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Reading Recommendations

I get emails all the time from fans asking me to recommend books for them to read "while I am waiting for your next one."

I can't possibly reply to all my emails, of course. But I do reply to some, when the mood strikes me. And I am always glad to recommend good books. There is so many of them out there that do not get half the attention that they deserve.

For some readers I like to draw attention to the classics of our genre. It never ceases to amaze me to discover that some of my own fans have never heard of all the great fantasists who came before me, without whom A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE could never have been written... without whom, in truth, there might not be a fantasy genre at all. If you have enjoyed my own fantasy novels, you owe it to yourself to read J.R.R. Tolkien (LORD OF THE RINGS), Robert E. Howard (Conan the Cimmerian, Kull of Atlantis, Solomon Kane), C.L. Moore (Jirel of Joiry), Jack Vance (THE DYING EARTH, Lyonesse, Cugel the Clever, and so much more), Fritz Leiber (Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser), Richard Adams (WATERSHIP DOWN, SHARDIK, MAIA), Ursula K. Le Guin (Earthsea, the original trilogy), Mervyn Peake (GORMENGHAST), T.H. White (THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING), Rosemary Sutcliffe, Alan Garner, H.P. Lovecraft (more horror than fantasy, admittedly), Clark Ashton Smith, and... well, the list is long. But those writers should keep you busy for quite a while. You won't like all of them, perhaps... some wrote quite a long time ago, and neither their prose nor their attitudes are tailored for modern attention spans and sensibilities... but they were all important, and each, in his or her own way, was a great storyteller who helped make fantasy what it is today.

Maybe you've read all the fantasy classics, however. I have lots of readers for whom that is true as well. Those I like to point at some of my contemporaries. As great as Tolkien, Leiber, Vance, REH, and those others were, THIS is the golden age of epic fantasy. There have never been as many terrific writers working in the genre as there are right now. Actually, there has never been so much epic fantasy published than right now, which means a lot of mediocre and downright terrible books as well, since Sturgeon's Law still applies. But I prefer to talk about the good stuff, and there's a lot of that. Just for starts, check out Daniel Abraham (THE LONG PRICE QUARTET, THE DAGGER AND THE COIN, Scott Lynch (the Locke Lamora series), Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie (especially BEST SERVED COLD and THE HEROES)... they will keep you turning pages for a good long while, I promise...

Fantasies are not the only books I recommend to my readers, however. It has always been my belief that epic fantasy and historical fiction are sisters under the skin, as I have said in many an interview. A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE draws as much on the traditions of historical fiction as it does on those of fantasy, and there are many great historical novelists, past and present, whose work helped inspire my own. Sir Walter Scott is hard going for many modern readers, I realize, but there's still great stuff to be found in IVANHOE and his other novels, as there is in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's WHITE COMPANY (he write more than just Sherlock Holmes). Thomas B. Costain (THE BLACK ROSE, THE SILVER CHALICE) is another writer worth checking out, along with Howard Pyle, Frank Yerby, Rosemary Hawley Jarman. Nigel Tranter lived well into his 90s, writing all the while, and turning out an astonishing number of novels about Scottish medieval history (his Bruce and Wallace novels are the best, maybe because they are the only ones where his heroes actually win, but I found the lesser known lords and kings equally fascinating). Thanks to George McDonald Fraser, that cad and bounder Harry Flashman swashed and buckled in every major and minor war of the Victorian era. Sharon Kay Penman, Steven Pressfield, Cecelia Holland, David Anthony Durham, David Ball, and the incomparable Bernard Cornwell are writing and publishing firstrate historical fiction right now, novels that I think any fan of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE would find easy to enjoy.

And then there is Maurice Druon. Which is actually why I called you all here today, boys and girls.

Look, if you love A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, and want "something like it" to read while you are waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for me to finish THE WINDS OF WINTER, you really need to check out Maurice Druon and THE ACCURSED KINGS.

I never met Druon, alas (he died only a few years ago, and I regret that I never had the chance to shake his hand), but from all reports he was an extraordinary man. He was French, highly distinguished, a resistance fighter against the Nazis, a historian, a member of the French Academy... well, you can read about his life on Wikipedia, and it makes quite a story in itself. He wrote short stories, contemporary novels, a history of Paris... and an amazing seven-volume series about King Philip IV of France, his sons and daughters, the curse of the Templars, the fall of the Capetian dynasty, the roots of the Hundred Years War. The books were a huge success in France. So huge than they have twice formed the basis for television shows (neither version is available dubbed or subtitled in English, to my annoyance), series that one sometimes hears referred to as "the French I, CLAUDIUS." The English translations... well, the seventh volume has never been translated into English at all, and the first six are long out of print, available only in dusty hardcovers and tattered paperbacks from rare book dealers found on ABE.

