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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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Mar. 11th, 2013 08:40 pm (UTC)
I must admit that the irony of your waiting for a book is sweet. Glad to hear you'll finally get to read it. :)
Mar. 12th, 2013 01:11 am (UTC)
I have several of these books laying around unread and will dig into one of them soon.

I would second Malazan for anyone looking for something new to read, but would caution that it can take some getting used to and is not without narrative problems.

I am currently trying to read "The Way of Kings" and its not going real well. I stopped reading it to re-read a different book, but it was a totally separate genre. I can't stay in fantasy for ten books without coming up for air, which makes some of these historical fiction recommendations VERY welcome. Thanks a lot guys.
Mar. 12th, 2013 02:06 am (UTC)
I had picked these up after seeing your recommendation, good sir. And I thank you! What a fantastic writer! I would like to add, as many have before: Steven King's the Dark Tower, (easier) Eddings' Belgariad, Lloyd Alexander (wherein my love affair with fantasy began), Modessit writes a million novels a year and I like the Recluce stuff and his sci fi is spot on (Parafaith War one of my faves.) HP Lovecraft is amazing, but you cannot forget Robert Louis Stevenson: Jekyll and Hyde... the book is far, far better than anything that TV or the movies have made! Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, as well. Paul S. Kemp has done well with his Forgotten Realms works, believable characters, maiming and killing characters (sound familiar?) Tolkien of course, I have read LOTR about 10 times and every single reading is better than the last. Glen Cook's Black Company stuff is great as is Weiss and Hickman's Death Gate Cycle. Their Dragonlance stuff is good, but the second series is their best (with the twins.) Oh, and of course, there is that Martin guy, but he writes a book like once a decade or something like that ;P
Mar. 12th, 2013 03:44 am (UTC)
What about Watching Recommendations? Do you like The Walking Dead, GRRM? Second best thing on TV, right after GoT! :-)
Roger Stewart
Mar. 12th, 2013 05:53 am (UTC)
I've read all the older authors you mentioned (not some of the newer ones) and agree with you in all things save one.

Klarkash-Ton! Ugh. Wading through Clark Ashton Smith's prose was always a chore to me -- though not as tough a slog as Morris or Eddison, I suppose.

Maurice Druon sounds like a great recommendation. Thanks!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 12th, 2013 10:58 am (UTC)
Did you read Druon in French?
Do you like the new English translation?
Mar. 12th, 2013 04:55 pm (UTC)
No, I don't read French.

There are no "new" English translations. These are the original translation by Humphrey Hare, which I think are excellent.

Harper will need to find a translator for volume seven, since I am now told that Hare died in the 1960s.
(no subject) - veber - Mar. 12th, 2013 05:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 12th, 2013 01:01 pm (UTC)
Don't forget the young acolytes...
...who in 5-10 years will be fully fledged 'knights of the mind'. Let them forge their Valyrian steel link to magic with: Harry Potter(Rowling), Percy Jackson (Riordan), Mortal Engines (Reeve), Hunger Games (Collins), The Various (Augarde), The Hobbit, Le Petit Prince, Watership Down, Eragorn (Paolini), I Am No4 (Lore), A Christmas Carol, Breathe (McNish), The Wind In The Willows, The Wizard of Oz, Bartimaeus Trilogy (Stroud)etc. Oh, & some guy Martin's 'The Ice Dragon.'

Edited at 2013-03-12 01:16 pm (UTC)
Mar. 12th, 2013 06:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Don't forget the young acolytes...
Nice to see Clark Ashton Smith on the list. His Zothique stories are some of the best fantasy ever written and just as grim as anything you would find in Westeros.

Surprised Timothy Willocks or even Harold Lamb wasn't mentioned as both wrote great historical fiction. I though The Religion was the best thing I've read since AGOT and Harold Lamb was a gigantic influence on R.E.Howard.
Mar. 12th, 2013 06:16 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the Accursed Kings were always ones of my favorites. What do you think of "The Trilogy" by nobel-prize winner Henrik Sienkiewicz? I mean his historical novels (With Fire and Sword, The Deluge, Fire in the Steppe) about wars in Poland (Polish-Ukrainian Civil War and wars between Poland and Sweden, Poland and Turkey) at the end of 17th century?

There is also a more or less modern film based on the first novel:

(no subject) - ankafon - Mar. 12th, 2013 11:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 13th, 2013 08:21 am (UTC)
Way to go, George! :D That's on of the coolest things an established author can do with their influence - help bring underappreciated works of art back into the limelight, whether by being brought back into print or being translated for the first time into English, as is the case for Maurice Druon's 7th book.
Karl Mattson
Mar. 13th, 2013 05:46 pm (UTC)
Gene Wolfe
I'd like to throw in a word for the incomparable Gene Wolfe, whose dark, palpable 'The Shadow of the Torturer' (and subsequent novels) should appeal to many Song of Ice and Fire appreciators.
Mar. 13th, 2013 07:40 pm (UTC)
This is a really great post. Thanks for all the recommendations (I've read most of them, but some are new).
Jono Robbins
Mar. 13th, 2013 08:35 pm (UTC)
Books I recommend
I think Robert Louis Stevenson is one of the best historical writers. Kidnapped was intense, and the characters are just downright awesome. I also recommend Robert E. Howard (who was a genius in my book). Most of his Conan stories are just as harsh and gritty as A Song of Ice and Fire. But if you really want to get real gritty, read Jack London (whom Howard loved). That guy knew how to write raw and mean, especially in The Sea Wolf (the best of his works).
Mar. 13th, 2013 11:21 pm (UTC)
Frans G. Bengtsson - The Long Ships
If anyone's interested in the vikings apart from the original sagas etc, lemme quote Wikipedia page for Bengtsson's The Long Ships:

"The Long Ships or Red Orm (original Swedish: Röde Orm) is an adventure novel by the Swedish writer Frans G. Bengtsson. The narrative is set in the late 10th century and follows the adventures of Orm ("serpent"), called "Red" for his hair and his temper, a native of Scania. The book portrays the political situation of Europe in the later Viking Age, Andalusia under Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir, Denmark under Harold Bluetooth, followed by the struggle between Eric the Victorious and Sweyn Forkbeard, Ireland under Brian Boru, England under Ethelred the Unready, and the Battle of Maldon, all before the backdrop of the gradual Christianisation of Scandinavia, contrasting the pragmatic Norse pagan outlook with the exclusiveness of Islam and Christianity. The novel is divided into two parts, published in 1941 and 1945, with two books each."
Mar. 14th, 2013 03:25 am (UTC)
Re: Frans G. Bengtsson - The Long Ships
I haven't read the books, but I have dim memories of the movie, which I seem to recall was pretty wretched.
Re: Frans G. Bengtsson - The Long Ships - ext_1697791 - Mar. 14th, 2013 07:18 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Frans G. Bengtsson - The Long Ships - ext_1704904 - Mar. 18th, 2013 05:38 am (UTC) - Expand
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