Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #29: Books Inspired by Eastern European Culture

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, posted every other Friday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!

Today I want to share some books inspired by Eastern European culture.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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.

  • Inspired by Polish and Slavic cultures
  • References many fairy tales, including the Baba Yaga. The Baba Yaga is normally represented as a hideous old woman who lives in the woods, in a hut that normally stands on chicken legs. She is not always a villain, but can also help people.

The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha… and the secrets of her heart.

  • Inspired by Russia, more specifically Tsarist Russia of the early 1800s
  • The influence is obvious from the very beginning – from the names of the characters and places, to the imposing building on the cover

The Witcher Series by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish (The Witcher #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin.

And a cold-blooded killer.

His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world.

But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

  • Inspired by many different tales of Eastern European folklore
  • There is a very successful video game series based on the books, and here is an interesting article discussing the different monsters that appear, and the folklore they are based on

Do you have any other suggestions to add to this list?

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Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #28: Why Skyrim Is The Game For YOU!

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, and is pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!

Today I want to talk about: why you (yes you!) should play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

I am, of course, assuming that if you’re reading this post, you’re a big fan of fantasy fiction. If not then – what are you doing here?! 😉 You may or may not have heard of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game released by Bethesda in 2011. It is a huge epic fantasy RPG (role playing game) that allows the player to create their own character from a range of different races and other options, and completely choose the path their character takes. Whether you’d rather play as a stealthy assassin who kills from the shadows without leaving a trace, a swordsman who is unafraid to run straight into the midst or battle or as a mage who summons the dead, shoots fireballs and heals allies – or just about anything else you could think of – you can do it on Skyrim.

And the adventure begins...
And the adventure begins…

The reason I think this game works so well for fantasy fans, regardless of whether they normally play video games or not, is because of the sheer size of the game: it feels like you are in your very own epic fantasy novel. And there is absolutely no need to rush things; all quests can be completed whenever you like (or ignored, if you wanted). You could spend hours and hours exploring the landscape and simply level up from exploring and interacting with NPCs (non-player characters). For example, you can level Speechcraft by talking to merchants, persuading people to help you out, or intimidating them – meaning you don’t actually have to level through combat. There are places where you can buy homes or even build your own from scratch. You can get married, adopt kids, and live out the rest of your Skyrim days in a manor house by the lake.

Or you could become an intrepid adventurer. Skyrim is filled to the brim with secrets, caves and endless tunnels. Forests, lakes, mountains, every kind of landscape. It is a huge place, and all completely explorable. One day, you might search ancient Dwarven ruins for treasure, and find yourself battling the mechanised constructs left there to defend from thieves. The next, you might find yourself escorting someone from one city to another, or collecting a lost item for a villager. Then it might be on to defending a town from a dragon – you’re their only hope, their only chance of survival.

Watching the sun set over Riverwood.
Watching the sunset over Riverwood.

I have sunk over 150 hours into Skyrim, and most of that just on one playthrough. The amount of stuff you can do is literally limitless. Just recently, the Special Edition was released, with improved graphics. Skyrim was already pretty gorgeous when it came out in 2011, but now it looks absolutely stunning. I’ve started playing again, just because it feels like experiencing the game all over again for the first time. And this time, instead of a hunter/assassin, I’m going for a mage character, which has completely altered how I play. I’m taking more of the story and lore in, and spending a lot of time just staring at the landscape.

A view over Whiterun.
A view over Whiterun.

You don’t have to travel alone around Skyrim. You can take a follower with you, and there are so many to choose from. As you find each city and town, you’ll discover more and more people who want to join you – maybe they’ve heard of you and your feats, or maybe they just want an adventure. Skyrim is undeniably Norse inspired. From the names to the architecture, everything has a Scandinavian feel to it – yet still feels like something from another world. When you enter Whiterun, the first city you’ll come to on your adventure, you can’t help but be awed by the sight of Dragonsreach, the Jarl’s castle, towering over the rest of the city, like the Golden Hall of Meduseld over Edoras. Or the Gildergreen, the huge tree in the centre, reminiscent of the stories of Yggdrasil. And of course Jorrvaskr, home of the Companions, which looks like it was built from a Viking ship.

In the feast hall of the Companions.
In the feast hall of the Companions.

