Annah Wooten's incredible artwork for the cover of The Fey Man

Interview with Artist Annah Wootten: Part Two

Last week I shared part one of an interview with Annah Wootten, the artist responsible for the incredible cover art to my first novel, The Fey Man. This week I asked Annah how she went about creating the cover, what it was like to work with me (poor thing), as well as what she hopes future covers might feature!

I discovered your work through another dragon in stained glass piece; what led you to create that?

Well, originally I’d modeled a 3d character of a medieval style girl, and I wanted to put an interesting scene around her before I rendered it.

For some inspiration I glanced at my bookshelf and saw one of Stephen Donaldson’s books A Daughter of Regals, which is essentially about a line of leaders/kings who have the ability to turn into mythical creatures. Anyway, [spoiler] the protagonist’s creature is a dragon, and I thought it would be cool to have my model representing the girl, and a stained glass window representing her transformation into dragon.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you went about creating this cover?

I roughed out a sketch based on the description of a dragon and an island, and once that was approved, I brought it into Adobe illustrator where I created the outlines for the stained glass. That was then brought into photoshop where I painted each piece of glass. The wall is a mixture of photo manipulation and painting. I wanted it to look quite realistic so I used some stock imagery to help create that.

How do you go about turning a vague commission (such as mine) into a piece of art? How do you fill in the gaps?

Kind of hard that one. How do you know how to ride a bike? When I read a description (however brief or detailed) my imagination usually provides me with an image. Sometimes it’s not as easy as that though and I have to doodle my way through it, but I always rough out a few different ideas before deciding on the composition I like.

What was the hardest thing about this cover (aside from dealing with me)?

Heheh, well… I suppose the hardest part is turning the sketch into a stained glass outline of itself and keeping as much of the detail as possible. Since I’ve never made a real stained glass window myself (something I plan to rectify at some point) I’m never sure whether the end result is entirely realistic, so I might be taking a few artistic liberties!

What do you hope the future covers for this series will involve?

More dragons?! (hehe) Or some really cool fairies/creatures/characters. Making stained glass images is a nice change to what I usually paint, so even if I had to do a brick wall it would be.. well, maybe not fun, but at least different!

What advice can you give to authors regarding their covers?

Try not to tell the artist exactly how it should look; if you give the artist a bit of freedom to be expressive, the cover usually turns out better!

What’s your favourite book cover?

For covers I’ve done, yours! (It was refreshingly different to do) and The Fire and the Light by Tracy A.Akers as it was my first proper cover.

Otherwise, I love my Chronicles of Amber cover, probably because it’s done by one of my long time favorite artists: John Howe. And that should really extend to the ones he did on most of my Robin Hobb books too :)

Thanks Annah!

Annah Wootten is a concept and 3D artist, illustrator and designer. You can find her on Twitter at @annahwp and at her website annahlouise.com

An example of Annah Wootten's incredible stained glass artwork for The Fey Man.

Interview with Artist Annah Wootten: Part One

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but, let’s face it, book covers are pretty important. I knew I had to get the cover to The Fey Man just right. I spent a long time searching for the right artist and I think you’ll agree that Annah Wooten fits the bill! Her work on that cover is just incredible, so I thought I’d ask her a few questions so you could learn more about her!

When did you first realise you wanted to be an artist?

I don’t think there was ever a time when I decided to be one. I did grow up drawing a lot though. My dad’s a graphic artist/illustrator so when I was little I liked to sit at his big drawing board (back in the days before everything was computerised) and doodle. My parents and teachers saw I had an affinity for art, so I think I was always kind of encouraged down that road. Not that I’m complaining though because I love it! But sometimes I wish I could have been clever enough to be an astronaut too!

Who and what would you say are your greatest influences?

It’s varied at different stages of my life. When I was younger it was horses horses horses (being allergic to them meant I had to get my love for them out on paper instead). Then when I was nine or ten I read The Dark is Rising and got hooked on fantasy, so horses turned into unicorns and pegasus’s. I found books on artists like Brom and Luis Royo, and painted gryphons in my GCSE art exams. Around then the internet began to come into its own and I discovered other artists similar to me, and became influenced by them.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Almost anything! Music, people, dreams, and definitely stories. Drawing with the feeling of inspiration is like a dream – it kind of pulls you along for the ride. 

What is your favourite kind of art?

Dark and fantastical.

What’s your favourite medium to work in?

