Wrath of a Mad God
Raymond E. Feist
Pure crack for fantasy geeks and about as high quality. I’ve been reading Feist since a friend recommended Magician to me when I was nine years old; in grade four, back in 1988. My friend’s name was Paul Reid and that was 20 years ago now. It’s also long since I realised that I’m pretty much only reading Feist because reading Feist is what I do.
As his books get steadily worse that becomes a weaker and weaker reason. He does have some redeeming features: he doesn’t forget where he put the plot; his sagas actually finish; he manages to avoid appearing a total right-wing fascist. After the disappointment of Martin and the betrayal of Jordan those are very good things to a recovering fantasy geek. He is still one of the reasons that I haven’t completely given up on fantasy. And of course, Gaiman.
Why am I now so disappointed? His first three books (Magician, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon) were really great fantasy epics. Magician even managed that rarest of fantasy firsts: a self-contained, single, enjoyable novel. What was so enjoyable? A rich, consistent, well-thought through world, with a deep and fascinating history. The sort of thing that makes Tolkein so popular. Those books sold well, Feist proceeded to mine that world and his characters in countless sequels. And like the fools we are, us fantasy fans lapped those sequels up.
You may think you want the blank spots in the story filled in, you may think that those tantalising glimpses are only a fraction of the glory that is fully formed, but hidden, in the author’s mind. But. You are wrong. The back story you build, the worlds you imagine around the glimpses? Those are the real joy in fantasy. Do not burn those worlds to the ground by demanding ad reading endless prequels and sequels. Let the great stories stand alone.
Feist is a great example of this. It turns out that he didn’t really have anything to surround those brief histories and as he writes more and more he’s starting to change things. Sometimes for the better, but many times the things I’ve loved have died.
I see two things here: the world is not meant to change, even if it does make things easier for someone; and, you don’t want to know your heroes too well. Even if they are only characters in a book.