Fantasy Novels That Stood Out 2015

I am a voracious reader. At any time, I am reading one book while static (on the bus, in bed) and listening to a second on audio while walking the dog, working out, or commuting.

One of these books will be fantasy or magical realism. The other is usually non-fiction, perhaps a social justice-themed book or a biography. Here are the ten fantasy or magical realism books that stood out for me. To check out what else I read and the reviews I left, please check out my Goodreads page.

Patrick Rothfuss – Name of the Wind, The Wise Man’s Fear.

My stand out reading experience of the year .I loved both these books. Rothfuss has a unique style and voice. I was totally captivated. The third book is very different and I was less enamored.

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Terry Brooks – Dark Legacy of Shannara

I have not read anything from Terry Brooks in a year. He is my role model and fantasy writer hero. But I think there was a reason that I took a break. Still coming back to his work was so enjoyable – like drinking your mother’s chicken soup after being vegetarian for a year (well, you get the point). Biggest problem is a fear I have harbored for a while – I am now up-to-date and have wait until May 26, 2016 – but who’s counting (124 days at the time of writing!).

Robert Jordan – The First Five Wheel of Time books.

This was the big intro for me this year. Robert Jordan is one of the foremost fantasy writers of the past few decades, but I had not read any of his work. I thoroughly hang my head in shame but I really enjoyed the first two novels and totally entered his world and connected to the main characters. Impulsively, I bought the entire audio set off of eBay on sale. I think I am now about six books through and taking a break, but long series’ are difficult to stay with. As with Terry Brooks’ work, I shall return to it soon.

Kevin Hearne – Hammered.

What can I say? This guy is so cool and his books are hilarious. Beware about laughing out loud. I have in each book. Looking forward to reading more.

George R.R. Martin – A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.

So, I admit it. I give the guy a hard time (not because I am insanely jealous of his talent and fame…oh no! Goodness!), but I have been in serious GoT withdrawal. The TV episodes are good, but the books are a lifestyle. So you can imagine how ecstatic I was to come across this kind of prequel. Kind of because it is a story in its own right that doesn’t, as far as I see, really prepare much for GoT. It takes place a hundred years before and is full of the flavors that make Martin’s writing so special. Well worth it to help tide you over until…

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Lev Grossman – The Magician’s Land

This is the third in the series and as impressive as the first two. I finished this at the beginning of January 2015 and don’t remember much beyond satisfaction and a sense of loss once completed. It is not an easy read, but great tales rarely are.

Hal Emerson – The Prince of Ravens

This is one author you might not have heard of. I picked up the book as a freebie on Amazon’s KDP program and was intrigued by its original world and concept. The protagonist is a troubled young man that we slowly learn to love as he learns to love himself. Great first book by an excellent author.

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Terry Pratchett – A Slip of the Keyboard

This was tough. In truth, I read it as a tribute to the author when he passed away. Discworld was a big part of my life and helped pull me through some of my own darker periods of life. There are some quaint stories and insights into the great man who no longer walks among us. Probably for the hardcore fans more than the casual reader. But for most of us, the world is an emptier place today.

Artist: Paul Kidby

Artist: Paul Kidby

I would like to show my appreciation of Goodreads for the ability to be able to track the books I read and the books that others are reading. I will write more about this in the future, but for now, thank you, Goodreads, for being my virtual bookcase.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and four more novels in the Wycaan Master Series – all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose, is the latest in the series. The story continues.

Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter(@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Goodreads.

 

The Pressure To Produce – An Author’s Perspective

Rarely does a week without me being asked when the fourth Wycaan Master book is coming out. Let me be very clear: I am absolutely chuffed (ecstatic in my new country’s vernacular) that people ask and truly humbled that readers care enough to ask and want the next installment.

 Games of Berkeley Question from Asif

Most of these questions come from young people, the generation of instant gratification. You click and you get it. It is hard to explain that it takes 5-6 months to write, a further 2-3 to edit, and another couple to publish. I have set a goal of a book a year, and I don’t believe I can produce more. Those who crank them out (or have others write for them) are, I suspect, doing themselves a disfavor, even if they sell well.

I can’t help thinking that unless you blindly follow a strict formula, there needs to be some creative downtime and an opportunity to mull over what has happened and where the series might be going. I’m trying to work a good wine or whisky analogy, but failing dismally. Everything needs to ferment and you need to burst into the next book, not start still breathless from the last climatic battle.

I am, however, waiting on two ‘next installments.’ The third Magicians book by Lev Grossman is due out in the fall and then there is that author I dare not mention who takes a couple of years to write each tome.

images-1George Martin to kill Tyrion

In total hypocritical mode, I have to say I am impatiently waiting for these books. It is really a compliment that readers bond with the characters and want to see how they develop.

