What do you think of when you hear about Fantasy Fiction? For me, it was ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Harry Potter’. Until recently, I thought of other Fantasy Fiction as long, heavy-going books which required immense brain power and concentration to decipher. The ‘Silmarillion’ springs to mind. However, after recently giving Fantasy a go again, I have really got into the genre and I have read five Fantasy books consecutively. I have enjoyed all of them and will tell you a bit about each one.
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
Like many people I watched ‘His Dark Materials’ over Christmas on the BBC and after enjoying it thought I would give the books a go. They were highly recommended and being in self-isolation, I thought I have got nothing to lose by trying them. Straight away I was really impressed by the story telling of Philip Pullman. His fantasy world was so similar to our own but at the same time so different. I was especially intrigued by Mrs Coulter, Lord Asriel and Lee Scoresby. It was not a simple case of straight forward good vs bad. Instead the characters had immense depth to them and carefully constructed back stories.
I would say though what I liked best about Northern Lights was having armoured polar bears that talk. When Iorek meets Iofur it is epic! Also, as a Geographer I enjoyed seeing the plot move to Svalbard in the Arctic, because the place has always fascinated me.
The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky
This book has really impressed me by its depth of imagination and excellent character development. Whilst the world is extremely different to our own, you can still relate really well to each character and immerse yourself into the story. Right from the beginning through to the end I could never predict what would happen next. There are several bombshells dropped that completely turn the tide when you least expect it.
To make things interesting in this story each character belongs to a clan and they can shift into that clan’s animal form as well as their human form. The main character Maniye is unique in that she can shift into both a wolf and a tiger. This is because her father is a Wolf Chieftan but her mother was a Tiger Queen. This causes Maniye great anguish as she struggles to find her own identity. She is continually looking for acceptance. Other characters I found really fascinating in this story were Hesprec Essen the snake, Loud Thunder the bear and Broken Axe the lone wolf.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
If you like scary sorcerers and spells then this is the book for you! Agnieszka lives in a quiet, little village that is by a forest that casts a dark spell over everyone. Villagers steer clear of the forest as many have been lost to it and never returned. A strange, feared wizard called the Dragon lives alone in a tower to protect the village from dark magic. However, every ten years he must pick a women from the village to serve him. No servant ever comes back the same. Against expectation Agnieszka is chosen to serve the Wizard and her life changes forever.
There is great inventiveness and imagination in this story as rival wizards from neighbouring kingdoms clash, monsters lurk round every dark corner and kings and princes lose reason as they crave power. From old dusty books hiding dark secrets to characters being stuck between the worlds of the living and the dead, this story goes far beyond what you would imagine. I would say the meticulous detail of the spellmaking really stands out.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
This had everything I wanted from an epic fantasy story. Set in a medieval kingdom called Lithvas, the main character Miryem begins the story as a peasant girl, but her success at turning silver into gold soon draws the attention of the feared Staryk King who is more ice than human and lives in his own magical winter kingdom. He is supposedly intent on making winter last forever in Lithvas.
Another key character called Irina marries the Tsar but soon realises that there are dark forces at work in the Tsars life. What can she do to stop him? Including winter wonderlands, enchanted forests, Eastern European folklore and mirrors to magical worlds I thought this story was excellently constructed. Starting off in a humble peasantry village the plot quickly accelerates and revolves around powerful dark forces that look like they can never be stopped. You find with this story nothing is as simple as it seems. The main characters all follow complicated paths that end up crossing over. The question is which of them will survive?
The Bear & The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
I have noticed a pattern emerging as I get to this book. Another excellent adventure this time set in Medieval Russia, full of traditional folklore. Much of the plot takes place in a small Russian Village on the edge of a forest in the North. The main character Vasya has special abilities to see spirits. Does this make her holy or an evil witch?
