Then I tried Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy. . . .
Quite impressive, I must say. I wouldn't necessarily place it in the first rank of fantasy fiction (the series is almost all plot), but that plot is fantastic and captivating, the world-creation truly unique, and Nix's style is admirable. I read the first book, Sabriel, constanty surprised at how quickly it went; I think I loved the first half of Lirael, the series's second book, most of all.
A few notes:
- One comment made by Edward James during his luncheon speech was that the best contemporary fantasy overwhelmingly comes from Australia, and Nix certainly fits that bill.
- Nix has two kingdoms -- the Old Kingdom where magic works, and Ancelstierre where technology (about WWI level) works.
- The magic systems is intriguing. Rather than spellbooks, the main vehicle for magic is spellcasting.
- There's very little foreign policy -- a very marked contrast from, say, George R. R. Martin. The two kingdoms go about their business, and that's pretty much that.
- The series doesn't have very many minor characters. As a result, the series gives off the impression that the main protagonists and/or antagonists are the only people who matter. Most of the subjects of either kingdom go unnamed, and they're entire purpose is usually to be murdered horribly by the Dead.
- Speaking of that, the citizens of the Old Kingdom are so constantly being slaughtered by the dead that it's hard to imagine their country having any kind of economy.
- Disreputable Dog and Moffet the cat are truly great characters -- loved every minute of them.
- I did think that Nix has major skill as a stylist -- nothing flashy or obtrusive, but powerfully effective nonetheless. I like to tell my more elitist colleagues that you only notice the style in bad books, but I nonetheless caught myself trying to figure out how how Nix managed to write individual scenes or paragraphs with such precision.