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In 2014 I’ll be starting a fantasy novel called Fallen Gods. Today I want to share with you my top five most influential and diverse fantasy novels. These aren’t the best ever written, but they are the ones that helped forge my view of fantasy and world creation.

5: CONAN THE MAGNIFICENT – Robert Jordan

The first and perhaps only Conan novel I’ve read. I was a huge fan of the movies and this was the book I found right after I’d seen Conan the Barbarian. The story begins in Shadizar, Zamora’s infamous City of the Wicked, where the newly-arrived Conan attempts to steal an emerald cup to repay a gambling debt, only to be thwarted by the interference of Tamira, a female thief. Meanwhile the high-born Lady Jondra scouts out Conan as a possible paramour, even as Tamira sneaks her way into her household for some unknown purpose. Looking to settle scores with the thief, the Cimmerian follows Jondra’s hunting party out of the city.

Lady Jondra’s hunting party finally encounters its prey, and is decimated by the Dragon. The survivors scatter. Conan brings those he can find back together, including Tamira, but the lady is still missing. He undertakes to save her and retreat with the whole group back to Shadizar. But it is the lone wanderer Eldran who locates her. Lost, humbled and desperate, this time Jondra accepts his aid. Shortly afterwards, however, they are attacked by the Kezankians, who take the lady captive and lay Eldran low. Later Conan comes across Eldran and learns of Jondra’s peril. They join forces, and together with some of Eldran’s countrymen continue to seek the lady.

Yeah, Conan versus a Dragon. It is as cool as it sounds. But what is more remarkable is the depiction of Conan as a thief. This massive giant of a man can walk as quietly as cat. That’s pretty cool.

4. KUSHIEL’S DART – Jaqueline Carey

One of the few fantasy novels I’ve read as an adult, and trust me, this book is for adults only.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission…and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair…and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.

In case I didn’t make it clear, this book has lots of hot sex and some pretty damn good fight scenes. It’s a great book.

3. TIME OF THE TWINS – Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

This book was my first introduction to the Dragonlance universe and I think, because of the way the story is laid out, it works as a perfect introduction. The shackles of the D&D game that were apparent in the original Dragonlance series have been thrown off and the results are impressive.

Sequestered in the blackness of the dreaded Tower of High Sorcery in Palanthas, surrounded by nameless creatures of evil, Raistlin Majere weaves a plan to conquer the darkness–to bring it under his control.

Crysania, a beautiful and devoted cleric of Paladine, tries to use her faith to lead Raistlin from the darkness. She is blind to his shadowed designs, and he draws her slowly into his neatly woven trap.

Made aware of Raistlin’s plan, a distraught Caramon travels back in time to the doomed city of Istar in the days before the Cataclysm. There, together with the ever-present kender Tasslehoff, Caramon will make his stand to save Raistlin’s soul.

Or so he believes.

What makes this trilogy so amazing, beyond the fact they time travel in a fantasy novel, is the relationship between all the characters. Raistlin is evil, but he wants to do good for the world, as long as he rules it. Him and his brother love each other but they have become two completely different people and the things that happen between them make it hard for them to reconcile. The fact that I’d never read the original trilogy these characters came from actually worked in my favor, because it made them more mysterious and interesting.

2. ELFSTONES OF SHANNARA

You couldn’t go anywhere in the 80’s without seeing these books, for a long time Terry Brooks was the king of fantasy. Ancient Evil threatens the Elves: The ancient tree created by long-lost Elven magic, is dying. When Wil Ohmsford is summoned to guard the Amberle on a perilous quest to gather a new seed for a new tree, he is faced with the Reaper, the most fearsome of all Demons. And Wil is without power to control them….

It’s a good introduction to the world of magic and elves, a staple of any good fantasy book.

1. ELFQUEST – Wendy and Richard Pini

Different elves. Different format.

They may look like cute little guys but their world was surprisingly violent. These comics from Marvel had some tantalizing bits of flesh too. In fact, that might explain a few things actually. . .

It is a fantasy story about a community of elves and other fictional species who struggle to survive and coexist on a primitive Earth-like planet with two moons. Several published volumes of prose fiction also share the same setting. Over the years Elfquest has been self-published by the Pinis, then Marvel Comics, then the Pinis again through their own company Warp Graphics and more recently DC Comics. All issues of Elfquest are available online for free.

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