A Song of Ice and Fire then read The Mistborn Trilogy

A Song of Ice and Fire–or as the series is better known as, Game of Thrones–has in many ways redefined the epic-fantasy genre. From the sprawling world George R.R. Martin has created to its incredibly diverse cast of characters, this series has gone from one of the top selling fantasy series to one of the most successful television shows of our generation.

gotMany–including myself–would find it difficult to summarize the series aptly in just a sentence or two. But I will do my best.

The series (mostly… in the beginning…) follows the family of the Starks, who are quickly entangled in the political intrigue of the Seven Kingdoms, while a Dragon King matures in exile hoping to reclaim his throne.

(Not a shabby summary, if I do say so myself.)

joffreyFor myself, this series (especially the first three books) are among my top favorites of all time. What I like the most about Martin’s books is that the world outside of the narrative still has weight and effects the story in meaningful ways. The reader is not given every detail and therefore has to make conjectures based on context clues and rumors given by the characters and events.

The characters themselves are very complex, and not just defined by one or two traits doled out by Martin. He invests in them and allows them to change. Without providing spoilers: one of the characters I immediately hated in the first book became one of my favorite characters in book three.

Not really relevant, but everyone should enjoy Joffrey being slapped repeatedly.
Not really relevant, but everyone should enjoy Joffrey being slapped repeatedly.

Finding a series that was comparable in every way to A Song of Ice and Fire would be difficult if not near impossible. But I think I found something that can stand up to it.

The Mistborn Trilogy

mistbornEnter: The Mistborn Trilogy. Admittedly small compared to the unfinished A Song of Ice and Fire, but what it lacks in number of pages it makes up with a fully realized world and characters that are more than just a few defining characteristics. And, like Martin, Sanderson enjoys surprising the reader with well thought out twists and turns, leaving a rare sense of satisfaction.

The series begins as Kelsier, a man who is as charismatic as he is reckless, starts assembling a team to overthrow the Lord Ruler, a tyrant who keeps the skaa class subservient to the elite aristocracy through fearsome power.

Kelsier stumbles across Vin, who is naturally skilled in the world’s magic system, Allomancy, but isn’t aware. As he trains her, the team made up of colorful characters begin to act on their plans, which are successful, then thwarted, overcame, then thwarted again.

What made me connect Mistborn to Song of Ice and Fire are the twists and turns the plot makes. The tried and true formula that most readers are accustomed to is used and then betrayed, making for a compelling story.

Sanderson’s characters are not two-dimensional with only one or two traits to define them. Where Kelsier is easy to root for because he stands up for the skaa, he also has deep rooted prejudices that threaten their coup.

Everything is not given to the reader upfront in the first book. To answer all of your questions about the world, its magic system, and its creatures, you will need to read all the way through.

And that reminds me, I almost forgot the best part of the series!

IT’S FINISHED!

That’s right, you can start and finish this series without years of waiting between books.

No waiting?!
No waiting?!

So, while you’re biding your time waiting for Book 6, why not try an equally satisfying trilogy already finished?

eyebrow

“The Book Thief” then read “Ink & Bone”

I use The Book Thief here as a stand-in historical-minded YA But if you loved it or Harry Potter or The Hunger Gamesthen the first book of Rachel Caine’s Great Library series is for you.

Ink & Bone introduces us to Jess, a 16-year-old boy living in London in the year 2031. But this is not the London you know. This London has robot lions guarding its Library that spring to life and eat people at the first sign of trouble. This London has kids running joi7aiww8kmjythrough the streets to deliver first-edition copies of books–kind of like stealing books (looking at your, Liesel) and like in that German war-zone, in Ink & Bone, these kids could be caught and served capital punishment. Because this is what London could be like if the Great Library of Alexandria never burned down.

Like The Book Thief, this is a novel for people who really, really appreciate not only books but the idea of books, the essence of books. Ink & Bone is a novel for people who completely understand, with every inch of them, why books are worth dying for.

