Ah, fantasy, you tricky beast. When I started blogging, I was sure that fantasy, at least high fantasy, just wasn’t for me. Then the blogosphere wore me down, and I began to realize that I actually did like quite a bit of fantasy, yay!
But recently, I have been rethinking my stance yet again. In pretty much every fantasy review I write, I say “fantasy has been hit or miss with me lately”, which is… odd. I mean, obviously there are books of every genre that a reader will enjoy and not enjoy, but with fantasy, the divide seems wider than in any other group.
So it got me asking myself a few questions:
- Time out what if I actually don’t like fantasy and was right all along?
- Are there certain sub-genres that work better than others?
- Can I manage to pinpoint what I do like versus what I don’t?
- Is this high key the Hype Monster™’s fault? Gosh he’s an asshole.
- Am I just a hopeless mess of a person?
I mean, that last one is a given, yeah? But okay, since I do enjoy fantasies and probably don’t want to give them up altogether, I should probably look into option number three. Perhaps I can at least get better at predicting what I will have a higher likelihood of enjoying, hmm? So I took a bit of a stroll down Fantasy-Review-Lane to see what junk I liked in the books I rated highly, and what seemed to irk me in the ones I rated lower. I have decided to bless you with the results.
The Junk I Liked
- Super high stakes. Look, I want to be unsure of everyone’s survival. And I want it to be more than just one person’s life on the line. I love books where you genuinely don’t know if the whole damn kingdom will make it out okay because I guess I am evil like that.
- Unique premises and/or genre mixes. Books like Crier’s War and Romanov have really revitalized my interest in fantasy. The former is a fantasy/sci- fi mix, while the latter mixes history with fantasy. And I love that! So it seems when fantasy is shaken up a bit, I take a greater liking to it.
- Awesome characters. I mean, I think this is universal, no? We need to be able to root for (or hate, depending) the character(s). But not just the main character! I want to care about their friends, their families, their enemies. Because without the supporting cast, the main characters’ stories mean precious little.
- The darker the better. This probably says something disturbing about me, but if I am going to read fantasy, I generally like an awful shithole of a place. OR, even better, a place that at first seems nice but is actually a raging trash inferno.
- Humor is key. I guess because I am such a fan of dark and deadly, we need some levity? Sure, let’s go with that.
The Junk that Irked Me:
- Birds. This is a no-brainer, friends. Actually, I am going to take it a step further and extra-specify birdpeople because they are the worst. They don’t make sense. Do they have a beak? Do they lay eggs or carry their young internally? Look, biology doesn’t support this, and unlike mermaids, they’re not enchanting, they’re just silly and aerodynamically impossible.
- Convoluted magic systems. These are actually impressive to me from a writing perspective. Like props to you, author, for this is incredibly creative! But my brain is simply not able to handle it, and sadly, I have given up.
- Slow pacing. See, in most books, I am totally fine with slower paced and character driven. I have loved sci-fi books that meander for 800 pages through middle America, or contemporaries that give us a glimpse into the characters’ mundanities. But for whatever reason, I just can’t do it in a fantasy. The ones that have worked best for me feel like they’re moving at least somewhat quickly.
- Lackluster world-building. This is hard to define. Basically, I wish to know all the things. So if the world is entirely separate from our own, you’re going to need to give me the backstory, though preferably not in an info-dump. But I can’t get on board with your war/uprising/whatever if there’s no context for it. Sorry, just can’t!
The funny part of all of this critique and introspection is that I almost never read synopses and probably won’t have any idea if the books contain any of this junk. Good luck, me, because I doubt I’ll ever change.