Fantasy novels

Just a quick question to those of you who’ve read a lot of fantasy novels. I can’t think of many novels that actually involve large-scale battle scenes. Can’t honestly remember how much time is devoted to it in LOTR since the movies have blurred my memory, but I assume some, and Legend has a bit, but in terms of two matched armies smacking the hell out of each other on a battlefield… Can anyone think of a book where that happens? Am wondering if there’s yet another hole in my reading experience but I can really only remember seeing it in historical fiction.

On a second note, it’s a bit late since I’ve done a lot of it in mine and there’s more to come in Ragged Man, but what do people think generally about detailed and reasonably protracted battlefield scenes in fantasy? Interested? Put off? Easily bored?

62 thoughts on “Fantasy novels

  1. Big Battles in George R.R. Martin’s books, in particular in “A Clash of Kings”

    Joe Abercrombie’s “Last Argument of Kings”

    R. Scott Bakker’s second book in his Prince of Nothing trilogy.

    1. Ah yes, had completely forgotten about the end of Joe’s. Don’t really remember it in the Bakker series, but I’ve not finished it, and I rather figured there were some in George Martin’s, but I couldn’t actually remember any specific one at all – not a large scale engagement. Will have to have a flick through it again methinks, has been years since I read it.

  2. Big Battles in George R.R. Martin’s books, in particular in “A Clash of Kings”

    Joe Abercrombie’s “Last Argument of Kings”

    R. Scott Bakker’s second book in his Prince of Nothing trilogy.

    1. Ah yes, had completely forgotten about the end of Joe’s. Don’t really remember it in the Bakker series, but I’ve not finished it, and I rather figured there were some in George Martin’s, but I couldn’t actually remember any specific one at all – not a large scale engagement. Will have to have a flick through it again methinks, has been years since I read it.

  3. As Peadar says, there are some in GRRM: the Battle of the Ford, the Battle of the Camps and the Battle of the Whispering Wood in A GAME OF THRONES, the massive Battle of the Blackwater in A CLASH OF KINGS (notable for being a combined-arms assault by land and sea) and the Battle of the Wall and the Siege of Meereen in A STORM OF SWORDS. There’s also the Battle of the Redgrass Field in THE SWORN SWORD short story.

    James Barclay’s CRY OF THE NEWBORN has six or seven big field engagements between pretty well-matched armies as well. The sequel has some, but the enemies have been replaced by less-interesting hordes of ravenous zombies instead.

    Lots in Steven Erikson’s work. The Battle of Pale in the first book, the Chain of Dogs (essentially a running battle lasting a thousand miles) in the second and the Siege of Capustan and the Battle of Coral in the third book.

    Bakker has several big battles in the second and third books of his first trilogy, and another at the start of the second. Probably the Battle of Caruskand and the Battle of Shimeh are the largest and most impressive ones.

    The last half of Mary Gentle’s ASH: A SECRET HISTORY is one protracted siege of Dijon in France, which is well-described.

    I believe there’s a well-described siege of a city in David Gemmell’s TROY TRILOGY. The name escapes me for the moment ;)

    There’s also been five or six large engagements in Robert Jordan’s WHEEL OF TIME books, most notably the Second Battle of Cairhien in Book 5 and the ongoing Seanchan invasion storyline in the later books of the series.

    An excellent one is the invasion of the Kingdom of the Isles in Raymond E. Feist’s SERPENTWAR SAGA. Feist gets some stick, but the battles in the third book are very well-done, culminating in the fantasy equivalent of a WWI-style stalemate. It also features a rare example of a very good fantasy naval battle, which is an area that needs some more exploration, I feel.

    Finally, the modern master of epic fantasy battles is Paul Kearney. THE TEN THOUSAND and his SEA-BEGGARS series have some good ones but his best ones are in the MONARCHIES OF GOD series, particularly the Battle of the North Mole, the storming of Hebrion and the Battle of Armegar. He also ups the tech level to include arquebuses and primitive cannons, which adds a fair bit of atmosphere to proceedings.

    1. Okay, off the top of my head there’s a few in mark chadbourn’s Age of Misrule and Dark Age trilogies. Notable ones at the end of the third book – London Calling onwards – and in Queen of Sinister there are some.

      There are also great scenes all the way through Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, which remains on my recommendation list :)

        1. Yeah.

          Glen Cook. Lots.

          Best Served Cold, too, speaking of Abercrombie.

          Robert E. Howard, the Hour of the Dragon.

          Michael Moorcock, Elric Of Melnibone, Phoenix In Obsidian, etc.

          Steven Brust, Dragon

          The Fiends Of the Eastern Front Books

          China Mieville’s Scar

          Modessit’s Recluce at various times, The Order war, etc.

          Martin Scott’s Thraxas Under Siege etc.

