Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday revolves around favourite words, which, while interesting, isn’t something that I felt I could really contribute to. So instead, I thought I would dive into one of my favourite story elements from fiction, the good old-fashioned siege.
Now I have made it very clear over multiple reviews that I absolutely love sieges in fiction. To me, there are few battle scenarios more awesome, more epic, and more impressive than watching a powerful attacker attempting to wipe out a fortress garrisoned by a group of desperate defenders. Whether you are rooting for the besiegers or the defenders, there are so many outstanding moments that can be woven into a siege scenario. From fighting on the walls, to a desperate stand in a breach, to watching an attacker slowly gain ground on the defender by a careful and elaborate series of siegeworks, artillery bombardments and the careful administration of traitors from within the walls, everything about a siege is just so amazing to me and I love reading about them in fiction. Sieges don’t even have to be that long or epic, as even a quick and bloody siege can be pretty impressive, especially if the attackers are desperate to achieve their goals.
Fans of this blog might have noticed that in recent weeks I have read a couple of books that contain some great sieges. Well, after getting really caught up in a few of them, it started making me think back to all the other awesome sieges scenes I have enjoyed over the years. Naturally my only option then was to come up with a list of my favourite sieges in literature and it did not take long for me to come up with an intriguing list of books.
This proved to be quite a fun list to come up with, and it was really interesting to dive back into some books from the past to see what great sieges I could find. I didn’t put a lot of limits on this list, and if the scenario in the book could be considered some sort of siege, I would consider it for this list. I did try to come up with a few examples that were outside the traditional medieval castle situation most people would associate with a siege, and I wanted to show a little variety. Despite that, most of the books I have featured on this list ended up being fantasy reads, which isn’t too unexpected. There are a few good historical fiction reads thrown into the mix, as well as entries from other genres, and I think this ended up being a very well-balanced top ten, with my usual generous honourable mentions section. So, lets dive into the breach and find out which glorious sieges made the cut.
A fantastic historical fiction read that saw an outnumbered group of elite Roman soldiers take control of an abandoned fort in the middle of Africa to stop an invading army. An excellent example of a Roman siege from historical fiction.
One of the more unusual examples I could think of was the fantastic novel Devolution by World War Z author Max Brooks. Devolution sees the residence of a small, elite community get cut off from the rest of the world by a natural disaster, only to be then attacked by a group of sasquatches driven out of hiding by the same calamity. Forced to defend themselves against the hungry beasts, the community finds themselves in an impromptu siege against a group of monsters, which results in a very inventive and intense read.
William King has featured several awesome sieges in his legendary Gotrek and Felix Warhammer Fantasy series, however, my favourite so far had to be the siege of Praag in Beastslayer. This book-long siege sees the doomed duo face off against all manner of monsters and demon worshipers on the walls, while traitors attempt to destroy them from within. A classic siege scenario that fit perfectly into the iconic Warhammer setting.
I have a lot of love for Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, especially as it features several awesome sieges. However, my favourite probably occurred in the final book, Inheritance, when the protagonist’s cousin, Roran, is sent to take the fortified town of Aroughs with a small force. Running out of time and resources, Roran uses some unconventional tactics to invade it. Not only did this show how much Roran had grown as a tactician and commander over the series, but it featured some fantastic scenes of a great siege.
Top Ten Tuesday
Let us start this list off with the book that might have the very best siege scenario I have ever read, with Legend by David Gemmell. Legend is an exceptional read that sees an invincible army attempt to conquer their world’s most impregnable fortress, Dros Delnoch. Utterly outnumbers, the defenders of Dros Delnoch have one advantage aside from their six walls, they are led by Druss the Legend, the greatest hero of all time. This is such an epic siege, which the late, great, David Gemmell, set up perfectly. Loaded with amazing characters, you really grow close to the defenders as you watch their desperate battle to hold off an unstoppable enemy till the very end. A must read for all fans of the siege; you will not be disappointed by this book.
Next, we have a book that shows that sieges don’t have to feature giant fortresses to be epic, with Servant of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts. The second book in the outstanding Empire trilogy, Servant of the Empire has many amazing moments, but the best is the compelling and intense siege of the Acoma Suite in the Imperial Palace. Following a massive calamity that plunges the Empire into chaos, all the great lords flock to the Imperial Palace to be close to the action. However, many take this as an opportunity to take out their rivals and the protagonist, Mara of the Acoma, finds herself one of the main targets. Barricaded in her suite in the palace, Mara, her allies, and their bodyguards must fight off waves of assassins that come for them during the night. This proves to be extremely impressive, and you really get caught up in the action watching the defenders attempting to hold a luxury apartment against an unending horde of assassins. A clever and amazing siege that makes full use of its smaller setting and intriguing scenario to create some exciting moments.
I had to feature the brilliant and hilarious Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K. J. Parker, as it contained an extremely fun take on the siege concept. This hilarious read sees the massive City besieged by an army of vengeful folk, intend on killing everyone within. With their army already destroyed, the defence of the city falls to a conman siege engineer, who uses his engineering knowhow and ability to BS anyone, to establish one of the most elaborate and inventive defences ever. This ended up being an incredible story, that perfectly blends humour and fun characters with the compelling siege scenario, to create an utterly addictive read. I have so much love for this siege novel, and Parker followed it up with the equally good How to Rule and Empire and Get Away With It, that showed the surprising outcome to the siege, which I really loved.
