Westeros Withdrawal

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Westeros Withdrawal

Fantasy Series to Read While You Wait for the Next 'Game of Thrones' Novel

Listen, not all authors can be Stephen King or James Patterson, churning out one, sometimes two, books a year. Some writers just need more time to get their stories down in print. Unfortunately for fans of the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, and the HBO show on which it’s based, Game of Thrones, creator George R.R. Martin is one such writer. Avid readers of the series are still awaiting the forthcoming sixth volume in the epic dragons-and-White-Walkers drama some six years after the publication of book five. But fear ye not, brave reader: there are plenty of other magical worlds to delve into to get your fantasy fix. Here are a few.
 
The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
If Harry Potter brought fantasy to the mainstream and Game of Thrones made it so the cool kids could like it too, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series most certainly laid the foundation to make that ascent possible. The Eye of the World, the first in the 14-book epic, follows a messianic figure who is destined to save his world from a dangerous, supremely evil overlord and possibly destroy it in the process. Equal parts traditional and revisionist, the series gripped countless loyal readers' imaginations, prompting many to create their own worlds that would one day see publication. Among those readers? Brandon Sanderson, a noted fantasy author in his own right who penned the last three Wheel of Time books using copious notes from the author after Jordan passed away. Some of the descriptions can be superfluous, especially of all the detailed feasts and meals, but the Wheel of Time books are an excellent tool for understanding modern fantasy.
 
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
This is the way the world ends…for the last time. It starts with a great red rift across the heart of the world’s only continent, spewing ash that blocks out the sun. It starts with death. A murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal. Long dormant wounds rise up and fester. This is the world of the Stillness, an alternate earth plagued by constant seismic activity leading to near-extinction events known as “Fifth Seasons.” Evidence of past civilizations litters the planet, though one has managed to survive for centuries by harnessing the power of gifted “orogenes,” people born with an ability to control the environment. To say much else about the world will ruin the surprises in store, surprises that are both dark and fantastic. Jemisin writes beautifully and constructs her world with ease, though it does take about 50 pages or so to get all the terminology straight and have a sense of where the narrative is going. Like the seasons that last for years in Westeros, the environmental threat here is used expertly as both plot device and character motivation.
 
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
If your favorite Game of Thrones character is Tyrion Lannister, then you’ll easily make room for Locke Lamora in your heart. In this first novel of the Gentleman Bastard series, the reader follows rogue and conman Locke on his adventures in the city of Camorr. Locke rises from orphaned beggar to one of the city’s most notorious thieves, making enemies in high places along the way, from the secret police to the city’s organized underworld to a shadowy new player in town, the Gray King. The world that Lynch creates here is vivid and exotic, and it can be tricky to keep pace at first, but the intelligent and funny dialogue helps clue you in to all the different days, gods, slang, and geography that this fully formed world utilizes.
 
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
The Mistborn series begins with an irresistible premise. What if the Dark Lord - that dependable, all powerful malicious Voldemort/Sauron/White Witch baddie lurking in the background of most epic fantasies - actually won? Not a stalemate or a controlled retreat, but a crushing, curb-stomping victory for all things mean and nasty that went unopposed for thousands of years? What then? But author Brandon Sanderson doesn’t stop there. The Mistborn novels read like a tennis match, with every development leading to a counteraction, every “what if?” leading to richer, more complex “what ifs?” as the story progresses. If you appreciate the dark brevity inherent to Game of Thrones, you’ll click with Mistborn.
 
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Among fantasy fans, few contemporary series are more controversial than Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicle. In the first volume, The Name of the Wind, the reader is introduced to Kvothe, a husk of a man narrating the story of his youth as a precious prodigy. Some have called the series pretentious, others poetic. I fall somewhere in between. These are books that are excited about the pleasure they provide in and of themselves, but they also shed light on the messy business of being human with a sort of solemn grace, and I think that can be rare in certain high fantasy. The world is rich, but less fussy that the myriad cultures and kingdoms found in Martin’s tales. It’s also, and this is all too often overlooked, fun. Fun to read, unpredictable in plot, and laugh-out-loud funny at some parts. Fair warning though, the third and final volume has yet to be released, so you might find yourself playing the waiting game once you get through this volume and the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear.