Posts Tagged ‘Epic’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Keith H’s Picks

December 31, 2014

They say too many books will spoil the broth, but they fill my life with so much, so much love.  I read primarily science fiction and fantasy, with a dose of comics and science fiction/fantasy for kids and teens.  I’m pretty well rounded.  These are my favorite science fiction and fantasy books that were new to me this year.

MMistbornistborn: the Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
Vin is a street urchin who gets wrapped up with a gang attempting to overthrow the imperial Lord Ruler. She lives in a world  divided into  commoners and  allomancers, who are sorcerers able to ingest certain metals to give them a specific power.” Coinshots” can use steel to propel metal through space. “Tineyes” use tin to enhance their senses. “Thugs” use pewter to enhance their strength. Most allomancers can only use a single metal but the most feared are Mistborn, who can use the powers of all metals. Sanderson’s writing became increasingly well-known after he was selected to finish Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series. I prefer Sanderson’s own works, which are still epic fantasy with thorough world-building, but considerably less sprawling. (Trilogies instead of 10+ book epics)  Mistborn: The Final Empire is the first book of the Mistborn trilogy.

The Hundred Thousand KingdomsThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
After Yeine Darr’s mother dies, she is called to the imperial city by her grandfather, the emperor. Her upbringing as a barbarian leaves her outcast in imperial society. She soon finds that she has been chosen to compete for the throne against two cousins who are immeasurably more well-versed in magic and backstabbing than her. To top it off, gods made incarnate are also meddling with the competition. I read this initially because it was compared to Octavia Butler, but Jemison creates her own unique universe in this innovative work. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first book in “The Inheritance” trilogy.

The Knife of Never Letting GoKnife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Todd lives on a planet recently settled by humans. Unfortunately, a native virus has killed all of the women and given men the curse of “Noise”, constantly hearing each other’s thoughts. Todd learns a secret which causes him to flee their settlement with his dog, Manchee. Todd can also hear his dog’s thoughts. Manchee’s dog voice has replaced the voice of Dug, the dog from “Up”, in my imagination of what dogs sound like while speaking English . This story is told in a dialect that takes some initial getting used to, but becomes second nature quickly. This brutal, face paced story was published as a teen book but due to some disturbing themes, I wouldn’t give it to anyone under 15.

The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
A historical fiction, immigration story with a fantastic twist: the immigrants are magical beings. Chava is a Golem, a lifelike woman made of clay by an outcast rabbi who practices Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a Jinni, a fire spirit born in the deserts of Syria, recently released from being trapped inside a copper flask. They meet while trying to find their places in the chaos of late 1800s New York City. The details of Jewish and Arab mythology and culture are well-researched and intriguing. Watching Chava and Ahamad become friends and soul mates was a pleasure straight to the end.

Among OthersAmong Others by Jo Walton
A seemingly unreliable narrator describes her life as the daughter of an evil fairy. After fleeing to her father’s home, Morwenna is promptly sent away to a boarding school in the English countryside. As an avid reader, she finds solace by joining a science fiction book club at the local library. Any speculative fiction fan will enjoy the club’s discussions of the great authors of SF:  LeGuin, Delaney, Heinlein, Asimov, et al. This book is like a love letter to SF combined with an awesome to-read bibliography.  Among Others was the winner of the 2012 Nebula and Hugo awards for Best Novel.  Read another review.

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Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes

August 12, 2014

Don QuixoteDon Quixote, much like Moby Dick or Gulliver’s Travels, is such a familiar part of the canon, that it often seems unnecessary to actually read it. Most educated or culturally aware adults know about tilting at windmills, and the image of the ragged knight with his trusted Sancho Panza by his side, dreaming that impossible dream, so much so that it seems almost superfluous to tackle this large, old book. When they do, they might discover that this book is far stranger, more surprising and ultimately more transformative than all but a handful of works of art ever created.

Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in two volumes. Most of the famous moments come in volume one, published in 1605, the story of an old man, intoxicated by the popular picaresque books about knights and chivalry, renames himself Don Quixote, and sets off on his mount, Rocinante and alongside his squire, Sancho Panza, to prove himself worthy of his love, Dulcinea (actually a neighboring peasant girl). The second volume came 10 years later, and was Cervantes’ response to the popularity of an unauthorized sequel written by a different author. Where the first part is more light hearted and satirical, part two becomes more serious and philosophical, as a deceived Don Quixote grapples with his sanity and the nature of reality.

