My Gift to You

Well, it’s a little late, but who’s looking at blogs on Christmas Day, anyway?

This Sunday’s Top Ten list (which seems to be a new weekly thing around here) is: The Top Ten Fantasy Books YOU Should Read.

Now, I’m not including no-brainer things like The Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter series. Come on, people. You know you should read those. Instead I’m giving you a list of wonderful, absorbing fantasy books you may or may not have heard of. Some of them are bestsellers, some are more obscure, all are worth reading.

1. Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay
Kay is, in my learned opinion, the best writer working in the fantasy genre today. His books are like poems. Each one stands alone, completely self-contained, completely beautiful. Tigana takes place in a medieval pseudo-Italy, a country whose name was stolen by a sorcerer. The main characters are trying to win back Tigana’s name and freedom. Read it. You’ll love it.

 

2. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke
Two magicians learn from each other, battle each other, and must reconcile for the sake of English magic. That’s a pretty ho-hum way of describing it, though. This book is full of magic. I love Jane Austen, as well, and Clarke’s Austen-inspired Regency England is charming and engaging. This book is hugely long, too, so it’ll keep you busy for awhile.

3. Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey
This book isn’t just naughty. It’s NC-17 erotic fantasy. However, it has a captivating main character, a lush prose style, and a sweepingly epic tale that makes the entire book feel decadent, like eating drinking eggnog and eating an Entemann’s chocolate donut in the same sitting, but, you know, sexier. Don’t let the S&M put you off: the fantasy tale is amazing.

 

4. The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
Rothfuss wrote such an incredibly good first book that we should all hate him. Instead, he’s funny and talented and runs an awesome charity this time of year called Worldbuilders, so you have to love him. The Name of the Wind is the first of Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Trilogy, which looks at the creation of a hero-myth from the perspective of the hero. It kept me up till about 3 a.m. the first time I read it. I dare you to put it down.

5. Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson
C’mon, you knew this one would be on here. I have an unholy love of Brandon Sanderson. The other night, I dreamed I met him and he ate my phone, and I was totally okay with it: that’s how much I love him. Anywho, Mistborn is combination heist-epic fantasy, with some jaw-dropping twists and a sweet romance. This is the first book I recommend to young fantasy-lovers, and it’s high on my list for grown-ups, too.

6. Magic Bites, Ilona Andrews
I poked some fun at this book back when I first read it, but the truth is, I really enjoyed it, and each book in the series has been better than the last. I’m really impressed with Andrews because her magic system is so unique: magic hits in waves, giving way to technology periodically, but also destroying the modern world. Plus, vampires are disgusting, twisted corpses piloted by necromancers, and there are plenty of monsters from Russian mythology. How cool is that? Read Magic Bites, read the next four, then join me in waiting for more installments.

7. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
Um, if you haven’t read this one, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore. Okay, that’s not entirely true because I have lots of friends I love who haven’t read it… yet. Still, the book is about American Gods–literally, the Norse, Celtic, Russian, Native American, and every other pantheon come to life in America. It has a tale-within-a-tale, an epic battle, a road trip, some humor–everything you could possibly want. Read it before HBO makes it into a television series, which they are doing in the very near future.

8. The Dark Tower series, Stephen King
Full disclosure: I haven’t read these books. However, I was reaching the end of my list of books I’m willing to tell you are unconditionally fantastic, so my fiance said I should direct you to these. Obliging woman that I am, here they are. Whatever you want to say about him, King is a seminal influence on the fantasy genre, and his On Writing is my favorite writing book. Plus, he has monsters in The Dark Tower called lobstrosities. You just can’t beat that. Though I suppose I should give them a try at some point if I’m recommending them to you.

9. A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
I’m going to assume, since these books are now an HBO series, that you’ve read these books. If you haven’t, DO IT. You’ve heard Martin called the American Tolkien, blah blah blah, but these books are as good as the hype. They’re gritty, dark, brutal, realistic fantasy that are not remotely influenced by D&D. These are what fantasy could and should be: no pretty elves, no sexy vampires, no sound of dice rolling in the background, just a real world where magic and dragons happen to exist.

10. The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay
Yup, double Kay action on this list, because he’s just that good. He’s my favorite fantasy author, despite my constant references to “Sanderson says” and “The Gospel of Jim.” The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy are Kay’s first books, and they’re not actually my favorite of his work. I should recommend to you A Song for Arbonne or Ysabel, but because we have many aspiring writers visiting us here, I give you the trilogy. These books are good, but they’re not great: it’s like Kay took all of his favorite ideas and wrote them into one single trilogy, and the books are just all over the place. King Arthur? Check. Norse mythology? Check. Sorcery? Barbarians? You got it. There’s a valuable lesson to be learned here. The next time you find yourself feeling too in love with your first work and pet ideas, read this trilogy and see why you shouldn’t condense all of your ideas down into one series.

There you have it, folks. Happy holidays. Go out and buy yourself a book on me.

Baby-Killers Anonymous?

My name is Kristin, and I am a baby-killer. (Hi, Kristin…)

Okay, I realize that the title makes me sound like a whacked-out abortion doctor or a right-winger accusing myself of doing Bad Things, but I’m actually talking about fictional babies.

Today, after a cup of tea, about a million repeats of a sappy song, and a lot of soul-searching, I decided that a main character’s sick baby should die. This is my first time killing a character in this book. I have done some Bad Things to my characters otherwise, but this is the first time I’ve committed murder, and it’s definitely the first time I’ve killed an innocent six-month-old. (For those of you who will someday read my book, ha ha, I apologize for the spoiler.)

I decided to do it for several reasons. One, if the baby recovers, the main character might not have the will to do what she’s about to do. Two, it’ll allow me to set up some nice parallels from her earlier chapters. Yes, I kill babies for the sake of my art. Three, well, I blame Jacqueline Carey. She gives a piece of advice for aspiring writers that has stuck with me for a good five years:

Create characters and break their hearts.

And that’s what I’m doing. This character—her name is Constance, by the way—will be stronger for surviving this. The baby’s death will push her husband, a villain of sorts, over the edge and will help explain the bad choices he’s about to make.

I suppose it’s a little ridiculous to feel guilt over killing people I made up, but whenever I think of another character slated to die, I feel sad for him. In this case, I feel especially sad because this poor baby will have had no role but shaping his mother’s character. These people die so that the people around them–the main characters–can react and develop another facet.

Call me crazy, I guess, but it’s a bummer to have to kill someone you’ve spent time with every day for the past three years, even if that person is just a figment of your imagination.

But if anyone asks,  the song made me do it. And Jacqueline Carey. But I stand by my choice.