Fantasy: A Plethora of Choices

Every now and again, I’ll hear someone say “I don’t like fantasy,” even though they’ve never read any. Of course, everyone has their own preferences in literature, which is totally fine, but I sometimes think that what people mean is that they don’t like a certain type of fantasy. There’s much more than just swords and magic when it comes to fantasy (although I happen to love books that have swords and magic).

Here are a few sub-genres, with explanations, as well as examples of books that fit into each category. Of course, I’m in no way an expert, and some of these books can fit quite comfortably in multiple sub-genres. Talk to me! Tell me what I got right, what I messed up, and what I missed completely. Here goes nothing!

High Fantasy: High fantasy is probably what comes to mind first when people hear “fantasy.” There are some characteristics that separate high fantasy from other kinds of fantasy. First of all, it’s very character-focused. The choices made by a single character, or a few, are most important. High fantasy is set in its own world with its own defined rules of magic. A common theme is good vs. evil.

Examples: The Swans’ War trilogy by Sean Russell; The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman; The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Epic Fantasy: Epic fantasy is, well…epic. It usually consists of a threat to the entire world and has a large cast of characters, as opposed to the few that characterize high fantasy. While The Hobbit, for example, is high fantasy, The Lord of the Rings is what I would classify as epic fantasy. There’s a larger cast of characters, and a danger to the entire world.
Examples: Game of Thrones; Wheel of Time; Lord of the Rings

Low Fantasy: Low fantasy is characterized by magical events that intrude on daily life in a normal world.
Examples: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett; American Gods by Neil Gaiman; Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Sword and Sorcery: Well, aside from the obvious (swords and magic), think romance, and adventure. Sword and Sorcery is a bit on the pulpy side (nothing wrong with that). I always picture 80’s era Sylvester Stallone as the movie equivalent of a Sword and Sorcery hero.
Examples: Conan the Barbarian; Legend by David Gemmell. Honestly, I’m on the fence about including Legend here, as it doesn’t seem as pulpy as other Sword and Sorcery books, but I’m drawing a blank on other examples. What would you add to this category?

Military Fantasy: This is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s basically military life in a fantasy setting, often following one solider, or a small company.
Examples: The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher; The Black Company by Glen Cook

Grimdark Fantasy: Don’t expect happily ever after’s or the archetypal heroes. Grimdark is marked with violence, morally gray as well as completely amoral characters. It also doesn’t shy away from violence.
Examples: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff; The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Dark Fantasy/ Gothic Fantasy: This sub-genre incorporates themes of death, fear, and romance. It has a darker tone, and elements of horror. Think Edgar Allen Poe- goes fantasy, and you’ve got the general idea.
Examples: Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman; Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Urban Fantasy: This is interesting in that there are a few different routes urban fantasy is known to take: either a separate fantasy world with rules that are similar to ours or, conversely, our world with fantasy elements mixed in. Go figure.
Examples: Jackaby by William Ritter; City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Arthurian Fantasy: This is fantasy based directly on the myths and legends of King Arthur.
Examples: The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart; The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Superhero Fantasy: This is fantasy based on the character of a superhero. Easily defined.
Examples: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson; Vicious by V.E. Schwab

RPG Lit: Combining fantasy with role playing games, the main character is generally aware that they are in a game-type world. Stats. are very much a part of the book, and the characters interact and progress through the book as they would an rpg.
Examples: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini; Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (at least part of the book follows the rules of rpglit.)

Fairy Tales: Starting as children’s stories, lately there have been many re-imaginings of these books that are marked by fantastical elements and magic.
Examples of fairy tale retellings: Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer; Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik; House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Portal Fantasy: I argue that this is a sub-genre in its own right! This would be books in which the characters leave their own world through a portal/door/etc, and travel to a world with different rules than their own. Often, fantasy elements such as magic are present.
Examples: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

Well, there you have it. There are so many different types of fantasy that I beg readers to at least give some a go before writing off the entire genre. However, to each their own. This list is in no way comprehensive. I’ll be adding to it over time, and possibly editing based on comments made by you all. So…what do you think? Did I get it right? Or completely mess it up?

Iliad: The Reboot by Keith Tokash

Iliad: The Reboot by [Tokash, Keith]

History cares about kings, but the gods love a buffoon.

The hapless young soldier Gelios faces execution for offending his king. Desperate, he accidentally volunteers his cousin to chronicle the coming war.

