Ultra violent, visceral and just damn cool, Heroes Die is a shrine to violence and Caine is the high priest. Those wanting a superb story that rushes along faster than a supersonic jet, with more action then you can shake a stick at need wait no longer. This book has been on multiple versions of this best fantasy book list and it STILL remains on the list, even in It's such a standout book in even in crowded genre with many greats, it's still one of the greatest, if oft overlooked and underrated, book.
There are a number of Caine novels as of and every single one of them are fantastic, though the first couple books are the best.
A different sort of fantasy, but one that's extremely refreshing, disturbing, and entertaining -- one of the best fantasy reads to come out the past couple years. Even as we near , The Prince of Thorns still stands tall among other strong fantasy books. For a dark, gritty, anti-hero driven fantasy, I felt strong Abercrombie vibes. There's a strong influence from A Game of Thrones -- and if you've ever read KJ Parker's The Engineer trilogy , you'll see some similarities in the tone and style of world. The setting of the world is interesting too, a sort of post-apocalypse world gone to hell that sparks similarities to Jack Vance's Dying Earth world.
This is the brutal story of Prince Jorg, a teenage princeling who abandoned his father's castle after witnessing the murder of his mother and brother. During this time away, he's been eking out a place for himself with band of marauders. These are brutal killers of the worst sort and Jorg has been living as a sort of apprentice murderer under their rules.
Things get interesting when he decides to head back home and reclaim his stolen birthright by force and blood. The narration is first person and well done at that -- I haven't been so entertained by first person narration in ages. This is some of the first person narration since Farseer and The Name of the Wind. I particularly loved Jorg's sharp insights into the human condition, which is generously sprinkled through the pages. Clever stuff. And didactic.
Lawrence has managed to do well what few authors ever do: create a compelling anti-hero -- arguably one of the most complex and interesting in the whole fantasy genre. Make no bones about it: the protagonist Jorg Ancraft is one vicious bastard, but the genius of Lawrence is that you still kind of like him, despite the fact that he's, well, a pretty vile human being as a whole. But it's a vileness you understand. You know, kind of like that drunk guy you met at the corner bar who was abused by his father, had his wife stolen by his brother and his house auctioned by the bank -- you can understand why he hates the world.
Truth be told, it's tricky for an author to cook up a compelling anti-hero; to do so, you need the absolute perfect blend of good world-building, a protagonist that you can still sympathize with, and sharp, witty prose that binds the whole thing together and keeps you from hating the protagonist. Most authors can't balance this sensitive equation and fail horribly, either making the antihero so unlovable that you hate him completely or eventually turning the anti-hero into a good yet 'misunderstood' character.
Well Lawrence does not fall into these trappings. I highly recommend this book, especially if you are looking for a darker sort of tale. It grips you in a horrified, yet I-can't-stop-reading sort of way. It's not for everyone, especially those who only like reading about good, lovable heroes. If you are averse to bad things happening, avoid. But if you are on the lookout for a different sort of fantasy tale, one that's dark and brooding, starring a protagonist who's not afraid to do anything to achieve power, you'll find this tale gripping.
The trilogy has been completed as of and from start to finish, the Lawrence maintains the quality of story, plot, and characters. This year the first book in another trilogy set in the same world, the third book, The Wheel of Oshiem , was released with another interesting, yet different type of anti-hero character. Lawrence has really come into his own as a writer the past few year and his outstanding series has kept him on this list of the best.
Kay has made this list in the past with his outstanding Tigana arguably one of his best works. Up until recently, I felt Tigana was Kay's magnus opus a work that he would never surpass. It turns out that Kay's recent book, Under Heaven, an alternate history set in a mythical China is every bit as grand as Tigana, and perhaps even better a more tightly weaved, more focused, more exotic tale.
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Under Heaven is Kay's first foray into Asian history and culture, his other efforts centered about European history. Under Heaven takes place along a mythical China set around 8th century during the Tang Dynasty and follows a fictionalized version of the An Shi Rebellion one of the most brutal wars in history before World War II. For readers who actually love to read, who enjoy luscious prose and value outstanding characterization, Kay's books are pretty much made-to-order just for you. There are a few talented wordsmiths in the fantasy genre who not only can mesmerize you with a rich tale but mesmerize you with their prose.
