Fantasy is one of those genres of fiction that can be set in any world you can imagine. Authors can take as much, or as little, inspiration, from the real world as they like. The only boundary to the world in the book is the writer’s imagination. The setting and world can be as realistic as possible, adhering to real-world physics and the like. Or, an author can go completely wild and show us something with no resemblance to our world. So, why is it that so much fantasy just looks like medieval Europe with the addition of magic or strange creatures? Many, many books are written by cisgender, heterosexual, white men and feature cisgender, heterosexual, white protagonists. There are so many other voices out there, authors of diverse ethnicities, sexualities, and an entire spectrum of genders. Their books deserve to be read too.
When once there was a single genre of fantasy, now there are many. Fantasy used to mean dragons, orcs, epic adventures, battle between good and evil, among other such literary tropes. But you can only tell the same story so many times, in the same setting, before it begins to get stale. Luckily, fantasy has proven itself to be a versatile genre, in that it is not a single genre anymore. Rather, it facilitates the mixing of multiple genres to create something new. Now, traditional fantasy can be more commonly known as high fantasy. It’s counterpart, though not its opposite, is low fantasy. The transplanting of traditional fantasy elements, such as dragons, into an otherwise mundane setting, such as rural Louisiana. Highfire is one of the latest in a heritage of low fantasy.
Artificial intelligence has become one of the most common staples in science-fiction, the embodiment of human concerns with being replaced. Our collective worry about creating machines smarter and stronger than us crystallized into its own genre. Artificial intelligence, or A.I., is all over fiction, yet very difficult to get just right. For every successful A.I. story, there are piles of unsuccessful ones. Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, and Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell all come to mind as stories about A.I. done right. Unfortunately, The God Game by Danny Tobey never quite reaches the heights its predecessors achieved.
It is difficult to finish a series, regardless of genre. There is great pressure on creators to create the perfect finale, wrap up every storyline, and provide every character with a satisfying conclusion. Sometimes the fans are satisfied, other times they are far from it. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an emotional and filling conclusion to one of the most popular book franchises to exist, while Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker is altogether disappointing, undoing so much of what made its predecessors great. With The Lady of the Lake, the fifth and final novel in the Witcher series, Andrzej Sapkowski had to provide a conclusion to a series spanning two collections of short stories and five novels. A series following several main characters, a multitude of side characters, and major political upheaval. In The Lady of the Lake, however, something does not just end, something begins.
I have talked endlessly about the power of fantasy novels on this blog, and will continue to do so as long as this genre maintains its unique power. Fantasy is about all about creation and imagination, allowing readers to inhabit worlds wholly unlike our own. It is a measure of escapism that other literary genres can only dream of. Free from the pretentiousness of literary fiction, and liberated from the need for explanation in science-fiction, fantasy authors set their own rules in each new story. Crush the King is the third and latest novel in Jennifer Estep’s wonderful Crown of Shards series, preceded by Kill the Queen and Protect the Prince. Few would call this story literary fiction, but few series are more fun to read that the adventures of Everleigh “Evie” Saffira Winter Blair.
Memoir; from the French mémoire. A memory. Unlike a biography, which tends to be a relatively straightforward look at a person’s life, a memoir consists of their collected memories. It may be presented in chronological order, order of most importance, or how each memory leads into the next. As long as people have been committing words to writing, they have written memoirs. From the ancient world, to the modern, memoirs have only grown in popularity as a way to pass down one’s own legacy. Not all of us are destined to become legendary poets and writers, many people are forgotten as time passes. But a memoir can be an extension of a life. The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures is what is known as a graphic memoir containing both her words and her artwork in a masterful combination.
Every chapter in a story has a responsibility to the overall narrative. This is most evident in trilogies, where the first novel sets up the stakes and the characters, the second builds upon the threat, and the finale contains the climax of all that came before. The saga of the Witcher is atypical in its structure and how each novel contributes to the narrative. On top of that, the story began long before the novels were written, in the world crafted by the original series of short stories. Despite its odd nature as a five-novel story, the fourth book, The Tower of the Swallow, still has a responsibility as the penultimate chapter in the tale of Ciri, Geralt, and Yennefer. It must continue the adventure that has come before, while escalating the stakes. Some characters begin the lead up to the finale, while others are brought to their lowest point in preparation for their eventual rise.
One of the longest enduring staples in fiction is that of the Chosen One. The Chosen One is the special hero, standing above all others as the only one capable of defeating the enemy of the story or saving the world. The method for selecting a chosen one can be varied. In many stories, there is some form of prophecy which only fits this one individual. In others, they may have a certain birthmark or be born from the right parents at just the right time. This trope is not even relegated to one genre. Chosen one are found all throughout fantasy, science-fiction, and beyond. Harry Potter may be one of the most recognizable examples, but the chosen one can also be found in Star Wars in the form of Anakin Skywalker, and in The Matrix with Neo. Even The Lord of the Rings, which posits that anyone can defeat evil if they have the courage to rise up, contains a chosen one to a certain extent with Eowyn. However, the chosen one has waned in popularity. There are no chosen ones in real life.
A “baptism of fire” can be defined in several different ways. Classically, and for most of literary history, it referred to a specific passage from the Gospel according to Matthew in the Catholic Bible. According to John the Baptist, who baptized Catholics with water, God would come after and baptize their followers with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The phrase also appears in the Gospel according to Luke and Dante’s Inferno referring to a fiery trial of faith which would purify those who looked upon God. It was not until the 19th century that “baptism of fire” finished its transformation and gained the meaning Andrzej Sapkowski hints at. First used secularly to mean a soldier’s first time in battle, a baptism of fire is now any toil or hardship which strengthens you through the challenge.
Every story has a theme, a focus running side-by-side with the plot that thoroughly defines the very nature of the book. When a person asks what a book is about, there are always two answers; the plot, and the themes. For example, The Lord of the Rings is about the battle between good and evil, and the nature of heroism. It is also the story of a hobbit crossing the world to throw an evil ring into a volcano. In a similar vein, Splintegrate, by Deborah Teramis Christian, is a story about bodily autonomy and the nature of identity. It is about what happens when outside machinations violate one’s body and personality without consent. It is also an engaging science-fiction thriller about a professional dominatrix charged with assassinating a mob boss. The high level of technology present in a science-fiction setting allows for a practical examination of identity outside of the thought experiments of today.