“I Have Hated Words and I Have Loved Them”

One thing Ink & Bone does really well is it makes you hate the Library. In this version of the world, the Library in your town or city is a satellite branch of the real Library, the one in Alexandria. In your house, you don’t have books. You have what amounts to an e-reader. Every time you want to read, say, Archemedes’s On Sphere-Making, you would have to request it from the library. Not a big deal, except that the only copy of On Sphere-Making was stolen. Not a big deal, except that if you wanted something like Dante’s blasphemous Divine Comedy, or Gutenberg’s plans to make a printing press, the Library could censor your search. And, probably, kill you.the-book-thief-by-markus-zusak1

I think this is such a good book because it plays on your emotions. Libraries are inherently good. Benjamin Franklin’s idea of a free public library where rich or poor or man or woman could come in and read changed literally everything about America. The Book Thief tells us, unnecessarily, that books and the freedom to read them are what make life worth living.

Except that’s what the Library is trying to take away in Ink & Bone. That freedom to read whatever the hell you want. I guarantee the Library would censor fanfiction. And Fifty Shades of Grey. 

So…maybe not all bad.

“It kills me sometimes, how people die.”

a1wi46iw0klBut if an all-knowing library doesn’t pique your interest, just wait until you hear about the characters. Why did you care about Liesel and Rudy? Why did you care? Because, deep down, you know that the book being narrated by Death itself cannot have a happy ending. Because, deep down, you know that people die.

It happens in The Book Thief and it happens in Ink & Bone. This is not unnecessary gore. This is war, the holiest of wars, where even children are fair game. It’s some of the best action I’ve ever read, and by the end you understand why you care so much when people die in books. It gives everything higher stakes. It makes it feel like this might be a war worth fighting.

And the even better news is that this is only the first of a series! And the second book comes out in July. And the paperback of Ink & Bone comes out in April.

Marvel Movies then read Marvels

Knocking out Hitler. Just like Cinderella.

There are 25 Marvel and DC movies planned for the next 5 years. If you’re anything like me, you want to see all of them. Marvel movies have dominated the big screen ever since phase one of the Avengers began. There is a wish-fulfillment that comes from seeing ordinary people become extraordinary. Captain America is nothing but an uber-patriotic Cinderella story, where the ball is World War II and the fairy godmother comes by way of super-soldier drugs. These are fables buried deep int eh fabric of human (and, let’s face it, American) psyche. We all want to have a super power we can claim as our own.

Marvel’s Theory: Get very hot actors and no one will care it’s a remake.

If know the true names of Captain America and the Hulk, if you went to see Days of Future Past for other reasons than that every actor in the movie was a ridiculously beautiful example of human physique, if you are confused about why Spider-Man and Fantastic Four are being remade again but know you’re going to see them anyway, then I have a book for you.

I know who you are. You’re like me. You want to read the comic books, you want to be more than just a casual fan of these heroes, but you have no idea where to start. What’s the difference between Avenger’s Vol 1 and Avenger’s Assemble? More importantly, how can you ask that question without sounding like you’re trying to jump on a bandwagon?

There’s good places to start for every series (and I will do posts about individual heroes another day.) But there’s one 4-volume series that has every character you can think of in the Marvel universe.

So if you’ve already seen Ant-Man, if you can’t wait the week to see Fantastic Four and the month until Age of Ulton comes out, have I got a book for you.

With Great Power

Ken Busiek’s Marvels is not about one particular super hero. The book follows Phil Sheldon, a news photographer living in New York City. It begins in 1939 with the first appearance of caped heroes swooping over the city.

There are a lot of familiar faces in this: J. Jonah Jameson, The Human Torch, Spider-Man, Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men. But it’s not the story of them. It’s the story of how those with super powers swing wildly on the scale of popularity. One minute, they’re the glorious heroes. The next, heroes are being scorned by the city for demolishing skyscrapers. They are being hunted down in Red-Scare type hysteria when it becomes clear that mutants, heroes, can be the person living next door.

