For this Friday: Five fantasy books/series (well-known and not so well-known) that influenced me. (links go to Goodreads, to first books in series. Covers shown are the editions I own.)
1. The Prydain Chronicles, by Lloyd Alexander. The first epic fantasy series I ever read (that I can recall, anyway). A great starter series for kids, and also entertaining for adults. The struggle between good and evil, the colorful characters, the adventure, and the love story between Taran and Eilonwy (even as a child, eight or nine years old, I loved love stories) all caught my imagination and made me want more.
2. The Earthsea Trilogy, by Ursula K. LeGuin. My parents gave me a nice boxed set of this when I was 11 or 12, for my birthday or Christmas (they're close together). Magic and adventure on the oceans and islands of Earthsea with Ged, one of the greatest fantasy characters of all times. Ged was one of my book crushes when I was a tween (of course, I'm far too old for that sort of thing now *coughcough*). This introduced me to the idea of the wizard dedicated to that life (and to the concept of schools of magic), and contributed to my thinking that it wasn't fair that wizards didn't get to fall in love and if they did they could never do anything about it. Naturally, I was intrigued by what could have been the romance between Ged and Tenar. The relationship is finally continued in the 4th Earthsea book, Tehanu, but I had a lot of problems with that book, especially feeling like Ms. LeGuin changed her characters almost to where they were unrecognizable to suit the political/philosophical points she wanted to make in the book. So, for me, Earthsea stops with book 3 and I let my imagination take it from there. (I actually have three different sets of this series. The cover shown here is from that original boxed set. Down at the bottom you can see another cover that I have, and one I definitely do NOT have. Or want.)
3. The Riddle-Master Trilogy, by Patricia McKillip. Gorgeous prose and dripping with magic in a world where riddles hold the keys to ancient, lost knowledge, no one thinks there's anything strange about rulers who are hundreds of years old, ghosts and spirits walk the earth, and magic isn't a discipline, it's the fabric of which the world is made. Morgon, the farmer-prince, is another of the greatest fantasy characters ever (and another of my teenage book crushes), and the relationship between him and his betrothed Raederle is another great love story. (The cover on my original copy of book 1 is hideous. Get the very nice omnibus edition instead.)
4. Crispan Magicker, by Mark M. Lowenthal. I'll say it right now, yet another of my teenage book crushes. There are a lot of problems with this book, but the character of Crispan makes up for them. He's a wizard dedicated to the Order, naive and honorable, who has to go after his teacher Vladur who has become corrupted and put a stop to his evil plans. Along the way he is tested and tried and stretched, required to become a military commander and take lives, and ultimately has to risk losing everything that matters to him in order to protect the world. Really an awesome character. This book again brought up the themes of wizards dedicated to the practice, and to a formal order, and also risking losing everything you have and everything you are in order to do the right things. And again, why don't wizards get to fall in love and do something about it? There's a tantalizing hint about "a woman by an unknown sea", and Crispan clearly has a lot of adventures ahead of him, but no sequel was ever published. Which makes me sad. Long out of print, which also makes me sad, but used copies are available. I would love to see Mr. Lowenthal (also a prominent figure in intelligence and national security circles) get the rights back, republish independently, and write some sequels.
5. The Apprentice, by Deborah Bickmore. Yes! Fantasy with a real romance in it! Jaimah, the young apprentice/servant of the powerful sorceress Shayna, is drawn to and terrified by Corwyn, Shayna's mysterious and powerful new apprentice. When it comes to a showdown between Corwyn and Shayna over a powerful, dangerous spell, which wizard will destroy Jaimah and which one will save her? The kind of book I love to write (and love to read if I can find them), where the fantasy and the romance are in equal balance. This book was out of print for a long time, but now Ms. Bickmore has indie-published it in Kindle and paperback editions, hooray!
Addendum: As you'd expect with a book that's been around for more than 45 years, A Wizard of Earthsea has been through a lot of covers, good, bad, and indifferent. Here are two that stand out:
Guess which one I like better?
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