the drenai books

Books for Robin Hobb fans:

(No Rothfuss or Martin here!)

The Immortal Prince - Jennifer Fallon

Don’t you love it when a fantasy book surprises you? After finishing this on audio I went looking for a hard copy of the book in Forbidden Planet and was only able to find a squat paperback with tissue thin leaves, a dated cover and cramped, blurred print. As someone who gets headaches from reading even clear passages, reading such a volume manually might as well have been insurmountable. 

I’m fortunate then that the UK release for all four books in the Tide Lords Series are exceptionally well narrated. Fortunate indeed, that I casually purchased this book on sale and decided to give this obscure author a chance, only to be completely enthralled.

The Tide Lords saga is a fantasy reader’s dream come true. Immortal beings, whose lives span entire worlds, seen through the perception of a few gifted and particularly daring mortals. As a Hobb fanatic, the  high/low fantasy juxtaposition was not only familiar, but a pleasure.

This author really knows what they’re doing, she loves her characters and is totally aware of her end point. Her plot rotates perfectly around her destination, revealing just enough with each step to keep her reader in control but completely hooked.

Legend - David Gammel

Gammell, by all accounts, seems to be something of an unsung hero of fantasy. It was after much pestering and countless recommendations (not always the best way to get me to read something) that I gave in and read Legend. 

While it’s difficult to make overarching comments about the Drenai Saga, having only read this, the first volume and not a very long one. But I will throw caution to the wind and admit to feeling a little bit traitorous. Until I read this book, my level of expectation for the quality of fantasy narrative technique was lower. Not even Hobb comes off favourably by comparison, when it comes to the cleanliness and focus with which Gammell tells his story. All the fat has been trimmed from Legend. I’ve always been so used to chipping away at a fantasy novel that it barely felt like I was reading at all. Yet every drop of atmosphere is maintained, all the necessary tension is there. I was so impressed. If Legend is any indication of what is to come in the Drenai saga, I think I might be able to understand why so many fans rave about Gammell.

I can’t say I’m completely in love with the characters yet. That is my only criticism. However, that might well be as much my fault as anything else, having read this book as a trade paperback. I read it, as I do, in drips and drabs without any of the deep, hypnotic reading sessions that really get you to connect with a book, but it was enough to make me realise the sheer skill of this author. Never assume that fame equates to quality when it comes to fantasy. GRRM might be reaping all the rewards of a million dollar franchise, but it doesn’t do anything to assuage the resentment one feels at having to read three paragraphs about a family we’re never going to meet nor care about.

The Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula le Guin

Mention Tolkien as much as you please when talking about classics, but it won’t change the fact that reading the Earthsea Quartet was not only more enjoyable, but more humbling and fascinating. As with Tolkien, you can see the threads of influence that have been taken from Earthsea and fed into modern titles. Dare I say you can even see traces of Le Guin’s passion for the sea and the culture that surrounds it reflected in Hobb’s coastal Dutchies. I even sensed traces of Ged in Fitz. 

Earthsea is a warm and inviting read. It has it’s fair share of peril, drama and exploit, but they seem to come second to the overall feeling of immersion in a warm and rich world of magic. With little effort, Le Guin perfectly constructs a land where even dragons, wizards and demons fall subject to whims of the sea, the sun and and storms.

Honourable mention:

Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett

“Get out of the way?! We’re witches! People get out of our way!” If you’ve ever wondered where to get started with Pratchett, let me make it easy for you: start here. 

I don’t really need to say too much here. It’s difficult to properly encompass Pratchett for those who haven’t ventured into the Discworld. In relation to Hobb readers though, take it on trust that you won’t find a much better palette cleanser. Sit back and let Pratchett address everything that you though was sacrosanct about fantasy and literature.

Legend by David Gemmell.

One of my favorite Gemmell books, and if you look at audible they have a bunch of Gemmell’s works coming out soon, but they all have the same narrator. Who does an ok job, but whistles when he says his “S"s and it was all I could do to make it through this one. So I doubt I’ll be listening to any of the others.