Inspired by the Sino-Japanese War and the opium crisis in China, ‘The Poppy War’ is a fantastical reimagining of historical events with a hearty dose of shamanistic magic.
The conflict between Nikan and Mugen mirrors the historical tension between China and Japan, and the Third Poppy War alludes to the Second Sino-Japanese War.
A history lesson wrapped up in an epic tale of magic and warfare—what more could you ask for?
‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ may feel like a modern mythology playbook, but it’s a reflection of the cultural melting pot that is the United States.
From ancient Norse gods to African deities, it’s a wildly imaginative exploration of immigration and cultural assimilation.
It’s a bit like a history textbook, but with more gods, spirits, and an undead girlfriend.
‘The Broken Empire Trilogy’ by Mark Lawrence
Lawrence’s dark and gritty trilogy could be seen as a case study on the fall of the Roman Empire, with a dash of necromancy thrown in for good measure.
The Broken Empire, like the historical empire it’s modelled on, is marked by internal conflict, external invasions, and a general disregard for the wellbeing of peasants.
It’s the Roman Empire, just with a marginally higher body count.
‘The Powder Mage Trilogy’ by Brian McClellan
McClellan’s epic fantasy series is a brilliant blend of magic, politics, and gunpowder.
The series is set in a world that vividly resembles the French Revolution era, complete with its own versions of the guillotine and political upheaval.
The struggle between the privileged classes and the common people, the rise of new political ideologies, and the tension of a society on the brink of radical change all mirror the tumultuous times of late 18th-century France.
‘The Lions of Al-Rassan’ by Guy Gavriel Kay
Kay’s standalone novel is a romantic and tragic tale set in a world that strongly resembles Moorish Spain.
The novel’s three main characters come from distinct religious backgrounds, akin to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and their interactions provide a deep dive into the complexities of religious tolerance, cultural assimilation, and the societal challenges posed by the Reconquista.
‘The Grace of Kings’ by Ken Liu
‘The Grace of Kings’ is the first book in Liu’s ‘Dandelion Dynasty’ series.
It’s an epic tale of rebellion, politics, and unlikely friendships, and it’s steeply rooted in the history and philosophy of the ancient Chinese Han Dynasty.
Liu’s story of Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu parallels the rise of Liu Bang and Xiang Yu following the fall of the Qin Dynasty, offering a unique blend of history and fantasy.
‘River of Teeth’ by Sarah Gailey
In ‘River of Teeth,’ Gailey spins a fascinating alternate history where an actual, but failed, 19th-century American scheme to farm hippos in the Mississippi River is a reality.
This adventurous tale of cowboys, outlaws, and ‘hoppers’ (hippo riders) provides a wild, imaginative take on American frontier life, offering a unique perspective on the era of western expansion.
‘The Golem and the Jinni’ by Helene Wecker
Wecker’s novel is a tale of immigration, combining elements of Jewish and Arab folklore.
Set in New York City in 1899, the story follows Chava, a golem brought to life by a rabbi, and Ahmad, a jinni released from a flask by a tinsmith.
As they navigate the bustling immigrant communities of the city, the novel offers an engaging exploration of the immigrant experience in America at the turn of the 20th century.
So, there you have it. Who would’ve thought that traipsing around in our fantasy favourites could double as a history lesson?
It’s a bit like finding out your favourite pub serves a cracking Sunday roast. A pleasant surprise, to be sure.
Explore the captivating world of magic systems in fantasy literature. Understand their importance, varieties, evolution, and examples from renowned authors like Tolkien, Le Guin, and Sanderson.
Today, we’re going on a trip to the fantastical realm of magic systems in fantasy, the invisible scaffolding supporting the marvellous spectacles in our beloved enchanting tales.
As ubiquitous as a unicorn in a fairy tale, these systems are the heart and soul of many a fantastical narrative.
What is a Magic System?
A magic system is the set of rules that governs the use of magic in a fantasy world.
