The Fionovar Tapestry (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, The Longest Road)
Guy Gavriel Kay
I have to say that I don't read a lot of fantasy, as compared to science fiction, myself, so I don't know whether I just like the genre and should read more of it or if I have happened to read some good stuff. That said, I've read the first two books in Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionovar Tapestry: The Summer Tree and The Wandering Fire. To echo many of the reviews at amazon (and I don't recommend reading them if you are planning on reading the book because they mention a plot point it is more enjoyable, I think, not to know about) it's not as good as Lord of the Rings. But given that you aren't going to find much fantasy that good, it's still enjoyable.
What makes this series a little different is that rather than starting off with a story placed in another world with magic and everything, the story starts showing the 5 main characters, university students from Toronto, in the world that we live in. And their lives in this world are relevant and part of the plot, as well as the action in the fantasy world that they go off to. Okay, C.S. Lewis did this first, but it works here as well.
It's a fairly dark story for a fantasy. The characters aren't incredibly deep, but they are at least interesting and they have real world problems that they are dealing with. By that, I mean that the personal struggles that they deal with aren't all just "how do I defeat the forces of evil?" which is not a personal struggle I find myself in on a day to day basis. The problems that they have as a group of 5 friends with some difficult interrelationships follows them into the fantasy world. I think the best way to describe it is that while the characters themselves don't have much depth, the relationships between the characters is well done.
The books are easy reads and are "light entertainment", but the subjects aren't light at all. There are some tough passages in the book, particularly around someone's death and a rape that occurs. This was more in the second book than in the first, though.
Of course, the plot and themes borrow heavily from LoTR and Arthurian legends. The LoTR influence is mostly in the first book and by the end of the second book I would say that the Arthurian influence is stronger. But it wasn't utterly predictable - I was surprised during the first book at things that happened.
The only odd thing is, much as I liked these two books I haven't run out and bought the third. I think that it's because reading them is somewhat emotionally draining for me and so while I enjoy them and think they are good, I don't end up eager to throw myself into the next one right away
(Note: I have now read the third book, and I found it to be consistent with and as good as the first two. If you start the trilogy and enjoy it, I recommend reading all three books.)
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