We have all read the story before. A group of people join together from various walks of life and backgrounds to journey on a quest. They may have to traverse dangerous terrain, fight off bandits, or avoid pursuit by the forces of evil. The setting itself does not matter, only that this band of adventures embarks on a journey seeking something. But a quest does not just have to a physical matter. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a quest as an act or instance of seeking. It does not state that a quest is just about the travel or that what they seek is a physical object. Oftentimes, the point of the quest is not only to accomplish a mission, but to grow as well. While a character remains in one place, they are static. It is only through embarking on or joining the quest that they can change.
While this blog has been, and always will be, a great proponent of fantasy, most of the fantasy novels I have reviewed skew towards variations of high fantasy. Almost all take place in an alternate world; that is, not Earth in the present day or accurate history. For many authors, creating an entirely new world can actually be much easier than trying to base your fantasy in the real world. By creating your own world, you set the rules. Magic works, or does not work, as you see fit. However, even in these fantastical lands, authors are still able to talk about modern issues, usually through coded language and stand-ins. For example, the Na’vi in the film Avatar are used as a stand-in for the many indigenous tribes of North America around the time of European colonization. However, urban fantasy is a different beast altogether. By using the real, modern-day world, such subjects can be tackled head-on, without euphemism or substitution.
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.
As it says in the title, my review for Alina Boyden’s wonderful fantasy novel, “Stealing Thunder,” will be up tomorrow. It took me all month to get through this book, not because of the book itself or its length, but because of my own fatigue.
There is a lot of awfulness happening in the world, from an atrocious pandemic response to the constant police violence against Americans to J.K. Rowling revealing herself to be a raging transphobe. It’s a lot to take in, and it makes it difficult to enjoy the things I would normally enjoy, such as reading. Every time I picked up the book, I couldn’t help but ask, “Why am I reading when I should be doing something more?”
But it was important to me to finish “Stealing Thunder” and get the post up as soon as possible. This is a novel written by a trans woman author, about a trans woman heroine. Plus, it has some pretty cool fantasy aerial dogfights.
We need more books like this to go mainstream.
I already have the next two books on my list picked out, and I will try to get back on my schedule of reading/reviewing two to three books a month.
This blog believes that black lives matters and trans rights are human rights.
Once upon a time, there was a genre of fiction that took the world by storm. Following daring captains upon the high seas, engaging battles between warships, and fantastical hunts for white whales, nautical fiction was once the talk of every reader. From Moby Dick in 1851, to the Aubrey-Maturin series in the 20th century, nautical fiction brings the world’s oceans to the forefront of adventure. For most of human history, sailing was fraught with danger and the sea was little understood. Sailors knew enough to be cautious, and nautical fiction was an opportunity to take a look at their stories and show the kinds of adventures that could be found on the waves. While nautical fiction has declined in popularity, it has never disappeared. Occasionally, an author such as RJ Barker decides to take this fiction staple and inject it with something else. In this way, we get The Bone Ships, nautical fiction for a fantasy world.
Scandinavia can at times seem like a harsh and unforgiving land, but people have called it home for thousands upon thousands of years. Now broken up between Sweden, Norway, and Finland on the mainland, the Nordic people also settled into Iceland Svalbard, Jan Mayen, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. This is a setting which as gripped popular culture for years, with many authors choosing to pull from its rich history. The origin of the Vikings, some of the fiercest raiders the world has ever known, they revered a uniquely flawed pantheon of gods and goddesses. Unlike pantheons around the world, the gods of the Norse could be killed. Their names have long since transcended folklore, appearing in everything from science-fiction anime to fantasy novels set in new worlds. Even existing franchises once known for other settings, such as the God of War series of video games, has moved into the north. And influence of the Norse is not diminishing.
Time travel is one of the best travelled staples of science-fiction, from books to television shows to movies, it is the ultimate form of exploration. The concept of time travel is almost as old as the history of writing, with the first known written example dating to around 400 BCE. In the Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata, King Raivata Kakudmi journeys to heaven to meet Brahma, the Hindu creator god. When he returns to the moral world, centuries have passed. Time travel in fiction, from this ancient epic to Stargate and Doctor Who, usually involves physically transporting one-self through time, bringing your body and memories with you. Threats include meeting your past self, or encountering the grandfather paradox, or making changes to the past which may affect the future. Very rarely do we get a novel in a similar vein to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, where time travel is a person journey into your own memories.
Fantasy is a versatile genre. There is classic fantasy, high fantasy, grimdark fantasy, science fantasy, urban fantasy, industrial fantasy, and more. Any other genre can be combined with fantasy in ways that improve both genres. The Lord of the Rings is thought of the epitome of classic fantasy, but even that combined a gritty war drama, politics, environmentalism, and linguistics into its story. The Dresden Files is the quintessential urban fantasy, taking elements of modern-day noir and crime drama alongside its elements of high fantasy. Then there is industrial fantasy, the combination that often seems the most contradictory. When we think of elves and gnomes, it is not the natural inclination to imagine their industrial age. Yet imagining an industrialized fairy tale is exactly what Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Mother accomplishes.
A good fantasy series can potentially go on forever. Series like the The Wheel of Time or The Dresden Files easily tell a dozen books worth of story. However, a great fantasy series knows it’s ending, even if takes a while to get there. Jim Butcher has stated he knows the ending for The Dresden Files and how many books the series will contain. The reader can see that the story is leading somewhere definite. Even if the ending suggested in book one is now the ending for the entire series, it still suggests a finality. Jennifer Estep’s Crown of Shards series is only two books in, but we already have a sense of where the ultimate plot is going. Machinations have already begun and there is a clear-long term villain. Ultimately, it is always possible for a series to arrive at its first ending, and realize there is more story to tell. With great fantasy, there is a sea of endless possibility that allows characters to develop and keep the plot always interesting.
Pulp fiction is a relatively new genre of fiction, originating in the late eighteen-hundreds, at the height of Western colonization. The sun never set on the British empire, and they (along with the Americans) ransacked the world in an endless hunt for artifacts and remnants and ancient civilizations. None of them held a greater allure than Egypt. While the genre was popularized by Indiana Jones, it predates the archaeologist by many years. The tales of Allan Quartermain and She: A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard really brought pulp fiction into prominence. Ancient tombs and treasures were being discovered every day, and the world was much larger than it is today. At the turn of the century, the Western world became obsessed.