Thursday, February 3, 2011

New Fantasy Books

Glen Cook, I can't thank you enough.  The fantasy genre was a bland pretty place before you came along.  All that high fantasy was getting pretty old - sure there was the Thieves' World series, which was introducing a darker, grittier version of the fantasy genre to people, but it wasn't until Glen Cook's Black Company series that shit got real.

Well, not real - but different.  Darker.  The Black Company is the first fantasy series that I'm aware of that draws heavily on the military stories coming back from the Vietnam war.  Books like Chickenhawk, Fields of Fire and the excellently-titled Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order deal with the experience of war in a way that previous fantasy fiction hadn't.  War, and the experience of making war and of living life as a soldier were brought to the fore by these books, and many of the themes started making the jump into fantasy around the start of the '80s.

That's not to say that they weren't around before that.  Much of REH's Conan stuff was pretty darn gritty, and actually holds up pretty well today.  Red Nails ain't no picnic, that's for sure.  So the darker themes have always been there, sometimes lighter, sometimes heavier.  We seem to be getting into a darker shade of dark phase here, though.

I just picked up Joe Abercrombie's "The Heroes" and "The Steel Remains" by Richard Morgan.  Just as a caveat - I like this kind of fantasy.  Eddings and his "indoor plumbing" fantasy worlds were fine when I was 13, but I frankly enjoy stuff with a little more hair on it's chest these days.  Hell, I read hours of board books to my 2-year-old, I don't need more kiddie stuff when I actually get some time to read myself.

I had slightly mixed feelings about Abercrombie's last novel - "Best Served Cold".  The only character that I really liked, Caul Shivers, turned into a total bastard by the end of it, and I never really came around to rooting for Mercatto.  She didn't really seem to learn much in the course of the novel.  But "The Heroes" is a much better story.  It actually reminded me a bit of Jeff Shaara's "The Killer Angels" in terms of categorizing the effects of war on various individuals involved, from new recruits to veterans on both sides.  It was a much more interesting novel, and the better of the two.

As for the Morgan, I really, really like the Takeshi Kovaks series and I'm reading 13 right now, with Market Forces queued up on the ebook reader - so I'm a fan.  I wasn't blown away by "The Steel Remains" though.  It was interesting - kept me entertained and turning pages right through to the end, but I can see how it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea.  You don't see gay male characters much in fantasy - I can think of only 2 other series off the top of my head, so that might put some people off, and the violence is pretty Morgan-ish, but I've read his other stuff, so it wasn't that far off.  It just never really grabbed me like the Kovaks books did.  Looks like it's the first of a trilogy, though - so we'll see where it goes.

So good times in fantasy if you like yours with a bit more spit and a bit less polish.  If you want a decent middle road, the new Ian Esselmont, Stonewielder, might be a good pickup.  That guy has steadily improved since his underwhelming first book, and now I find I'm enjoying his stuff more than Erikson - which is quite a thing for me to say.