Fiction recommendations?

I was wondering if anyone had any recommendations of novels etc that convey at least something of a Mythic Europe feel?

Alternatively, a covenant style setup in a less historically grounded setting might be fun...

As is traditional, I begin with "The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco.

To be a little less traditional, I then suggest Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. It's short, but you wouldn't have the current version of "Covenants" without it and the "Cooks Companion" by Stephanie Alexander.

I'd just like to remind everyone that Peripheral Code is looking for a novel / book / movie reviewing guy. If I had my act together on my podcast I might volunteer, but I'm not able to do it right now. If we get a batch of cool stuff here, though, it'll make that person's eventual job easier (so...one of your, or more than one, should volunteer).

In addition to The Name of the Rose, these books have influenced my saga a fair bit, and I would certainly recommend them:

Gene Wolfe – The Devil in a Forest
A vivid story depicting the dramas of peasant life in a remote, mountainous area. While admittedly it is not written from a perspective shared by many magi, I sometimes like showing society from the bottom up in my games and this book is particularly good at conveying the vulnerability and exploitation of the majority population both from bandits but also from the knights and soldiers of the local lord. There is also a creepy and well portrayed (but low-powered by ArM standards) wise woman / folk witch in the story.

Ellen Kushner – Thomas the Rhymer
A good novelisation of one of the most famous medieval stories of a visit to Faerie (the harper Thomas is enticed there by the Queen of Elfland). Again, the novel is particulary strong on peasant life, depictions of which bookend the main drama.

Robert Holdstock – Mythago Wood, Lavondyss, The Hollowing
I had a bit of difficulty working with the ArM5 conception of Faerie until I realised that with a slight adaption of how Faerie is described in RoP:F I could understand Faerie along the same lines as mythagos in Robert Holdstock's Ryhope Wood books. Both mythagoes and and ArM5 faerie emerge from the human imagination, but while ArM5 conceptualises this simply in terms of stories people create, with Holdstock it is first of all primal instincts, fears and desires that create mythagoes that then crystallise in particular mythic forms (Robin Hood, Jason and the Argonauts, Arthur, amongst many others) and act out traditional stories. Shades of Jung to be sure, but it's done gently, and the portrayal of the mythic figures are compellingly dark and earthy.

Guy Gavriel Kay - A Song for Arbonne
A nice fantasy portrayal of Medieval Languedoc and the Albigensian Crusade (no room for doubt that the crusaders are the bad guys!). While I found the writing to be a bit flabby, it is good overall at conveying a rather romanticised Occitania, all troubadours and chatelains and merry festivals and rolling hills covered by vineyards, so it is worth reading if you are running a saga in the Provencal Tribunal (as I am).

What I haven't found is a decent book with wizards set in medieval Europe. Others might recommend the novel Ars Magica by Judith Tarr. I found it an OK book but there wasn't really much magica in it! This has been a bit of a problem for me - with other games I have been able to point to a novel and say, 'here is this great book! I want to run a game set in an environment very much like the one you find there, and you can play characters similar to those you will read about in the book!' It does make things easier to get people into a game - but we don't have that for Ars Magica. Someone should write it!

Cheers,

David

There is a series by Eric Flint, Mercades Lackey and someone else- the first book is Shadow of the Lion, the second which I am on is This Rough Magic- it is set a bit later but has that nice mix of alternate history and prominent magic. (The Library of Alexandria still stands, there is a Hypatian order in the Church, the Church is divided into Peterine and Pauline sects, and the Norse have established a presence in America in the 15th century...)

Reminiscing about early editions of Ars Magica on another thread here got me thinking about the fiction that the original game reminded me of and that I felt inspired the authors.

The game's changed a lot over the years so these don't necessarily convey the feeling of the 5e Mythic Europe setting, but just in case any other old-timers are interested, here's what comes to mind.

Obviously Eco's "Name of the Rose". Everyone was reading it back then, I don't think any more need be said.

Supposedly the authors had read very little actual medieval history and I can believe that, but I have a feeling that like so many other people at the time they did read the fringe history "Holy Blood Holy Grail". The setting in Southern France and some of the Church-y stuff in the early editions make me think of this.

Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books, I think, inspired Parma/"Shields", Magical Dueling / Certamen, and Hermes Portals / Teleportals (or whatever she called them). Those books were also very popular in gamer circles at the time. The early books that were available back in that time were much less religious in their magic than later ones, so the conflict with the AM paradigm wasn't so blatant as it would be now.

That Magic/Divine conflict could come from a wide variety of fantasy books but I was always reminded of the work of Poul Anderson, such as "The Broken Sword" and "The Merman's Children".

One less well remembered (deservedly, imo) work that reminded me of Ars Magica was Clifford Simak's "The Fellowship of the Talisman". The book had demons, Church powers to protect sort of like the Dominion, a Wizard's Covenant, in a condition almost exactly like Winter from Ars Magica, and even a magically created griffin. Anyone else remember the otherwise inexplicable Create Griffin spell from the early books?

Hi,

The Name of the Rose. I think the relationship of this novel to Ars Magica is similar to that of Interview with the Vampire to Vampire: The Masquerade.

The Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings. Not an obvious choice, but Middle Earth is a Mythic Europe. The realms are here. Warping. Twilight. Auras. 80 years after The Hobbit was published, Tolkien remains the sun about which most subgenres of fantasy orbit, including this one.

Various novels by Judith Tarr, most notably Ars Magica :slight_smile:, The Hound and the Falcon and Alamut series, A Wind in Cairo. In period.

Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudalino. It's her only good book, but it's also a great book. Read once and wince, take a deep breath and accept the book's faults and read it again to appreciate its many virtues.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Not in period, but the best and most detailed Mythic Europe with Magic I know of.

The preponderance of books from ~1980-1995 is not accidental.

Anyway,

Ken

This one must be for the feel of the White Wolf edition. :laughing:

For French people Jaworski's "Janua vera" or "Gagner la guerre" ("To win the war") novels are set in a low-fantasy universe. Magic ia everywhere but only a few know how to practice it. And they're deadly. And faeries are jackass too.

It could be interesting to list comics too. The Unicorn, Garulfo maybe... I don't know how it is worldwide but in France we have a lot of nice comics about faeries or Breceiland's forest published each year.

Many thanks for all the suggestions. It's been ages since I read Name of the Rose, and I don't remember much about it that says Mythic Europe to me, but that just suggests I should go and read it again. (Of course it is a wonderful portrait of a monastery (covenant). I may have read Mythago Wood but again I can't remember so I'll have to go and look it up just to be sure. The others that I haven't read I'll definitely look up.

I'm afraid I don't think I see Tolkien as much inspiration: Middle-Earth in LOTR is too empty (where would you find monastery-like covenants?), and too areligious. A great evil manifest in the world itself (whether Sauron or Melkor) also seems pretty out of place (or do you think that Islam in Palestine fills that role, perhaps with Constantinople as Saruman?)

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is a book I've heard recommended a lot. I found it a bit bland, basically because it feels like a 20th century story about 20th century characters, just set on a 12th century stage. I've found this a serious problem with most fiction set in the Middle Ages.

One exception is, of course, fiction from much earlier times :slight_smile: In this sense, the Icelandic sagas are true gems; they are weird and compelling at the same time, because they talk of men that are at the same time very "close" to us (e.g. they quarrel over land and inheritances) and very "distant" (in terms of morality, of how wealth was displayed, but also in terms of how the supernatural was considered "normal"). You can find many of them at sagadb.org.

From many aspects, I would suggest the wheel of time. But there are many more reasons to read this masterpiece than because of the little things which are similar to what may exist in Ars Magica.

I never though about the Deriny's books, but now that one previous poster has spoken about it, it seems obvious...

oh...The Accursed Kings series is fantastic.

I tend to agree. I think it's more of a book that Ars Magica players read and like than something that feels like the game world. Everyone did want that library in their Covenant back in the day though.

It's hard for me to come up with books that have the feel of 5e Ars because on the one hand the setting has the accurate historical material, suggesting historical fiction rather than fantasy fiction, but on the other hand there's the Order of Hermes.

A lot of people have said MacAvoy's Damiano series feels like Ars. Honestly, I couldn't really get into the books though.

I recently read and can recommend Tim Severin's Saxon series. It's the wrong century and there's only an ambiguous touch of the supernatural, but it's good Carolingian travel and adventure.

Good sword & sorcery, both again a few centuries earlier than the Ars setting, can be found in Howard Andrew Jones's Desert of Souls series and Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road.

I recommended The Name of the Rose for our neighborhood's book club. It's been 27 years since I read it and I'm enjoying the re-read, especially since I know more about Medieval illumination and understand the types of images that monk's drew in the margins. The existence of the WWW now and a quick search of illuminated manuscripts helps to "illuminate" the long discussions in the novel. Most of my neighbors seem to be enjoying it.

Check it out: there's even an iMessage sticker pack of Medieval Rabbit and Friends.

Beware the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog -- He's invaded your iPhone!

No demons.

Regio. The limits of faerie. Entwinement of mortality and progress. More.

The book might be a vinatage, 1990 neo-pagan anti-establishment screed hitting all the cliches, but even on that basis it's a damned good screed, shorn of everything inessential, graceful through purity of form and intent.

That's not why I recommend it as useful for Ars Magica, but in answer to the OP, who wants a feel for Mythic Europe. Or for a Mythic Europe.

Anyway,

Ken

I'm sure it's a fine book and I didn't mean to criticize it. I'd never read it or even heard of it so when I read your post I looked it up. Escaping from Faerie to form a heavy metal band and (as per the blurb I read) go on a "dangerous odyssey through a rock world of evil drugs and sex" triggered uncontrollable memories of White Wolf Games to me.

Although clearly not a medieval setting (nor a novel) the TV series Sons of Anarchy is, I think, a great model for how a covenant might work. The setting is a Californian motorcycle gang, but there are many similarities:

  • there is a "council" of full members who have positions like president, sergeant at arms, etc. [i.e. the magi]
  • there is a wider group of un-patched members, close allies, women, children, etc. [i.e. the rest of the covenant]
  • there is a physical headquarters/fortress, which is not necessarily a permanent residence for most characters, but is retreated to in times of crisis [i.e. the physical covenant]
  • there are other chapters (mostly friendly) and there are also chapters of rival and allied gangs [i.e. the rest of the Tribunal/Order]
  • the gang has its own parallel "laws" and system of justice which exists (very) uneasily alongside the "mundane" justice system [i.e the Oath / Peripheral Code]

Sons episodes are also quite a good model for troupe-style play. Lots of parallel, episodic stories, driven either by gang/covenant problems or individual character flaws, that each involve a few main characters plus others, that tend to snowball towards a series finale.

I'd never thought about it that way, but good point actually.

Yeah - that's something I'll have to try. Thanks!