For a clearer view of my tastes in fantasy, I've also added the other (mostly) fantasy books I have read, along with my ratings. As you can see, I used to be into vampires before... erm.
J. R. R. Tolkien
A concise history of Middle-earth. (written on 14th September 2005)
The Silmarillion is a quick glimpse into Tolkien's life's work, into his Creation. It tells of the making of Arda by Ilúvatar and the Ainur, of the coming of the Elves and Dwarves and Men to Middle-earth, but also of their corruption and the great battles that lead to the downfall of their civilization.
I read the Silmarillion for the first time 7 years ago, and I must admit my English wasn't good enough then, so I really struggled with the language. I wasn't as familiar with Tolkien's world as I am now either, having only read the Lord of the Rings in French two years before, so it only seemed to me like a confusing succession of names. I didn't enjoyed it.
Now, after a second attempt, I'm proud to announce I changed my view. Even though of course the Silmarillion still ressembles much more a history book than a novel, and even though I still found it hard to concentrate at times, and even though I still mixed all the characters' and places' names, I could match the words with John Howe's illustrations. Therefore everything took colour and became three-dimensional. And I even drew some of the scenes myself.
And now I want to read it again... so that must be a sign, right?
It all began one afternoon, when Gandalf the wizard came knocking at the round door of his cosy Hobbit Hole. The next morning, thirteen dwarves were crowding his living-room and enrolling him to steal the gold guarded under the lonely Mountain by Smaug, the last of the great dragons.
So off he went, through forests old and mountains cold, deceiving trolls, solving riddles in the dark, escaping from goblins and elves, and most of the time rescuing the dwarves from the many perils he himself inadvertenly put them in, thanks to a magical ring he found in Gollum's cave, a ring that has to power to render him invisible.
This was the second time I read The Hobbit, and looking at it now with the critical eye of the (amateur) reviewer, I'm afraid to admit I was somewhat annoyed at the beginning by Tolkien's paternalistic tone, by how he sometimes addresses the reader and makes references to the real world, or hints at what's coming up later in the story. This makes the book seem clearly targeted to a young audience, and indeed, The Hobbit would be perfect for reading aloud to a child. However, this tone changes in the course of the story, and especially during the final Battle of the Five Armies, where it reaches a more epic scope, more suitable for young adults. Mark you, I'm not saying I didn't like it, but was just slightliy disappointed not to enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Oh, the heresy!
Series: The Lord of the Rings
The Fellowship of the Ring (La
Communeauté de l'Anneau)
The film tells the story of Frodo Baggins, a young hobbit, or half-sized human with hairy feet, who lives in the Shire, in Middle-Earth. Frodo's uncle Bilbo, on his one-hundred-and-eleventh birthday, leaves everything to his nephew, among which a ring that has the power to make its bearer invisible. The ring turns out to be The One Ring of Power, forged by the evil Lord Sauron. The mythological and historical background is well summarized at the beginning of the film, and we learn that Sauron was defeated long ago and the ring somewhat lost and found several times before falling into Bilbo's hands. However at the same time, in the land of Mordor, Sauron is stirring again and wants his Ring, source of the power he needs to dominate all the people of Middle-Earth. And so he sends forth nine Nazgûl, to find the Ring. Frodo has but one solution: he has to destroy the ring by casting it into the very fire in which it was forged, in Mount Doom. He sets off with some companions, on a perilous quest to the heart of Mordor.
It must have been hard to squeeze over one thousand pages into three three-hour-long films, but I think Peter Jackson managed to cut at the right places, and since I have read the books, I was able to fill in. Even though it might sometimes be a little bit confusing to people who are new to the story, the fast fighting scenes, the terrifying Nazgûl and evil orcs that contrast with the stunning, breathtaking beauty of the scenery and the great special effects, all this backed up by a wonderful cast, make the Fellowship of the Ring definitely worth seeing by anyone. Personally, I most enjoyed the visual rendering of Sauron's blurry dark world Frodo falls into when he puts on the ring.
These must have been among the most awaited films in history, and even though no film will ever be as majestic and magical as a masterpiece of such scope, I think Peter Jackson really managed to capture its enchanting, wonderful spirit and to pay a superb homage to JJR Tolkien's genius. It made me want to read the books again, and I hope it will make everyone want to read them as well.
