Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book review: "The Sea Watch" by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I've been reading "Shadows of the Apt" series by Adrian Tchaikovsky for quite some time; I now finished 6th book. The series started very good, with a curious mix of fantasy and steam-punk, taking place in interesting setting. And what's even better, the series kept improving with each book. It wasn't the best or favorite series for me, lacking empathy and emotional impact arising from characters, but I was looking forward to reading "The Sea Watch". I have to admit that I was surprised how good this book was!

Tchaikovsky has chosen a curious pattern for his books. One would be set locally, giving feeling of a single mission/quest, and then the next one would encompass things of different scale, explaining the effects of previous book on global level and expanding on it. Series started bounded in one place (Lowlands), but later expanded the world quite much. What I found interesting was the way it showed the impact of events in Lowlands slowly spreading around and affecting nations back and forth. Also, it is interesting to follow development of Collegium politics and changes in the society through longer period. Even though events took place in maybe three years, it feels much longer.

So, following tradition of even books, "The Sea Watch" is another "global" book. Last book, "The Scarab Path", followed Che on what was supposed to be a diplomatic and research mission to far-away Khanaphes, from which she never came back to Collegium. Here we follow mainly Stenwold Maker, her uncle. Stenwold did got his parts of action, especially in "Salute the Dark", but I never seen him as one of main characters - more as a driving force behind them, gathering and directing them. But this book is about him and told mostly from his perspective. After the war with the Wasp Empire, Stenwold included himself more in the political live of Collegium and leaving his more active role as "spymaster" to become a diplomat. His current affairs include establishing diplomatic relationship with the Vekken (one of their enemies), backing his political ally Jodry Drillen in elections and calming various minor problems in the city. After he gets news of his niece leaving Khanaphes in strange circumstances in company of his greatest enemy, he feels devastated and responsible. But he will have to put his personal affair to side after same force starts attacking and robbing Collegium's ships. It will turn out that Wasps aren't the only people poised on Collegium...

The book has a very nice start and Tchaikovsky really developed Collegium society and politics in details - it looks I am fan of even books. I'll be blunt and just say out that this book introduces a new race, the sea-kinden. This is not a spoiler because they have been sideways-introduced before (in "Blood of the Mantis"), there are mentioned at first few pages, and of course, they are shown on the front-cover, coming out of the water quite looking quite sinister. So, a reader will know that they will show sea-kinden, but particular details of it will be quite surprising. Not giving out too much information, but there will be a big surprise and turn in book when they finally do show. I really enjoyed the political maneuvering, sleight-of-hand and cloak-and-dagger stuff - this book is read like some kind of an thriller set in fantasy setting.

Although I am not a fan of maritime settings and especially not of pirates, this book was good in this part. Fly-kinden pirates are done pretty well - criminals with sense of honor. When sea-kinded come forth, we get to see some new part of the setting and I must say I was impressed. Tchaikovsky was really able to convey the sense of strangeness to readers. The Pelagists were the most memorable thing for me, especially Lyess.

As I said, this book is pretty much about Stenwold, but there are others. We get to see much new characters, but we will also see some of the old-ones leave us. Stenwold is shown as a really capable guy, which wasn't show in previous books, not even in "Salute the Dark". It is funny how all other Beatles think that Stenwold is some action hero with blood on his hands (which he actually is, when you think about it), while he sees himself as old and week, a burden to the rest. But several times in the book you see him from some third character for what he really is: a hard statesman and leader, ready to make and do the difficult decisions - but also unaware of that about himself. Other characters are all good, but I must mention Teornis. We have known him for four books now, but this is the first time we have been in his head. And as with sea-kinden, with Teornis Tchaikovsky was really successful in capturing the strangeness of his races. Particularly, I mean about Spider's duality - to really like and admire your enemy.

The books in series vary much in length - this one is around 700 pages. I can't pinpoint any flaws in the book, but we still lack real connection to characters. But Tchaikovsky is getting better at this and I hope next book will stay good as this one. One thing just came to my mind - I don't think that Tchaikovsy ever discussed religion of the races in his books, except in "The Scarab Path", and that was only locally.