Yes, that’s right, even magic—seemingly the epitome of unregulated whimsy—has rules.
Magic systems dictate who can use magic, what they can and cannot do with it, and what consequences follow when they twirl their wand, click their ruby slippers, or utter cryptic phrases (which, for some reason, are often in Latin).
Why are Magic Systems Necessary?
You might ask, “Why bother with all these rules? Isn’t magic meant to be, well, magical?”
Magic systems are not an elaborate scheme to sap the fun out of wizards’ lives.
On the contrary, they give structure and believability to a world.
Imagine watching a Quidditch match where players can score a million points with a wave of their wand.
That would make for a rather short and dull game, wouldn’t it?
Simply put, restrictions breed creativity and tension.
They allow for plot twists, character growth, and most importantly, they keep us, the readers, at the edge of our seats.
After all, where would be the excitement if our hero could simply wave away every dragon, riddling sphinx, or marauding orc army with the flick of a wrist?
The Magical Spectrum: From Mystical to Scientific
Magic systems come in all shapes and sizes, from those shrouded in the mists of mystery to those laid out like a physics textbook.
On the one end of the spectrum, we have Mystical Magic Systems.
These are the systems that maintain an aura of mystery and capriciousness.
They function more like an art than a science, relying heavily on intuition, emotions, or the whims of magical entities.
Rules? Pah! These systems scoff at rules. They are as unpredictable as a box of kittens, and just as likely to change direction without notice.
At the other end, we have Scientific Magic Systems.
These systems have detailed rules and clear limitations.
They’re logical, predictable, and follow consistent principles, much like the laws of physics (well, if physics included spells and potions, of course).
They can make magic feel as commonplace as making a cup of tea, but when done right, they give a sense of realism to the fantastical.
They are to magic what an Ikea manual is to flat-pack furniture— demystifying, useful, but sometimes downright baffling.
Of course, most magic systems fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
They maintain an air of enigma while also keeping a tight leash on magical escapades.
The magic may be mysterious, but its application and limitations are usually well-defined.
In the end, the choice of magic system depends on what serves the story best.
Some tales benefit from the ethereal nature of a mystical system, while others require the rigour of a scientific system.
Just like a good cuppa, it’s all about personal taste and the right blend.
The Evolution of Magic Systems
Magic systems in fantasy literature have evolved from the grand, ambiguous power of the likes of Gandalf to the intricately detailed and logical systems seen in novels like Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn” series.
In the beginning, there was Tolkien. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not implying that J.R.R. was the first to pen fantasy. But let’s face it, his influence on the genre is as immeasurable as the length of a hobbit’s second breakfast.
It’s more about a sense of wonder, a mystical force that surrounds wizards, elves, and enchanted objects.
Gandalf, our favourite wizard (sorry, Rincewind), seldom explains his power, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Le Guin’s True Names
Then, we have our good friend Ursula K. Le Guin, who introduced us to the wizard Ged in “A Wizard of Earthsea.”
Le Guin’s magic is based on the “True Names” of things.
It’s a bit like having a secret nickname for your toaster that, once uttered, can make it dance the cha-cha.
It’s a more systematic approach than Tolkien’s, yet it still retains a certain enigmatic quality.
Pratchett’s Colourful Chaos
Terry Pratchett took us in a completely different direction in his “Discworld” series.
In this flat world carried on the back of four elephants standing on a giant turtle (yes, you read that correctly), magic is a common and chaotic force, rather like trying to herd cats during a full moon.
Pratchett’s wizards spend more time trying to avoid magic, for fear of the unpredictable effects.
It’s like dealing with a highly caffeinated toddler—you never know what will happen, but it’s certain to be loud and potentially destructive.
The Wheel Turns
Now, let’s take a leap across the pond to our American friends. Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series presents us with a distinct magic system with a strong gender divide.
Women channel the ‘One Power’ far more safely than men, who risk madness and death.
