All posts by jakebelsten

Quote Bite 13

“He knows that you have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy.”

-Ken Kesey, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’


My Top 5 Fantasy Authors

Hey guys! I know I advertised this almost 2 weeks ago now, but I’ve been busy. Life – specifically, homework – tends to get in the way of such things! Anyway, here it is: my roundup of my top 5 fantasy authors!

As you can probably imagine, this was an incredibly hard task. Fantasy is my favourite genre and there are so many phenomenal writers and books to choose from. It was so painful having to knock so many great stories out of the original list I had until I got it down to five. I must say that all of the following authors are extremely good in their own way. The key thing about fantasy writing is that it’s a genre where you can really let your imagination run wild, where anything is possible. All of these authors have different styles of writing and their stories and worlds are completely different, so they are all the best in their own right! My ranking from 1 to 5 is basically how much I personally like them and how much they stand out for me.

So here we go…

Brian Jacques (1939-2011)

 5: Brian Jacques – The Redwall Series
To start us off at number 5 is Brian Jacques. I’ve already posted about his wonderful Redwall series once on this blog, so I won’t ramble on too much. Redwall is a series of 22 childrens’ fantasy books that recount the lives of a vast array of colourful characters – all of which are animals – and the various events that happen in their world. Each book is usually centred around Redwall Abbey, the utopian, happiness-loving haven of the woodland creatures, but the story often branches out to other settings such as Mossflower woods and the great mountain of Salamandastron. Jacques writes in such an imaginative and beautiful way that – despite these being childrens’ books – I can never put them down!

Cornelia Funke (1958-)

4: Cornelia Funke – The Inkheart Trilogy
Now, I just love this series! Why? Well, mainly because it’s a book about books! It’s every book-lovers dream, surely, to be able to actually disappear inside a book, talk to the characters, and take part in events. This book makes this dream a reality. Imagination just springs off every page! There are so many unique, deep characters. The plot is original. You can’t compare this trilogy to anything else as it’s such a brilliant idea. I’d like to say that if I could disappear into any book, this would be the book…but then I’d be inside a book in a book – which, coincidentally, happens to be named after a book in the story! …, ok sorry. Bit of a bookish moment there… Once again, this trilogy is directed at younger readers, but whatever your age: as long as you like books, you’ll love it.

Philip Pullman (1946-)

3: Philip Pullman – His Dark Materials
When I first started formulating this list in my mind, Philip Pullman did not immediately crop up – and now he’s pinched a spot in my top 3! As soon as I thought of him I had no idea how I had forgotten. His most famous works – and the only books of his I have read – are, of course, His Dark Materials, most commonly known by its first book (Northern Lights, or The Golden Compass, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on). The final two books in the trilogy (The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) are excellent reads as well, but it’s the first book which stands out for me. I’ve only read it once, but it’s one of those books that I remember with great fondness, and I think that counts for a lot. I love the subtle magic of it. It makes the world look a lot more interesting when only a few key elements are changed. And that specialness is why Pullman wins a spot on this list. This trilogy is definitely on my re-reading list, and I recommend you take a look too if you’re late to the party.

Terry Pratchett (1948-)

2: Terry Pratchett – The Discworld books
We’re into the big numbers now, and the Fantastic Mister Pratchett comes in with the silver! You know what I was saying about originality and imagination running wild earlier? Well, Pratchett blows originality (otherwise known as ridiculous bonkersness) of the scale, and his imagination is more like a starving lion that’s just been let out of a cage! The concept of his Discworld stories is surely one of the most remarkable and imaginative works of fantasy ever dreamed up! Pratchett is one of that wonderful elite set of authors that can get across something fantastically huge in only a few words, and amongst that he creates brilliant characters, smashing plots and laugh-out-loud comedy! And just a final footnote: I’ve only read two of Pratchett’s books. I’m already converted. Please, join the club. It’s nice here.

