Hidden Gems: Villains Before They Were Cool

If there ever is a book that defines “Hidden Gem” for me, it’s Eve Forward’s wonderful fantasy pastiche, Villians by Necessity. Published in limited numbers in 1995, the book is a trope-fuelled bonfire of the cliches of the era. We meet halfling thieves, guilded assassins, black knights, nature-loving druids, vampish sorceresses, barbarians…you get the idea (though farmboys are conspicuously absent). But, unlike the derivative, by-the-numbers epics that have given late 20th C fantasy a bad name, this book turns the standard formula on its head, plays with tropes and assumptions, and all while weaving together an excellent adventure quest that would have any D&D party rubbing their Cheeto-stained* hands with glee.

The twist is, of course, that the heroes of the story are villains – those characters that would occupy the bottom row of the D&D alignment table, that are often there to stall Our Heroes in their quests, that are usually only out for themselves and certainly not interested in saving the world, thank you very much. Yet that is exactly what they are recruited to do (by a True Neutral).220px-villains_by_necessity

Of course, they pale somewhat in comparison to the dark antiheroes of modern standards. And assassins and thieves have always been popular fantasy heroes or sidekicks, and are usually portrayed with scruples and regulations that preclude them being truly evil. Even the cannibalistic dark-elf-like sorceress is mostly de-fanged and largely behaves herself.

But I suppose that’s why we call them “villains” rather than “evil”, because it’s a label put upon them by society, rather than who they are. When contrasted with the Heroes that are supposed to be on the side of Good, Forward makes it very clear that no-one can be painted as simplistically as that, and that everyone is somewhere along the spectrum of grey (as if the 21st C ever had sole license on that).

The problem facing this world – as represented by the six suspiciously regular and appropriately named lands that we visit – is that the forces of Good have triumphed to such a degree that Darkness has been banished for all time. And without the choice between Good and Evil, the sentient creatures of the land are robbed of free will (often violently so). Not only does that make the world a pretty boring place, but it means it is heading for a white-out – not just stagnation but complete stasis.

This isn’t a million miles from Moorcock’s premise in his Eternal Champion books that Chaos and Law need to be kept in balance or the world will either perish through complete entropy or total rigidity. Still, his champions usually end up fighting a rising tide of evil (if occasionally with chaotic help) rather than having to worry about the complete victory of Law. And yet, this victory is the end-point of most classic Epic Fantasy series, and also where our story begins (take that, Sanderson and Morgan).

The story itself is a rip-roaring adventure across six lands, questing after a series of tests that will allow the villains to return Darkness to the world. There isn’t a whole lot of realism here. Despite the point that’s being made about the unrealistic conventions of D&D-style fantasy, Forward still plays mostly within its lines. There are plenty of convenient healing potions and magic tricks to get our protagonists out of scrapes they shouldn’t survive – but such is fantasy adventure, after all, only this time it’s the forces of Good that constantly fail (though they aren’t ever incompetent, being Heroes).

I’m still not sure the libertarian premise completely works – it may work fine for these villains-with-hearts-of-gold, but what about the children devoured by monsters or orphaned by wars? What about the true psychopaths out there, are they necessary for the survival of free willed life? A laissez-faire attitude is all well and good for the competent and the strong, but shouldn’t a society look after the weak, and aren’t they better off in a world where “Darkness” is largely suppressed? Something for the sequel, perhaps…

Anyway, Villains by Necessity isn’t a philosophical treatise, it’s a unique fantasy adventure novel, and a damn fine one at that. Track a copy down, if you can!

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The one time I think Darrel K Sweet works perfectly.

* Sorry, had to.

My Favourite Fantasy Covers

So, we all know we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover. Which is, of course, a lie – because why else would they have cover art but to attract and entice the would-be reader? And fantasy is perhaps the genre where covers matter most, have the greatest variety, and offer the most scope to delight and disgust.

There are a lot of classic Science Fiction covers out there, and I’d happily have framed copies of my favourites on my walls. However, as much as I like Chris Foss and co., there are an awful lot of books where the gorgeous spaceship on the cover really bears no resemblance to the ones inside, if there even are any. So, as enticing as they are, they don’t seem to me to have to do as particular a job as fantasy covers do.

