My frustration with modern epic fantasy

The Blood Knight by Greg Keyes

I love epic fantasy. Its a genre that I just cannot get enough of in my life. Robert Jordan, JRR Tolkien, George RR Martin and all the rest. I’ve read most of them and find some better than others. RJ used to be my favorite. Martin enthralled me for a short time. Glen Cook is still the man when it comes to this genre though.

I found Keyes’ series about 18 months ago and read the first two books back to back. I wasn’t in love, but enjoyed them enough to pick up the third one. Despite a rudimentary sentence structures and vocabulary when compared to others within the genre, I found some of the story elements to be combined in a fairly unique manner. Given these plot elements, I was looking forward to this third book.

Keyes’ retained those elements, but I feel that is all he did. It seems as if he has fallen into the same trap that has ensnared so many of his fellow authors, Jordan and Martin especially, that they do not give noticeable movement in the plot from one book to the next.

Despite a major force disappearing at the end of the book, Keyes rebalanced by releasing it with a new one (or three, depending on how you do the math). All of the major characters remain in the series and they all remain in basically the same place they were before the start of the book. Some of them had their situation slightly change, maybe a small goal reached, but nothing that pushed the character itself forward in a meaningful way.

Its that last sentence of mine that makes such a difference with modern epic fantasy. Tolkien was the father of modern epic fantasy, but his series was not a character driven as have most of the series written in the last few decades have been. The story may be important, and may have some great elements to them, but it is the characters that make the books. To leave nearly every single character exactly the same at the end of a book as they were at the beginning just leaves me sad.

Lets use Keyes’ story as an example. His entire world is in a massive upheaval. His characters, through the first couple of books, did show changes in who they were and I had assumed would continue to change, based on the fact that the world itself is changing all around them. Yes, it is true, that once people reach a mature state of being, they tend to become more static. However, that is what happens during a normal life, something the characters within this type of series do not have. Why have they stopped changing at this point in the series? There is a logical gap here that just bothers me.

I will admit that a possibility that had not occurred to me at the time I started this has now come to light. Maybe this is the end state where the author wants his characters to be in terms of development. Maybe the characters, the way they are now, are who the author wants driving the story. This is possible, but with a character driven story, I ask why? If your characters will not change, and the plot itself is not the main driver, then why not have your characters move? That, in my way of thinking, is either lazy writing or an author who is missing a wide-open avenue for an even better story.