Among the authors I have read if I were to name one most unsung author, it would be Piers Anthony. I have hardly ever seen him being mentioned in science fiction/fantasy forums, nor have any of my few friends who read fantasy seemed to have read him. In libraries and book shops I have seen books of his more famous Xanth series but I have rarely seen any of the books of his incarnations of immortality series anywhere. The series has 7 books - ‘On a Pale Horse’, 'Bearing an Hour Glass', 'Wielding a red sword', 'With a Tangled Skein', 'Being a Green Mother', 'For Love of Evil' and 'And Eternity'. I happened to find just the first book in the library. The other books in the series one of my friend downloaded for me using bit torrent and I had to make do reading the e-books. But I found the books so fascinating that I was able to put up with the discomfort of reading from my computer screen and finished all the 6 remaining books of the series.
The books can be described as contemporary fantasy. It superimposes some elements from mythology into current day. He takes the ancient myths of the Gods of death, time, fate, earth, war, evil and good and re-builds them in the current day context. He builds stories on the premise that these Gods are immortal positions occupied by mortals chosen by their predecessors in different ways. Each book follows the life of one mortal and how he/she comes to occupy the position of that particular God. The stories also involve interaction with the other Gods who we have been introduced to in the earlier books giving a sense of continuity.
In my opinion the stories had almost everything going for them. Each book has a different character as protagonist. Each one of these characters was beautifully portrayed and developed: each one with his or her unique characteristics, their different histories, the events in their life and motivations. The reader can easily relate with the characters and begins to empathize with them. The language is simple and the flow is very smooth making it a very easy read for anyone. The narrative also has sprinklings of humor all along, giving the reader a few laughs every few minutes. The plot is intricately woven. Each book gripped me to the very end never wavering for a moment. So all the key elements – plot, flow, language and characters definitely have worked in the book.
There are many other things in the series that I found really appealing. One is the unique and different story line. Another thing that immediately comes to mind is the philosophical undercurrent running throughout the story. The story is not just a hollow entertainer but makes one reflect about life as well. Last but not the least I felt he had worked the myths very well and I could not find too many strong inconsistencies in the overall narrative.
While the books seem to be having all ingredients of a runaway success, the fact is that not too many people have even heard of these books. That leads me to reflect over the possible reasons.
The first thing I can think of is that fantasy as a genre itself does not have universal popularity. Fantasy and science fiction demand a certain amount of imagination of the reader. Unfortunately not all readers are bestowed with an imagination to imagine a complete new world with laws different from our own and populated with all kinds of weird beings. But contemporary fantasy kind of bridges that gap by setting the story in the current world and introducing only certain fantasy concepts. That way the reader has feet firmly planted on the ground and does not have to take a complete flight of fantasy with the author. So I would not consider this to be a major impediment to its success.
Another possible reason that comes to my mind is fantasy is often more popular among children and succeeds as a cross over. But Anthony Piers books are loaded with sexual innuendoes that can even make an adult blush. Also his books deal with concepts of sexuality, rape etc. making it totally unsuitable for children. That is the tragic flaw of all of his books. Light hearted and humorous stories that children would have so loved made out of bounds for children. The series might also put off a good number of women with its highly sexist, almost tending towards male chauvinist world view.
That and luck is what I would ascribe to the failure of this series. But I would recommend everyone to try out the series just for the innovative story concept and a craft man like execution.