And other genres do even less work, signifying genre and little else. Romance covers all look basically the same, though I’ve heard there’s some coded information in the particulars of pose and (un)dress. Crime fiction and thrillers just have to have a weapon or a body or a grainy scene (perhaps with crime tape). Chick lit has pastel colours and cutesy art, often with flowers or bows. And while I suppose you get a range in “literary” fiction, it’s often abstract or minimalist or just plain boring.

But fantasy covers…wow. Sure, some of them can be a bit cringe-worthy, especially from certain eras, and some of it can be a bit lacklustre, but on the whole there’s such huge variety of styles and approaches from so many talented artists, that it can turn the fantasy shelves into an art gallery of wonder.

For my taste, I’ve always preferred the evocative fantasy landscape to the character close-up or the more symbolic or abstract cover – with a few exceptions, of course. There are covers I love (and hate) from almost every era of fantasy right up to today. Without further ado, here are a few of my favourites.

Raymond Swanland

I’d be remiss not to start with this modern master, an artist whose covers are about the only character-centred ones that I like. They have a wonderful dark beauty, and are abstract enough to somehow capture the emotion and atmosphere of a book as well as portray the characters irresistibly.

It’s now hard to separate his artwork from the books of two of my favourite authors – one of whom I probably would never have discovered if not for Swanland’s work. I can’t imagine any other artist on the cover of a Glen Cook fantasy now, which makes up for the pretty terrible covers Cook got in the 80s…

Richard Anderson

Another modern master, who seems to be everywhere these days (well, moreso in the US market), his distinct digital style capable of both abstract landscapes, vibrant action, or evocative character studies. He’s pretty much the “face” of modern fantasy right now, and I’m not complaining. (Check out this Tor.com article for more.)

Geoff Taylor

I was going to make this about the 80s covers that I liked, and then I realised a lot of them were by the same artist. Taylor is evidently a master of the evocative landscape often with figures facing away from us, drawing us in. His use of colour is also much more to my taste than some of the more garish 80s/90s covers (looking at you, Darrell K Sweet!). Check out the full paintings which are even more spectacular.

Ian Miller

Another 80s cover set which will, regardless of what else the artist did (and he did plenty), will put him amongst the greats, for me.

Others:

I can’t do a post on covers without including this one by Bruce Pennington, which immediately sold me the book (and therefore series, since it’s book two), and of which I now have two different sets…

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And I also have a fondness for this 1960s craziness (artist unknown):

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And there’s a lot more out there as well, some of which is elsewhere on this blog. I might have to do another one of these sometime…

Hidden Gems: James Branch Cabell

So, I’ve probably reached the end of the line (for the moment) with this Hidden Gems series. It’s been a fun ride, but there are only so many books out there that a) I’ve read and b) I think are underappreciated. No doubt I’ll update it as and when I unearth another one.

Before I go, however, I thought it worth mentioning James Branch Cabell. Never heard of him? Not really a surprise. Cabell was a contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft, but wrote comic fantasies before fantasy was really a genre. As such, though apparently widely admired (and made notorious by trials and scandals), he’s been largely forgotten by a fantasy tradition to which he never really belonged.

Having read some of his work (of which there is a lot), I think this is a shame. Just because his fantasies are comedies, they are by no means fluff to be dismissed. Obviously, they aren’t going to satisfy a craving for Sword & Sorcery or Grimdarkness, and they aren’t Epic in the sense we’ve come to know. However, the characters do go on epic adventures through fantastic lands full of peril, strange creatures, gods, devils, and other recognisable trappings of the genre.1110887

However, whereas Terry Pratchett had a wealth of well-known tropes to spoof, Cabell mainly had the romantic legends to draw on – Arthurian, Ancient Greek, etc. From what have read, his books also have a deep melancholy at the core of the comedy. His flawed heroes crave adventure but are probably better off without it, their wanderlust never quite leading them where they wanted.

The heroes I’m talking about are Jurgen – the titular monstrously clever fellow of his most famous book – and Dom Manuel, the protagonist of the 25-volume “Biography” which Cabell spent 23 years writing (obviously, I haven’t read it all). Both feel quite similar due to Cabell’s voice, but of the two Jurgen seems more cheeky, Dom Manuel (at least, in Figures of Earth) more earnest. Both have an astounding weakness for a pretty face; in fact, Jurgen puts James Bond to shame both in conquest and double entendres.

