Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

What's your favorite book or series of all time?

As a reader, this is probably the hardest question someone could ask me. I have no problem listing out my favorite books. Even putting them in some sort of order by whittling them down to a Top 10 list wouldn't be too terribly difficult. But narrowing the list down to a single book or series? That's infinitely harder.

Over the years many books have made it into my 'inner circle'. They haven't always stayed there, though. Like most readers, my tastes have changed as I’ve gotten older. Books I considered “the best” when I was a teenager or earlier no longer carry that distinction. That doesn’t mean those novels do not still have a place on my shelf. In fact, many of those books remain important to me if only because of the memories associated with them.

I got my start with "Where The Wild Things Are".

It’s not really a novel, I know, but this book and myself could not be separated when I was younger. I don’t even remember what it’s about, but I do remember carrying it around, reading it, and looking at the pictures many, many times.

From there, I moved on to the Prydain Chronicles. Something about a cauldron that could turn the living into the undead hooked me.

The Chronicles of Prydain

In fact, I re-read the series not too long ago. While the novels were meant for a younger audience, I still found them enjoyable. I have little doubt why these books, which I’d have to say were the first fantasy novels I’d ever read, inspired me to keep going in the genre. But for all their influence, they are not my favorite. Amongst my favorites because of the nostalgia factor, sure. But not at the top of the list.

I also spent a fair amount of time reading most of the various Shannara books.

There's something about those three Shannara books that they'll always have a place on my bookshelf. But where I know I read The Sword of Shannara at least a half a dozen times if not more, I wouldn't count it or its series as my favorite.

Then there's the Lord of the Rings, which oddly enough I read only after I'd read the first Shannara trilogy. Go figure.

While these novels are absolutely seminal to so much that came after them (the Shannara series included, especially considering The Sword of Shannara was written as a shameless homage to Tolkien's work), I wouldn't consider these my absolute favorite. They're certainly up there. But not at the very top.

Then there's the Dragonlance novels.

The original November 1984 first printing paperback cover of "Dragons of Autumn Twilight" Dragons of Winter Night cover.jpg DragonsofSpringDawning original.jpg

What can I say about these novels which hasn't been said already? Yes, they're full of clichéd characters, are horribly written (I tried re-reading them a couple of years ago but gave up), and probably a whole host of other unseemly things, but damn they were formative for me. Absolutely inspiring I'd say as well. But, again, not my favorite.

About the same time I started reading Dragonlance I was also introduced to Conan.

Now these books absolutely remain amongst my favorites of all time. While you can see some of the inconsistencies introduced when De Camp compiled the stories and finished those tales left undone by Howard, the series is still huge for me. Still, while I've read these books over and over and never tire of them, they aren't at the very top of my list.

Even still, Conan led into many of Howard's other works, including Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane, and Kull. Further down that path I found Elric.

The Elric series of novels is fantastic. Simply some of the best fantasy ever written, IMO. While I would put at least one of the Elric novels in my Top 10 or maybe even Top 5, there's one thing which keeps Elric from the top position. This is the fact that the character is so otherworldly and fantastic that I, as a simple human, cannot relate to him. Much like Conan, Elric is a character I admire (or pity), but I could never imagine myself in their place. This inaccessibility is a hurdle I can't get over.

I could go on. Like anyone who's been reading voraciously all of their lives the number of books I've read is up in the stratosphere somewhere. So let me get to it.

Answering the question of this post isn't easy, but, for me it's doable.

My favorite series (I could never select just one book) is the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb.

Full of rich characters, a deep history, wonderful worldbuilding, and some of the finest storytelling I've ever read, this series of novels has stayed with me more so than any other because of all of those things but also because of the ending, which I won't give away but which I will say is something that I still think about now and again. In my mind, it’s the best, worst, most bittersweet ending I’d ever read. That in itself puts it at the absolute top of my list of favorites.

So, what's your all-time favorite?

Book Review: Renegade's Magic by Robin Hobb

An SFFWorld Favorite for 2007, Renegade's Magic concludes the story of Nevare Burvelle who is fated to become a Soldier Son in his king's army. Life takes some unexpected turns, however, as Nevare is called to a different destiny. Drawn by magic to the frontier, where his king is waging war against the Specks, Nevare finally succumbs to the forces taken control of him and, instead of fighting his king's enemies, he joins them. Thus begins Renegade's Magic.

Renegade's Magic is a continuation in excellence--excellent storytelling, excellent prose, excellent characters. Hobb has created a world that transcends the classic good vs. evil model, where everyone has the potential for either. If there is any weakness at all in this trilogy it's that, in the end, no one is really "evil". Characters may do despicable things, but, once we understand their viewpoint, I found myself often sympathizing with them regardless of what they'd done or why they'd done it. It makes it hard to want any one individual to come out, in the end, as the victor. The truth of the matter, though, is that there are multiple victors. But victory comes at a price. No one is left unscathed, least of all Nevare, who sacrifices much, oftentimes without even fully comprehending what is happening to him or why (not until the very end, anyway).

