We here at MojoFiction love the sci-fi/fantasy genre. We used to read fantasy novels all the time, though we started with Dragonlance, not The Lord of the Rings (we are soooo sorry). But we took a serious hiatus from them a couple of years ago. The fantasy genre is as popular as ever, why would we do that?
Well, either we’re accidentally drank a Potion of Lower IQ (that should totally be in Munchkin), or we have a really good reason.
We had to think about it for a while, but we’re going with the second one. …Right?
Here’s the deal: fantasy novels are just too darn long. Not the individual books themselves, that we don’t mind. A book can be a thousand pages as long as it’s good (and as long as we don’t have a life). But when it’s a thousand pages and there are six more to read after it, we start to get annoyed. Especially when it’s just a “projected” number of books. And really especially when the author is taking three years between each book. For instance, we really wanted to read A Dance with Dragons, by you-know-who (and if you don’t, turn on HBO), but we finished reading the previous book, A Feast for Crows, sometime during the Irish Potato Famine and we simply couldn’t remember what the heck was going on or who was who or who was dead or anything. A subsequent search of the internet found a site with a recap of the previous novels that turned out to be as long as a novel itself. (Our full respect to the person who put that whole thing together. You, sir, are insane, and we salute you.) So we haven’t got around to A Dance with Dragons yet.
Patrick Rothfuss’s outstanding novel The Name of the Wind came out in 2007. The follow-up novel The Wise Man’s Fear came out in 2011. The mere span of a college career! At least he has only one major character, which is a lot easier to follow.
A few years ago we remember eyeing a book from The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, which we have not read. Wait, there are how many books in the series? Friends and Seinfeld came and went in less time than it took to get The Wheel of Time out.
Does every fantasy story come in the form of a trilogy? Or a quadrilogy? Or a fourteen-ilogy?
Thankfully, no. Enter author Joe Abercrombie.
MojoFiction’s older brother recently sent him a copy of the fantasy novel Best Served Cold, by Mr. Abercrombie. It’s a few years old, but it feels like a breath of fresh fantasy air, or at least a little Febreze (few people realize that Febreze is actually +6 versus trilogies). It’s a brutal, blood-soaked, adult novel full of murderers, thieves, and every other anti-hero you can imagine. In short, it’s totally awesome. And it’s a stand-alone novel.
We’re sure Weis and Hickman have just sent out their best Halfling assassin after us, but we stand by this stand-alone book. The story centers around the general of a mercenary army whose employer unexpectedly tried to kill her and her brother. Unfortunately, they didn’t finish the job, leaving the brother dead, but our anti-heroine alive to plot revenge against the seven men responsible. The novel recounts her exploits as she gathers a small band of troublemakers around her to travel the country in search of her would-be killers.
Centering the story in various cities around his fantasy world, Joe Abercrombie’s writing brings the characters and events to life with the descriptive force of a veteran writer. He could easily write straight horror novels. Tension bleeds out in every scene, ever conversation. When violence occurs, it is gory and gruesome. The dialogue crackles because each character is well-drawn and generally three-dimensional, each one speaking in their own way, their own cadence and vocabulary. But, even though it’s a long book, scenes never feel drawn out or boring. Every conversation builds the characters and sets up forthcoming events. Character motivations are not always clear, but that lack of clarity is an asset to the story because there’s also more than meets the eye as the plot unfolds and secrets are revealed.
MojoFiction realizes that Mr. Abercrombie has also written a fantasy trilogy. We’re choosing to ignore that fact. Best Served Cold is bleak human depravity, but it’s a lot of fun from a skillful writer with a vast and somewhat twisted imagination. If you like the fantasy genre and don’t want to devote ten years of your life to a series, check this one out.
First, you have to admit that The Name of the Wind trilogy is worth the wait. The two he has written so far are outstanding.
Second, I understand sometimes you just want to read a stand alone fantasy novel, but that is not how the genre is. Fantasy fiction is geared towards being epic. The Wheel of Time series is staggering in its length and number of books, but that is the type of thing I like. I like long sweeping story arcs with tones of characters and places. It is what makes the story come alive, and you see the grand scale of things. Something that seems such a simple matter in one of the early books becomes an event that changes not just one person’s story line, but multiple and in a huge way.
I agree that there is too much time between some books, but that can’t be helped. Like music, you have your entire life to write your first book or album. To write the second book in a short span is even harder. The only author I know that gets scheduling done right is Terry Brooks. He is about two books ahead when one comes out. That is how he gets one out every year. But his novels are NOT in the same category as Robert Jordan or George R. R. Martin. Add about 500 pages per book. That is a LOT to write.
All I’m saying is, Stephen King almost died when he was hit by a car but he still managed to get a book published. And don’t tell me he doesn’t world-build. Read Under the Dome (note: not a trilogy). Ever read Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy? I’m still not sure what the point of the middle book was (all 1137 pages of it), not until some interesting developements at the end, anyway. It’s still a great story, but c’mon. Thankfully, his Pandora’s Star / Judas Unchained story was only a two-parter. It was quite satisfying at that length (though I’m sure the marketing department would have preferred a third).