Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #10: A Gateway Into The Fantasy Genre

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: gateway fantasy books.

I know that fantasy can sometimes receive a bit of a bad reputation – some people seem to think it’s either a really difficult genre to read, or really geeky, or they just have no idea where to start. So I want to share with you today a three stage process for people new to the fantasy genre. I’ve split them into three ‘stages’, with the idea that you tackle them in order, to build up confidence reading the genre. It was really hard to split these books into stages, and I hope my explanations of why and how I split them make sense and don’t offend anyone!

Stage One: for younger readers AND/OR fantasy set at least partly in our world

Sabriel by Garth Nix Inkheart by Cornelia Funke The Magicians by Lev Grossman The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett Song Quest by Katherine Roberts

These books come under ‘Stage One’, as they are either aimed at younger readers so the fantasy world is not as complicated as say, The Lord of the Rings, or they are set either partly or entirely in our world. I think these are pretty good books to start with, particularly the ones set in our world: Sabriel by Garth Nix, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke and The Magicians by Lev Grossman (this one is definitely an adult book!). This way you won’t be immediately thrown in at the deep end, and at least some elements of the story will be familiar. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett and Song Quest by Katherine Roberts are set in fantasy worlds, but are aimed at younger readers so you know you won’t need to worry about keeping up with a huge cast of characters, assortment of strange languages and entirely new and vast geography that you might find in books for older readers.

Stage Two: aimed at Young Adult audiences and older AND/OR set in a ‘less detailed’ fantasy world

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas Graceling (Graceling #1) by Kristin Cashore The Wind Singer by William Nicholson Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta Mort by Terry Pratchett Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

I say ‘less detailed’ because I do not mean in ANY way that the author has only half-heartedly created their world, or that these books are seen as ‘lesser’ fantasy. I just mean that the scale of the world-building is as not big as some of the books in the next stage. ‘Stage Two’ includes these sorts of books, as well as Young Adult Fantasy, which often falls into the category anyway. Throne of Glass (my review) by Sarah J. Maas, Graceling (my review) by Kristin Cashore, The Wind Singer by William Nicholson, Finnikin of the Rock (my review) by Melina Marchetta and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo come under Young Adult fantasy fiction, and all are fantastic examples of the genre. Mort by Terry Pratchett, like the rest of the Discworld books, is primarily aimed at adults but Pratchett’s brilliant sense of humour makes it a lighter read.

Stage Three: ‘heavier’ fantasy

The Magicians' Guild by Trudi Canavan The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien The Painted Man (The Demon Cycle #1) by Peter V. Brett Mistborn (The Final Empire #1) by Brandon Sanderson The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Feeling ready for ‘Stage Three’? By ‘heavier’, I mean that these books have more detailed world building than those in Stage Two – perhaps the author has created an entire history, a new language etc. If you’re prepared to take a dip into the world of heavier fantasy, then I’d recommended starting with The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan. And if you’re not too scared of reading some Tolkien, then give The Hobbit (or even The Lord of the Rings) a shot! So many people are unsure about reading his work, but I was recently interviewed by Pages Unbound for Tolkien Reading Week, where I shared my love for Middle-earth – hopefully that will convince some people! As you feel more confident with reading fantasy books, I would highly recommend the following: The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett, The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson and The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

Are you going to give any of these books a try? Have you read any of them already, or are there any others you’d recommend for new fantasy readers?

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Guest Post, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: ‘Dragon Riding – Science or Fantasy?’ – a guest post by Katherine Roberts


Today, as part of Sci-Fi Month, I have a guest post written by the wonderful Katherine Roberts, author of The Echorium Sequence, The Seven Fabulous Wonders series, and most recently The Pendragon LegacyDon’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Dragon Riding – Science or Fantasy?

by Katherine Roberts

It was Anne McCaffrey who first introduced me to dragon riding. As a teenager, I devoured her Pern books, set on an alien planet colonised by humans who have bred dragons to help them fight off an alien spore called Thread, which falls from the Red Star. Although strictly science fiction, these books have a fantasy feel because the colonists have forgotten most of their early history, and no longer have space flight.

