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.

imgres

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…

images-1

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.

41MnKd8S4UL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

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.

——————————————————————————————

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.

 

Advertisements

Happy Birthday My Favorite Professor

Dear Professor,

Happy Birthday, sir.

You probably don’t remember me since I never took a class with you while you lived. Neither have I sat in the lecture auditorium at Oxford, nor a tutorial in your office.

But I consider myself a student of yours nonetheless. I have read most of your books (got a bit lost on the more obscure ones to be honest) several times, watched the movies (though I’m not sure you  would give academic credit for that), and read numerous books about you and your work.

 

When I write, I see you as someone to emulate, someone who has set the standard. It is not just you of course, please don’t get ahead of yourself; there is Terry Brooks,  Robert Jordan, and some new kids on the block: Christopher Paolini, George R.R. Martin, and Patrick Rothfuss – you would approve of the former, and latter, I am sure.

But as much as I admire them, when faced with an issue writing one of my books, I pause and try and imagine what a certain old Oxford professor would advise me to do.

images-6 

But while your books are legendary, your world-building stunning, and your ability to create languages are simply mind-boggling, what amazes me is that you had it in you in the first place: an academic, a somewhat upper-crust Englishman, a traditionalist, a Christian, and a war veteran. Was it the latter? Was what you witnessed on the battlefields of Europe in the First World War the seeds for LOTR? Was this the only way you could find to express the struggle of good .v. evil? 

What happened that fine summer day as you marked term papers? Were you bored? Looking forward to a vacation? Had a pint too many of Eastfarthing at lunch? When you stared at that blank sheet of paper a student had accidentally inserted, what made you scribble: In a hole in the ground there lives a hobbit…

Whatever possessed you, sir, changed the world of epic fantasy forever. Perhaps you should have heeded the advice you gave dear Frodo: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

images-4

I hope you are sitting in a pub up there in heaven, surrounded by wonderful friends – elves, dwarves, hobbits, and even a few humans, most likely friends from The Inklings.  and raising a glass to celebrate his 123rd birthday.

This student thanks you for everything you gave him as a reader and taught him as an author. A very happy twelvety-first birthday, sir! And to celebrate, here is a rendition of Happy Birthday in elvish, the language you created, one word at a time. Thank you to Petri Tikka for this rendition!

Happy Birthday Professor – Oronnad meren allen! 

images-4.jpg

———————————————————————————————

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 Google+

 

Crumbs of the Great Craft Masters

I want to give credit to Toby Hewson who gave me this idea: What I learned from the Gods of Fantasy? I have learned from many authors, not just the craft masters, but this post will focus on the select few. 

Terry Pratchett taught me about invention of an old theme. He created a world that was fantastical and yet so familiar. His satirical approach to Discworld was always engrossing and we welcomed familiar themes as they surfaced among the new ideas in each new novel.

George RR Martin taught me about depth of character in supporting roles. There is no excuse for making every single character special or unpredictable. It does not have to happen immediately, but when a character steps from the limelight to center stage, we are enthralled, but not totally surprised. This is a huge task for anyone and Martin does it with a thousand characters. I have mentioned before how much I have learned from him. Okay, I have also taken his name in vain, but I am full of respect for him.

George Martin to kill Tyrion

Stephen King taught me about simplicity of language and being accessible to readers. I am too much of a wimp to appreciate his stories, but On Writing is my writing Bible, and required reading…annually.
J.R.R. Tolkien taught me the opposite. It is possible to write elaboration, flowery, delightful fantasy prose. Can you describe a forest in three pages? Y’betcha and they will even make it into a movie or six. Tolkien also taught me the importance of giving my fantasy world a sense of history and leveraging that throughout the saga.

Terry Brooks taught me about having a well-worked story that had no loose ends or unnecessary scenes so the story flows. Brooks also has built a rich history of his world – Shannara – and a genealogy that excites his many followers. Again, his writing is very balanced between plot (action) and character development. He has the ability to give a strong and distinctive voice to each of his main characters.

Terry Goodkind is edgy without going over-the-top. His stories are simpler, but he adds little traits to make his characters familiar to us and a great job bonding us to them.

R.A. Salvatore taught me to create a rich world and non-stereotypical characters. His first Drizzt book takes place underground and is so impressive. I remember being blown away by it. I have not been disappointed going forward.

images-2

There is much we can learn from these masters of our craft, but the most important one is READ, READ, READ.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Is The Grass Always Greener?

Between you and me, I’ve always been jealous and somewhat in awe of a dear friend who has a book contract with a major publisher and is a terrific writer. I never resented her achievements because I knew she worked hard to achieve her success, garnering attention through winning writing contests, traveling far and wide to speaker engagements, and generally being the lovely collaborative person that any publisher or agent would love to work with.

