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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

If you liked.... A Song of Ice and Fire

This is a new feature I'm going to try out here on the blog. My goal is to recommend books for fans of a larger book franchise. For example, if you liked The Wheel of Time, you might also really like Raymond Feist's Riftwar Saga. Easy enough, right? Except I'm going to try to be less obvious than that. There are gads of tremendous books out there in the ethos that are largely ignored because they aren't sexy anymore. Either they're not new enough, or they never quite caught on, or it took too long for book two to show up and everyone forgot about it, or the author is a real asshole, or the publisher is an asshole and didn't put resources behind it, or the agent is an asshole and won't give up the eBook rights, or this blogger is an asshole and never reviewed it. Not to belabor the point (too late), but the main character might be an asshole. Long story short, no one likes assholes.

Regardless, I'm going to start with some low hanging fruit and start my 'If you liked...' series with George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. I fully expect half of the people reading this post to say, 'no shit dude I read that like 10 years ago!' To you I say, you're right. Most of this stuff will be widely read, but I hope not all of it. I also hope to recommend things outside of genre that will appeal to fans. We'll have to wait and see. Hopefully, this post, and others like it, will turn people on to things they've never heard of, or never considered reading.

Without further ado....

If you liked A Song of Ice and Fire then you might really like:


  • With Fire and Sword by Henryk Sienkiewicz
  • The Deluge by Henryk Sienkiewicz
  • Fire in the Steppe by Henryk Sienkiewicz

Called, The Trilogy, Sienkiewicz's three book series has been described by the New York Time Book Review as "a Polish Gone with the Wind." With Fire and Sword is set in the 17th century and follows the struggle of the kingdom of Poland to maintain its unity in the face of the Cossack-led peasant rebellion. Like Martin's ASoIF, Sienkiewicz trilogy is a sweeping epic that covers a large span of time, telling the story of a nation caught in the throes of a civil war, of a people struggling for survival, and of events that changed the face of the world.

If there's a problem with Sienkiewicz's novels it's that they're translated. There's no avoiding the awkwardness that this occasionally engenders. It also means that names and places are difficult to grasp, not unlike some of the more annoying fantasy series that unnecessarily use apostrophes every other syllable. But, with a little commitment, The Trilogy offers everything fantasy readers love about Martin's series sans dragons and Melisandre. Given the rise of the 'silk road fantasy' (per Paul Weimer), Sienkiewicz offers fantasy readers tremendous perspective on the historical and cultural references being used in many recent novels.


  • The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu
  • The Straits of Galahesh by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Interestingly, if this post was titled, 'If you liked Henryk Sienkiewicz' Bradley P. Beaulieu's Lays of Anuskaya series would still make the list. The story centers around Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo's eyrie stands at the trade crossroads of the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya. The protagonist, Nikandar, Prince of Khalakovo (although not the heir), is set to marry the daughter of a rival Duchy. Of course, he's not in love with her, instead he showers his affections on Rehada, an indigenous Aramahn whore. Amid this tangled web of love, a conspiracy begins to brew with other Duchies vying for power, and a fringe Aramahn group known as Maharraht who would see the entire system upended.

Very much in the tradition of the multiple points of view epic fantasy, Beaulieu tells a story so wide in scope that it fears to overwhelm his efforts to contain it. The character stories are intimate and personal, but their actions resonate across a canvas that encompasses the entire world and reverberate through history. Or something really important sounding like that. This is a brand new series, so perhaps it's inclusion here is a bit premature. Nevertheless, Beaulieu appears to be one of the few newer authors out there who's writing epic fantasy with the of depth and nuance achieved by Martin's ASoIF.


  • The Folding Knife by K.J. Parker

In the Vesani Republic, the First Citizen's word is nearly law. Elected by the people, he administers the largest economic power outside the somewhat fractured Eastern Empire. Today, the First Citizen is Bassianus Severus (Basso). Deaf in one ear and brilliant in business, he killed his own wife and brother-in-law after finding them in bed together. Alienated by his surviving family, he uses his influence to become the most powerful man in Vesani which of course he uses to do all kinds of screwed up and Machiavellian things.

Folding Knife is an epic fantasy - just not traditionally so. It follows a man through thirty years of his life describing his rise and fall from power through war and peace in 400 some odd pages. While the novel itself is far tighter than anything Martin's included in his epic series, Parker's prose and characterizations are a near perfect fit. There is a veracity in everything Parker writes, as though anything contained within the book's cover is possible, a trait exhibited time and again by Martin. Basso could have absolutely been a POV in ASoIF as head of his House. If there's one author everyone should be reading in the current fantasy climate other than Martin, it's Parker.


