Of Pride and Dragons

dragonlance

I first read the Dragonlance books soon after I left high school and just as I was about to start sixth form college. I had known about them before that: a few of my friends at school were big fans and it was only my childish pride that made me read them later than they did.

You see, I was something of a “fantasy pioneer” among my school friends. In most cases, I was the first to discover and read fantasy series such as The Lord of the Rings, the Shannara books, and The Belgariad. However, the Dragonlance books were first noticed by my best friend at the time and so I pretended to regard them with indifference and set out to discover “better” series instead.

Once we left school and my best friend and I parted ways, I guess I felt that I could then read the Dragonlance books without losing face. And so I finally bought the first book in the Dragonlance series. It was Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Book 1 of the first trilogy, Dragonlance Chronicles. I loved it and it wasn’t long before I was buying the second (Dragons of Winter Night) and third book (Dragons of Spring Dawning).

The Dragonlance Chronicles are written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. The books are based on a series of Dungeons & Dragons game modules, and they were written because the designers wanted novels to tell the story of the game world they were creating. Although I was not familiar with Dungeons & Dragons and never played the game, I thoroughly enjoyed the books. They follow the familiar formula of a band of heroes setting out on a quest to save the world: there was the heroic but reluctant leader, a warrior, a dwarf, a halfling, a mage, and a few other flawed but courageous human companions.

Yes, it was very Lord of the Rings-esque but the Dragonlance Chronicles were a fun journey with likeable characters.  I liked the fact that the Dragonlance books had many strong female characters (unlike The Lord of the Rings) and even the “Dark Lord” was a woman! I also liked the illustrations by Jeffrey Butler though I wasn’t too keen on the cover art of the British edition that I bought (I much preferred the covers of the US edition which my friends had).

Further trilogies followed the Chronicles, some also written by Weis and Hickman and some by other writers. For a few years, I religiously bought and read each new Dragonlance instalment but there came the time when I could not keep up – and when other fantasy series caught my attention and fought for my time and money!

The Chronicles are a complete trilogy in themselves, however, which can be read without further investment in the Dragonlance estate. If you love high fantasy and a good old fashioned quest, grab a set now and escape to the world of Dungeons & Dragons.

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The Belgariad

I discovered David Eddings’ The Belgariad fantasy series when I was 15 years old. It tells of the coming-of-age of a boy called Garion who learns that his destiny is tied to a prophecy made thousands of years ago and that the world’s fate rests on his young shoulders. It’s not the most original plot, I grant you, but while Eddings takes his readers on to a well-trodden path he also adds plenty of excitement and a few surprises along the way. The series comprises:

  1. Pawn of Prophecy
  2. Queen of Sorcery
  3. Magician’s Gambit
  4. Castle of Wizardry
  5. Enchanters’ End Game

I devoured all five books in the series and I was very sad indeed when I reached the final page of the final book. By that time, I felt so much a part of Eddings’ world that I did not want to leave it. The reading of the epic series was made all the more magical because it was a shared experience with my equally geeky friends at school. We read it at the same time and the animated and enthusiastic discussions we had are some of the fondest memories I have from my school days.

There are many reasons why I love The Belgariad: the books don’t take themselves seriously, they are easy to read, fast-paced, and altogether fun. The books also contain unforgettable characters that you wish you had as friends in the real world. The banter and interaction among the protagonists make you feel that you are part of their their quest. You feel that you are a member of their fellowship, so much so that you know exactly what the characters will do or say when facing new situations.

There was another feature of the series that made me fall in love with it. The enchanting cover art by fantasy artist Geoff Taylor graced the edition that I read. For me, the colourful illustrations evoked just the right emotion and atmosphere for the world of The Belgariad. I regret letting go of my original collection and that the current edition that you can buy does not feature the original cover art.

belgariad2

Original cover art by Geoff Taylor.

A sequel series The Malloreon was published a few years after The Belgariad ended. I also enjoyed it but it felt like a rewrite of The Belgariad with just different settings and added characters. Sadly, the same can be said of Eddings’ later series. All of them can be described as Belgariad clones with the same characters but with different names.

But that doesn’t take away the fact that The Belgariad is a highly enjoyable fantasy that I would heartily recommend.

Remembering The Wolf King

wolfkingI have always loved reading. It feels that I have always read fairy tales and other short stories. We did not have many books at home when I was a child but I loved going to the library to escape to enchanted realms and set off on grand adventures.

