Book Recommendations: March 2013

Can't tell if this picture is real or not, but THAT LIBRARY HAS A TREE GROWING IN IT!!

Can’t tell if this picture is real or not, but THAT LIBRARY HAS A TREE GROWING IN IT!!

By Appa the Gypsy

Maybe you’re like me, and you’re forever drowning in that pile of books to read that’s always growing, and never seems to shrink. Maybe you wish you read more, but you don’t know what’s worth picking up. Either way, there really is never enough time to wade through the contents of the bookstore or the library and work out which ones you love and which ones aren’t really your thing. That’s what recommendations are for! We all need a little help working out what’s out there. So I’m here to help you find something you might like to pick up, by telling you about books I’m glad I’ve read, and in return, maybe you’d like to tell me about some of your favourite books, so I can check them out.

Middle Grade Adventure/Fantasy: Deltora Quest by Emily Rodda

Map of Deltora. In each book they go to a new, ominous sounding place.

Map of Deltora. In each book they go to a new, ominous sounding place.

If you’ve been reading my Book Recommendations posts, you may have noticed that I like Emily Rodda. I’m going to correct you on that assumption there, and say that I adore her books. Seriously. And I have a lot to thank her for. See, at some point when I was a kid, I went to the librarian at my school library and informed her that I’d run out of books to read. I don’t know what planet I was on; there’s no way I’d read everything worth reading in that library, but that lovely, stereotype-breaking librarian took it in stride, and set out to find me something to read. She suggested I try Deltora Quest. I told her I didn’t think I’d like those books. She told me to give them a go anyway. And that, my friends, is how I became primarily a fantasy reader. Deltora Quest is, put simply, that good. I reread these books every year for nearly a decade afterwards. These books changed my life, and so did that librarian. I wish I’d thanked her more.

So, these books changed my life. I don’t know if it’s possible to say anything more to recommend them, but I’m going to try. Basically, the story is about three companions on a quest to find a set of magic gems that will save their nation, Deltora, from being destroyed by the evil force that has invaded their land. The gems belong on the Belt of Deltora, a magical item that, in the hands of the heir to the throne, protects Deltora. But they were stolen and hidden away in dangerous and remote locations, and they must be found to save Deltora and its people from slavery and ruin.

The books in the first Deltora Quest series

The books in the first Deltora Quest series

It’s pretty simple, but that’s kind of what makes it great. The characters are relatable, the world fantastical, and their challenges all seem so insurmountable. Emily Rodda also takes the opportunity to challenge readers with riddles and puzzles throughout her books, and Deltora Quest is a fantastic example of this. You’re always given the chance to figure the riddle out for yourself before you turn the page and learn the solution. These books are engaging and entertaining for young readers, and Rodda writes with inspiring imagination to create a world packed with both danger and wonder.

I’m giving you a list of the first series of Deltora Quest to get you started, but there are three series and several stand-alone books to give you more information about Deltora, so when (and I do mean when) the first series gets you hooked, look into the rest of them. Each book has something new and wonderful for the characters to experience, and the endings never come about quite how you expect them to.

  1. 1.       The Forests of Silence
  2. 2.       The Lake of Tears
  3. 3.       City of the Rats
  4. 4.       The Shifting Sands
  5. 5.       Dread Mountain
  6. 6.       The Maze of the Beast
  7. 7.       The Valley of the Lost
  8. 8.       Return to Del

Young Adult Fantasy Epic: The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini

The books in the Inheritance Cycle

The books in the Inheritance Cycle

This series is a great read for a first foray into epic fantasy. It’s not quite as convoluted or disturbing as your average fantasy epic, which is why it’s a YA series, but it’s definitely worth reading. I really enjoyed the series. It was one of the ones that had me staying up til six in the morning on a school night, unable to put it down. But, that used to happen to me a lot, so I guess that’s not exactly crazy. The story is about a boy named Eragon who finds a stone in the forest, which turns out to be a dragon’s egg. It hatches, and Eragon is bonded with the dragon. He is a Dragonrider, and one of the last of a great race that once ruled the land of Alagaësia. He is able to communicate with the dragon, Saphira, with his mind and they form a close friendship. However, the tyrannic ruler of Alagaësia is seeking the dragon’s egg himself, and Eragon and his dragon must flee their home and search for safety and help to overthrow the oppressive king.

Map of Alagaësia

Map of Alagaësia

This series works as a great introduction to the races that generally populate a fantasy world; the elves and dwarves are mostly what you’d expect, but the series deals with racial tension and the importance of respect for other cultures in an intelligent manner. Eragon is an accepting character, who finds friends across all the races and finds value in their cultures and beliefs, even though he also finds fault in them too. The books are rich with the languages of other races, and come with pronunciation and translation guides to help you out.

