The books are now largely forgotten, which is utterly amazing to me, because they are, as the author himself (modestly) admits about book 4, "beyond quite good". This is an epic understatement. The Legends of Lone Wolf was fantastically, shockingly, amazingly, heartbreakingly good - so high in quality for a line of such humble status that it beggars belief. Though the first is by-the-numbers fantasy and the second only a mild improvement, by the third and fourth books the quality had been ratcheted far above any concievable rival in the young adult section of the bookshop.
Of course, the novels always had to contend with the fact that they were based on a series of adventure gamebooks, which would never endear them to the adult market in the same way other 'children's books' (like Harry Potter) could. And they were also very poorly dealt with by a publisher that apparently knew nothing about the genre; Grant talks about his editor slashing the word count of one book because as it stood it was over 400 pages and "nobody would read a fantasy book that long" (!). But nevertheless, we're not talking here about cheap crap written to cash in on a successful franchise. We're talking about genuinely well-written, exciting fantasy novels for young adults, dealing with death, sex, mystery, adulthood and love in a mature and interesting way (far more so than plenty of so-called serious fantasy books). Harry Potter, Twilight... there is simply no comparison. Why are they no longer noticed?
I believe this is because they were published at a time when fantasy was still ghettoised in the literary world. (Proper fantasy still is, but these days you get some crossover success with fantasy-lite, as people like Neil Gaiman evidence.) This was in the dark days of the early 90s, long before J. K. Rowling and the Jackson Lord of the Rings films. Books involving magic and swords were, for the establishment, untouchable at that time. They were seen as nothing more than cheap escapist entertainment for cretins, and the idea of a fantasy writer being lauded for their skill was anathema. Publishers thought that way too, deep down inside, and you can see this by looking at the covers of the Lone Wolf novels. These weren't books written in the expectation of mainstream success.
Perhaps if they had come along 10 years after they did, they would still be in print and recieving the credit they deserve. Either way, you owe it to yourself to try to track them down. Grant has talked about a reprinting and 'reconstituting' of the texts to be more in line with his original image, without meddling from the publisher. I'm not sure how far this has progressed, but here's hoping.
I'll finish this entry with a quote from John Grant, which I think sums up the spirit in which the books were written:
I was a bit startled when I was asked to write this series of novels -- initially four of them, in the end twelve -- because this type of high, fighting fantasy wasn't the sort of fantasy I'd hitherto been much interested in. Indeed, I'll go further than that: at the time I wasn't much interested in fantasy at all, because too much of what I'd read was the kind of generic crap that still, sadly, constitutes most of what's published in the field. It seemed to me that fantasy, as a literary form, was a dead end; all the good stuff had already been done by people like C.S. Lewis and George Macdonald and Alan Garner and Lewis Carroll and Mervyn Peake and Diana Wynne Jones and ... In short, I was a bit ignorant, and hadn't realized the possibilities within fantasy. I've since become a complete convert, to the point that I will argue at great length to anyone prepared to listen that fantasy is the single most important form of literature the human species has ever invented, and, as such, is one of the most important means of expression available to us.The later Legend of Lone Wolf books especially seem to have been written with this in mind.