Now, you'll have to forgive me with this post because The Briar King, book one in the Kingdom of Thorn and Bone series, was originally released in January of 2003. And, to make my memory even worse, I received this as an ARC while I was a bookseller, so I read it even before that.
As usual in these cases, I must rely on those excellent reviewers over at PW for a synopsis for your guys. Here's what they said:
The author of the bestselling Age of Unreason tetralogy (The Waterborn, etc.) inaugurates the Kingdoms of Throne and Bone quartet with this epic high fantasy. The inhabitants of this splendid and dauntingly complex parallel world, Everon, are mostly descended from folk magically transported from our world. This is not quite the land of Faerie, although the Briar King resembles the old Celtic horned god Cernunnos, while Keyes brings his expertise as a fencing teacher to the swordplay, here called dessrata. The Empire of Crotheny faces war with its arch-rival, the Hanzish, and magical intrigues aimed at preventing the land from having a born queen (as opposed to a king's consort). By book's end, Princess Anne, the daughter of the Crotheny king, is fleeing for her life with Austra, her maid, and Cazio, a young Vitellian nobleman, having earlier experienced the pains of discipline in a convent and the horrors of having her family butchered. With aplomb, the author employs one of the most classic fantasy plots: the heir(ess) with a destiny and a necessarily huge cast of supporters. Keyes mixes cultures, religions, institutions and languages with rare skill. The main theme may emerge with formidable slowness, but patient readers will find the rewards enormously worthwhile.
My fantasy reading prior to this was pretty much nonexistent. I read, a lot, but usually mysteries, thrillers, and horror along with the occasional chick-lit. Keyes converted me for good. The problem was, like any genre, not everything was quite my cup of tea and not everything lived up to Keyes's example. And it would be August of the following year before I would get the second book in this series. What was a girl to do? Browse and ask for recs, that's what. At least as a bookseller I was in a great position to do this, and save it all for later use with customers.
I was insanely picky, though. Juliet Marillier met my standards and then along came Kim Harrison and my introduction to urban fantasy, something I would have been hooked on even without Keyes. We'll say I got a bit distracted from serious fantasy for a while. Dark fantasy is another one that I particularly enjoy, however, and I think King's Dark Tower books fall smack dab in the middle of this genre. Marion Zimmer Bradley also made the cut back then as did Lois McMaster Bujold who's Spirit Ring remains one of my ultimate favorite books (I read that one before Keyes). Madeline Howard's Hidden Stars also stuck out for me at that time. And of course, you could probably say that it all started with Garth Nix and was spurred on further by my Keyes experience, since Sabriel is quite possibly one of the best fantasy reads in existence, even if it is a teen book.
I do have to admit that some of the biggies in the genre have never really been quite my taste. Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time Series is one that I am frankly too intimidated to start just yet (but it's in the process of being completed by author Brandon Sanderson). I have tried both Terry Goodkind and George R. R. Martin and not really been quite as enthralled as some of the other authors I mentioned.
Back to Keyes, though. I'm not sure what is on the horizon for him now, but you'll be happy to know that the entire Kingdom of Thorn and Bone series is out and available in paperback (Born Queen, book 4, was released in mm in Jan).
The series is as follows:
The Briar King
The Charnel Prince
The Blood Knight
The Born Queen