Anne McCaffrey’s dragons are amazing, beautiful creatures of different colours, from aristocratic golds, through bronzes and blues, to the lowly greens. They can fly ‘between’ space and time, and form an emotional bond with their riders upon hatching known as ‘impression’ – a bond so strong that the death of one partner often means the suicide of the other. My favourite books from the Pern series are “Dragonsinger” about a girl from a sea-hold who becomes a friend of dragons and a Harper, and “The White Dragon” about the son of a Lord Holder, who accidentally impresses the white runt of the hatching ground.

Many other authors have written about dragons and dragon riders, of course. J.R.R. Tolkien had his terrifying Black Riders, or Nazgul, who start off on horseback and progress to flying on what is surely dragonback during their hunt for Frodo and his friends in The Lord of the Rings:

“It was a winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, and its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was…” (from The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien)

In this case, the dragons are villains rather than heroes, at one with their dark riders in their pursuit of the prey.

Tolkien’s Nazgul (fair use, copyright John Howe – image source)
Tolkien’s Nazgul (fair use, copyright John Howe – image source)

Friendly dragons are popular in books and films for children, including Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider and the TV series Merlin, where a dragon advises the young wizard. More recently, I came across dragons in Julia Golding’s Young Knights series, where they are the unwilling slaves of the Fey, kept chained in the dark until they have lost their bright colours.

On the non-fiction side, my publisher Templar produced Dragonology with its beautiful jewelled covers for students of dragon lore. And Peter Dickinson wrote a wonderful book Flight of Dragons, which takes a scientific approach to dragons, examining how it’s possible for them to breathe fire and fly.

Dragons were always going to feature in my Pendragon Legacy series, since Pendragon means ‘head dragon’. But I take a different approach to dragon riding, as my books are set in the Dark Ages after the Romans left Britain when dragons are thought to be extinct – killed off by heroic knights from the old stories rescuing damsels in distress.

Shadrake - artwork by Scott Altmann
Shadrake – artwork by Scott Altmann

King Arthur’s shield bears a red dragon design, scarred by battle. In the first book Sword of Light Merlin takes this shield from the dying king’s body and gives it to Arthur’s daughter, Rhianna, because he thinks she’s going to need it to defend herself against her evil cousin Mordred. The shield comes in useful when the first live dragon appears in the shape of an ice-breathing shadrake from the dark land of Annwn, which chases Rhianna and her friends when they leave the safety of Avalon.

The third book of my series takes Rhianna and her friends to Dragonland in search of Arthur’s crown, which was stolen by a dragon from the battlefield when the king fell and carried off to its lair. The Pendragon crown turns out to contain the ancient secret of dragon riding, hidden in one of the jewels as you might store data on a computer disk. When Rhianna wears the crown she can access its secrets, and her spirit escapes her body to fly with the nearest dragon. This is a useful skill, since it means she can see through the dragon’s eyes – but it also leaves her body chained in the dark at Mordred’s mercy.

My own theory of dragons is that they were dinosaurs, which somehow survived whatever disaster wiped out their species on Earth, and (being long-lived reptiles) lingered on into the middle ages to terrorise people. I can easily imagine hot-blooded young knights, in search of adventure or reward, riding out on dragon hunts to kill them. The poor creatures would probably have holed up in the high wild places, maybe breeding occasionally, but struggling to survive in Earth’s new climate and eventually dying out as humans took over. Did anybody actually ride them? I can’t say for sure, but there are just too many stories and legends to dismiss dragons as pure fantasy!

About the author

Katherine Roberts won the Branford Boase Award in 2000 and writes fantasy and historical fantasy for young readers. The final book in her Pendragon Legacy series Grail of Stars is published this month by Templar in hardcover, and the first three titles are now available in hardcover, paperback or ebook.

More details at www.katherineroberts.co.uk or Twitter @AuthorKatherine. I also interviewed Katherine back in August.