I was thinking recently about what made me a ‘reader’ and the answer is undoubtedly the Fantasy genre. The idea of a story being spread throughout the pages of multiple (often mighty) volumes was an unknown entity to my young self until I picked up the likes of David Eddings and Raymond Feist. I now find great comfort in the weight of a series behind the novel I am reading; a promise of many an enjoyable hour in a world that I have grown to love.
My younger self was much more patient, happy to wait a year, two years (sometimes three) for the next in a series. Now I read books so voraciously that I expect to be able to slip seamlessly from Book One to Book Two and become easily frustrated when the books run out and the waiting begins. There is always a feeling of despondency when I am forced from a world that has swallowed me whole and consumed my thoughts for days on end only to be returned to my seemingly dull TBR pile.
When I was younger I used to be able to pick up a series where I left off even if several years had passed since the last book but now I have to remind myself of the world and the characters I have forgotten and so usually start back at the beginning so that by the time I read the latest installment, I have regained the excitement and desperate need to find out what’s next… I apply the same technique to most the series I read although some, I remember vividly but the anticipation of something new makes the re-reading all the more enjoyable.
There are some series, I have to admit, that after several years I did lose my way with because the plots were so convoluted and the authors took so (so) long to complete the next one that I genuinely forgot who is who and what was what. These are the series that I enjoyed but have not been inclined to re-read from the beginning. A classic example of this is ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ by George RR Martin. By the time ‘A Dance With Dragons’ was published, it had literally been years and years since I read ‘A Feast for Crows’ and whilst I tried valiantly to pick it up again, I just couldn’t get into it and gave up.
This book got me hooked on fantasy. I can still remember the exact cover and the seemingly enormous size of it. There is lots to love in this book – magicians, elves, castles, love, war and other worlds. It tackles the topic of culture clash and encourages you to consider different perspectives.
I went on to read the rest of this series and one of the things I absolutely loved was that Feist went on to write a sister series with Janny Wutrz centred around the Tsurani world from ‘Magician’. There are many reasons why I hold these books so dear, not least of which is a strong female heroine (okay, not like the modern era heroines but a heroine nevertheless). I was quite young when I consumed this series and so the content, for my young mind, was a little risque, giving them an added exciting element that I still retain today. (I’m sure there’s another post along the way about how I came to read Jackie Collins’ back catalogue, if only to demonstrate the depth of my reading/depravity!)
David Eddings and his Belgariad and Malloreon series:
If I’m honest I think I read these out of sequence starting with the Malloreon series which is something I would never EVER do these days but I was young and knew no better! Each series is five books and, to be honest, in Fantasy terms they are relatively slender so not too daunting for an initiate. I would read these books again in a heartbeat (in fact that is probably what I will be doing tonight) but if a whole series feels a little much for you then I urge you to try Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress. Both feature much loved characters from the series but can also be read as standalones.
Terry Brooks – Shannara. – There are a few Shannara series so you don’t have to start at the very beginning, you can pick up whichever takes your fancy and the good thing about these books is that they are really readable…
JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings – Yes, I read these books (word for word) and felt very superior! I really did enjoy them at the time I read them but have to admit they’re not ones I would reach for again – I did try The Sillmarillion along the way as well and did not love it… (full disclosure here: I have an irrational dislike of hobbits. True!)
Fritz Leiber – Fafhrd and Gray Mouser – I really did try with this series but my overriding impression is ‘dry and dusty’ (sorry).
Jack Vance – Lyonesse – Might have to re-read this one soon as remember loving it when I first read it. I’ve always been attracted to Arthurian myths and legends and this one was in that vein.
Michael Moorcock – Elric Saga – I have always been a little bit in love with Elric of Melinbone – you’ll have to read the books to see if you feel the same. I really like Moorcock’s writing style. It is very soothing. Although some might think this style of fantasy too old fashioned, I say ‘try it’.
Ursula Le Guin – Earthsea – Methinks this one needs no endorsement, you will remember the characters for a long time and the story stands the test of time.
Some of my favourite series
Sara Douglass – Axis. Most of my modern library is stored in a cloud but I still have these paperbacks and never plan on parting with them.
Juliet Marillier – Sevenwaters. Daughter of the Forest is one of those books that I will revisit at least once a year. I love myths and legends and this is one of the best retellings I have ever read. I won’t hear a word against it!
Robin Hobb – Liveship Traders. I was in awe of the imagination when reading this series and am still just as awed today when thinking about it. Absolutely brilliant series that you really must read.
JV Jones – Sword of Shadows
Katharine Kerr – Deverry: The Silver Wyrm
Trudi Canavan – Black Magician Trilogy
Elizabeth Haydon – Symphony of Ages
Garth Nix – Old Kingdom
Alison Croggon – The Naming
More Recent (yet probably still quite old!)
Patrick Rothfuss – Kingkiller Chronicle. The Name of the Wind is one of those books that you will read with a sense of wonder and then press into the hands of a like-minded reader with a nod.
Joe Abercrombie – First Law
Peter V Brett – Demon Cycle. The Painted Man was another one of those books that I felt the need to pass on to everyone I knew as soon as I had finished reading it.
This is by no means a comprehensive list and I am sure there are plenty of good series I have forgotten about. In fact, there is one that I have been trying to recall for approximately a decade now, still to no avail – all I can remember is that ice was taking over and I think that the heroine raced horses! I also know that some of you will probably be angry with me for omitting your favourite authors or mixing up my High Fantasy with Epic Fantasy and such. There are many well-respected series that I have read but not mentioned here, like Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’ and Susan Cooper’s wonderful children’s series ‘The Dark Is Rising’.
Another time I will share with you my absolutely most favourite genre of all time – Urban Fantasy. As far as I’m concerned, if it doesn’t have Fairies, Pixies, Vampires or Werewolves, it better come with a free bar of chocolate as a consolation…
I am being brave here – let me know any glaring omissions on my part. I would love to know what made you a reader and why. Tell me in the comments.