It’s a bit like asking your partner to control the TV remote—sometimes it’s safer to just do it yourself.
Magic as Science
In more recent times, Brandon Sanderson has become the darling of logical magic systems.
His novels, particularly those in the “Mistborn” series, present magic as a science, with clear rules and limitations.
Sanderson’s “Allomancy” involves ingesting and “burning” different types of metal to gain specific powers.
It’s like a high-stakes version of choosing your breakfast cereal—each one gives you a different kind of boost.
The evolution of magic systems mirror our own changing understanding of the world.
As our knowledge has grown, so too has the complexity and logic of the magic in our favourite novels.
Yet, the sense of wonder remains.
After all, as Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Below you’ll find some books with unique magic systems from a range of fantasy sub-genres.
Whether you’re a fan of epic fantasy, or prefer your stories with vampires and werewolves, this list has something for you.
“Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson
Starting us off, we have Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn” series. In this world, magic comes from ingesting bits of metal, a practice known as Allomancy. Better yet, if you can stomach a mix of various metals, you become a Mistborn, capable of wielding extraordinary power. If that’s not a unique take on “You are what you eat,” I don’t know what is.
“The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin
Next, we find ourselves in the world of “The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin. Here, magic is a force of nature, quite literally! The magic system, orogeny, allows certain individuals to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to prevent and cause earthquakes. It’s like being a living, breathing weather app with the added bonus of earthquake alerts.
“Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” by Susanna Clarke
Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” brings us a magic deeply rooted in British history and folklore, with a library’s worth of fictitious books about magic. It’s a beautifully intricate system where magic is more about knowledge, study, and the ability to argue with a straight face that the colour of your socks affects the potency of your spells.
“The Poppy War” by R.F. Kuang
With R.F. Kuang’s “The Poppy War,” we delve into a magic system inspired by Chinese history and myth. Shamanism allows individuals to access the power of gods, but it comes with a price. It’s a bit like renting your mind to a deity with questionable intentions. Remember to always read the terms and conditions before signing on the dotted line.
“A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab
In V.E. Schwab’s “A Darker Shade of Magic”, we find not one, but four Londons, each with a different relationship to magic. The catch? Only the rare Antari can travel between them. It’s like having a magical Oyster card with unlimited travel. Just mind the gap between Red London and White London!
“The Black Tides of Heaven” by JY Yang
JY Yang’s “The Black Tides of Heaven” presents us with the Tensorate series, where magic, or the Slack, is manipulated through a complex system of elemental sigils. It’s a world where gender fluidity is the norm and the magic system is about as simple as quantum physics.
“Storm Front” by Jim Butcher
If you prefer your magic with a side of detective work, Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series, starting with “Storm Front,” is your cup of tea. Here, wizard Harry Dresden solves magical crimes in Chicago. Magic is as everyday as a cuppa, but with more fireballs. Just remember, don’t tick off the faeries!
“Who Fears Death” by Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor’s “Who Fears Death” gives us a post-apocalyptic Africa where magic is a deeply personal and transformative power. It’s a harrowing but captivating journey. Warning: this book may cause an existential crisis and a sudden urge to explore your own magical abilities.
“The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss
In “The Name of the Wind”, Patrick Rothfuss gives us Sympathy, a magic system steeped in scientific principles. It’s the kind of magic system that would make Newton proud, if he wasn’t too busy being miffed about that apple.
“Assassin’s Apprentice” by Robin Hobb
Journeying into the realm of Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, we find the Wit, a deeply intimate and often stigmatised form of magic. It grants the user a telepathic link with animals, lending an altogether different perspective on the phrase ‘walkies’. It’s like being Dr. Dolittle, but with more political intrigue and fewer dancing pushmi-pullyus. Just remember, while talking to your dog about the state of the kingdom, don’t forget his regular scratch behind the ears.
