Most of what I read is simply entertainment, a way for me to keep my mind busy and amused, as I get bored easily. I read voraciously and often don’t think back on a book once I’m done, even if I enjoyed it. But there are some books that I’ve both enjoyed and thought about afterwards, usually leading me to read it more than once. I thought that it might be interest for me to take a minute to examine that list, the books that bubble to the top of my mind even today—years after I read most of them–and think why that is. This is not a ‘best book’ list, although you could use it that way, but rather the books that (at least for me) didn’t disappear from my memory, like footprints in the waves. It will be interesting to see if this exercise helps guide me in consciously finding the themes and elements that I found to be meaningful in other people’s stories.
And if not that, it’s still a decent ‘best book’ list. 😉
So here it goes (in no particular order):
- The Magic of Recluce, LE Modesitt Jr (Fantasy). Builds slowly. Character is more talented at magic than he realizes, the story is big scale, but with considerable time spent on the main character’s attention to detail and good craftsmanship (interestingly, in woodcraft, which I spent some of my youth working at as well), that ultimately leads to him earning his success. One caution: I haven’t reread this in years, and some of the reviews comment on an over-abundance of detail. Honestly not sure what my reaction would be today. I may re-read it , just to find out.
- The Belgariad Series, David Eddings. (Fantasy) I’m not alone on this one, obviously. The series was huge. Cool magic concept (one of the stated reasons that Eddings wrote it was to explore the concept of the Will and the Word, which was an original idea). Plus, epic. Great humor in the dialogue (I’m thinking Silk and Barak). And touches of wisdom here and there, from different characters. Touch of romance.
- Dragonsong, Anne McAffrey. (Fantasy) Underdog, lonely, special talent (music and attraction for small dragons), who has people amazed with her talent, but works hard to get it. Great world-building, cool premise of dragons and people living as allies. Touch of romance. Isolation and talent. (Apparently McAffrey studied music herself, in her youth)
- Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (Science Fiction). Special abilities (intelligence, martial talent), cool concept (originally a short story), and a cool twist (although this was not what drew me back). An audience won over and admiring, despite overwhelming odds of success, but a lonely struggle, and earning success with small and difficult victories.
- The Hyperion Cantos Series, Dan Simmons (Science Fiction, Hugo winner). Cool question of the Shrike and its motives. Question revealed at the end, with a cool but logical answer. Have to admit, this story question was a major draw, so I have less urge to revisit the series than some of the others on the list.
- The Fionavar Tapestry Series, Guy Gavriel Kay (Fantasy). Beautiful language (Mr. Kay was originally a real poet and you can feel the care in his wording). Magic. Sacrifice. And Epic, with tie-in to Arthurian legends, which I enjoyed. Touch of romance.
- The Player of Games, Iain Banks (Science Fiction, Hugo winner). Cool abilities (intelligence and game playing prowess), cool premise, epic scale (in game and without), a limited understanding of implications of the game, a difficult struggle to master it, earning success, and the respect of people for winning. (Echoes of Ender’s Game here, in themes if not in content, which is interesting to think upon.)
- Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny (Fantasy/ Science Fiction), a book about space-faring people masquerading as Hindu gods, with godlike powers, and a rebel in their midst. Cool abilities, underdog, struggle to keep to a moral code.
- The Black Company Series, Glenn Cook (Fantasy). Gritty, magic, underdogs with underestimated power, bring down arrogant bad guys. Some hint of ‘knights in rusty armor’, but realistic. Epic.
- The Garrett PI Series (especially the earlier books), Glen Cook (Fantasy). I know, two series in a row by him, but they’re completely different. These are quirky fantasy detective stories, more standalone. Beaten down detective, ‘knight in rusty armor’, cool idea of a god-like room-mate with big limitations and very sarcastic humor.
- The Tiger and Del Series, Jennifer Roberson (Fantasy). Man and women swordsmen, tension between them on who’s best. Grew from a short story. Ice and Fire. Sacrifice, love, pride, world exploration, past being battled and conquered. Humor. Some touch of romance.
- Sherlock Holmes Series, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Detective) (I know, not fantasy, but so cool). Mystery, abilities (intellect, deduction), dark mood. A slight touch of the ‘knight in rusty armor’, being on the side of the good guys despite a cynical and realistic word view.