Don Quixote was among the first European novels, and it remains one of the most central works of the Western Canon. Shakespeare supposedly adapted a section of the novel into his lost play, Cardenio. Authors such as Kafka and Borges reimagined and reinterpreted the adventures of the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance and his squire. Artists such as Gustave Dore and Pablo Picasso have created visual representations of the book, and both Orson Welles and Terry Gilliam famously struggled for years to create a filmed adaptation (appropriately enough, both attempts could be seen as the very definition of quixotic).

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

March 4, 2013

This is a difficult but fascinating work of fiction. North Korea is probably the most secretive society that exists today. And yet the author, Adam Johnson has woven a tale of some individuals seeking answers that might only lead to their demise in this thoroughly autocratic nation. Even though this is a work of fiction, you can’t fail to realize that we are truly getting a look at this terribly closed society. As difficult as it is to deal with China, this small nation is even more difficult to understand. And yet there emerges a tale of individual bravery and attempts to defy the odds and seek true freedom.  Adam Johnson was able to get into North Korea and although monitored with “escorts,” he was able to return to Stanford, where he teaches.  From his memories and thoughts of his encounters in this very different society emerges a more detailed and nuanced picture of DPRK…..the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Greatest Hits: Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

January 2, 2013

Join us the next five days and kick off the new year with the The Book-A-Day Blog’s most popular posts of 2012!

 

BeowulfAbout halfway through the first millennium C.E., the Geats were conquered by the Swedes, and to this day, their old land is part of Sweden. According to tradition (in this case part legend, part history), the last or next to last king of the Geats was Beowulf, a warrior who (probably) had a Geat mother, whilst his father (possibly) was Swedish.

 

The epic of Beowulf takes place in Scandinavia. The language of the story (West Saxon and Anglian dialects) has as much in common with the contemporary Scandinavian languages as with present-day English. Despite these facts, Beowulf is considered to be a part of the vast body of work known as English literature, and the story of Beowulf is perhaps the most beautiful and surely the most famous of all surviving Old English texts.

 

The narrative consists of two main parts. The first relates Beowulf’s travels to the land of the Danes where he fights the man-eating monster Grendel and his lake-dwelling mother. It is a bloody affair. Beowulf follows the tracks of blood that Grendel’s mother leaves behind; he then dives to the bottom of the lake, kills the mother, and keeps Grendel’s head as a trophy. After these epic encounters, he returns to his own land where he eventually becomes king and rules wisely.

 

The second part of the story narrates the hero’s battle against a third foe – a fire-spewing dragon. Beyond this, the hero’s death awaits, and then – well known to the scribes of Beowulf – the invading Swedes and the end of Geatic independence. It is easy, then, to view Beowulf as a glorious memory of distant times, but the tale has much more to offer.

 

Beowulf is steeped in Norse myths, legends, and sagas (that is, historic accounts), and it provides a vivid picture of the life and value system of the Germanic tribes of the north. At the same time, the epic manages to blend all this with newly arrived Biblical elements (thus Grendel and his mother are descendants of Cain), and consequently Beowulf is a mix of the pagan past and the new Semitic times.

 

For a long, long time, Beowulf was considered inaccessible to the English-speaking world, as no decent, contemporary English version of the tale existed. Then (after spending decades with the poem) Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney decided to translate the text. His version is deeply influenced by the directness of the narrative (which strongly resembles the wonderful Icelandic sagas), and, as Heaney puts it, there is “an undiluted quality about the Beowulf poet’s sense of the world which gives his lines immense emotional credibility [with] the cadence and force of earned wisdom.”

 

Beowulf has been praised as a forerunner to J.R.R. Tolkien and the whole fantasy genre, but its value can first and foremost be found in the text itself – not as an inspiration for later story tellers, but as a classic and commanding tale that transcends time.

 

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

July 26, 2012

About halfway through the first millennium C.E., the Geats were conquered by the Swedes, and to this day, their old land is part of Sweden. According to tradition (in this case part legend, part history), the last or next to last king of the Geats was Beowulf, a warrior who (probably) had a Geat mother, whilst his father (possibly) was Swedish.