Dive into the thrilling world of fantasy heists! Explore seven iconic literary thefts that blend risk, cunning, and magical audacity.
Ah, there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned heist.
The thrill of the chase, the danger of detection, the subtle art of misdirection—it’s all the fun of the fair but with a higher risk of decapitation.
So, let’s tighten our cloaks, check our hidden pockets, and stroll down the shadowy alleyways of fantasy literature’s greatest heists.
Remember, it’s not stealing if it’s for a good cause. Right?
The Salvaran Job (The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch)
Locke and his Gentlemen Bastards don’t just steal; they elevate theft into a sophisticated art form. The Salvaran heist was less a crime and more a meticulously choreographed dance of lies, deception, and false-bottomed wine barrels. It makes the Italian Job look like nicking penny sweets from a corner shop.
The Theft of the Orb (The Belgariad, David Eddings)
Garion and his band’s quest to steal back the Orb of Aldur was a romp across kingdoms, through sorcerous battles and into the heart of a hostile empire. It’s a lesson in why you should always keep your magical artifacts under lock and key, or at the very least, not in a place marked ‘swipe me.’
The Theft of Stormbringer (Elric of Melniboné, Michael Moorcock)
Stealing a sentient, soul-drinking sword from a melancholic, semi-deranged prince? Just another day at the office for Elric’s treacherous cousin Yyrkoon. Makes your office politics seem rather tame, doesn’t it?
Pilfering the Precious (The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien)
What’s a list of heists without Bilbo Baggins and his misguided quest to pickpocket a treasure-obsessed dragon? Not only does it set the gold standard for burglary, but it’s also a stark reminder: always check your insurance covers kleptomaniac hobbits.
Stealing the Allomantic Atium (Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson)
Vin and her crew didn’t just plan to rob the Lord Ruler of his precious atium, they aimed to topple an empire. When your bank robbery is also a political coup, you know you’re in deep. And people think organising a pub crawl is challenging.
And there we have it. Five magnificent, perilous, downright audacious heists that have kept us entertained, petrified, and seriously doubting our career choices.
Next time you’re planning a daring escapade, remember: do it with style, avoid dragons, and for goodness’ sake, never trust a cousin with a grudge.
Embark on a captivating journey through the enchanting world of coming-of-age fantasy. Explore themes, top books, and claim your free starter library. Let the adventure begin!
Welcome to the enchanting world of coming-of-age fantasy!
In this post, you’ll discover the heart of this genre, exploring why readers are so drawn to these tales, and highlighting the top books and authors that have defined it.
And as a special treat, don’t miss the chance to claim your free Ravenglass Universe starter library when you join our newsletter today.
What is Coming-of-Age Fantasy?
Coming-of-age fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy literature that focuses on the growth and development of a young protagonist.
The stories often centrr around themes of self-discovery, responsibility, and the transition from childhood to adulthood.
With the backdrop of a magical world, these narratives resonate with readers as they follow the protagonist’s journey, both physical and emotional.
Themes and Subjects of Coming-of-Age Fantasy
Coming-of-age fantasy stories are rich in themes that explore the human experience. Common themes include:
Self-Discovery: As the protagonist navigates their world, they often discover hidden talents, powers, or abilities that define their identity and influence their destiny.
Friendship: The bonds formed with companions on the journey are integral to the protagonist’s growth, teaching them about trust, loyalty, and sacrifice.
Responsibility: As they mature, the protagonist learns to shoulder the weight of their newfound powers and the expectations placed upon them.
Conflict: Coming-of-age fantasy tales often involve battles against external forces, such as evil sorcerers or malevolent creatures, as well as internal struggles within the protagonist’s own heart and mind.
Good vs. Evil: The protagonist discovers moral ambiguity and navigates the complexities of right and wrong, light and dark.
Love: The protagonist experiences various forms of love—familial, romantic, platonic—that shape their character and choices.
Choice: At critical junctures, the protagonist must make difficult decisions that determine their fate and the fate of others.
