A Beginner’s Guide To Fantasy Novels Part 5: 1990-2001
Here we are in the 90’s and 2000’s, we’re staring at the finish line. Before we begin though, I feel it might be a good thing to clarify the intent of the series. When you read this, don’t think of it as a list of the best books of certain decades, though the books are certainly some of the best of their genre. What I am trying to do is pick the essential books that might be a gateway for people who are just deciding they want to get into the fantasy genre, or expend their horizons a bit, to seek out other writers/stories like the ones I’ve mentioned. For some that might mean discovering other works by the mentioned authors; Tanith Lee appears in the 90’s article, but she has been writing since the mid-seventies. Her Birthgrave series from ’75 is really good in fact, but I think her Unicorn series is more accessible to beginners, so that’s the one I added. Some people will have multiple entries because their work is mostly accessible as a whole and is great for beginners, Weiss and Hickman and Terry Brooks come to mind. So please don’t think of this as a comprehensive list, but as a guide to start out on. With that said let’s start the festivities. It’s kind of cool that one of the first fantasy novels of the nineties would turn out to be the beginning of one of the most enduring of modern series.
Eye Of The World by Robert Jordan (The Wheel Of Time Series 1990-2010; finished by Brandon Sanderson)
A stunning fourteen book epic with a really interesting take on the people who do magic in it’s universe and compelling arc for even it’s tertiary characters. The people of Edmond’s Field; including the young townsfolk Rand al’Thor , Matrim Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, Egwene al’Vere, and town Wisdom Nynaeve al’Meara, are excited to learn an Aes Sedai (the female mages of the universe, there used to be male mages but they are hunted down since their connection to the One Power was contaminated by the Dark One) named Morgaine and her warder Al’Lan Mandragoran has come to town. Morgaine has come to Edmond’s Field to see if Nynaeve has a connection to the One Power and can be trained as an Aes Sedai, but she has another objective as well. After the town is attacked by the Dark One’s minions, creatures called Trollocs, Morgaine reveals that she believes that one of the young men might be the Dragon Reborn, a reincarnation of the hero who sealed Dark One Shaytan in his prison, and can prevent his escape. This starts a group on the journey of a lifetime.
Dragon Wing by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (1990) (The Death Gate Cycle 1990-1994)
Written like the characters in the novels ad written the books after the fact, and with many footnotes explaining terms, people and events, the Death Gate Cycle is one of the most fully realized worlds in the fantasy landscape of the 1990’s. When a nuclear holocaust leads to humans becoming two warring races, Sartans and Patryns, the Sartans decide to split the earth into four elemental realms and imprison the Patryns in the fifth realm, The Labyrinth. A Patryn named Xar has escaped and dreams of freeing his people and conquering the different races of The Five Realms. For this purpose he sends his loyal agent Haplo to sow discord and chaos among the Kingdoms in preparation.
Black Unicorn by Tanith Lee (1991) (The Unicorn Series 1991-1997)
Tanaquil is the daughter of the sorceress Jaive, though Tanaquil has no magic. She does have an instinctual knowledge of machinery and how to make them work though. When a Black Unicorn appears, no one can figures out what this means or why it’s there. But Tanaquil knows that it came for her, and so follows it on a journey that will take her around the world, and help her discover herself.
Black Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey (1994) (The Mage Wars Series 1994-1996)
Unique in that the novels’ main protagonist is a magical creature, in this case a black Gryphon called Skan Rashkae. In this world the Gryphon’s are created by a mage called Urtho to combat another mage named Kiyamvir Ma’ar’s plans to dominate the world. In the first novel, Skan is injured while scouting an enemy camp and must spend a long amount of time in recovery. While there, he befriends human healer Amberdrake, meets a timid female Gryphon named Zhaneel, changes the heart of a callous woman named Winterheat, and is instrumental in gaining some autonomy for his people.
A Game Of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (1996) (A Song Of Ice And Fire 1996-Ongoing)
Most know this series already because of the uber successful HBO series, so I won’t take up too much time recapping it. I will say that there is a pretty good table top RPG done by Green Ronin Publishing. You can say that for the Wheel Of Time Series as well, done by Wizards Of The Coast.
Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997) (Harry Potter Series 1997-2007)
I just realized I was ten years old when this book came out, and now it’s twenty years later, where does the time go! Anyway, this is another series that is so omnipresent that it does not require a summary. It has it’s own theme park, a movie series, video games and more. Heck, it’s been translated into more than 80’s languages, including a version in old Scots that came out this year.
Acorna: The Unicorn Girl by Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball (1997) (Acorna Universe 1997-2007)
The story of the galactic miners who find a unicorn girl in an abandoned escape pod, her infancy, and growing up into a smart, beautiful, magical woman within three years. Wanting to keep their ward safe from those who would take advantage of her, the men who raised her leave the mining colony and have adventures all around the galaxy.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001)
The writer of DC’s acclaimed Sandman series gives us another fascinating world to explore, this time in prose. When a convict named Shadow is released from prison after his wife and best friend are killed in a car accident, he feels rudderless and alone in the world. He soon finds work with a Mr. Wednesday, and learns that he is more than he appears. It turns out he is actually the god Odin, and Shadow learns that all magical creatures exist, but their power is based on belief. Shadow is soon caught up in Odin’s plan to gather other old gods and magical creatures to make war on the new gods modern humans have made, ones of media, guns, drugs, and modes of transportation.
Mistress Of Dragons by Margaret Weis (Dragonvarld series 2003-2005)
In the world of Dragonvarld, Dragons are intelligent creatures with there own form of society, and make a pact with each other against dealing with the human world to keep the peace. They form a parliament and to develop rules governing themselves and their interactions with humans. Mostly that means staying away from the humans in general. But when an ancient Black Dragon named Maristara reeks havoc in the valley of Seth, the Dragon Parliament sends a Dragon that can walk as a human to find the Mistress Of Dragons, a woman who is tasked with protecting the valley from dragon attacks, and defeat the threat.
This is it, this is where my area of expertise ends, you have at least five articles worth of series and novels to check out, (find those here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) so that should seem to be enough. The 2000’s were such a prolific time in the fantasy genre that we’d be here all day if I had decided to go through the entire decade. I’ll come back later with an article about some series and authors that bear a good checking out, because there are some real up and comers in the business now. This was a fun little thing to do, I really enjoyed re-reading a good number of these stories after a number of years and remembering the little things that made them great. Like how Never Ending Story has two differently colored texts to denote when we’re in Fantasia and when were with Bastion. Or how Raistlin from the Dragonlance books is permanently injured because of the ordeal he had to go through in the Tower Of High Sorcery to get the red robes of a mage of neutrality. In fact I’ll kind of miss this. Oh well, I can always do another series I’ve been wanting to start; A Beginner’s Guide To Science Fiction Stories.