The epic of Beowulf takes place in Scandinavia. The language of the story (West Saxon and Anglian dialects) has as much in common with the contemporary Scandinavian languages as with present-day English. Despite these facts, Beowulf is considered to be a part of the vast body of work known as English literature, and the story of Beowulf is perhaps the most beautiful and surely the most famous of all surviving Old English texts.

The narrative consists of two main parts. The first relates Beowulf’s travels to the land of the Danes where he fights the man-eating monster Grendel and his lake-dwelling mother. It is a bloody affair. Beowulf follows the tracks of blood that Grendel’s mother leaves behind; he then dives to the bottom of the lake, kills the mother, and keeps Grendel’s head as a trophy. After these epic encounters, he returns to his own land where he eventually becomes king and rules wisely.

The second part of the story narrates the hero’s battle against a third foe – a fire-spewing dragon. Beyond this, the hero’s death awaits, and then – well known to the scribes of Beowulf – the invading Swedes and the end of Geatic independence. It is easy, then, to view Beowulf as a glorious memory of distant times, but the tale has much more to offer.

Beowulf is steeped in Norse myths, legends, and sagas (that is, historic accounts), and it provides a vivid picture of the life and value system of the Germanic tribes of the north. At the same time, the epic manages to blend all this with newly arrived Biblical elements (thus Grendel and his mother are descendants of Cain), and consequently Beowulf is a mix of the pagan past and the new Semitic times.

For a long, long time, Beowulf was considered inaccessible to the English-speaking world, as no decent, contemporary English version of the tale existed. Then (after spending decades with the poem) Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney decided to translate the text. His version is deeply influenced by the directness of the narrative (which strongly resembles the wonderful Icelandic sagas), and, as Heaney puts it, there is “an undiluted quality about the Beowulf poet’s sense of the world which gives his lines immense emotional credibility [with] the cadence and force of earned wisdom.”

Beowulf has been praised as a forerunner to J.R.R. Tolkien and the whole fantasy genre, but its value can first and foremost be found in the text itself – not as an inspiration for later story tellers, but as a classic and commanding tale that transcends time.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Happy Hobbit Day!

September 22, 2011

Did you know that today is Hobbit Day, or even that such a day existed? Hobbit Day is the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series.

In fact, this whole week is Tolkien Week and in honor of that, check out this great book list, featuring fantasy quests similar to those of Tolkien’s! While you’re at it, take a look at our Epic Fantasy Adventures reading list.

Enjoy Hobbit Day!

 

Gilgamesh: a new English version by Stephen Mitchell

July 11, 2011

When the ancient Royal Library of Ashurbanipal was discovered in 1849, thousands of clay tablets and fragments were unveiled. Among its holdings was a work that today is known as The Epic of Gilgamesh (or just Gilgamesh), the oldest epic known to mankind, written perhaps 1,500 years before The Iliad.

Due to sometimes careless handling much of the library is irreparably jumbled, and despite new findings there is no complete version of the story. Despite this, it is a tale that continues to engage readers as many of the themes and events of the story surpass the era which gave birth to them – it is, in many ways, a timeless tale.

Gilgamesh is a king, a giant with superpowers, and an oppressor of his people in Uruk (present day Iraq). The citizens plead for help and the gods create Enkidu, his double, a second self. Learning of this wild man, a beast, really, who runs with the animals, Gilgamesh dispatches a priestess to find him and tame him by seducing him, and making love with the priestess awakens Enkidu’s consciousness of his true identity as a human being. When Enkidu hears of the king’s behavior he decides to confront the ruler, and the two battle each other. Gilgamesh defeats Enkidu and the two realize that they are meant to be the best of friends. Together they undertake dangerous tasks that incur the displeasure of the gods. Initially, they defeat Humbaba, the monstrous guardian of the cedar forests. Later they kill the Bull of Heaven that the goddess Ishtar has sent to punish Gilgamesh as he has turned her down and also abused her verbally. And then, disease descends upon Enkidu who dies and leaves Gilgamesh in tears.

The latter part of the epic focuses on Gilgamesh’s distraught reaction to Enkidu’s death, which takes the form of a quest for immortality. Gilgamesh attempts to learn the secret of eternal life by undertaking a perilous journey to meet the immortal flood hero, Utnapishtim. It is a hero’s quest, but (as it turns out) a queer one.

