Contributor Fleetwood Robbins is an editor, writer, and speculative fiction enthusiast.
Let me tell you the story of “Jimmy,” a mild-mannered salary man from Peoria, Illinois. He loved Lord of the Rings as a kid. In fact you couldn’t get him to shut up about it, but when he became a man he thought to put aside “childish” things. Jimmy was content to spend his entertainment hours watching the Sopranos and Mad Men. He made forays into Deadwood and was surprised to identify so strongly with Breaking Bad’s antihero Walter White.
Then on fateful Sunday, a mysterious stranger bedecked in finery from a faraway land stepped into his living room and took him down a rabbit hole from which he has yet to emerge. That stranger was the HBO series Game of Thrones. It opened Jimmy up to a fantasy realm of sex, violence, and betrayal that he hadn’t experienced elsewhere. Further, there was an unpredictability to the show that always kept Jimmy on the edge of his seat. It always kept him wanting more. Soon television wasn’t enough.
He went to the books for more, and that’s where things started getting serious. Now Jimmy is leading conversations at the water cooler about Jon Snow’s parentage. Now he has his own Frey Pie Theory.
Do you know a “Jimmy?” Maybe you even are a “Jimmy.” You’re probably asking yourself: "What’s next? Where do I go from here?" Well, I am here as your friendly Kindle pusherman to provide a few titles to help you get your fantasy fix.
George R. R. Martin didn’t write these books in a vacuum. He had a ton of inspiration from history and from other fantasy writers. One of the series he credits with showing him that a fantasy didn’t have to stick to some of the more tired conventions of the genre is Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, a trilogy by Tad Williams that begins with The Dragonbone Chair. For whatever reason, Mr. Williams never reached the audience he deserves for this series, but it’s really among the best fantasies around. It’s long, immersive, and well written. And, most importantly, it’s complete, which is not always a given for the genre.
If you’re in the mood for another gateway into even less charted regions of the fantasy landscape, you might go with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, which begins a series of books that deals with “history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, [and] journeys of both body and soul,” just to name a few of the themes she covers. This comes from the author herself, and she isn’t kidding. She has what you want from a fantasy series.
But if it’s not quite medieval (in the Tarantino sense) enough, try Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, beginning with Assassin’s Apprentice, the story of a bastard with royal blood raised to serve his estranged family as an assassin.
For the deep cuts, I’m going to recommend a fantasy for the more jaded Jimmys in the world—those readers who might like a side of sex and violence to go with the typical meat and mead of fantasy fare. Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy is for you. Book 1, The Blade Itself is a character-driven fantasy with cinematic pacing and fight scenes that could serve as choreography for a Kurosawa movie.
Hopefully, one or two of these books will help to get that fantasy monkey off your back. If not, I know there are others out there that will. Please feel free to use the comments to tell all of the Jimmys in the world what fantasies you read to fill the intermezzos in A Song of Ice and Fire. I know I’m always looking for something new to read.