Sunday, April 26, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (K)

And so we come to the K's. I actually thought I'd have a few K authors. It's not as unusual for authors to have names starting with K as it is with I and J, but when I thought about it, I only came up with 2. One is very well known and the other less so. There's Katharine Kerr, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ellen Kushner and even Katherine Kurtz. I've read works by three of them, but they're not favourites, although Ellen Kushner's Swordpoint came close. So here are the K's.

This is the less well known one. That's Garry Kilworth. He's been a full time writer since 1981, and he writes across a broad spectrum. His works cover fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction. He also collaborated with his long time friend, fellow author Robert Holdstock (Mythago Wood, recommended, very haunting).

Garry Kilworth is probably best known for his books featuring anthropomorphic animals. I must have a fondness for these type of books, because he's not the first author, nor will he be the last, who writes that sort of thing, to make this list. The Welkin Weasels series seems to be the most popular, and it was largely written for and aimed at a younger audience. It took the unusual and brave step of making the weasels the heroes (sort of subverting what Grahame did with The Wind in the Willows), it's similar in concept to Brian Jacques' Redwall series, but seems to be set in a later time period. 

Kilworth has also written a number of standalone books about animals as they are in the wild, similar to Richard Adams.

His most recently published work was a short story collection in 2013, and his most recent novel came out in 2012, although that was published under the pen name of Richard Argent.

The Ragthorn which he co-wrote with Robert Holdstock was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 1992. He's still quite active and has a presence on the internet at

Most people just look at me funny when I mention House of Tribes. In fact I doubt many people have ever even heard of it. As the title suggests it's about mice. The best way to describe is as 'Watership Down with mice'. That probably doesn't totally do it justice. It does feature mice and they do behave largely as they do in the wild and they're seeking a new place to live, but it has significant differences. The mice are house mice, not field mice. They live entirely in a large country house. They've separated into tribes delineated by virtue of what part of the house they occupy. The most powerful and influential mice live in or near the kitchen, because that's where the food is. One of the least powerful tribes are the ones that live in the library and supplement their diet with paper from the books. These particular mice are not just more intelligent, they've also formed a quasi religious order, it seems to be based on medieval monks. They have to move out of the house, because the people that live there are leaving, and they use the previously feared pet mouse that was kept by the young boy living in the house. Early on he's kind of like Joffrey from A Song of Ice and Fire, if Joffrey was a mouse, but he settles down and uses his intellect and knowledge to help his fellow mice establish a new settlement outside the house.

Another thing that set the book apart from plenty of similar material was what the author did with language. He also borrowed this from Adams. Adams has a tendency to use dialects for characters. It's a gimmick I'm not all that fond of, and it often makes the characters hard to understand, but Kilworth did it very cleverly. The mice are English, they speak English. All cats are French, they speak either in French or accented English. All dogs are Japanese, they seem to follow a sort of samurai code. The mice in the house are the avowed enemies of the cats, but they get along okay with dogs, the house only has one and he's quite old and senile, which is probably why he and the mice have a better relationship. Knowing how dogs speak comes in useful outside the house when they encounter a fox, who also speaks Japanese. It was a very cute and clever idea and made the book far more memorable. Highly recommended and well worth reading, especially if you did like Adams or other similar authors.

Further and related reading: Garry Kilworth has an enormous catalogue to choose from, and as I said it spans a number of genres. He also wrote other standalones about animals: Hunter's Moon (foxes), Frost Dancers (hares), I'm also sure he did wolves and owls, may have even done one on eagles, too. He collaborated with Robert Holdstock, but Holdstock was better recognised as a mythic fantasy author, Mythago Wood is highly recommended. I've mentioned Richard Adams a few times, Gary Horwood and his Duncton Wood novels about moles are also in that vein, as is Lalini Paull's The Bees. If you preferred things like The Welkin Weasels, then Brian Jacques' Redwall and Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows are what you're looking for. A. R Lloyd also used weasels as the focus of his book Kine, but that was more like Adams than Jacques.

