The TV series “Game of Thrones” has introduced millions of new fans to fantasy, traditionally one of the geekiest genres in fiction. But the books were a publishing phenomenon long before HBO, and stories with knights and magicians date back at least to “Le Morte d’Arthur,” by Thomas Malory, c. 1485. With the TV series winding down, here are a few suggestions for those of us who are suddenly staring at a sword-and-sorcery-shaped hole in our Sunday evenings.
A Game of Thrones
By George R.R. Martin
If you’ve only seen the TV version, the books “A Song of Ice & Fire” (beginning with “A Game of Thrones”) are the wordier, more-complex sibling. Fair warning for those unfamiliar: Author George R.R. Martin is a famously slow (and slowing) writer. “The Winds of Winter,” book six of seven (maybe eight?), has been promised since 2010. Based very loosely on medieval English history, the novels are as bloody as the show, with only a little less sex.
By J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien’s work is the model for the modern fantasy genre, and “The Hobbit” is the best place to start. It’s a charming adventure about a timid halfling who turns into quite a brave little hero. Dragons, elves, orcs, wizards, dwarves … it’s all here, in a book suitable for bedtime stories for the kids through adults.
The Emperor’s Blades
By Brian Staveley
The closest thing I know to “A Song of Ice & Fire” not written by someone with the initials R.R.
Staveley, a Vermont author, has created a complex world within the bounds of sword-and-sorcery that is still distinctive (orc-free, hobbit-free, raging barbarian lite) set in a vaguely Eastern motif (monks and fireworks instead of wizards and knights). Start with this book, first of a trilogy plus two standalone novels to date …. for serious fantasy fans.
The Steerswoman’s Road
By Rosemary Kirstein
This two-book set is half of a four-book series (so far). For those who are put off by the sustained male gaze of most fantasy, Kirstein is a welcome change. Steerswomen are wandering scribes bound to truthfully answer any question put to them, and charged with collecting and safeguarding information. Kirstein’s low-magic, relatively low-violence world is about as different from Martin as possible within the genre.
The Once and Future King
By T.H. White
For a literary take, try White’s epic telling of the Arthurian saga. It’s a collection of five novellas, the first of which, “The Sword in the Stone,” was turned into a movie about young King Arthur by Disney. Don’t be fooled by the Mouse Corp. movie, though. The original is classic fiction of the highest form: Complex, full of allusion and mythology, tragedy and romance.
Randal Smathers is director of Rutland Free Library. All these titles are available through the library.