Chronicles of Prydain

The Chronicles of Prydain - Books 1 through 5
Lloyd Alexander

I list these books more as a nostalgia item than for the quality of the storytelling, as they are children's books from 1964-1968.  The narrative is extremely simplistic, and combined with the use of Welsh names' difficult pronunciation, these books were difficult to get through as a kid in the 1980s.

However, as a coming-of-age story using Campbell's Hero's Journey monomyth, these are excellent books from a plot progression perspective; the storytelling may be thin and the characters somewhat two-dimensional, but the value lays in the fact that the narrative structure is easily seen.

In fact, they are one of the key influences in my own fantasy writing.  I highly recommend these books for authors looking for an example of how to structure their own series.

Kushiels Dart

Kushiel's Dart - Book 1 of Kushiel's Legacy
Jacqueline Carey

Authors interested in writing Epic Fantasy, with elements of High Fantasy or Alternate Reality and targeted at an adult audience, would be well-advised to look into this book.  It is a good example of how to tell an involved and complex narrative focusing on politics, but it does not skimp on action or sexuality.  Readers should be aware that there is potentially uncomfortable sexual content, but it is not gratuitous and justified by the world building.

The narrative tells a detailed story from the perspective of Phaedra, a courtesan in an alternate-reality French equivalent society, as she tries to overcome a plot against the throne.  Unlike other fantasy settings, this one does not use standard races - no orcs, elves, etc.

I have used this book as a example of how to construct solid pacing for my own fantasy novels.  There are only a few areas in the book that are slow, but on the whole it falls under the category of page turner.

Kushiel's Chosen Book 2

Kushiel's Chosen - Book 2 of Kushiel's Legacy
Jacqueline Carey

The sequel to Kushiel's Dart, this book continues level of political intrigue, action, and convoluted plot established in Kushiel's Dart.  A strong point of the entire series is the scope of the story; this one primarily takes place in a parallel of Venice, Italy, as Phaedra tries to uncover another plot against the throne of her homeland.

Fans of books like The Three Musketeers or The Count of Monte Cristo will see the influences of those works in this book.  As with Kushiel's Dart, I have studied the narrative structure of this book as a means of dealing with convoluted and multifaceted plot structures while keeping the reader's attention.

Kushiel's Avatar Book 3

Kushiel's Avatar - Book 3 of Kushiel's Legacy
Jacqueline Carey

This book continues the adventures of Phaedra as she seeks to reclaim a lost scion of the royal house.  As with the other two books in the trilogy, there is a significant amount of political intrigue, action, and sex - all of it appropriate for the story and the setting.  The geographic scope of the story is also expansive.  Another book which I have studied for my own fantasy writing for pacing.

While the other books dip into mysticism, particularly with Christian mythology, in the world building, this book brings the involvement of deities to a more central element of the story.  Unlike the other two books, however, there are a few areas in which the narrative lags and some plot elements strain the suspension of disbelief - but not enough to derail the story or lessen the enjoyability.

Gray Bastards

The Grey Bastards: A Novel - The Lot Lands Book 1
Jonathan French

The Grey Bastards is a part of the Grimdark subgenre of fantasy, and exploits that perspective on fantasy with a significant amount of crude humor and foul language.  The narrative itself is thoroughly influenced by motorcycle gang stories, particularly Sons of Anarchy.  I recommend this book because it is an example of how a self-published author can win a writing contest and eventually get picked up by a traditional publisher.

The story follows a half-orc named Jackal as he and his companions patrol the Lot Lands (literally on the back of hogs), a barrier between the civilized human lands and the wilder, more savage territory of the orcs.  The story has an interesting internal political twist and resolution.

While somewhat dependent on tropes to carry the story, the writing is for the most part imaginative and well-structured with interesting and entertaining characters.

True Bastards

The True Bastards - The Lot Lands Book 2
Jonathan French

The True Bastards picks up shortly after where The Grey Bastards leaves off, but with the hoof (gang) now under the leadership of a female half-orc named Fetch.  As with the first book, this offering is thoroughly in the Grimdark subgenre of fantasy, replete with foul language and crude humor to go with its mass amounts of violence.  This time around, however, there are political entanglements with the human kingdoms which lead to an interesting climax.

Like the first back, there is a heavy reliance on certain tropes to carry the story; none of it detracts from the generally engaging characters or the interesting plot.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that this book is a stronger offering than the first one.

Authors interested in studying how to apply Grimdark aesthetics to their own work would do well to have this series in their collection.