So the plot is cool, but what makes the story deeply engaging is the blend of myths, legends, and everyday observations. And the eye for the details of daily life is sharp, the imagery is powerful –the city streets are described as vividly as the supernatural powers of the heavens – and the interaction between humans is vibrant thanks to all the contradictions in behavior that these relationships give rise to.

Stephen Mitchell’s freewheeling version (based on a number of translations) is a good place to start, although his introduction could be sold at the Alkmaar cheese market in the Netherlands. Readers who would like to dig deeper can check out Andrew George’s translation, published by Penguin Classics. It is, as can be expected, serious and solid.

Find and request this book in our catalog.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

May 27, 2011

Fact is stranger than fiction. Or so the saying goes, at least. But as reality is multifaceted and elusive it can be hard to determine the difference between fact and fiction, and sometimes it may be more accurate to claim that fiction is part fact, and that fact is part fiction. The great Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez has stated that he loathes stories that are made up and – sure enough – the most fantastic parts of his novels are often deeply rooted in actual events.

García Márquez is mainly known for two of his novels: One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985). Both are masterpieces and the latter is one of the greatest love stories ever told.

As the story is rich and supremely well told it is easy to get swept away by its romantic traits, but what makes the novel great is García Márquez’s ability to show the complexity of romantic love. Fermina Daza, a beautiful and stubborn girl – based on García Márquez’s mother – is at the epicenter of Love in the Time of Cholera. When Florentino Ariza, a fictional character inspired by García Márquez’s father, one day encounters Fermina he falls in love and gets sick – lovesick, that is, a disease comparable to cholera. Florentino’s love for Fermina is as stubborn as she is, and his love isn’t all about sweetness and tenderness – it also gives rise to strong hatred: namely for the marriage between his beloved and Juvenal Urbino, a doctor famous for his struggle against cholera.

Florentino goes on with his life, a rather dramatic existence, at that. He courts hundreds of women, but remains true – in his heart – to the love of his youth.

Years pass, and along with Love and Cholera, Time plays a major part in this tale. The message resembles that of Tanekh (“the Jewish Bible” or “the Old Testament”): good things sometimes take time. Gabriel García Márquez has seen this in his own life. Like Jacob of Genesis, the author had to wait fourteen years before he could marry his beloved, and that she was worth waiting for is obvious. Gabriel García Márquez’s dedication of the epic Love in the Time of Cholera simply states: “For Mercedes, of course.”

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

April 8, 2011

We all have those books that a friend told us we should read, but then, for some reason, we just didn’t.  This was one of those books for me.  It was first suggested to me by this guy, and then several other co-workers who know I love good Fantasy novels.  I wanted to read it, but just didn’t get around to it.  The book’s length probably had something to do with me not picking it up right away,   700 plus pages is quite a lot, after all, especially when I’m also reading two different book club books each month.  Several book club members had also read and loved it, so I knew that I really had to make the time to discover this new author.  Now that I have, it’s obvious why everyone was recommending it to me – this book is destined to become a modern classic of Fantasy literature.  But, don’t take my word for it.

It is the story of the life of a legendary man named Kvothe, the most powerful wizard the world has ever known, and so much more.  Kvothe has moved to the countryside and become an innkeeper in this quiet corner of the world to put his past behind him.  But, even the Waystone Inn does not afford Kvothe the anonymity and solitude he seeks.  Soon, the Chronicler of stories finds him and convinces Kvothe to tell his story.  Through Kvothe’s own words we come to understand who he is, where he’s traveled, and what he’s done.  As a child, Kvothe was the son of two of the most talented troupers (highly regarded actors, singers and entertainers), and the exceptionally bright pupil of an arcanist (magician) named Abenthy, who traveled with the troupe for a while.  One day, tragedy ensures that Kvothe ends up a penniless beggar and thief in a sprawling city.  After surviving by his wits for a few years, Kvothe ventures out to apply to attend the famous University; a goal of his since Abenthy first filled his head with tales of the Archives, where tens of thousands books reside, all waiting to be read.  Kvothe becomes one of the youngest students ever admitted to the University, and continues his magical education.  But, things don’t go easy for him, and he earns the ire of several professors, the enmity of some other students (and several other things happen that I don’t want to spoil).  All this only serves to add to his growing reputation, and Kvothe, as much as anyone else, helps spread the tales and early legends about him.

