My Least Favourite Fantasy Tropes

So I’ve been looking at my stats for the year lately and I’ve come to the realisation that I’ve read *a lot* of fantasy in 2017. A lot a lot. And yet, as much as I clearly love fantasy, over the years there have been some sticking points for me. That’s why I thought it was about time I did a fantasy tropes post where I talk about some of the things I like least about the genre. And, just in case anyone thinks I’m going after specific authors, along with examples, I’ll be talking candidly about mistakes I made as a younger writer (though god-I-hope never anything like that last one). Let’s get started, shall we?

  1. mushu trampledDragons that are just giant lizards– or anything that tramples over dragonlore. I don’t know if I’m the only one that gets shirty about the representation of dragons in fantasy- but mannnn I’ve seen some dragons that read as stroppy teenagers (Talon), dragons that are little more than lizard people (Seraphina), dragons that can’t breathe so much as a noxious gas…. Okay maybe that last one’s not so important, yet I do have high standards for my dragons, so I’m not particularly crazy about it when they turn out to be lousy (except in discworld, where they are epically lousy). One thing I have learned is that labelling something a dragon does not make it a dragon.

 

  1. dr evil 2Mr Evil– yup one of my least favourite tropes is the obviously evil villain with zero motivations for his/her actions (oh let’s face it, it’s nearly always male) JUST GIVE THEM A GOOD MOTIVE GAH!! And make them three dimensional for heaven’s sake! Also, while we’re on the subject “born evil” doesn’t work for me- I find the best villains take a dark path by choice and have that possibility of redemption (basically Darth Vader is awesome)

 

  1. everyone i don't like is hitler“I think you’re a Nazi baby, are you a Nazi?”– Basically evil organisations that are supposed to be Nazi-esque yet aren’t all that scary or motivated by the same sort of ideas, but whatever, here’s the paraphernalia, that’ll do. This comes back to me hating lame-ass villains. I’m also not keen on the “everyone I hate is Hitler” bandwagon or hanging on the coattails of true evil to imply the baddies really are bad. It’s not good enough to just whip out the “fascist” label like in Lord of Shadows. If you wanna write a holocaust book/something really dark, go for it- no half-assed attempts.

 

  1. do you want some expositionNeedless exposition– The “I’ve done loads of work on world building so you need to read *ALL OF IT*” trope. Seriously, if it’s not plot expedient, cut it out. It’s just boring and it’s why I quit the Wheel of Time series after just one book. Which leads me onto…

 

  1. are we there yetPointless meandering about– this is what I like to call book travelling syndrome. Annnd I will admit, I coined the phrase specifically because it’s something I struggled with early as a writer (and still do to an extent). The problem arises from the simple thought process: “they’ll wander about, have adventures, it’ll be a blast”. What you end up with is not good. There are so few books that manage to pull this off (aka The Neverending Story) and yet it’s unreal how often this turns up in fantasy. I will admit, I always sympathise with the writers for this one 😉 (even if it’s still boring as eff to read)

 

  1. gollum scaredRipping off Tolkien– do I need to explain why this is bad? Before people get mad, I will say that borrowing is a natural part of writing and this is a tricky area to navigate, so take everything I’m about to say with a grain of salt. This is a question of how much does this resemble Lord of the Rings. I don’t mind the odd elf, but maybe cool it on the orcs, hobbits, dragons, dwarves, ents etc. I’ll *hold my hands up* as guilty writer again- when I first started out I had a fair number of these (this is unintentionally turning into a what-I-did-as-a-teen writer confession piece 😉 ). But I grew up and realised *whoa I can do other things*. And it’s not just the copycat creatures. I’ve read whole books where I’ve genuinely thought c’mon this is just Lord of the Rings. An original plot point or two wouldn’t hurt. Speaking of which…

 

  1. the-one.gifThe *Chosen One*– especially if there’s a prophecy attached. This is something I’m sick of most of all, because it is literally done to death at this point. It was even shoehorned into a Peter Pan movie recently and Throne of Glass looks like it’s headed in that direction. Ironically, any play on the trope and I’m instantly in love with the book (you guys know how much I love Carry On, right?). If it turns up in a serious capacity… *groan*.

