Wednesday, 9 April 2014

reading fantasy books

I love me a book with a map at the front.  


I love reading, and I especially love fantasy stories because you can get really into the telling of tales, without all the faffing around with fact-checking.  I read plenty of stories that are in the real world too (I'm reading the incredibly good story 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum' by Kate Atkinson at the moment, and would highly recommend it), but it really annoys me when you get too much focus on where something is happening, and of course, all places have a lot of baggage both in the writer's, and our own imaginations.  I find Ian Rankin particularly maddening on this front.  Edinburgh is a bigger character in his books than is Rebus.

Creating a made-up place enables the writer to create their own place-baggage, and also to create religion, social mores, societal structures and so on and so on and so on.

All books need research, but the nature of fantasy books is different - the writer creates a world, and all the things within it.  Of course, they don't create that out of thin air.  It's based in their own experience of life, and of the things that concern them.  A lot of fantasy tests out what ifs of political or societal situations.  

  • What if there was a crisis of fertility and the American Government became yet more Christian? (Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale)
  • What if something happened that got rid of gender?  (Storm Constantine's Wraeththu series)
And some tests out how historical events might have worked out in different contexts.  George RR Martin, for example, plundered the Wars of the Roses, Scottish history, and the rather fabulous Borgias to create The Song of Ice and Fire series.  I'm very glad he did, because I love historical fiction too!

All fairytales are fantasy stories, and I totally love fairytales too.  I think that getting away from stories that might be true lets us explore truths about people.  I also think that stepmothers get a bad rep.  I suspect it's the fairytale connection that makes people slightly wary of these stories as grown ups, but we love them when they hit the screen.  Every book group I've been in, the other members told me they didn't like fantasy.  I think it's seen as something for kids, and something for men too.  

I like fantasy so much, I'm writing my own!  Go on, give the genre a go.  Here's some great books to try.

Game of Thrones is not only a fabulous TV series, it is also the first book in the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin.  It is a big book, and the series has an awful lot of people in it, so it can be easy to get lost, but this book is pretty easy to follow, as it mainly follows the story of the Stark family, and how the person sitting on the iron throne is affecting everyone's lives.  Lovely characters, an interesting story, and plenty of rules of stories broken.  It's not giving much away to say that they don't live happily ever after.


A Cavern of Black Ice is the first book in the Sword of Shadows series by JV Jones (her name is Julie, but like many women writing fantasy, she's not giving away her gender on the cover - that way she increases her sales sadly).  I love the world that Julie's created, especially the people who live in the North - the clans are beautifully explored, and I love the concept of the maimed men.  To be honest with you, I'm not that keen on Ash March, and her magical powers, but there you go.  The clans really do make up for it.


The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit is the First Book of Wraeththu by Storm Constantine.  There are lots of problems with this series, the largest of which is that it is rather dated (why does future fiction date so badly?), but it is also fabulous.  The Earth is taken over by an alien species which only has one gender.  New societies are formed, and it's all very frontier.  I love the ideas Storm has tested out here, and her characters are great.  It's very easy to get caught up in the glamour of Calanthe in particular (although our hero, Pellaz, is a bit wet if you ask me).

Margaret Atwood calls the genre for her books speculative fiction.  They're set in imagined futures, but I don't think they age as badly as most such books.  The Handmaid's Tale is one of the most famous.  There's a very good film of it as well.  It imagines a dystopian future where America is ruled by Christian fundamentalists, and fertility has become such a problem that fertile women are used as handmaids to produce children for the infertile rich.  It's based on a story out of the bible... and against the odds, they do live happily ever after.

I'm not usually a fan of short stories.  I love to get my teeth into a nice big tale, with lots of colour and texture, and I always want more.  I often wait until there's a trilogy before I'll start reading.  However, Angela Carter's short stories are fascinating, and in this collection (The Bloody Chamber) she challenges some of the truths we know about fairty tales.

I notice that I've got a preponderance of women writers, again, so to attempt to balance it out a bit, here's another man.  Patrick Rothfuss is still writing his Kingkiller Chronicles, but the first book, The Name of the Wind, has an interesting world, and some utterly gorgeous writing.  I particularly like the opening paragraph:
It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.
Don't you feel the need to know more about the texture of that silence?  Love it.

What fantasy books would you recommend?  Or are you someone who reckons you don't like it?

Other posts you might like:

The book challenge
Words at 10/4/14 - 72,000.  
19,000 words done since the challenge began, 4000 so far this month.
Where I'm at in First Draft - middle of Chapter 14.
What I did last - lots of worrying from my new POV character.  Not sure how to carry on from this bit, but it'll come to me.  Don't want too much information.

I've come to the conclusion I'm blogging too much and not writing enough of the book, so I'm reducing the blogging to focus on the writing.  That's the theory anyway!