The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison
A throwback to the heroic epics/Scandinavian sagas (a number of which Eddison translated into English) and a reasonably daring stylistic experiment, The Worm Ouroboros describes a war between two kingdoms set in a fantastic universe.
Seems like it doesn't have much going for it, except for a few things:
- it's an example of pre-Tolkienian fantasy, which is in itself interesting; it's much closer to Howard's original Conan stories in that the author is unapologetic in his fascination with larger-than-life characters who view life as an opportunity for adventure, fame, and glory.
- once you get past the Elizabethan/Jacobean period stylization, it's an exercise in vivid and imaginative description. Particularly notable are the descriptions of mountain expeditions; they left me chilled to the bone on a warm April day.
- his characters are just so ENGAGING that the plot, straightforward as it is, really takes a backseat and you just sit back and watch various charismatic and extravagant personalities interplay with one another.
The book is a take-no-prisoners affair - you either dig the language or you think it's pretentious affectation; you either dig the characters or you think they're insufferable boors. One way or another, it's availabe for free so it won't hurt anyone to give it a try.http://www.sacred-texts.com/ring/two/
Do bear in mind that I'm still not through this one. It's one of these books that demand full and undivided attention - but I feel it's more than worth the effort.