So here wraps up my list of the top ten books in my library that I think everyone should read. There are a lot of books I have that I think are great, and would recommend to anyone, but I figured a nice starting point would be good. Originally this was going to be a guest blog for another writer to use on her site, but that seems to have fallen through so I’m putting it up here. Well, without further ado let’s get to it.
6. Wizard’s First Rule
The first book of the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind sort of got its hooks in me despite some reservations. I had heard good things from a friend, but stayed away from it because of its size. At the time I’d only read a couple of huge epic fantasy books and found them to be unnecessarily long. I was young, and had yet to experience anything on the caliber of George R. R. Martin or Goodkind, not that I’m comparing the two mind you. Finally, after my friend’s insistence that the books were great I picked this one up and read it. More like I devoured it. Other than Martin, I’ve yet to find any other books of this size that I can pound through in such a short amount of time. Something about Goodkind’s writing makes the pages flow as smooth and unstoppable as the Mississippi. I know he gets a lot of criticism for it, but it was also one of the first fantasy novels I read that was trying to convey a message relevant to the real world. I’ve heard quite a lot of gripe about his libertarian views, and how obvious they are in the books, but honestly when so many other books are blatantly presenting other political views it’s nice to see someone unafraid to present a counterpoint. Despite the criticism Goodkind beat the odds by getting such a huge book published as a new author, and being successful at it. His writing has given me hope that a writer can present his world, his characters, and even his own values, and still get people to read it and love it. It also brings a uniqueness to the world, since the views on society, government, and people are different than most of the books that I’ve read.
For the story, it’s not so much an original theme as it is an original delivery. An everyman grows up unaware of his true identity, raises as a normal kid in a rural society. He turns out to be related to some of the most powerful people in the world, and sets out to save said world with the help of a wizard, a love interest and strong female character, and eventually a cast of unique individuals throughout the series. I do love Goodkind’s ability to present strong female characters, without making them obvious feminist benchmarks, or diminishing his male characters. Female or male, all his characters are unique and independent individuals with full stories and backgrounds, and a rich development that make you want to actually know what happens to them outside the framework of the story. What I also love about his books is, a couple exceptions aside, each one is an independent story unto itself. I used to remember which ones I considered ‘sequels’ and while there are eleven books in the main series, you can read this one and get a full and complete story, without the need to read the next to know how it ends. They are all connected, same characters, and continuing stories of their lives, but you can comfortably finish a book and not come back to the series for awhile, and not feel like you are missing anything. That’s comforting in a series of books of this scope.
7. Dragon Wing
The first book of the Deathgate Cycle, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, was my first exposure to a world so unlike ours that it was hard to wrap my head around. One of the ‘rules’ of writing fantasy, is to give the reader something to relate to. A lot of people break this rule, but it doesn’t always work. We live in a world where monsters are myth, magic ‘isn’t real’, and people just don’t go out on adventures to save the world. To try to put a reader into a story that has very little resemblance to our world is a risk. With the Deathgate Cycle they did just that. Dragonwing’s world, like the rest of the worlds in the series, is an elemental world, in this case air. The lands are islands, made of a mineral that is lighter than air, so they all float above a central vortex. People trade and travel via airship. While the standard fantasy races exist, and they live much like medieval humans in our world did, there’s little else about the world that even remotely resembles Earth. In my opinion it was a successful gamble.
The book, and the series itself, revolves around an ancient rivalry between two people, the Sartans and Patryns. In this book a being called the Lord of the Nexus sets his plan, to take over all the worlds, into motion. His rivals secretly gather a group of people to thwart the plan and save the day. It’s a great and unique story mostly due to the nature of the worlds we see, and the people in them. It’s been quite some time since I read them, but I would still recommend them to anyone that asked.
8. A Game of Thrones
Admittedly I came very late to the party on this one. I’d heard of George R. R. Martin, but had always found something I wanted to read more, or another series I wanted to finish. When the television series came out we watched season 1 and I immediately went out and bought the book and read it. Martin’s ability to intertwine politics, intrigue, war, and drama while still keeping things interesting is top notch. Usually books with so much going on are either confusing or boring, but I never find myself lost and couldn’t put it down. He also has a great skill for creating complete characters and even making villains into people we can understand and relate to on some level. I’ve also learned a lot from his ability to handle so many different points of view and perspective. Each chapter of the book is from the perspective of a different character, and the events they are experiencing in the story. I won’t go too much into the story, honestly there’s so much out there about this book, with the show and all the marketing, that it would just be repetitive. I’ll simply say, if you don’t know anything about it, it’s a fantastic book about a kingdom whose king dies and the subsequent war and intrigue to replace him. The history, characters, world, and story are complex and engaging, and the level of detail is tremendous. Certainly a great read.
9. Dragonriders of Pern
Even though the Pern series is basically about dragons, it is in no way to be confused with fantasy. There are certainly some fantasy elements to the story and world, but I would sit this series completely in the genre of sci-fi. Granted, the only reason I bought it in the first place was the dragons. I thought it was fantasy, and at the time I didn’t like much sci-fi at all. Technobabble and long-winded descriptions of how made up science works never appealed to me, but the Pern series is thankfully devoid of much of that. This series has always been an enigma as far as picking the best, so I put the first three books down as the best. It starts with Dragonflight, about the dragonrider’s quest to rebuild their Weyrs. See, the world itself is an Earth colony that lost contact ages ago. The planet was plagued by an event called the fall, where parasitic organisms fell to the surface from a passing comet. The parasites, called thread, eat through everything, killing crops, animals, people, and destroying almost anything organic. The dragons were bred over generations to fight thread. In the years before the events of the book thread has not fallen for some time and the dragonriders have fallen out of favor because the tradition was they fought thread and the rest of the people took care of them with food, equipment, supplies and the like. The dragonriders believe that thread will fall again and they need to rebuild their numbers.
10. The Skystone
I’m a big Arthurian legends guy, and have read quite a few of the most popular ones, but the series by Jack Whyte is one of my favorites. This is book one of the Camulod Chronicles, and presents a version of the Arthurian legend that’s far more realistic than any I’ve read. As great as The Once and Future King is, or Le Morte De Arthur, they are far from realistic. If there were a king Arthur in England he most likely would have lived during the time in which Whyte set his tale. Britain is in a state of flux. The Romans are leaving, the Saxons are coming, the Celts are returning to power, and all manner of changes are on the way. This book begins before Arthur’s time, or even Merlin’s, setting up the story beginning with their parents and grandparents, and gives us a great foundation for Arthur’s Britain. Whyte does a fantastic job of intertwining historical fact with Arthurian fiction and gives us a world so connected to our own real history you have to remind yourself that it’s still historical fiction. If you like reading about King Arthur as well as enjoy ancient history, this is a great book to start an amazing series.