So, fantasy fans, whether you’re a gamer or not – Skyrim might just work for you. It’s like taking the best elements from all your favourite fantasies, mixing them all up and then being thrown into the mix yourself. You craft the character, you choose the path, and you can change the world – for better or worse.

Oh, and did I mention there are dragons? 😉

skyrim dragon gif

Have you ever played Skyrim? If not, would you consider trying it?

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #27: Fantasy Inspired By Middle Eastern Culture

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, previously posted every other Friday but now a little more occasionally! It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!

Today I want to talk about: fantasy inspired by Middle Eastern culture.

It has always bugged me that so many of the fantasy books I read are clearly inspired by Western culture. For example, many novels take inspiration from Scandinavian countries, because their history, culture, architecture and ancient religions provide some pretty wonderful inspiration. But this works well for so many other countries, so why aren’t we seeing their influence?

Actually, Middle Eastern culture does have a lot of influence on fantasy fiction. But very rarely are the heroes and heroines from this background. It seems to mostly be used as an inspiration for the ‘enemy’ culture, to represent barbarians and people of a ‘less developed’ civilisation, for example the Dothraki in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, who are initially shown as very violent and cruel. This got me thinking about books where this is not the case, and where the main civilisation represented in the book is actually inspired by the Middle East. I was pleased to find quite a selection during my research, and would love to hear about some more if you can share any!

Rebel of the Sands Twelve Kings The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett

  • Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1) by Alwyn Hamilton – a Persian inspired fantasy that seemed to me like an ‘Eastern Western’ e.g. lots of gun slinging.
  • Twelve Kings (The Song of the Shattered Sands #1) by Bradley P. Beaulieu – the first in an epic fantasy series with political corruptness, assassins and immortal kings.
  • The Desert Spear (The Demon Cycle #2) by Peter V. Brett – whilst the culture is perhaps shown as barbaric at first, POV chapters open up the reader’s eyes to why Jardir’s world is the way it is.

Throne of the Crescent Moon Desert of Souls Lions of Al-Rassan

  • Throne of the Crescent Moon (The Crescent Moon Kingdoms #1) by Saladin Ahmed – I’ve not read this one, but it was very highly recommended when I was searching for books for this post, and seems to be inspired by Arabian Nights.
  • The Desert of Souls (The Chronicles of Sword and Sand #1) by Howard Andrew Jones – unlike most of the books on this list, this one is actually set in our world, but with a fantasy twist.
  • The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay – this was one of the Books of the Month for Dragons & Jetpacks but I STILL haven’t read it (story of my life).

The Golem and the Jinni The Will of the Wanderer In the Night Garden

  • The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker – yet another Dragons & Jetpacks Book of the Month that I still haven’t read! I do remember members of the group commenting on how beautiful this book was though.
  • The Will of the Wanderer (Rose of the Prophet #1) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman – one of the older books on this list, this tells the story of a battle between many gods.
  • In the Night Garden (The Orphan’s Tales #1) by Catherynne M. Valente – the description of this book of short stories sounds more than enough to convince me: ‘A book of wonders for grown-up readers’!

Do you have any other recommendations?

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #26: The Femme Fatales of A Song of Ice and Fire

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, posted every other Friday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!

Today I want to talk about: the awesome female characters from the series A Song of Ice and Fire.

This post contains spoilers for the series A Song of Ice and Fire, as well as its television adaptation, Game of Thrones.

The series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin is known for its stand-out female characters. Although it is loosely based on medieval history, a time when women were seen as second class citizens – and many are treated that way in the series – there are some that defy all expectations of society ‘at the time’ (or rather, considering the time period that the series is based on). Each one is, in her own way, a wonderful and unique individual.

Arya Stark gif

Arya Stark

At the start of A Song of Ice and Fire, Arya is only nine years old. She is mischievous and a bit of a tomboy, all in all quite a typical nine year old. But accompanying other losses comes the loss of her innocence and childhood. She is thrown into a world so different from her life at Winterfell. She disguises herself as a boy in order to travel north from King’s Landing after her father’s execution. She witnesses murder, brutality and so many horrors, yet all it does is harden her, prepare her for a new life at the House of Black and White. All in all, Arya is focused, ruthless and willing to do whatever it takes to put things right – even if for her that currently involves murdering those responsible for the deaths of much of her family.

