The City & the City by China Miéville

The City and the City CoverThe City & the City is a standalone novel from China Miéville, which is set in the twin cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma, which exist within the same space. This is not in any supernatural sense: certain streets are completely in just one city, while other streets are partially in both. Sometimes, one floor of a building exists in a different city from the floor above it. Nothing about it goes from realm of the possible to the impossible. In this setting, the novel focuses on Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad as he attempts to solve the murder of a mysterious woman.

It is quite difficult to pin down this novel’s genre. Of course, it’s clear that plot-wise it is a police procedural, but what the genre is setting-wise is much harder question. On the one hand, the setting seems to be constructed much like fantastic secondary worlds, but on the other hand, the twin cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma seem to exist in a very realistic version of our Europe. Furthermore, that Beszel and Ul Qoma exist within the same geographical space seems absurd to the point of fantastic, yet the narrative clearly establishes its non-magical nature. Thus, if the narrative is a fantastic one (like virtually all of Miéville’s other works), it is hard to say where the fantastic lies. One might even be tempted to try and find it in the mysterious historical artefacts from the pre-Cleavage time excavated within the story, but even there, the stories about their magical nature never seem to go beyond being mere conspiracy theories. It is a very disconcerting effect; I feel convinced that the novel is fantasy, but I can’t point to any evidence for that. But maybe that feeling is what the term New Weird is used to signify.

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A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 1)

A Game of Thrones CoverA Game of Thrones is the first book in George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, telling an epic story set (mostly) in the land of Westeros, where summers and winters can take anywhere from years to decades. But, at this point, with the popularity of the TV show based on this series, this novel really doesn’t need any further introduction, does it?

This is not the first time that I have read this novel. I read the first four books about a year before the TV show came out, and while I got the hardcover of the fifth book immediately when it was released, I never got around to reading it. Recently, I got a sudden yearning to be immersed in Westeros again, so I decided to re-read the first four books before starting the fifth one. Re-reading a novel, and this one in particular, always gives you a different perspective on the novel, so this review will be based on my memories of when I first read the book, as well as the further insights I gained through this re-read.

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Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Elantris CoverElantris is a (mostly) standalone piece of epic fantasy by Brandon Sanderson. In the book, Elantris, once a city of wonder and magic, has fallen into decay, and those people who become Elantrians are locked up in Elantris and considered dead. The novel tells the story of three interconnected people living in this world: Raoden (a recent Elantrian), Sarene (Raoden’s wife-to-be and now widower), and Hrathen (a missionary of the Shu Dereth religion attempting to convert Sarene’s city).

Despite this being the first work of epic fantasy that Sanderson published, this is not the first such novel that I have read from from him. Having that perspective on this novel, then, I can’t help but notice that this being his first novel is clear from the book itself. This is not to say that the book is bad (in fact, it’s a really great book), but just that almost everything that Sanderson does well here, he does better in his later works.

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A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (Memoirs of Lady Trent Book 1)

A Natural History of Dragons CoverA Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent is the first book, published in 2013, in a series of Lady Trent’s memoirs written by Marie Brennan. In this book Lady Trent, a preeminent dragon naturalist, sets out to begin writing her memoirs, beginning with her early life and her first expedition to study dragons.

I will begin with what I absolutely love about this book: I find the perspective it takes on dragons (a scientist attempting to study how they work) to be absolutely fascinating, and not one that I have ever read before. In fact, my decision to read this book was based purely on how good this premise seemed, and I was very glad to see that the premise is realised very well in the book itself. The narrative focuses enough on dragon biology and the relevant jargon to be fascinating and believable, but not so much that it would bog down the story.

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Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson (The Reckoners Book 1)

Steelheart CoverSteelheart, published in 2013, is the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s The Reckoners trilogy of young adult fantasy books. It tells the story of a near-future United States, where the presence of an unidentified orbiting object has given random people superhero-like powers; these people have become known as Epics. The protagonist of the novel, David, seeks to join a resistance movement in order to exact revenge on the Epic that orphaned him.

This novel is one example of what Sanderson calls his ‘burger and fries novels’, as opposed to his ‘steak dinner’ novels. This categorisation makes sense; in contrast to his epic fantasy works, which feature extensive worldbuilding, sprawling plots, and multiple points of view, this novel features more limited worldbuilding (being set in the near-future), a more streamlined plot, and just one point of view character. Beyond these elements, however, the novel is unmistakably Sandersonian. The novel thus provides a Sandersonian reading experience without requiring as much of the reader as Sanderson’s other works do.

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The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings, first published in three parts between 1954 and 1955. There is no bigger classic within the fantasy genre, nor a text that has been more influential. The Lord of the Rings defined modern fantasy. As such, there isn’t much that can be said about the text that hasn’t already been said. I will, nevertheless, say what I can about it, and say what the text is for me, and what it means to me.

I got into The Lord of the Rings quite late, reading it completely for the first time just a couple years ago. I’d read and loved The Hobbit many years before that, and I had attempted to start reading The Lord of the Rings then, but I actually just couldn’t get into it. I think that that’s mostly because the tone of The Lord of the Rings is drastically different from the tone of The Hobbit: The Hobbit is written as a children’s fantasy, whereas The Lord of the Rings, though it is a rather direct sequel to The Hobbit, is written as a more serious and dark fantastic history. Each tone works well for that specific book and what each one attempts to achieve, but the difference between them was too much for me after I had just read The Hobbit. For any readers of The Hobbit who are looking into getting into The Lord of the Rings, I hope you keep that difference in tone in mind.

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Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

HP Covers

‘Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?’

I find that there is only one place that a fantasy review blog can start, and that is with a review of the Harry Potter series. These books are my all-time favourites, and they are the reason that I am as into reading (in general and fantasy more specifically) today as I am.

But, in the beginning, I had a bit of a false start with this series.

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