These double entendres were the reason for the aforementioned obscenity trial (which he won), but they are very tame by today’s standards. In fact, due to the old-fashioned prose, it took a while before I was sure they were even there – it was much funnier afterwards. Even without them, there’s still enough of an adventure (though more philosophical than action-oriented), but the “monstrous” character of Jurgen is what sets it apart.

figures-of-earth1Dom Manuel is a more considered fantasy, less of a humorous comedy. The world-building is a bit more consistent, but the fantasy-land in Cabell’s head is closer to the mythical Albion of Arthurian tales than anything post-Tokien (or Eddison). The series is confusing as well, without a clear chronology as far as I can tell – though this does make it easier to read without collecting all twenty-five volumes.

So, why are these hidden gems? For me, it’s because they are a window onto a different era of fantasy, but proof that people were already having fun with the genre, such as it was, both deconstructing the mythological epic, and also using fantasy to make points about human existence (even while laughing).

Also, they are just a lot of fun.

NB: Cabell apparently rhymes with “rabble”. Now you can sound smart!

 

Hidden Gems: The Sunset Warrior

So, I’m going back to the obscure in my efforts to unearth hidden gems for the discerning fantasy reader. I read this series a while ago, and it’s so obscure I wonder about bringing it up at all. However, it’s definitely got some things to offer that you may not find elsewhere.

Eric Van Lustbader is known better for his thrillers – he’s written about a dozen Bourne sequels, continuing from Ludlum’s originals, as well many more in his own series. However, the former music journalist’s first published novel was the post-apocalyptic fantasy The Sunset Warrior in 1977, followed soon after by Shallows of Night and Dai-san to complete the trilogy. In what is a recurring theme with me, it turns out it’s not actually a trilogy, but a five-book sequence, though the fifth, Dragons of the Sea of Night, was added almost two decades after the fourth, Beneath an Opal Moon.9780352306753-uk-300

I’ll admit to only reading the trilogy that I thought it was, but what a trilogy! The first book is almost pure post-apocalyptic scifi, taking place in an underground bunker city (a distant forerunner of the Silo sub-genre). The claustrophobia and forgotten-history aspects are well done, and we get to know our hero. It’s not a spoiler to say he eventually breaks out, and things start getting pretty wild from there. The second and third books are almost pure fantasy, with just a hint of the original far future concept, but they aren’t your normal fantasy either.

Lustbader is a clear fan of East Asia (one of his thriller series features ninjas), and the fantasy world discovered outside the bunker is definitely Asian-inspired. This alone sets it apart from the tired faux-medieval-Europes of its contemporaries. A lot of this comes across in the embracement of Eastern martial arts and a bit of the philosophy/mysticism that often goes along with it. I can’t comment on the accuracy of this, but the action is convincing, and it seems more respectful than the Sean-Connery-in-Rising Sun style oriental fascination that developed in the ’80s.

The refreshing setting also, to my mind, carries hints of similarly-far-future-fantasy greats like Moorcock’s  Runestaff series and Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. There is the same dazzling vibrancy overridden with a sense of decline and decay. Perhaps it is the nature of post-apocalypse fantasy to have a sense of fragility, knowing that however permanent the current societies and empires may seem, they are built on the ruins of others that vanished in the blink of an eye.

Another 9780352306777-us-300aspect shared with these series is the archetypal hero, the bluntly named Ronin. He is definitely a chosen one in the classic mould, a trope many of us have since tired of. He’s also, from what I can tell, a white man starring in an Asian story, another tired trope that has come in for recent criticism. That aside, he’s neither a callow youth nor a reluctant anti-hero, just a normal, pragmatic type stuck in a fantastic adventure, driven by his own need to explore and caught up in larger events. There are doses of classic tragedy in his journey as well, as you’d expect, and the future thriller writer keeps up an almost constant tension and threat throughout, especially in the claustrophobic first book.

So, the books are a mix of a lot of elements, some of which could be seen as problematic and other which can be got in other classics. What then sets these apart? It’s a hard question, because I recall these so fondly largely, I suspect, because my enjoyment was completely unexpected. I knew nothing about them when I picked them up at a bargain book warehouse, and, though I was intrigued about this self-titled Ronin, I was taking a leap of faith in reading them. This seems especially strange nowadays, when my TBR pile is chock-full of books I *know* are good and need to be read ASAP.