Today, I found myself wondering when I progressed from short stories to straight novels. I remember that it was when I was 11 years old when Mum bought me my first novel: The Wolf King by Ann Turnbull. The book is set in Bronze Age Britain. The protagonist is Coll of the Wolf Clan whose tribe is under attack by the Wolf King, a masked horseman dressed all in black, and his army of wolves. Coll’s brother Ruadh’s inadvertent killing of a wolf has fueled his tribe’s feud with the wolves and when Ruadh disappears, Coll sets out with friend Gayla to find him.

I don’t remember exactly how many pages The Wolf King had but it was certainly much longer than your average fairy tale. I worried that I might not be able to finish it. Would I find it difficult to understand? Would I know the meaning of all the words?

I did struggle in some parts. English wasn’t my first language and my English vocabulary wasn’t very extensive when I was 11. But I persevered and I felt very proud indeed when I reached the final page. Reading a whole novel was my biggest accomplishment to date!

The Wolf King is sadly now out of print but I credit it for giving me a thirst for more novels. I’ve now set myself a new mission: to find a copy and read it again.

Let’s Go Book Hunting!

Boys lying and reading.

Very few things in life give me as much pleasure as books, and for me the buying is as pleasurable as the reading.

Like most people, I seldom go to brick-and-mortar bookshops now as in most cases it is cheaper to buy online. Most people have heard of Amazon but it’s not the only online bookseller. Whenever I need/want to buy a book, I enjoy the challenge of finding the best price.

Amazon clearly has the biggest range – if they don’t have what you’re looking for, it’s unlikely that their online competitors will. Thanks to third party sellers on Amazon (called market sellers), it is also easy to buy second hand or out of print books. Also, I consider Amazon to have the best customer service. Should something go wrong with your order, they will sort it out in not time at all.

However, Amazon is not always the cheapest especially when you factor in the postage. Until earlier this year, Amazon offered free postage on most items (regardless of price) in the UK but now only orders worth over £10 qualify for free postage. Unfortunately for me, Amazon has also stopped offering free delivery to Europe. Previously, my orders to Italy qualified for free delivery if the total was £25 or over.

I know of at least three Amazon competitors that offer free postage worldwide: Book Depository, Wordery, and Kennys. As you would expect, delivery is not as fast as with Amazon but it is nice to know that the price you see when browsing is the price that you will pay. Out of the three alternatives, Wordery is probably the most competitive.

Here are a few more tips:

  • Book Depository is also a market seller on Amazon. Often, it’s cheaper to buy books from Book Depository through Amazon rather than direct via the Book Depository website.
  • It is worth comparing prices even between the different Amazon sites. Only last week, I wanted the US edition of The Sword of Shannara Trilogy and they were cheaper on the German site than on the American site (crazy!).
  • Despite what I said about having to pay postage on Amazon, sometimes it still works out cheaper with them than with the other three even when postage is taken into account.

So the moral of the story is: shop around!

First Love

They say your first love is the deepest and the most special, the love that you will never forget. They must be right, for I have decided to go back to my first love.

I’m going to be greedy and say that I have not one but two first loves: reading and writing. When I was a teenager, I devoured books like there was no tomorrow. I spent all my pocket money on books and I spent all my free time reading about little people called hobbits and exploring magical lands like Narnia.

My thirst for writing was equally unquenchable. I wrote whenever I could: I just had to write whatever I was thinking. I religiously kept a journal for almost 20 years and it was no surprise to anyone when eventually I wrote for a living.

There came the time, however, when second, third, fourth and other loves distracted me from reading and writing. In particular, the advent of the internet and the digital age gave me something else to be in love with. I stopped being curious about Frodo’s adventures and imaginary worlds lost their appeal. I became a web designer/editor and developed a passion for social networking.

But now, my first loves are imploring me to go back to them. Over the past month, I have started to replace the books that I loved but which I gave away when I was accepted for priestly formation. It wouldn’t surprise me if Amazon.co.uk is in love with me at the moment because of the number of orders they have been getting from me. To date, I have re-acquired five of my all-time favourite fantasy epics including The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Chronicles of Prydain, The Belgariad and The Sword of Shannara Trilogy. My feet are itching again to explore these magical lands.

books

And my hands are fidgeting again to write. This is why I have decided to start this blog, in the hope that it will be my main venue for writing my thoughts and recording my adventures. So please do pop in from time to time, and allow me to share with you all that I love.