Thought Id make a thread about fantasy literature. Figuring we all have stuff we've read in common and stuff we havent please feel free to post your suggestions/reviews/criticisms etc.
My all time fave fantasy literature for the past few years has to be George R. R. Martin's (ever delayed) Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings, Storm of Swords, Feast of Crows, and others still long awaited).
Whilst their isnt much in terms of sorcery, the books are a panopoly of well developed characters, multi-pronged sub plots, intrigue, betrayal, corruption, murder, epic battles, etc. All good fodder for a fertile imagination.
It's one of those series that just doesn't get written fast enough!
Note: on a more somber note, I just came across a blurb on the net that the well known author and creator of the Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan, died on September 16th after a protracted illness.
The Dragon and the George and The Dragon Knight, by Gordon R. Dickson. The Wandering Unicorn by Manual Mujica Lainez (An interesting view of the middle ages from the eyes of Melusina, fairy of legend) Her Majesty's Wizard by Christopher Stasheff (It's too bad it became a never ending series)
(And, of course, JRR Tolkein, Lord of the Rings, et alia...)
A trio for Lute by R.A. MacAvoy struck me as being particularily in tune with Ars Magica.
I recall not likeling "the stone and the Flute" (By Hans Bennman translated into English by Anthea Bell)or a book Called "Wizard War" (It was so long ago that I don't remeber the author, a search on Amazon shows me that it might have been Hugh Cook, but with a name like "Wizard War" you never know). I read them both about 18 years ago and my tastes may well have changed.
Over the years I've read a fair amount of Medieval Hisotry. My sugestion to you is that if you're not familiar with much Medieval history outside Ars Magica (as I wasn't), don't start by reading general books about medieveal history such as "Life in a Medieval City" or "The Making of the Middle Ages" (like I did). Instead grab yourself an introductory textbook in medieval history from a used book store. I found it to be more accessable, more informative and, surprisingly, more fun to read. I think that the book I read was Medieval Europe, A Short History. Also books on specific subjects tended to be more interesting to me as well. (I read a biography of Henry the Plantagent and a book on the Fourth Crusade that were both great).
I agree with Erik, and in addition to an easy-to-read history sampler, I'd suggest reading some authentic medieval tales.
Any Icelandic saga would be great. They are easy to find and easy to read, written in a sort of Saga-shorthand that quickly moves from event to event. Njal's Saga is simply awesome. Egil's Saga is also good, and includes some Norse magic and ghosts (I think).
The Welsh Mabinogion is also easy to find, especially the Penguin Press edition, and contains a load of magical tales. The German Nibelungenlied also fits within this category. Finally, I'd put TÃ¡in BÃ³ CÃºailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) in this group. It's harder to find, and describes a pre-Christian Ireland, but it (just like the two books mentioned above) was written in the 12th/13th century, and is a good example of a story that an Ars Magica character would enjoy.
There are several good English medieval tales, but I don't know how many are available in modern English. My copies (King Horn, The Prose Merlin, The Sultan of Babylon) are all in Middle English, which is really not that difficult to read.
Yeah, I'm a sucker for period literature, especially Chretien de Troyes and Geoffrey of Monmouth -- love me some good Arthuriana.
And I enjoy several period chroniclers as well.
But as for fantasy qua fantasy, I am surprised no one has mentioned Guy Gavriel Kay. The Lions of al-Rassan and Tigana alone are masterpieces of "historic fantasy", if that is a sub-genre -- taking an actual historical period, moving events and characters around, placing the whole situation in a Not-equivalent (Not-Spain for al-Rassan, Not-Italy for Tigana), and creating a compelling, human tale that will leave you both breathless, joyful, and in tears. Mr. Kay is a powerful writer.
I must also admit to a huge fondness for Ursula LeGuin. Her Earthsea books have inspired many rpg campaigns, both directly and indirectly. The notion that actions have consequences, that sometimes the best action is inaction, that power and responsibility are intermeshed (what can I say? I read this long before I read Spiderman... ), and that small details make a world are all hallmarks that I keep close to me.
And then on the lighter side there is Fritz Lieber -- Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser are loveable rogues, indeed, and can always feel like there should be Korngold music playing during their adventures.
Timothy, I'd be most interested to know the title of that book.
I've posted a few times that I very much enjoy the historical fantasy of Judith Tarr. Her characters are engaging, rich, and even quite sexy. "The Hound and thd Falcoln" trilogy deals with a human-looking Fae, who's raised as an orphan in a monestary. He's a brilliant theologian who, once he realizes his true nature, becomes tormented by the fact that he does not have a soul. The second book takes place during the sacking of Constantinople. Good fun. Her take on the Song of Roland is also enjoyable.
For simple page-turner adventure, Raymond E. Feist is a lotta fun. Many personable characters, in a basic D&D universe. Good airplane or beach reading. Most of his books are coming-of-age stories.
Although they fall outside both Medieval fluff and the magic of ArM, I really, really liked "Earthsea" by Ursula Le Guin. The way magic works, the magical community and the general lay of the world is fascinating.
Ack! There's a newer translation of Beowulf out there, by Seamus Heany. I've read several versions of the tale, and this one was the easiest one to read. I picked it up at O'Hare Intl. Airport last November as something to kill time while waiting for my connecting flight, and read it 3 times before the weekend was out. Pages alternate with the Old English text.
Ash a secret history by Mary Gentle is an interesting read. It follows the life of a female mercenary. With a few fantasy twists, one of which may be familiar to some is a bronze talking head that gives advice.
I generally prefer historical fiction over fantasy literature. A recently read gem is Sycorax by J.B. Aspinall. The witch's magic is subtle, and could be explain as magic or odd coincidences. The depiction of the local peasants is the stand-out feature for me, and painted grogs and villagers as I'd always seen them: crude, superstitious, and brutal. The publisher has a blurb about the book: peterowen.com/pages/fiction/Sycorax.htm