Best 'action scenes' in fantasy

Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Amaryllis, Oct 21, 2017.

  1. Amaryllis

    Amaryllis Journeyed there and back again

    I got to thinking about this recently. Almost every fantasy book has 'battles,' but a lot of them are pretty throwaway, both narratively and in their execution. A great deal of fantasy is not really 'about' the fighting, so much as the journey the characters take, and the worlds they explore, or even the thoughts they have.

    But what have you read that actually had GOOD action scenes? The kind you might be able to picture playing out cinematically? The kind that kept you turning the pages? Feel free to describe why you liked it, if you want. I can think of a lot of great fantasy that I love, but not really that many with well-done battles. Not even in 'Sword and Sorcery' stories, which seemingly more than any other subgenre should be ABOUT the battles.

    I was originally going to call this 'best fight scenes,' but I figure it might be easier to get answers if it expands to army vs. army or hero squad vs. monster horde as well. Whatever sticks out to you as particularly well-done or engrossing.
  2. kenubrion

    kenubrion Journeyed there and back again

    The siege at the end of The Red Knight is my favorite right next to the huge battle of Tarmun Vykers' forces against those of The End of All Things in Blood, Steel & Fire. Each battle in The Macht trilogy was really good.

    Excellent thread topic.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2017
  3. hamnida

    hamnida Killed in the battle against the Mad King

    Almost every action scene from Brandon Sanderson - he is especially good in using abilities in creative new ways to overcome opponents. He also does the 'heroic' thing very well - winning against the odds etc.

    The Prince of Nothing series contains some large and memorable medieval battles that come across as realistic in tactics and mechanics of fighting. There is often luck and human error involved, which many other authors neglect. Some of his sweeps over the battlefield feel homeric in style.

    Django Wexler writes excellent and very detailed gunpowder battles. I believe the author did a lot of research on Napoleonic tactics.

    Joe Abercrombie has the best swordfighting scenes stylistically, but also in portraying his characters' thoughts and emotions during fights.
  4. Sneaky Burrito

    Sneaky Burrito Crazy Cat Lady Staff Member

    I find it exceedingly rare that action scenes/fights actually keep me turning the pages. When an author really gets down into the nitty gritty and describes every slash of a sword or thrown punch, I get kind of bored (though these would definitely be easy to choreograph for the screen). I found myself glazing over passages in Zelazny's Amber books when there was too much fighting. (I could watch these sorts of things on my TV but apparently reading them bores me. Same with space battles, though.)

    But I agree with @kenubrion on The Red Knight and the Macht trilogy for sure. (The second Red Knight book, where like half the book was an extended battle, if I remember which volume it was correctly, was a little excessive for me, though.)
  5. Cyphon

    Cyphon Journeyed there and back again

    I don't want to get away from the question but I am more into "power levels" usually than I am the actual fighting scenes. Take ASoIaF for example. You get all of these knights and an extensive history and so many mentions of who was this good or that good and who won which tournaments and melees and I just can't help but think about A vs B vs C.

    I think the story elements can also add to the action. For example Oberyn vs The Mountain is very memorable but a lot of it is moreso because of the revenge element along with the idea that you have this giant of a man in full armor taking on this guy in no armor and armed only with a spear so you get this sort of David vs Goliath in a battle for justice. Like when I think of the actual details of the fight it was cool and done well enough but it was all of the goings on attached to it that made it what it was.
  6. Silvion Night

    Silvion Night Sir Readalot Staff Member

    Sanderson's books: I really liked the fight scenes in Mistborn and in the Stormlight books. Sanderson does the superhero thing really well.
    Abercrombie: The battles in The Heroes are among the most fun to read.
    Cameron: I agree on Sneaky and Kenubrion that Cameron does battle scenes very well.
    Bakker: Like hamnida said, Bakker's battle scenes are amazing. I think his battle scenes are the best I've ever read.
  7. Kalavan

    Kalavan Ran bridges next to Kaladin

    Another vote for Miles Cameron (both for fights of mass proportions, both and especially for duels or smaller personal fights) and Paul Kearney (although I would have mentioned the ones in The Monarchies of God rather than The Macht). They both write realistic, believable and accurate battle scenes, definitely my favorites.

    I’ve also enjoyed quite a bit the aerial battles in Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass, hence why I’m probably going to give another chance to Codex Alera, in spite of the – at least initially – insufferable MC, a few people have recommended me its battles.

    And while only his Warlord Chronicles could be – to some extent – considered fantasy, I’ve to mention Bernard Cornwell
  8. Sneaky Burrito

    Sneaky Burrito Crazy Cat Lady Staff Member

    My feelings on the Butcher books are pretty much the opposite. Couldn't get past the first aerial battle in The Aeronaut's Windlass (tried twice) but I read Codex Alera (all six books) in a week. If you LIKE airship battles, yeah, there's a lot of detail in Aeronaut's Windlass.
  9. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

    David Gemmell does the best action scenes I've read in fantasy. Bernard Cornwell does the best I've read overall. I feel they both hit the sweet point for detail - I can really imagine the fights, but they don't do every swing - and really capture the emotions.

