When he first started writing Game of Thrones, author George RR Martin could never have guessed that his Song of Ice and Fire saga would end up being amongst the bestselling titles on the planet twenty years on. But a bestseller it was and last year’s TV series and latest book release meant 2011 was an epic one, not just for George’s fans, but also for those who enjoy fantasy literature.
Thanks to his success millions of people are discovering fantasy books for the first time. However as with all genres the literary world of fantasy is awash with junk. So if you caught the bug after reading George’s Game of Thrones why not examine these five alternatives? Each is utterly different but no less exciting than the Song of Ice and Fire.
The Dark Tower
By Stephen King
Starting with The Gunslinger, this series is Stephen King’s most important work to date. A glorious mixture of western, horror and fantasy, King follows a gnarly gunslinger as he journeys across time and dimensions in his quest to find the Dark Tower. Often compared to Lord of the Rings, The Dark Tower reads like a fantastical travelogue full of unexplained and unimaginable horrors, triumphs and challenges.
By Naomi Novik
Melding history and fantasy together Naomi Novik’s series of books is set during the Napoleonic Wars. She tells the tale of a British sailor who finds a dragon egg. The egg hatches and both sailor and hatchling are enlisted to fight the French from the sky. Believably constructed, Novik brings us a world where dragons play a massive part in society. She also takes us back to a time when the French turn their eyes, armies and dragons towards the British Isles.
The Black Company
By Glen Cook
Most fantasy tales surround some good guys fighting against bad guys. The lines are seldom blurred. Not so in Glen Cook’s Black Company tales. His novels surround the actions of a notorious band of mercenaries who just so happen to be serving an evil Empress. The situation naturally gets pretty complicated and the company’s medic Croaker embarks on a series of unlikely adventures. Dark but also funny at times, Cook’s early books are full of excellent pitched battles, dubious heroes and a seriously swiftly moving plot.
By Neil Gaiman
A modern fantasy, Neil Gaiman’s tale of all powerful beings battling it out across the American States is an exceptionally imaginative stand alone title. Full of smart imagery, twist, turns and excellent use of existing mythologies, this is rightly regarded as a modern classic. Reading like a road trip of extreme weirdness the title’s final destination isn’t easy to spot adding to the tense and spooky quality of the tale.
The First Law Trilogy
By Joe Abercrombie
The world in which the First Law Trilogy is set is in many ways classic fantasy territory. Yet the characters are far from clichéd. Abercrombie deftly throws together a sensitive psychopath, Machiavellian wizard, foppish swordsman, crazy woman and crippled torturer for what is an excellent tale of war, redemption and realpolitik. Alongside the intriguing characterisation the author’s often hilarious dialogue and knack for vividly depicting brutal battles help to make this the ultimate easy-to-enjoy fantasy trilogy.