So, to conclude, "The Sea Watch" was the best book in series so far and I believe all fans would agree with me. As for the series itself, "Shadows of the Apt" is growing to be one really good series, best suitable for those who like a good setting and have a patience to wait for the action to really take place.

Movie review: "The Prestige"

I've been skipping on reviewing movies for some time now, partially because I don't have much time but also because I haven't seen any great movie. I watched "In Bruges" again (very good, although it was better the first time), "The Bourne Legacy" (good, but not inspired), "Prometheus" (great start, but not so good ending), "Ted" (not so good teenage comedy) and a lot more, but not one of them was really great.

Yesterday evening I watched a 2006 movie called "The Prestige". Curiously, I tried to watch this movie with my girlfriend few years ago, but we never finished it (I think there was some problem with the video). I watched maybe first half an hour and I didn't have any fond memories of it. But this friend of mine watched is few days ago and has been constantly talking how good it was. So yesterday I hanged out at his place and he offered to watch it again with me. I am very grateful to him because this was one of the best movies I watched in last several years!

I won't say much about the plot because I don't want to reveal any spoilers. "The Prestige" is not a movie that will lose its impact second time you watch it (my friend just watched it second time in few days), but there are some big surprises in there and you deserve to see them unprepared. I will just say that the movie has a quite slow build-up and that things start to become interesting somewhere after first hour. After that, I just couldn't stop trying to guess what will happen next... Let's just say that this is a movie about the personal and professional rivalry between to magicians, with several unexpected turns.

The movie some great characters and actors that play them succeed in giving them credit. We have Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie, to name the most famous. Effects are not flashy, but the atmosphere of the movie is superb. This is a dark and violent movie, and surprisingly, without happy end or a moral lecture.

So, to keep things short, just treat yourself with "The Prestige"!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Epic fantasy series list: What is out there - part 2

This weekend I decided to find some time to continue my list. Last time I describe LoTR and three of my favorite series, and now I am continuing with few other large series that I have read.

Let's start with "The Stormlight Archive" by Brandon Sanderson, which will probably be a short paragraph, since this series has only one book published, "The Way of Kings", of planned ten. I already mentioned Sanderson in previous post, as a second writer of "The Wheel of Time", after passing of Robert Jordan. Sanderson has previously written only some stand-alone books and one short trilogy, "Mistborn", so this is his first published big fantasy series. But at the time, this is Sanderson's first (if I remember correctly, maybe one of first) work, which he started writing over ten years ago. The books take place in very original and detailed setting, which is intrinsic to Sanderson (he is known as "the magic-system guy"). We don't learn much of the background of the setting, so we can expect revelations in further books. For now, the most distinctive features are gigantic and constant storms, magical but passive form of life (or spirits) called spren, and magical swords and armors called Shardblades and Shardplates that give its wielder superhuman abilities. There are three main POVs. Kaladin is probably the hero of the story, but he is not a typical messiah hiding as shepherd: he is a grown-man, with poor background but educated, experienced as soldier and very capable. At the beginning of the story, he is betrayed by his commander and turned to slave. Shallan is minor noble, who begins a plot which result is restoration of her family's wealth by association with famous magician (a Soulcaster), who is at the same time sister of King Elhokar. Dalinar is uncle of Elhokar, a famous commander, but somewhat notorious because of his temper, and currently not in King's favor. I was very impressed with this book, as was the general audience - although there were some complaints on length and slowness of the book. "The Way of Kings" is a start of large epic fantasy series, one that I have big expectations of. Nevertheless, I would recommend waiting for few more books to come out before giving a more precise assessment of this series - so wait a few years if you are not an exclusively epic fantasy fan.