But that's about to change, thanks to my own British publisher, HarperCollins, who are bringing THE ACCURSED KINGS back into print at long last in a series of handsome new hardbacks. The first volume, THE IRON KING, has just been published... with a brand new introduction by some guy named George R.R. Martin.


At the moment, alas, there's no plan for American editions, but readers in the US (and around the world) can order the Druon novels from their favorite online bookseller through the wonders of the internet.

The best news... at least for me... is the HarperCollins not only intends to release new English editions of the first six novels of THE ACCURSED KINGS, but also... finally!!!... translate the seventh and concluding volume. (Talk about waiting a long time for a book).

Anyway... whether you want something else to occupy your time while waiting for THE WINDS OF WINTER, or you're just looking for a good read... you won't go wrong with Maurice Druon, France's best historical novelist since Dumas Pere.


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Thomas Joseph Balich
Mar. 10th, 2013 08:59 pm (UTC)
Thank You!
Thanks, George. I'm always looking for new stories and series to enjoy and the Accursed Kings looks great! Have you read The Malazan Book of the Fallen series? I am currently on book 9 and I must say it is a treat for any fantasy fan.
Mar. 11th, 2013 08:59 am (UTC)
Re: Thank You!
Same! I am up to The Bonehunters. My favourite so far. Have you also been reading Ian C Esslemonts' work?
Re: Thank You! - Thomas Joseph Balich - Mar. 11th, 2013 06:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Thank You! - letalisfortuna - Mar. 12th, 2013 01:05 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 10th, 2013 10:32 pm (UTC)
thank you for this.
Michael Conrad
Mar. 10th, 2013 11:51 pm (UTC)
Good reading
My personal favorite (before Martin of course) was Roger Zelazny. I found by happenstance a hardcover copy of "sign of chaos" and finished it within 2 days. I knew I had picked it up in the middle of a series early on in the book so I immediately started buying up all of the Chronicles of Amber books I could find. If you have not read them, do yourself a favor.

Also, if you're into the audio books, there are 2 sections in the series, the first five books are read by Alessandro Juliani, and the second five books by Wil Wheaton. Enjoy

Edited at 2013-03-11 12:04 am (UTC)
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Ann Elizabeth Palmer
Mar. 11th, 2013 02:00 am (UTC)
Another historical fiction author, Scottish author Dorothy Dunnett
Dorothy Dunnett was a master of her craft, writing two extensive series set in 16th and 15th Century Europe, Russia, and the Holy Land. She started with the Lymond Chronicles, a six novel series beginning with The Game of Kings. This series is beloved by critics and readers alike.

Her second series, The House of Niccolo, was amazing in scope and character, but lacked a bit of the magic that made the Lymond series so well received.

Some of today's historical authors site her as an influence, Cecelia Holland particularly.
Anthony Concannon
Mar. 11th, 2013 04:44 am (UTC)
Hugh Howey
If anyone's chomping at the bit for more Martin, I'd highly recommend Dreamsongs Volume I and II (I know, I know...what true fan has yet to read these?!). I still can't stop thinking about Sandkings and The Pear-Shaped Man and it's been several months since I read them ;). I've also read Ken Follett's historical fiction masterpiece, The Pillars of the Earth, at G R.R.'s previous recommendation. If anyone here is looking for science fiction to tide them over, I can't recommend the Wool Omnibus and Wool Shift series enough! Just check out the Amazon reviews for Omnibus if you're in doubt.
Mar. 11th, 2013 06:08 am (UTC)
Wow! Les Rois Maudits! I had no clue it had ever been translated into English. Great historical series (they had made a great TV series also). Good to know it is out, so I can plague friends with it.
There is only one better such series in French and that is Robert Merle's "Fortune de France".
Mar. 11th, 2013 06:28 am (UTC)
Good thing I speak french so I might take a look at ''Les Rois Maudits''. I don't really trust translations, especially with your work. For example, in the French version of ASOIAF, direwolves are called werewolves. Do you have to approve a translation or do you only sell you rights to another author who can translate it the way they want?
Mar. 11th, 2013 08:16 am (UTC)
Tad Williams
How about Tad Williams, - Memory, Sorrow and Thorn? It´s a (fantasy) trilogy concluded in the early 90´s and it has a similar "realistic" tone as your own Song of Ice and Fire. A very good read.

