I haven’t done a book recommendation in a long time, but I just finished a series that would fall into the category of epic fantasy for people who like my books.
I fell in love with fantasy in part due to The Lord of the Rings, so I do love a good traditional epic fantasy. It’s been harder lately to find something I want to read, though, because of the “grimdark” trend. I want to read about worlds that are actually places I might want to go (though probably not during the events of the book because that’s when things are tense) and people I would want to know in real life. I don’t want to read about a place where everything’s always terrible and people are awful and life generally sucks, but there’s magic, so yay? Unfortunately, that’s the sort of thing that was getting the publishing world excited, especially after the success of the Game of Thrones TV series. Whether or not that holds true after 2020 remains to be seen, and it will be a couple of years before any new trends start hitting bookstores.
But I have found a series that’s more of an intimate epic fantasy, in that it focuses on the main characters instead of the massive, faceless armies. Bad things do happen to our main characters, but the books don’t dwell on the gory details. And it’s all ultimately about redemption and reconciliation, with an ending that left me sighing and wishing I could stay with those characters a little longer.
The series is the Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan, and the first book is Theft of Swords. The main characters are a pair of thieves, one a jaded (and somewhat damaged) former assassin and criminal gang member, the other an idealistic master swordsman. They specialize in doing jobs for aristocrats, usually stealing something from one noble for another noble. When they get hired to steal a sword from the king’s castle, they get framed for the murder of the king and end up kidnapping the new king to save him from the same people who killed his father. And that gets them involved in much bigger affairs that could alter the fate of their world.
I do have some caveats, though. This series was initially self-published, and in the early books it kind of shows. When the series was at the fifth book, it really took off, and a traditional publisher bought it, publishing two of the books per volume, with the sixth and final book being new in the final volume. It doesn’t look like they did any editing to release the big publisher version, which made me twitchy. The writing was at best pedestrian, and at worst really klunky, and I desperately wanted to edit it. But I really liked the characters and I was intrigued by the story, so I kept going and eventually got into it enough that I quit polishing the prose in my head (most of the time, unless something really hit me). There are lots of twists and turns, and I didn’t accurately predict all of them. The worldbuilding is also a bit sketchy. There’s an intricate enough history that apparently there are other series set in this world about this history, but the depiction of the society is all over the map, with bits that are medieval mixed with Victorian-era stuff and a bit of Regency-era stuff. It seems to be a world that’s an analogue to medieval Europe, but they’re eating potatoes and drinking coffee. That won’t bother a lot of readers, but there are some whose heads will be exploding.
But, as I said, I really liked the characters, and I cared what happened to them. There’s a lot of good character growth and development along the way. Characters you may initially dislike will end up redeeming themselves until they become favorites. The plotting is pretty intricate, with lots of twists and reversals, and definitely with an awareness of tropes so that you think you know where things are going because you’ve read fantasy before, and then there will be a twist on the trope. After spending the first quarter of the first book going “I can’t read this,” I ended up plowing through the whole series. The writing did get a lot better along the way, so I completely quit mentally editing. It has a lot of the usual epic fantasy ingredients, with magic, dwarfs, wizards, elves, and the battle over an empire, but it’s fun, has some humor, a subtle romance, good friendships, and a truly feel-good ending. While I’m not sure I’d call it “gentle,” it would fit into the “clean” category in that there’s no sex or bad language, and the violence isn’t really graphically described. I think that my fans who are interested in more traditional epic fantasy may enjoy it.
In other news, if you aren’t a Kindle reader and haven’t read my Christmas novella and want to, you’ll probably need to get it before early next week because I’m thinking of putting it in Kindle Unlimited for the rest of the year, and that will mean it isn’t available anywhere but Amazon. I prefer to distribute my books everywhere, but sales are down to nothing on that one, and I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see if I can reach new readers that way. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you’ll want to wait a little while and get it then.
There’s also a little less than a week remaining to get the Clean Fantasy StoryBundle, which includes my book A Fairy Tale, along with many others. It’s a great way to find new authors and series to enjoy.