  • Pride of Carthage by David Anthony Durham

This is an epic retelling of the legendary Carthaginian military leader, Hannibal and his assault on the Roman empire. Hannibal is drawn from the scant historical record as a terror on the battlefield, yet one who misses his family and longs to see his son children grow up. Whether portraying the deliberations of a general or the calculations of a common soldier, Durham captures the personal and political nuances of war in the ancient world. And there's quite a bit of head lopping.

Most would probably suspect that if anything by Durham made this list it would be his Acacia Trilogy. I considered it, but it lacks the hard edge and gut wrenching reality that permeates ASoIF. In Martin's series consequences are everywhere and they never take a day off. Things aren't neat and tidy. They're like a Roman battlefield filled with offal and discarded bits of flesh and bone. Pride of Carthage captures that feeling for me. I'd also heartily recommend his fantasy trilogy, but not necessarily for someone looking to capture the Westeros feel.


  • The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham

I was going to do a similar write-up for this one as I did for the others. It's really not worth it because Jared from Pornokitsch has done the work for me (READ THIS REVIEW). Suffice to say Abraham's series is a political and emotional masterpiece that does everything ASoIF does without resorting to the battlefield. It makes the series a bit slower and less engaging in the early going, but the pay off is tremendous as he ensnares the reader is a high stakes epic game that reflects the Cold War sensibilities of the 1980's. There's no such thing as coincidences and Abraham status as the "unofficial" protege of Martin isn't one either.



At March 21, 2012 at 12:38 PM , Blogger Bryce said...

Glad to See Daniel Abraham and K.J. Parker on here. Those are probably in the top five that I mention, and in some circles they're criminally under-read. Nice post!

At March 21, 2012 at 12:39 PM , Blogger RobB said...

Where's Abercrombie? This article lost all validity without mentioning him. J/K, glad to see books (Henryk Sienkiewicz) I never heard of but interests me now. In other words, mission accomplished.

At March 21, 2012 at 12:40 PM , Blogger Justin said...

I really don't think Abercrombie, or Sanderson, or any of those guys really capture Martin's style. They're both too cartoonish albeit on opposite ends of the spectrum.

At March 21, 2012 at 12:49 PM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Thanks, Justin.

I've read Bradley and Abraham, of course, as anyone who reads my reviews knows. I've not tried Durham, though.

At March 21, 2012 at 12:49 PM , Blogger Larry Nolen said...

It pleases me to see a Nobel winner here among your suggestions. Sienkiewicz is well-worth reading, although I have yet to delve much into this particular trilogy (Quo Vadis is an all-time favorite of mine).

At March 21, 2012 at 1:34 PM , Blogger Antonakis said...

I think I will really love this new feature!! It's a great idea and I'm sure it will help a lot of readers find a lot of interesting books or series that might have slipped under their radar. I know that I will definitely benefit from it! Thank you very much!

At March 21, 2012 at 1:57 PM , Anonymous Brad Beaulieu said...

Very honored and pleased to be among such company. I've yet to read Durham and Abraham, but they've both been steadily creeping up my TBR list.

As a small aside, I really liked Paul's description of the new batch of fantasy as "Heartland Theory" fantasy, but "silk road fantasy" is certainly more accessible.

At March 21, 2012 at 2:08 PM , Blogger John Zeleznik said...

I've read about half of "With Fire and Sword." It's a fantastic book...a little dense and difficult to read, but enjoyable. I plan to pick it up when I have some more time. I found some similarities between it and some of my stuff.

At March 21, 2012 at 2:13 PM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Hunh. I thought Heartland Theory was going to be way way too esoteric for anyone except history geeks. So Silk Road popped out of my brain instead as the final answer. ;)

At March 21, 2012 at 2:47 PM , Blogger The Little Lost Ghost said...

the kindle edition of With Fire and Sword is free on :)

At March 21, 2012 at 3:00 PM , Blogger The Little Lost Ghost said...

deluge is also free *but* Fire in the Steppe is not available at all except as a £150 hardback :(

also, your capthas are nearly impossible to solve :( :(

At March 21, 2012 at 3:44 PM , Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Thank you for the mention. Much appreciated. I love the company I'm keeping!

