Looking for some other great reads beyond the Chrysathamere Trilogy? Here are some of my favorites, randomly selected in no particular order!
The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Kay Penman
Does anyone remember that kind of cringe-ey movie from Ridley Scott–Kingdom of Heaven–where Orlando Bloom plays a Mary Sue blacksmith who is somehow an untrained bastard but also the best swordsman in the realm and a crusader but also somehow a secular humanist (seriously)? This is the more accurate, better version of that story, and just goes to show what the movie could have been in the hands of someone other than the guy who decided that a historical movie about Ancient Rome should end with the Roman Empire being abolished in favor of good, old-fashioned ‘Murican democracy (spoiler alert: the real Roman Empire was not abolished by the fore of Russel Crowe’s biceps). Sorry, Ridley Scott. I still liked Alien!
Anyway…turning to the Land Beyond the Sea!
It’s a brilliantly researched true story of the crusades that has all the intrigue, drama, and warfare of Game of Thrones (truly, some of the twists prove that real life is often stranger than fiction) but without the stupidity of Season 8! If only someone not named Benioff or Weiss would make a 5-season Netflix show out of this one.
At times the book is a wee bit too historical and not enough fiction; certain big characters die abruptly, and the emotion felt by the characters and, by extension, the reader, comes off as muted–I wish Penman would really slow down and let the scene breathe more! It’s at times like this the matter-of-fact writing style tends to work against the story, and you can’t help but wish for a little more stylistic flourish.
Then again, other scenes, especially a grim, desperate march against deadly odds through lethal heat, truly do come alive, particularly towards the end. Besides, the research is so detailed, the plot so intricate, and the characters so fascinating, that the book more than makes up for those aforementioned disappointing death scenes.
Circe, by Madeline Miller
Madeline Miller is a breath of fresh air to the genre—whatever genre this is. Is it fantasy? Historical fiction? “literary” fiction? Something in between? This blend of ancient myth, magic, history, and, above all, in-depth character study defies easy categorization, which is, in part, just what I love about it. I’ve seen a few books in my day that take a familiar story and try to add a new twist on it (think Wicked as compared to the Wizard of Oz) but can’t quite think of any other author that does it with quite the grace, insight, and poetry that Miller does. Miller’s book carries a powerful undercurrent of feminism, but never feels the need to overtly shove her message of empowerment in your face in the shallow, cloying, self-congratulatory way that a bad Hollywood screenwriter might.
That’s the thing about a good message–it should be subtly delivered, so the reader can feel like they’ve discovered something, not listened to a sermon.
Circe is a unique heroine, filled with a quiet inner strength that isn’t flashy, or even readily apparent, but is all the more compelling for it. Sometimes a hero doesn’t have the chance to take up a sword or gun or whatever and cut down the oppressive powers that be and make right the world; sometimes, the powers are as abstract and untouchable as gods, and the best we can do is soldier on and hold on to our humanity in the face of the world’s inhumanity. And that–this book eloquently posits–is a victory in and of itself.
Dark Age (and most of the other Red Rising books, but especially this one)
Over the years, I’ve become a Pierce Brown fan. His Red Rising series has come a long, long way from its Hunger-Games-in-space origins to become a fantasy epic that makes Game of Thrones look just kinda as forgettable as an Iron Fleet. In fact, it’s like a reverse Game of Thrones in that the longer it goes, the better it gets.
The first book, for all its creativity, had its downsides, with the main character engaging in feats of Mary-Suedom to put even good old Orlando Bloom up there to shame. But as a wise man once said, life is about growth, and this series truly has grown.
If I wanted to criticize, my criticism would be that the copious quantities of violence, can get pretty exhausting at times. There’s only so many times I can read about radiation poisoning and bubbling flesh before I just become inured to it all…
But I don’t want to criticize, because I haven’t had so much fun reading a book in possibly several years. I want to give a tip of the hat to Pierce Brown for the sheer scale of this book, the number of satisfying character arcs and plot twists and heart-wrenching moments it managed to cram into 800-or-so pages. I don’t know if this is the best book I’ve ever read, but I can certainly say that it is the MOST book I’ve ever read.
If you don’t mind your epics very dark and at times (a little too) gory, then parts of this book represent, at least in my humble opinion, the best of what the genre has to offer. Compelling villains, tragic heroes and everything in between–duels and battles and betrayals and love and grudging, slow-burning friendships…this is all I’d hoped the new Star Wars trilogy could be but wasn’t (thanks, JJ Abrams). Here’s hoping this new trilogy can close off on an equally high note.