          Marc Perry’s Morigu

          Joel Shepherd Trial Of Blood and Steel

          1. There was some in Instrumentalities of the Night if memory serves, but his writing style is so off-putting I don’t remember the detail of that book and can’t bring myself to read more! The Scar’s not really a pitched battle is it?
            I’ve heard a few people recommend Trial of Blood and Steel – didn’t seem to be available on Amazon last time I check which is annoying.

          2. Off-putting? You are weird. :)

            However, The Black Company is much superior to those. You need to read that. It is a seminal text, so to speak.

            There are many more bookshops in the world than Amazon. You might be able to get that Lou Anders bloke to hook you up, too, possibly. :)

            As for The Scar :

            “Separated by three miles of sea, the two navies faced each other. The Armadans in a mongrel mass of vessels in all colors and designs, sails and smoke billowing above countless decks. Opposite them, the Morning Walker and its sister-ships approached in formation, grey and darkwood blistered with large-bore guns.

            A swarm of dirigibles approached the Crobuzoner ships: warflots and scouts and aerocabs weighed down with rifles and barrels of black powder. The air was still, and they made quick progress. At the front of the motley air force was the Trident, surrounded by smaller vessels, and aeronauts in single-pilot harnesses, swaying below their small balloons.

            The Armadan captains knew that they had the weaker guns. Their ships were more than two miles from the enemy when the New Crobuzon ships began to fire.”

          3. Glen Cook – I never finished the first black company one, ideas are fine but the man refuses to use a sentence properly. I don’t mind playing around with things for stylistic reasons, but intentionally not using sentences when there’s no reason, that’s just fucking annoying.

            Shepherd – aye, I thought I’d just ask Lou sometime, don’t think he’s published them yet though.

            As for the Scar, it’s a big battle yes, but what I was talking about was land battles – looking back at my original post I should have been a lot clearer in what I was talking about! ;0)

          4. Still have no idea what you are talking about on the sentences thing. If Cook can’t write, then there’s a lot of fat fantasy writers who haven’t made it past kindergarten.

            He certainly isn’t of the tedious padding school in general but the Instrumentalities books do suffer a bit from the required bloat, as do most.

            As to Shepherd. Not published doesn’t mean he doesn’t have ’em, necessarily? The first one has been out for over two years, I think.

            So you could actually be a brave Northern Hemispherean and order them from another country. :)

            Yes, if you want land battles only you should say, for sure!

          5. It’s not that Cook can’t write, it’s that there are lots of examples of him intentionally refusing to use a proper sentence for the sake of it.

            Looks like Sasha’s coming out from Pyr in Oct, reckon I can wait that long!

          6. There are lots of you with horrible sentences, I am sorry to say. :)

            Also ones that don’t make sense, aren’t correct, etc.

            Still fail to be convinced here on The Black Company. Point me out a page with multiple examples? Unlike you, I’ve read this one several times.

          7. Oh yes, fully admit I still need to work on my writing too! Will try and find my copy of the first BC book to pull out an example. don’t think it’s just me cos I mentioned it to my editor and she had agreed with me.

          8. Hah. Well maybe you both share the same blind spot! :)

            Just I’ve seen countless people talk about this book over multiple decades and never seen anyone say that.

          9. Really? Very curious. Quite likely we share the same tastes in sentence construction, yes, but I’m sure I’ve heard a couple of people say it. Unfortunately I can’t even produce an example of what I’m talking about however as I gave the book away!

        1. If you want big battle warfare read James Barclay’s Cry of the Newborn. It’s legion style Roman warfare. I’m a huge fan of Age of Misrule and Chadbourn and Barclay are two of my fav authors but Barclay has the edge on battle scenes IMHO. As to how much I like to read it, well it’s all in how it’s written (obvious I know!) I think Barclay does it well because you get individual perspective with amazing fight sequences plus he pans out enough to give the big picture. But it’s the nitty gritty detail he gets so right that keeps you gripped. All the battles in his Raven books are good two.

          Disrepdog

  4. As Peadar says, there are some in GRRM: the Battle of the Ford, the Battle of the Camps and the Battle of the Whispering Wood in A GAME OF THRONES, the massive Battle of the Blackwater in A CLASH OF KINGS (notable for being a combined-arms assault by land and sea) and the Battle of the Wall and the Siege of Meereen in A STORM OF SWORDS. There’s also the Battle of the Redgrass Field in THE SWORN SWORD short story.

    James Barclay’s CRY OF THE NEWBORN has six or seven big field engagements between pretty well-matched armies as well. The sequel has some, but the enemies have been replaced by less-interesting hordes of ravenous zombies instead.

    Lots in Steven Erikson’s work. The Battle of Pale in the first book, the Chain of Dogs (essentially a running battle lasting a thousand miles) in the second and the Siege of Capustan and the Battle of Coral in the third book.

