This is a fantasy
/ science fiction
series written by Hugh Cook
, published between 1996 and 1982 by Corgi. I have recently discovered that most of the series is still available (in hardback) from Colin-Smythe, who purchased the rights to the lot.
The titles are:
The Wizards and the Warriors
The Wordsmiths and the Warguild
The Women and the Warlords
The Walrus and the Warwulf
The Wicked and the Witless
The Wazir and the Witch
The Wishstone and the Wonderworkers
The Worewolf and the Wormlord
The Worshippers and the Way
The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster
A few of these books appeared in mutilated form in the USA and Canada, and were also published in Germany.
Now I obviously love these books, or I wouldn't have bothered with this write-up. As well as the points below, I particularly like the use of language, the way the characters inter-relate, and that the plotlines are so continuously derailed. I don't want to go into book by book detail here, as the logical place for that is in the nodes relating to the individual books.
The series is characterised by:
Interwoven storylines - the events of all ten books happen more or less simultaneously. The actions taken by characters of book A effect the characters in book B. The central figures even interact directly with one another, often to one another's detriment - for example, the main character from book 5, the Wicked and the Witless, is responsible for holding and torturing the main character from the previous book. It's rather similar to the interwoven stories in Pulp Fiction, or the Kevin Smith films, but done over a much larger scale.
Realism - the events in Hugh's world are thoroughly believable, and much more harsh than other fantasy series tend to be. The heroes get sick, have stillborn babies, lose limbs in combat. Plague and poverty is rife, war is brutal and chaotic, the rulers are petty and unjust.
Varied writing styles - There is a similar feel to all ten books, but the different narrators do slant the individual books. For example, the first story is told mostly from the POV of the central characters, with some general description and plot-driving as well, making the narration partly personal, partly global. The last book, however, is told as if by an individual narrator (one of the tutors of the main character), and while the story appears to have the same "eye of god" narrative format as the first book, all of the observations are, none the less, coloured by the views of the particular narrator (whose identity is never clearly divulged in the story, but it is fairly easy to guess at).
Situational Humour - quite a lot of the writing in these books is funny, usually in a totally story-dependant way. Unlike, say, Hitchhiker, there are very few pages that would be funny in isolation. Quite a lot of the humour is dark, or cruel, but that seems reasonable in a medieval setting where the whole *world* is dark, or cruel.
Believable Characters - I know, everyone says this, but... the characters are more human than most, with real-world motivations, rather than the standard quest stuff. Also, while there are few true heroes in the books, there are also no classic villans - the evil that exists in the stories is similar to that which is in real life, and usually stems from carelessness, misunderstanding and greed.
Some contrary opinions - researching for this write-up, I read a bunch of reviews in Amazon, and was amused to note how many of the negative comments (particularly for the first book) are linked to exactly what I find makes the series so distinct and worthwhile. Some quotations:
1) "This novel's plot unfolds as a series of chaotic randomness, leaving you unable to predict what the characters are ultimately trying to accomplish or what climax the book is heading to."
2) "The 'anti-hero' characters argue like bickering children"
3) "One of the greatest qualities of fantasy fiction - that it offers you an escape to a world where heroes still exist - is sadly betrayed when none of the characters are particularly admirable"