So, I decided to do a series on books/series I consider under-appreciated, namely because they are among my favourites, yet I hear very little about them when out and about in the fantasy community. My first was on Mark T Barnes epic trilogy, Echoes of Empire. This one is about another series of books that have come from the margins to become some of my all-time favourites…
There is a storyteller’s cycle of tales, and they begin like this:
I first noticed K V Johansen’s Blackdog because of its phenomenal Raymond Swanland cover. Obviously, covers don’t always lead one true – good books often hide behind bad covers, and vice versa – but once an evocative cover has caught my eye, I do find it very hard to ignore. This one promised exactly what the blurb backed up – a mysterious warrior, part demonic animal, surrounded by a raging conflict. The fact that one of my other favourite authors – Glen Cook – shared the same cover artist lent the book additional associative attraction. On top of all that it seemed to be standalone, and I do like a good standalone.
Clearly, here was a book meant for me.
I may have sensed it right away, but it still took me a while to actually get my hands on it. Not being a big seller, it wasn’t widely available, and I contented myself with the promising sample section online. I have to admit, I was also slightly put off by a few not-so-glowing reviews (this was back when I had less of a social community and relied more on reviews from random strangers on Amazon or Goodreads). But it kept calling to me, and when I could no longer resist (and had some gift card balance), I finally ordered it. Finally, that gorgeous cover was mine, in all its extra-sized glory.
Obvoiusly, I loved it.
Apart from it being an excellent story set in a marvelously rich world – imaginatively anchored in our own history, but brimming with magic and mythology of its own – it delivered on the two things that originally attracted me – the promise of the cover and the stand-alone nature of the story. It even went so far as to remind me of Cook inside as well as out – that weighty sense of history, momentous events seen from the personal level, glimpses of powerful movers and living legends – everything you could want from fantasy. And moreover, it managed to get through the arc of what could have been an epic trilogy (with a bit of padding, and maybe a bit more time for some of the side-characters), in just one book. To have a book any more perfect for me, I’d have to write it myself…
However, celebrating the fact that it was a rare standalone doesn’t mean that I was in any way disappointed when I discovered sequels were being published. There was clearly a bigger story here, continuing from the world’s ancient past, happening in other faraway lands, and full of potential for the future. When it became clear that the next story would focus on Marakand, the enigmatic city in the middle of the Caravan Road that binds all these tales together, I couldn’t wait to read more. I was overjoyed to meet some familiar characters in The Leopard, along with some impressive and intriguing new ones, and to really get to know another full-realised setting (or two, actually). The cataclysmic climax in The Lady is a bit messy, but a few heroes still emerge at the end, and limp away down the caravan road to further adventures.
I knew at this point that some of these survivors would end up in Nabban, and I could hardly wait to read about their continuing adventures. So far, so very, very good…
So, great books, but are these a series or standalone? The author has weighed in herself on the subject, but my short answer is that each could certainly be read as a standalone (counting the two-volume Marakand as one), but you get a fuller picture if you read them all, and in order. However, if you want to jump in on Gods of Nabban for whatever reason, go right ahead.
These are fantastic books which blend the myth, magic, and lore of classic fantasy with the complex characters, wider inspiration, and enriching diversity that makes modern fantasy great. You really should pick them up.
And whatever you do, just be aware:
Long ago, in the days of the first kings of the north – who were Viga Forkbeard, and Red Geir, and Hravnmod the Wise, as all but fools should know – there were seven wizards…and there were seven devils. If other singers tell you different, they know only the shadows of tales, and they lie.