    I like Cameron's, but I feel he gets a bit over detailed. Butcher is hit and miss for me - some awesome ones, some page flickers. I feel like Martin is great at the set-piece duel but can't really remember his battle scenes.

    I like Jordan's, he has some fun ones.
  10. Ryan W. Mueller

    Ryan W. Mueller Ran bridges next to Kaladin

    There are too many authors for me to name. Sanderson is obvious. His battles are so much fun for me to read. I also love Jim Butcher's action scenes throughout all his work (Dresden, Codex Alera, Cinder Spires). Brent Weeks writes some great battles.

    Recently, I've found I love the battles in Phil Tucker's Chronicles of the Black Gate series. They are crazy and exciting, and they just keep getting better as the series goes on.
  11. GreyMouser

    GreyMouser Journeyed there and back again

    Tolkien's battle scenes are probably the most epic. Martin's are possibly my favorites based on, as Cyphon stated, the character match-ups.

    Glen Cook's The Black Company series has some awesome clashes between high powered... and a few ornery lower powered wizards.
  12. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    Heroes Die and the Acts of Caine have some pretty great action sequences. Agree with everyone on Sanderson and Abercrombie. Some of the better scenes (IMO) in KKC book 2 are action scenes, and this seems under-appreciated.
  13. Jakyro

    Jakyro Journeyed there and back again

    Mistborn: I really loved some of the Mistborn fight scenes
    Heroes Die: as mentioned by Darwin, some great action sequences as wel

    I'm surprised Malazan hasn't been mentioned yet ... Erikson can write some imense battle scenes as well
    GotM: I was really taking in by the siege at Pale. Afterwards there were some more great battles scenes; the hounds of shadow, fights on the rooftops of Darujhistan with assassins; a Jaghut Tyrant
    DG: the Chain of Dogs contains multiple scenes along the way, ... I really loved that ending
    MoI: Capustan and Coral!!!
    TBH: my favourite book in the series, we have Yaghatan, the whole scene on Malaz Isle, and then ... Icarium
    RG: once the Malazans enter the Letherii Empire there's some great action to be read, there's the Awl and the Letherii ...
    DoD: that ending!!!!!
  14. Noor Al-Shanti

    Noor Al-Shanti Philosophizes with Kellhus

    I've been thinking about this since I saw the topic posted. Tolkien is obvious, though I am having a really hard time dissociating his written battle scenes in LoTR from the movies now...

    Also, I recently read The Eagle's Flight by this forum's @Tanniel and it had some pretty awesome battles. One particularly memorable one involved the city's walls and some pretty cool archery and sneaking. The world building had been done in such a way that I already had a pretty good mental image of that wall and what it meant for the city and so it really felt like the battle mattered, not just to the individual character in the scene, but to the whole city and the whole story in general.

    I don't know about Sanderson. His battles have some really bright moments, but they get tiring after a while. Vin using her allomancy in the first couple of Mistborn books was pretty cool, though, and I think there were some battles involving that but it's kind of hazy now - it's been a while since I read Mistborn...
  15. Amaryllis

    Amaryllis Journeyed there and back again

    It's interesting to see some of the replies. I agree with some of them, though I definitely disagree on a few as well. Some of my thoughts about this.

    Agree with Kalavan about The Aeronaut's Windlass. Those airship battles! I don't really search out steampunk fantasy, but I've read a few, and the descriptions are head and shoulders above any other airship battles I've seen in literature. You can basically visualize them perfectly. Jim Butcher's other action scenes are probably above average, but none stuck out to me as iconic and memorable (maybe the fights at the end of Academ's Fury? Those are the ones I remember most from that series, even though one would think you'd more remember all the climactic fights in the last two books). He's mostly a plot and pacing guy.

    A Song of Ice and Fire. What sticks out to me most is the Battle of King's Landing from the second book, but when you think about it, all of the battles and duels for at least the first three books were REALLY good. Some of this is probably because Martin has a very concise descriptive style in this series, and doesn't 'waste' a lot of words. So you don't get paragraphs of endless needless metaphors about arcing blades and whirly whatsits. But I think Cyphon has a good point as well, in that Martin built his world pretty tightly, and throws in enough side details about minor characters that it makes their fights intriguing, and makes you wonder about 'power levels.' Could Barristan beat Jaime (pre-maiming), or Sandor Clegane? There is literally no reason for me to wonder, but I do.