Fire in the East by Harry Sidebottom – Siege of Arete
While much of this list is focussed on fantasy fiction, I had to include the outstanding historical fiction read, Fire in the East, the debut novel of the amazing Harry Sidebottom. Set in AD 255, this book follows Roman siege specialist, Ballista, who travels to the Roman town of Arete to reinforce it against a besieging Persian army. Forced to hold out for months with no reinforcements, Ballista prepares a complex and deadly defence, while dealing with traitors and discontent from within his walls. A fast-paced, but extremely detailed read, this is easily one of the best historical sieges I have ever read, and it made me a life-long fan of Harry Sidebottom, who is still releasing distinctive and captivating historical fiction reads.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling – Siege of Hogwarts
After six books spent within the magical castle of Hogwarts, it was appropriate that the Harry Potter series end there, and the author chose to finish everything off in a big way. With Harry, Ron and Hermione attempting to find and destroy the final Horcrux, Lord Voldemort sends all his forces in a massive assault on the magical school, facing off against students, teachers and the Order of the Phoenix. This is a pretty epic siege, which, while great in the movie, comes across as a lot more exciting and complex in the novel. Seeing the various dark forces attempt to destroy the castle you have come to know and love is pretty heartbreaking, and you can’t help but cheer at the desperate defence the supporting characters put up to give Harry time. Throw in a ton of tragic deaths, as many of your favourite characters are brutally killed off, and this becomes a key moment in the series that you will never forget.
One of the more recent siege-based books I have read, The Martyr is the second Covenant of Steel novel by Anthony Ryan, and its elaborate chronicle narrative quickly drags the reader in with an amazing siege scenario. The Martyr actually has two sieges in it, but as they occur back-to-back early in the book, I decided to combine them. The first, sees the protagonists occupy and defend a dilapidated castle against a massive host in a foreign land, which proves to be a lot of fun as the series canny protagonist and his apparently blessed leader, engage in quite an elaborate defence of their new bastion. I got pretty stuck into this book during the first siege and was pleasantly surprised when Ryan immediately followed it up with a second siege, with the protagonists this time acting as the attackers. Using the lessons they learned from defending the first time, they soon attempt a deadly attack on the city, which results in a particularly bloody and intense struggle through the breach. I had an outstanding time with this book, and I was absolutely spoiled with the two sieges it contained.
Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie – Siege of Dagoska
The First Law trilogy is one of the bloodiest dark fantasy series out there, so naturally it is going to feature at least a couple of great sieges. There are actually several impressive sieges I could talk about here, especially in the third book, Last Argument of Kings, but my favourite siege occurred in the second book, Before They Are Hanged. This novel sees fan-favourite character, the crippled Inquisitor Glokta, take control of the city of Dagoska and hold it against a massive Gurkish army. Striking a devil’s bargain with a mysterious benefactor for resources, Glokta is able to fund a sustained defence, while trying to keep the city from turning against his forces. However, his greatest threat is within the walls, as several magical assassins are planning to kill and eat him to win the battle. This is such an awesome siege, especially as it sees Glokta in his element as a master manipulator, and there are some amazing scenes set around it.
I was never not going to include a siege from The Lord of the Rings on this list, and naturally I had a couple of good choices here, such as the siege of Minas Tirith in The Return of the King. However, based on the recommendation of my wife, who recently re-read these books, I went with the siege of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers. A much more fast-paced siege, the battle of Helm’s Deep sees a small force from Rohan face off against a giant army of Uruk-hai over a single night in their ancestral fortress. A classic siege which got an easy place on this list.
I had a hard time coming up with any good science fiction books for this list, but luckily, I only just finished reading an older Warhammer 40,000 novel, Storm of Iron by Graham McNeill, that was essentially one giant siege. This book sees the defender of the planet Hydra Cordatus, come under attack by a massive army of Iron Warriors Chaos Space Marines, who besiege the planet’s seemingly impregnable fortress. However, the Iron Warriors are the universes’ best siege engineers, and they soon start smashing down the walls to get to their foes. A very elaborate and detailed siege book, there is so much incredible action in this book, and McNeill did an outstanding job setting up a siege story in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
The final entry on this list is the extremely impressive City of Lies by Australian author Sam Hawke. Another great fantasy read, this novel sees the culturally rich city of Silasta suddenly come under attack by a mysterious army, intent on destroying it. With their army mostly away, the cities artists are forced to abandon their works and take up weapons. At the same time, the book’s protagonists, a pair of poison-eating siblings, work to defeat a massive conspiracy that is building within their walls. The encroaching attackers adds a great layer to the intrigue and politics going on within the walls in City of Lies, and I loved how well Hawke established this siege in this fantastic book.
Well, that is the end of this list. As you can see from the above entries, I have had a lot of fun reading about sieges over the years, and I love when they are fit into a good book. All the above books have some exceptional sieges in them, and they all come highly recommended to those people who love a great siege storyline. I am pretty happy with how this list turned out, and I will probably revisit this at some point in the future, especially if I am lucky enough to read some more siege-focussed books. In the meantime, let me know what your favourite sieges in literature are in the comments below.