This book answers the question of what would life really be like if there were heroes in the world. It is not the prettiest picture. Perhaps because it rings too much of truth.

During his entire career, our narrator Phil is the champion of super-heroes, defending their actions as necessary in a world so filled with so much power.

Great Responsibility

In the Spider-Man movies, we see how New York can be a hostile place for a super hero. As the Green Goblin says in the 2002 movie, “You (Spider-Man) chose the way of the hero. And they found you amusing for a while, the people of this city. But the one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fail, fall, die trying. In spite of everything you’ve done for them, eventually they will hate you.” 

Marvels is not about super-heroes. It is about the lives they touch by their very existence. It’s about kids growing up under the scare of mutation. It’s about trying to defend idols even as their blowing up city blocks.

It’s a short book, only 4 issues. The ending has a bitter-sweet taste. Phil is our narrator, but un-special humans are not necessarily the heroes of this book. Super heroes aren’t necessarily the heroes.

In the end, you have to choose your own heroes, and choose wisely, and try not to be swayed the opinions of the fearful. And standing by your convictions will make you into your own brand of hero.

Fairy Tale Adaptions then read ‘The Girls at the Kingfisher Club’

With the rise of YA came the rise of fairy tale adaptions, re-emphasizing that there are only so many “original” ideas and everything else is just a rehash of what has already been done. That being said, there have been books I have thoroughly enjoyed out of this trend based solely on a combination of good writing, good story, and inventive/original spin on the stories we know backwards and forwards.

ella mirror cinder east

Cinderella is by far the most popular character to be “re-imagined”, if only because her story allows the most flexibility and does not need magic to work. A lot of authors have take it upon themselves to make fairy tale heroines their own heroes, not allowing a prince to come save them from an evil witch or stepmother. Some even take the side of the villain’s point of view (re: Gregory Maguire’s Wicked or Jon Scieska’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs) just to prove that the story we all know is not what really happened.

persephone beauty fables looking

These re-imaginings have gone on to include not just fairy tales but different mythologies and other classics such as The Wizard of OzPeter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland, each with varying degrees of success. They have also included “sequels” following whatever happens after Happily Ever After or the fairy tale characters’ children and whether or not they are affected by their parents’ stories.

page peter snow beastly

Depending on your tastes, you can probably find an adaption that suits you. There have dark re-imaginings; feminist re-imaginings; goofy re-imaginings; epic re-imaginings; specific time period re-imaginings; and the list goes on. However, some adaptions/re-imaginings are not as well known as others and I would like to recommend one of my new favorites.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

kingfisherThe Girls at the Kingfisher Club was loaned to me by one of my best friends (with whom I share an affinity for reading) with her highest recommendations. I then proceeded to devour the book in a span of two days. (It would have been one sitting, but I was visiting said friend along with many others at my old college stomping grounds and therefore was required to be social at least for some of the time.)

It is a spin on the Grimm fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. While this story does have its own adaptions (one of them being taken on by no one other than the fashion icon Barbie™ herself), it is not as popular as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, or Snow White.

In Genevieve Valentine’s version, the story takes place in New York City in the Jazz Age, which is itself a revolution for American dance. The princesses are daughters of a man who keeps them hidden due to his embarrassment at his failure to produce a male heir. The sisters sneak out not just as an act of rebellion but also to expand on their world experiences and liberation from their father’s unjust rule.

The story is mostly told from the point of view of the eldest sister, Josephine, who takes on the role as the General or Commander, protecting her sisters from their father and their own reckless behavior. However, some of her sisters see Jo’s protectiveness as yet another form of oppression. Events begin to spiral out of control as their father becomes aware that his daughters might be disobeying him and it is up to the sisters to resolve their differences in order to save each other from a fate worse than death: marriage to men who share their father’s view on how women should be kept.