The idea of the Dragonriders in this series is a great one, and it’s well executed. Eragon and Saphira form a wonderfully close bond, not unlike that of a sibling. They share their minds, so they are very close, and they see each see through the facade the other would rather hide behind. The books also take the time to allow Eragon and Saphira to make some scientific discoveries that we understand but they do not. The Earth being round is one of those, as is the fact that the air gets too thin for a human to breathe, the higher you go into the sky. It’s details like that that link this world to ours, and keep Eragon feeling human, even though, as the series progresses, he becomes less human and more a mix of the different races and cultures he’s chosen to adopt.

Eragon movieThe first book was made into a movie in 2006, starring Edward Speleers, Sienna Guilleroy and John Malkovich, as well as Rachel Weisz as the voice of a freaking dragon. It was a great movie, but as far as adaptations go, they didn’t quite nail it. They made it rather impossible to make any sequels, and left out some major characters and plot points. I have no clue how that happened, because they apparently worked very closely with the author, but Hollywood will keep its secrets. So, I’d like to suggest something I rarely will suggest, and that is that you consider watching the movie before you read the books, if only to make sure the movie doesn’t infuriate you when you see what they did wrong. But the movie lets you into a fantastical world and it gets you interested, and it also helps you work out how to pronounce character and place names in the books. But don’t let all the characters in the movie inform the ones you read in the books. Some of them are so off base, it’s crazy. But, it’s still a great movie, so go for your lives. Here’s the trailer…

You’re going to find a lot in this series that you would find in many other fantasy books, but if you keep having that in mind, you’re going to be saying that about just about every fantasy novel you ever read. So I’d advise you to let that one go, because that’s a criticism that gets thrown around a lot, and it doesn’t change the fact that books about elves, dwarves and dragons are awesome. Anyway, not all fantasy series have a Doctor Who reference in the third book. Yep. It really is a great series, and there’s more to it than what you’d expect.

1)      Eragon

2)      Eldest

3)      Brisingr

4)      Inheritance

Adult Science Fiction: Dragonriders of Pernby Anne McCaffrey

No, that wasn’t a typo. I did just call a series about dragons a sci-fi. If you’re ever talking to anyone who knows about this series, don’t make the mistake of calling it a fantasy series. It’s science fiction, and people get really passionate about that fact. Simply put, it’s because the dragons are pretty much the product of genetic experiments on reptiles, and they’re just named after the mythological dragons that the people who settled the planet of Pern had heard stories of from their homeworld. I just thought I’d get that out of the way at the start so no one gets confused.

Just so you know what you're getting into. There's a few books in the series...

Just so you know what you’re getting into. There’s a few books in the series…

So, ages ago, a friend of mine explain the concept of this series to me, and I thought that it sounded awesome, and then promptly forgot the name of it. Don’t do that. It was the worst. When another friend whom I’ve mention before (from now on we’ll call her She Who Knows All) suggested I read these and explain the plot, it sounded familiar, and I was ecstatic. And for good reason. It was amazing.

Anne McCaffrey was one of the most respected and well known science fiction authors… ever. And the Dragonriders of Pern is her most well-known series. Here’s the breakdown. People travelled through space and came across an inhabitable planet, which was then colonised. The colonised planet later lost contact with the homeworld and was left to survive on its own. The planet, Pern, is perfect for habitation, with the exception of one particular danger. At periodic intervals, the Red Star which orbits the planet, causes a rain of Thread, an acid-like substance which burns through organic material. To combat this, the dragons were created through genetic mutation, and the Dragonriders came into existence. The Dragonriders form a telepathic bond with their dragons when they hatch, known as Impression, and the dragons possess the ability to break down the Thread before it reaches the ground, and to go between, which is a form of teleportation, for lack of a better term. But, the series spans several millenniums, and the first series of books picks up smack bam in the middle of that period of time.

Map of Pern

Map of Pern

At the point of the first series, Threadfalls have been relatively light for generations, and the need for and power of the Dragonriders is waning. Plenty of knowledge has been lost, but when information is found to suggest that the old threat is not gone, merely dormant and ready to unleash itself once more, the struggling defenders of the planet must race to find a solution to save the people of their planet, because as they are now, there are not enough of them to fight the next major Threadfall. Sounds epic, right? It is. But that’s just the absolute basics of the first trilogy, which is what I’ve listed for you below. There’s over twenty epic books, and they all deal with different characters, different eras, different types of people. The more you read, the more you learn about Pernese history, and the more everything that happens makes sense. The world is complex, in depth and well thought out, and it really feels like it could be a story from our own future if we wanted it to be.

1)      Dragonflight

2)      Dragonquest

3)      The White Dragon

Fun Fact: One of these series has been made into an anime.

Feel free to comment and suggest any books or series to me or our other readers that you’ve liked. Even though I do suffer from the never-shrinking pile of books I have to read, I think I’d be lost without it too. It’s like a constant challenge that I’m accepting, so don’t feel bad for adding to that pile. In fact, come at me with your recommendations. Challenge accepted.

Sigh. Fine. Here’s the first episode of that anime. It’s obviously a kids program, though. Try to make it past the opening credits…