One thing I'm trying to do more of this year is read. It's one of my favorite things to do, and it's essential to my work, but I haven't done as much of it as I'd like. So, I'm trying to make myself get away from the TV and the computer earlier at night and read more before I go to bed. Not only does that give me more reading time, but it means better sleep because electronic screen stuff can interfere with the sleep cycle.
So, this year I've already managed to read a Big, Fat Fantasy novel -- but fortunately not one that appears to be part of an epic series. I can imagine that there might be room for more stories in that world, but this one actually had a satisfying ending. It was Uprooted by Naomi Novik (the author of the Temeraire series, but this book is entirely unconnected).
It's inspired by/based on Polish fairy tales, and it contains a lot of fairy tale-like elements, though more fleshed-out and detailed than your typical fairy tale. There are some elements I recognized from my reading, but they're put together in a different way.
This is the story about a young woman from a village on the edge of a great Wood. Every ten years, the wizard who lives in the tower chooses a 17-year-old girl from the villages under him to serve him for ten years, and our heroine is in the group of candidates. Much to her surprise, since she's not the most beautiful or clever, she gets chosen. And it turns out that the job isn't at all what she expected it to be.
This Wood isn't just a place that's scary because it's dark and wild things live there. The Wood itself is a malevolent force that takes people or else gets into them and corrupts them. It's basically the demon forest from hell, and it's out to turn all the people against each other. Our heroine and the wizard have to figure out what it's doing and find a way to stop it.
This is the kind of fantasy I wish I could find more of. It's very focused on the characters rather than all the political maneuvering. There's magic, mystery, and romance, but some of the strongest relationships aren't romantic. We have an unlikely heroine who forges her own path. We have a scary villain that's hard to defeat. And there's an ending rather than a cliffhanger.
I'm not sure whether this book makes me want to take a walk in the woods (if only I could find a walking path in the woods that isn't under water right now) or take the clippers to that evil alien vine on my patio. Maybe both.
Oh, and fun trivia fact: it turns out that Naomi Novik's husband is the editor who published the Stephen King story that became the series Haven, and he was one of the producers and writers for the series. There was that episode about the evil plants attacking people ...
Meanwhile, I've started brainstorming something new, and it's going in some very unexpected directions.