Category Archives: Books

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…

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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…

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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?

 

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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.

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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.

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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: http://www.septimusheap.com/

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Here is my first book review (how is it only the first?!). This is the first book I read of the New Year, and it was a brilliant if bonkers beginning…

Written by: Douglas Adams
Published: 1980
Genre: Science Fiction, Comedy
Pages: 200
Rating: 4/5

When all questions of space, time, matter and therestaurantuniverse nature of being have been resolved, only one question remains – ‘Where shall we have dinner?’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe provides the ultimate gastronomic experience, and for once there is no morning after to worry about.

I read the first book in Douglas Adams’ series, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in 2013. I had no idea what to expect. After reading it I realised the books were very much like marmite: you either love them or you hate them. I also read the first of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, The Colour of Magic, last year and got much the same impression. I have to admit I much prefer Pratchett’s books to Douglas Adams, but I was still on the ‘love’ end of that marmite spectrum.

I often think it’s best to judge a book series not by how good the first book is, but by how good the second book is. I started The Restaurant at the End of the Universe on the day after New Year with something some people in white lab coats probably call “tentative expectation”. I always think that, with the Hitchhiker’s books, there is quite a thin line between the writing being exciting and witty, or a bit boring.

I didn’t enjoy The Restaurant at the End of the Universe quite as much as the first book, as I couldn’t attach myself to the storyline quite as much. It seemed to be less of an adventure and more of an intergalactic rambling club. I’m sure Douglas Adams would not hesitate to point out it is an intergalactic rambling club, but that’s beside the point. I couldn’t help but switch off once or twice.

“In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and is widely regarded as a bad move.”

Hitchhikers as a series is meant to be mind-bogglingly loopy, and it is. Sometimes you lose track of what the main objective actually is, or you can’t get your head around a particular sentence, but that’s fine; it’s all part of the fun. This style works most of the time, but it can slip into confusion. I think one of the main faults was that the group splits up in the second book, and we focus on more of what Zaphod is up to. Arthur Dent does not play any major part in the story – he just tends to be “there” – and Trillian barely has a few lines.don't panic

However, I hate to be overly negative, because this is a great book. It’s often laugh-out-loud (or LOL as the kids call it) funny, it’s extremely inventive and I thought the ending was actually the best part of the book. I hate to use the word “sad” but it was actually quite poignant. If there’s anything this book does that you can fully understand is that it makes you realise the vastness and infinite complexity of space and the Universe that we live in. It gets you thinking about the future and the past and our place in it.

“Reality is frequently inaccurate.”

Despite there being, at some points, too many characters than necessary, we, as readers, are much closer to them at the end of this book than at the end of the first, particularly Arthur and Ford. You feel genuinely concerned and disappointed (for the characters) at the end (I won’t trouble you with spoilers!) and you seriously wonder how they’re going to get themselves out of this mess. But, as these are the bonkers books that they are, there will always be a way out. And I’m sure it’s going to be extraordinary.

Just remember to take a towel with you.

A Page from the Past: Redwall

Hey guys! This week has been quite a film/TV–based week and I’d hate to go so long without talking about books so today I’ve decided to start up my first weekly feature rather pompously entitled: A Page from the Past! (get that alliteration!) I will be posting this weekly feature every Friday and it will basically be me writing a bit about a book I read a long time ago that I think is worth your time. This is much less formal than a review, more of a recommendation.

So, without further ado, I’m going to start off with a good ‘un…

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Brian Jacques sadly passed away in 2011, at the age of 71

Redwall, by Brian Jacques (1986)
So, this is a pretty old book now, and I probably read it around 5 or 6 years ago. You may have heard of the Redwall book series, but today I’m just going to talk about the original book, which is also called Redwall (although technically it’s only the first book published – if read in chronological order it would be the 10th). The Redwall series is a collection of childrens’ fantasy books, in which all of the characters are animals. These characters live in a beautiful but often dangerous world of forests, fields and woodland rivers. There is a very stark line between who is good and who is evil. The good guys are the mild-mannered woodland creatures: the mice, the squirrels, the otters, the badgers etc, and the bad guys are the sly manipulative rodents: rats, stoats, ferrets, weasels, foxes…

Each book in the series follows the same basic pattern of an army of evil rodents invading the peaceful home of the good animals, before a band of assorted creatures can pull together to defeat them. And yet, to me, these books still don’t lose their appeal. Each story seems refreshingly new and the writing is just superb.