"The Sword of Truth" series by Terry Goodkind is a series that I started reading after I finished published book of "Wheel of Time" at that time (it was somewhere in 2006). This series was compared to "Wheel of Time" much, it was on the list and was quite popular. And I was pretty satisfied at first. But after I started broadening my horizons by reading more and more different series, I was less and less satisfied, until I ultimately stopped reading after sixth book (this was the first time in my life that I haven't finished series I have started; not connected to this, I think that I finished every book I have started, ever). The main character of the series is Richard Cypher, who somewhere at the beginning of the first book discovers that he is a Seeker of Truth and is given the Sword of Truth - a magical blade that can cut through anything as long as its wielder believe it is his enemy. Richard has lived his life in Westland, a land isolate from others by a barrier and devoid of magic, in contrast to the rest of the world, where magic is part of it. Richard, supported by Confessor Kahlan Amnell (Confessors are female judges with a gift of magic helping them finding truth and banishing crime) and the First Wizzard Zeddicus Zu'l (called Zedd, Richard adoptive grandfather), travels to the Midlands where his purpose if defeat Darken Rahl, leader of invading Kingdom D'Hara, before he unleashes the Magic of Orden and either destroy the world or complete conquer it. Later books introduce new elements and important characters, but these three remain the most important. This sound like a standard epic fantasy, and it is - it is not even so bad if you are occasional reader who likes fantasy and don't expect some serious material. But if you are a hard-core fan, there are several reasons to skip this series. First that comes in my mind that Goodkind likes to invent things as he goes. After finishing first book, that is pretty much standalone, second books suddenly introduces a new continent (that everybody knew about it, but didn't find it necessary to mention), new enemies, new races, new magic, new history... Later books start to look like something that is part of a larger arc, but there is no plan in his books. Second thing is the main character, Richard - he is just too good. In every book he discovers he is capable in some new way - a cook, a warrior, a leader of men, a sculptor, an economist and anti-communist... Did I mention that he is tall and good-looking, very friendly and is never wrong? He becomes irritating very fast, except if you think you are perfect and then this is like reading about yourself having invented adventures. Goodkind is also fond of "borrowing" concepts from other series (like Sisters of the Light). Plots of the books are usually simple, and always ending with Richard proving that evil is not worth it. It's been a long time I have read these books, so my memory is maybe faulty, but "The Sword of the Truth" is not a series I would recommend. Maybe it is not as bad as I remember, but there are definitely better series out there.

Before I start reviewing "The Belgariad" and "The Malloreon" series by David Eddings, there is a confession I have to make. When I was younger, I was a member of library and this was my only source of books. Now, I buy all books I read. But there was one summer when I was in college, when I had too much free time and too few books to fill it, so I downloaded few series: "The Belgariad", "The Malloreon" and one more (which I will review later). This is not important for this review except in one aspect - I have read ten books only once and that was more than five years ago, so my memories of these books are not exactly fresh. B&M were written in the eighties and are considered as fantasy classics, next to LoTR, "Shannara" or "Earthsea". As such, I contains several classical tropes and many readers will find it familiar - but not in derisive manner. The main character of "The Belgariad" is a boy named Garion. He lives at a peaceful farm, in a medieval world full of kingdoms and and magic. This changes when Garion is taken from the farm by a mysterious man called Mr. Wolf and his aunt Pol - who are later identified as Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress and Garion learns that that he is a descendant of ancient King Cherek, who responsibility is guarding the Orb of Aldur. The Orb is a supreme artifact created by god Aldur and later stolen by evil god Torak - later retrieved by Belgarath and Cherek. In five books we follow Garion as he travels the world, meeting kings, witches and gods, growing up to a real King, until his ultimate confrontation with Torak. I don't really remember much of the details (this synopsis I wrote with help of Wikipedia as much as from my memories), but I remember that I enjoyed these books very much. They are written in best style of Tolkien (although a bit lighter and funnier) and a rightly considered classics. They are books that I would recommend giving kids after they finish LoTR, but I also wouldn't mind rereading them. But on the other hand, I wouldn't reread "The Malloreon". This series continues books that needed no continuation - several years after the final resolution of "The Belgariad", it is discovered that nothing is actually settled and they need to fight a new "Child of Dark". All this wouldn't be so bad if five books of "The Malloreon" weren't so similar to "The Belgariad" - we have the same character that visit the same places, almost in same order. The style remains the same, and the books are good, but they never reach quality of the original pentalogy. So, from my side, a big recommendation for "The Belgariad" to everybody, but skip "The Malloreon" even if you are tempted the contrary.

