Having inflicted my opinion on readers of this blog concerning books for children (Books for Girls, Books for Boys, Books to read aloud) and my favorite mystery authors (Mystery Mavens and Mystery Men), I thought it was time to add a posting about my favorite fantasy authors to encourage you to read them — and provide warnings on what I think you would be prudent to avoid. I’ve decided to avoid the “big names” of Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin, but there are a couple of “big names” I just need to acknowledge.
Terry Brooks was a lawyer who decided to write a fantasy novel he called The Sword of Shannara. Some 29 novels later, this series is still going strong, and I suspect his law practice has been put aside for the more lucrative craft of writing. I have yet to read a bad book by Terry Brooks. My particular favorite is “The Voyage of the Jerl Shannara” trilogy. My oldest son preferred his non-Shannara book Magic Kingdom for Sale/Sold and its sequels. These books are solid PG fare that can be read by nearly anyone.
Stephen R. Donaldson
Mr. Donaldson’s books are another story. They are definitely written for mature readers. He became famous with “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever” trilogy, Lord Foul’s Bane, The Illearth War, and The Power That Preserves. I very much enjoyed the inventive and surprising pair of books In the Mirror of Her Dreams and it’s conclusion A Man Rides Through, though I stress that these books are for mature readers. But I provide another warning. I purchased the four books that comprise “The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever” so I could read them one after the other, and I was very disappointed in the gratuitous profanity and convoluted story. It was a sad end to a good series. If you read Mr. Donaldson, you might want to simply give these four books a pass.
Paula Volsky (Paula Brandon)
Paula Volsky is simply a creative writer, weaving world history and cultures with science fiction or magic into a unusual pattern. She hasn’t been a prolific writer, but her fantasies are worth every penny. She came to prominence with Illusions and continued with The Wolf of Winter, The White Tribunal, The Gates of Twilight, and The Grand Ellipse, all of which are inexplicably out of print but still available second hand. Her work is definitely G-rated, but complex enough for adults. After The Grand Ellipse in 2000, she suddenly stopped writing, and only appeared again in 2011 with the trilogy beginning with The Traitor’s Daughter and writing as Paula Brandon. This last trilogy is an unexpected mixture of magic, science fiction, and alien races that simply defies the genre. Perhaps that’s why a confused editor decided to commission an artist to provide covers that makes them appear to be romance novels. But don’t be dissuaded. All of these books are excellent, and a cut above the average.
David (and Leigh) Eddings
David Eddings eventually confessed that his wife Leigh was providing input into his books. Her name now appears on some of his later work, but it’s his earliest 10 or so novels that made his name. The first five novels of “The Belgaraid” were followed by another five novels with the same characters “The Malloreon”. Quite simply, David Eddings did something that had never been previously been done in a fantasy novel: he made them funny without letting them get silly, like Robert Asprin’s “Myth” books. These first 10 novels are immediately appealing, and my youngest son, a reluctant reader, enjoyed all 10 of them. I highly recommend them. They are entertaining for adults, and suitable for children.
Carol Berg has written some 14 fantasy novels. Unlike Terry Brooks, who created Shannara and sold the magic Kingdom, she has created many different fantasy worlds and seems at ease in all of them. Another writer who is as suitable for children as she is for adults, she is perhaps best known for the Rai-Kirah series: Transformation, followed by Revelation, and Restoration.
Sean Russell was not prolific, but his fantasy novels (he wrote historical fiction and mystery, too) are worth the visit. They are unusual, different, and extremely well-written. In fact, when I taught students, I used the opening paragraph of one of his books and another opening paragraph from a “pulp” novel, presented them to the children, and asked which opening was better written. They immediately recognized the superiority of Mr. Russell’s writing. While I would give his first two novels (The Initiate Brother and Gatherer of Clouds) a pass, I cannot recommend his later novels highly enough. World Without End, Sea Without a Shore, Beneath the Vaulted Hills, The Compass of the Soul, The One Kingdom, The Isle of Battle, and The Shadow Roads are all worth a read — and maybe a re-read.
Terry Goodkind became justifiably famous with his first book, Wizard’s First Rule. I would recommend the first three of his books. After that … well … a very long story becomes a very long and less interesting story. David Farland (a pseudonym for Dave Wolverton) also wrote a series called “The Runelords”, an inventive world in which the rich can purchase skills and talents from the poor to make themselves supermen. Melanie Rawn presented the reader with “The Dragon Prince” and “The Dragon Star” trilogies, replete with “sunrunners” and the staple of fantasy books: Dragons.
Fantasy books are often books that catch the imagination of young and old alike. Perhaps these will catch your imagination as they caught mine.