The story is short and written with modern language that is reminiscent of a fairy tale. Valentine is not overly verbose in her descriptions but lets the characters’ words and actions speak for themselves. The father is easy to loathe and Josephine’s story is filled with hope and heartbreak. The reader is made to understand why she made the choices that she did (not all likable), even at the cost of her own sisters’ love and adoration.

This book may not be easy to find (most large book sellers such as Barnes and Noble only carry one or two copies at any given time (if at all)) and may require a special order through a bookseller of your choice. The story is also available on Kindle, but the hardcover version is especially lovely (see pictured above).

Happy Reading!

~Nicole

Lord of the Rings then read The Kingkiller Chronicles

I’m pretty sure Lord of the Rings is always just used as a metaphor for high fantasy. That’s what I’m using it as here, anyway.

After three epic movies, not counting The Hobbit, I’m not going to sit here and explain the plot of Tolkien to everyone. What I’m

LotR was made into three movies in the early 2000s
LotR was made into three movies in the early 2000s

focusing on here is worldbuilding, and the ridiculous extent to which Tolkien does it. Not only is there three LotR books, and The Hobbit, but there’s The Book of Lost Tales volume one to a billion. All of these just serve to create the world of Middle Earth to the point where you know more about the War of the Ring than you do about the Revolutionary War.

There’s languages and religions. There’s races. There’s maps. I’m such a sucker for maps. Give me a fantasy map with a map on the inside cover and I’ll love you forever.

As far as worldbuilding goes, Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles have it down pat. You completely believe this world that you’re dropped in without warning. But the best part of the story is not the maps (it has maps) or the languages or the poems (all good fantasy books have poems.) It’s the characters. Unlike the ridiculously descriptive prose of Lord of the Rings, Kvothe’s story is told in first-person. It’s told from the point-of-view of a teenager. And it has some of the most endearing fantasy characters I’ve found in a long time.

So if you’re looking for a high fantasy tale that lets you lose yourself, you’ve come to the right place. Just keep in mind it’s going to be a long ride. The first book is over 700 pages, the second is nearly 1000.

Plot Points

51qxhokqlwlIt’s hard to sum these books up in a couple of sentences. It starts off as a frame story with an innkeeper who’s a little more than an innkeeper. The world is dark and dangerous. Demons are closing in while a war rages somewhere far and away. For reasons, the a scribe stumbles upon the inn and realizes that the slow and sedate innkeeper is actually this man who has a reputation of epic proportions. The innkeeper, Kvothe, agrees to tell his tale. It will take three days (hence three books.) It will be told his way.

That’s when we launch into the first-person perspective of a teenager. In the first couple hundred pages, there’s death and demons. There’s magic, a fabled place called the University with thousands of books. There’s a wise old man and then there isn’t one. There’s hunger and cold and despair and music. Lots of music.

Eventually our young Kvothe finds his way to the University, completely penniless. The back cover of the first book had a review that compared these books to Harry Potter. I guess if you mean the main character attends a school of magic, then the comparison is correct. But it’s not a school for young children. It’s gritty and mean and occasionally cruel. Kvothe makes an enemy who eventually tries very hard to kill him. He also meets two best friends, a crazy teacher of Naming (the first book is called The Name of the Wind) and a girl who gives him the key to the moon.

There’s also a quest for the thing that killed his parents (spoiler but not really. All good heroes are orphans.) There’s a quest for the name of the wind. There’s a quest to get to the school in the first place. And that’s all in the first book.

Characters Welcome

Like I said though, the reason to read these books is the characters. Kvothe is an arrogant ass who’s so brilliant you almost forgive his 51VQ+Kxb8JL._SL500_AA300_arrogance. He meets friends at school, Simmon, who is the nicest guy alive, and Wilem, who laughs at Kvothe and deflates his head a little bit. There’s Bast, who exists in the “present” frame story and is a fey or a fawn. There’s Auri, who speaks in riddles and lives under the school. But unlike Lord of the Rings, you are never overwhelmed with proper nouns that you can’t make sense of. The book is long for a reason. You’re introduced to everything a bit at a time.