Now, we are making a jump toward something more modern: "The Second Apocalypse" by R. Scott Bakker. While both "The Belgariad/The Malloreon" and "The Sword of the Truth", even "The Stormlight Archive" are written in that classical style where heroes are noble, bright and pretty, while villains are deformed and dark, Bakker is a member of contemporary writer where such distinction in less obvious - and sometimes there even isn't one. I have read the first book in this series "The Darkness that Comes Before" quite some time ago, but only last and this year did I continued until reaching fifth publish booked (of nine planned). The setting is very detailed and original, with a long-lasting history and it is more Dark-age than medieval. There is common magic, several large and small kingdoms, and two warring monotheistic religions. People forgot the events that happened two thousand years ago - a war between humanity and the No-God. Right at the beginning of the series, a Crusade has been pronounced by Holy Shriah of the Inrithi Faith again the infidel Fanim. But not everybody is so religious and there are factions that plan to use the Holy War for their own interest. Drusas Achamian, a sorcerer of Mandate School (a sect that remembers the first Apocalypse and considers their duty to stand ready for the Consult, servants of defeated No-God) is sent by his superiors to follow and spy on the Crusaders. But there he will find something unexpected: a Messiah. Anasürimbor Kellhus, a secret member of sect called Dûnyains that excel in intelligence and psychology, whose mission was to find his exiled father, decides to use this superiority, to use Drusas and to use even the Holy War to finish his mission. But what nobody counts on is that the Consult have their own plans. This is just a part of the plot and there are more characters: a whore, a prince, a fanatic... Everybody is described in great depth and nobody is what you expect of them. As with Martin and Erikson, Bakker is a master of grey morality: is it an evil when somebody sacrifices thousands to save millions, and is someone wrong to refuse his Messiah if it means sacrificing his love? Bakker uses the same style that Guy Gavriel Guys uses: mixing normal third-person POV with occasional encyclopedic narrations, often about history and far-away events, and this works pretty well. At the beginning I mentioned that Bakker is a contemporary writer; by that I mean that he doesn't pretend that good guys and women don't take shit and he doesn't skirts from sex and explicit violence. He is not a grittiest writer ever, but he neither easy. I also mentioned that the setting is very detailed - you won't realize how much until you reach the end of third book: a fifth of the book is dedicated to an Encyclopedic Glossary similar to the one in LoTR, explaining some ancient history and the main players of that time. What the series is missing to become one of the best things out there is empathy for the characters. Sure, the characters are memorable and impressing, but Bakker fails in making readers establishing a connection with them. Another objection is second and third books: they are good, but they become a little tedious. But things really improve with fourth book, "The Judging Eye", which is really exciting and in parts was remind me to LoTR's trip to Moria, although more darker and violent. Also, both "The Judging Eye" and "The White-Luck Warrior" have really unforgettable endings. All in all, "The Second Apocalypse" is definitely a thing to be read by fans of epic fantasy, except by those with really weak stomachs.

This is it for now - in next post we will continue with few books that I haven't read completely.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book review: "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" by N. K. Jemisin

Last weekend I started (and finished) reading "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" by N. K. Jemisin. I've had this book in my wish list for quite some time - ever since it was published in 2010. It got several award and nominations for best newcomer and etc., and its premise sounded very interesting. I was looking for something new to read after finishing "School Rumble" manga, and decided to finally give it a go.

(a very good front cover!)

"The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" is told from a first-person point of view, with voice of Yeine. Yeine is a granddaughter of Dekarta Arameri, a supreme ruler of the world. Now it is important to introduce the setting a bit. Several hundred years ago, a war started between Nahadoth, god of chaos and dark, and Itempas, god of order and light. Itempas was and punished Nahadoth, with some of his offspring, to server as slaves to his highest servant, priestess Arameri, and her successors. The Arameri, using gods as formidable weapons, managed to conquer the whole world set a government with them at the top - and becoming decadent and eccentric (as in polite word for crazy) in the process. Now let's get back to Yeine. Some twenty years ago her mother Kinneth, a designated heir and very proper Arameri (cruel and manipulative), abdicated and left court to live with her lover from backyard and barbaric land of Darre. After her sudden death, Yeine is called to court by her grandfather where she is suddenly pronounced as one of three potential heirs, together with two her cousins. To become a real heir, one of them must defeat and force another of them to accept them as heir - which usually includes the death of third one. So Yeine is left to learn fast about gods, history, her family and manipulation, because the last hour of her grandfather Dekarta is coming fast.

