04 November, 2011

Fantasy Overview: Epic Fantasy

Part one of my fantasy overview.

Though some might argue the exact definition of epic fantasy, it is easy to know when you see it. These are the books that could be deadly if thrown, expansive novels with many characters, new nations, and probably an invented language. They also tend to have higher stakes like the fate of the world, and are more likely to include traditional heroism.

Robert Jordan
We have to start with Jordan because he created the modern epic fantasy. The Wheel of Time was originally a trilogy, but expanded to a series that will theoretically end soon with the 14th book. This is old school length: long journeys and lots of description. Opinions are divided about which set of books were the best, but most agree the pacing becomes slower as it progresses.

Steven Erikson

He recently finished his Malazan Book of the Fallen (though Casselmont writes related books in the same world). What Erikson specializes in is breadth: this series has more continents, more races, and a longer history than most others. Generally the books start slowly but build up toward climaxes that move the story forward significantly. Characterization and depth of culture receive much less focus. Erikson tends to be polarizing, but I think that's better than mediocrity any day.

Robin Hobb
Though her books are generally marketed as trilogies, if you combine the Farseer, Liveship Traders, and Tawny Man trilogies you get one saga. Her books have a personal focus, but the stakes build higher in the background. She is also one of the forerunners of the "psychic magic" model.

Melanie Rawn
She has several series that could fall under this label, including the connected Dragon trilogies. Though still large in scope, her books tend to be focused on characters and families. Some are almost hybrid fantasy/romance novels. Her series cover broader periods of time, jumping years to include the stories of characters' children.

Terry Goodkind
The Sword of Truth is a lengthy and completed series (13 books). Higher magic and with more sexual content than some of the others on this list, but the thing most people will find notable is the level of political content. Goodkind is a libertarian and fan of Ann Rynd; this comes through in his writing increasingly as the series progresses.

Patrick Rothfuss
His Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy has had a major impact on the fantasy genre, even with only two books. The main character is a prodigy attending a university for magic and the series focused primarily on his life with the broader plot in the background. While I enjoy his books, I'm feel like I can't classify them until I read the final volume, since it has the potential to go many ways.

Peter Orullian
He's just begun his "Vault of Heaven" series, which is firmly in the vein of traditional epic fantasy. The plot similarities to The Eye of the World are immense, which could be a positive or negative depending on how you feel about Wheel of Time. 

Katherine Kurtz
She has been writing for some time and has well-established the Deryni universe, an alternate history of England with a non-human race capable of using magic. It has multiple series set in different time periods, so you have many books to read but no need to commit to a 10+ volume series.

Kristen Britain
She's several books into her Green Rider series, which has the feel of LotR in terms of pacing but with a much softer focus. If you like that slightly older feel in pacing but want more emphasis on characters and (later) romance, definitely consider the series.

Brandon Sanderson gets a note here as the person to finish the last three books of the Wheel of Time series. So far his writing puts him in the "General" category but he has begun his own multi-volume series, The Stormlight Archive.

Jim Butcher should also be noted as author of The Codex Alera, a completed series. I placed him under Urban Fantasy since he's better known for the Dresden Files.

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