A young priest named Konstantin moves to the village determined to rid the village of its old traditional folklore ways and convert it to Orthodox Christianity. The conflict between those following the two belief systems is intriguing. As supernatural occurrence’s become more prevalent throughout the story, there is continual need to deny them and explain them with reason. The conflicts between belief systems and the supernatural make this read engrossing. Katherine Arden regularly uses her excellent knowledge of Russian folklore in this novel. She has spent time living there herself and studied a Russian degree. Look out for Morozko and Medved and of course you won’t miss the vampires.
It’s always a sad feeling when after really getting drawn into a long book you finish it. Just picking any other book to start is not the same. You have really got to know the characters and all of a sudden your time with them is over. Now you have to pick a new story and get to know a whole load of new faces again. You are not alone when picking a new story though. I have listed some ways I try and find a new story below as well as some new ideas.
Fantastic Fiction – When I want to see a list of all the books an author that I like has published and in what order this is the best website to go to. It is up to date and gives me the essential information that I need. It also tells you about new books soon to be published so you will not miss out and gives you recommendations of other authors to try if you are looking for a bit of inspiration.
Goodreads – This is my favourite website to browse when choosing a new book. As well as having my own account and getting recommendations based on what I have read before, there are many other excellent features to the website as well. The ‘browse’ section lets you search really specifically by genre. When I looked at Fantasy, there were 16 related genres to choose from including Unicorn Fantasy, Heroic Fantasy and the Fantasy of Manners. If you do not want such a specific list you can easily look at the ‘most read’ books of the week or ‘new releases’ instead.
What I really like about Goodreads is the opportunity to interact with other bookworms. A great feature is that people can share their own recommendation lists with others. Some are what you would expect such as ‘the best fantasy books so far of the 21st century’ whilst others are more out there such as ‘the sword and laser fantasy list’.
Booktubers – I did not give this idea a thought until recently but Youtube has many Booktubers who regularly share videos of their book reviews with thousands of people. The videos vary greatly with individual book reviews, top ten lists and favourite books of the year being just a few of the types of videos that get made. Booktuber channels with many subscribers include the PeruseProject channel with 294K subscribers, Mercy Napier with 161K subscribers, Daniel Greene 157K with subscribers and Iasmina Edina with 27.3K subscribers. Iasmina has recently released a video on best fantasy series for beginners which is worth checking out.
There are many more Booktubers out there so it is worth having a browse on Youtube yourself and subscribing to the ones that appeal to you.
Podcasts – Searching on Spotify, I have found a lot more available than just music and listening to podcasts has become another way I find reviews about books. There are weekly podcasts such as the ‘The Book Review’ by the New York Times, the ‘Guardian Books Podcast’ and ‘Quick Book Reviews’. You find some podcasts are hour long programmes whilst others are short and sharp.
When you next get the train and there is the usual delay listening to a podcast is an excellent way to spend that extra hour you have waiting around. If after reading this blog you want to hear more about Fantasy fiction then the ‘Fantasy Book of the Month’ podcast on Spotify is a good one to listen to.
PressReader – PressReader is a great way of reading book reviews from newspapers, magazines and supplements and it is available free to Warwickshire Libraries members. Newspapers are available from worldwide as well. When I gave PressReader a go, I found some well-known book review supplements such as the Guardian Book Review and the Telegraph Review. I could easily flick through them on my computer without having to mess around trying to fold the broadsheets.
Seeing that much more was available than just the UK broadsheets I looked to see what else I could find. I strongly recommend it! Why not look at the book reviews in newspapers from a completely different continent. You may find a gem! Some interesting supplements I found included the ‘Weekend Australian Review’ and ‘The New York Review of Books’.
I have certainly enjoyed diving into a good array of Fantasy Books recently and recommend you try some as well. The fact that I still want to read more Fantasy books after reading five rather than banish them for good from my house is definitely an encouraging sign.
With so many different websites now available to help you choose a book it is much easier to find one that is appealing for you. Anyway, in this lockdown if you are using Borrowbox and pick one that you do not like you can simply return it and pick another that is better suited for you. It’s a win, win situation!