I mostly work in digital (gotta love that ‘undo’ button), but I do oil painting now and again, and I’d like to get back into acrylics.

What are your favourites amongst your body of work?

Whatever I’m currently working on. I have a few very old pieces I still love, but would probably never put up online.

What’s the most difficult commission you’ve ever had?

Possibly one involving a pegasus in the Chrysler building. I wondered how the heck am I going to do that…

I have to ask: what was a pegasus doing in the Chrysler building? Did you pull it off?

I believe he lived and worked there; it was an embassy of sorts, and being on one of the top floors, it was easy for him to get to! And yep, I did finish it.

What would be your dream commission?

Doing concept art for a film!

Come back next week when Annah will tell us how she went about creating that incredible cover!

Annah Wootten is a concept and 3D artist, illustrator and designer. You can find her on Twitter at @annahwp and at her website annahlouise.com

Annah Wooten's incredible artwork for the cover of The Fey Man

Announcing The Fey Man

At the wizened old age of thirty, the journey to this point seems long. It started with childish stories often aped from the books and films I loved. It moved through a terrible science fiction trilogy. It grew through short stories. Now it feels like it’s about to hit the milestone I’ve always been travelling towards: in just two short months, you’ll be able to buy my first novel: The Fey Man.

The Fey Man is an epic fantasy about a man’s quest to return to Faerie and the war that keeps getting in his way.

It’s been inspired by Scottish folklore, fairy tales, Arthurian legends and the film Armageddon. Yes, you read that right. Click the link to find out more about The Fey Man.

I’ve been writing this book for about three years now and I can’t tell you how excited and scared I am that you’ll be able to read it soon. I hope you like it. I’ll be writing more about it in the coming weeks but, for now, I’ll leave you with Annah Wootten’s incredible cover art for the novel. Isn’t it great?

The cover of The Fey Man

A D&D dragon guards its treasure

The Best Fantasy Dragons

Writing about fantasy books almost certainly means I’ve been writing about dragons. They seem almost intrinsic to the genre, and while a dragon is by no means necessary for a fantasy novel, they do seem to inspire a certain fascination in us.

So while there are plenty to choose from, here are my five favourite dragons. Judge me if you will.

The Stone Elderlings

Robin Hobb’s later novels did feature “proper” dragons, but Assassin’s Quest featured dragons made of living stone. When the heros first stumble upon them they are dead and silent. But when they are quickened by magic and death, the stone roars into life.

The heroes sculpt their own dragon, too. Magic users can pour their memories, emotions and finally their very lives into the special stone. By doing so they create the powerful ally they need to save their people. It’s a wonderfully original idea and is in complete service to the story; rather than forcing the narrative around traditional dragons, she created something that fit her theme of sacrifice just perfectly.

Smaug

Can a list of dragons be completed without Smaug? The real villain of The Hobbit, perhaps no dragon has influenced fantasy literature more than Smaug. Tolkien took a lot of inspiration from Beowulf so Smaug shares many characteristics with the creature of that work: his hoard of treasure, his appropriated underground dwelling, his penchant for vengeance. But where the monster of Beowulf was mute, Tolkien gave Smaug a voice and therein elevated the dragon from mute monster to delightful villain. He’s vain and greedy and his love of riddles and language make him a pleasure to read.

Dragon Quest

Dragon Quest was a role playing game that got bought and rebranded by the company that owned Dungeons & Dragons. The dragons owe nearly all of their character to Smaug (evil, hoarding, clever, love riddles, etc.) and they have no depth. They’re simply big monsters for players to defeat. But in trying to create enough variety for dungeon masters and repeated playthroughs, they created different types and breeds of dragon that fascinated my young mind. And there was some truly beautiful art in the rulebooks too.

Granny’s Garden

If you played this game you already know what I’m thinking of: those damn baby dragons!

In order to rescue a child in this BBC Micro adventure, you need to tame four baby dragons. Each dragon either loves, likes or hates each of the four items of food you have. You have to figure out what order to toss them the food so you can isolate and tame each one.

Replaying this at the wise old age of thirty resulted in two game overs and a handmade chart to keep track of the dragons’ likes and dislikes. Playing at the tender age of five resulted in two dozen game overs, tears, bitterness and possibly minor acts of temper tantrum. So whilst these dragons should barely register on a list of the greats, you can see why they had such an impact on me nonetheless.