Games of Berkeley Question from Asif

So I was a bit shocked when I met up with her for coffee the other day and she told me how frustrated she was with the route she had taken. I have heard many doom-and-gloom writers who are disdainful of the conventional publishing route, but to be honest, I always thought they were bitter because their books hadn’t sold as much as they had dreamed, or they were frustrated at having their considerable talents spurned by agents or publishers.

Hearing about her feeling of inertia and entrapment (my words, not hers) made me appreciate the support and belief that my small-press publishers, (Three Clover Press for the Social Justice novels, and Tourmaline Books for the epic fantasy) despite their limited resources.

But I would be lying if, when I see the beautiful hardcover books of Terry Brooks or R.A Salvatore adorning the shelves of a bookstore, I do not dream of seeing my novels displayed next to theirs, or wonder which actor Peter Jackson will cast to play Seanchai or Ilana.

imgres-1

 I am currently editing a magical realism manuscript with my writers’ group and have been wondering whether to try and find an agent or offer it to one of the small-presses that already support me. Every time I watch an episode of Game of Thrones or Legend of the Seeker, I decide that I will go that route.

But yesterday’s conversation had me reevaluating. I am not entirely free to initiate a particular marketing strategy and should check in with my publishers. But I always receive their blessings and usually some wise words that help me improve my idea. Most importantly perhaps, when I call, someone answers the phone. They know who I am and personally care about my writing career, not just their bottom line.

imgres.

How have you chosen such paths in your writing or career decisions? Would love to hear.

And yes, even though I have been saying for the past month and a half that it is only two weeks until the release of Sacrificial Flame, Wycaan Master Book 4…I wish to leave you with the breaking news… Only two wee– Okay. I have no idea, but I’m holding out for July. When it happens, I will let you (and the whole world) know! Promise!

 

Sacrificial Flame Cover Hi Res

Good Writing.

—————————————————————————————————

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+

Last Week I Disappeared

It wasn’t my fault, any storyteller will understand. The problem is the 99% of the population (the readers and, in particular, those who have to live with the writer) when s/he becomes possessed.

You see there was a great battle, insurmountable odds, a powerful foe – not my fault that it happened on a weekend.

My emerging protagonist faced a terrible choice, needed to test her principles and ­– yes, I know it is a big religious festival, one of the most important days of the year for our family.

How would he cope with her death? How would he face the future without her and how would that change him? – Ah, grandparents, an aunt and cousin. Did you just arrive? Three hours ago…oops.

Writing the 1st novel - a family effort!

“Hey Dad – this is a FAMILY vacation!”

Usually the wife understands and can ground herself with a self-indulgent, if thoroughly deserving roll of the eyes. The kids think it is perfectly normal, or blatantly funny neither of which stops them from making fun of me.

I once sat engrossed at my desk (my back is to the front door), turned around and there were five kids, only one was mine, standing staring at me. The play date was at our house and five parents had dropped their kids off safe in the knowledge that a responsible parent was watching over them…yes, my wife was in the house. However, I think I learned how an exotic animal in the zoo feels, the children gawking and pointing. I’m surprised no one offered to feed me a peanut…probably worried about allergies.

At height of a battle, I once wrote five thousand words in one day. Apparently, I managed to snap at each member of my family who had the audacity to disturb me by asking for such trivial things as food, help with homework, to drive a child to a play date I had previously agreed to do. 

The scary part is that I have absolutely no knowledge of those interactions. Why would I? I was in the middle of a battle and you can’t just step out to make scrambled eggs. Imagine Eragon in the middle of a great fight needing a time out to dragonpool a group of offspring to soccer practice. I guess now we know why so few fantasy heroes have kids…and why so many parents write about fantasy heroes!

imgres

What preceded the carpool?

Apparently, I don’t even have to be writing to disappear. It happens on road trips (I wish to thank the other driver’s consideration in avoiding me, by the way – I am not sure this can happen in the city). It happens on a coffee date with Mrs. Elfwriter and inevitably on a hike into the redwoods.

 Fantasy1

Before I began writing At The Walls Of Galbrieth and the Wycaan Master series, I wrote a Pagan novel (A Gardener’s Tale) and two social justice-themed books (The Accidental Activist and Unwanted Heroes). While I became thoroughly invested in all my characters and the challenges they faced, I don’t recall that I disappeared. Still, I’m not sure how much I do remember when this sort of thing happens.

Still, I am relieved to know that I am not alone. Terry Brooks admits he is not all hereDad’s gone away again…although he admits that most of those close to him think he is weird.

I do suspect this is easier to explain when you are an A-list author like Terry Brooks. I think he is most likely to be fondly considered eccentric. For the rest of us, unfortunately, we are the ones people think are truly weird.

It’s a good thing that we are totally unaware when they stare and snigger. It’s a good thing we disappear…

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

How Fantastical is Fantasy?

