Top Ten Tuesday: A Selection of Favorite Fantasy Books and Series

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books From My Favorite Genre. I bounce between genres quite a bit, but thought I’d focus here on fantasy. My list includes stand-alones as well as series, and because I’m sticking to just 10, I ended up not including three that pretty much go without saying: of course I love the Narnia, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Lord of the Rings books! (See? I managed to mention them after all!)

My top ten, in no particular order:

  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  • Codex Alera (series) by Jim Butcher
  • The Immortals (series) (standing in for ALL Tortall books) by Tamora Pierce (review)
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik (review)
  • The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (series) by Patricia C. Wrede (review)
  • Wayward Children (series) by Seanan McGuire (review)
  • The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King (review)
  • The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner (review)
  • His Dark Materials (series) by Philip Pullman
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman

What genre did you pick this week? If you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

Flashback Friday: Furies of Calderon

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight — and you’re invited to join in!

Here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera, #1)

Furies of Calderon
(Codex Alera, book 1)

by Jim Butcher
(published 2004)

Synopsis (Goodreads):

In the realm of Alera, where people bond with the furies — elementals of earth, air, fire, water and metal, fifteen-year-old Tavi struggles with his lack of furycrafting. But when his homeland erupts in chaos — when rebels war with loyalists and furies clash with furies — Tavi’s simple courage will turn the tides of war.

From Publishers Weekly:

At the start of Butcher’s absorbing fantasy, the first in a new series, the barbarians are at the gates of the land of Alera, which has a distinct flavor of the Roman Empire (its ruler is named Quintus Sextus and its soldiers are organized in legions). Fortunately, Alera has magical defenses, involving the furies or elementals of water, earth, air, fire and metal, that protect against foes both internal and external. Amara, a young female spy, and her companion, Odiana, go into some of the land’s remoter territories to discover if military commander Atticus Quentin is a traitor—another classic trope from ancient Rome. She encounters a troubled young man, Tavi, who has hitherto been concerned mostly with the vividly depicted predatory “herdbanes” that threaten his sheep as well as with his adolescent sexual urges (handled tastefully). Thinking that Amara is an escaping slave, Tavi decides to help her and is immediately sucked in over his head into a morass of intrigues, military, magical and otherwise. Butcher (Storm Front, etc.) does a thorough job of world building, to say nothing of developing his action scenes with an abundance of convincing detail.

Want to understand the vibe of The Codex Alera series? Think Dresden Files thrown into a blender with Game of Thrones. Kind of.

Jim Butcher, known for the ongoing (and totally awesome) Dresden Files series, here creates a fantasy world full of magical powers, human and non-human races, and heavy doses of military adventures and escapades. His characters come with family legacies, inherited struggles and feuds, and secrets galore. There’s a ton of scheming, ruthless manipulation and political maneuvering, and scenes of magical occurrences that practically beg to be filmed and loaded with CGI.

Tavi is a terrific main character, immensely likeable, funny and brave, with the smart-ass attitude we’ve come to expect from Butcher’s heroes. The supporting characters are strong and well-defined, and the action never flags. Plus — romance! Secret identities! Evil forces! Potential destruction of the world!

I love that I was able to read the entire series (six books) straight through, so I could really live in the world of Alera for a sustained reading experience and get to feel that I truly knew the characters, understood the stakes, and was invested in the outcomes.

By the way, Codex Alera has an amazing (and very funny) origin story, which Jim Butcher explains in this clip from 2008’s Comic-con:

Happy Friday, and enjoy your flashbacks!

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Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Characters in Epic Fantasy Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is:

Top Ten Favorite Characters in “X” Genre…

… where we each write about the genre of our choice. Tough call — historical fiction? vampire stories? old-fashioned romances? diet and exercise books? (ha – kidding!). I decided to go with Epic Fantasy, or at least what I’d consider epic fantasy: Swords, dragons, kingdoms, knights, perhaps some magical beings, certainly lots of heroic quests and struggles.

That said, my absolute favorite characters — most of whom do, in fact, wield mighty swords — come from just a few books, so here’s my list, broken down by the novel or series that feature these awesome* characters:

*awesome: inspiring awe. Not awesome as in “OMG! That song it totally awesome!”

From Lord of the Rings:

1) Aragorn: My king! Aragorn is everything an Aragornepic hero should be: noble, selfless, fearless in battle, utterly committed to his righteous cause.

2) Gandalf: Gray or white, Gandalf has more power in his little finger than most other fictional wizards combined. (I say “most”, because I’m still not sure who’d win in a head-to-head between Gandalf and Dumbledore. Just because Albus comes across as a twinkly old guy doesn’t mean that he’s not fierce).

3) Samwise Gamgee: What’s a quest without a devoted sidekick? You don’t get best friends better than Sam.

http://nschmiedicker.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/furies-of-calderon.jpgFrom Codex Alera by Jim Butcher:

Codex Alera, by the way, is a fantastic series. Jim Butcher is better know for his (also wonderful) Dresden Files books, but this six-volume fantasy series is crisp, funny, inventive, and sharply plotted. Colorful and memorable characters abound, but my favorites would have to be:

4) Tavi: We meet Tavi as a boy, frustrated by his lack of magic in a world where lacking such gifts makes you a freak. Over the course of the series, we see Tavi grow into manhood, come into his heritage, unravel mysteries, and — oh, yeah — pretty much save the world. Plus, he’s funny and fearless, loyal to a fault, and crazily adventurous.

