I've said it in every other post about these books so far, but I will say it again: you should read The Lord of the Rings. If you haven't read them, then a) I'm very sorry for the sad life you have heretofore lived, and b) you should read them immediately. If you have read them, then you should reread them. These are the kinds of books that spoil you for everything else that isn't nearly half as good as they are.
The point at which I'm driving is this: most depictions of people walking from place to place in fantasy books are terribly unrealistic. For a start, very rarely do they carry any gear with them, though they often are described as preparing gear, or having gear. But how are they carrying it? Where are the sore shoulders and sweaty backs and the sense of being about the float away when you finally take off your pack at the end of the day? Then they proceed to cover thirty miles in a day, and are promptly ready to get up and do it again the following day.
As I said in my review of The Hobbit, during this reread I was surprised by how light that novel is; I suspect that my memory of its tone from my last reading was affected by my intermediate viewing of the movies. Or, perhaps I was merely linking it with the core Lord of the Rings books, which very quickly take on a markedly different tone from their prequel (and yes, I know that technically there is just one "book," which was split into three parts for the convenience of readers and publishers). The implications of a darker turn are heavy throughout even the early chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring, but are pivotally confirmed with the events of the chapter A Knife in the Dark.
Finally, I am undertaking my re-read of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There are certain books that are always worth re-reading, no matter how many times I may have read them before, and these most definitely make that list. Since this is the first time I'm re-reading them since I started posting reviews here on the site, I think it is only appropriate that I go ahead and review them here. In the case of The Lord of the Rings, I usually try to do a re-read every four or five years, since the first time I read them back in third grade. We'll see if I decide to re-read and post a review for The Silmarillion, too.
Sometimes, as I spend so much time reading thousand year old texts, or epic pieces of more modern literature that top out over a thousand pages, I forget how quick it can be to read what could be a considered a more “normal” book, like the debut fantasy novel I chose here. Unfortunately, reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I found myself mostly thinking that I was glad for how quickly I was getting through it.
One wonders what other common facts about everyday life we tend to ignore because of how seamlessly our technology helps us overcome those difficulties. Since most fantasy stories take place in pre-industrial settings that would not have most of these kinds of aides, it is worth considering working these kinds of facts of the human condition into stories.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect going into this read, as I make something of a point not to read too many reviews before I start a new book so as to not bias myself one way or another from what other people thought. Whatever it was I expected, I found something very different. After I finished it, I did see a review that aligned this book with something like The Iliad, which I think might be the most apt comparison of which I can think. This has a very mythical feel: all of the characters are larger-than-life, both they and their enemies are exaggerated in their powers and personalities, and character arcs are largely absent...
In any book, the author must introduce the characters, the situation, and the basic elements of the setting, but in fantasy and science fiction you might have a viewpoint character in the first chapter who isn't even human, living on a planet that isn't even in this universe. The very laws of physics might be different, never mind the differences in culture, history, civilization, and everything that goes along with that: systems of measurement, idioms, naming conventions, philosophical principles, mathematics, science...speculative fiction strives to introduce and immerse a reader in a world that might be completely different from that with which we are familiar.
I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I try very hard to read broadly. For the most part, I enjoy the books that I read, even the ones that are outside what I'll call my core genres. This especially true of much of the nonfiction and biographic texts that I consume, all of which come with the added benefit of improving my knowledge just a little bit more. Then there are the times that I return to the core fantasy genre, and I remember why fantasy and science fiction are my true favorite genres. Wintersteel was just the kind of reminder for which I was looking.
Considering that a lot of classic fantasy genre tropes come from this period and region of history, perhaps that is a bit of an oversight on my part, one that reading Iggulden's Wars of the Roses series has helped me address. In fact, reading these books, combined with some thinking I've been doing recently about plotting, has led me to some interesting reflections. So while this is still a review of the series, I also want to talk a little about those thoughts.