I mentioned previously that I am reading Sometimes The Magic Works by Terry Brooks. On Page 27 of this little book of great lessons, he writes how, as he struggled with his writing, he began to realize that he could not write the book in this world. “Everything I wrote had to remind readers of what they already knew, yet makes them take a second look at whether or not what they believed was really true.

 terry-brooks-150x150

I’ve been thinking about this sentence a lot. The difference between epic fantasy and magical realism (think Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin) is that the former transpires in a totally different world, whereas magical realism takes place in this world, but has elements of the unexplained – magic.

While the Wycaan Master series takes place in Odessiya, a mythical world, I kept it relatively easy to imagine, because I do not want the reader to struggle with my world building. Rather, I want them to focus on the characters and the plot, while still portraying a beautiful world.

Christopher Paolini does a wonderful job describing his land of Alagaesia, in stunning detail. He suggests his success in doing this is based on his love for the wild as he grew up in Montana. But again, his world is very easy to believe. When my family is on a road trip and are confronted by a beautiful vista, we point and declare: Alagaesia!

images 

I hope I have succeeded in portraying Odessiya as a beautiful land: full of great mountain ranges, deserts, forests, lakes and coast. I thoroughly enjoyed describing the ice worlds in the north and the forest of the Shanrea, but I never strayed from environments you can associate with on trips or the National Geographic channel.

When I sent Seanchai to the Elves of the West, I wanted to describe a rich world of mighty trees. Living in Northern California, I am in constant awe of the redwoods. My fictional bloodwoods are a tribute to these majestic giants and the name is meant to offer just enough to fill the reader with the images of redwoods. I wanted to offer an exotic setting with a connection to something known to the reader with just enough to be different.

 images-1

The age of a dozen pages of descriptions that J.R.R. Tolkien got away with no longer survives the red pen of the 21st Century editor. The publishers, facing rising costs of resources are loath to publish thick tomes, and the millennial reader does not have the patience to read several pages describing a small forest. My eldest son admitted to skipping descriptions after he had a clear picture in his mind and I am not completely unsure that I didn’t do this when I read Lord of the Rings back in the previous century.

That being said, the fantasy writer is challenged to offer opportunities for the reader to suspend belief as Brooks suggests. In his own prequels to the Shannara series, he sends us through post-apocalyptic California with humans and mutations. But the mutants are a result of the catastrophe that has all but destroyed the world. It is, tragically, not hard to take that leap of imagination, which again happens when he skillfully weaves in his elves.

Perhaps no one deserves more praise that he who blazed the trail and created a hobbit. There had never been a hobbit before Tolkien and yet it seems so familiar. Even ‘second breakfast’ and the family relations that Bilbo et al gets so worked up about, makes sense.

 images-2

The skill of the fantasy author is to create a world that the reader does not have to work hard to imagine and then to create something imaginative that allows us, because we have built trust between writer and reader, to suspend rational belief and embrace.

It is a subtle yet powerful tool that offers a rich layer to the world of epic fantasy. It is why readers flock to Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore and Christopher Paolini, and why those of us who walk in their shadows continue to cultivate our craft and build words, races and situations that are believably unbelievable.

Have a great week, everyone.

Elfwriter

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe 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+

Best Advice Ever – If You Can Quit…

There is a legendary quote that is circulating the twitterverse and bloggersphere from epic fantasy giant, R. A. Salvatore. When asked to offer one piece of advice to aspiring writers, he said:

If you can quit, you should do so. If you can’t quit, you are a writer.”

I accidentally came across the interview with the quote. The interview is by Brian Stern (thank you, sir) and the first 20 minutes in particular are, in my humble opinion, amazing. Here are the first 12 minutes. Hey, it’s Sunday! Take a break, make yourself a coffee, pour a glass of wine (or both, no one is watching) and give yourself at least 12 minutes for the first third.

Okay, I couldn’t resist. Here is the second 12 minutes.

It is amazing how Bob (may I call you Bob? I feel we’re pretty close after these interviews and having read about eight of your books) just becomes more enthusiastic with his characters as the series progresses. It feels like he truly pours all of himself into each book. What he wrote about his brother is simply stunning.

Something that I find fascinating is how he is challenged to find time to read and make his way through a series. He speaks about how authors influence each other and I think there is something very important here. I do feel that Salvatore, Terry Brooks, and more recently George R.R. Martin have had an influence on me. But I am not sure this is a bad thing.

Why not learn from the masters? Even if you are already a member of the elite fantasy A-list like Salvatore, are we not all trying to constantly improve?

Finally, here is the third and final part of the interview. There is a great part about the author’s interactions with his readers, something I discussed last week.

I know I only asked you for 12 minutes and gave you 36 minutes. I would apologize, but I don’t think actually feel sorry for doing this. Yeah, it’s 36 minutes you will never get back, but just maybe it will help and inspire you. Perhaps you just couldn’t quit!

But then if you cannot quit…read his books. Next time you go into a bookstore (yeah, they still exist), check out his amazing book covers. They are quite simply works of art. Amazing.

——————————————————————————————————

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+