And, hey... GRRM was kind enough to like Pride of Carthage too. In his own words (official quote - I'm not just making it up):

"David Anthony Durham knocked me out with Pride of Carthage. He brought Hannibal, his brothers, and the Second Punic War to vivid, bloody life, and established himself as one of the bright new lights of historical fiction." - George RR Martin

At March 21, 2012 at 5:08 PM , Blogger Elfy said...

I thought part of the reason Abercrombie and Sanderson weren't named was not because they're not necessarily that dissimilar to Martin, but more because the point of what Justin is trying to do is let people know about lesser known or read authors, and both Abercrombie and Sanderson have strong followings. I think Conn Iggulden's Conqueror series which is historical fiction, not fantasy, deserves a mention here, that really brings home how George Martin drew on the Mongols for his Dothraki.

At March 21, 2012 at 5:11 PM , Anonymous Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) said...

The series "A Trial of Blood and Steel" by Australian author Joel Shepherd will probably go down well with GRRM fans too. The first book in the series is "Sasha". These books are woefully under-appreciated and I will never, not ever, understand why more people aren't reading them.

At March 21, 2012 at 5:42 PM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

I don't know either.

And "Sasha" is free for the Kindle edition, too, as a way to hook people into the series...

At March 21, 2012 at 6:28 PM , Anonymous Brad Beaulieu said...

I should mention, too, that The Winds of Khalakovo is currently free in the US via the Kindle Store.

At March 21, 2012 at 7:19 PM , Blogger Nathan (@reviewbarn) said...

Ok, as people are adding their recs, I have to add one too. Crossroads Trilogy by Kate Elliot. Halfway through the first book I thought it was a direct rip off of ASOIAF(especially a very Dany like arc) By the end of the trilogy I liked that particular arc a whole lot more.

Not as political or sweeping, but very very good.

And I love all the free kindle shout outs, keep it up!

At March 21, 2012 at 8:17 PM , Blogger The Little Lost Ghost said...

In another historical (and very accurate) shout-out is another australian: collen mccullough's masters of rome series. politics,war and sex, fantastic

At March 22, 2012 at 12:21 AM , Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Kate Elliot is terrific.

And I know that George likes Colleen McCullough a lot. He called her "a guilty pleasure".

At March 22, 2012 at 3:19 AM , Blogger Mihai A. said...

Sienkiewicz is great and I loved his "Polish Trilogy", as it is sometimes mentioned, but I can't say that I honestly see it as "a Polish Gone with the Wind". Still, there are some other great works of his that deserve a mention, "Quo Vadis?" as Larry said is one of the best works of fiction, but besides these I enjoyed a lot "The Knights of the Cross" & "In Desert and Wilderness".
I personally love K.J. Parker's novels. I believe that K.J. Parker is one of the most original and powerful voices of modern fantasy fiction and I do hope that I would get the chance to read more such works. I currently am reading Daniel Abraham's "The Long Price Quartet" and it is great. I am just sorry that I got around so late to read it :)
As for the rest, I hope they don't end up like Daniel Abraham's works and I can start reading them sooner. But with so many books I want to read it is hard to say ;)

At March 22, 2012 at 9:47 AM , Blogger Neth said...

Another sadly overlooked fantasy trilogy that belongs on a list like this is The Nessantico Cyle by S.L. Farrell. Very good, politically heavy trilogy set in a second-world with similarities to Renaissance Italy.

At March 22, 2012 at 9:54 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

*Another* book on my huge to-read pile, Neth :)

At March 22, 2012 at 1:28 PM , Blogger RobB said...

You realize I was only kidding about Abercrombie since a large % of people who answer the question "What to read after GRRM" say Joe.

At March 23, 2012 at 11:51 AM , Blogger Kathleen said...

thanks I just went and picked it up!

At March 23, 2012 at 11:56 AM , Blogger Kathleen said...

It's been awhile since I read it, and I know it's not "hey he's this underappreciated author", but I've always felt like TIGANA by GGK was in the "if you liked GRRM..." vein. who's with me?

At March 23, 2012 at 11:59 AM , Blogger Justin said...

I think quality wise, it's certainly there. In terms of the cold reality than GRRM uses and his style of story telling, I don't get the same vibe. I think GGK gets caught up in form over substance which GRRM never does. I didn't consider UNDER HEAVEN by GGK for the list though.


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