Your elite instructors here at the University of Fantasy are back and offering a new course. Like the 101 section we both, separately, came up with our suggestions for the class reading assignments. As you will see Steve and I ended with very differing approaches, again both viable, to the 201 section. While Steve’s choices are, mainly, the threads of the larger tapestry in the broad fantasy genre, mine are the best examples I could find for three of the big sub-genres in fantasy. One of the main things to keep in mind while reading over our picks is that the 201 and 202 level fantasy is generally as far as the typical reader will go. Why? Well, because our 300 level picks tend to be either very high-minded and/or very mature. Read these novels, and then decide if you trust us enough (which you should) to read the higher picks we will be recommending shortly.
Mistborn: The Final Empire:
Written by my good friend, Brandon Sanderson, MISTBORN is a story about a small group’s efforts to overthrow a ruler who has been in power for 1,000 years. It is the first novel in a trilogy, and carries with it one of the most unique magic systems out of any fantasy novel. It is my favorite work of Brandon’s to date, and I pushed this novel with all my book selling strength when I was managing a bookstore. The age didn’t matter. If the person liked fantasy, they got this book as a recommendation. The reason it is in the 201 category? It is a more intelligent novel than the 101 variety, and it is truly appreciated after you have read the basics and understand why MISTBORN is so different.
Yet another unique magic system. RUNELORDS is the first in an epic fantasy series by David Farland. Once again, having a basic understanding of the fantasy genre will help you appreciate this novel (and series) much more. Dave Farland is another author I have met and talked with, and he is one of the nicer authors you will meet. His novels are great for teens and above, and I highly recommend you give them a shot.
In Heroic Fantasy, there are certain authors one thinks of. You have your classic David Gemmell, your ultra simple (yet foundational…yes I made up that word) R.A. Salvatore, and your dark and complex Joe Abercrombie. Where both Gemmell and Salvatore are your 100-level Heroic Fantasy, and Abercrombie is your 300-level, James Barclay’s DAWNTHIEF nicely bridges the that 200-level gap. I was seriously impressed with Barclay’s first novel (which we reviewed here), and it will make a great addition to your collection of novels. Out of all the novels mentioned here by either Nick or myself, this one has the most mature content.
The Black Company:
Some of the best Military fantasy you will read. It is gritty and visceral and is a perfect entry into that sort of darker fantasy that I enjoy so much. It is hard for me to come up with a better description for this series than Steven Erikson did, “Reading his stuff was like reading Vietnam War fiction on peyote.” The books are fast reads, descriptive and interesting.
The Eye of the World:
I feel just as obligated to put this series here in the 201, as I did to put The Hobbit, and for much of the same reasons. I am not the raving WoT fanboy I used to be, after having been exposed to authors like Bakker, Lynch, Abercrombie, Rothfuss, Lloyd, Martin, etc., but like I said for The Hobbit, I stand in absolute respect and awe for what Robert Jordan has done for the genre. If Tolkien is the grandpa of fantasy, Jordan is the fun uncle you are always excited to go visit. He changed the face of Fantasy and shattered the barrier that Tolkien’s wedge cracked. Anyone reading Fantasy needs to read Jordan. I admit a certain amount of hesitancy to include a 14 (planned, with Brandon Sanderson finishing the last three) book series, with plenty of slow parts, for the 201 section, instead of the 202, or 301 (uh oh. Was that some foreshadowing? Dun-dun-Dun!) but in order to appreciate the diversity of Fantasy, I think readers should see what the sub-genre Epic Fantasy really means.
The Name of the Wind:
If The Black Company is the epitome of Military Fantasy, The Eye of the World the epitome of Epic Fantasy, then The Name of the Wind is the epitome of Traditional Fantasy. Many of the stories in fantasy include some sort of coming-of-age tale, and Patrick Rothfuss refined that recipe to make something astonishingly entertaining. It’s more thoroughly researched–to a perfectionist standard–and therefore a more intelligent read than some of the other options. The other reason this book is included here is that is way newer than my other selections. Glen Cook and the late Robert Jordan’s series are 20 years, give or take, old. Rothfuss brings a touch of the younger, fresher fantasy to my 201 selections.