When I go to the library, I used to scour the shelves for the little unicorn emblem they used to mark the fantasy books; now, I take a glance and choose to look away.
This makes me sad. It’s not to say that the books now are any better or worse than they used to be, rather they’re the same. I can still enjoy a good story, but it’s not as exciting as before: when I hadn’t been exposed to the norm of the genre. I look for the sci-fi books more now and I will give you five reasons why:
1. Character Development – While a character may not make it through the end of the book, I find that character arcs are too similar. It is like reading murder mysteries in that I can tell what part of the character arc I’m on depending on how far into the book I am. In the beginning, they’re a nobody, by half way, they’re starting to be somebody and had a big loss, three-fourths is when they’re building themselves back up for another big loss then they overcome the great evil at the end. An example of this would be Robin Hobb’s Assassin Apprentice. Though a very entertaining book, the character arc was the same and I could follow the path of the story with moderate accuracy.
Side characters are also the same. There is a sort of mentor figure that probably will but might not die or turn evil. There is a friend usually or an animal companion if the main character is pegged as a loner. Most are one-dimensional and their worlds seem to revolve around the main character with no other aspects hinted at.
2. Similar world set ups – There is an overwhelming sort of world in the fantasy genre. While it doesn’t need to be the medieval set-up, there is a caste system/magic system that is always no different from something we’ve already seen. Some would argue that there is a certain limitation to world-building for it to be considered fantasy, but I would argue that there is almost as much freedom as in sci-fi. We are only limited by our conventions and perceptions and expectations. There are hardly any worlds anymore in which I am invigorated and excited by the difference in the worlds.
An example of a book that has a dynamic fantasy setting would be Abarat by Clive Barker. Though in a fantastical setting, the world building is fascinating and the magic differs from the norm. The worlds don’t even have to be different. In the Kushiel Series, the world is an alternate take of our own – just with a differing governing and belief system that was unique.
3.. Simple Stories – The stories tend to be simple — never in the scope of the piece, but there is a sort of predictableness. Some of this has to do with the lack of character development, but even side characters are predictable. I used to read fantasy for some kind of philosophical question that I could bring back to the real world. What does it mean when you encounter a civilization that is just as advanced as you are, but with great differences? What happens when the people don’t look like you or have different magics? All these questions have been addressed and answered in their own way multiple times. Nothing that I’ve read recently really questions the environment the story takes place in or moral ambiguity in a new way. There are just redundant topics and a black vs. white dichotomy that is hard to be interested in for very long.
4.Character Tropes – We all know that there is a trope of a ‘chosen one’ in fantasy. I feel like we’ve moved away from the more obvious forms of that, but now there seems to be some kind of profession trope. Assassin, farmer, hidden royal. I’ve all seen them played in different scenarios with different results, but they become old. There’s only so much about poison I can learn about, only so much about horses. There are different aspects that I enjoy seeing being focused on depending on the author’s knowledge, but surely there are other professions that can be explored. Minstrels like in Patrick Rothfuss’s Name on the Wind series, mendicants like in the Kushiel series.
5. Unrelatable – There is nothing to take back into my life. The main characters often function in a way that I can appreciate, but not one that I can relate to. Who goes into a battle after getting shoved on their butt by a trainer? Or when my arm and ribs get broken, that I can soldier on and defeat the bad guy. I sure wouldn’t think I could live! And I don’t think I would survive by lucky chance that my friend showed up just in time. I would never be able to ask so much of strangers no matter the circumstance. I would never happenstance be amazing at anything, I generally have to put in a lot of work just to become passing! These are all things that throw me out of a story, something that just doesn’t seem to make sense.
Again, there is a movement away from most common fantasy tropes, but I find that there is a lack of experimentation within the genre. I am always willing to read new stories, though, so if there’s anything that completely doesn’t fit what I’ve claimed, feel free to let me know in the comments. I’m just tired of reading the same or similar stories. I love badass women (as seen HERE) but I can’t read about them being warrior, amazing, chosen ones all the time with magic powers that no one else seems to have (see Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson and The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop and The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce).
I guess, what this post is really saying is please let me know there are more books out there that aren’t the same! Leave me some recommendations as I am sorely hurting for a great fantasy book!