Equipped with only a sword and a stunning lack of judgment, Gelios must keep his cousin alive amid the greatest war of an era. Worse, he must survive the egos of the two most powerful kings in their army.

But his deadliest struggle is with his mouth. Can he keep it shut long enough to make it home alive?

The Iliad has long been the definitive source of knowledge surrounding the kings, gods, and heroes of the Trojan War. Now, for the first time, readers can experience the clash of two ancient superpowers through the eyes of the biggest jackass in history. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

This is the book that launched a thousand laughs! Equally hilarious and smart, every moment of this well-crafted comedy was perfect. Perfection is hard to come by, especially when retelling a classic, but that’s what this book is.

It was impossible to put down. Not literally; I could put it down if I had to, but I really didn’t want to. Told from the point of view of Gelios, the cousin of Pelos (ahem- Homer), this satire of the epic poem happily took every part of the original and twisted it into the funniest possible telling. Gelios was hilariously unable to keep his mouth shut, even when it behooved him to do so. It got both himself and Pelos into no end of trouble (it’s amazing he kept his head long enough to tell the full story).

The language was quippy and updated; think snark instead of flowery. It flowed well and there were no slow or unnecessary bits or characters. Even the nicknames added to the fun of the book: I particularly liked “Aggy”.

Should you read this book? Abso-freaking-lutely! I’d advise that you get to it sooner rather than later. You’ll thank me.

Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain and Ireland by Kevin Crossley -Holland- ARC Review

Rich and strange, these eerie and magical folktales from across Britain and Ireland have been passed down from generation to generation, and are gathered together in a definitive new collection from the master storyteller and winner of the Carnegie Medal, Kevin Crossley-Holland. Dark and funny, lyrical and earthy, these fifty stories are part of an important and enduring historical tradition that dates back hundreds of years. Described by Neil Gaiman as the “master”, Crossley-Holland’s unforgettable retellings will capture the imagination of readers young and old alike. (taken from Amazon)

                     Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this, in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on October 8th.

This is the sort of book I love. I’m a huge fan of fairy stories and folktales, especially those from Ireland. They’re rich and magical. So, I went into this with the expectation that I’d enjoy it. And I did, indeed.

This is a very well-rounded collection. There were some stories that I’d already heard versions of, such as Tom-Tit-Tom, but also many that I hadn’t. The book was divided into different sections, based on the type of story was being told. For example, one section was devoted to Tricksters and Fools.

This book had it all. I’m a sucker for fairies, and there were fairies galore. And changelings; boggarts; giants! Everything my fantasy-loving heart could desire. They were told with great care taken to ensure the integrity of the way the stories were originally told. It was wonderful. I was reminded of the stories I read when I was young that made me fall in love with fantasy of all kind.

If you enjoy fairy tales, or fantasy of any kind, this is one to add to your collection.

Tale As Old As Time: New Spins on Old Stories

There’s been a plethora of fairy tale re-imaginings lately, some good, some not so much. It got me thinking: is this a new trend? While it seems that retellings are much more popular recently, there are always books that reinvent older fairy tales and myths. Here are a few that I’ve read, complete with my unsolicited thoughts on each:

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Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige: This reinvention of the Snow Queen was good, but not amazing. I think I would have liked it better if it had been longer, giving it some extra time for setup. That being said, it’s still one worth picking up.

Seventeen-year-old Snow has spent her life locked in the Whittaker Psychiatric Institute, but deep down, she knows she doesn’t belong there. When she meets a mysterious new orderly and dreams about a strange twisted tree, she realizes she must escape and figure out who she really is.

After Snow breaks free and races into the nearby woods, she stumbles into icy Algid–her true home–with witches, thieves, and a strangely alluring boy named Kai, none of whom she’s sure she can trust. As secrets are revealed, Snow discovers that she’s on the run from a royal lineage she’s destined to inherit, a father more ruthless than she could have imagined, and choices of the heart that could change everything . . . including Snow’s return to the world she once knew.

With Algid’s fate resting in her hands, will Snow embrace her destiny, even it means paying the ultimate price? (taken from Amazon)

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Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier: This is a re-imagining of The Six Swans. I remember really enjoying the book, but it’s been quite a while. I think the time is ripe for a reread! It’s much more of a full-on fantasy book, which is always a plus.

Lord Colum of Sevenwaters is blessed with six sons: Liam, a natural leader; Diarmid, with his passion for adventure; twins Cormack and Conor, each with a different calling; rebellious Finbar, grown old before his time by his gift of the Sight; and the young, compassionate Padriac.

