I saw this tag done by the awesome Book Forager at the start of the month, and I don’t exactly know where the tag started but if you follow the links I’m sure it’ll lead you somewhere exciting! I’ve seen quite a few fun interpretations of it doing it this way. And since it’s Wyrd & Wonder month, what better time to talk about my journey as a fantasy reader?
What is the first fantasy novel you read?
For me, it was The Hobbit by that great founder of the modern fantasy genre J.R.R. Tolkien. I remember my mother reading it to me when I was quite young, maybe 5 or 6, and that was around the time my sibling were born. They’re quadruplets, and they were a handful, so though I really wanted my mom to reread the hobbit to me, she didn’t have the time to go through it as quickly as I wanted to, so I started reading it by myself. That’s the first fantasy book I remember reading by myself. Then I went on to The Chronicles of Narnia and have read those time and time again. Since I was in Italy at the time, I read a lot of Italian books, and I have a vivid memory of a series called La Bambina Della Sesta Luna by Moony Witcher (what a cool author name) and that’s one of the only early fantasy books I remember reading in Italian. I then moved on to things like Inkheart and Eragon, and the rest is history, really.
If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?
Ooh, good question. Maybe Samantha Shannon or Naomi Novik because they both have a softness to their character writing and world building, but also great detail and strength. Also they both have books with dragon riders, and I do love me a dragon. Also, they both have a but of that enemies to lovers vibe going on, and I am obsessed with that trope right now, and love the way they both handle it.
What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that turned into a huge revelation?
Definitely The Unbroken by C.L. Clark. It’s the first book of its kind that I’ve read – both in terms of the military fantasy aspect, and in terms of the scale with which it deals with colonialism and the long-standing effects of it both during and after. It absolutely blew my mind and it’s also been the start of me reading books in this vein – I’m currently reading The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, which deals with similar themes, and will be reading She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan next month, which is the final book in what is being called the “holy sapphic trifecta.” But apart from that I think it is the themes of imperialism and oppression that tie these three and others together, and I’m really looking forward to this new wave of stories. The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid also deals with similar issues of empire and displacement, and I reviewed that only a couple of weeks ago, so it’s definitely a theme for me this year.
What is your favourite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?
I do love me a high fantasy and epic fantasy, I love it when they sweep huge landscapes and great world-encompassing adventures and threats. Sometimes it can get a bit too much, so I’m really glad I’ve branched out in the last few years of fantasy reading. Recently I’ve enjoyed exploring some historical fantasy (like Sistersong by Lucy Holland and The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid) and some low fantasy (like The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern and The Binding by Bridget Collins). I also love the concept of science fantasy, though I haven’t really read much of it, except maybe The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood.
I haven’t read much urban fantasy recently, and I’m not too inclined to at the moment because most of my TBR is other subgenres. I also don’t really go in for steampunk or grimdark. Not to say that I won’t read a book labeled as such if I find it interesting but the darkness and griminess of it doesn’t always appeal to me, and there are plenty of morally grey characters in other subgenres.
Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?
At the moment RJ Barker, who I discovered through his Tide Child Trilogy, which has its final instalment out later this year, and then has a new trilogy lined up, which I’m super excited for! Actually it’s a bit shameful to admit but I have yet to read his first series, because I know that once I start it I’ll consume it all so I’m waiting until I have more time and more space on my bookshelves! Another is Lucy Hounsom/Holland who has yet to disappoint and is exploring a historical period in Britain which I am loving, and I’m super excited about her new project set in the same world as Sistersong. Finally, I’d say Samantha Shannon, though again I’ve only read Priory of the Orange Tree because I know that once I start her ongoing Bone Season series that will consume my life for a while. Oh, and definitely Andrea Stewart. She’s only got the one book out so far but I love it and don’t expect to ever be disappointed (no pressure!)
How do you typically find fantasy recommendations?
Used to be just browsing book shops and libraries and seeing what was new on the shelf, and then I started working in a bookshop so I started actively keeping up with publishing news and would add upcoming books to my TBR. Now, since being part of the blogging community and especially on twitter I have found so many good recommendations! Oh, and podcasts – literary podcasts (especially ones that interview authors) will make your TBR teeter precariously!
What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?
So many this year (and next month especially!!) so it’s hard to choose. I actually put together a post last week about my highly anticipated fantasy books of 2021, but if I had to pick one I’d say A Curse of Krakens by Kevin Hearne because it’s a conclusion to a series and I’m very curious and excited to see how it wraps up!
What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?
I think there are quite a few… that it’s a boy’s club, that it’s all complex names and giant evil lords, that it’s all long series, that it’s all medieval Europe… I find it particularly frustrating because I spend so much time talking to other fantasy fans and so I forget that those misconceptions are out there, but then at work I’m currently the only bookseller in my shop that reads fantasy and my colleagues are all put off by it, and I can’t quite decide which misconception to try and disprove. I think I’ll go with this one: fantasy isn’t all big battles, magic fireballs, and long walks; fantasy is people, the internal struggle manifest, and is just as insightful as contemporary and literary fiction.
If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?
This is tough, because though I’d love to just straight up recommend some of my favourites, if someone has never read fantasy, it’s probably because they’re intimidated. I’d say probably something like The Starless Sea or The Binding which I mentioned earlier, because they’re set in our world/a similar world and have very low elements of fantasy. Having said that, I’ll try and think of three that could fit three different types of people…
If someone did want to start with something that feels a bit more like classic fantasy then I’d suggest Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb because it’s a good secondary world fantasy with magic and strange creatures, but has great intrigue and a coming-of-age storyline. It’s got all the classic tropes but keeps things exciting. For something a little different I’d say Legendborn by Tracy Deonn because it’s a fast paced urban fantasy with modern setting but old mythology inspiration. Actually, YA can be a great intro to fantasy if you read the right series, so I’d definitely recommend browsing the section or asking your friendly neighbourhood bookseller (or me!!!) for recs. For something a bit more dark and intense, if someone wants to just be thrown into the deep end, I’d definitely recommend Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. A bit of a dark horse, that one, but I think in its own way it has the power to get someone into fantasy, they’d just have to stick with the first few pages to figure out what’s going on!
What’s the site that you like to visit for reviews, author interviews and all things fantasy?
I mentioned podcasts when talking about where I get my recommendations, and that’s definitely one of my go to places for author interviews, I’d say. At the moment it’s Breaking the Glass Slipper, which also looks at sci-fi and horror, and Worldbuilding for Masochists which has helpful tips for writing but also has a lot of guest authors on.
In terms of websites, I think twitter is my current go-to because that’s where I see everyone’s blog posts that I might miss from forgetting to check the WordPress reader, and where people are always having discussions! I don’t go a day without seeing someone talking about fantasy, so I’m quite happy with that!