28 March 2011

Awesome Aussie Fantasy

Let's get one thing clear right at the beginning here - I live in the (not-so) United States, and therefore have a generally northern-hemisphere outlook on the world, in regards to things like when seasons occur (as in, it's spring, not autumn, at the moment) and getting colder as you go north, and stuff like that. Most of what I read was written in the States or in Europe as well, so no prizes for guessing that they just reinforce all that. However, there is some amazing world-building going on Down Under (okay, and in New Zealand too, but that didn't have the nice assonance for the title) that more people up here on this half of the globe should go and read! As usual, I'm heavy on the YA stuff, but I'm still insisting that when it's done well, categorizations be damned - just read it!

Eon/Eona - Alison Goodman

I've talked about this one before, but the sequel does look like it's actually going to come out quite soon now (19 April, at least here in the US) and this makes me very excited. In addition to the extremely cool zodiac-based dragon mythology and general world-building (which feels like a pre-industrial Asia, kinda), there are all kinds of characters that are generally absent or marginalized, especially in books written for kids; just for starters, the main character is crippled (and in disguise, and cross-dressed {at least at first}), one of her close confidants really is transgender, and one of the eunuchs has a tendresse for her while we're at it. Well-written, nicely original, and I for one will be showing up for work early on the 19th so I can get a jump on reading it before the store opens!

Pellinor - Alison Croggon

High fantasy at its highest (up to and including the preface indicating that this is simply a translation of an ancient but recently discovered work). We've got a system of magic (schools included), a big nasty evil dude, an expansive and richly detailed landscape (with map, of course!), and not least some very engaging and real characters. This is a completed series of four books; I tore through 3 of them in one sitting about two years ago on one of those "oh-my-god-I-can-NOT-get-out-of-bed" sick days and then had to basically hop up and down and wait for the fourth one (which is totally worth it). If you really want to, you can find Tolkien parallels, but seriously, let's just admit that all high fantasy owes him a debt and get on with it. You'll love this.

Dreamhunter - Elizabeth Knox

This is a lovely pair of novels (by the first of the two New Zealanders on my list here). In a country that rather resembles turn-of-the-last-century Australia, there is a place called... well, actually, it's called The Place, which only certain people can enter. Those who can, can bring back dreams, which can then be shared with others back on the outside. Teenage cousins Laura and Rose are preparing for their "try" (when they find out if they can enter or not), and as both are the daughters of famous Dreamers, have high hopes for their abilities. After that, well, things escalate into all kinds of chaos, about which I will tell you nothing at all in hopes of enticing you to pick them up. This is one of the ones that makes my head hurt a little, though, having Xmas celebrations in summer. I know, I know, Northern Hemisphere snobbery...

Margaret Mahy

I've listed a selection of her books here, as she tends to write stand-alones (this is the other Kiwi, by the way). Not all of them are readily available on these shores, but are worth putting out a little effort for. Sometimes it's straight-up fantasy, sometimes it's real-world with a side of magic, sometimes it's got some dystopian aspects, but it's well-written and (despite some quibbles I might raise about time travel paradoxes) highly enjoyable. Alchemy is a particular favourite; I could draw some parallels to Diana Wynne Jones and her Magids, but the setting (present-day New Zealand) has its own appeal as well (yes, Tara, we know all about setting things in New Zealand... ;-) ).

Emily Rodda

This is actually a step down to about the late-elementary grade level, but, well, as usual I don't really care where something is aimed as long as it has a good STORY. Rodda's main output has been based in the land of Deltora, a mythical country whose name is taken from the first letter of the protective gemstones of each of its 7 territories (namely Diamond, Emerald, Lapis Lazuli, Topaz, Opal, Ruby, and Amethyst). The world-building is very detailed (surprisingly so for a series aimed at younger readers), and the characters, who are of varying species but mainly humanoid, are good company. Rondo is another world entirely, one I quite enjoy (there are musical aspects, so big surprise); as far as I know there are two books set here.

Garth Nix

I've listed three different (very different) series here, which will likely appeal to very different readers, but they're all so good and so interesting I had to review the lot. I first discovered Nix with his Abhorsen trilogy, which explores necromancy and magic and power and royalty in a surprisingly accessible way. There's also quite a fabulous cat, which is always a bonus. The Seventh Tower, a series of 6 books, is set in a colour-coded world reminiscent of William Nicolson's or Jasper Fforde's (though I believe Nix got there first). The Keys to the Kingdom is a recently-completed series of 7 books (I admit it, I haven't read the last two yet... even I can't get to everything!) with hints of King Arthur, Dickens, and many more; I'd put it on the border between fantasy and steampunk.

Ranger's Apprentice - John Flanagan

The 10th and (as far as I know) final installment of this series is due to hit US shores on 19 April (just like Eona, above - gads, which one am I going to read first?!?). It's set (mainly) in a thinly-disguised alternate Europe (if you know a few native peoples or older names, you'll have no trouble figuring out what's where) and follows the adventures of (duh) the Ranger's Apprentice, i.e. Will. They're chronological except for #7, which is a flashback, and are great adventure stories with well-developed supporting characters like Halt (the Ranger to whom Will is apprenticed), Horace (a young knight), and Tug (a pony, but a damn smart one). There are numerous revelations along the way about various characters' hidden identities and affections, and though the magic is mainly of a practical variety, I'm still putting it in the fantasy category. Good to curl up with, especially during crappy weather.

As usual, I know I'm leaving some out - Catherine Jinks, Justine Larbalestier, and Juliet Marillier come to mind with no effort at all - but as noted above, even I can't get to everything... and besides, that leaves me room for a second post on this topic!


Amber T. Smith said...

Man, a ton of stuff for me to get my mitts on there! I really like the sound of that Dreamhunter. I have no idea how you read so much AND so fast... seriously jealous here.

And OF COURSE New Zealand is a great setting for all things fantasy. *nods firmly*

Tee -hee... word verification is 'warpe'.*coughs*

Golden Eagle said...

I've read Eon, The Naming, two books by Margaret Mahy, and some short stories/The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix. All of which I loved, and Catherine Jinks is one of my favorite authors!

ViolaNut said...

Tara - Yeah, Dreamhunter is really good, I enjoyed it a lot (good thing too, as I spent a fair bit of my birthday money on the pair of 'em about 3 years ago ;-) ). As for reading fast, I dunno, I just do it. *shrug* I take in large hunks of words at a time, that might have something to do with it.

Golden Eagle - Sounds like you're well acquainted with this crowd!

Aaaaand I'm a doofus and totally forgot to put in Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori. Ah well. Next time!