Friday, October 14, 2011

Author League

I love spreadsheets and I love lists. I think most men do, they don’t? Oh well I still love them. I follow a few other blogs and one blogger (John Canton if you must know) recently did a post on the state of wrestling and how he thought individual wrestlers were performing and progressing. Needless to say I thought it was excellent and wanted to do something similar with my blog.
Now considering this site is primarily about writing (less so on mine lately - but that is changing) in order for me to do something similar I would have had to read every author in a particular genre. In short I am not qualified to do that.
What I could do though is look at the authors I have read and talk about how I think their work is going. There are some self imposed rules that I have set myself:
1)    I had to have read 3 or more books by the author.
2)    I have to still be interested in reading the author – I may have read all of the Enchanted wood and Wishing Chair series by Enid Blyton when I was young, but I am not interested in checking out an more of her books.
3)    The author has to still be writing – sadly I do not get to talk about David Gemmell here.

With that being said there are currently 20 active authors who I read on a regular basis. A nice number I am sure you will agree and one that can be divided equally by 5 to give you 4 different blog posts:
Part 1: Fantasy and Historical Fiction
Part 2: Crime - General
Part 3: Crime – Private detectives
Part 4: Horror and Action
When looking at each author I will list the books I have read, discuss what I like about them. Look at their recent books and look at their forthcoming work. I will also assign a ranking to the author of how I currently regard them.
Shamelessly stolen from John Canton’s blog as well I will state whether or not I think the author’s work is on the up (u) or declining (d) or staying the same (-).
So without further a do I introduce part 1: Fantasy and Historical Fiction.
Joe Abercrombie (U): A
Total books read: 4 (The First Law Trilogy and Best Served Cold)
Total books written: 5
The Blade ItselfBefore They Are HangedLast Argument Of Kings
Joe Abercrombie exploded onto the scene in 2006 with, “the Blade Itself.” The book received highly favourable reviews and Joe was lauded as one of a few new wave exciting authors. Since then he has written a book a year with the exception of 2010 (Heroes was released at the start of 2011). His books are described as, “dark and gritty,” whatever that means, but the moniker fits perfectly.
Joe does the basics right and that is what I love about his writing. I love an author that tells a good story with excellent characters. I do not need to be bogged down in endless world building, or trying to work out what is happening (Hey Erikson, nice of you to pop in). Mystery is good, in fact there is nothing better than trying to second guess people’s actions but not when the mystery is, “what the hell is going on?”
Joe also comes across as a nice guy. His blog posts are good and he is quite active and witty on the forums. Whilst that is not a requirement for a good author, it certainly helps.
Best Served Cold
With each new book, Joe seems to be improving. Best Served Cold was his finest work so far that I have read. I can’t wait to read the Heroes but am restraining myself until his next book has a release date. From the sound of it (a fantasy book with a western feel) it seems Joe is going to keep on getting better.
Raymond E Feist (-): B –
Total books read: 6 (The Serpentwar saga and the first two in the Conclave of shadows trilogy)
Total books written: 28 (according to Fantasticfiction.com)
Shadow of a Dark QueenRise of a Merchant PrinceRage of a Demon KingShards of a Broken Crown
I know, I know, how can I possibly talk about this guy having never read “the Magician?” A book that makes most people’s top 10 fantasy lists. What can I say? It’s my list, so there!
In truth, I am a little ashamed. On a whim many moons ago (see my affiliation with comics post), I decided to start reading a fantasy series. After some rushed research, Raymond E Feist was a name that occurred over and over again as a safe bet for a good story. The though of starting from the beginning was too daunting at the time and so I read the Serpentwar was as good a place as any to start.
I loved the series immediately. It was everything I was looking for in fantasy (at least at the time). Your typical “farm boy come good” story opening out into a sprawling epic encounter with evil. There was enough of a hint of intrigue to keep me interested. What I liked most about the series (although not at the time) was that each book concentrated on a different point of view. In the first book Erik was the main character and in the second, another character took centre stage (I won’t say who as I like to avoid even the must inane spoilers).
The Conclave of shadows series, has continued with much of the same quality. The books are a little shorter but no less enjoyable. In fact as I type this I am wondering why I have only read 6 of Raymond’s books!
Talon of the Silver HawkKing of Foxes
Raymond E Feist has released a book a year for getting on nearly 25 years with only a few exceptions. He is still hugely popular and his books are still well received, with only the odd book receiving less than favourable reviews. His next book, “The Crown Imperilled” is book 2 in the Chaos War saga and is due for a 2012 release.
Robin Hobb (-): A-
Total books read: 3 (The Farseer Trilogy)
Total books written: 15
Assassin's ApprenticeRoyal AssassinAssassin's Quest
Robin Hobb is an author I will definitely be reading a lot more of. I loved the Farseer Trilogy although I was disappointed with the ending and overall pacing of the third. It appeared far too rushed and left an unsatisfactory feeling to the series. Hence the A-  grade.