George and the Dragon

With St George being the patron saint of England, it’s hard not to come across this story as a child. The way I was told it was a terrible, fire-breathing dragon was terrifying a local village, stealing and eating their sheep. Good St George comes along and slays the mighty beast and the village is safe once more.

Turns out, it’s a bit more interesting than that. The earliest form of the legend has the dragon bearing plague, not fire, that sickened the land. The people tried to appease it with sheep and, when that did not work, their children, chosen by lottery. It’s only when the lottery picks the king’s daughter that St George happens along. And even then he promises to slay it only if the land promises to convert to Christianity, the swine.

So from a humdrum, fire-breathing monster to a plague-carrying instrument of religious blackmail. Doesn’t get more interesting than that.

Are these the best dragons around? Or have I missed some out? Tell me about your favourite fantasy dragons!

Smaug is the steroetypical treasure-hoarding dragon in The Hobbit.

Top Fantasy Novels: The Hobbit

If there’s one fantasy novel to rule them all, it’s Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It has such a far-reaching influence that it’s almost impossible to find any aspect of fantasy fiction that doesn’t owe the trilogy some sort of debt. But, despite that, I think Tolkien’s earlier novel, The Hobbit, is unfairly overshadowed by it’s younger brother. I think The Hobbit might be the better fantasy novel.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

Certainly The Lord of the Rings is far grander, a battle between good and evil for the fate of the world and so on. It’s more serious in nature and therefore held in higher esteem. But if The Hobbit is more light-hearted than The Lord of the Rings, I say it is better for it.

We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!

The Hobbit sits much closer to traditional fairy tales in content and tone. It’s an adventure, a treasure hunt, with a dragon to vanquish and humorous events and coincidences along the way. The narrator speaks in a knowing tone, sharing asides and commentary intended to delight and surprise. A favourite is mine is the invention of golf, accredited to a Took’s fortuitous decapitation of a goblin.

I think this is why I prefer Bilbo to Frodo, too. Bilbo’s reticence to leave his home is funny and loveable, whilst Frodo’s seems confusing and naive. To want to stay in the warm because adventures make you later for dinner is cute. Refusing to help save Middle-Earth would have made Bilbo seem mean and selfish.

He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.

But, though this might be “just” an adventure, there’s still peril. Giant spiders. Ancient dragons. And, of course, Gollum.

Poor Gollum wasn’t such a bad guy in the first edition. But when it came time for The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien went back and made some changes to bring his character into line with the more mature tone of the sequel. Consequently, Gollum was no longer a fairy tale obstacle who happily bets a magic ring and parts amicably after losing. Now he becomes mean and violent and a very real danger. But the riddles remained and thus the real charm of their encounter.

So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.

And, of course, this is still a Tolkien novel and it’s still set in Middle Earth. So there is plenty of folklore and languages for the people who like that sort of thing (me). There’s plenty of poetry, too, and beautiful lines that could only have been written by J. R. R. Tolkien.

A beautifully written, funny, charming fairy tale adventure, set it Middle Earth. Tell me why it shouldn’t be one of my top fantasy novels.

A baked alaska causes drama in Great British Bake Off

Writing Lessons from the Great British Bake Off

The great lie of Reality TV is in the name. Yes, what happened in front of the cameras happened. But actors stood on that set and said those lines. The trick is in the narrative, and reality TV constructs that narrative with no less care and artifice than “fictional” TV. Great British Bake Off is no exception.

For the uninitiated, Great British Bake Off is a reality TV programme in which twelve contestants have to bake cake for two judges and one contestant is sent home each week. The one left standing at the end wins…well, I’m not sure what they win. But it’s a civilised as it sounds. There’s no drama, no recriminations, no back-biting. It’s what you watch when you want to see nice people with some cake.

But one episode decided to change all that. Viewers saw contestant Diana Beard remove fellow contestant Iain Watters’ ice cream from the freezer, turning it into a sludge. Understandably angry at the sabotage, Iain ditches the gloopy mess and is sent home for having nothing to present to the judges.

The Internet erupted. It was a travesty, a miscarriage of justice. Check out the hashtags #JusticeforIain, #BringBackIain and #DirtyDiana to see just how well the Bake Off narrative worked. And, when you’re done, let’s see exactly how the showrunners managed to evoke that outrage.

Prepare the Reader

The BBC showed an advert in the week leading up the episode in which one of the judges says “that’s unacceptable”. That’s a total smackdown in Bake Off land and viewers were waiting for the sponge to hit the fan. They were expecting drama. People often talk about expectations with a view to subverting them, but expectation can train a reader how to react when something does happen. If you start telling a joke, your audience is already preparing itself to laugh.

