content by

Drew McCaffrey

White Sand Is the Hidden Gem of Sanderson’s Cosmere

Brandon Sanderson is one of the biggest names in genre fiction right now. His young adult offerings, ranging from The Reckoners to Skyward to The Rithmatist, have attracted hordes of ardent fans. His adult fantasy set in the Cosmere universe features the heralded Stormlight Archive and six (and counting) installments under the Mistborn title, including multiple bestsellers. Warbreaker and Elantris are standalones (for now) with plenty of enthusiastic supporters. Even some of the shorter stories in the Cosmere—like the Hugo Award-winning The Emperor’s Soul—are well-known.

But seemingly lost in this impressive mix is White Sand, chronologically the earliest currently-published work in the Cosmere.

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The Black Company TV Series Can’t Come Soon Enough

Glen Cook’s classic fantasy series, The Black Company, has largely flown under the radar in the 19 years since its ostensible conclusion with Soldiers Live (published in 2000). But with the recent publication of a new “interquel,” Port of Shadows, and the announcement one year ago that Eliza Dushku was planning to produce and star in a potential TV adaptation, The Black Company is seeing a resurgence. (It’s unclear how reliable the source is, but according to IMDB, the show is listed in pre-production as of April 2019.)

The series generally regarded as a sort of godfather to the now-popular grimdark subgenre, The Black Company could make for an ideal follow-up in the wake of HBO’s adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire.

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Glen Cook’s The Black Company Is Grimdark, But Never Hopeless

During the early 2000s, the fantasy genre underwent something of a revolution. After decades of heroic epic fantasy, headlined by the likes of Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Anne McCaffrey, and David Eddings, a new subgenre erupted in popularity. The era of grimdark arrived, spearheaded by George R. R. Martin’s opus, A Song of Ice and Fire.

Martin’s as-yet-unfinished series was praised for its “realism” and low-level perspective. Instead of prophesied heroes and farmboys fighting Dark Lords, A Song of Ice and Fire focused on family drama, political meddling, and the gritty, depressing realities of war. It was a hit, to say the least, and reached stratospheric levels with the development of HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation.

But Martin’s work (and subsequent authors like Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, and—especially—Steven Erikson) did not form the foundation of grimdark. No, it is the relatively unheralded Glen Cook who can properly be ascribed the title of “Godfather of Grimdark.”

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Matthew Stover’s Heroes Die is a Grimdark Cult Classic

Matthew Stover is perhaps best known for his work in the Star Wars Expanded Universe—and for good reason. His novelization of Revenge of the Sith brings a depth and emotion to Anakin’s relationships with Obi-Wan and Padmé that the movie could only wish to achieve. His installment in the New Jedi Order sequence, Traitor, is possibly the best-written, finest single novel in the entire Expanded Universe.

But it is Stover’s Acts of Caine quartet that has achieved cult classic status and represents his best work. He brings the same level of characterization, the same depth to his portrayal of relationships, the same emotion that he did in his Star Wars novels—but he wraps it up in an even richer world built upon deep and layered themes, fantastic action sequences, and one of the strongest voices in the science fiction and fantasy genres.

All of this is possible because of Caine. Caine is the seminal hero—or, perhaps, anti-hero, as Stover’s quartet really hits all the marks of the grimdark subgenre.

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The 10 Best Completed SF and Fantasy Series (According to Me)

Before diving into the list itself, I’d like to establish a few things: first, these are completely subjective rankings based on my own favorite series. The list takes into consideration things like prose, dialogue, characters, worldbuilding, and plot. In some cases, weight will be given more to phenomenal prose; in others, the focus will be on setting or characters or whatever the books’ major strengths happen to be.

It also ignores incomplete series, so you won’t see any love for The Kingkiller Chronicle or The Stormlight Archive, among others. Similarly, it ignores standalone books, so no Uprooted or The Windup Girl or Roadside Picnic.

Additionally, this list in many ways represents science fiction and fantasy of the past (mostly the late 20th century). It’s likely that a few of these will still be on my list in a decade, but SFF of the past few years has taken a much-needed turn toward more diverse viewpoints and voices. This means that I simply haven’t read some of the best new authors yet—and others, whom I have, don’t have their series finished. So while the largely male and white voices of the 1980-2010 era have provided some excellent groundwork, the future of science fiction and fantasy will undoubtedly feature more diverse voices at the top of the board.

For instance, I haven’t yet read the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (which is by all accounts a stunning literary work). Authors like Jemisin are sure to figure into future lists of this sort…and the opportunity to find and read new stories from new voices is one of the most exciting things about reading SFF.

That said, let’s dive on in!

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