 

  1. dumbledoreThe Dumbledore– every hero needs a mentor- but why-oh-why must some parents/teachers withhold vital plot information because *reasons*- even if knowing it earlier could save the hero’s life!! For some reason they figure it’s better to hear this from the antagonist or something??? I never understood this one to be honest- it seems like a pointless way to build tension- when really it could be solved by the mentor not knowing all the secrets. (And for older followers, yes, I mentioned this in my YA Tropes post– it still really bothers me). And when it comes to useless tension, there’s nothing like…

 

  1. boromir deathThe *not dead yet* trick– I have a love-hate relationship with this one, because it’s something that can work if done well (all the different narrators in Game of Thrones mean that we’re often on shaky ground when it comes to who’s alive and who’s dead) BUT I feel like this can so easily suck and is something I see overused in YA. The biggest problem is if the character doesn’t matter or if it literally showed they got a ton of arrows to chest Boromir-style and just HOW?!? 

 

  1. FrankswordThe magical sword or any magical weapon really that’s given too much power– you know, the *special* sword, or the only arrow that can possibly kill a dragon, or the one ring (okay not that last one). I actually feel bad for all the magical swords that are attached to the hero and by proxy make them look good. What gets to me even more is how often these turn up in the most convenient of places, like tombs that for some reason were never raided, even though they stood in a deserted landscape for millennia- someone clearly never looked at archaeological history.

 

  1. pocohantus savages.gifThe “oh look savages!” trope– I debated over whether/how to put this on the list- but there’s no way to sugarcoat it and you all know what I’m talking about anyway. There is some seriously dodgy stuff in old fantasy- particularly from the 80s I believe- where there’s this kind of tribal tourism going on. I want to say, in fairness to the authors, there’s often this “surprise, they’re people!” moment (no shit Sherlock) which always makes me think the authors are seriously trying to be progressive… only trouble is, it was the eighties, it’s about as progressive as a spinning wheel in the 21st century.

Okaaay on that note- do any of you agree with me? Disagree? Have any of your own hated fantasy tropes to add? Let me know in the comments!

Why I’m Happy to Suspend My Disbelief for Fantasy

Magic systems seem to be a big deal to a lot of fantasy fans and for many a well explained system can make or break a book. Now, this may shock some people, but it really isn’t a big deal for me. Naturally, I appreciate the beauty of an intricate magic system (who doesn’t have infinite admiration for Sanderson’s allomancy for instance) but if something is left in broad terms or defined simply as *magic* I genuinely won’t care and here’s why:

confessionsIt is the genre of the unexplainable– *crazy* idea BUT there is a reason why many supernatural forces are left unexplained in fantasy. It creates an atmosphere of mystique, eeriness and unfathomability. Here is where fantasy is haunted by the hallmarks of gothic literature. Feeding into the uncanny plays with the unwritten rules of the universe and allows the writer to explore hidden corners of the human psyche. And isn’t exploring *what we don’t know* what fantasy is often all about? Obscuring the logic of a world is valuable in its own way.

simarillionSometimes, however, there is a hidden explanation, even if we don’t know it– I know I’ve seen *loads* of people criticising Lord of the Rings for its “lack” of magical explanations. My answer to those people is that there are plenty of Tolkien’s notes you can look into if you’re unsatisfied with the reasoning behind his world building. Which goes to show, just because you don’t know the reason for something, doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Plus, if you need an origin story, look no further than The Simarillion. But really, ultimately, it’s important to note where Tolkien got his ideas from…

grimmsBorrowing from literary predecessors deserves praise not censor. Personally, I value stories that are self-aware and acknowledge where they’ve come from- for a story to revive its forefather’s memory and offer us something new is a very special thing. When it comes to fantasy, I’ve already mentioned fantasy’s connection with gothic literature, yet the modern genre has more than one forefather. It is very much rooted, thanks to Tolkien, in the oral tradition and fairy tales. There is a lot of borrowing going on between these genres, including the educational element. Following in the steps of fairy tales, supernaturalism is often far from the main message of the story. In reality…

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverMagic is often a tool to get us from a to b. A very beautiful, interesting tool- but a tool nonetheless. That’s why, there really is nothing wrong with the *because it’s magic* explanation. I know, I know, that’s an extremely unpopular opinion in the fantasy world and I will probably have my fantasy fangirl status revoked for saying it, but hear me out. The truth is, no matter how far you get under the skin of any given magic system, the answer at some point will always be *because it’s magic*. Most of the time, we see an elaborate system on the surface and do not question why it works. Yes, I know there are some people who are not satisfied with the Harry Potter world building, for all its wonder and intricacies, but really do those people seriously think that diverting the plot for a “scientific” explanation of witchcraft and wizardry would have made those books better? (I will stupefy! anyone whose answer is yes to that) We have the surface details and that’s all we need!