brienne gif

Brienne of Tarth

I really love Brienne and her absolute sense of loyalty. From noble blood, but never ‘traditionally’ attractive or ladylike, she has carved a place for herself in this world that expects women to be meek and fragile things. She is a skilled fighter and becomes part of Renly’s bodyguard, albeit in a short-lived role. Her loyalty and determination are some of her strongest qualities. Brienne has put up with a lot of teasing and cruelty in her life due to her appearance, but she has never once let it stop her trying to achieve her aims.

cersei gif

Cersei Lannister

In the first few books, Cersei seems like one of the series’ main villains – but then you realise that A Song of Ice and Fire has no main villains – just a cast of characters doing whatever they need to survive. This very much applies to Cersei, who is just trying to protect her children. She may have some rather odd taste in men (!!) but she knows how to get by in this brutal world. Her behaviour isn’t always ideal though – at one point she accuses her father of not giving her any power because of the fact that she is a woman, and he responds by saying it is nothing to do with that, and everything to do with the choices she makes. She is cunning and highly intelligent, and holds herself with such poise as to give herself more power. You don’t want to mess with Cersei or her babies – she is just like a lioness in that regard.

daenerys gif

Daenerys Targaryen

Like many other women of A Song of Ice and Fire, Daenerys changes drastically throughout the series. At the beginning, she is in her early teens, forced into marriage with a man who is much older and with whom she cannot communicate. She is threatened and possibly even abused by her older brother. However, Daenerys soon learns to adapt to her new setting and play things to her advantage. And when she later invades and becomes Queen/Khaleesi of various cities throughout Essos, it goes as well as you would expect it to with a teenager in charge. But Daenerys learns from her mistakes and finds out who her true friends are. She doesn’t give up even in the fact of assassinations attempts, mutiny and losing control of her dragons. Every time someone thinks they have pinned down the Mother of Dragons, they are proved wrong. Fire cannot kill a dragon, and the men of Westeros/Essos cannot stop Daenerys.

margaery gif

Margaery Tyrell

Margaery has certainly had to put up with a lot. Firstly, an arranged marriage to a man more interested in her brother than her, then a marriage to a monsterous tyrant, swiftly followed by one to an adolescent boy-king, with Cersei for her mother-in-law. And then, once everything finally seems to be going right, she is accused of having incestuous relations with her brother, and is thrown into prison. And whilst Margaery does not seem to have been quite as unlucky as some, her constant bright moods and sly manipulation of others really make her one to watch.

sansa stark gif

Sansa Stark

Oh Sansa, I am so, so sorry. You’ve had it rough in the books, but the TV show has made it so much worse for you. Forced to watch the execution of her father, abused and tormented by Joffrey, almost killed by a mob then on the run with Littlefinger, who clearly has ulterior motives towards her, then forced into a abusive marriage with Ramsay Bolton, Sansa is possibly the most maltreated character of the series (ESPECIALLY the TV series). Yet Sansa, sweet innocent Sansa who dreamt of a life in King’s Landing full of lemon cakes and new gowns, rises from the ashes like a phoenix; she is reborn. Hardened by her experiences, she knows the best way to progress is to continue playing the naive, wide-eyed girl – and most importantly, not to trust anyone.

These women of Westeros, these femme fatales, are severly underestimated by those around them. That may be the last mistake they ever make.

What do you make of the women of Westeros? Who are your favourite characters?

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #25: My Perfect Fantasy World

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, posted every other Friday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!

Today I want to talk about: my perfect fantasy world.

If you could compose a world made of your favourite elements from fantasy fiction, what would it look like? That’s what I’ve asked myself for this post, and I’d love to hear your versions too!

In my perfect fantasy world…

Fantasy Friday

From the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

Well, duh. In my perfect fantasy world, I would’ve gotten my Hogwarts letter at eleven like you’re supposed to – obviously mine has just gotten lost in this world. Preferably I’d also end up working there too after graduating…

Fantasy Friday

From the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Was I really going to live anywhere else? I would happily give up all technology to live a hobbit lifestyle. Plus if I went to Hogwarts I totally wouldn’t need technology anyway 😉

Fantasy Friday

From the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson.

So maybe I’m being a bit greedy in terms of magic powers, but who wouldn’t want to be a Mistborn?! One of my favourite things in the series is how they can get around super quickly by Pushing and Pulling off of metals. So cool!