I must admit that Jemisin came up with some really great concept and setting. The gods-part is based partially on Hinduism (light-dark-shadow; order-chaos-balance), but also on old Greek myths, where gods have human personalities, are petty and vengeful, mingle with humans and so on. But on the other hand, she finely succeeds in making Nahadoth and others strange, inhuman and magnetic. This is also true for the Arameri and the whole court - they are not someone you would want as a family, but they are intriguing. I did have a filling that she maybe should have made them even stranger - being a member of family whose word is absolute law on whole world should result in some strange personalities. Also, is this Arameri having access to ultimate weapons some pun/metaphor with Americans and nuclear bombs?

Plot is an interesting mix of power struggle, detective story and exploration about Yeine's family and history. Much appeal of it comes from the narrator-type storytelling. Yeine is not exactly an unreliable narrator, but she is prone to wandering and skipping. The pace is fast and intense - Yeine is not really a passive person. Expect some big turn-overs at the end - not something you will expect when you start reading.

Other characters are also interesting, although I could appreciate more development, but since this is a first-person POV, it can be expected that all focus will be but on Yeine and her interests. Sieh's character seems quite familiar, but I can't remember from where. I am intentionally skimming on descriptions because this would result in spoilers.

Jemisin's writing was fast and good. There are some violent and some sexual scenes, but nothing over the board. I liked the Nahadoth/Naha thing. There was some humor, streaming from Yeine's observations, but this is in general a dark book, I think.

Although I had some great time with this book, there are some small surprises. When I bought the book, I expected a first part of epic-fantasy trilogy. But this is not really a trilogy. "Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" is a self-contained book with definite ending. Two sequels, "The Broken Kingdoms" and "The Kingdom of Gods", are taking place in the same setting and after these events, but there is nothing in this book that asks for sequel. And second thing, the book was really short: I finished it in two afternoons and one evening.

But these are not serious objections, just misplaced expectations. "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" is a very good and unique book. I would recommend it to everybody - it has unique setting, clever and interesting narrator/main character and some fast and surprising plot.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Manga review: "School Rumble"

After some two weeks of reading, I have finished with "School Rumble" manga. I have watched the anime adaptation several years ago - it was one of the first anime I watched, and I still consider it as one of my favorite anime. This actually applies for the first two seasons - third one was composed of two episodes and left a bad aftertaste. So I had some great expectations from this manga, but at the same time I was dreading it would leave prove my memories false and diminish my experience of "School Rumble".

I can't say that "School Rumble" has any real plot. It is a love-polygon slapstick comedy following member of one class during their second high-school year. Two main characters are Tsukamoto Tenma and Harima Kenji: Tenma is a childish, clueless and not so good looking girl, while Harima is notorious and one of the toughest delinquents around - and he is hopelessly in love in Tenma. But Tenma herself is in love with Karasuma, a strange and expressionless boy from their class. He lead us to the second level of main-characters, which include him, Suou (one of three Tenma's best friend, beautiful and popular), Sawachika (another of Tenma's best friends, half-Japanese, blonde and also beautiful), Takano (yet another of Tenma's best friends, capable and elegant), Hanai (class leader, all proper and strict, but altogether a good guy) and Yakumo (Tenma's younger sister, one of the most popular girls in school, shy and capable). I won't list more characters because I would need several pages to mention all few dozen of recurring characters...