5) Kitai: Daughter of the savage tribe across the border, Kitai is strong, steely, and independent. She may be Tavi’s love interest, but that doesn’t mean she’s at all subservient to or weaker than him in any way. I love how Jim Butcher creates Kitai to be a warrior. As the love story blossoms, it’s a love between equals, which seems rather rare in these type of heroic tales.

6) Araris Valerian: Araris Valerian is a tragic, heroic figure, dedicated to Tavi’s protection, never revealing his secret past or breaking the vows he’s sworn to uphold. And boy, can that man swing a sword!

From A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin:

7) Ned Stark: Ned is honorable to the point of ruin, but I love him madly despite his blundering belief that if he lives as a man of honor, those around him will do so as well. No spoilers here, so my Ned tribute will have to be brief and to the point. A sexy, devoted husband, a wise, demanding, but fair father, a steadfast friend, and a courageous lord. Sigh.

8) Jon Snow: I get the chills every time Jon repeats the oath of the Night’s Watch: “Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.” Jon has the power of his convictions, but he’s not afraid to shake things up. Again, no spoilers, but suffice it to say that Jon Snow is one of the main reasons I’m practically frothing at the mouth waiting for book #6 to show up.

9) Tyrion Lannister: It was a toss-up between Tyrion and Jamie here, but in the end I can’t put together a list of favorite characters without a big shout-out to the Imp. He may be devious and cunning, but boy, is Tyrion smart. The overlooked and scorned “grotesque” son turns into a force to be reckoned with. Tyrion is small in stature, but he can out-think any man or woman in Westeros, and it’s his brain that may save the day for his family in the end.

And finally, from The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley:https://bookshelffantasies.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/bluesword.jpg?w=178

10) Harry Crewe: The Blue Sword is one of my favorite Robin McKinley books, and that’s mostly thanks to the amazing Harry Crewe. This Harry is a young woman, brought up to be a respectable miss, who joins a group of desert nomads and becomes a fierce horsewoman and wielder of the mythic blue sword Gonturan. Harry leads her people into battle and saves the day, all the while riding a horse with no reins in order to keep her hands free for fighting. (Can you tell how impressive I find this?) If you want an epic fantasy book that’s heavy on the girl power, don’t miss The Blue Sword.

I’m sure the second I hit “Publish”, I’ll come up with another ten characters who really should have been on my list. Who would you include in a list of top fantasy characters?

Now what?

The problem with catching up on a series… is eventually, you’re all caught up.

If you’ve followed my blog at all in the last few weeks, you’ll know that my obsession du jour is the Fables series of graphic novels (by Bill Willingham). I’ve been devouring these non-stop, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else on my bookshelves. Last night, I finished volume 17 — which was my goal for the week — and suddenly, I’m done. I’ve preordered volume 18, but it’s not due to be published until next January. It’s going to be a long, cold wait.

If I’m hooked, I’m hooked, and despite knowing that sooner or later the fun will end, there’s no stopping me until I’ve reached the end of whatever series I’m reading.*  Not a problem if the entire series has already been published, as was the case when I read Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series a couple of years ago.

*A major exception to my normal series reading behavior is The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. I’d been meaning to read it for years; finally started the series earlier this year, read the first three books and thought they were terrific, took the fourth one off my shelf and placed in prime reading position on my nightstand… and there it still sits. I don’t know why, but I just lost the spark, I guess. I’m sure I’ll return to that world eventually, but for now, I’m just not feeling it.

In 2011, my series obsession was A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. I read the available five books over the course of a few months, and now I have to wait, like everyone else. If I had been one of his devoted fans waiting six years for the publication of the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, I might have gotten a bit antsy myself. Not to the extent of the angry bloggers who want the author to “finish the damn book, George!”, but still… (Side note: It seems to me that publicly venting your anger at the author whose work you adore might not be the best display of fan-like behavior. It’s his book! Let the man write at whatever pace works for him. The next book will be amazing, I promise!).

In 2010, there was nothing but Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series for me. I read the seven books in the series straight through, several thousand pages worth. And then came the sad day when I finished Echo in the Bone (cliffhangers galore!), and had to face the fact that there was nothing else to read about Claire and Jamie!

For some of my beloved series, there are spin-offs and side works available. For Fables, there’s a Jack of Fables series, although I never cared that much for the Jack character, so I’ll pass on a series devoted to him. However, I’m sure I will pick up some of the stand-alones to keep me in the Fables world between now and next January.

For A Song of Ice and Fire, I’m afraid it’ll be a long, long time before we see book six, The Winds of Winter. We’re talking years here. No publication date has been announced yet, but it’s a good bet that by the time Winter finally arrives, I’ll have forgotten everything that’s happened already, as well as all of my arcane knowledge of house sigils and bannermen, and will have to do some major re-reads.

Diana Gabaldon is busily working on book eight, Written In My Own Heart’s Blood, and has estimated publication for early 2013, according to the author’s website. In the interim, since finishing Echo, I’ve read the spin-off Lord John series (enjoyed quite a lot, but didn’t love…) as well as the various short stories set in the Outlander world. Diana posts excerpts from her work in progress on a more or less daily basis on Facebook, so at least we faithful followers get regular doses and snippets of the characters we love.

So now what? I suppose it’s all for the best, really. Now that I’m out of Fables, I can start digging through my to-read pile, and plan to enjoy novel after novel, especially those that start and end within the covers of a single volume. Or at least until the next shiny series comes along. I can’t be held responsible for what happens then.