On the basis that recently I discussed the worst fantasy novel I've ever read, I thought I might as well discuss the best fantasy novel I've ever read as well (actually, the truth is it's Monday, I'm tired and I can't be arsed to write the book review that I've been meaning to write for the last four days).
So, to the best fantasy book I've ever read. If you asked me who my favourite band is, or my all-time favourite album or film, I'd struggle. The truth is, I have no such problem with novels - when it comes to books, I have a clear favourite.
There are plenty of possible contenders: Lord of the Rings, Magician, The Scar, The Terror (strictly a horror novel, but given the paranormal and folkloric elements I think I can get away with calling it fantasy), Legend, The Elfstones of Shannara, Gardens of the Moon, The Lies of Locke Lamora...
But there's one novel that - in my personal estimation - stands head and shoulders above all of those I just mentioned.
That novel is George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords.
So, the burning question - why? The answer is quite simple. This book (and I include both parts one and two, as it was originally written as a single novel) is a masterclass in plotting and characterisation. Martin handles the various plots and storylines with remarkable skill, injecting the novel with a terrific pace that barely lets up. Time and time again the reader is hammered with revelations as the plot twists and turns. Not only that, but the novel contains some of the most brilliant scenes in epic fantasy. I won't say anything as I don't want to give anything away, but those of you who have read A Storm of Swords will know exactly what I mean when I say the following: Red Wedding, Fist of the First Men and - most of all - the shocking climax of the duel in King's Landing. That last scene in particular is just unbelievable, I think I actually squealed when I read it. Well, maybe. My mouth was certainly hanging open.
The characterisation is equally excellent. Martin lends such depth to his characters, such vitality and colour, and it's fascinating to see them change and develop as the story progresses. Two of the Lannister brood - I won't say who - experience such traumatic events, and it's simply wonderful to see how they react. No one working in epic fantasy can create characters quite like George R.R. Martin. I mean, these are people you care about. You share their problems and revel in their achievements - and this sort of genuine involvement is what reading should always be about, but rarely is.
So that's why I humbly consider A Storm of Swords to be the best fantasy novel I've ever read.
LOVE YOU GEORGE.
Anyone like to share their own all-time favourite?