Personally, I have got a fascination with sidecast, sometimes even more than the main characters. This is true whether I’m reading/writing a book or watching a TV series. But I will focus on books for this post since I exclusively watch Chinese TV (used to be Hong Kong TV cos that’s where I came from, now mainland Chinese because HK TV had become so crap, rant for another day) even though I live in Australia.
Now, in terms of my sidecast fascination, I’ve realised that it seems to be predominantly with particular characters archetypes as opposed to specific characters (well, occasionally I like a few that doesn’t fall into the pattern below due to the writer’s skills, I presume). They are, in order of preference:
- grumpy female mentor figures (what I come to call auntly): Examples include Aunt Pol (Polgara) from David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malleorean and Rosethorn from the Circle Universe setting of Tamora Pierce. For my own work, I had an aunt/mentor figure that I was particularly fond of for that Genghis Khan novel that I abandoned.
- The charming rogue trope: to be honest, I don’t like to read stories where the charming rogue is the protagonist. I don’t think I had ever really bonded to any rogue protagonist ever. But I definitely remember liking a couple of this well-used trope in fantasy, most notably Jimmy the Hand from the Riftwar and Serpentwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist and Silk from David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malleorean. For my own writing, I haven’t yet written a story featuring such a sidecast yet.
- The quirky character: I like them as protagonists as well as sidecasts. I might be remiss but the only example I could remember is Nakor from Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar, Serpentwar etc.
Now, what about everyone else? Who are the most fascinating sidecasts you’ve read to date? Let me know in comments.
My light reading list covers the following that were not already discussed in previous posts of this series:
- Robert Aspirin’s Myth Adventures series which is hilarious, covering the adventures of a magician’s apprentice after he had acquired a ‘demon’ that his master had summoned. It stands out because its main selling point is the introduction of anachronisms in an otherwise fantasy set up. For those who don’t know the word, anachronism is something that does not fit with a particular era. In this case, he introduces a lot of modern concepts into a fantasy world in a way that entices laughter.
- Joel Rosenburg’s Guardian of the Flame series which is basically about a group of college students who participate in a fantasy role-playing game, and are magically transported to the world of the game by their game master. They then set about trying to eliminate the practice of slavery in this world. It is not aimed for hilarity like the Myth series but it has quite a bit of light-hearted moments.
Ergh… and that is all in terms of light reading. And this concludes my serial post on my own book tastes.
I’ve decided that I will start a new serial post that recurs every 3 months that will be called Moonlake’s Book Discoveries now. So the first of this new series would be posted around on the first Monday of May. It won’t be a book review post per se, more a stock-take of what my experience across different authors and books had been for the past 3 months. So stay tuned for it, other book lovers and random pedestrians.
So today I had promised to share some of the ‘unusual reads’ speaking from the perspective of my own tastes.
I’m not going by any order of personal preference but first up is….. Taiko by Eiji Yoshikawa. It is a historical fiction that tells the story of one man’s rise from a low starting point to the position of Taiko which I would have translated to Imperial General (although I’m not Japanese but Chinese so I’m really using the Chinese concept as the base) which was officially only less prestigious than the position of Emperor as I understood it (but in reality exceeding the Emperor’s power at the particular era covered by the book). I’m not a real history person but I was familiar with the range of characters covered by this book before I even read it through a RPG strategy game that I played on PC. I’ve read from some online book reviews that some thinks that it’s a bit hard to read this book because it contains a lot of characters and it’s hard to distinguish between Japanese names where both surname and name are at least 8-9 characters in length. But for me, this wasn’t a problem and it appealed to me because it read like an epic and I’ve already said that I’m really into epic fantasy.
Next comes the Black Jewels series and associated books written by Anne Bishop. She writes dark fantasy which is usually a niche I don’t touch (like horror) not because I’m squirmy but it’s just not really my thing. However, what she had done with the Black Jewel was a certainly good read. It was a dark fantasy because it contained sexual abuse and animal abuse but they were operating within the overall plot of the story so I don’t really mind them much. I’ve read the first two novels of her Ephemera world as well but did not like it and after reading an excerpt from her Tir Alainn series (which was centred around the Fae) I was not really interested. Oh, and I would recommend Anne Bishop only to female readers because well, in the Black Jewels, there are scenes of sexual abuse that might be uncomfortable for male readers to read about so experience it at your own risk.