- The Man called Noon, Louis L’Amour (Western). Famous western writer, and for good reason. Cool premise of amnesia in the midst of a deadly conflict (similar to The Bourne Identity, Robert Ludlum, also a great book). Deadly past, unclear moral compass, mystery even to character, overwhelming odds, hard decision to follow his morals. Touch of romance.
- The Kate Daniels Series, Ilona Andrews (Fantasy). Cool abilities, dark and deadly past chasing her, underdog, outnumbered, cool world building. Slightly heavier touch of romance.
- The Dresden Files Series, Jim Butcher (Fantasy). Cool abilities (very powerful magically). Dark and painful past to earn it. Struggles to hold to his moral code. Earns his success (I liked when he built the statue of Chicago), imperfect, outnumbered, struggles to earn his success.
- Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien (Fantasy). Obvious, but it still has to be said. The archetype for generations after. Epic. Sacrifice, holding to morals, outnumbered. Especially Aragorn, mysterious past, earning followers and proving his abilities. Hidden deadly talents. Stepping forward against overwhelming odds.
- Hunger Games Series, Suzanne Collins (Fantasy). Cool world building and concept, game that is more than a game, sacrifice, cool abilities (archery, subtle mind), overwhelming odds, sticking to moral code. Inspiring people at the end. Touch of romance.
- Magician Series, Raymond Feist (Fantasy). What I remember especially is when Pug crosses worlds, loses his memory and does the water bucket exercises, earning his way to becoming a great black magician, holding magic of two worlds. Cool abilities, epic, defying odds.
- Legend, David Gemmell (Fantasy). A deadly past, underestimated and cool abilities (axe fighter and sword fighter), underdogs, overwhelming near hopeless odds, lots of action, inspiring people, holding to moral code.
- Wolf in Shadow, David Gemmell (Fantasy). Cool abilities (gunslinger), deadly past, struggling to follow his moral code in fallen world, haunted by his killing of a small child, struggle to follow the right path afterwards.
- The Saga of Pliocene Exile Series, Julian May (Fantasy/ Science Fiction). Cool abilities, cool premise (time travel/ maybe aliens). Some interesting twists and characters.
For bonus points, I’m going to include some stories that I know were favorites when I was younger, but can’t for the life of me remember the titles to. Some of these are very old and not necessarily best sellers, so for people looking for quality off the beaten track, these could be worth a read (if we ever figure it out, and they’re still available). Your clues are:
- A series (3 books or so), science-fiction, around a unique soldier. In one book it’s revealed that he was one of (something?)-kids, children who were found in space with unique abilities. He restores old spaceships in one book, turns a derelict outpost into a thriving repair station. That book builds slowly, shows strong morals, earning success, underdog, outnumbered, inspiring followers, and cool hidden abilities (talents of assassination, strength, reflexes). I think he had gold eyes, and a disconcerting gaze.
- A series (3 books or so), science fiction, where an assassin is cloned and brought back to do a very difficult mission. The first book reveals that the first clone (a twenty year old) died for being rash, so they resurrected the thirty year old. At the end of that book, he fakes his own death, so the following book is a clone created that is even older, to get more wisdom. Cool concept. Outnumbered. Cool abilities (legendary assassin, cold, smart). Has a twisted but strict moral code of his own.
- A Bard Series, fantasy, where the main character is a hook hand druid with more than human powers and enemies. I never did find book three, although I watched out for it for years. I think it might have not been North American. Maybe Irish? Dark magic. Touches of ‘rusty knight’, if I remember correctly.
- One book, fantasy, where a brother sets out to a distant land, after the death of his brother. I think for a merchant family. He had a pet mongoose as a child, which ties into the finale as part of a magic battle. I remember, as one detail, that the main character was imprisoned and tortured, which I don’t think was too graphic, but still stuck in my memory as an unusual plot turn.
One side note, it strikes me as interesting that so many of these books have a fairly cool premise, rather than just relying on strong writing and powerful themes. Which seems to support my post: Professional Riders Don’t Ride Fat Ponies.
This image is a smaller section of an Angels and Devils war picture I did in my teen years, which I still think is pretty cool in composition and effect, even if some of the details aren’t as polished as I could do now. And admittedly it’s a bit dark. I may post the bigger image in its entirety, but I haven’t taken a good picture of the larger piece yet. Prismacolor pencils.