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Old Favorites, New Favorites

November 16, 2020

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I read.   A lot.

Since I was a kid.   Whatever else may be going on in my life — writing, traveling, speaking, buying railroads and cinemas — I have a book or three by my bedside.   I read every night before sleep.   A few pages, a chapter… but the best times are when a story really gets its hooks into me and I find I cannot put it down.   Then I read late into the night, and resume reading when I get up in the morning.   Mind you, that does not happen often.  Most books, even some very fine books, do not have that effect on me.   But I love to find the ones that do.

Bernard Cornwell is one of the writers who never fails to grab me by the throat.  I have loved his Sharpe books, several of his stand-alones, his Thomas of Hookton series, his Arthurian triad… but my favorite is his long-running Saxon series, the tales of Uhtred son of Uhtred, some of which have been brought to television in the excellent series THE LAST KINGDOM.   The latest installment in Uhtred’s saga is WAR LORD, which arrived here just a few days ago.   As always with Cornwell, it went right to the top of the stack, and I gulped it right down.   Excellent, as always.   No one writes better historical fiction than Cornwell… and the Saxon series is especially cool in that it brings to life a part of British history that I knew almost nothing about.  (Other eras, while fascinating, have been done to death, in good books and bad ones).    The battle scenes are terrific, as ever.  Cornwell brings battles to life like no one else, whether he is writing about the shield walls of the Dark Ages or the musketry of the Napoleonic Era.

There was only one thing I did not like about WAR LORD.    It reads as if it is the last Uhtred.   We have been following him since childhood, but he is very old now, and on his third king, and the epilogue definitely gives the impression that his tale is at an end.  If so… well, he had a great run, but I will miss him.   Though maybe Cornwell will continue with tales of Uhtred son of Uhtred son of Uhtred, who knows?   Whatever he writes next, I am sure it will be well worth reading.

(If you like historical fiction, read WAR LORD by all means.   But don’t start there.   If you have not been following Uhtred previously, you want the start with THE LAST KINGDOM.  Despite having “last” in the title, it is actually the first book in the series).

While my shelves are full of books by old favorites like Bernard Cornwell, writers that I have been following for decades, I am always looking for new writers as well.  I do try to keep up on today’s SF and fantasy, though I wouldn’t say I do a great job of it… there is just so much of it (these days publishers sent me the first volume of almost every new high fantasy series in hopes of blurbage, so the pile just keeps getting higher).  And I like to read other stuff as well: historical fiction (like Cornwell), history, mysteries, mainstream, horror, classics, non-fiction… hell, all sorts of things.  As well as rereading books I have read before,  stories dear to my heart like LORD OF THE RINGS.

But I digress.  The point is, last summer in Dublin at the Irish Worldcon, I met a newer writer at my Hugo Losers Party at the Guinness Storehouse.  Her name was S.A. Chakraborty.  She was not a Hugo Loser (yet — though I suspect she will be), but she had been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and had lost that, which was more than sufficient to qualify her for the party.  In any case, she came up and introduced herself and we chatted… very briefly, things are always very hectic for me when playing host at the Hugo Losers Parties, and someone or something interrupted us and I had to break off… but she was bright and charming and interesting, and I told myself “I really must check out her work.”

I finally got around to it, a year and a half later.   I read THE CITY OF BRASS, the first volume of her debut high fantasy trilogy, and I am so glad I did.   I get sent a lot of fantasies, as I said, but this one really stood out.  I loved the protagonist, there was a nice cast of supporting characters, and the plot had some twists and turns that I did not see coming… and her style is vivid and colorful and very readable.  The best thing, though, was the setting.   Instead of drawing on the European Dark Ages and Middle Ages, like me and JRRT and a thousand other epic fantasists, Chakraborty evoked the flavors of the Middle East and ARABIAN KNIGHTS and the legends of the djinns.   I enjoyed the novel hugely, and I just ordered the second and third books in the trilogy so I can may continue the adventure.   And if I should ever run into the author at another convention, I hope I get to speak with her a little longer.

So there you have it.   One old favorite, one new one.   Cornwell and Chakraborty, names to remember.

Now pardon me.  I have more books to read (and one to write, I know, I know, I know).


Current Mood: enthralled enthralled

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