ARTICLE: A Fantasy Threesome by Joseph Surtees

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And now our watch has ended…

Yes, Game of Thrones, the TV series, has come to an end. They’ll be no more dragons, white walkers or gratuitous nudity on our screens for a while. Well, at least two of these anyway.

You’re probably already suffering withdrawal symptoms. Soon all that will remain is the memory of fire and a ridiculous petition for the final series to be re-shot.

(seriously guys, as a pre-embalming Mick Jagger sang, you can’t always get what you want)

It’s possible you’ve already turned to the books for a fix. But there hasn’t been a new one of those for a while. So what other fantasy novels are out there? Where can you turn for your dose of magic, blood and muscular men waving their big swords about?

The First Law series – Joe Abercrombie

This collection, comprising a trilogy, three stand-alone novels and a few novellas, covers most of the fantasy bases. Magic? Check. Ultra-violence? Check. Epic journeys? Check.

But it all comes with a tremendous sense of fun, free of much of the ponderous writing that you get from Tolkien and his spiritual descendants. The author actually seems to like his characters and lets them break free from the hidebound fantasy tropes of barely-sentient male heroes and barely-covered heroines. Like George RR Martin’s work, there’s also a sense of realism to the politics and diplomacy of the world in which the book is set (except for the magic obviously).

I’d probably start with The Blade Itself trilogy, which should give you a good idea what you’re dealing with. Three warring nations, the Union, the Gurkish Empire and the Northmen, damaged anti-heroes like Logen Ninefingers, famed Northern warrior, and more intrigue than than an Eastender’s Christmas special.

The Wheel of Time series – Robert Jordan

Be warned, the Wheel of Time books are not for the feint of heart. There are 14 of them, each 700+ pages long.  They deal with the adventures of Rand al’Thor and his quest to become the Dragon Reborn, the hero who will save the world from the Dark One.

And, how can I put this delicately, they’re terrible. Written by somebody who never uses one word when seven chapters will do and full of the worst features of high fantasy. These include the perplexing use of apostrophes in everybody’s names, the inevitable feeling magic will solve everything and main characters so thick they could compete on million pound drop.

Ad yet… And yet… Somehow they’re addictive. Granted, in the way that if somebody gives you something awful to eat you’ll inevitably take one bite, say it’s disgusting, then try it again immediately. But there’s something endearing about the earnestness with which Jordan approaches his fantasy realm. You can admire as well the level of inventiveness in sketching such a vast domain and its people, customs and dangers.

You won’t thank yourself (or me), but if you start you’ll probably find yourself ploughing through all 14 novels. Just don’t tell anybody I sent you.

Earthsea – Ursula K. Le Guin

While often described as children’s books, in reality the six Earthsea novels are for all ages, deep, complex, moving and (strangely for fantasy) progressive. The third instalment in the series, The Farthest Shore, is one of my favourite books of all time.

The novels, written by the late, lamented Ursula K. Le Guin, are astonishingly beautiful, both in language and in sentiment. They follow Ged, a wizard, as he grows up and explores Earthsea, an archipelago surrounded by uncharted ocean. Unlike many fantasy series, this isn’t a world where every main character is white and we seem stuck in medieval Europe. Instead the people of Earthsea are racially diverse and Ged himself is brown-skinned and from a seemingly eastern cultural background.

In his travels Ged comes to understand his world and his place in it. By extension the reader learns about the importance of balance, acceptance and forgiveness. While most fantasy novels could be described as being about strength, these ones are very different, they are about the spirit.

@JosephSurtees

– Cover Image ‘The Legend Of Zelda: Mountains Warriors –

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