    Bakker has several big battles in the second and third books of his first trilogy, and another at the start of the second. Probably the Battle of Caruskand and the Battle of Shimeh are the largest and most impressive ones.

    The last half of Mary Gentle’s ASH: A SECRET HISTORY is one protracted siege of Dijon in France, which is well-described.

    I believe there’s a well-described siege of a city in David Gemmell’s TROY TRILOGY. The name escapes me for the moment ;)

    There’s also been five or six large engagements in Robert Jordan’s WHEEL OF TIME books, most notably the Second Battle of Cairhien in Book 5 and the ongoing Seanchan invasion storyline in the later books of the series.

    An excellent one is the invasion of the Kingdom of the Isles in Raymond E. Feist’s SERPENTWAR SAGA. Feist gets some stick, but the battles in the third book are very well-done, culminating in the fantasy equivalent of a WWI-style stalemate. It also features a rare example of a very good fantasy naval battle, which is an area that needs some more exploration, I feel.

    Finally, the modern master of epic fantasy battles is Paul Kearney. THE TEN THOUSAND and his SEA-BEGGARS series have some good ones but his best ones are in the MONARCHIES OF GOD series, particularly the Battle of the North Mole, the storming of Hebrion and the Battle of Armegar. He also ups the tech level to include arquebuses and primitive cannons, which adds a fair bit of atmosphere to proceedings.

    1. Okay, off the top of my head there’s a few in mark chadbourn’s Age of Misrule and Dark Age trilogies. Notable ones at the end of the third book – London Calling onwards – and in Queen of Sinister there are some.

      There are also great scenes all the way through Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, which remains on my recommendation list :)

        1. Yeah.

          Glen Cook. Lots.

          Best Served Cold, too, speaking of Abercrombie.

          Robert E. Howard, the Hour of the Dragon.

          Michael Moorcock, Elric Of Melnibone, Phoenix In Obsidian, etc.

          Steven Brust, Dragon

          The Fiends Of the Eastern Front Books

          China Mieville’s Scar

          Modessit’s Recluce at various times, The Order war, etc.

          Martin Scott’s Thraxas Under Siege etc.

          Marc Perry’s Morigu

          Joel Shepherd Trial Of Blood and Steel

          1. There was some in Instrumentalities of the Night if memory serves, but his writing style is so off-putting I don’t remember the detail of that book and can’t bring myself to read more! The Scar’s not really a pitched battle is it?
            I’ve heard a few people recommend Trial of Blood and Steel – didn’t seem to be available on Amazon last time I check which is annoying.

          2. Off-putting? You are weird. :)

            However, The Black Company is much superior to those. You need to read that. It is a seminal text, so to speak.

            There are many more bookshops in the world than Amazon. You might be able to get that Lou Anders bloke to hook you up, too, possibly. :)

            As for The Scar :

            “Separated by three miles of sea, the two navies faced each other. The Armadans in a mongrel mass of vessels in all colors and designs, sails and smoke billowing above countless decks. Opposite them, the Morning Walker and its sister-ships approached in formation, grey and darkwood blistered with large-bore guns.

            A swarm of dirigibles approached the Crobuzoner ships: warflots and scouts and aerocabs weighed down with rifles and barrels of black powder. The air was still, and they made quick progress. At the front of the motley air force was the Trident, surrounded by smaller vessels, and aeronauts in single-pilot harnesses, swaying below their small balloons.

            The Armadan captains knew that they had the weaker guns. Their ships were more than two miles from the enemy when the New Crobuzon ships began to fire.”

          3. Glen Cook – I never finished the first black company one, ideas are fine but the man refuses to use a sentence properly. I don’t mind playing around with things for stylistic reasons, but intentionally not using sentences when there’s no reason, that’s just fucking annoying.

            Shepherd – aye, I thought I’d just ask Lou sometime, don’t think he’s published them yet though.

            As for the Scar, it’s a big battle yes, but what I was talking about was land battles – looking back at my original post I should have been a lot clearer in what I was talking about! ;0)

          4. Still have no idea what you are talking about on the sentences thing. If Cook can’t write, then there’s a lot of fat fantasy writers who haven’t made it past kindergarten.

            He certainly isn’t of the tedious padding school in general but the Instrumentalities books do suffer a bit from the required bloat, as do most.

            As to Shepherd. Not published doesn’t mean he doesn’t have ’em, necessarily? The first one has been out for over two years, I think.

            So you could actually be a brave Northern Hemispherean and order them from another country. :)

            Yes, if you want land battles only you should say, for sure!

          5. It’s not that Cook can’t write, it’s that there are lots of examples of him intentionally refusing to use a proper sentence for the sake of it.

            Looks like Sasha’s coming out from Pyr in Oct, reckon I can wait that long!

          6. There are lots of you with horrible sentences, I am sorry to say. :)

            Also ones that don’t make sense, aren’t correct, etc.

