Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Carrie Vaughn

Carrie Vaughn's books include the New York Times bestselling urban fantasy series featuring werewolf talk radio host, Kitty Norville.

Her new novel (which is not in the Kitty series) is Discord's Apple, a novel about family, treasure, the Trojan War, and the end of the world.

A couple of weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson

I've been happily diving into Steven Erikson's epic fantasy series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. This is actually kind of surprising, because I'm not a huge reader of epic fantasy. Sure, I've read The Lord of the Rings, as all fantasy fans ought at least once. But my usual pattern is to read the first book in a long series (such as Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World, the first book in the monster-huge The Wheel of Time Series), agree that it's a lot of fun, and feel absolutely no need to go on to the next book. Usually, I get enough of a sense of the style and tone of the writing, and where the story is going, that I get quite enough of that world, thank you very much. I'm a slow reader. I don't want to take the time to read seven eight-hundred-page books about the same thing.

What makes Erikson different? Well, everything. The trappings are all there -- warriors, vast armies battling for the fate of the world, magic, wizards, thieves, dark prophecies, deposed kings, long journeys, and so on. But they're all tilted. Skewed. Erikson has a built a history that covers hundreds of thousands of years, in which immortal beings actually remember those hundreds of thousands of years. They've watched thousands of vast armies battle for thousands of worlds in that time. The scale is truly epic. The story jumps around in time and place. In one book, we'll follow one group of characters. In the next, a completely different group of characters on a different continent. Another book begins with a certain group of characters -- two books later, we get the back story of those characters and how they ended up at that moment that started so much earlier. Their future, our past. The ground is always moving.

I can't actually describe the story to you in any coherent fashion. I also think that's not really the point. I follow my favorite characters -- hard-bitten sergeant Fiddler, weird mage Quick Ben, noble and clever Ganoes Paran, and his sister, the capable and increasingly tragic Tavore. I follow for the writing, vivid images and fully-immersive worlds. Erikson does a great job with the magic, better than anyone I've read. He doesn't describe the magic, per se, mostly the results. Which makes perfect sense -- in a world where all the characters have lived with magic every day, they wouldn't comment on it any more than we would describe the electric signal traveling from the switch to the light bulb when we turn on the light.

Also, some of the characters commit random acts of kindness. Some of them travel together for the simple reason that they're friends. In so much epic fantasy the goal seems to be finding out how horrible people can be to each other. Don't get me wrong, some truly horrible things happen in The Malazan Book of the Fallen. In some ways, it's even more horrifying because it's balanced by moments of true mercy and compassion. It's all so riveting.

Earlier this year I read Dust of Dreams, the ninth of the projected ten volumes of the series, and it definitely has the weight of all that has come before barreling toward a universe-shattering climax. And after I've read the tenth, I think I may go back and read them all over again.
Visit Carrie Vaughn's website, blog, MySpace page, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Discord's Apple.

--Marshal Zeringue