Tuesday 5 August 2008

Recommended reading: John Marco

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.


grey_tinman said...

I read Kings and Tyrants last year and really enjoyed the series. As you said, Biagio is definitely the most interesting character in the series, but I also enjoyed the others. A few people on sffworld seem to dislike him, but I'm not sure why.

Jeff C said...

I agree with the Marco recommendation. I liked Tyrants and Kings a lot. I have also read the first 2 in his Lukien Trilogy. If I remember correctly, the first book is actually The Eyes of God (Sword of Angels is the 3rd book). Eyes of God might have been even better than the Tyrants trilogy. I remember liking The Devil's Armor, too. However, I stalled about 300 pages into The Sword of Angels, but I think it was due to being a bit burned out on the series, as all books are rather large (and Sword of Angels is HUGE). I need to give it another go.

James said...

Grey_tinman: Yeah, Biagio is fantastic though there are plenty of others too. But I just loved his character arc and the way he changed. I know plenty of people didn't like Jackal of Nar, but each to his own. I know plenty liked it as well.

Jeff: Thanks for pointing out my mistake, Jeff. I wrote the article in a bit of a rush, so must have just slipped up there. I've changed it now. As I said, I've not read the Lukien series but definitely plan to rectify that. It's sometimes the problem with big books, you just start to feel a bit burned out.

Midnight Philosopher said...

Hey James, thanks for this. I stop by all the time and this was a nice surprise.

Grey and Jeff-glad you both have enjoyed some of my books. Much appreciated. As for those folks that don't like my books, well, to each his/her own. As Harlan Ellison once said, everyone is entitled to an informed decision. If someone tries a book and doesn't like it, at least they made the attempt.

James said...

John, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad it was a nice surprise for you...I do try and spread the word when I can, as whenever I see folks discussing the best fantasies out there, I don't see your books mentioned nearly enough.

Todd said...

I've had both trilogies sitting on my shelf for some time now, and have yet to read them. But I will certainly give them a go very soon. Especially after all the praise I hear.

RobB said...

Nice overview, James. As you probably know from the SFFWorld forums, I've been a fan of John's writing since reading Jackal when it published. Biagio is a great character, I think I need to revisit the series at some point.

Jeff C said...

yeah, this makes me want to start Sword of Angels at the beginning and review it to help give it some pub.

James..this post also gives me an idea for posting a weekly/biweekly post about some of the under-recognized authors out there. My first post would be to mention David B. Coe, who I think more people should be reading.

James said...

Rob: Yeah, I'm aware that you're a fan of John's books. Which series do you prefer, Tyrants and Kings or the Lukien series?

Jeff: Good idea Jeff, you should definitely run with that. I'd have to have a think about whether there's any others I could blog about, I'm sure there must be a few.

RobB said...

James, comparing the series is like apples and apple juice. I like the experimental nature of T&K, but I also think John handles the traditional stuff really well, too.

Jeff, looking forward to the Coe write-up! He's an author I keep intending to read, but just never get to him.

ThRiNiDiR said...

I'm buying Marco James; the flamethrowers got to me :D

Todd Newton said...

I have not read Tyrants and Kings but I have read the "Lukien" trilogy and can vouch 100% for its quality. Marco is a fantastic author and, though the books are quite lengthy, the story never really lets up. Totally worth your time, believe me.