10 reasons why fantasy is the greatest literary genre

10, no, 12 reasons why fantasy is the greatest literary genre

Fantasy is a genre unique, because it’s a massively selfish act on the part of the author, but is simultaneously entirely about the reader. Fantasy is and always has been the genre I enjoy reading the most. Why? Read on. Then leave a comment telling me why I’m wrong. Or, you know, being nice.


1. Freedom. What is it that possesses people to search out books set in the normal world about crappy relationships, or walking dogs, or someone’s family? How can any of those scenarios be better than a book about crappy relationships between dragon riders, or someone’s family when Dad just happens to be ensorcelled by the Demon Azgaroth? Or walking trolls?

OK, I’m not sure the last one has much scope, but really, why limit yourself?

2. Language. I’ll admit, the Demon Azgaroth isn’t the most exciting use of the English language ever, but the wonders created by Tolkien, or Rowling (please forgive me for the unintentional comparison. (I know, I know, but how good a word is ‘muggle’? It’s just perfect)) are glorious. Without Fantasy these words and languages might never have come into being.

3. Worlds. This is as much for writers as readers. How exciting is it to plunge into a new world, a place never before walked by one of your own kind? You can write about London until the cows come home, but unless it’s being invaded by sloth aliens from the planets Shnoo, it’s still London. I love London, but when I sit down to read, I’d rather go to Daruhjistan, or Dros Delnoch.

4. Contrast. In direct competition with the one above, if, like me, you write the awkwardly titled Contemporary fantasy, it may be the glorious contrast of the terrible Schnoo aliens with the Houses of Parliament that particularly excite you.  (I’ll admit it now, Schnoo is the worst name for an alien race ever conceived. Ever).  This contrast, the ability to skew what is normal and expected is, sometimes, what makes fantasy so compelling.

5. Characters. I’m back to the questions with this one. You have two choices. You’re going to read about a terrible moral dilemma , possibly involving theft and even death. Would you like the person going through this dilemma to be a) Dave, computer engineer and father of three or b)Drake Hardsack, gifted swordsman, wench magnet and all round, well, hardsack? You just look at that and think, ‘well, Dave, I’m sure your story is compelling and deeply moving, but me, I’m going for the swords and shit’.

6. Rules. When is a story ever going to be made worse by the main character having the ability to fly? Wuthering Heights, Heart of Darkness, Catch 22. All great books (except for Wuthering Heights. Honestly, that just bored the hell out of me), but can you truly stand up and say they wouldn’t have been more fun with some simple levitation or maybe a death ray in there somewhere? Fantasy has rules, don’t get me wrong. If it’s written well, the rules are the same as for any other story. You must care about the characters, they must do what people would do in any given situation and so on. But, and this is the important bit, you always have to follow those rules (unless the Schnoos are around, in which case you can probably just throw it all out the window), so why not get rid of the dull ones at least, like gravity, or not hitting people with big spiky bits of metal?

7. Variety. If you like to read fiction, you’re likely to hit some pretty similar themes, places and so on fairly quickly. There is of course nothing wrong with this. Fiction so often resonates for that precise reason. But I love knowing that when you open a fantasy book, anything could happen. Swords, magic, fair maidens, evil wenches, fiends and demons, superheroes, star cruisers, aliens, talking animals and so…hang on, sorry scratch the talking animals, some things just shouldn’t be allowed. You get the idea. If it’s written well enough, you can still get the emotion and the Schnoos, all in one place. OK, I’ll stop with them now. Promise.

8. Your own mind. This may seem a little obtuse, but I think it bears saying. As I mentioned earlier, London will always look like London. A good author may help you to see it in a different light, but it’s still pretty much as is. I’m fairly certain that no one in the world sees the Discworld quite the same way as me. That’s not because Mr. Pratchett doesn’t describe things well, quite the opposite in fact, but because it only exists in my head. It exists in millions of other’s as well, but my version is the only one that counts, because it’s my experience of it that matters.

9. Swords

10. Chicks with swords.

11. Chicks with swords riding dragons at the head of a huge army, hell behind them and victory or death in front.

12. Schnoos.





Your starting point for discovering the wonderful world of fantasy novels

Perhaps you’ve watched A Game of Thrones (ace), or read a lot of comics (also ace), and now fancy delving more into the written world of fantasy. Or maybe you love horror but are branching out. Whatever it may be, this blog is your starting point to discovering the wonderful world of fantasy novels. If you think of any other stories I’ve missed, do comment and let us know.