You Can Paint a Story with a Small Brush

Bake Off viewers actually saw very little. They saw Diana pointing out something in the freezer and saying it belongs to Iain. They saw Iain discovering his ice cream on a counter. And they saw Diana telling him, “you have your own freezer”. That’s it. Out of this, the audience turned Iain into a wronged party, a gentleman when he didn’t tell tales and a stoic victor in defeat when he was sent home. And they turned Diana into a wicked sabateour, a selfish old woman willing to screw the competition and act like nothing happened.

Human beings create stories all the time. We seem to excel at adding two and two and making five. It’s worth remembering that skill when we write our fiction; the reader is not a passive but an active partner. They’re painting the scene and creating the characters before you have a chance to describe them. So you can get away with feeding them very little and letting them fill in the gaps by themselves. You can also use that to build and, yes, subvert those expectations I mentioned.

Don’t Lie to the Audience

In a twist on the tale, one of the presenters took to Twitter to set the record straight: the ice cream was out of the freezer for only forty seconds.

The betrayal, the sabotage, the drama, none of it was true. The Bake Off team used creative editing to construct a narrative, revealed to be smoke and mirrors. The equivalent of Bobby Ewing turning up in the shower.

Don’t do this. Ever. This is not subverting expectations. This is a dirty trick. The reader feels betrayed and lied to. And, yes, of course you’re lying to them. But there’s an unspoken agreement that your lies will be fair. If the reader is enjoying the tale, they don’t want you to spoil it by saying it was all a dream.

What do you think we can learn from reality TV? Leave a comment and let me know. Or let’s talk about Bake Off instead; I want Richard to win!

Dream from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman

Top Fantasy Novels: The Sandman

Let’s address the elephant in the room: The Sandman is not a fantasy novel.

I was going to write about American Gods, which is a fantasy novel, but I realised everything I liked about it was done better in The Sandman. So, although The Sandman is an urban fantasy horror comic series, I’m going to explain why it’s actually a great fantasy novel.

She’s realised the real problem with stories – if you keep them going long enough, they always end in death.

First of all, I’m letting myself count it as novel for of one simple reason: it’s got a beginning, a middle and an end. While most comics are spandex-filled soap operas, The Sandman was written with an end in mind. And certainly there are issues and even arcs that don’t feature the central character, Dream. But these feel more like sub-plots and, more often than not, those stories do in fact feed into the finale. The Sandman had a cohesive narrative you don’t often see in comics, but you see all the time in novels.

Only the phoenix rises and does not descend. And everything changes. And nothing is truly lost.

Say what you like about Neil Gaiman, the man has an ear for poetical prose. Regular readers will have noticed I pepper my reviews with quotes from the text. The Sandman has been the hardest to pick quotes from. It’s beautifully, honestly written, with lines that will make you stop and think and even change the way you see the world. It makes The Sandman very easy to love.

Things need not have happened to be true.

But why is it a great fantasy novel? Well, for starters, the main character is Dream. He’s the living embodiment of, well, dreams. If that’s not enough for you, the setting ranges from modern day Earth to the past, to Hell, to other worlds, to realms like the Dreaming and even worlds in the mind. Still not enough? How about a cast of characters from myth and literature? John Constantine and the Martian Manhunter rub shoulders with Odin and Bast. Robin Goodfellow and Titania mingle with Remiel and Lucifer. Gaiman pulls in mythology and folklore and legend from wherever takes his fancy. He also creates a number of secret histories (a story that reveals an unknown cause or meaning to historical events). It turns out that Dream had a hand in Shakespeare’s genius as well as the fate of Emperor Norton of the United States of America.

I have no liking for prisons, Master Li. Sometimes I suspect that we build our traps ourselves, then we back into them, pretending amazement the while.

That’s why The Sandman is one of my top fantasy novels. Yes, it’s beautifully written and it’s got a cohesive story quite rare to comics. But it’s an epic far greater if not grander than The Lord of the Rings. It pulls in so much fantasy that it’s almost bursting at the seams. And yet it never feels like a jumble of myths and cameos. Gaiman makes it seem like all the disparate characters and settings were always meant to be part of the same story. If you’ve read it, you know what I mean. And if you haven’t, I can’t recommend it enough. After all, how many fantasy novels are told with pictures?