The Two Towers (Les Deux Tours)
The Fellowship of the Ring has just been broken and our heroes are now all heading in different directions, all following their own paths. Merry and Pippin have just been captured by a horde of Saruman's foul Huruk-Haï who, following the sorcerer's orders, are taking them to his tower of Isengard, and Aragorn the Heir of Gondor, Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf are running to their rescue across the plains of Rohan, land of the Rohirim horsemasters. Taking the advantage of a clash between the orcs and a band of Rohirim, the hobbits manage to escape into Fangorn, the old forest, home of the legendary Ents. There they'll meet an old acquaintance.
Meanwhile Frodo, the Ring-bearer, and his friend Sam are on their way to Mordor. It won't be long until they become lost, nor before they realize they're not alone. Gollum, the filthy creature who once possessed the One Ring, has been following them all along. They capture him, but soon Frodon takes pity and decides to release him in exchange for Gollum's word that he'll guide them to Mordor.
Once again, Peter Jackson managed to bring to screen the enchanting spirit of JRR Tolkien's complex novels. I personally liked Gollum's character a lot, as well as admired the creature's beautiful computer graphics animation. And the Battle of Helm's Deep, the terrible final conflagration between Théoden's people and Saruman's army of ten thousand orcs, is just as formidable. I'll have to read these books again!
The Return of the King (Le
Retour du Roi)
Saruman the traitor has just been defeated, both in Isengard and Helm's Deep, and so Gandalf and Pippin ride towards Gondor and its capital Minas Tirith, to offer the Riders of Rohan's help to Denethor. But after the death of his beloved son Boromir, which he blames Faramir for, the stewart of the White City has lost all hope of surviving the war against the armies of Sauron, and is now teetering on the brink of insanity. Out of pride, he refuses to call for help. Taking advantage of his smaller size to pass undetected, Pippin lights the beacons all the same, signalling the Rohirrim, led by King Théoden, to start their march East. Among them are Merry and Éowyn, eager to fight alongside her kin in the battle on which depends the fate of all mankind, and Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn, still in doubt about his destiny and heirloom as king of Gondor.
Meanwhile, Gollum is leading Frodo and Sam further into the dark land of Mordor, up treacherous, vertiginous stairs and through tunnels filled with dangers, Frodo's mind slowly giving in to the power of the Ring he has to destroy.
I'm finding it very hard to concentrate on my job today, I keep staring at the void, my head filled to the brim with images of the film. What a blast! The actors, and the Hobbits in particular, are amazing, the sets, costumes and visual effects are stunning, the music is riveting! Want to know more? Well, I wouldn't want to spoil it, so just go watch it!
The Lord of the Rings (Le
Seigneur des Anneaux)
The adventure goes on in The Two Towers. The Fellowship has just been broken, and as the Hobbits Merry and Pippin are captured by Orcs to be brought to the traitor wizard Saruman, now the ally of Sauron, Frodo and his friend Sam are slowly making their way through desolate plains and treacherous bogs, to Mordor. Soon they realize that Gollum, a nasty creature who once possessed the Ring, is following them. Captured, and still under the irresistible lure of the Ring, the twisted wretch agrees to become their guide to the forsaken land. Meanwhile Aragorn the Heir of Kings, Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf are running across the grassy plains of Rohan, the domain of the Rohirrim horse masters, to rescue Merry and Pippin and later help Théoden, King of Rohan, defend his people against Saruman's army in the battle of Helm's Deep.
In The Return of the King, as Frodo and Sam are ineluctably treading closer to the heart of danger, putting the goal of their quest in jeopardy every day a little bit more as Frodo's mind threatens to give in to the power of the Ring, Aragorn and his companions must defend the beautiful white city of Minas Tirith, capital of Gondor, in a hopeless struggle against Sauron's reckless army of berserkers.
How does one go about writing a review of such a masterpiece, now that The Lord of the Rings is not only the second most read book of the twentieth century (after the Bible), but also a blockbuster movie trilogy? How does one do it justice? One just can't. That's it, I admit defeat. I simply lack superlatives to describe the tidal waves of emotions that overwhelm me each time I read this book. So I'll just say this: read it. And re-read it. And again.
The Lord of the Rings is timeless, atemporal. Even though Tolkien himself was notoriously not fond of allegories, I can't help seeing that, in these dark and sad days of our time, it stands as a beacon, a bright message of peace, telling us that even when evil and fear threatens to drown us all, there's still hope... May it be tomorrow's Bible.
Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragons d'un Crépuscule d'Automne) with Tracy Hickman
Series: The Once and Future King
The Sword in the Stone
The Wart is a young orphan boy who lives in the castle of Sir Ector, his foster father. The son of the latter, Kay, is his best friend and model, for one day he will be Sir Kay, the master of the estate.
One day, they decide to go hawking together on the edge of the Forest Sauvage, but they're inexperienced and Cully the hawk flies away. They have no choice but to enter the foreboding woods and go after it. And soon the Wart gets lost. In the forest, he meets with King Pellinore, whose Quest is to catch the Beast Glatisant, and later with Merlyn the Enchanter, who brings him back to the castle and becomes his tutor.
As the Wart gets turned successively into a fish, a merlin, an ant, yet several other species of birds and finally a badger to add to his education, the novel itself sort of turns into a book of natural science, more than an actual fantasy, and not much else happens. The author's tendency to address to the reader is somewhat annoying too, and in general The Sword in the Stone far from lived up to my expectations. Not to mention that you have to wait until the fifth to last page for the Wart to finally remove the actual sword from the stone.
The Witch in the Wood
Young Arthur is now King of England, but finds himself in times of great political unrest. Wondering, and not understanding, why people wage war on each other, he wants to create an order of chivalry where good deeds would be rewarded.
In the meantine four boys, Gawaine, Agravaine, Gaheris and Gareth, are up to some mischief to get their mother's attention. But Queen Morgause of the Outer Ilses, who's also a witch, is too eager on avenging her father's death and on having Uther Pendragon's heir pay for her mother's miserable life.
The pace of this book is very irregular, and I found the author's numerous references to his own times (the late 1930's) useless and rather annoying. However, I enjoyed some chapters a lot, especially the hilarious one where King Pellinore is in love and depressed, and Sir Palomides and Sir Grummore desguise as the Questing Beast to cheer him up, to finally have the Beast fall in love with them.
The Ill-Made Knight
The Ill-Made Knight tells the story of the life of Sir Lancelot, an ugly young man, fervent admirer of King Arthur, who comes to Camelot to become a Knight of the Round Table.
It won't be long until he and Arthur's Queen, Guenever, fall in love with each other. And soon Sir Lancelot is tormented by a devastating inner struggle. He is thoroughly ashamed of this love, which he considers a sin. So for his redemption, he swears to become the best knight in the world.
As for King Arthur, his knights have been busy restoring peace in all Europe, but soon the situation gets out of hand again, and he has to find something to keep them from fighting each other. He'll send them on a quest for the Holy Grail.
I was quite surprised by this book, which I enjoyed much more than the previous two. There's action at last, the characters are better defined, the story more gripping. I wonder what the last two have in store for me.
The Candle in the Wind
This volume tells the story of a Mordred on the onset of madness, of his attempts to overthrow his own father King Arthur out of thirst for power, and hatred for trying to drown him as a baby, by exposing Lancelot and Guenever's treason.
As the story flows, Arthur slowly witnesses the fall of the Round Table, sees the work of a lifetime, his ideal of Justice, and everything he has ever fought for, collapse.
The Candle in the Wind is an enthralling tragedy, ending in a wonderful speech against war, against all wars, which seem to rise again despite humanity's innumerable attempts to eradicate them. I read it avidly.
The Book of Merlyn
The day before the final confrontation with his son Mordred, Arthur follows Merlyn to the Combination Room, where lives his menagerie. There he listens to the magician and Archimedes, Badger, Urchin and so on, who are in a political debate on how the human way of considering life and the world is different from that of animals.
I was disappointed with the Book of Merlyn, which in fact is hardly a novel. Merlyn's supposedly natural history lesson is but an excuse for discoursing on war and the bellicosity of Man. The only passages where there's an actual story are when Arthur visits the ant nest and travels with the wild geese, but these chapters were already included in The Sword in the Stone. As for what happened to Lancelot and Guenever, it is briefly mentioned in the manner of history books. The introduction on T. H. White's life is interesting, and there are some nice illustrations, but as a whole I found nothing worth recommending this book.
Series: Memory, Sorrow and Thorn
The Dragonbone Chair
Stone of Farewell
As the great Storm is building up in the North and a terrible winter is spreading all over Osten Ard, Simon and his friends escape from Yiqanuc and start their long and perilous journey down the mountain and across the frozen plains to the Stone of Farewell, where they have to meet Prince Josua's party of exiles and deliver the sword Thorn.