In similar veins, I’ve taken to reading Sarah Pinborough’s very short novellas that rework fairy tales and bring in a dark twist. Basically, they are dark fantasy with romantic erotica thrown in. I’m not particularly taken with the genre nor too fond of her actual writing but I guess I read them more out of commending her effort in re-working old stories and also just feeling in the mood for light reading. She had written three of them that are using the Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Cinderella as the main story (titled Beauty, Poison and Charm respectively and should be read in this order, all three are inter-related) but each of them also contains snippets from other children stories including Beauty and the Beast, Rumplestiltskin, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, Aladdin, the Frog Prince, Hansel & Gretel and some more that I probably did not recognise. Then again, these others were not used as-is but rather adapted to fit the author’s purposes.
I’m also a follower of the Thursday Next series by Jaspar Fforde, the only urban fantasy series that I read. It’s again on my light reading list, being full of humour and some sarcasm. I also think that there’s something in it for book lovers, especially for those who have read the classics. But yes, definitely something for the book lovers and I won’t ruin it for those who haven’t read it by revealing what it is.
That’s all for unusual reads. The next and final instalment of my reading taste will reveal the authors and series on my light reading list except for ones already covered previously.
Today, I’m going to change the tone slightly by talking about the mystery books that I’ve read and enjoyed. While not the main staple of my reading (mystery books to me are more like side dishes or desert, they serve as in-betweens for my trips into long serious fantasy epics), I do frequently read mystery which is more than what can be said for all other genres.
The only genuine love I have in this category is the original Sherlock Holmes series. Unusually for me, I actually bought The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes in one book. I’ve read Agatha Christie heavily as well although I’m not much taken with M. Poirot and haven’t actually read any Ms. Marple but I’m quite fond of her Tommy and Tuppence series (she hasn’t written that many books for the duo though).
I found that I’m so-so with contemporary mystery. I do follow a few authors including:
- Patricia Cornwell and her Dr. Scarpetta series: unlike most mystery series, the heroine here is a chief coroner. It’s one of the rare mystery series that’s not on my light reading list. But I stopped following it after the lover of the heroine ‘died’ and then when I picked up the series again, another main character had split ways with the heroine so I discontinued with it.
- Sue Grafton’s alphabet series: to be honest, I’m more taken with the quirky heroine rather than her writing but I have taken notice that she had been experimenting with new writing styles and perspectives in more recent books.
- Janet Evanoich’s numbers series: to be honest, I found her writing really mediocre and her troupe of the heroine’s romance troubles got really old after a while. I think I stopped after 13 or something. But well, it’s light reading. Also, I think I prefer some of the books starring the same heroine as the numbers series but are standalones whose titles start off with the word Plum (the heroine’s surname) including Plum Spooky. Others I cannot remember offhand…
- Richard Yancey’s Highly Effective series: this is a recent find actually and I’ve only read two books of the series. Definitely light reading material as the hero of the series is basically an inapt private detective. Actually, I haven’t really decided to follow him but well, I might come back to his work when I need a light reading in between my normal pursuits in reading
My personal recommendations are two authors and series that potentially appeal to both taste for fantasy and mystery. Basically, they star a religious figure in the medieval ages who solve mysteries. These are:
- Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series: it’s been a while since I read this series and I don’t know whether I had read all of it but certainly what was available to me through public library. I’ve already said why I liked it. It was my first encounter of such a work that bends the genre a little (to me, the attractiveness of fantasy was the fact it brought me into another world that is very different to what I’m experiencing in real life) and I’m finding that I’m quite fascinated with the presentation of what someone in a cloister experienced of life then in addition to the main mystery
- Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma series: quite a recent find. Besides the genre-bending thing, I like how the author seems very good at ending each Chapter with a cliff-hanger.
And that’s all for mystery. Next instalment would be on unusual books. Well, they are not that unusual really, just unusual from the angle of my tastes.
So I am continuing with the authors and books that fall into my comfort zone but not necessarily brilliant by themselves. I am quite picky (if you had read the post before this, there are only two authors that I named as my favourites) so there are more substantial number of authors that I diligently follow for laziness of venturing for ‘new’ authors or sometimes just because I’ve grown attached to a particular character or underlying world and excused sometimes quite mediocre writing (I’m not saying every author in this category is mediocre but compared with what made it to my favourites, this category is simply massive so there’s bound to be one or two of the latter authors or books that made it to this category).