Main topic of the first several volumes are Harima's efforts while he try to express his love to Tenmna, while Tenma tries the same to Karasuma. Later focus changes more to the Tenma's misunderstanding (and she is full of those) where she belives Harima in love with Suou, Sawachika, Yakumo, Itoko (their teacher but at the same time Harima's cousin), Tae (a girl Harima meet during one of his frequent giving ups of life). All, all this is crisscrossed with love-problems of other girls (which may or may not include Harima) and other characters, and with short gags. Structure of the manga is such that every now and then there is a longer arc which describe a typical event like trip to beach (where Sawachika will see Harima naked), school sport festival (where Sawachika and Harima will save the reputation of their class), school culture festival (where Harima will be found in bed with Yakumo) and so on....

As for characters, there is really bunch of them. Since this is a shounen slapstick comedy, one cannot expect any real depth and complexity of them, but you can expect much hilarity. They usually have few distinctive characteristics that are used to draw laughter: Imadori like breast and Dojibiron (something like Power Rangers); Hanai is proper but can be challenged to extreme actions; Tougo is all extreme, Sawachika is a typical rich Princess, but has a surprising gentle side, and so on.

Appeal of "School Rumble" is coming from play between rooting that a guy finally gets a girl and rooting against him because you know that it's funny and if he ever catches it, then everything is over. The trick is in doing this but keep the originality and not irritating the reader - and it can't be said that "School Rumble" always succeeds in this. There are irritating parts (for me, most of the Tenma-Karasuma thing was irritating), but I liked most of it. I didn't like "trip to England" arc and found it really not funny. Also, I kept hoping for a different ending - I would be more satisfied if mange ended one or few chapters earlier. There are lots of slapstick jokes, misunderstandings, puns - I would usually snort at least once during the better chapters. And Harima can always cause an outright laugh ("Miko-chan...").

The art in manga is not really impressive, and the color covers were especially poor. But for such manga where its strength is in gags and dialog this is not so important. Dialog is often nonsensical and plot inconsistent, but they are hilarious. I had few occasions that I really couldn't follow the plot, like there were pages missing, but they are not often. Also, I noticed few differences from anime: like missing the explanation why Harima is in love with Tenma, although there is one in anime.

I really liked "School Rumble" mange and had a very good time with it. But all in all, I wouldn't recommend it - I would recommend the anime adaptation, and only first two seasons ("School Rumble" and "School Rumble: Nii Gakki"). Anime perfectly filters only the best parts of mange (the most it), it has a better art and it gives characters voices. But if you have watched anime and now are wondering what mange is like - it is good.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Is this a poor anime year?

While I was writing a list of epic fantasy series, I had to browse through all my posts, so I noticed how many good anime I watched last year and the one before that. Compared to them, this is a poor year.

I can't say that I haven't watched anything good. "The Flower We Saw That Day" was a very good anime, but it was not really great, and it was somewhat short. "Fate/Zero 2012" was interesting and intense, but it was just an action anime, suitable for losing few hours, but not something to make you ponder (and it was a direct continuation of last year anime, so I am not sure it counts). "Daily Lives of High School Boys" was good, for a slapstick comedy, but I forgot about it the next day. I had big hopes for "Nisemonogatari", and although it was good, even great in some aspects, it didn't reach the quality of "Bakemonogatari"

I think I can freely say that so far this year haven't provided anything legendary, as were "Durarara!!", "Katanagatari", "Tatami Galaxy" or bunch of other anime in past years. Is there anything else I can hope for in next few months?

Well, there is "Sakamichi no Apollon", which looks like it could be impressive, as I usually find josei titles. I plan to watch it soon, maybe even this month. "Bakuman (2012)" will start coming out in October, but I can't count this as this year' hit (it's a third season, and I will extend into 2013) nor is it so good. Except this two, the only thing that looks like it could be of real worth is "Mardock Scramble", which last part is coming out this month - I didn't watch the first two, but this sounds interesting.

All in all, this is a anime poor year - there is no anime that I will remember in several years and say "Wow! That was a great anime! I must watch it again!". But I hope that I will dig something up next year, when reviews and ratings on AniDB settle a bit.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Epic fantasy series list: What is out there - part 1

I have been thinking about this post for some time now, but somehow I would always fail to find time to finish it. But since I am on vacation now and have some spare time, I decided to give it a go: a list of epic fantasy series I know something about.