Fantasy Friday

From the Seraphina series by Rachel Hartman.

How amazing would that be? I loved Seraphina, and it was such a unique take on dragons – dragons who can disguise themselves as humans? So clever. I want them all to be my friends please and thank you.

What would your perfect fantasy world look like? Which elements from fiction would you pick?

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #24: Growing Up With Harry Potter

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, posted every other Friday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!

Today I want to talk about: growing up with Harry Potter.

I am of the opinion that I am part of a very lucky generation, because I got to grow up alongside Harry Potter, watching him change from this young orphan, to a boy wizard, from a hormonal teenager to someone who saved the world. I was seven when the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released, but I don’t think I started reading the series until a year later.

Harry Potter

At that point, I was a little younger than Harry and his friends, my eight to their eleven. However, with the breaks in between books as they got longer and longer, I soon caught up – and the films were perfectly timed. When I went to see the film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I was just about to turn eleven, and was eagerly awaiting my own Hogwarts letter. Still waiting for that, by the way…

It was truly magical (pun totally intended) being the same age as these fantastic characters, at this amazing school and being TOTALLY jealous of them. I could identify with so much of what the Golden Trio were going through (you know, encountering three-headed dogs, fighting off a Basilisk, the usual) which made it even more appealing. That year that Harry was super moody and hormonal because, despite being a wizard, he was also a teenager? That was me. I liked that Harry’s first kiss was super awkward and not this amazing life-changing moment that so many books portray it as, because it was realistic. For a series that was about a magical school where teenagers could learn to be witches and wizards, there were so many moments like that, so many realistic moments.

Mmm, so romantic. Yeah.

Mmm, so romantic. Yeah.

Harry Potter is definitely a series that changed my life and had a HUGE effect on my childhood and teenage years – like so many others, I have to thank J.K. Rowling for so much. They are books and films I know I can re-read or re-watch again and again, and I’ll always have those warm fuzzy feelings that come with them. The first shot of Diagon Alley will always be breathtaking, the first sight of Hogwarts makes me feel at home, the loss of Sirius, Dumbledore, Fred, Lupin, Tonks, Snape (ESPECIALLY Snape, ‘The Prince’s Tale’ gets me EVERY time) and so many other characters makes me cry, even though I know it’s coming.

Seeing my beloved book characters on the big screen, at times going through what I felt I was going through, was so wonderful. Here was a series that understood what it was to grow up, and it was growing up right alongside me. As the wonderful J.K. Rowling once said:

“Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

Sirius

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #23: Series To Start

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, posted every other Friday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!

Today I want to talk about: fantasy series I keep meaning to start.

You know how it is: you see a fantastic looking book, pop it onto your ‘to read’ list, and then either forget about it or put it off because there are so many other books that have been on there longer… and so many other excuses. As an avid reader of fantasy fiction, I feel that there are several series I should have already read, or at least started, and I wanted to make a note of them today. Let me know if you’ve read any of them, and any comments you have!

The Belgariad by David Eddings

Pawn of Prophecy The Queen of Sorcery Magician's Gambit

The Belgariad series by David Eddings is a five-part fantasy series that has come highly recommended to me by two friends, who bought the first book for me for my birthday – and I’ll definitely be getting to it soon, maybe I’ll even have started reading it by the time this post goes up! I’m just amazed that I hadn’t even heard of it until they told me about it.

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen Donaldson

Lord Foul's Bane The Illearth War Power That Preserves

I got the very first book of Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever for free at London ComiCon, and then managed to pick up books two and three for £0.50 each in my local charity shop. Pretty good for a series that is so highly rated (and also highly recommended by my dad!)

The Original Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks

Sword of Shannara Elfstones of Shannara Wishsong of Shannara

Whilst I’ve read the first book in The Dark Legacy of Shannara, and also own the first book of the Legends of Shannara series, I have yet to read the original books. Also, I’m really loving these 80s fantasy covers…

Ilium by Dan Simmons

Ilium by Dan Simmons Olympos

Dan Simmons wrote one of my favourite books ever, so I am prepared to read ALL of his other books – especially the Ilium series, which is a sci-fi fantasy take on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Ancient mythology + Dan Simmons + sci-fi + fantasy = happy Rinn.

Are there any fantasy series or books that you feel you should read soon, or should have already read?