the martianAt the end of the day scientific discussions mean nothing to me. Yeahhh in case it isn’t obvious I am not a scientist and the mechanics of how things work rarely holds my attention. I did love the Martian, but that was in spite of the explanations (where, let’s be honest, my attention glazed over) not because of them. So if an author is going to go into a huge amount of detail about how their world works, it’s not going to light my fire, in fact…

The_Eye_of_the_World_UKI find overlong explanations or infodumps boring. There I said it. If a book goes on a long tangent explaining something *made up* to me that I really don’t need to know, I’m gonna get bored fast. Everyone that’s read my review of Eye of the World can’t be surprised by this- cos that’s the perfect example of exposition getting out of hand (no Robert Jordan, I don’t care if you came up with a really interesting backstory to some backwater village, if it’s not plot relevant now, I don’t need 5 pages of explanation).

question mark bookAnd finally… it would make me a hypocrite. Okay, so I don’t normally refer to my own writing, but I hope you don’t mind my self-indulgence here, cos it’s relevant. I try to write things I’d like to read- so a lot of the reasons I do not often include explanations is because of a combination of the above (ie it’s not always relevant in the moment, I hate infodumps and I like to borrow from other genres). But to give a more concrete example to how important hidden explanations are, I’m currently working on a trilogy where in book 1 magic is more of a blunt tool (because, bless their little hearts they don’t know any better), book 2 explores some of the costs, and book 3 (which I’ve started working on now) is all about the big reveals. It would fundamentally destroy the setup of the story if I’d just given everything away in book 1.

So those are my reasons for why I don’t get too bogged down with magic systems. I know this will divide readers- and that’s a-okay- different opinions are the spice of life! Let me know which you prefer!

Blackwing: Taking Fantasy to New Heights

*Received this book off Netgalley in exchange for an honest review- but the crazy gushing you’re about to see is all me*

Blackwing2Wowzers. Bloody hell. Fuck yeah! Honestly, I don’t have anything other than expletive laden exclamations right now. One of the Deep Kings in this book must have cut out my tongue and fed it to the Misery, because Blackwing has left me speechless. Yet even if words are failing me right now, there’s a lot of well-deserved buzz for this book. After reading Liis’ *stunning* review, I just knew I *had to* read it- and by some miracle I was able to get hold of it.

Well, it would be more accurate to say that this book got hold of me- it grabbed me by the throat and throttled me with an intense plot straight away. The reader is flung head first into the Misery and explosive action before you can say “shit there’s a Darling!” (you’ll find out what that is when you read it- no spoilers from me- but trust me that’s what you’ll think). Somehow, as the story winds on, it manages to crank up that initial tension, bit by bit, building to an epic conclusion that no one could predict. Seriously, if you want a well spun tale you’ve come to the right place. Not one thread of Blackwing is out of place- it is an exquisite tapestry of twisted, inventive, mindboggling magic! There’s nothing you can do with a book like this other than step back and admire the view. And if I sound possessed- that’s cos I’m still in its thrall.

One of the most spellbinding things about here is easily the writing. I could wax lyrical about how beautiful every inch of this book is- but what really got to me was how strikingly distinctive the voice was- so much so that the main character leapt off the page. Don’t ask me how, but that grouchy, wry tone will charm the pants off you. I was chuckling along with his backhanded remarks (“standard fortress stuff” teehee), eagerly awaiting where his tale would lead and by the end of the story I wanted to take him out for a pint… Until I remembered he wasn’t real.

And that was just the thing- I left reality behind when I read Blackwing. Atmospheric and creepy, wading into this world was a treat in its own right. Layer upon layer of nameless wonder had me totally absorbed. Even though the palate for this world was suitably grim and gutsy, it felt surprisingly vibrant, and, most importantly, *different*. Rarely do I find any book that feels as new as this fresh-faced fantasy.

There was more to it than that though. Full of broken, scarred and near-ruined characters this story was to its core about humanity. Speaking of heartache and hinting at redemption, the hidden depths sold me more than anything else. No doubt, this book took me too some pretty dark places- but in the end it was so dark it was an uplifting read.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana

Released on: 27th July  so be sure to snag a copy here!