In the meantime Princess Miriamele, accompanied by the enigmatic Brother Cadrach, travels southwards to seek help from her family, Maegwin and her folk hide in the Grianspog caves, where she discovers what seems like an ancient Sithi city, and King Elias and his advisor, the red priest and alchemist Pryrates, conspire with the evil Norns.
A great epic, full of unexpected new turns as the plot unfolds, varied characters you get immediately attached to, and marvelously detailed descriptions, like those of the beautiful legendary cities of the Elf-like Sithi folk. Definitely a great read. Can't wait to read To Green Angel Tower.
To Green Angel Tower: Siege
After meeting with Josua's party and exiles from the plains on Sesuad'ra, the Stone of Farewell, Simon is knighted by the prince for having recovered the legendary sword Thorn. But soon they learn that Josua's brother, the High-King Elias, has sent an army led by Duke Fengbald.
They have to prepare for a desperate war. With a makeshift army of exiles, and even with the unexpected help from the trolls, they know they'll be greatlty outnumbered.
To the south, Princess Miriamele, pretending she's daughter of a minor nobleman, has unwillingly given in to Lord Apsitis. He soon tells her he knows her true identity and plans to marry her, for political purposes. She'll have to escape.
In this book, Tad Williams manages to keep us reading avidly without revealing too much of the final plot, digging deeper into each character's personality, making them seem so real. I just can't wait to read the next and last one!
To Green Angel Tower: Storm
Drawn by the will to finally reunite the three magical swords, the various heroes all slowly converge back to the Hayholt for the final and terrible battle against the Storm King, and his allies the High King Elias and his councellor, the red alchemist and priest Pryrates.
Using the legendary knight Sir Camaris as a rallying emblem, Josua conquers Nabban. Enrolling new troups on the way, his army grows steadily bigger and stronger.
Miriamele, accompanied by Simon, has fled from Josua's camp, convinced she can talk her father, the High King, out of his evil deeds. Even though complicity and trust settles, Miriamele is torn between her attraction to Simon and the shame she feels at having let Aspitis touch her.
Compared to the first three books, this final volume is much faster paced. With many reverses in the seemingly helpless situations, unexpected turns as well as treasons and, finally, romance, it is truly "unputdownable"!
And if, like me, you can't get enough of Osten Ard, do not miss Tad Williams's novella, The Burning Man, that you'll find in Robert Silverberg Legends anthology (pb isbn/asin: 0812566645).
And just remember this: Beware of the false messenger...
The Burning Man short story
As he makes his way in the Old Woods, encountering all sorts of animals, helping a fox and sealing a pact with squirrels, he hears more and more rumours of tyrannic cat-shaped, red-clawed beasts devastating the land. Luckily he'll also join up with Pouncequick, a small kitten from home who had lost his way in the forest, and meet the senile Eatbugs and a pack of cats who set out to help him. What he doesn't know yet is that at the end of the road lies the nightmarish mound of Vastnir, source of all evil.
Even though it is a nice story, halfway between a fantasy and a fable, I am sad to admit that Tailchaser's Song failed to hold my attention, and I often found my thoughts wandering while I was reading..
The War of the Flowers
So Theo acquires a forest lodge and retires there, trying to create a vacuum around him and take time to think about where his life is going. Having nothing better to do, at nights he starts reading his great uncle's diary, which turns out to be only a badly-written first person fairy tale novel.
Or so it seems, until the day Applecore arrives in his kitchen. The half-foot-tall, red-haired fairy explains she has been sent to watch over him and fetch him. But they soon discover that she's been followed by a hideous and deadly creature, and they have no choice but to escape by crossing to Faerie right away.
The rest of the book tells us of Theo's journey in this unknown world, discovering many different creatures and a much different society, sometimes making friends along the way. The fact that he finds himself in the middle of a war between the Flower lords -where he apparently has a role to play, telling from the number of people who are trying to get at him- and and that he's always on the run doesn't help, but he never seems to get used to this world, never understands how it works and seems completely lost throughout the whole novel. And us with him. It was nice but definitely too long, and I think I'm definitely not a fan of crossover fantasy.
The Golden Age
I really love Woodkid’s music album, so I was fairly disappointed by the book, and I must admit it even spoiled the music a bit for me (but it got help from Woodkid’s embarrassing attitude on stage). There are some nice illustrations by Jillian Tamaki, but the story is a bit boring. Overall, I found it resembled a below-average school essay. Or simply this genre is just not my cup of tea.
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