This might surprise you, but I don’t really read fantasy fiction. You might have gleaned otherwise from the slew of Terry Pratchett and JK Rowling books on my shelf, but those are two of the most widely-read authors in Britain. I’m not much of a reader lately, but my go-to fare is more of the Michael Crichton variety. I enjoy clean, efficient, unobtrusive prose – which also explains the few Stephen King books that share that shelf.
So that’s the real reason for the Greg Keyes novels, which came recommended from a friend. When I heard he was writing the Elder Scrolls spin-off books, I instantly understood why he’d been chosen, since his world and Bethesda’s are so similar as to seem interchangeable. What they share is a mundane sense of the magical – its presence is as low-key and matter-of-fact as the sci-fi in Battlestar Galactica. What’s kept in the foreground is the real drama of a highly-charged political situation, and the carnage of its graphically-described battle scenes. In that, it’s closer to one of the many dramatisations of the Tudor royals than your usual Elves-and-sorcery nonsense. The first novel, The Briar King, starts with a prologue battle as the slave-queen Virgenya overthrows her oppressors. Centuries later, her descendant Anne is a wilful brat who is forced to escape a murderous plot. The four novels cover her transformation into the “Born Queen” for the inevitable showdown.
One of the notable features of the saga is that it eschews the standard LOTR-style fantasy lore and instead invents its own monsters and magic. This makes the quadrilogy one of the most unique and memorable I’ve encountered. This is against the backdrop of a richly detailed and convincing setting.
The thing I particularly like, as I mentioned in opening, is the writing style, which is what I’d refer to as “prose script” – it’s almost like a screenplay and is of the variety that makes you forget that you’re reading. It’s the antithesis of the jarring overstylisation that plagues many acclaimed writers – I’d rather find myself so engrossed in the action that I’m no longer aware that I’m reading text off a page.
I know a book is good if I find myself staying up half the night to finish reading it, and there were many bleary-eyed three-a.m. sessions with these.
As you’d expect, if you’re a fan of fantasy, give these a whirl – but equally if you’re not, you’ll likely enjoy them too.