Identity: The protagonist undertakes a journey of self-discovery to determine who they are and who they want to become.
Independence: The protagonist gains freedom from authority figures or home environments, allowing them to think and act for themselves.
Courage: Finding bravery in the face of fear and danger is central to the protagonist’s triumph over adversity.
Top Coming-of-Age Fantasy Books
Some of the most celebrated books and authors in coming-of-age fantasy include:
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien:
This classic novel follows the journey of Bilbo Baggins, a young hobbit who discovers his own courage and resourcefulness as he embarks on a perilous quest.
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling:
This beloved series chronicles the life of young wizard Harry Potter as he navigates the magical world of Hogwarts, learning about friendship, love, and the power of courage.
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman:
A thought-provoking series that explores themes of self-discovery, morality, and the nature of consciousness, as young Lyra Belacqua sets out on an epic journey through parallel worlds.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss:
This captivating novel follows the life of Kvothe, a legendary figure who recounts his rise from a lowly orphan to a renowned magician and adventurer.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle:
A moving story of Meg Murry, an awkward teen girl who embarks on an adventure across dimensions to find her missing father.
Sabriel by Garth Nix:
Sabriel, a young necromancer, must venture into the perilous Old Kingdom to rescue her father from the Land of the Dead.
The Belgariad by David Eddings:
Garion, an orphaned farm boy, discovers his destiny in a quest to retrieve a powerful orb and fulfill an ancient prophecy.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin:
The story of Ged, a sorcerer who must journey far from home to escape the darkness he unleashed into the world.
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson:
Joel, a non-magical student at a school for Rithmatists–those who can animate chalk drawings and use them for defense–gets caught up in a dangerous mystery.
Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb:
This novel follows the life of FitzChivalry Farseer, a royal bastard who is apprenticed to become an assassin in the Six Duchies. As Fitz navigates court intrigue and the skills of his grim trade, he also struggles to find his place in a world that does not always welcome him.
Now that you’ve been introduced to the captivating world of coming-of-age fantasy, it’s time to embark on your own adventure.
Join my newsletter today and receive a free Ravenglass Universe starter library, filled with spellbinding tales that will transport you to a world of magic, mystery, and wonder.
Don’t miss this exclusive offer—claim your free books now and let the adventure begin!
Explore the evolution of epic fantasy from Tolkien’s foundational works to today’s expansive sagas, tracing key authors, series, tropes, and innovations that have shaped the growth of the beloved fantasy genre.
Today, we’ll embark on a journey through the annals of epic fantasy, traversing the vast landscapes of imagination. From the legendary works of J.R.R. Tolkien to the sweeping sagas of Brandon Sanderson, we shall explore the evolution of this beloved genre. So, grab your walking stick, saddle your trusty steed, and let us begin the adventure.
Standing on Tolkien’s shoulders
In the beginning, there was Tolkien. And Tolkien said, “Let there be Middle-earth!” And lo, Middle-earth was born, replete with hobbits, elves, dwarves, and a fearsome Dark Lord. Tolkien’s monumental work, The Lord of the Rings, set the stage for all the epic fantasy that would follow. It was a tale of heroic deeds, grand quests, and a world so rich in detail, you’d think he’d been there himself. But Tolkien’s mastery of world-building and language was not without its consequences. For many years, the epic fantasy genre languished in his mighty shadow, with countless would-be wordsmiths attempting to recreate the magic of Middle-earth. Some reached for the stars, while others, fell rather short of the mark. But a new generation of authors emerged, each bringing their own unique flavour to the table.
