As a writer and reader, you know what a great pleasure (and education) it can be to discover or to begin reading a new series.
It’s like Christmas morning and the best pastry you’ve ever enjoyed all rolled into one great tale and stuffed between two covers. Hidden, or perhaps overshadowed by their popular big siblings, these books are often lost in the shuffle or overlooked for the simple reason that they are not as heavily promoted by the Powers That Be.
One of my favorite discoveries has been Michael J. Sullivan’s delightful Riyria Revelations series. These three epic fantasy novels were first sold as 6 self-published works. Mr. Sullivan did such a sterling job that the stuffed-suits in the traditional publishing industry stood up, took notice, and paid him for the privilege of mass producing his series. So good is this series that they agreed to publish his prequels, set in the same world!
Mr. Sullivan boasts a masterful ability to acknowledge the common tropes of fantasy and, instead of trying to ‘modernize’ them (with cussing and technology and by bringing in cultural agenda’s—such an annoying trait of many Facebook-era novelists), he cleverly exposes them. For example: he has an evil immortal sorcerer, but in his books this character is not the main baddie, and he has been dealt with by having his hands cut off, so that he cannot perform magical spells.
There are elves, but they are a forlorn race, looked down upon by society, like bums with pointy ears. And there may be a dwarf character, but he is not a mine-dwelling gold fiend; he is just like any dwarf (little person) in our own world, capable of both decency and malevolence as it suits him. The list goes on. Clearly Mr. Sullivan knows how to write, breathing life into each character, and providing just enough tidbits and peccadilloes to imbue each with a sense of realism.
Another great fantasy, this one a standalone (no way!), is by Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay. The Fionavar Tapestry is a crossworlds fantasy, taking place partly in the real world, and mostly in Fionavar. Like any Kay book, it is written with such poetic elegance that you completely lose yourself to his tapestry of words. That is a rare pleasure. Few authors can achieve this beauty. Mervyn Peake and Anne Rice are two of this ilk, and so is Thomas Harris, in a more subdued manner. They write such expressive narratives that you don’t want to leave their worlds. This is great inspiration to us working writers. Just be careful not to try and mimic their style. It is the rare wordsmith who can string words together like a poet. Better to be simply inspired by their work and motivated in your own than to attempt a replication of it.
The last series I want to share with you right now is Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern. I’ve always know about this series, because I grew up with my dad reading Pern books. But it wasn’t until I picked up one of his and decided to read it for myself that I discovered the joys of Pern. (Did that sound dirty to you too?)
Anne McCaffrey writes according to Leonardo Da Vinci’s proclamation: ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’ Her books are short, clear, and deeply engaging. Set on the alternate world of Pern, where dragonriders and their psychically bonded dragons are heroes, we are shown a fully realized world unlike any other. In her creation, astronauts from our time flew deep into space, until they discovered Pern and were stranded there due to the unexpected catastrophic violence of threadfall. What is fascinating about these tales is that the characters slowly discover their history throughout the series. They stumble on rusting starships and their brightest minds attempt to recreate the old technology, long since lost to time.
The point here is that if you want to stay committed to your own writing, you must commit to seeking out and discovering great hidden gems. It’ll keep you interested. Your work will improve for it, becoming fresh and exciting and ‘relevant’ (there’s that cruel word publishers like to ping-pong around the water-cooler when they’re discussing the slush pile. So tap into your inner Tomb Raider and discover untapped worlds of pleasure, inspiration and guidance!
Here is a great source for the sort of discoveries we’ve been discussing.