Of course, the reason I picked them up was the captivating (UK) cover of the second book, by the famed Bruce Pennington. The other two are equally awesome, in their own way, but there was something about the driven red splash of the sail-powered ice-boat amongst the icy blue of the frozen seascape that conjured up fantastic adventures I wanted to be part of. Anyone who knows me or follows this blog should be surprised I bought books just for the covers, but in this case – and many others – what was underneath lived up to the promise on the outside.shallowsofnight

If I’d found the US covers first, I would *never* have read them, I guarantee that. YMMV.

However, I hope I’ve given you reassurance that these books are worth a look, whatever the cover. They are certainly not going to be for everyone, but if you like a stoic hero with a sword striding (or stumbling) through a fantastic (and rather unique) world that you discover as he does, you can do far worse than these hidden gems.

Hidden Gems: Monsters with Pretty Faces

So, after going back before Tolkien (!) for last week’s Gem, I’ve got something more contemporary to rave about this week. Not liking Jacobean prose will no longer be an excuse, though, unfortunately, living in America may be. (No, you can’t blame Trump for this one – but I’d import a copy before the wall goes up.)

This a series (two books so far, third on the way) is flying under a lot of people’s radar, despite some rave reviews, and I think it definitely qualifies as a Hidden Gem even in its relatively young life. Many books probably deserve more attention than they get, but with a lot of them, I can see some reason the mainstream wouldn’t embrace them, despite their brilliance. Not so with Rebecca Levene’s Hollow Gods.

Today’s genre, for better or worse, is full of the grim and the gritty, the dark and the even darker – and fans seem to love it. Of course, there’s always been darkness in fantasy, and probably a lot more grit than people choose to remember, but if everything isn’t crap in a modern fantasy story, then it just isn’t real enough for today’s connoisseur. Strange that it would bother so many fans of a genre that regularly features magic, wizards, gods, monsters, elves, and stews cooked round the campfire…

Of course, today’s genre headliners often have very little of the fantastic in them, sticking to humanity in the main, and the worst of it, at that. Levene’s Hollow Gods certainly delivers in this regard – from page one – but unlike a lot of contemporary “grimdark” works, there’s also a huge dose of imaginative fantasy as well. We’ve got golden cities and mirror towns and travelling fairs…and they are all, to borrow a phrase, wretched hives of scum and villainy.

smilersfair_visual1The series is full of the unexpected, and brilliantly so, defying expectations from the cover onward. Things go wrong, people suffer, moments of triumph misfire, and the only law is that of unintended consequences. I don’t think that’s a spoiler, but hopefully fair warning. Because the cover doesn’t give you any…

Don’t get me wrong, the covers are gorgeous, but they don’t exactly prepare you for what lies within (unless you like your clues incredibly subtle). I do wonder if half the reason this is a hidden gem and not a breakout success are these beautiful covers, which – if they were to match the interior of the books – would be a bit bloodier and weaponised, like many of those contemporaries I alluded to earlier. A shame, perhaps, but there we are.

(To be honest, there’s probably a strong argument that it would sell better with a guy’s name on the cover. Such is the grimdark world we live in.)

Strangely enough, I may not have read it had it been suitably advertised – I’m not always a fan of the overtly grimdark. It didn’t take me long to figure out what I had in my hands (as I said before, first page of the prologue), but by then I was hooked. It also has a pretty wide cast of characters spread across a continent – again, not usually my bag – but these characters defy expectations as well. Yes, there’s a outcast warrior and a homicidal maniac, but there’s also a farmboy straight out of your classic epic – and therefore way out of his depth. And there’s a young prostitute with a heart of gold trying to make good – only this time, he’s gay.

bff-hunterskindAnd then there’s the world, a mix of the familiar and the utterly alien. I wasn’t sure if the presence of some of the Earth-analogues cultures and languages were just useful shortcuts or some deeper worldbuilding enigma, but there is so much else going on that these questions fade into the background. From the fact that nobody can make a permanent settlement due to the threat of the underground worm men, to the brilliantly topical Brotherband, to the fact that the gods and the epic war fought many generations ago aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, the first book keeps you on your toes. The second book, however, blows the socks right off them.

It should be no surprise that an apparent debut series is so confident and competently written, as Levene is apparently an experienced pro with lots of industry credentials. With this series, however, she shatters the shackles of writing other people’s characters and worlds in spectacular fashion. If you want something grim and dark, but also epic and spectacular, get your hands on this gorgeous monster of a series.

