Wayne MacLaurin's 2001 Fat Fantasy Awards
Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the Fourth Annual Fat Fantasy Awards. A night where we pay tribute to the best and weightiest in Fantasy. Yes, it's time again to applaud those authors whose fancy runs long; to those whose imaginations can not be constrained by the covers of a single volume; those authors who believe that if they write enough volumes that Michael Whelan will eventually agree to do their cover art; imaginations that require every last detail of culture and family trees to be explored in detail...
Its a night that is guaranteed to run long! But first, a word from our host.
As you might have guessed from the title and introduction, this is the fourth year that I've put together my thoughts on the best of the past year's fantasy. The first two years (Fat Fantasy Awards: 1998 and Fat Fantasy Awards: 1999) really weren't awards; they were just my personal favourites from the year. Fat Fantasy Awards: 2000 began today's format. While I do read a variety of work, my favorite stuff is almost always the big, shelf-breaking, fantasy series. I love the familiar feel of a good story and marvel at the expansive detail and broad casts that make up the best of these big series. There are exceptions, The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells (published back in 1998) was a mere 368 pages but she managed to pack the detail and rich feel of a 3000 page shelf-breaker into a tenth of the space. Similarly, I've wasted far too much valuable reading time on multi-volume series that just never quite "made it".
I hope you find something great in the titles mentioned here and feel free to drop me an email if you think I've missed something wonderful.
BEST SERIES THAT FINALLY MADE IT OUT OF THE UK
The Monarchies of God by Paul Kearney
A perennial favourite here at the SF Site, Paul Kearney's five-volume saga has, until recently, only been available in the UK. Berkeley Books has started publishing them in the US under the ACE banner. The first three (Hawkwood's Voyage, The Heretic Kings, The Iron Wars) are out. The fourth (The Second Empire) will be out in April. The fifth book is due out in the UK any time but rumour has it that Victor Gollancz (UK publisher) has had to hire the same thugs that Bantam Spectra used a few years back on George R.R. Martin when The Clash of Kings was overdue. It is said that patience is a virtue worth cultivating. I am sure that, when it arrives, SHIPS FROM THE WEST will be worth the wait.
BEST SERIES STILL WAITING TO MAKE IT OUT OF THE UK
THE ORKON by Tom Arden
Last year, I made it a point to take the advice of fellow SF Site staffer, Neil Walsh, and picked up the MONARCHIES OF GOD. It turned out to be pretty good advice. This year, I took a chance on another of Neil's favourites, THE ORKON by Tom Arden. Another five-volume series epic that seems to be lost in the UK (luckily for us Canadians we have a great hockey teams AND can get UK published books in the local stores), THE ORKON is wildly different from most fantasy fare. Each volume is set against a vastly different cultural backdrop and are woven with clever humour and rich literary prose. It is definitely a different reading experience but one that is well worth the effort.
To paraphrase the plot, THE ORKON tells the tale of a quest to retrieve five magical crystals that represent five different gods and their elements. But what starts as fairly standard high fantasy (but incredibly well-written) evolves into one of the most original pieces of fantasy literature that I've come across. The plot is intricately woven and the characters rich with detail and life.
FANTASY SERIES WITH THE BEST CHANCE OF DAMAGING MY BOOKSHELVES
Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson
A two time winner! For the second year running, Steven Erikson's epic fantasy has captured the attention of both our readers and our staff. Last year, Deadhouse Gates was #10 on the SF Site's Readers' Choice and Editor's Choice lists. This year, Memories of Ice was #9 on both. Considering the limited availability (yet another UK only publication) and the fact that it didn't hit our office until December, it's a very impressive showing.
It's hard to say enough good things about this series. In many ways it reminds me of Glen Cook's Black Company saga (which I highly recommend as well) with its gritty, lethal approach its fantasy settings. It's a much more ambitious tale than the Black Company in that Erikson is telling a much broader tale with a vaster scope.
BEST THIRD SERIES
The Tawny Man by Robin Hobb
OK, so the title of the award could use some work but I had to work Robin Hobb's Fool's Errand into the mix somehow. It's also only the first in the series but I'm confident that subsequent volumes will live up to the expectations created by Fool's Errand.
Robin Hobb returns to the setting of her FARSEER trilogy and the character of Fitz. Fifteen years have passed since the end of the previous books and Fitz is living happily in ignominity. However, his self-imposed exile is interrupted as his past returns to confront him. Hobb does a excellent job of building on the history and plots of the first series without ever conveying the feeling of this being a simple revisit of familiar territory.
I believe that Hobb is amongst the most talented authors of high fantasy out there and her work consistently delivers on that promise.
BEST SERIES THAT JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER
OATH OF EMPIRE by Thomas Harlan
I recently had the opportunity to read the third book in Thomas Harlan's series. Like its precursors, The Shadow Of Ararat and The Gate Of Fire, The Storm of Heaven continues to build a fascinating tale of political intrigue, sorcerous plots and empire building all set against a strangely familiar Romanesque setting. I say "Romanesque" because although the setting is largely the ancient Roman Empire, this particular Roman Empire was built on both the might of its armies and the might of its sorcerers. It is the most intriguing blend of fantasy and history I've encountered yet. The most amazing thing is that works so well. This type of style has been tried before (Judith Tarr comes to mind) but it often feels constrained by the very history that is being reworked. Harlan suffers no such difficulties and he even manages to resurrect Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and work the rise of Mohammed and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius into the story. I'm sure that if my university education had more Classical Ancient History and less Advanced Semi-Conductor Theory, I would be picking up on even more clever "cameos". As an added bonus, Book Four, THE DARK LORD is due out in July.