Was there any doubt I’d give it that rating? Are you gonna give this a go? Let me know in the comments!

The disingenuous fantasy blurb

Alrighty then- it’s Sunday! The end of another week! And last week we learnt two things… 1) I like fantasy (okay we already knew that) and 2) I can be a bit lousy about keeping up with my blog (okay we knew that too, so really we learnt nothing). This post was consequently inspired by this simple equation:

Fantasy + Lousiness = Lousy fantasy

So without further ado here is my disingenuous fantasy blurb:

Read this book- I swear there will be dragons in it. The title is vaguely dragon related after all (what did we name this in the end? Fire-flaming-dragon-wings or something…?)

smaug

Also magic- expect magic- and lots of it. (Although this will mostly be in the form of staring mysteriously into fires and errr no one having actual powers… but still…)

Plus we put TOLKIEN on the blurb just now… so now you have to read it to be considered a proper fantasy fan

Nah nah nah nah nah.png

We’ve also made this a juicy *thousand pages*- 99% of which will consist of infodumps- so yay!!

And have I mentioned that there will be DRAGONS!!

mushu

*Warning: will not contain actual dragons, just lizard people*

*Also, second disclaimer: don’t read if lots of walking gives you brain blisters*

Okay, hope you enjoyed that! Now I’m gonna try and do some blog hopping… wish me luck!

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My Top Ten Fantasy Books

I’m very excited about today’s post! A couple of days ago, I mentioned how Red Sister had the power of reminding me about why I had fallen in love with fantasy. And as I was doing the post, I realised I have never done a post about my favourite fantasy books.

Ever since being obsessed with Peter Pan as a child, I have always loved escaping to other worlds in books. And since these are *my* personal favourites, this post is about to get super nostalgic up in here 😉

Hobbit_cover
1. The Hobbit– although I will give an honorary mention to LOTR, this one was always my favourite of Tolkein’s work. More than that, it was my gateway drug for fantasy and the main reason why I love dragons #TeamSmaug

northern lights
2. His Dark Materials– this is another one I remember from childhood and it’s stayed with me over the years as one of the best series I have ever read.

sabriel
3. The Abhorsen Trilogy– ahh I cannot say how much I loved this book- I was obsessed with it in my teens and used to take it out the library over and over to reread it back to back. To my mind it’s the *perfect* dark fantasy and the best story about necromancy I have ever read.

the novice

4. Black Magicians Trilogy– so this is a funny one to include, because I didn’t initially like this series. I felt letdown by the first book and only continued because the last part picked up enough to have me intrigued about where it was going. I was so glad I con tinued though, because by the end of this series I had fallen in love with the characters and became so invested in the series that I was *wrecked* when it was all over. So yeah, definitely top ten material.

demon king

5. Seven Realms Series– I can’t actually think of another series with characters I’ve loved more. This series is nothing totally original, but man, does it get you with the *feels*.

daughter of smoke and bone

6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy– this is one of the very rare series I’ve rated 5* across the board- and for good reason! Call me a sucker for a good romance, this series had love interests I was actually routing for the whole way through. Add an incredibly clever storyline and utterly unique world-building and, *bobs your uncle*, you get one of the best series I’ve ever read.

carry on

7. Carry On– I absolutely adored this book. I wrote a post titled “ten reasons to read Carry On”- but to be honest, I could probably think of ten more! Not least because it is such a fun book that for a change doesn’t take itself too seriously. I love how it subtly pokes fun at the genre, whilst also delivering some the most emotional and interesting storylines to date! And speaking of funny books…

anansi boys

8. Anansi Boys– oh man do I love this book!! Yeah, I’m a Gaiman fan- and proud of it! This one is easily my favourite (though I won’t say no to anything he’s written to be honest)

mort nice edition

9. Discworld Series– come on- did anyone not see this coming? And for the record, my favourite to date is Mort.

NeverendingStory1997Edition

10. Neverending Story– this is the most recently read book on this list, but it *easily* made it onto this favourites list. One of the best books I read last year, it is self-aware, smart and very imaginative. Plus, it’s a book about books- and you know how much I adore those!

So I like to think there will be others to add to my list of fantasy favourites one day- and I can already think of some candidates from series I’ve not finished yet… but for now…

that's all folks

(actually can’t believe that I’ve never used that joke before)

How about you? What are your favourite fantasy books? Let me know in the comments!