Overall though Robin gets characters like only a few other authors do. In Fitz she has created a complex but believable hero. Some say her books are too slow paced. With the exception of the aforementioned Assassin’s quest, I disagree. If ever there was a case to demonstrate the classic, “show don’t tell” adage then Hobb’s books should be the example. Book one, “Assassin’s apprentice” does an excellent job of building the tension and laying on the mysteries. Who is the Fool? Why is he helping Fitz? Is he helping Fitz. What has gone on in Chade’s past. So many questions are dangled before the reader but Hobb expertly reveals answers slowly and when you at least expect them.
I have also read the odd short story by Hobb. They have stood out in the collection as being one of the better stories.
A good friend has read the Liveship Traders and rated them even higher than the first trilogy so I can’t wait to get reading. The general feeling on the forums is that the first 3 trilogies are excellent and then the quality takes a dip, reviews on Amazon suggest this is not the case. Since I have not read them I have Robin’s progress as level for now.
Her next book is due out in April 2012 and will be the third in the Rainwild chronicles.
George R R Martin (U): A+
Total books read: 7 (5 = A Song of Ice and Fire, Fevre Dream and RRestrospective)
Total books written: 10
 A Game of ThronesA Clash of KingsA Storm of SwordsA Feast for CrowsA Dance with Dragons
There is only one other author I rate as highly as George at the moment and that is Robert McCammon. In a Song of Ice and Fire George has created a world and characters that cannot be surpassed in my opinion. Before I started reading the books if someone had asked me what would be the ideal fantasy story this would be it. It has everything: Great characters (and I mean great). Every one of the hundreds on display in Westeros feels real. George has the ability to turn a character you hate in one book into an understanding and sympathetic character you end up routing for in the next. The world he has built up is both believable yet removed from anything we know. The magic is hinted at but is far from dominant and the mystery and subtlety is second to none.
In addition to this series he has also written 3 novellas called the Dunk and Egg series. These easily match the quality of ASOIAF and add more depth to an already involved world.
However George was famous way before the ASOIAF series. As the founder of Wild cards and as a TV writer he had already acquired a modest recognition. Whilst I have not been inclined to get into the wildcard universe the few stories I have read by George in this area have been good. His RRetrospective book is a fantastic collection of stories that any author would be proud of. Most notably, the Skin Trade and Sandkings (which was an absolute favourite episode as a kid when I saw it on the twilight zone).
In Fevre Dream, George has managed to write the only vampire novel that I can say is truly excellent. A story that made me fall in love with the protagonists passion for steam boats as much as the threat of the vampires.
Fevre Dream
Much has been written about the amount of time it has taken George to write the last two books in the ASOIAF series, and with two more books (at least) still to come, the wait is agonising. Many have said he has lost his passion for the series or had writer’s block etc. However, when book 5, A Dance with Dragons was released earlier this year, personally, all that talk was kicked to the curb. Maybe the plot did not move forward as much as I would have liked, but the book was excellent.
When considering the success of the TV series as well (an excellent adaptation) then I can only award George an A + . The Winds of Winter is his next release. When who knows? But I can’t wait.
Bernard Cornwell (-): A
Total books read: 6 (The Warlord Chronicles, Sharpe’s Tiger, Sharpe’s Triumph and Sharpe’s Fortress)
Total books written: 50
The Winter King: A Novel of ArthurEnemy of GodExcalibur: A Novel of Arthur
As you can see, I have a long way to go to read all of Cornwell’s books. This is the author that got me into historical fiction. Before I had a strong prejudice against the genre, believing that if I wanted to know about the time period, I would just read the relevant history books. However, once I was tempted to read the Arthur books I never looked back. The Warlord Chronicles, for me, are the perfect trilogy of books. It is the best completed series I have read – David Gemmell’s Troy series is a close second. When you already have such a richness of characters to work with such as Arthur and Merlin it would be tempting to just write about them. However, Cornwell chooses to put his own stamp on the series. In Derfel Cornwell manages to create a character that stands strongly beside the well established characters in stature, whilst having fun playing with the popular perception of said characters traits. In short he takes the characters and the retelling of a well known story in his own unique direction.
Again, magic is hinted at but only that. This seems to be a key ingredient for the books I like. The ending of the trilogy is wrapped up neatly and not necessarily nicely. Cornwell has said himself this was his favourite series he has written and I can see why.
The Sharpe books are equally as entertaining. This is the series that started Cornwell on the way to superstardom. Although not as in depth as the Warlord Chronicles, these books are short, swift reads that do not disappoint. In Richard Sharpe Cornwell has created a figure that all the women love and all the men want to be. The series is so far 21 books long and fans are clamouring for more.
Sharpe's TigerSharpe's Triumph: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye September 1803Sharpe's Fortress
The latest series Cornwell is working on is the Saxon chronicles. They look at the life of Alfred the Great and are told from another character’s point of view as well. Fans agree that these books are almost on a par with the Warlord chronicles. The sixth book “Death of Kings” came out days ago and sees Cornwell consolidate his position as one of the planet’s top writers.
I mentioned how Joe Abercrombie is interactive with the fans. Cornwell is more so. If you visit his homepage and go the questions section, you will see Cornwell tirelessly answer fans questions. Even if the question has been asked for the hundredth time, Cornwell will answer it as if it was a fresh enquiry. That is the measure of the man.