First I want to make a clarification. Wikipedia defines epic or high fantasy like this. Also, there is a list of high fantasy novels here. I agree with these definitions and lists in most points, but disagree in some. For example, I would never characterize Discworld series or R. A. Salvatore's Drizzt Do'Urden (which is now missing from the list, but I was there before) or any other Forgotten Realms books as such. I really love some of these books, but they are not epic. They miss that sense of drama and end-of-the-word feeling. I would make distinction between epic and high fantasy - high fantasy is just fantasy that is complex, held strictly to magical systems, depicts setting and characters in realistic and believable manner.

Anyway, even though this post it titled "Epic fantasy series", I don't intend to hold strictly to any conditions and definitions. This is just a list of books and series I would recommend to someone who would ask for some good epic fantasy series. Some of them I have read whole, some just few books, and some I just heard of or read about. But I hope this list will help some fan deciding what to read next.

First mention must be dedicated to "The Lord of the Rings" by J. R. R. Tolkien. Maybe people will disagree with me, but I think that you can't be an epic fantasy fan if you haven't read and don't at least respect LotR. I can understand claims that there are better new series, that you like some other writers more, that it has flaws, but it this defining work of epic fantasy doesn't tickle you enjoyment glands, that you are not a fan! Tolkien wasn't the first; he didn't invent elves, orcs and dwarves; but he did what Microsoft did to PCs during 90s - made them popular and available to the common people. I don't think I need to describe what "The Lord of the Rings" is about - if you already don't know, than you have lived in a cave for past 10 years and you will not read this blog in any case. But it is sufficient to say that if you like any number of books from this list, and haven't already read LotR, then do it - you will not regret. You will find here the epic struggle between noble heroes against ugly and dark adversaries; noble elves, sturdy dwarves and feral orcs; magical rings, wise wizards and buried monsters; tragedy, love and epic battles... When I think about it, I haven't read it for almost ten years - maybe it's a time for a new reread.

Now we can continue with the "big three" - my three personal favorites.

"A Song of Ice and Fire" by George R. R. Martin is mentioned first simply because I have read it first of the three. And I read it first simply because it was one of few modern fantasy series translated to the Croatian. This can be your first clue, a simple economic law - only the most popular work get translated to such a number of languages that it include Croatian. aSoIaF is in a way the new tLotR - not in contents, but in its popularity, first between hard-core fans, and now with even non-readers - by mega-popular HBO TV show "Game of Thrones". In contents, aSoIaF and tLotR could not be more different. "A Song of Ice and Fire" features more politics than magic; characters and society real enough that they sound like they are from some history book; intrigue, political machinations and sex. But there is a more profound difference: the grey morality. As you continue toward third and further books, you will realize that there are no characters that are good or evil: they are just people, some weak, some strong, some sick, they try to their best in a world not really benevolent to them. Other differences include grittiness, recognizing the fact that people have bodily functions (like going to toilet or having sexual urges), equal importance of men and women (but acknowledging their different roles in medieval-like society). On the other hand, Martin is not always easy to his characters or reader. Main characters will die never to return; characters that you like and cheer for will be put to unexpected levels of hardship; characters you believed weak and evil will later be portrayed with sympathy and recognition. The last book so far, "A Dance with Dragons", really surprised me with amount of explicit violence and unexpected turns of the plot. But if you like big books (big by volume, complexity and content), this is one of the books for you. There are five books published, and two more announced, although it is possible (in my opinion) that there will be a few more.