Hidden Gems: Holiday in Zimiamvia

So, we’re going even further back in time for this week’s Hidden Gem. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s easier to find books no-one’s talking about the further back you go, even with some of the big names. Does that really make them a hidden gem, or just a forgotten favourite? Moreover, books of bygone eras are going to have limited appeal to today’s audience, so it may be an even harder sell than my usual obscurities. However, if fantasy is in many sense a backwards-looking genre, even if it often evokes the past to comment on the present, then I think there’s a lot to be gained by connecting with the genre’s own past.

Also, the books are just good.

Some people may be surprised to know that J.R.R. Tolkien wasn’t the first modern fantasy author, and I’d imagine not very many people will have read books that predate his genre-defining masterworks (some consider even them too old to bother with). Some of the names are still fairly well-known, of course, from prolific pulpsters like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Lieber, to one-book curiosities like Hope Mirlees or John Myers Myers; from comedy (James Branch Cabell) to horror (H.P. Lovecraft) to fairy-tale (Lord Dunsany) and myth-inspired (Evangeline Walton). And that’s not counting all the classic adventures  or romances with touches of the fantastic in them. Fantasy was certainly not a mainstream genre of fiction, but Tolkien definitely had both predecessors and contemporaries.2910

One of those was the curious Edwardian, Eric Rücker Eddison, whom Tolkien himself once called “the greatest and most convincing writer of ‘invented worlds’ that I have ever read”. And, though Tolkien would soon surpass him, I can certainly see why Eddison would be considered preeminent until then. Unlike some of those other authors, many of whom use the short-cuts of established fairy tales for their settings and characters, Eddison goes in for extensive worldbuilding, giving his imaginary lands their own history just as you’d expect from any modern fantasy author – there are even maps!

In his more well-known The Worm Ouroboros, Eddison takes a slight misstep in framing the subsequent fantasy adventure within an Earthling dreamer’s visit to Mercury. This conceit would be less jarring if it wasn’t almost immediately forgotten about and never referred to again – almost as if the author was afraid to do a straight otherworld fantasy (which no-one would bat an eyelid at these days). Then there is the further distraction of a nation-naming convention using common fairy-tale creature names (Witchland, Demonland, Goblinland, etc. – apparently he did a lot of the naming when an imaginative child). Once you get past the naming, the archaic prose, and interludes of Jacobean poetry (instead of Tolkien’s elvish), you have a fantasy unlike any other since. Memorable heroes, epic quests, bloody feasts, shifting allegiances, sorcerous magic, all wrapped up in a war that begins as soon as it ends.

Compared to that standalone epic, the Zimiamvian Trilogy is in general much more confident and mature. While there is the same Earthbound-dreamer to frame it, he is this time an important character, and the country he is transported to (though apparently part of the same world) is fully realised and mapped out. Rather than the mythical figures of some childhood history of the Trojan war, or the lusty heroes of Olivier’s Henry V, the characters in Mistress of Mistresses and A Fish Dinner in Memison are more rounded, more grown-up, their choices and failings more like those of normal people.274065

Of course, these are still books about Great Men and the Women Who Love Them, but the time between great events is more fully explored. Sometimes this means the story bogs down a bit in romantic-philosophical interludes, but the slower build-up does tend to lend more dramatic heft to the moments of decision and action. Though not nearly as action-packed as The Worm (at least, until the summarised war in the sadly unfinished Mezentian Gate), I found the political manoeuvring more compelling.

At times, it’s a bit like Game of Thrones, if it had been written in three-hundred years earlier. In other ways, it’s a Jacobian Prince of Nothing with the polarity reversed so that everyone is admirable (for much of the same behaviours), portrayed in Technicolor and not shades of grey. But mostly it’s just unique.

Archaic prose (though about a century more modern than Worm’s), uneven pacing, and a mangled chronology (each subsequently published book takes place before the last, and 3 overlaps 2) do make the trilogy a flawed work of genius, and definitely not for the casual fantasy reader. So why am I moved to include it among the hidden gems?1403865627-500x500

For me, these books are all exceptional in the way they capture the raw essence of myth-making, distilled by Tolkien but diluted by subsequent authors the further it got from the source. Even more than Tolkien, Eddison’s sagas recall the zeal and zeitgeist of ancient heroic “histories” as only a Victorian/Edwardian gentleman could write. If Tolkien’s works bear the scars of WW1, Eddison’s are unapologetically antebellum (despite them basically being contemporaries). Great Men do Great Things – including fight when they need to – and the little people don’t get a look-in. Women work their influence on and through these men, but are secondary, though significant.