I should point out that all classifications are mine as being the best way I can think of to describe them. Amazon may disagree!

  1. Magician by Raymond E Feist

This wondrous book begins as a classic tale of one boys’ ascent from average Joe, to magician extraordinaire. His journey underpins the entire novel and gives it resonance and depth. However, where it stands head and shoulders above so many others is in the scope and depth that Feist brings to it. From the humble beginnings the world soon becomes much bigger as a raft of characters are introduced, war begins and aliens invade. The world is beautifully realised, the characters thoroughly likeable and the action thrilling. Feist is also unafraid to take his people to unexpected places. The key relationship between our hero Pug and his best friend Tomas is never simple or comfortable.

I could rave about this for days, but to keep it short, if you want to try some swords and sorcery, epic scale fantasy that won’t tax your brain too much, start here.

Like this? Try: the rest of the series from the same author, known as the Riftwar saga.

  1. The Elenium by David Eddings

David Eddings is one of the great masters of the quest fantasy. What Tolkien started many, many authors have run with, though few as successfully or just generally as satisfyingly as Eddings.

The three book series that is The Elenium focuses on a Knight called Sparhawk and his travels to save his young and very beautiful queen, who is encased in diamond to keep her alive. Of course, Sparhawk is joined on his voyage by a number of others, all possessing severe likeability (my blog, my words, nur) and suitable heroism. They are wonderfully easy to read and contain enough cynicism to keep them from spilling over into cheese.

So, the short version is, if you like quests and swords and magic and knights, read this.

Like this? Try: Any of Eddings’ other series, the Belgariad, the Mallorean and the Tamuli.

  1. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

This series lasted for an eye-watering 14 books. Don’t panic, I know, it sounds daunting, but let me explain.

This was a top notch update of the quest fantasy as described above. Taking the, at the time more current approach of throwing some relatively innocent types into the firing line, Jordan did a cracking job of really humanising the action while keeping it exciting. The first three or four books in the series really deliver and are well worth the read.

As to whether to read the entire series, it’s up to you. I would argue that there are enough great books out there that you may not need to feel compelled to churn through the lot, but it’s your call.

In short, innocents in danger, beasties, fights and so forth.

Like this? Try: Well, there are a few more of them to go. Also, the Shannara books, by Terry Brooks

  1. The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

You may have noticed by now that fantasy authors don’t like to stop at only one. Call them greedy, whatever, I must admit I rather like it.

Coming bang up to date now, I would describe this as being character driven epic fantasy. It follows multiple characters across different settings, some of whom cross paths, often painfully, but always comes back to the characters. Following the exploits of three fairly unsavoury, yet oddly endearing types, plus a heap of others, the books slowly weave a number of interlocking webs. The overall message? Don’t trust anyone, they’re all out to get you. I would describe them as being a little more mature than the previous books and they’re certainly harder hitting. Be prepared for some fairly unpleasant happenings.

In short, nasty things happening to mostly nasty people, whom you can’t help rooting for, all in a fantastically realised world. With swords.

Like this? Try: Abercrombie has released three other standalone novels all within the same world, which are just as good.

  1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Just the one. No trilogy or series here, no sir. This brings Fantasy into our world, so I think you could call it contemporary fantasy. Telling the tale of one mans’ journey through the America one only sees in Gaiman’s imagination, the book explores mythology both old and new as the ancient gods, dying out as belief in them runs out, must fight the new gods of the modern world. Told through the eyes of ex-convict Shadow, the book is a classic example of Gaimans’ magical ability to infuse every word with mystery and wonder.

In short, very cool, mesmerising and atmospheric, with a cracking concept.

Like this? Try: Anansi boys, also by Neil Gaiman.

  1. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

I’m not sure whether to call this contemporary fantasy or science fiction. It’s very much real worldly, but sometime in the future. I guess I still think that science fiction has to have space somewhere in it, an opinion for which I would probably get laughed at for, but there it is. So, sitting somewhere between the two, Snow crash is a wonderful tale of Avatars with swords, crazy whale hunters and so much more than I can paraphrase here. Based, essentially, around a computer virus, which is a big deal when half of your life is spent in the Metaverse, the successor to the internet, the characters travel around the world in search of the necessary answers.

In short, crazy futuristic fantasy, crammed with ideas and action.