1: JK Rowling – The Harry Potter series

JK Rowling (1965-)

Well, here we are, and it had to be really didn’t it? In the past, for some strange reason, the Harry Potter books have never struck me as being fantasy stories, probably because they are firmly rooted in the real world. And that’s the magic of it – if you’ll pardon the pun. We can relate with Harry Potter. I heard a wonderful quote from a documentary once, said by Jason Isaacs (who plays Lucius Malfoy in the films): “It’s universal wish fulfilment. We all want to be taken aside and told we’re on this special path.” That’s what happens to Harry, and we’re on that journey with him. My two favourite books in the series (asking me to name my favourite 7 would be easier!) are the first and the last – Philosopher’s Stone and Deathly Hallows. Why? In the first book, we’re introduced to this brand new horizon of magic, mystery and pure excitement. In the last book, everything comes together. There was a moment when I finished watching the last film when I first realised the scale of what Harry Potter was. Rowling manages to create that bond between character and reader that means you actually care what happens – and I’m not just talking one character, I’m talking every character. Harry Potter is something that should be special to everyone, and that’s why JK Rowling is my number one.

So there you have it! My top 5! There are plenty of brilliant writers I reluctantly had to exclude: Christopher Paolini, Angie Sage, Robin Hobb, CS Lewis to name a few… I realise I owe an explanation for not including writers like George RR Martin or Robert Jordan, but I haven’t been able to read their books yet – they are on my rapidly growing list!

Just a final note – I’m sure you may be wondering what happened to a certain man…

JRR Tolkien (1892-1973) – the Father of fantasy?

What on Middle Earth happened to JRR Tolkien?
I have read Tolkien! Don’t shout at me quite yet! I’ve read and adored his books, but I chose not to include him on my list because… well everyone puts him at the top don’t they? You’d know what was coming next. JRR Tolkien is such a legend of the fantasy genre that you just have to include him. So I thought, I’ll let everyone else have a fair crack at it, and leave him out. Sure, he’s right up there in the top box, but why bother being predictable? JRR Tolkien is often referred to as the ‘Father of Modern Fantasy’. In other words, if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be having all of these other epic masterpieces I’ve mentioned. If you’re ranking someone’s children, you wouldn’t include the father as well would you? (sorry for the terrible metaphor!) So that’s why. And I’m stickin’ by it. Humph.

I hope you enjoyed reading this – please leave a comment below and give me your top 5 – what would you change?


Suits Who?

I share my thoughts on the new arrival in the Doctor’s wardrobe…

The official costume of Doctor Who’s Twelfth Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, was revealed last Wednesday so, as a fan of the show, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

I’ll tell you the truth in a nutshell here: I had big hopes for Capaldi’s doctor when he was announced as Matt Smith’s replacement last year. As always, there’s been a lot of hype and controversy around whether he’s the right man to play the Doctor. Many people have complained about his age: Capaldi is 55 – when Matt Smith started back in 2010, he was only 28. I’m glad he’s older though. The Doctor has grown childish and a little too bonkers in the past few years and that was good, but it’s time for a change now. Hopefully, with age will come a little more wisdom and experience. So things are going good. But I have to say this new costume was a bit of a disappointment.

The full image


The costume of each of the Doctor’s incarnations is – and always has been – a personality statement. From the ridiculously long scarf of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor (see right), through the Sixth Doctor’s multi-coloured coat, to Matt Smith’s fez-wearing, bow-tie-loving tweed-jacket-revival, it’s become as much of a symbol as the sonic screwdriver or the interior of the TARDIS. When I saw the picture, though, my first thought was that it was a bit plain. Nothing jumps out at you as being unique to him. It’s very nice clothing, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nothing new. We could just be going to a funeral (hopefully its River Song). Maybe it’s just the stark contrast from the full-on colourfulness of the Eleventh Doctor…?

After reading a short article on the BBC website, I found something that swayed my view a little. Here’s a quote from Capaldi himself: “He’s woven the future from the cloth of the past. Simple, stark, and back to basics. No frills, no scarf, no messing, just 100 per cent Rebel Time Lord.” I’m glad he mentioned the “back to basics” bit, because that is really something we need with Doctor Who as a show. It’s good that we’ve finally got a more subdued Doctor. “Smart, sharp and stylish,” as the BBC controller said.

Notice anything similar?

