy – chivalry, honor, good versus evil,
and faith in a higher cause. Sometimes, when you see that white knight riding
by with his armor gleaming and his smile flashing, you just want to pull him
off his horse and punch him in the face for being too perfect. If you’ve ever
had that feeling, Jorg is your man.
Emperor of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence.
A wonderful, surprising, and worthy ending to the Thorns trilogy. If you’ve
followed Jorg Ancrath through the first two books, it shouldn’t shock you that
Jorg does not give you the ending you might expect, but it’s an ending that
makes perfect sense. As with the past two volumes, this book jumps around in
time, from Jorg’s journey to the seat of the empire to vote for a new emperor,
back to his earlier journeys through Hispania and Afrique in search of power
and answers. Looming on the horizon is the Dead King, a mysterious force who
has raised armies of the dead and bent powerful necromancers to his will.
Eventually, Jorg will have to face both the Dead King and the other players in
the internal struggle for the throne of the empire. How he manages this . . .
well, let’s say he employs his typical Jorgian style and panache. There will be
blood. It was hard to say goodbye to Jorg and his story, but I’m anxious to
read Lawrence’s future books set in the Broken Empire. Highly recommended.
The Twelve, by Justin Cronin.
Cronin’s first book in this trilogy, The Passage, received a
lot of buzz. The Twelve is the second. The trilogy tells the story of an
engineered virus that creates a race of vampires – “Virals” – which almost wipe
out humanity. The writing is strong, the characters are sympathetic, the
post-apocalyptic world Cronin describes is terrifying and believable. The
reader does have to have some patience, as Cronin tells the story in several
parts that at first seem only loosely connected. Just when you are completely
riveted in the story of the outbreak, he flashes forward seventy-nine years,
where you have to learn to care about a whole new set of characters in an
entirely different situation. If you can stick with it, though, the parts do
create a satisfying coherent whole. I had a little trouble getting into the
rhythm with The Passage, but found The Twelve a quick, compelling read, since I
was now accustomed to Cronin’s narrative structure. I will certainly be anxious
to see how he wraps up his trilogy in the third volume, due out later this
year. If you like Stephen King’s The Stand, check out this series.
The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare.
Okay, so I’m far behind the curve on reading this, but I very much enjoyed my
introduction to the world of nephilim, Shadowhunters and demons. Clare
constructed a vivid, believable parallel world with great characters, punchy dialogue,
and a winning mix of humor, pathos and action. I like her take on warlocks,
vampires, and werewolves, and of course I’m a big fan or urban fantasy, where
these fantastic elements mix into the regular gritty city life of New York.
Clary Fray is a sympathetic protagonist, though I was equally drawn to the
supporting cast. I especially like that the villains are believably
three-dimensional. Even when you do not support them, you understand what
motivates them. There is no easy black and white, good and evil dichotomy. I’ll
be interested in seeing where the series goes from here, and what Clare does
with her Victorian prequel series The Infernal Devices.
Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie.
I’m a big fan of Abercrombie's
stark gritty fantasy books for grown-ups. His fiction pulls no punches and
takes no prisoners (unless those prisoners are later tortured and executed). So
I was curious to see how he would approach the world of young adult fiction in
Half a King. The answer: brilliantly. Abercrombie creates a fantasy world that
is somewhat neo-Viking, set around the Shattered Sea (the Baltic and North
Atlantic?) ages after the elves (21st Century man?) shattered god
(Blew everything up?) and disappeared. Our protagonist, Yarvi the youngest son
of the king of Gettland, was born with a deformed hand in a world that values
only able-bodied warriors. He is prepared to spend his life in the Ministry, as
a sort of combination priest/physician/royal advisor, but his plans are upended
when his father and older brother are both killed in an ambush. Suddenly Yarvi
must be king and avenge his family, but very few Gettlanders are prepared to
have ‘half a king’ – a weakling with only one good hand. Without giving any
spoilers, I can tell you that Yarvi will have to endure many hardships and many
adventures before he can find his true destiny. As in all Abercrombie’s books,
friends turn out to be enemies, enemies turn out to be friends; the line
between good and evil is murky indeed; and nothing goes quite as we expect. Abercrombie
also throws in his trademark dark humor and got me to laugh even during some
grim scenes. With eye-popping plot twists and rollicking good action, Half a
King is definitely a full adventure.
I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of the book. When it’s published in
July, be sure to check it out!
The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch.
Another great fantasy,
this novel follows a talented rogue and conman, Locke Lamora, through his
adventures in Camorr, a city loosely patterned after Venice, but set in a world
where humans have built their society over the ruins of a much older race
called the Eldren. Locke rises from an orphaned beggar to become one of the
most wanted thieves in the city, and along the way makes some enemies in very
high places – the Duke’s head of secret police, ‘the Spider,’ the capa of the
city’s underworld (who doesn’t approve of targeting the city’s nobles) and a
new player in town, the Gray King, who has his own deadly agenda, along with
some unbeatable magic backup. Lynch’s world is so vivid and fully formed that
the reader feels as if he’s been dropped into the crowded bazaar in an exotic
city and left to find his way out. At first, this can be overwhelming.
Everything is different: the days of the week, the gods, the geography, the
slang. On top of this, Lynch jumps back and forth in time from Locke Lamora’s
past to his present. I confess I got bogged down at the beginning and had to
come back to this book several months later. But if you keep going, the payoff
is well worth the effort. Give it a hundred pages, and you’ll be hooked. If you
like intelligent funny dialogue, clever protagonists facing equally clever
antagonists, and vivid original world building, Scott Lynch is your guy. When I
got to the end, I immediately ordered the next two books in this series.