What makes a good Fantasy read (or not) – 3)

fantasy castleIn the first two blogs of this series I looked at what can stop me reading some sci-fi books.  So now as, I guess with most sci-fi fans, I also read Fantasy its only fair to turn my attention to some of the specific issues that genre raises.  I must say I have read some great Fantasy books and series of books.  The first I came across were David Eddings and the Belgariad series.  I then found Raymond Feist and have read everything he’s written.  More recently I have devoured all David Gemmell’s books, who I think is a fantastic story teller.  But then are also those that have left me feeling frustrated, some of which have been very successful.  Here’s why:

1)  Magic solves everything

I think if you’re not careful with Fantasy, which includes magic in one form or another, magic is the ultimate way out.  It becomes the answer to everything.  It must be a difficult balance.  If your hero is a magician, as a reader you wait with anticipation for the next time they use it.  But I think if you’re not careful it can also become a bit of a cliché.  I read four or five of the Robert Jordan wheel of time series, which I know is very popular and successful, so I may get some disagreement here.  But I stopped for the reason outlined above.  The main hero would go through the book getting deeper and deeper into trouble to the point where it seemed impossible to escape (whatever the situation was).  Then, low and behold, they find they have some hitherto unknown magic power that gets them out of it.  The first few times it worked for me, I looked forward to it.  But, after that?

2)  The Repetitive Series

I hate to pick on Robert Jordan again and I did enjoy the first ones I read.  Also, I haven’t read the later ones so perhaps they’ve changed (maybe someone could let me know).  But, by four or five they seemed quite similar (formulaic?).  The hero and his good lady would start together, happy.  Then something awful would happen and they would be split up.  Would they get back together?, how could that possibly be?  Well yes of course they did, thanks to some fantastic magical power he didn’t  know he had.  So then they’re back together, ready to start again in the next book.

3) Haven’t I read this story before?

There seem to be two main stories that crop up time and time again (at least it seems that way).  What I call the ‘Harry Potter’ story.  Boy becomes powerful magician etc.  For me the best of this type is ‘The Magician’ by Raymond Feist, which in some ways I wouldn’t put in that list because it is so much more.  Then there is the ‘Lord of the Rings’ story.  This is the quest saga.  I started reading one not long ago that appears in all the book shops and is obviously successful.  But halfway through it I couldn’t go on.  Swap the ring for a sword and, it was ‘Lord of the Rings’.  At the centre of it was the ‘ordinary one’, there was a mysterious magician type, some haughty knight come nobleman, a dwarf or two.  Anyway you  get the picture.  Oh yes and they were on a quest.   Plus, there was an over reliance on adverbs (see blog 2 of this series).

So, those are the three main things that have stopped me reading Fantasy.  But they do seem to crop up with alarming regularity.  This, I admit, has put me off genre of late, unless it’s a new Gemmell or Feist etc.  I would also point out Robin Hobb with the  Assassins Apprentice and Magic Ships series as something different.  Of course there is also George RR Martin with, ‘The Game of Thrones’, who seems to keep it fresh by regularly culling all the characters you’ve become used to.

Again if you agree, let me know.  Also, if you disagree let me know.  Finally, if you can recommend a really good, new fantasy author I’d be grateful.

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

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