I understand that the plain black coat with the red lining is meant to be a homage to Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor (see image), and this is because Pertwee was Capaldi’s ‘first’ doctor (‘his’ Doctor, as they say in the business), and this is nice. A bit of tradition is good. But we still lack that special something that makes him different. Pertwee had the frills and the dandiness, it would be nice to see something new from Capaldi. Let’s just hope his personality is what sets him apart because, for me, his costume doesn’t.

Syren: A Book Review

Here I review the fifth book in Angie Sage’s wonderful Septimus Heap series of fantasy books…

Written by: Angie Sage
Published: 2009
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 628
Rating: 4.5/5

Septimus is stranded on a remote island with his syrenbadly injured dragon, Spit Fyre, along with Jenna and Beetle. The island is captivatingly beautiful, but there is also something strange about it… not least the cat-shaped lighthouse and an eerie presence that sings to Septimus… Trouble is also brewing for Lucy and Wolf Boy, who have become entangled with some nefarious sailors.

Syren is the fifth book in the ‘Septimus Heap’ series by the wonderful Angie Sage, and it definitely does not ruin the reputation of the first four!

I key part of writing fantasy – as I’ve found from my own efforts at writing in that genre – is originality. There are hoards of drooling critics out there just waiting to tell you how similar you are to the big guys like JRR Tolkien or George RR Martin. Sure, who wouldn’t want to be compared to them? But in terms of storylines, originality is crucial. It’s your ‘Unique Selling Point’ – don’t worry, I’ll never bring business into this again – that is meant to grab your readers’ attention. If you wrote a book called The Lord of the Swings about a small guy called Hobo who finds a magical swing that –when swung on, of course – turns you invisible, then…ok, ok, that was over the top, but you see my point. If you don’t, then you’ve come to the wrong place – go read a review written by a normal person.

Angie Sage
The author of the series, Angie Sage

Anyway, Angie Sage has got that originality spark. The imaginative world she creates inside her books is completely different from any other fantasy author you’re likely to cross. It’s full to the brim with magykal creatures, ludicrous characters and deliberate spelling mystakes (ok, not that last one). I highly recommend you read the first four books (Magyk, Flyte, Physik and Queste) before reading Syren, but this review can be taken as a staple for the whole series really.

I think the main part of the fifth book that distances it from the first four is that we see more of Septimus Heap’s world. We travel across the sea to a far off land with foreign customs and strange people, and

then to the beautifully-described Isles of Syren, which is such a perfectly crafted location. These new settings really bring to life the enormity of the world the characters live in, and stop the stories from getting samey-samey. There are also several elements of this book that link back to the third and fourth books, and it resolves some mysteries left unsolved at the end of book four.

Syren features some beautiful drawings by Mark Zug

Another key success of this book is – as always in Sage’s books – its characters. The Septimus Heap books are a great example of how a story is based around the characters involved, rather than the characters have to run to keep up with the story. You really have to pay attention, as every single character in these books has a function. As Mark Twain once said: “The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.” Syren introduces several new, colourful characters that were not heard of in the first four, but we do see the return of an old villain (not saying which one!) and, although it can seem a bit confusing and cluttered at times, all these characters come together to form one intricately-designed plot that I think lives up to and might just surpass that of the first four books.

The good thing about having so many fantastic characters is that the readers can really relate to them, and almost care for them. In this book we see some changes occur as the characters get older and relationships are therefore also changed. This keeps the series moving and gives us a sense of having lived with these characters, rather than just seeing them on a page.

One of the principle characters in the book: Syrah Syara

I mentioned earlier that the plot may surpass that of the first four books, and this is my final point. This book doesn’t just flow, it unravels. It seems much like a mystery story at one point, especially near the end. At the beginning, it can often seem a little disorganised but, if you stick with it, everything soon comes together and it’s a great feeling to read it when it does. I literally couldn’t put the book down for the last hundred pages.

So, to conclude, this is a great book. It’s definitely worth reading if you want a bit of light-hearted fantasy with a genuinely unique story. I will definitely be sticking with it to read the final two books in the series!

If you’re new to Angie Sage, I recommend you check out her work! Find some info on the series as a whole here:

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