In today’s post I’ll be focusing on fantasy fiction, a venerable genre that has experienced an explosion in popularity in recent years. As Wikipedia explains, fantasy is a genre that uses magic and other supernatural forms as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. Fantasy is often grouped together with it’s sibling genres (horror and science fiction) under the umbrella of speculative fiction, or SF, as they all share similarities. Generally speaking, what sets fantasy apart is an avoidance of scientific or macabre themes.
Fantasy has always been one of my great loves. I grew up in a fantasy friendly household; my parents owned a well-thumbed set of the Lord of The Rings trilogy as well as several of the cartoon film adaptations (such as The Hobbit), all of which I heartily enjoyed. Learning to read in kindergarten and first grade, I slowly developed my new found skills by consuming juvenile literature and comic books, but it wasn’t until my second grade year that my reading abilities really blossomed. The catalyst occurred when my older half-brother introduced me to his stash of fantasy novels while I was visiting on vacation. I was instantly hooked. I devoured all the books in his collection, including such seminal works as Weis & Hickman’s Dragons of Winter Night and Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard. Upon arriving back home from vacationing, I dragged my mother around to numerous bookstores and hobby shops, doing my best to acquire more books to satisfy my growing hunger for fantasy fiction.
That hunger has remained with me to the present day, and luckily the modern fantasy fiction landscape features an abundance of talented, prolific authors available to satisfy my cravings. In fact, a couple of recent articles have noted that the genre is experiencing a boom. Continually rising annual sales have given it the distinction of being the biggest genre in publishing, and the plethora of talented young authors in the field promising a high volume of quality works in the years to come.
If fantasy is a genre you might be interested in, allow me to recommend a few of my favorites.
Fans of the epic fantasy produced by J.R.R. Tolkien might enjoy Banewreaker by Jacqueline Carey, the first of two novels wherein the majority of the protagonists are individuals that are considered “evil” by the rest of the world. Jacqueline Carey is also the author of the Kushiel series of novels, which I highly recommend.
Quite at odds with the Tolkien-esque variety of fantasy fiction is that produced by China Miéville, author of Perdido Street Station, a multiple award winning book set in the city-state of New Crobuzon and featuring a cast of exotic and alien characters, magic (thaumaturgy) and steampunk technology. Miéville describes his work as “weird fiction“, and it is, but it is all the more pleasurable for it. A must read.
George R. R. Martin currently holds the distinction of being my favorite fantasy author. His Song of Ice and Fire series has won numerous awards (the first three novels each received the Locus Award) and garnered accolades for it’s richly detailed setting, incredibly complex and numerous characters (as well as the ruthlessness with which he is willing to kill off major characters as the plot advances), and epic scope. The first book in the series is titled A Game of Thrones and I can’t suggest it forcefully enough! There is one caveat, however; the series isn’t finished yet, with another three volumes still to come, so prepare yourself for a painstaking wait after you’ve finished reading the currently published material.
And finally, no list of fantasy novels would be complete without a mention of the Harry Potter series of books by J.K. Rowling. This series, both the books and movies, has had a profound effect on the fantasy genre by inculcating a whole new generation of children with a love of reading in general and fantasy fiction in particular. It is difficult to overstate its impact and it will remain relevant in the world of literature for many years to come.
I’ll have to stop there due to space constraints, but your exploration of the fantasy genre can continue! A great place to start is this article profiling the “20 greatest fantasy writers of all time”. Check it out.