Sunday, 29 May 2011

Top ten novels

I’m a massive fan of fiction, so I’ve wanted to do some top tens centred on novels and writers for some time. I haven’t because, while I love reading, I tend not to read as much as I should and I tend to only really read a select few authors. A lot of the stuff I love is epic fantasy. The kind of epic fantasy that had dozens of novels in one series. But I decided to bite the bullet and do a top ten of my favourite novels. You will notice that almost all of them are fantasy, which tells you a lot about my tastes. Again, in no particular order.

  • Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand – for those that don’t know, Atlas Shrugged is an 11,000 word tomb by Ayn Rand, which expounds her objectivist philosophy with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. I read it in about 10 days. The thing at about Atlas Shrugged is that the protagonists are really interesting and the plot is great. Rand is also really good writer. The novel does a great job drawing you in. It is a little black and white, which is disappointing and the philosophy is very unambiguous. Rand does not really make us thing about her philosophy, nor does she present it in a way that is terribly balanced. It is a piece of objectivism propaganda more than anything else. Fortunately objectivism has something of a soft spot in my heart, even if modern proponents can be a little frustrating.

  • 1984, by George Orwell – Need I really say anything? I love dystopias, I especially love them when they deal with an over-protective state. 1984 is great. The plot is incredible, the characters are interesting, the setting is just brilliant and it’s written in such an understated and subtle way.

  • The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan – aaaaaaand we’ve reached the epic fantasy. Jordan is probably the first epic fantasy writer I ever got into and his Wheel of Time (WoT) series remains one of my favourite series ever. The world building in WoT is brilliant; very organic, very well thought out, referencing all kinds of different mythologies and cultures without just copying them. The Eye of the World is the first in the series, so it retains a special place in my heart, although in reality it’s really very hard to choose between the first half dozen books or so. The Eye of the World establishes all the major characters brilliantly and really makes the reader connect with them. It also begins the world building, always giving away just as much as we need to know to understand the action without giving away too much. It definitely leaves us wanting to read more about both the characters and the world in which they live.

  • Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow, by David Gemmell – Heroic Fantasy this time. I’m a huge fan of Greek Mythology, in particular the Troy myth. I was somewhat put off by the fact that this is a historical take on the myth, rather than staying true to the real story. I soon warmed to this, however, as Gemmell makes the story his own. It’s a very interesting take on a well know story and characters, set in a very interesting and well researched historical possibility. The other two books are just as good, although the writing does fall off, especially in the last book (although this is mostly because Gemmell’s wife, Stella, takes up the writing duties following David Gemmell’s death, and she’s not quite as polished)

  • Faith of the Fallen, by Terry Goodkind – Back to epic fantasy. Goodkind’s Sword of Truth (SoT) series is like WoT in that I got into it in my early teens and it has been something I have continued to enjoy ever since. We find smatterings of Randian Objectivism throughout the series, culminating in the sixth book, Faith of the Fallen, which is my personal favourite. It deals with the main character striving for individual success and acclaim while trapped in a communist dystopia. It’s a much more subtle take on the philosophy than Atlas Shrugged, although it’s still fairly blunt. The series is very well written and the characters are just awesome. The emphasis is more on characters and plots than of world building, in contrast to WoT.

  • The Golden Compass, by Phillip Pullman – I didn’t actually read this until after seeing the film Northern Lights, because I wanted to know what had actually happened in the film, which was hard without reading the book. The Golden Compass is actually really interesting and well written. The plot and characters are brilliant. I was not so happy about the later books in the trilogy, the last in particular just got silly, with some really bad plot holes and Deus Ex Machina.

  • Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien – how could I leave out the father of modern epic fantasy? I know it was later split into three, but the original Lord of the Rings (LotR) was all one big book. While the writing can get a little highbrow at times and Tolkien takes some shortcuts with the action scenes, the plot and characters are simply incredible. The world is also really well put together and the writing hints at something much bigger without getting bogged down.

  • Dracula, by Bram Stoker – ahhh, a nice bit of gothic horror. The epistolary format of Dracula wears a little thin after a while, but even so it’s a really good example of how to do it. The horror itself is subtle and interesting, with the details of Dracula and his powers drip fed. It lost some of the effect when I already knew most of it, but that’s not Stoker’s fault. The super-natural element of Dracula was maintained really well – how he became who he was is never really explained, which makes him that much more mystical.

  • Confessor, by Terry Goodkind – The last book in the SoT series. It really finishes the whole thing in a suitably epic and well thought out way. The plot revisits some of the plot devices from the very first book and wraps the whole thing up in a mind boggling way. I wanted to put two of Goodkind’s novels into this list to illustrate just how much of an impact he has had on my life as both a reader and a writer, as well as the influence he has had on my personal philosophy.

  • Lord of Chaos, by Robert Jordan – likewise Jordan really solidified my love of fantasy. I’ve recently reread the first eight book of the series and will reread the others with an eye to finally finishing the series when the final novel comes out in 2012. The series took a bit of a dip after Lord of Chaos, which is the sixth of the series. It maintains the great pace of the earlier book (which some later ones fail to) and has a really outstanding plot. The characters introduced in the first book just keep on developing all the way through the series in a way that is very organic and natural.

So that’s my top ten novels. As I said, I’m a fan of fantasy, epic fantasy in particular. I might tackle authors next time I get round to doing one of these.

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