"The Wheel of Time" by Robert Jordan is a series that for the long time I would pinpoint as the one that I liked the most. Not the best one, but most likable. It is a first series that I have read when I started buying book from Amazon and reading on English, so I presume I will always have some special connection to it. WoT is a shift from aSoIaF to LotR again: a somewhat classical epic story about clash between Light and Dark, in a fantasy world with kingdoms, Princes and Princesses, magic and sorceresses, whose main cast is young people unaware of their great destiny (shepherd becoming the King and the Savior); lots of romance and romantic notions. I liked it because it has tons of characters and millions of little details that almost in no way contradict each other and make a very complex setting and history. There is a lot of magic which plays a large role in the setting (contrary to the aSoIaF where magic is almost nonexistent, especially in first few books), and the magic system is also very complex. Characters are very likable, especially the main few dozen (jokingly), and funny. Much of this humor is based on male-female differences and "differences" and Jordan was fond of making strange social relationship between them. Readers objected this series' tectonic pace and a large number of plots and subplots - I on the other hand, like this series specifically for these reasons. These objections are now partly nullified since most of the book are now out (last book is coming out this winter), so a new reader doesn't have to wait several year for next book only to find out that his favorite characters is not even in it. Another important this is that unfortunately Robert Jordan passed away from illness before writing what was supposed to be that last, twelfth book. But he left a mountain of notes, so his widows selected another writer, Brandon Sanderson, to finish the series. He split this last book in three, and successfully finished two of them, while the last one ("A Memory of Light") will be coming out next year. I would recommend this series to everybody who likes their epic fantasy Tolkienesque and romantic, especially to teenager fans.

"Malazan Book of the Fallen" by Steven Erikson is a series that I would probably pick as my current favorite, if I was forced to. This is probably the most ambitious and audacious fantasy series I have read so far (SF has galaxy-spanning series that I would say sound more ambitious, but that is SF). This series was finished this year and has in total 10 books. But there are additions in form of books by Ian C. Esslemont who writes side-stories in this setting (they created this setting together; by the way, don't read Esslemont until you become a fan of MBotF, he's not as good as Erikson), some smaller humorous side-stories written by Erikson, and a new prequel trilogy call "Kharkanas Trilogy" by Erikson himself (which is easily as good as original MBotF). This series is great in all points: setting, story, characters and writing. The setting spans hundreds of thousands of years in past of the series' present, it has several large continents and numerous magical "warrens" (I am in lack of single-word description for warren). Erikson is a professional archaeologist and anthropologist, and this is strongly felt in his books: while other writers have races and nations, he has cultures! But the most impressive thing about this setting is that, in 10 and more books Erikson painted and implied only the borders of its portions, and filled marvelously only some of them. If he was willing, I believe that he could write at least two dozens more of books in this setting, revealing only what he suggested in his first books (something like Esslemont has been doing). Story is brilliant and complex; so complex that even though I have read most of the books several times, I can't explain what and why really happened in full extent - you just have to read it for yourself. There is action, war, epic battles, personal duels, mystery, intrigue, history, politics - you just name it and there it is. And characters... Well, there are a lot of them: I think there are certainly at least a hundred with POV and several hundred named characters. Erikons is fond of giving to even unimportant and unnamed characters unique and believable personality; he is also fond of random villagers revealing the truths of life. And his main characters (all hundred or so) are simply brilliant: some are artist and philosophers; others are lowly and gritty soldiers, while some are wild and "stupid" barbarians. But they are complex and life-like - Erikson is at same level with Martin when it comes to "grey characters" (hello Kallor) and I don't think I can name a single evil characters in this series. Be careful, for Erikson will make you fill pity for even the scariest and brutal sociopath. While I consider his writing one of his best points, it will put off a lots of readers, especially if the endure till later books. Erikons is a great philosopher and his characters will spend several pages thinking about themselves and world, asking fundamental questions of both, but not moving plot a single pace. He will make you wonder about life and death, why some people suffer and what is the nature of death, loyalty, passion... This series is quite gritty and violent - one of the recurring themes is that "children die". This is especially true for later books, when Erikson will make some of his characters go through unimaginable stresses and tortures. On the other hand, his books are extremely humorous and he has written some of the funniest characters I ever met (yes, Pust, I am talking about you). Although I spent last 3000 characters praising Erikson, his books are not for all. If you expect some light fantasy to relax you for couple of hours, these are not for you. Erikson asks for your attention, you will probably be forced to read the series at least twice, and it will often make you question yourself and your philosophy. But if you like this stuff, think yourself a power-fan of epic fantasy, or think that R. Scott Bakker is OK, please try "Malazan Book of the Fallen".

I first planned for this to be a single post, but now I see that it has grown even though I just started. So, a change of plans: I will be splitting it in several posts.