No, it’s not comfortable politics, but all these heavy historical anchors mean Eddison evokes a past more fantastic and alien than many modern costume dramas. If you want fantasy fiction that really transports you somewhere else – and not just to the cosy adventurer’s tavern where the same old stock characters are LARPing about – then Eddison could be your gateway drug.

 

Hidden Gems: Barbara Hambly

So, it was tough to pick who to feature this week, because I’ve had to examine what I think qualifies as a hidden gem. First, and most obviously, it has to be a book or series I really like. This could mean something that is one of my all-time favourites, or something that came along and changed the way I read fantasy, or just something fun. The definition of “hidden” is a bit trickier, because my perception might be off, but I suppose I’m just looking for books that I don’t hear discussed very often, or at all.

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Yes, it’s “Gandalf”, in your kitchen, with a can of beer

Like last week, I’m going back in time to the heyday of Big Epic series, the days when people were reading Brooks, Eddings, Feist, Williams, and Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. At least, that’s what I always hear people were reading. They were also reading Kerr, Rawn, Moon, Bradley, Lackey, and, of course, the subject of today’s blog – but I don’t hear so much about that.

I’m going to feature the author this time, rather than a series of books, because it’s hard for me to explain why Barbara Hambly is so awesome without looking across her body of fantasy work. I haven’t read anywhere near all of it – she’s hugely prolific, and in multiple genres, too – but everything I have read – though it often seems straightforward on the surface – ventures off the beaten path, subverting tropes at a time when most were still embracing them.

Take her best-known series, the portal fantasy Darwath Trilogy. The start is memorable but fairly standard, with a Gandalf-y wizard showing up to take our heroine into a different world, which she must help save. Unlike Narnia et al. however, our hero is no callow kid, but a graduate student who knows herself and her stuff. And the peril they face is no one-dimensional domination-bent dark lord, but alien creatures of mindless, relentless horror. The way they adapt to the invasion of the Dark, combating opposition among their supposed allies as well, creates moments of  claustrophobic terror and bleak despair. Though still following a fairly standard format, the trilogy is both much darker and more mature than it would seem on the surface, just enough askew from the staid expectations to make it interesting and rewarding.

176268And this is what Hambly does with most of her books, as far as I can tell. Along with being equally well-written, the other two I’ve read certainly perform a similar trick on well-worn tropes. In Dragonsbane, a dragonslayer and his partner are called upon to exterminate a scaly pest, but this is no “St. George and Smaug” act. Again, the characters are not your typical heroes or villains – something we are used to know, but was much more groundbreaking back then – and the plot soon goes in unexpected directions.

The Ladies of Mandrigyn is perhaps not so subtle, taking a familiar-sounding Magnificent Samurai plot and making it all about the women. Again, this was more radical at the time, but that twist is only the beginning. In Hambly’s more grown-up fantasy worlds, nothing is easy or straightforward, even for legendary mercenaries. Where you might normally have a classic training montage leading to a great victory, Hambly goes into all the realistic difficulties of turning housewives into killers and then pulling off a coup.

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Cover so bad I had to include it, but only very small…

So, an obvious question is, have they aged well? I think so, because Hambly’s ahead-of-her time unpredictability has created unique works that are neither the straightforward trope-fests of some of her contemporaries, nor the jaded inversions we have today (which are starting to wear their own grooves, lets be fair). If you are looking for infallible heroes and unambigiuos endings, these may not be for you, but if you want proof that this was not just the age of the Epic-by-numbers, these are it.

And you don’t have to take my world alone for it, because Hambly comes up all the time when authors are asked about their inspirations, especially underappreciated or underrated ones. In fact, she so often mentioned as underrated that I’m not sure she is anymore! She certainly seems to be something of an author’s author, and that can’t be a bad thing.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell the story of how I discovered about these hidden gems. Well, like Hagrid’s dragon egg, they were handed to me in a pub by a mysterious stranger – not with any ulterior motive that I know about, but with equally wonderful results. It’s not every day you receive such an unexpected treasure trove, and I hope I’ve passed on some of my own good fortune in writing this.