I read both these books in three weeks of frantic reading. They’re so good I contemplated skipping class. They’re so good I made sure all my friends had a copy to read.

Any lover of high fantasy, any lover of a good story with some magic and demons thrown in, should be falling in love with these books. I can’t recommend them enough, especially as a device to drive away the winter blues.

Fair warning though: the third book isn’t out yet and has no release date (Goodreads says 2025 but I’m inclined to not believe that.) You should read it anyway.

Hunger Games then read Fire

Yes, okay, I know I already made a suggestion for Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, but I figure a lot of people read the book and want something to read after, so here’s another (completely different) suggestion. No, Fire by Kristin Cashore is not dystopian. It’s one of those kings-and-castles books set in a vague medieval-ish time on a different world. But Fire is very much like the world we live in, except they have monsters.

Fire, of the novel Fire
Fire, of the novel Fire

Let’s back up, though. What exactly are the reasons The Hunger Games is so appealing? It should be appalling. The idea of children being forced to kill one and other should not generate interest or support. Yet we like it because we like Katniss, we like Peeta, we want them to win.

I have a pet theory that books are about characters and books that are not about characters are much, much, much harder to get into. Just like tv shows. If you don’t have a favorite character you care enough about to tune in every week, you’re going to drop the show. But if there’s even one person you like…well, that’s what makes even Glee get picked up for a fifth season.

So this recommendation, unlike Stephen King’s The Long Walk, isn’t about the setting or the plot. There’s no dystopia in fire, no strange competition to be taken part in. But if you boil everything down, the characters that made you want to keep reading The Hunger Games are all present and accounted for.

Archer vs. Archer

Why are we so fascinated by bows-and-arrows? From Robin Hood to Legolas to Hawkeye in Avengers, everyone seems to need their own archer in order to be a legitamate team. The Hunger Games had Katniss. Fire  actually has a character named Archer, he’s that good with a bow. And our protagonist, Fire, isn’t too shabby either, though she prefers to save her plucking for the violin.

Katniss's bow skills
Katniss’s bow skills

But that’s what you get in Fire. Fire is not Katniss. She’s no one’s idea of a badass. She’s a monster, which here means someone born incredibly beautiful and incredibly deadly. She can read minds, influence thoughts, and she hates it. Her father, also a monster, was the badass in the family, and he drove the kingdom to ruin.

Even though Fire isn’t angsty Katniss, she has her own…well…fire. Archer, her childhood friend and sometimes-lover, is getting more and more jealous by the day, and asks for Fire’s hand in marriage weekly. But she doesn’t chose her friend, who she does love, and the life she knows int he secluded mountains. Even though Fire is afraid of becoming her father, she shows her own badass-ness when she agrees to go to the heart of the kingdom to help the royal family stay the royal family.

So the main similarity here is the strong female protagonist. And where Katniss is so frickin strong that you kind of want her to shut up about it all ready, Fire has a quiet inner strength that makes her impossible not to like. And I hate female characters, as a rule.

But Wait! There’s More!

Your favorite character in The Hunger Games (that reason you tuned in every week) might have been Katniss, but Peeta and Gale and Fire-Novel-199x300Prim and Finnick were all great too. Personally, I loved Haymitch. Fire has those great side characters, too. There’s Archer, the jealous but good-hearted childhood friend. There’s Brigan, the dark, intelligent, loyal prince. There’s Nash, the king who can’t stop himself from falling in love with Fire over and over again. There’s the royal twins and Fire’s two father’s and a kingdom of intrigue. Basically, if you’re here for the great relationships, you won’t be disappointed.

And did I mention the writing? I don’t usually notice prose, especially in a YA-fantasy book. But every time I real Fire I’m impressed by the quality of writing, which is sad without being melodramatic and beautiful without detracting from the plot.

Here’s the last thing I have to say about this book: I’ve bought it for my two best friends for their birthdays, because if I give it to them they’ll usually read it, and I want the whole world to read this book so we can all talk about it together.

