As I spend the month talking about the fantasy genre, it would not be fair to leave out the series that probably did the most to propel me into a life-long love of the genre. I’ve mentioned it a few times here and there, but never really talked about it. Many of you know that I grew up on The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Prydain, The Magic Bicycle Books, and A Wrinkle in Time… just to name a few of the stories that my Daddy read out loud to myself and my siblings each night. You also know that I was an avid reader from an early age, reading most everything I could get my hands on. What you may not know, however, is that my love of fantasy was not something that began the moment I started reading books on my own.
Shocking, I know.
No. While I LOVED those series mentioned above, and while they definitely shaped my eventual love of the fantasy genre, in grade school my passion was actually animal stories. Books about dogs and horses were my first loves, followed closely by “shipwreck” stories. I zipped through the Saddle Club books, I tore my way through the Thoroughbred series, I read everything Albert Payson Terhune had ever written that I could get my hands on. I camped out in the Juvenile Fiction section of the library and anything that had to do with animals or people being stranded on deserted islands had my full attention.
Then I went through a vampire phase.
Yeah. I was a bit… odd… as a child. But for a while there, the only books I was interested in reading were vampire stories. (Again, hanging out mostly in the juvenile fiction and YA sections of the library… so nothing inappropriate… just… vampiric – that was back before the days of Twilight and some of the other more romance-oriented vampire stories… so the vampires were all bad guys and the good guys had to figure out how to defeat the vampires and get their loved ones back… much more “Dracula-esque” than most of the vampire fiction coming out nowadays). Just typing that parenthetical makes me feel suddenly old. But, you’re only as old as you feel and I usually feel about 12 most days… so, moving on.
But one day, I think I was in 8th 0r 9th grade, as I wandered around the library – bored because I had read pretty much everything that looked interesting in the YA section - pining for a new adventure, I happened upon the fantasy section, and, as my maiden name started with a W, I always kind of start there and work my way backwards when looking at bookshelves, a book caught my eye. I was sort of swinging away from vampires and towards dragons and stories about princesses and knights… so the fact that the story’s title was “DRAGON WING” definitely helped. Well, I took it home, started reading it, and was transported to another world… a world I happily remained in for the next several hours. I had to have the next book in the series, so I quickly returned to the library the next day (and I believe was dismayed to discover that someone else had had the audacity to check out the book I wanted to read next). Anyway, over the course of the next several… erm… no idea, we’ll do this madlib style and say (insert appropriate time period here), I was happily engrossed in this exciting, magical, fantastical realm. From then on, my love of a well-told fantasy tale has never waned.
The story opens with Haplo, the character that the entire series revolves around. He has just won his way through the Labyrinth, a horrible, deadly maze that his people have been forced to live in by their arch-enemies. The leader of his people sends Haplo on a mission to leave the Labyrinth and act as a scout and spy for his people to see if they might find a more hospitable place to live… but also to seek out ways that they can avenge themselves on the ones who sent them to the Labyrinth in the first place.
As he travels through the worlds (you find out eventually that the world used to be one big planet, but the same race that exiled Haplo’s people also split the world into this weird series of worlds that are loosely connected by “gates” that are no longer in use and that nobody even remembers or knows how to use), and meets the people living there, Haplo slowly begins to realize that while his people have been stuck in their horrible prison, the rest of the races (elves, men, and dwarves) have been suffering just as much – if not in such obvious ways. And he begins to feel that he is perhaps not sure he really wants to enact his master’s plan for revenge on the worlds above the Labyrinth.
A story of redemption through and through, I cannot recommend this seven-part epic fantasy enough. It is dear to my heart, and one I go back to over and over again, re-reading every couple of years. The characters alone are worth it, and most of them are up there on my all-time favorite characters lists. Haplo spent many years at the top of that list, and Alfred and Hugh the Hand (also from this series) were not far behind. I also appreciate that it is a very clean story. There was some flirting in the second book that I was uncomfortable with when I read it the first time, and there is definitely a good amount of normal fantasy violence, but nothing graphic or gory that I can remember. The story does contain magic and a rune/writing powered magic system… so if that bothers you, I’d steer clear… but come back here later this month, because magic in fantasy is a topic I’m going to be chatting about!
Have you read this series? What did you think of it? What was the first fantasy book or series you fell in love with? What captured you about that story?
Don’t forget that if you want to participate in February is Fantasy Month, all you have to do is write a fantasy-related blog post of your own, link back to my site, and enter your blog post URL on the linky list widget thing. You can read all the details and instructions and/or find the linky list HERE! (or just click on the February is Fantasy Month button over on the sidebar, that will get you there, too!)