Sunday, September 26, 2010

Guest Blog: Original Concepts In Fantasy

I'm excited to introduce a fellow blogger I follow and read some wonderful reviews and great thoughtful posts:  Jacob from Drying Ink.  Jacob has shared a great post with us here today.  Leave a comment to say hello and chat with Jacob, and please take a visit to his site and read some wonderful fantasy reviews, here.  Please, a warm welcome to Jacob...

Original Concepts In Fantasy

It's often said that science fiction is the medium for ideas, but fantasy is an even freer sandbox. - fantasy can explore anything, and often does. Equally, however, a lot of fantasy is pretty generic, so in this post, I'm going to take a quick look at just a few really great concepts in fantasy.

First is the example I always give - but it's no less appropriate! Mirror Dreams, by Catherine Webb, eschew geography in favour of a multiverse of dreams. It's an original setting: a network of kingdoms suspected over the "Void" by roads as thin as you can imagine, and it's used to great effect: the interactions between Earth and Dream - each affects the other - drives the plot. As characters sleep, they dream of Earth - and vice-versa for those on earth. It drives an excellent YA fantasy novel, and it's very original in practice.

Second is alternate history. I've always loved historical cameos in a novel, and fantasy is no exception. I reviewed Naomi Novik's Tongues of Serpents just a few days ago, and the series really is excellent. Set in the Napoleonic Wars - with the small additions of dragons! - Naomi Novik really succeeds in combining historical feeling (Laurence's speech is particularly good) with the fantasy element - dragons - in a way that really delights, especially Temeraire's draconic observations of human society's follies.

Third is an original - and rule based - magic system. Although there are many to choose from, I'm picking Steven Erikson as my example here, with the proviso that that holds so long as it's tied up in The Crippled God, released 2011. It's incredibly complicated - and confusing - but there seems to be a structure, tying together the realm-sealing Houses of the Azath, the Eleint (dragons), Ascendants (proto-gods), and the Warrens - the realms where sorcery originated - in a way that is sure to amaze, if Erikson succeeds. What we can see so far is equally fun. I'd strongly recommend picking up Gardens of the Moon.

Fourth, and finally, is a modern setting: integrated in a believable way. To turn this all the way to the extreme, pick up Simon R. Green's Nightside series: dark urban fantasies set in the hidden heart of London, where everything is for sale - it's unbelievable because of its sheer scale. For one slightly more believable, try Jim Butcher's Dresden Files - detective urban fantasies combining brevity (thank goodness!), humour and excitement in a modern-day Chicago setting. Both series are detective novels - in part, at least - but I'd recommend Butcher, as the Dresden Files have far more continuity.

To finish, there are far more original ideas in fantasy, but these are my picks of those I've read recently. I can always fall for an original setting, era, or magic system - and the last especially! Of course, none are any good except when combined with good writing, a plot, and believable, sympathetic characters - but a concept is a start, and an important one in my opinion. I'd recommend any of the books above just for that.

Jacob @ Drying Ink

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