But it is Sorcha, the seventh child and only daughter, who alone is destined to defend her family and protect her land from the Britons and the clan known as Northwoods. For her father has been bewitched, and her brothers bound by a spell that only Sorcha can lift.

To reclaim the lives of her brothers, Sorcha leaves the only safe place she has ever known, and embarks on a journey filled with pain, loss, and terror.

When she is kidnapped by enemy forces and taken to a foreign land, it seems that there will be no way for her to break the spell that condemns all that she loves. But magic knows no boundaries, and Sorcha will have to choose between the life she has always known and a love that comes only once. (taken from Amazon)

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The Looking Glass Wars trilogy by Frank Beddor: Very loosely based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (not technically a fairy tale, I know), these books are madcap fun.

The Myth: Alice was an ordinary girl who stepped through the looking glass and entered a fairy-tale world invented by Lewis Carroll in his famous storybook. The Truth: Wonderland is real. Alyss Heart is the heir to the throne, until her murderous aunt Redd steals the crown and kills Alyss’ parents. To escape Redd, Alyss and her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, must flee to our world through the Pool of Tears. But in the pool Alyss and Hatter are separated. Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author to whom she tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Yet he gets the story all wrong. Hatter Madigan knows the truth only too well, and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts. (taken from Amazon)


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Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer: I love, love, love this re-imagining of East of the Sun, West of the Moon! Everyone needs to read this! Lovely and atmospheric, it’s not one to miss.

Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart when her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf―the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an ultimatum: if she lives with him for one year, he will ensure her father makes it home safely. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.

In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, each room must be sewn together to keep the home from unraveling, and something new and dark and strange lies behind every door. When centuries-old secrets unfold, Echo discovers a magical library full of books- turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, the rooms begin to disappear and Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever. (taken from Amazon)

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East by Edith Pattou: This is another retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon. It’s a lot more simply told than Echo North, possibly intended for a younger reader base, but it’s still a good one.

Rose has always felt out of place in her family. So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with him, she readily agrees. The bear takes Rose to a distant castle, where each night she is confronted with a mystery. In solving that mystery, she finds love, discovers her purpose, and realizes her travels have only just begun.

As fresh and original as only the best fantasy can be, East is a novel retelling of the classic tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” told in the tradition of Robin McKinley and Gail Carson Levine. (taken from Amazon)

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A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. I’ll be honest: I really don’t like this one at all, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this one on the list. Based loosely on Beauty and the Beast, as well as The Ballad of Tam Lin, it’s much more of a romance than I enjoy. I also found that some parts bordered on the icky for me. This is an unpopular opinion, though. Most readers really enjoy this series.

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin–one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world. (taken from Amazon)

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Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton: This is another book that’s not based on a fairy tale, exactly. It’s based on Beowulf. It’s so well done, though! If you enjoy this book, watch The 13th Warrior, adapted to screen from this book. It’s held up well over time.

The year is A.D. 922.  A refined Arab courtier, representative of the powerful Caliph of Baghdad, encounters a party of Viking warriors who are journeying to the barbaric North. He is appalled by their Viking customs—the wanton sexuality of their pale, angular women, their disregard for cleanliness . . . their cold-blooded human sacrifices. But it is not until they reach the depths of the Northland that the courtier learns the horrifying and inescapable truth: he has been enlisted by these savage, inscrutable warriors to help combat a terror that plagues them—a monstrosity that emerges under cover of night to slaughter the Vikings and devour their flesh . . .(taken from Amazon)

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: Inspired by Russian fairy tales, this book is  beautiful and engrossing. I highly recommend it.

Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.

Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village. 

But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales. (taken from Amazon)

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer: This is a steampunk re-imagining of Cinderella. I have tried multiple times to read it, and for some reason I just don’t enjoy it. I don’t know why: by all rights it should be right up my alley. Give it a go: then tell me what I’m missing so I’ll stick with it. Ha ha!

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. (taken from Amazon)

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Uprooted by Namoi Novak: Last, but most certainly not least, this book is based on a Slavic fairy tale. While parts of this book followed usual fairy tale tropes, it’s an incredibly unique book overall. I need to read more Slavic fairy tales because the feel of this book is fantastic. I have a feeling I’d love the original source material as well.

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. (taken from Amazon)

While this list is in no way complete, here are some that I’ve read. Which retellings have you read? Did you enjoy them? What are some I’ve missed that I need to read?