Egh… sorry for the long preamble again, I just can’t help myself. So continuing with the actual list, besides Margaret and the Forgotten Realms label, I also enjoyed the following works:
- R.A Salvatore’s Cleric Quintet and Demonwars Saga (all right, I had already mentioned him in the first post but these are his work that actually drew me because of some specific part of his writing), particularly the first three books of the later series that present a somewhat different experience to most other fantasy books
- David Eddings’s Belgariad, Mallorean, Elemium and Temuli, each of them a quintet. I read them while I was a teenager and I liked his humorous dialogue and how he was able to add in side-plots that kept one riveted even though I could always see his ending miles away. I also dislike how the main characters always come out on top because of some fundamental flaw in the ultimate villain in his book, which to me functions much like an anti-climax. In that sense, I’ve always felt like he was writing for the YA market but really he was an author before the rise of YA.
- Tamora Pierce’s Immortal Quartet, The Trickster series and the Beka Cooper series, books on the Circle universe except the latest one called Battle Magic. She is another YA author. I find some of the ideas in her books refreshing but in general, I prefer a more in-depth exploration of more mature themes about life philosophies and human truisms in books so in this area she will never be able to satisfy me fully just by the virtue of her niche.
Okay, I have to stop here again and continue next time because today I just don’t feel in the writing mood much. It’s 30 degrees plus over here.
Now that I have gotten around to fixing up my Reading Corner page, I figure that I will put up my first relevant post for it today. And the first post will be… about my book tastes of course.
Firstly, I have not yet figured out how to do category pages. So I have to repeat some of the things I’ve already talked in the paragraph now up on the Reading Corner page. My main staple for reading are fantasy and then mystery, with a preference towards book aimed at adults as opposed to YA. I love readings series because they give me a longer time to immerse in the story but I usually don’t have the patience to pick up a series containing more than 5 books. Consecutive trilogies, though, are something that I’m quite comfortable with. And then, I tend to classify books into two categories: serious and light reading. Mystery books in general tend to be under my light reading list. I was not particularly adventurous in searching out new authors, preferring to stick up with authors and series that I’m comfortable with. I’m only now starting to change a bit in this area since some of my ‘comfort writers’ are no longer stocked much at my local library or I decided to not continue following their work.
Now, after this somewhat long preamble, onto the actual lists.
My all-time favourite is the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien. I read the Hobbit as well of course (which was what got me into LoR in the first place) but as a short prequel, I was less attached to it.
Coming second is the Midkemian books by Raymond E. Feist. However, I was quite sad that the turn at the plot he made just before the Conclave of Shadow series turned me off his books because it got the story back into the “all the mischiefs happening in the story are driven by the Gods” which I had come to view as a cliché in the fantasy genre and dislike (although I did read this series). His strongest work are definitely the Riftwar and Serpentwar Sagas.
Beyond is sort of a fuzzy area where I have a lot of what I term my “comfort writers” and their work are sort of hit-and-miss for me. The foremost I will mention is Margaret Weis whose Dragonlance Chronicles first got me into reading fantasy and by that fact alone holds some kind of special sentimental value for me. However, I regretted very much that I’ve ever decided to take up reading the Dragon of the Summer Flame rather than stopping with the original trilogy. I’ve also her Darksword Trilogy, her Deathgate Cycle and her Rose of the Prophet trilogy. The only one that I sort of liked was the Rose of the Prophet one, the ones were so-so to me. The other major label that I had read was books in the Forgotten Realms world which multiple authors contributed to and I had grown comfortable with. But I must say the quality of books belonging to it I found to be rather sub-par on average. The strongest author among them is probably R. A. Salvatore and his Drizzt series. I found some of the books or individual plots a bit odd sometimes but he made up for it for producing enough books about Drizzt that I had warmed up to the character. I liked the Harper series belonging under this label too, not because they are quality work (they tend to be part of the sub-par ones in my opinion) but because this is one of the rare open-ended series in fantasy there was (or I could find) with each book in the series being a standalone story by itself.
That’s all for today. I will continue with more of my comfort writers in the next instalment. In fact, there will be more instalments to come on this topic. Feel free to leave comments about your thoughts on the authors and books that I mentioned in this post.