But it is also pressure. The need to maintain a creative energy is perhaps akin to working out and keeping your body at a weight or suppleness that age and gravity take issue with. We know that our bodies react better when we work out regularly, and sometimes I think that it is the same with writing.

If I was to give one piece of advise to a beginning writer, it would be to cultivate a daily practice, whether writing a chapter of your novel or blogging, but not your shopping list. I only write a first draft of a novel in half a year, the other half as explained above is for editing, production and promotion.

While I embark on a novel with a lot of excitement there is also apprehension as I begin to work those creativity muscles and feel the soreness and fatigue. This feeling disappears as I settle into a rhythm and the plot reveals itself to me.

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And if I have doubts, or feel lethargic, I always have those readers who earnestly ask: “When’s the next book coming out?”

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Why Fantasy? Another Perspective

Last weekend, I shared some comments from adults explaining why they read fantasy. A friend sent me this article by Lev Grossman, author of “The Magicians” and the recently released “The Magician King.”

The Magicians - Lev Grossman

In the article, Grossman talks about the excitement generated by the release of George R.R. Martin’s “A Dance With Dragons.”

“The book has brought with it, along with the feverish excitement of fans like myself, a whiff of burning insulation. There’s a cultural short circuit happening somewhere in the system.”

What I believe is creating the stir is the fact that while Mr. Martin’s work is clearly fantasy, it does not adhere to the formulas of such leaders as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Martin includes a fair helping of blood and sex in his continent of Westeros than the Pevensie children ever saw in Narnia. Something has changed.

Grossman shares his frustration at the perception that fantasy is for children and adults who are in denial that they are adults and seeking some escapism. “I see it all the time. I’ll be at a dinner party, and the person next to me asks me what I do. I’m a novelist, I’ll say, and a little light of hopeful interest kindles in their eyes. What kind of novels do you write? the dinner guest asks. And I reply: fantasy novels. And just like that, the little light of hopeful interest dies away.”

This story really resonates with me. Every week at the Berkeley Writers Group, I meet new people and introduce myself as an author of political fiction. Then when I prepare to read my weekly offering, I apologetically explain that I wrote a fantasy novel with my eldest son. All true of course, but I am conscious that I feel the need to justify. Why is this?

Lev Grossman

Grossman goes on to say: “It hasn’t always been this way. There was a time when adults read fantasy with impunity. The classical literature of Greece and Rome is so fantastical that you can’t swing a cat without hitting a god or a witch or a centaur, and chances are the cat will turn out to be somebody’s long-lost son-in-law in transfigured form.”

Right on! Stephen Wenster backs him up by asking where “would Shakespeare have been without fantasy—his spirits, his ghosts and the witches three of Macbeth?”

Apparently fantasy, without being labeled as a genre was prominent throughout literature history: “Where would Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” be without fairies? Where would Shakespeare have been without fantasy—his spirits, his ghosts, and his proto-Orc Caliban, the misshapen villain of “The Tempest”? You can’t have Macbeth without the witches three. Apart from everything else, who would have handled all that crucial exposition of the play’s plot?”

Absolutely!

Grossman, who holds a PhD in Comparative Literature, claims the downfall began around the time of Samuel Johnson. Perhaps this was the time that the advent of science meant they actually began to believe that ghosts and magic really didn’t exist.

Again, Lev Grossman: “A fascination with the here and the now and the real set in. This was the moment when the novel arose in the West, and it was an ideal medium to satisfy that fascination. Novels were about the way we live now. There was no Caliban on Robinson Crusoe’s island, just the eminently human Friday.

“In 1750, Samuel Johnson wrote an influential essay in praise of fiction that was about “life in its true state, diversified only by accidents that daily happen in the world.” As far as he was concerned, a good novel “can neither employ giants to snatch away a lady from the nuptial rites, nor knights to bring her back from captivity; it can neither bewilder its personages in deserts, nor lodge them in imaginary castles.” Thus admonished, ghosts and witches went off to live in fairy tales and allegories and gothic novels and other disreputable places.”

So history is against us, perhaps because people really did once believe in magic and ghosts. But I believe that in accepting there is nothing factual in elves, dwarfs etc. we can focus on allowing values to play a prominent role because, as Grossman say: “If anything, it is realist literature that pretends to be real. Fantasy doesn’t pretend.”

Fantasy is one of the few literary genres left where it is still considered okay to explore questions of moral judgment. But that’s not a bad thing. When the powerless and good become empowered and are able to change the destiny of their world, there is something that resonates in a world where so many feel alienated and disenfranchised. When coming-of-age can happen at any age, why would an adult still hoping to leave his/her mark on the world not be attracted to such novels?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#elfwriter).