            Still fail to be convinced here on The Black Company. Point me out a page with multiple examples? Unlike you, I’ve read this one several times.

          7. Oh yes, fully admit I still need to work on my writing too! Will try and find my copy of the first BC book to pull out an example. don’t think it’s just me cos I mentioned it to my editor and she had agreed with me.

          8. Hah. Well maybe you both share the same blind spot! :)

            Just I’ve seen countless people talk about this book over multiple decades and never seen anyone say that.

          9. Really? Very curious. Quite likely we share the same tastes in sentence construction, yes, but I’m sure I’ve heard a couple of people say it. Unfortunately I can’t even produce an example of what I’m talking about however as I gave the book away!

        1. If you want big battle warfare read James Barclay’s Cry of the Newborn. It’s legion style Roman warfare. I’m a huge fan of Age of Misrule and Chadbourn and Barclay are two of my fav authors but Barclay has the edge on battle scenes IMHO. As to how much I like to read it, well it’s all in how it’s written (obvious I know!) I think Barclay does it well because you get individual perspective with amazing fight sequences plus he pans out enough to give the big picture. But it’s the nitty gritty detail he gets so right that keeps you gripped. All the battles in his Raven books are good two.

          Disrepdog

      1. Drake is pretty heavy into tactics. Lots of the Baen authors are military fantasy and military sci-fi specialists.

        Though technically sci-fi (time travel/aliens), the alt-history Belesarius series by Drake and Eric Flint has a TON of that kind of thing. And it feels more like fantasy because of the late Eastern Roman Empire setting.

          1. Then there’s the whole Arthurian strain, too. Tends to be the odd battle in those.

            If you want to go historical like Belisarius, then there’s probably heaps. Stuff like Nigel Tranter’s Robert the Bruce trilogy, for example.

          2. Yeah, there’s loads of historical stuff, more of those writers are classical history nerds which helps!

          3. Cant remember the Author, but the Dragonmaster series has a pretty big number of large scale engagements with an impressive amount of detail put into each one. D_g

      1. Drake is pretty heavy into tactics. Lots of the Baen authors are military fantasy and military sci-fi specialists.

        Though technically sci-fi (time travel/aliens), the alt-history Belesarius series by Drake and Eric Flint has a TON of that kind of thing. And it feels more like fantasy because of the late Eastern Roman Empire setting.

          1. Then there’s the whole Arthurian strain, too. Tends to be the odd battle in those.

            If you want to go historical like Belisarius, then there’s probably heaps. Stuff like Nigel Tranter’s Robert the Bruce trilogy, for example.

          2. Yeah, there’s loads of historical stuff, more of those writers are classical history nerds which helps!

          3. Cant remember the Author, but the Dragonmaster series has a pretty big number of large scale engagements with an impressive amount of detail put into each one. D_g

  5. Battle scenes

    Steven Erikson has some battles in Deadhouse Gates. Perhaps large skermishes is a better phrase. Legend’s battle scenes are my favourite by far. Erikson’s skermishes, for the most part, brought the reader right into the sceene using the character of the Duiker as an eye witness. I believe once the scene is not too dependent on the readers’ understand of complex geography or landscape than that’s half the battle (pun intended).

    1. Re: Battle scenes

      In both ‘The Bonehunters’ and ‘Reaper’s Gale’, Steven works out a few massive battles, working them all from separate points of view at once.

  6. Battle scenes

    Steven Erikson has some battles in Deadhouse Gates. Perhaps large skermishes is a better phrase. Legend’s battle scenes are my favourite by far. Erikson’s skermishes, for the most part, brought the reader right into the sceene using the character of the Duiker as an eye witness. I believe once the scene is not too dependent on the readers’ understand of complex geography or landscape than that’s half the battle (pun intended).

    1. Re: Battle scenes

      In both ‘The Bonehunters’ and ‘Reaper’s Gale’, Steven works out a few massive battles, working them all from separate points of view at once.

  7. Robert Jordan

    I’ve always liked the battle where Rand leads the Aiel back out of the waste and then they run into the Aiel following Couladin and have the big battle near Cairhein. I think it’s in The Shadow Rising. Jordan did a great job with big battles.

  8. Robert Jordan

    I’ve always liked the battle where Rand leads the Aiel back out of the waste and then they run into the Aiel following Couladin and have the big battle near Cairhein. I think it’s in The Shadow Rising. Jordan did a great job with big battles.

  9. Battles

    Well, mixing in a little old school and some new school – There is Enchanter’s End Game by David Eddings and a nice little new one by a bloke Brent Weeks; Beyond the Shadows?

  10. Battles

    Well, mixing in a little old school and some new school – There is Enchanter’s End Game by David Eddings and a nice little new one by a bloke Brent Weeks; Beyond the Shadows?

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