The Series of Unfortunate Events then read The Bartimaeus Sequence

In elementary school, I had three favorite series of books: Harry Potter, of course, which my mom starting reading out loud to us kids when I was six; The Lord of the Rings, which my sister and I read together when I was in fourth grade; and The Series of Unfortunate Events.

The Series of Unfortunate Events was made into a movie in 2004
The Series of Unfortunate Events was made into a movie in 2004

Okay, I know that Lemony Snicket’s Unfortunate Events is supposed to be a children’s series. And it is. It has a great habit of defining words in interesting ways, like “Smirked, a word which here means ‘smiled in an unfriendly, phony way'” which makes it extremely readable for younger kids. But I also read through the series my Senior year of high school, and they were still incredibly interesting. That time, I found myself laughing at the many allusions made throughout the series, not the least of which is the fact that every book is dedicated to a woman named Beatrice (like Dante’s Beatrice) in ways like “To Beatrice: We are like two ships passing in the night. Particularly you.”

There’s a man called Ishmael who has feet encased in clay. There’s a Nevermore tree surrounded by ravens. There’s a poem from Alice in Wonderland as one of the clues. The point is, even if you’re an older reader there’s no reason for you to dismiss this work of children’s literature.

And, if you remember liking these books, you probably remember the interesting narration. The author himself, Lemony Snicket, was a character in the series, and there were frequent passages which referred to the author’s many troubles in his own life. In my opinion, Unfortunate Events has one of the best, most unique narrative voices in literature.

The next most unique belongs to the little-known Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud which is narrated in part by a demon called Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus’s Bad Beginning

Bartimaeus-Trilogy-bartimaeus-trilogy-24259440-400-597The first (and best) book of the trilogy is The Amulet of Samarkand, and set up the scene: a slightly different London, where Magicians run the show. Nathaniel, our child protagonist, is an apprentice to a cruel Magician and decides to seek revenge on him by summoning Bartimaeus, a 5,000 djinni. This is a world where Magicians are part talent but mostly skill and schoolwork, and Nathaniel believes himself to be the brightest of his age.

This is a book for middle-aged readers–fifth, sixth, seventh grades–but there’s so much packed in that it’s an enjoyable fantasy even if you’re older. It creates an interesting, believable world and then put in secrets and rebellion and murder. But the whole book is grounded by the old, sarcastic Bartimaeus, who narrates half the book, and Nathanial, who does the other half.

The best part of this book–this series, if you want to read more about the world–is how the relationship between master and djinni changes. Bartimaeus is no Genie summoned by Aladdin, laughing and happy. In his long lifetime, he had one good master, the Egyptian mathematician and scientist Ptolemy. Since that post, he’s vowed never to get close to any of his masters again.

It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s a David-versus-Goliath impossible scenario where you can’t help but room for the underdogs. There’s magic and demons and different planes of existence. It’s a foray into high fantasy for young readers.

Tying It All Together

What can fantasy have to do with Unfortunate Events, which defies genre? It all goes back to the narrative style of the book. Lemony Snicket, and the other Snicket siblings, pop up throughout the Events series, and the sarcasm and wit lent to both narration and dialogue makes all the books accessible to old and young readers alike.

What Bartimaeus offers is that little narrative gimick of the footnote, used so effectively here,  mostly for humor, that you’ll find yourself reading it again and again, laughing out loud every time. The story itself has a dark mystery at the center, but the character of Bartimaeus is snarky and irreverent, defying all the rules of his species. One of the footnotes early on is: ” 3 One magician demanded I show him an image of the love of his life. I rustled up a mirror.” He refuses to play nice or even fair, but the 5,000 year old creature grows just as much as teenager Nathaniel by the end of the book.

The best part about both of these series is that they are series, and if you find yourself enjoying one you will enjoy the rest. Both are an acquired taste, with much tongue-in-cheek humor, but if you find yourself liking them you will have a set of books you will be re-reading for the rest for your life.