There is a scene in the book when Kvothe is struggling to find the right words to describe the first girl he ever loved.  He could say that she had dark hair, and red lips, etc., but those things would serve to produce a picture in the reader’s mind that was not this girl.  I feel the same way trying to describe this book.  I could say that it truly is a book to read if you like Harry Potter … for grown ups.  But that would make you start comparing the two, which is unfair to both.  I could say that it is an Epic Fantasy adventure in the tradition of Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan, or George R.R. Martin.  But, again, those comparisons don’t fully capture the essence of this book.  So, in addition to the words of praise from critics and fellow authors mentioned above (did you read those yet?  go ahead, I’ll wait), I’ll also give you a funny and touching story from author John Scalzi, (seriously, read this one).  If all this isn’t enough to convince you to give this book a chance, then  I’ll just have to wait until we meet in person and pester you to read it the way that my friends & co-workers did for me.  Thanks guys.

Start the adventure with Kvothe, by finding a copy of the book in our catalog.  Oh, and the sequel just came out, too.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

November 5, 2010

This week has marked the one year anniversary of our book-a-day blog.  And, believe it or not, in a whole year of blogging book suggestions, we’ve not yet written about any books by one of the most prolific and masterful writers of our time, Stephen King.  Living in Maine, where many of his books are set, Mr. King is, of course, best known as a Horror novelist with books like Carrie, Cujo, The Shining and Salem’s Lot to his credit.  He has won the Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers of America 9 times, including an award for Lifetime Achievement, and many other awards as well.     He’s also known for having many of his novels and short stories adapted into movies,  notably Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile.  And, as great as all of those books are, many fans agree that King’s “magnum opus” is his 7 volume Dark Tower series,  which took between 25 and 30 years to be completed.  (King took more than twelve years to write the first novel, which was published in installments in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, so it’s hard to say just how long the writing process took.)   King’s inspiration for the series comes from Robert Browning’s poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”  although he has said that other influences were The Lord of the Rings, the legend of King Arthur, and the movie The Good, the Bad and the UglyThe Gunslinger is the first book in that series, and introduces us to Roland Deschain, the last in a long line of knightly protectors known as Gunslingers.

Roland lives in a world like ours, but his world has “moved on” and resembles a post-apocalyptic wasteland, which is slowly crumbling apart.  Roland is in pursuit of the man in black across the desert, and believes that the man in black has information that can help him on his ultimate quest to reach the Dark Tower – believed to be the nexus of all universes.  He stops at the house of a farmer, who agrees to put him up for the night, and through a flashback Roland relates the most recent part of his quest through a town called Tull.  I’ll try not to spoil the story, but will just say that because of the man in black the entire town ends up turning against Roland, and he barely escapes with his life and his mule.  After telling the story Roland’s mule dies and he must continue his desert journey on foot.  Along his quest, Roland also meets up with a boy from our world, named Jake, who has somehow crossed over into Roland’s world after being hit by a car in ours. A few more flashbacks illuminate a bit more about Roland’s background while he and Jake make their way out of the desert and toward the mountains – where Jake begins to fear for his fate.  Does Roland eventually catch up to the man in black?  What will happen if and when he does and how will this impact the rest of Roland’s quest?  This novel (and the series as well) is part Western, part Fantasy quest, part Horror, but ALL King.

Jake is not the only person from our world to be drawn into Roland’s world, as the next book is title The Drawing of the Three, in which Roland must bring three companions from our world into his to aid him on his quest.  The series as a whole is extremely satisfying, and one of the most appealing aspects (aside from King’s engrossing writing style) is the fact that King weaves characters and references from many of his other novels throughout the Dark Tower series.  So, fans of some of King’s other novels will also enjoy re-discovering those characters here.  (Here’s a list of those connections,   but be forewarned of spoilers.)  I first discovered the series on audio book narrated by both George Guidall and the late Frank Muller.  The series is also being adapted into Graphic Novels, which tell the story in a different order than the novels, beginning when Roland was much younger.  Comic Book Movie has announced that there is an official release date for Ron Howard’s movie and television adaptation of this series.  The plan is to release a feature film, and then a season of a television series will continue the story until the next film is released, and so on to complete the tale.

Find and request The Gunslinger in our library catalog to begin your own quest for the Dark Tower.


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