BEST START FOR A NEW SERIES FROM A LONG LOST AUTHOR
The Pearl by Eric Van Lustbader
The Ring of Five Dragons marks Eric Van Lustbader's return to the arena of epic fantasy. His first works (The four-volume SUNSET WARRIOR TRILOGY) was published in 1977 to 1980 but then he took a lengthy departure from fantasy to work on more mainstream works, although he did publish a few fantasy novels in the mid-90s. Regardless of that lapse of attention, Lustbader has returned to bring us what we really want... fat fantasy!!
OK, so The Ring of Five Dragons is a weird hybrid/cross of science fiction (high technology) with high fantasy and adds a dash of eastern philosophy, but it works.
The Pearl promises to be an ambitious series that has, so far, cleverly mixed what are normally difficult elements to combine... sorcery and technology.
MOST REFRESHING TAKE ON FANTASY CLICHÉS
NIGHTCHILD by James Barclay
With the third volume in THE CHRONICLES OF THE RAVEN, James Barclay continues to climb on my "Don't Miss" list. As a writer, he is rapidly discarding the conventions of standard fantasy fare and doing a pretty good job at eliminating some of the clichés that run rampant in "average" work.
The series tells the stories of a group of mercenaries called The Raven. There is no room for misunderstanding, these guys are among the best of the best. But, their reputation makes them pretty good targets for being manipulated to do things that nobody else can manage. Dawnthief started with that premise and then plunged headlong into a wild ride of exceptional, if fairly straight forward, fantasy fare. Noonshade dealt with the more serious ramifications of the events of Dawnthief and Nightchild continues that thread.
Perhaps that is what makes Barclay's work exceptional. His plots deal with the characters and the effects of their choices rather than relaying on, often badly constructed, super-villans or mysterious quests.
Nightchild continues the evolution of Barclay's writing and it's noticeable. This time around, the characters have continued to evolve. They have grown older, have other concerns to worry about (including family and other commitments outside of the Raven) and all of this serves to add stress and realism to the characters interactions.
There are three more volumes planned for the series. I look forward to reading them, especially if the writing continues to get better with each new book.
THE JUST BECAUSE EVERYBODY ELSE IS AWARDING IT SOMETHING AWARD
LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
(OK... I should say something. Great movie, better book but anything that gets people reading is a great accomplishment.)
THE WHERE IS IT? AWARD FOR CONSPICUOUS ABSENCE
The one problem with Fat Fantasy is that it usually comes in multiple volumes. While this is great for "shelf appeal", it does lead to one nasty side effect, waiting for the next volume. This year was no exception and some titles deserve special attention. I know that writing isn't an exact science and all the joint winners of this award have never failed to reward the patient so I'll say my piece and get back to practicing Zen-meditation techniques while I wait...
A FORTRESS OF GREY ICE by J.V. Jones
The follow up to A Cavern of Black Ice, is due to be released in the UK in April (early in 2003 in the US) but as of February 24th, J.V. Jones was still working revisions... sigh. If you haven't read the first one, pick it up. It made my Fat Fantasy Awards: 1999 and our Best Read of the Year: 1999 as well.
A FEAST FOR CROWS by George R.R. Martin
Book Four of A Song of Fire and Ice is due out in the fall of 2002. A DANCE FOR DRAGONS is currently the working title for Book Five which should arrive in 2004? Sigh and double sigh... I wonder if Victor Gollancz are finished with those thugs?
THE CONCLAVE OF THE SHADOWS by Raymond E. Feist
When I had the fortune to interview Raymond E. Feist back in 1999, he was partway through his RIFTWAR LEGACY [Krondor the Betrayal, Krondor: The Assassins and Krondor: Tear of the Gods] series. At that time, it seemed apparent that the next book we'd see would be TALON OF THE SILVER HAWK, the first book in a new "saga". Some other work seems to have gotten in the way.
Honoured Enemy (with William Forstchen) was released in the fall of 2001 (UK only) and was a surprise arrival here at the SF Site offices. Luckily, I had just made contact with a vicious band of murderous cut-throats who helped me win the "selection" for the review copy (who knew that you could find pirates in Ottawa, Canada?). Honoured Enemy is quite a different style of writing than what fans of Midkemia are familiar with (courtesy of William Forstchen, no doubt) but it is an excellent, fast moving, tale of the Riftwar.
Next up is Murder in LaMut (May 2002, also UK only) with Joel Rosenberg. I'm sure it will be equally enjoyable but I am really looking forward to TALON and what Feist describes as "half-way between the high fantasy of the Riftwar and the court-intrigue of the Empire series".
So there you have it: the 2001 Fat Fantasy Awards. I hope you find something here that you haven't read yet and will be encouraged to track it down.
So many books, so little time!
If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning,
please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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