This is the third part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here, Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
While writing these “Influential Books” posts, I’ve noticed that most of these books were read between the ages of 8 and 12. I’m pretty sure I was 11 when I picked up a copy of The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore.
It was after we’d moved, but we still came back to my hometown in Maryland occasionally. I think we stopped to get Chinese food or maybe we stopped by the hardware store. Either way, we had a little extra time, so Mom and Dad let us go into a nearby bookstore. I had $20 of birthday money in my pocket; a small fortune to me. I prowled through the shelves, not looking for anything in particular, although I always wanted to buy as many books as possible. Then I noticed the lurid cover of the February 2000 paperback Collector’s Edition of The Dark Elf Trilogy, which promised to contain the first three books of the Chronicles of Drizzt: Homeland, Exile, and Sojourn. That got my attention. I love omnibuses, origin stories, and complete sets, plus I’d never heard of a “dark elf” before, so I bought it.
I can’t tell you how many times I read and reread these books. Enough times that I have to be careful with my well-loved paperback, lest it start falling apart. I’ve also gone on to collect The Icewind Dale Trilogy, The Legacy of the Drow, Paths of Darkness, and The Hunter’s Blades Trilogy. I must admit, after Legacy, the quality starts to go downhill and suffer from repetition problems. The Chronicles of Drizzt are still going, long after I think they should have gracefully ended. Still, Drizzt remains one of my favorite fantasy protagonists and I was not only introduced to dark elves, but also to the world of the Forgotten Realms, a playground for fantasy authors in the fashion of Dungeons and Dragons. However, I think the greatest influence The Dark Elf Trilogy had on me, was through the fight scenes.
R.A. Salvatore is very good at describing medieval-style battles, especially duels. Most fantasy battles up to that point were on such a grand scale that the authors only described it in very vague terms. If you ever read a battle scene in The Lord of the Rings, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s important, but not really intense on a visceral scale, at least, not to me. Salvatore, through Drizzt, was able to make those battles real. You are taken on a blow-by-blow tour of what it means to face an ice-wyrm, a demon, or the monsters of the Underdark. You feel each cut, smell the blood, tremble with exhaustion at the end, thankful to be alive. As soon as I finished reading them, I wrote my own battle scene for my unfinished duology Moon’s Fire/Moon’s Water. (I must admit, it’s not bad.)
My mom gave this book, Rhapsody: Child of Blood by Elizabeth Haydon to me for Christmas when I was 12. I think she mostly picked it for the cover because less than a chapter in, I was in the middle of a rather explicit sex scene. Being the prude that I am, I skimmed it to get into the “real” story. Rhapsody is really interesting because it uses traditional fantasy forms in new, rather original ways. The magic focuses around the true names and nature of things, often influences through music. While I’ve heard that Ursual K. Le Guin’s Earthsea also focuses on true names, it’s different in Haydon’s fantasy realm…and, to be honest, a lot more engaging.
So, not only was Rhapsody the first time I read a sex scene and was introduced to the real power of names and music, it also showed me how intricate a plot can be. The characters are wonderfully caught up in this epic adventure that seems like it would have been broken into several books, yet all flows together seamlessly. It’s something I have difficulty explaining. For example, another author might have had Rhapsody’s introduction to her two companions Achmed and Grunthor, their journey through the Axis Mundi, and their subsequent arrival across the ocean as one book and the second book would be settling in to this new realm and forging the Firbolg into an empire. Instead, it’s all part and parcel of the same story, a long, interwoven tale full of plot twists, seeds, and so many lovely little surprises it makes my head spin think about how much time Haydon must have spent making it all work. And each book is like that! Rhapsody’s adventures continue in Prophecy: Child of Earth, Destiny: Child of the Sky, and into a new cycle (Requiem for the Sun, Elegy for a Lost Star, The Assassin King, and at least one more forthcoming novel.) The level of detail really is impressive and something that I now strive for, even though I don’t think I’ll reach that level. ^_^;; If you haven’t read Rhapsody, I highly recommend it…and be sure to read them in order, or you’ll be hopelessly lost!
I can’t remember exactly when I read Those Who Hunt The Night by Barbara Hambly, but it must have been around the same time as Rhapsody and The Dark Elf Trilogy because I remember buying it from the local library book sale. The pages have a certain scent to them…I’ve never smelled it on a book before, but it was very…old and bookish, if that makes any sense.
For the record, I picked it up, not because it had vampires in it, but because Barbara Hambly wrote it. I’d read The Winterlands Quartet by her and loved the language and description so much that this was an instant sell. I’d actually never understood the interest in vampires until I read this. But once I did…I got it. Or at least, here was a vampire story I could sink my teeth into, if you’ll pardon the pun.
The premise of the story is that someone is killing off the vampires of London. Because these murders are taking place during the day, one of the vampires, an ancient Spanish noble named Ysidro, takes a chance on enlisting aid from the human Oxford professor James Asher. It’s great creepy gothic fun and plays with the ideas of humanity. Really, read this for the language, if nothing else. I enjoyed the story, but the simple act of reading it was a joy. And I really like Ysidro because he really gives off the feeling that he isn’t human. Not anymore, and you really an’t fully trust him because the whole while he’s running his own agenda. Whether you survive or not depends completely on his word…and how useful you are. No sparkles or vegetarian vamps here.