In fantasy - as in most genres, I imagine - there are authors who seem to be overlooked, whose names deserve to be mentioned much more than they are.
To my mind, John Marco is one such author. I read his debut epic fantasy trilogy - Tyrants and Kings - several years ago (after buying the first novel, The Jackal of Nar, on a random whim), and it's easily one of the best I've read in that sub-genre.
The aspect that I like most about the trilogy is the way Marco included a totally different technology level to that which appeared in most other novels. In addition to the usual bows and swords, you have flamethrowers and poisonous gas, and an aristocracy that relies on man-made drugs to survive. This just gives the whole story an extra edge, a wholly different dynamic. Marco struck the perfect balance between innovation and tradition: his world pushes the boundaries without alienating fans of the sub-genre.
Yet the other reason why Marco's Tyrants and Kings series succeeds is simply because he's a fine writer and storyteller, who combines solid world-building with deep characterisation. There are some terrific characters in the trilogy, the best being the wonderfully Machiavellian Count Biagio. Rarely is a villain so engaging. His character progression is a joy to behold.
I've not read John's second trilogy, The 'Lukien Trilogy', but it's certainly on my read-before-I-die list. For some reason it doesn't seem to be too easy to get hold of in bookstores on this side of the Atlantic.Though I understand it is a more 'traditional' epic fantasy than Tyrants and Kings, I've heard good things about it.
More recently, John's gone back to pushing the boundaries a bit more by writing a fantasy series called The Skylords, which is aimed at younger readers and features a steam-punkish setting, with aviation and flying machines featuring quite heavily.
In any case, if you've not yet read any of John's books and you like epic fantasy, then you ought to check them out. He's one of the unsung heroes of the genre, not to mention the fact that he's also a very nice fellow indeed.
Recommended first purchase: The Jackal of Nar
First book in the Tyrants and Kings series. One of the best impulsive purchases I've made.
Recommended follow-up purchase: The Grand Design
The best novel in the trilogy, and one of the best epic fantasy novels I've ever read. Great plotting, great characters. Wonderful stuff.
Wildcard purchase: The Eyes of God
First novel in the Lukien sequence, check this out if you fancy reading something a little more traditional.
Feel free to check out the interview I did with John here, and John's own website here.
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