Kay is one of these, up there with the handful of poetic authors with the likes of Sean Williams, China Meiville, and Neil Gaiman. Kay's works sit near the top of the historical fantasy genre and he's a master at it. His tales are almost always set in a in fantastical alternate history richly based on real world cultures, locales, and historical period.
I was first enticed by Kay's literary spell casting because that's what it is, Kay casts a magical net with his writing and draws you into his worlds; once you feel the enchantment, you are forever bound to his works with his flawed masterpiece, Fionavar Tapestry. The trilogy was Kay's conversation with Lord of the Rings, and while derivative also had its own unique identify and was deeply imbued with Kay's deep understanding of European folklore. His later work and masterpiece Tigana was so stunning and so startling a take on the ostensibly simple tale about a band of rebels fighting an evil wizard delivered a startlingly emotional tale of love, hate, hope, and ultimately redemption.
Kay has had a lot of good books since then never quite touching on his former glory, though some of his romps through alternative versions of Venetian Europe and Medieval Germany were provocative. Kay's heroes are not the traditional heroes of fantasy they are not always the talented swordsman, the heroic soldier, the all-powerful wizard, but rather men of knowledge and wit not of martial skill.
Kay's heroes are in fact poets and jongleurs, the masters of word and song. Kay shows these types can be every bit as dangerous, courageous and heroic as the swashbuckling hero. And like his heroes who excel in the arts literary and celebrate language, Kay's works always reflect his love affair with language. Kay shows us that as far as Asia and Europe are in distance and culture, the peoples are still yet the same the love, they hate, they betray, they hate, and they find redemption.
People, as the saying goes, will always be people. And in the complex web of these interactions from peasant to emperor, from poet to politician, Kay shows draws a stunning portrait of a Kingdom on the verge of collapse and the people who seek to destroy it and to save it each with realistic motivations. Kay has written many outstanding books. But Under Heaven is his masterpiece.
Read if you want to be captivated by lambent prose, dripping with poetic beauty. Read if you want to be drawn into a fantastical tale of emperors, of soldiers, of nobles, and ladies, farmers and peasants each impacting in some significant way the flow of events that direct the course of Kitai, the mystical ancient Chinese kingdom. Even better, there is a sequel River of Stars which tells a different yet equally poignant tale in the same world, but years after the first book.
If words could tell a story just by the sound, then Kay's prose does just that.
Read if you love to read. The Divine Cities. This book is the newest work just released September on this list -- but the author has been writing some of the best, if underrated, fantasy fiction for the past decade, so it's hardly a leap to put his works on this list in fact, I had one of the author's previous works, The Troupe , on one of the older iterations of this list a few years ago. Robert Jackson Bennett, like Neil Gaiman, is an author that seems unable to actually publish a bad novel.
Yes, some works are better than others, but even the 'worst' of make for a pleasant and highly imaginative read. City of Stars is his finest novel to date, a work that blends the traditional epic fantasy with a number of other genres and the novel, I hope, that will finally bring him the critical acclaim and popularity he deserves.
Assassins, ancient gods, alternate worlds, mysteries, magic,politics, love, brutal action -- and a car chase thrown in. City of Stairs is really an eclectic mix of ideas that all, somehow, fit together perfectly. And it's all told with such sardonic and crackling prose. And the sequel City of Blades was just released in and tells the same sort of wonderful tale the first book did. This is a book -- and series -- you would do well to lose yourself in.
One of the best fantasy novels of on my list of picks for that year and I would posit,one of the best, most unique fantasy works in the past five years. City of Stairs is a captivating read -- once it starts going, it really gets going and you've found yourself at page at 4 am in the morning. If you read one book this year, make it City of Stairs. A world of rich storytelling awaits in Robert Bennett Jackson's books. And City of Stairs is the perfect stairway in to his works. Finally a foreign author translated makes it onto the list.
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