Just a ‘fun fact interlude’: I like to think of Redwall as my ‘camping books’. I always take one with me when I go camping in the summer, as a bit of a tradition! It’s nice to be reading about the beautiful green woods and the colourful forest creatures when you’re out in the Great Outdoors!

Anyway… so why do I recommend Redwall, the first published book in the series?

As Redwall Abbey’s creatures bask in the glorious RedwallBookCoverSummer of the Late Rose, all is quiet and peaceful. But not for long. Cluny the Scourge is coming! And the evil one-eyed rat warlord is prepared to do bloody battle to get exactly what he wants: Redwall.

The books of Redwall will always hold a special place in my heart, but especially this one. Mainly, probably, because it is the first of the series that I read (I didn’t realise there was a chronological order). But also because it lays down the formula for the stories to come. There are lots of characters with weird and wonderful names, but you can grow attached to each individual and the story benefits all the better for it. There’s lovely variety between all the different species of animal that exist – although it can get a bit confusing at times (was he a hedgehog or a mouse again?!) –  and Jacques writes the dialogue in such a way that even that can be attributed to each individual type of animal and makes the story much more involving and entertaining to read (I particularly recommend ‘Molespeak’, more commonly known as ‘The way farmers talk’!).

On the subject of the writing itself, Jacques is a superb writer, and I was very sad when he passed away a few years ago as he is in my top list of fantasy authors. If you’ve never heard of him, he’s been compared to Roald Dahl several times – he’s definitely worth checking out! He wins the title of being the only writer who can actually make me hungry when I read his books because:

  1. His descriptions of the luxuriously delicious meals at Redwall are so amazing!
  2. I spend so long reading and drooling over said descriptions I actually get hungry in real life!
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From the TV adaptation of Redwall

Another part of his stories that I like is that they have a fairy-tale quality to them. They’re not gritty or overly serious – he’s definitely no George R.R Martin –but in a strange way this makes you more attached to the story. Also, my favourite part: there is always a happy ending. People often say that happy endings are boring – why can’t the baddies win for once? – but happy endings, if managed correctly, can actually make the story more interesting to read, because there is always that guarantee that everything’s going to turn out well in the end. The question is: how are they going to do it? So this is a thoroughly simple, traditional set-up: good vs evil, and good always wins out in the end. Makes great feel-good reading, I think.

So, that turned into more of an insight into the whole series than the specific book, but if you do want to enter into the world of Redwall, I suggest you try Redwall first – it’s a great place to  start. These are childrens’ books, remember, but if you start reading them as children – as I did – you’ll be sure to treasure them into adulthood and beyond!

New Books!

I went to WH Smiths today and bought two new books I’ve been dying to read for ages! Read on for my thoughts on the latest additions to my already overflowing bookshelf!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)thebookthief

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall…

I’ve seen this book in the bookshop several times over the years but it’s never stood out for me as one to pick up on a whim. It was brought to my attention again when it was announced that a film adaptation would be hitting UK cinemas on 31st January 2014. The trailer looked excellent so I jumped at the chance to buy the book. I just need to read it now before the film is released! I’ll post a review on this blog when I do!

A Game of Thrones by George R.R Martin (1996)game of thrones

Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must… and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.

This is a pretty old book but it’s safe to say it hasn’t lost it’s appeal. I know George R.R Martin is a classic fantasy author before I even open his books, and that says something. He’s now published several books in his epic series A Song of Ice and Fire (of which A Game of Thrones) is the first, and there are still a few more to come, I think. Martin’s works have drawn legions of fans from across the world. He’s been compared to (and sometimes said to have bested) Tolkien. And he’s been given his own TV series on HBO to dramatise his books. Not much more to say really – you can’t really get much better! I’ve been looking for a chance to buy this book for a while, and now I can’t wait to get reading it!

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Sean Bean stars in the TV series