In the time I?ve been writing this column, I have often received book recommendations from readers. The column looking at which fantasy series would make good settings for games inspired quite a few of you to write in with your own suggestions, and I?ve received tips at other times too. It?s time for me to share a few of my tastes with you over this four-part series. I?ve divided things loosely by genre, and fantasy, the genre of Diablo II, seems the best place to start.
If there is a name for a disease meaning ?suffer from trilogies? then that?s what Fantasy suffers from. Lately the disease is getting worse, with even a trilogy not enough for writers to finish their stories. If you want to read a book that can start, tell, and finish a good story in three hundred pages, then the Fantasy genre is not for you. Not all series and trilogies are bad by any means, but some just drag on through book after interminable books, where the story is lost in tedious details about dresses, cups of tea, or people making the same jokes about each other for 500 pages.
A Song of Ice & Fire
The way I usually describe this excellent series by George RR Martin is ?makes other fantasy look like crap?. There are three books already out and the fourth was originally scheduled for August 2002, but, like a Blizzard game, the release date is ?when it?s done.? Also like a Blizzard game it will be well worth the wait. If you haven?t read this series yet, close this page, disconnect from the net, and go out an buy it. Seriously. This series represents the pinnacle of the fantasy genre- nothing else comes close.
Closest of the fantasy books that don?t come close to the Song of Ice & Fire series would be this book by Raymond Feist. It?s part of a trilogy, but you can read it by itself with no trouble. The sequels aren?t as good, but that?s mainly because Magician itself is such a great book, while the sequels are merely good. The story of a war between two different worlds will keep you interested. If you prefer your fantasy to have elves and goblins (George Martin?s series has neither), then you?ll enjoy Magician.
Daughter of the Empire
Part of a trilogy, and you will want to read the other two books, Servant of the Empire and Mistress of the Empire. This trilogy moved into more detail of the opposing world of Magician, with much action in Daughter of the Empire occurring at the same time as the events of Magician, including a few crossovers. This series is co-written by Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts. Wurts? influence is clear, as this series is far superior to anything Feist wrote by himself after Magician.
No tour of the fantasy genre is complete without a trip to Terry Pratchett?s Discworld. Pratchett combines fantasy, British humour, and anything else that comes to mind in this series, set on a world perched on four huge elephants, themselves perched on the back of a giant turtle. While the series has over 30 books, they aren?t a series in that you need to start at the first book and keep going. There are still books that benefit from being read in order, such as Witches Abroad/ Lords & Ladies/ Masquerade, or Guards! Guards!/ Men At Arms/ Feet of Clay/ Jingo/ The Fifth Elephant/ Night Watch (my favourite sequence). The series also has satisfying one-offs, such as Small Gods or Pyramids.
Pirates, merchants, slavers, and dragons make a good mix in this trilogy by Robin Hobb. I was first brought into this series by a short story she wrote, set in the same place, five hundred years earlier. This trilogy is the story of a trading family, with their sentient ship finally awakening after three generations. It?s also the story of one ambitious pirate?s bid for power, one he needs his own Liveship to complete. The dragons play their part too, but I don?t want to give anything away.
New to the genre? If so, then in addition to the above I would recommend David Eddings? Belgariad series. Five books long, but five short books, and they make for an easy and enjoyable read. A good place to begin in the Fantasy genre. Obviously I have to mention Lord of the Rings. Without it the genre would simply not be what it is today, and the book still stacks up well against anything being released today.
If you can, avoid the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. While the early books are great and combine a vast, complex world with tense focused action, the later books are woeful, hundreds of pages in which nothing happens. My theory is that these books are still selling due to inertia. While earlier books such as The Great Hunt and The Shadow Rising remain great stories in their own right, the later ones are fit only for pulping.
On that low note, I?ll end the session on Fantasy. Part 2 will cover Science-Fiction, a genre very different from Fantasy, even though the two are often spoken of as being one and the same. Until then, if there?s something you think I?ve missed out, write in and say so! I?ll follow Part 4 of this series with a column on reader recommendations across the four genres I?ll be covering myself.
The Ninth Circle was written from 2002-2006, by David Kay, and with 58 installments it was the longest running column in Diabloii.net’s history. The Ninth Circle covered computer gaming, RPGs, fantasy novels, the gamer’s life, and other related issues. Opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Diii.net.