Mort meets Death in Pratchett's fourth novel.

Top Fantasy Novels: Mort

A key element in many fantasy novels is larger-than-life characters. They could be gods, heroes, dark lords, or anthropomorphic representations of concepts. Such as Death. Terry Pratchett plays with all in his satirical Discworld series, but Death is by far and away his greatest success. It’s not unfair to say that Pratchett’s characterisation of Death is one of the reasons Mort is one of my top fantasy novels.

I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, he said, BUT I COULD MURDER A CURRY.

Death looks like the Grim Reaper we all recognise, the frightening skeleton in a black robe carrying a scythe. And in earlier novels he was closer to that stereotype. He had a cruel sense of humour and was doing his best to manoeuvre the wizard Rincewind into mortal peril. But in Mort, Pratchett expanded Death’s character by leaps and bounds, making him much more likeable, perhaps more hapless, and infinitely funnier. Now he’s simply performing an existential duty. He isn’t killing anyone. He’s just doing the job we gave him, which he’s very good at, and trying to understand people, which he isn’t good at.

Pratchett combines humour and an innocent curiosity to create a loveable character. Yes, fantasy and science fiction is filled with inhuman characters trying to understand humanity. But Pratchett does it so well you don’t mind the stereotype. So you enjoy watching him surround himself with the simulacra of life, a house and a horse and even human companions, without understanding any of them. And that’s where Mort comes in.

But at least the way was clear now. When you step off a cliff, your life takes a very definite direction.

Mort is Death’s new apprentice, just as hapless as his master but young and naive to boot. The plot comes from the hormonal mercy Mort grants to a princess due to die, the consequences of which are universe-shattering in scope. Despite that scale, Mort isn’t much more than a coming-of-age story, a fantasy bildungsroman, if you will. It’s a little simple, a little rough around the edges. But I find that makes the novel quite sweet and personal. Pratchett’s later works have the polish of a master craftsman with clever ideas and even intricate plots. But Mort is simpler fare with a story we can all identify. It’s also filled with Pratchett’s trademark wit, which makes this both a loveable and funny book.

As one man, the assembled company stopped talking and stared at him with the honest rural stare that suggests that for two pins they’ll hit you around the head with a shovel and bury your body under a compost heap at full moon.

I could write plenty about Terry Pratchett’s style of humour (and I did, a little, when I reviewed Pratchett’s Nome Trilogy). But the humour isn’t what makes this a great fantasy novel. It’s Pratchett’s inventiveness that does that. As mentioned before, Pratchett likes to indulge in all the tropes of fantasy, and play and lampoon them in clever ways. I enjoyed the idea that magical rites could be performed with very little but professional prestige is the motivator behind the pomp and ceremony. I also liked the way Pratchett incorporated the idea of morphogenetics, ludicrous in real life but fascinating “science” for a fantasy novel. And, of course, the way Ankh-Morpork reflects every major city is always insightful and hilarious.

Scientists have calculated that the chances of something so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one.
But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.

In short, Mort is the Discworld novel for a fantasy lover that hasn’t read Discworld. And, if you’ve read Discworld but not Mort, hop to it; you’re missing out! In the meantime, do you think this deserves to be one of my top fantasy novels? Or can you think of a better candidate? Let me know in the comments!

George R. R. Martin's Game of Thones is one of the most famous fantasy series.

Top Fantasy Novels: A Game of Thrones

Surprise, surprise, eh? Seems we can’t get away from Game of Thrones no matter where we go. But there’s a reason for that: it’s a very good fantasy novel.

The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words.

George R. R. Martin does a brilliant job with his characters. Ned, Jon, Tyrion, Cersei, Daenerys, Arya (and so many, many more), all very different and all very complicated. Evil characters have redeeming features, good characters do evil things. Martin does an excellent job of keeping you hooked as characters you hate prosper and characters you love stumble into doom.

Because there are no happy endings in Westeros.

Why is it always the innocents who suffer most, when you high lords play your game of thrones?

One of the reasons A Game of Thrones has attracted so much attention is that it is a fantasy novel like no other. It is brutal, it is coarse, it is harsh and it has no remorse. Martin doesn’t tip-toe around the truth of the story. Characters have sex, get hurt, get maimed, and die. Love that character? They’re going to die. Hate that character? Well, they’ll probably die too; everybody does. In this way the novel is very fair: nobody gets what they want. Especially the reader.