As for historical fiction, I would recomend Pär Lagerkvist, - The Dwarf, set in renaissance Italy. Lagerkvist is a Nobel laurate (1951). It paints a stark picture of court intrigue seen from the eyes of the Dwarf, who lacks Tyrion´s subtlety, but makes up for it in pure malice and spite.
Mar. 11th, 2013 08:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Tad Williams
Memory, Sorrow, Thorn isn't just similar to A Song of Ice and Fire--I've read many times that our dear GRRM has cited it as one of the influences for ASoIaF. Which makes me very happy since I love both series so much. :D Heck, MST inspired me to write my own first fantasy novel. (Which I won't be sharing with the world unless I can repair it from its "written by a twelve-year-old" state!) I guess Tad Williams has touched a lot of hearts and inspired a lot more writers than I ever would've guessed. :)

In the process of re-reading everything on my bookshelf the past year, I read the five current books of ASoIaF, followed by MST, and I was so amused at all the tributes to MST that are in ASoIaF. Like the red comet, the dog's head helm worn by the bitter vengeful warrior, the antlered man, royal brothers Elias and Josua having background characters in ASoIaF named after them (Josua and Elyas Willum), and so on. It's great! I love things like cameos and crossovers, so all these little tributes tickle my fancy.

Haha, sorry for the rambling....I guess you can tell I really enjoy the works of both these guys. :D
Julia Williams
Mar. 11th, 2013 09:51 am (UTC)
Thank you!
Dear Mr Martin,
Thanks for that very comprehensive list, and also for the Druon recommendation. I have never heard of him, but he sounds right up my street. I have to fess up that I resisted reading your books for ages because I am a writer too and I am writing a teenage fantasy around dragons and wolves (which I coincidentally thought of before I'd picked up one of your books), and didn't want to be unduly influenced. However, then my husband bought the first series of Game of Thrones on DVD and we devoured it in a week, so that was that. We spent all of last year catching up with your wonderful series and our now champing at the bit for The Winds of Winter. We do have series 2 of GofT to keep us going till then (we don't have Sky), and are trying not to be quite so greedy this time, and eke out the enjoyment. And at least we can read the Druon books while we wait.
I am also published by Harper Collins (adult women's fiction), so I shall beg them for a copy!!
Before I was a writer I used to edit teenage fiction,and I think you're right about the fantasy/historical fiction links. They are kindred spirits indeed, and I am a lover of both.
So thanks for all your recommendations, and thanks also for your wonderful books. I was a fool to put off reading them for so long. And I might have to embark on a rereading frenzy now. Just to keep me going while I wait...
Best wishes
Julia Williams
Mar. 11th, 2013 12:34 pm (UTC)
Some very good recs. Vance is superb, and I think the one-volume edition of LYONESSE may now be my second-favourite single fantasy book after THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Supreme use of language and humour.

George MacDonald Fraser's FLASHMAN series is great. I also love the SF riff on the same idea, Sandy Mitchell's CIAPHAS CAIN series, which is a mixture of Flashman and Blackadder but fighting an endless war against the enemies of humanity 39,000 years in the future. It's also not derivative of the early works, with Mitchell taking the character in a different direction after a few books. Well worth reading, especially for Cain's aide Jurgen, who can only possible by described as a mixture between Baldrick and Ser Gregor Clegane :)

Bernard Cornwell's WARLORD CHRONICLES is also superb. It would make a brilliant show on HBO (though whether they'd be interested whilst GoT is on is another question).
Mar. 11th, 2013 02:21 pm (UTC)
I'm surprised Poul Anderson hasn't been mentioned-- there's something about ASoIaF that reminds me of his work.

In any case, Hrolf Kraki's Saga and The Broken Sword will supply a good dose of bleak with the killing. If you want something more cheerful, try Three Hearts and Three Lions, and if you want something a lot more cheerful, there's A Midsummer's Tempest, in which every word of Shakespeare is true.
Mar. 11th, 2013 04:10 pm (UTC)
Speaking for myself, as an ASOIAF fan first, it's great fun to read Hilary Mantel's historicals about the court of Henry VIII (WOLF HALL, BRING UP THE BODIES). And to read Shakespeare's histories, at least the ones concerning the Wars of the Roses. Thanks for the h/t to Druon... I'll try to carve him a place in the queue, but it might take a while.
Mar. 11th, 2013 06:03 pm (UTC)
I'm a bit surprised no one has mentioned Glen Cook's The Black Company series -- particularly the first three (The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose) along with The Silver Spike, which branches from and sits to the side of the main chronology.

Although Mr. Cook's writing style is very different than Mr. Martin's, some of the same elements are there. The books are gritty, full of moral conflict and the dirty underside of human nature, and, like A Song of Ice and Fire, largely free of clear "good" and "evil" sides (with a few notable exceptions).

[I think some of the later works in the series lose a little focus and don't move along as well, but ultimately they're all worthwhile.]
Mar. 12th, 2013 02:10 am (UTC)
I did in a post below and you are right, the Black Company ranks up there with the best. And I love that Tonk is a real game O.o
Mar. 11th, 2013 07:48 pm (UTC)
Reading recommendations
If I might, I'd like to recommend Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series to any who are looking for another epic fantasy read while we await Winds of Winter. All 15 books are out now, and while I haven't yet read the finale, the series is wonderful. And no waiting for the next book anymore! Which is a bit sad, actually....
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