This is probably a primer for another post. I’ll let you decide.
I’ve read a great many books in my life. You might think that they would be fantasy or science fiction, but, with one exception, this was not the case until I hit college. Before then, I read Stephen King and John Grisham. King and Grisham, Grisham and King. Before them were a handful of other works, between them came school reading and The Hobbit.The Dark Tower was my gateway drug into fantasy. I don’t know that it made me read any specific fantasy book, but it put me in the mindset. I was still inspired by movies and TV shows, from Star Wars to The X-Files. I was also greatly influenced by the various X-Men comics of the late 1990s, but that’s another post.
Along with The Dark Tower, I was drawn in my Stephen King’s Insomnia. King may have a distaste for the book now, but when I got it as a Christmas gift, I was swept away. The notion of realms beyond our world–but still in view of it–amazed me. And the elderly psychic warriors were a major influence on the shape The Golden Hollow would eventually take.
When it comes to the legal thrillers, I was amazed at the sharp wit of characters in The Rainmaker and The Client. The ferocity of A Time to Kill was a driving factor in making brutality a reality in my plots.
I didn’t come to embrace the full use of cruelty toward my characters until I started reading the works of Greg Rucka. He pulls no punches and fights with everything he’s got. Like in the real world, anything can happen, not even the purely innocent are safe. Read Keeper if you don’t believe me. From Greg Rucka, I learned how to make a character suffer, if only so they can rise above the trials of their lives.
Even though, like Rucka, he comes from the world of comics, Neil Gaiman is the rock star of modern fantasy. His setting is usually the real world, his characters are often persisting myths and archetypes, redefining themselves for the new era. The truth is that Gaiman is a big Shakespeare fan more than anything else. I’m just grateful to have read Neverwhere, a book filled with imagination and a modern world that’s already gone through the looking glass, even though most of us never noticed.
There are two more who have been drawing my attention as of late. The first is Brandon Sanderson. People applaud him for his work on The Wheel of Time, but I think his approach toward fantasy is what makes him a step above the rest. Even in a series, no matter what series it might be, Sanderson wants us, the readers, to look at each physical book and feel like we got a full story. From his work on Mistborn and The Way of Kings, Sanderson has forged a new path for fantasy, making character drive plot and conflict, not the expectation that guys with pointed ears will fight with swords in some big battle.
The other name is Patrick Rothfuss. Rothfuss isn’t finished with his first trilogy yet and he’s already captured imaginations everywhere. He writes with a purity that puts his quality of writing in the same league as Gaiman, though Rothfuss might be able to beat Gaiman in the long-term. The Name of the Wind is a perfect tale, playing off expectations, developing rich cultures and diverse characters all in one volume. So far, The Wise Man’s Fear has been able to sweep me away into the story, something that almost never happens to me.