A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep his edge.

The reader doesn’t get an easy ride, either. There’s no summarisation or recaps or clues to help the reader along. Which is great; too many fantasy novels spoon-feed their world to the reader. But A Game of Thrones has a lot of characters, intrigues, histories and storylines to keep track of. You’ve got to pay attention to this book. But whilst that can make for a reading experience that requires a lot of work, it makes too for a rich and realistic world. You could believe this was all true, if it weren’t for the magic.

Winter is coming.

But even the magic itself seems realistic. Because, while there’s a hint of it in the prologue, there isn’t much magic at all in this novel. Like so many great lies, 99% of the novel feels true so, when the 1% finally arrives, it’s so much easier to swallow. It’s masterfully done and a pleasure to experience.

You wear your honour like a suit of armour…you think it keeps you safe, but all it does is weigh you down…

And that is where I think the true strength of A Game of Thrones lies. It feels very real, even when it’s telling you about impossible things. Martin does a marvellous job of selling a fantasy novel as almost a historical drama and fills it with compelling character and constant heartache to make sure you can’t stop reading. I’m certainly addicted to this fantasy series. Are you?

John Howe's beautiful cover to Robin Hobb's Assassin's Quest

Top Fantasy Books: Assassin’s Quest

Quests seem as integral to the fantasy genre as eggs are to cake. But while I know at least one person who bakes without eggs, Robin Hobb didn’t break with tradition with her Farseer trilogy. But not only did she save the quest for the last book of the trilogy, it doesn’t feel like a stereotypical fantasy quest at all. That’s just one of the reasons it’s one of my top fantasy novels.

I healed. Not completely. A scar is never the same as good flesh, but it stops the bleeding.

So here’s the premise of this quest: Red Ships are raiding the Six Duchies and King Verity has disappeared trying to find help. Our hero, Fitz and the titular assassin, sets out on a quest to find his king.

So far so humdrum, right? But this is Robin Hobb. It’s never so emotionally straightforward.

You see, Fitz went through a truly traumatic ordeal in the second book. He was abandoned, betrayed and broken. And, by the time Assassin’s Quest begins, he’s still pretty broken inside. He’s a mess of a man. In fact, he doesn’t even want to be a man anymore, let alone get involved in the affairs of the realm again. He’d be safer if he just stayed away.

But Fitz is too damn loyal. It’s like he can’t help himself. So, despite how scared and broken he is, he has to find his king. He doesn’t want to defeat a great evil or save the realm. He very much wants to go home. But he goes all the same. It’s fascinating and admirable and even moving in places.

You are confusing plumbing and love again.

That loyalty is one of the reasons Fitz works so well as a character, because a lot of the time he’s being grumpy and mopey. The other reason is his interactions with the others characters; Hobb has a marvellous ability for drawing complicated relationships. For example, Fitz and the Fool are closer than brothers and yet they fight and they argue. Fitz doesn’t always understand the Fool and sometimes he’s even put off and repelled by his friend’s odd behaviour. But that doesn’t stop their relationship being one of the sweetest and strongest I’ve ever read.

Those relationships are the core to the book and the series as a whole. Whilst there is a grand plot this book, perhaps more than the others, is driven by Fitz. His unstinting and self-flagellating loyalty to his king, his queen and his friends. His faltering friendship with the minstrel Starling. His bond with his wolf Nighteyes. The physical and mental scars he bears, his terrors and his fears. Everything he does is motivated by these relationships and makes this a very personal and emotional book.

It is only cold stone, carved so well as to appear alive.

This extends to the dragons of Assassin’s Quest. Dragons and fantasy novels go hand-in-hand but Hobb’s take on them in this novel is unlike any I’ve come across before. Hers are made a stone, a strange mix between art, weaponry and self-sacrifice. They’re carved using magic and animated with memories, emotions and eventually life-essence of the carver. It’s a fantastic idea on its own but what takes it from fantastic to sublime is how well it fits with Fitz’s story of sacrifice. It’s a clear example of the plot being driven by the characters and I just love it.

Truth is often much larger than facts.

So, yes, there’s a quest but, no, it’s not like the quests you’ve seen in other fantasy novels. And while you’ll have to read the first two books to get the most out of this one, when you do you’ll understand why Assassin’s Quest is one of my top fantasy books. And I suspect it will be one of yours too.

Or will it? Let me know what you think of Assassin’s Quest or which novels you think should be one of my top fantasy books!