Magic plays a dominant role in the Soldier Son Trilogy. So much so that magic itself becomes an entity unto itself. The manner in which magic is mastered is both unique and intriguing, though I have to admit I was a little put off by it at first. I hate to throw out a spoiler (so I won't), but suffice to say magic actually transforms the wielder physically. The end result is a hero who, well, doesn't appear very heroic. I don't think there's any doubt Hobb was making a statement here about our own society, and how we often judge people by their outward appearance. This failing of our own society also exists in Nevare's world, except that only Nevare's own people loathe the change that has overcome him. Their enemies, the Specks, actually hold him in great reverence. It makes for an interesting dichotomy in terms of the storytelling and character development.

Past experience with Robin Hobb's work really had me expecting a bittersweet ending (think Fritz in the The Farseer Trilogy). Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. I won't go so far as to say the ending is all roses (even roses have thorns), but there is a certain gratification I felt as I finished the final sentence. Nevare's world may have been turned upside-down, but, with will and tenacity and a heavy dose of plain stubbornness, he comes out alright in the end.

Renegade's Magic was a worthy conclusion to an excellent story.

Book Review: Forest Mage by Robin Hobb

Forest Mage is the second novel in Robin Hobb's Soldier Son Trilogy. Other books in the series include Shaman's Crossing and Renegade's Magic.

The original cover for this book (no longer displayed) was important, I thought, because, more than any other cover I've seen for this series, it symbolized what the Soldier Son Trilogy is all about. You have a man--a cavalry soldier--sword drawn, facing the mists of the forest and the ominous mountains beyond. There is fire, carnage, and an overwhelming feeling that something is out there. Is it coming? Is it waiting for our cavalryman's charge? We don't know, but clearly the man senses the danger he's in else his sword would not be drawn.

The soldier, of course, represents Nevare. I say "represents" because Nevare never becomes that man--that soldier--shown on the cover. Something happens to him, something that was begun in Shaman's Crossing that spills over here. He never becomes the Soldier Son he was supposed to be. Instead, he changes in ways I won't report here least it take something away from your own reading. Suffice to say bad things happen. He's in a sorry state. Yet he battles on, searching for a solution to a dilemma begun in book one which has taken everything from him but his life. Even that, however, might be forfeit if he doesn't come to terms with who and what he has become.

Again, Hobb draws us in with her masterful storytelling. I honestly felt for Nevare's misfortune and kept turning the pages because I wanted to see him succeed. Sad to say, he doesn't. Not in the way we hope, anyway. Forest Mage, like any middle volume, is a bridge between book's one and two, though it does wrap up a good part of Nevare's misfortune (and one of his lives--read the book to understand that!) and sets him on the road to finality as told in Renegade's Magic.

Book Review: Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb

Shaman's Crossing is the first novel in Robin Hobb's Soldier Son Trilogy. Other books in the series include Forest Mage and Renegade's Magic.

Shaman's Crossing is where we are introduced to our hero, Nevare Burvelle, second son of a second son, fated because of his birth order to become a soldier in his king's cavalla (cavalry). Much of this novel deals with Nevare's childhood: how his father initiates him into his birth-fate, begins to meld him into the man he must one day become, and, finally, sends him off to the King's Academy where he will learn the business of soldiering. Along the way, Nevare becomes entangled in a web that neither he nor the reader will fully understand until events unfold in Renegade's Magic.

Nevare's early years on his family's estate draw you in from the start, introducing us to his father's war history with the Plainspeople and Nevare's own bond with one Plainsman in particular. There was almost a low point where Nevare is at the academy, what with the mundane day-to-day life of a student and all, but Hobb keeps the reader interested with a myriad of sub-plots and a cast of real, believable characters who each have difficulties or challenges of their own.

I found Shaman's Crossing to be a fully engaging read. Many others did not agree with me, but that’s ok. Hobb never disappoints with her writing, and while this story was a little off from her usual Fitz novels, I still found a lot to like in the beginnings of what becomes a much larger story for Nevare. Needless to say, it didn't take me long to pick up the next book in the series.

Interesting Words: Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb

One of the things I often do as I'm reading a novel or short story is keep track of words whose definitions I do not know or that I find interesting. Either way, these interesting words are ones I feel might be of use in my own writing. That, and it's good to expand one's vocabulary every once in a while.

This latest round of interesting words comes from Robin Hobb's Dragon Haven.

alacrity: Cheerful willingness; eagerness.

ameliorate: To make or become better; improve

bawd: A woman who keeps a brothel; a madam.

indolent: Disinclined to exert oneself; habitually lazy.

lunker: Something, especially a game fish, that is large for its kind.

sagacious: Having or showing keen discernment, sound judgment, and farsightedness.

treacle: Cloying speech or sentiment.