Like this? Try: Maul by Tricia Sullivan

  1. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Based in the real world, this is a wonderful example of contemporary fantasy. Mixing up Pratchett’s absurd humour with Gaiman’s love of legend, the books focus around an angel and demon, best friends and rather attached to their lives on earth. As the time of reckoning approaches, they, along with an assortment of others attempt to find the Antichrist, prophesied to bring about the end of days. It’s great fun and a wonderful introduction to both authors.

In short, hilarious, poignant and a little silly.

Like this? Try: Anything by either author (see above and below). Also, Robert Rankin

  1. Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Discworld series is, to my mind, one of the greatest fantasy creations of modern times. Behind the humour and impressively human characters, lies a brilliantly conceived world, complete in every way. Having created this amazing place, Pratchett takes great pleasure in this, the first of many books in the series, in throwing his luckless hero Rincewind from one side of it to the other. Rincewind, the eternal pessimist and (anti)hero of the book spends his time stumbling from one life threatening situation to the next, spurred on by the most positive tourist the Discworld has ever seen.

In short, lots of running, screaming and complaining and about a thousand times more funny than that makes it sound.

Like This? Try: There are 39 Discworld novels out there, what’s keeping you?

  1. Legend by David Gemmell

The late David Gemmell was a master of what I would describe as Heroic Fiction. Although his heroes are often unwilling, they posses the morals that we should demand of our muscley fighty types. In Legend, his hero is an old man, past his fighting prime, apparently. Of course, he still manages to defend a castle single handedly whilst being really cool and really, really hard. Gemmell succeeds so well in this because although the plot isn’t the deepest, the characters are just great, and you cannot help but root for them every time.

In short, heroes with swords and axes fighting and being heroic, but not cheesy. A difficult balance to strike.

Like this? Try: Waylander, the King Beyond the Gate and assorted others, all by Gemmell.


What makes the fantasy genre so cool? A quick & quirky list

Hmmm, what else is cool? My last blog on this got me creating lists, for I am both sad and geeky, and lists bring me pleasure. Yup, that’s how it is, deal with it.

So, I had a trawl down memory lane of as many of the fantasy books as I could remember and picked out the things that always seemed to work, no matter the author or particular style.

  1. The mysterious warrior, with a dark past and some sort of cool weaponry. I’m thinking Aragorn, Waylander etc.
  2. Magic swords. There’s nothing quite like an enchanted sword of ancient times, rich with history and power. And really good for chopping things.
  3. Dragons, with wings and fire. It’s difficult to go wrong with dragons really and a number of recent, wonderful additions to the genre (the Malazan series and A Game of Thrones primarily) have really given them a new lease of life.
  4. Hard chicks. Sorry if that seems a little blunt, but I think that fantasy’s willingness to offer sexual equality through the judicial use of pointy things in worlds that are dominated by men is often overlooked and under-appreciated. Few things are as cool as a woman kicking ass.
  5. Double hard magicians. It’s a cliché to end on, but no fantasy series is quite complete without at least one mystical, all knowing yet annoyingly hands off magic user.

So there it is, the first of many lists. I make no apologies and would, of course, love to read any suggestions you may have.


“Dragons are generally cool” a comment on the fantasy genre and how it gets short shrift with the literary community

My wife and I got talking the other day about the things within my genre that are cool. This led to me trying to explain to her that the Sci-fi and Fantasy worlds were complex, featuring any number of different sub-genres and, as a result, what may be cool for some readers may well not be for others. The title of this blog was uttered by me at some point within the chat and it’s a statement that I stand by, though with a smile on my face.

I feel quite strongly that the fantasy/sci-fi/horror genre within the world of books is still looked down upon by the rest of the literary community. The word novel, as described by the Oxford English Dictionary clearly fits many a contemporary fantasy, or epic piece of Sci-Fi, yet when we look at the Man Booker prize (contemporary fiction), the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and many others, no fantasy appears. Once again, the dictionary suggests that to be fiction, a story simply needs to be imagined, not factual. I’m fairly certain that A Game of Thrones has come out of G.R.R. Martin’s head, yet his books so far remain well removed from these lists.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am in no way devaluing the awards like Locus, Nebula or Hugo. I love that the genre has it’s own awards and, based on the depth and breadth of the field, they’re much needed. However, almost by having those awards, the Sci-Fi and Fantasy field are sidelined from what you could call mainstream literature.

Any thoughts?