    Any Larry Correia book has good action scenes. I'm thinking mostly of the Grimnoir series, but Son of the Black Sword counts as well. His fights are always over the top, and for some reason they always make me think of cool anime fights rendered to literature (without all the side people ogling about how powerful the combatants are).

    Brandon Sanderson is hit or miss. He almost always has good one-on-one fights (it's one area where I think he's superior to Butcher as a 'readable' writer), but his battles tend to go on for a tiresomely long time.

    Bakker also has weirdly good battle scenes. I say 'weirdly,' because his style is very prosey and literary, which wouldn't SEEM like it would lend itself to battles...but somehow it does.

    I've never read The Red Knight, but it has gotten mentioned enough here that I think I really need to.

    I disagree with Malazan. Erikson does the same thing as Martin where he builds up the power (and in his case, invincibility) of various characters who are clearly destined to do battle...but then half the time he doesn't give you that battle. I'm thinking foremost of Anomander Rake vs. Raest in Gardens of the Moon. I felt so blue-balled when he cheated me out of that, lol. It happens a few other times though. I thought the battles in Memories of Ice were pretty good, however. But a lot of time he has weird lapses in scale, or insufficiently explained power levels.

    Django Wexler's large-scale battles felt tactical and realistic, but I also thought they felt impersonal...almost like he wanted you to evaluate his tactics as sound, rather than feel the grit and flow of the battles themselves. A similar experience is actually what motivated me to make this topic: an author of a book I was reading went really hard on making sure all of his tactics and formations and sorties made sense, and described them to you extensively so that you could map them out and study them if you wanted. But he forgot to involve his characters in the battle, as their PoVs became entirely dedicated to being observers of the battle around them, rather than thinking people in a life-or-death situation, which led me to thinking 'man, this guy knows his stuff about tactics...but I really don't care.' Django Wexler didn't get nearly as bad as this -- I still found the battles entertaining -- but I kind of had shades of the same thing.
  16. Jakyro

    Jakyro Journeyed there and back again

    I also ask myself this question with MBotF, more than with ASOIAF. In Malazan you have so many powerful characters that it would be interesting to figure out which one would be the one holding out till the end ... Anomander Rake, Dassem Ultor, Icarium, Quick Ben, Cotillion, Tool ... a lot of contenders. I've once read a discussion about this (I think on reddit). Interesting stuff to think about

    The 'problem' with Malazan is indeed that Erikson doesn't have a clearly defined magic system (as Sanderson often has) or doesn't give enough explanation about power levels. I would have liked that Erikson used some more clearly defined rules, because now practically anything is possible. As mentioned above it is still interesting to think about who would hold out the longest in battle, but asking this question to Malazan readers wouldn't give a conclusive answer just because everything is possible

    with regards to GotM, the ending wasn't completely to my liking, but I didn't really miss that fight of Anomander vs Raest. I was more dissappointed with the fight at the end of Reaper's Gale. I loved that book, but Erikson was building up the whole book to that one big fight, but I thought it didn't completely deliver in the end. There were many other great fights for me though. Maybe it's more that Erikson often succeeded in really making me feel with such events than other authors could so far
  17. Cyphon

    Cyphon Journeyed there and back again

    I don't know why either but I always end up fascinated by that stuff. I am a big anime/manga guy and always loved the ones where you could speculate about that stuff. Naruto, Bleach, One Piece.....not all great works necessarily but so much to think about battle and power level wise. That is one place I think Dragonball Z always failed was that it was literally just 10000 > 9999. No real tactics or anticipation.

    I would love to just have a "battle book" from ASoIaF where you had a bunch of random 1 on 1's that Martin wrote just for fun. Selmy vs Jaimie, Robert (prime) vs The Mountain...battles like those. I know one scene in particular I always really liked that we never got to see play out (they did play it out in the show) was when Ned has the flashback to him and 6 of his guys taking on 3 Kingsguard. That would have been cool to see, especially get to see Arthur Dayne in a fight because he might have the most hype of anyone in the book.
  18. Anti_Quated

    Anti_Quated Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    Second on Gemmell and Legend. I enjoyed immensely the siege of Lady's tower, lots of action, a firm sense of the vicissitudes of warfare, particularly all those moving parts on a large scale.
    I wish we'd had more of Robb Stark's battles explored in detail - I'd love to see how up close how much of a badarse the young wolf was. Ditto for seeing Ned in his prime.
  19. GiovanniDeFeo

    GiovanniDeFeo Might as well be a Malazan regular

    Zelazny had probably the style I admire the most: sparse, and yet with a tension in it that was genuine. The sword-fights were particularly good (he was into fencing apparently).
    Best Magic fights... that would go to Patricia McKillip. Never read of magic duels like in Riddlemaster.

    I just re-read the Buried Giant, and jeez, does he have some of the most realistic and devastating one to one fights (basically, one missed step, and you are dead).

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