This is the better known author. Even if you don't recognise him as an author, you may have seen him guesting in the occasional TV show, because he does like to do that. Very often they've been based on his work. The chap above is of course Stephen King, one of the world's most successful authors. King is better known as an author of horror, although his The Dark Tower series is epic fantasy in a rather dystopian, grim dark vein. I personally see a lot of what he's written that is classified as horror as dark fantasy in the same way that Clive Barker's Weaveworld and Imajica are as much dark fantasy as they are horror.

In a career spanning nearly 50 years Stephen King has published over 50 novels (some under the pseudonym Richard Bachman) and over 200 short stories. His books have sold in excess of 350 million copies worldwide and many of them, as well as short stories have been adapted into film and/or TV projects. As well as writing Stephen King likes to act, and occasionally pops up in small cameo roles. Most recently he was a diner patron in an episode of Under the Dome, a TV series based on his book of the same name. I believe he also had involvement with the script for that episode. He also played a recurring character in the TV show Sons of Anarchy.

He's remained prolific and active throughout his career, even during a long time addiction to drugs and alcohol (in fact later stated that it was so bad during the 1980's that he can't even remember writing Cujo), and following a serious car accident, which prompted him to reassess his life and his work and prompted him to finish The Dark Tower series, which he had been working on for many years.

He has a presence on the internet at and also tweets using the handle @StephenKing.

Now when you say you're picking a Stephen King fantasy novel, everyone expects The Dark Tower series or one of the books in it, not me. I know It is classified as horror, but it's every bit as much fantasy as it is horror. Both the book and the film based on it are responsible for giving an entire generation coulorophobia (a fear of clowns). The story takes place in a small town in Maine (doesn't nearly every Stephen King book?) in the 1950's, and also in the 1980's, when the threat that a group of young friends first saw as Pennywise the clown manifests again, as it does nearly every 20 - 30 years in the town. Most of the book is horror, or even urban fantasy, but it goes full on fantasy in the latter stages. I find that a bit with King, he's a free writer, and more than once I've seen him write himself into a corner and have to rely on a completely fantastical ending, which doesn't have a lot of connection with the rest of the book. The sequences where the main group of heroes are kids in the 1950's fighting off bullies are among some of the most effective in the entire book, and you get the sense that King based them on things he either saw or experienced. It is a big book, many of King's are, but well worth the time to read it, and you will never look at clowns quite the same way again.

Further and related reading: King doesn't generally do sequels, and It is no exception there, but there are 54 novels to choose from. They run a gamut of genres. Many of them are set in small town east coast, usually Maine, it's where Stephen King comes from and where he lives. They're quite often nostalgic and present a rather idealistic view of small town life in days gone by. It's hard to go wrong with him and if you do, you can generally find something else by him to satisfy you. King himself was influenced by Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury (Needful Things is so much like Something Wicked This Way Comes that I wondered if a lawsuit was pending), H.P Lovecraft and Bram Stoker, among others. I felt Raymond E. Feist's Faerie Tale was very Kingish, and Clive Barker is another dark fantasy author. There's also been a recent author by the name of Joe Hill, whose work evokes feelings of King, and that may be because Joe Hill is the pen name of Joseph Hillstrom King, the son of Stephen King.

Join me next week when I do the L's.

1 comment:

  1. The Stand would probably be my favourite Stephen King book (I read the expanded edition in my early 20's, and I've read a lot of his earlier work - I got half-way through Gerald's Game and was bored with it, and I don't think I've read anything by him since. So I would recommend earlier rather than later books.

    I don;t have any further recommendations for Kilworth that you've already mentioned.

    Another K author who I've just recently discovered is Mary Robinette Kowal, who writes alternate-history set in Regency times. Think Jane Austen with magic. Very enjoyable. And her short work is great too, lots of different genres there.