This week on the Book Bower, it is all about fantasy fiction. Over the next few days, I will be reviewing two fantasy novels that I read recently – one relatively new release and one that many consider to be a classic of the genre. Friday’s favourites post will be dedicated to a series from a ridiculously talented British fantasy author.
Before all that, though, some musings. Recently, I was pondering the qualities that, for me, distinguish a fantastic fantasy from a mediocre one. This is what I came up with – my very own Fantastic Four as it were:
Works of fantasy are often rather sprawling affairs so being in good company is of paramount importance. Fully-rounded characters who live and breathe and don’t just mechanically serve the plot are my number one requirement. Throw in a few razor-sharp one liners and a bit of moral greyness and I’m in.
2. A compelling central arc
Of course, these terrific characters need to do more than utter witty dialogue and wrestle with their conscience. Their struggles must have some kind of purpose and significance. A danger-strewn quest is all very well but I must care about its outcome. Yes, you must search for the Shield of Mortality, I get that. But WHY? Say what you like about A Song of Ice and Fire – and I have said plenty about its rather uneven quality – but I know fine well that if I was diagnosed with a life-curtailing illness, the second thought through my mind (after ‘f**k!’) would be ‘noooo, I will never find out who wins the Iron Throne!’. Admittedly, that may say just as much about me as it does about the quality of GRRM’s storytelling, but still … I will also add here that logic and clarity are necessary: the central arc and the world-building that frames it should actually Make Sense.
3. Some comment on the ‘real’ world
A novel completely divorced from reality is pretty pointless (and may also be pretty impossible – I am still pondering that one). Fantasy worlds should mirror, enable us to explore and better understand our own. Not in a heavy-handed THIS IS AN ALLEGORY way, I hasten to add.
4. Contribute to the genre
Any new fantasy offering is contributing to an existing conversation that has been continuing for decades and is underpinned by a set of conventions. Innovation rather than repetition is the order of the day, then. I am particularly fond of fantasy novels that interrogate and challenge existing conventions and flout my expectations of the genre, particularly where gender roles are concerned.
Right fellow fantasy fans! What do you make of that? Anything you would dispute? Anything you would add? Let me know in the comments!
See you later in the week for more.