The Wardrobe Opens with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia
In the wake of Middle-earth’s creation by J.R.R. Tolkien, another towering figure in fantasy literature offered readers an invitation to a different kind of epic journey. C.S. Lewis, a close friend and contemporary of Tolkien, crafted a world of magic and adventure accessible through an ordinary wardrobe in his iconic series, The Chronicles of Narnia. While Tolkien endeavoured to craft an detailed, adult-oriented mythology, Lewis’ Narnia aimed to capture the imaginations of children. The Chronicles of Narnia, beginning with “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” introduced readers to a realm where animals talk, witches reign, and battles between good and evil are fought. One of the distinguishing elements of Lewis’ series is the blend of Christian allegory with elements of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythologies, as well as traditional British and Irish fairy tales. Aslan, the lion, is a figure of nobility and sacrifice, whose story arc draws heavily on Christian narratives, while other characters and plot elements borrow from a wide array of mythologies. This synthesis creates a world that is both familiar and fantastical, allowing for complex moral and philosophical explorations within an accessible, adventure-filled narrative. The Chronicles of Narnia demonstrated that epic fantasy could be made accessible and enjoyable to younger readers while still engaging with complex themes and moral questions.
Envisioning the Far Future with Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth
Stretching the temporal dimensions of epic fantasy to their limits, Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth presents a richly detailed world set so far in the future that it teeters on the brink of entropy.
First published in 1950, this collection of loosely connected stories takes place in a time when the sun is nearing the end of its lifespan, casting a perpetual twilight upon an Earth populated by strange creatures and remnants of advanced, forgotten civilisations.
The Dying Earth features vivid world-building, characterised by a mix of fantasy and science fiction elements.
Vance’s far-future Earth is both a playground of advanced technology and a cradle of arcane magics, blurring the line between the two.
His prose is marked by a distinctive, ornate style that lends a sense of antiquity and melancholic beauty to the tales.
Inventive and filled with eccentric characters, Vance’s series was among the first to combine elements of science fiction and fantasy in a single narrative.
Its dystopian portrayal of a dying world and advanced society in decline introduced darker, more complex themes to the genre.
The series also stands out for its influence on magic systems in fantasy literature, with its concept of ‘memorised spells’ having been adapted by several subsequent works and role-playing games.
Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth represents an important milestone in the evolution of epic fantasy.
By envisioning a world so far removed from our present or historical past, Vance expanded the genre’s temporal boundaries and demonstrated the potential of blending speculative genres to create rich, unique worlds.
His influence can be felt in countless later works that blend magic and science, and in those that take place in far-flung futures.
Discovering The Wizard of Earthsea
Published in the late 1960s, Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle was groundbreaking, blending elements of high fantasy, coming-of-age narrative, and philosophical exploration. Set in the archipelago of Earthsea, the story follows Ged, a young boy with innate magical talent. Le Guin’s Earthsea diverges from many fantasy realms by not focusing on grand battles and quests, but rather the inward journey of its protagonist. Ged’s struggles with his own pride and fear provide a powerful exploration of self-discovery and personal growth. Le Guin’s approach to magic is also worth noting. In Earthsea, magic is based on the idea of balance and understanding the true nature of things, primarily through their ‘true names’. This concept added a layer of depth and spirituality to the genre, reinforcing the idea that power comes with responsibility and often, personal cost. The Wizard of Earthsea’s focus on personal growth and introspection, along with its nuanced treatment of magic, were key milestones in the evolution of epic fantasy. Le Guin’s contribution showed that the genre was capable of tackling deep philosophical ideas and themes of personal identity, sowing seeds that would come to fruition in the works of future generations of fantasy authors.
Navigating Frank Herbert’s Dune
Frank Herbert’s Dune, while often categorised as science fiction, has had a profound influence on the epic fantasy genre. Its detailed world-building, complex political machinations, and exploration of ecology and religion have resonated deeply within the realms of fantasy literature. Dune unfolds on the desert planet Arrakis, the sole source of the universe’s most precious substance, the spice melange. The tale follows young Paul Atreides, who navigates a deadly web of political intrigue and warfare as he comes to terms with his destiny. Dune’s depth of world-building is striking. Herbert creates a universe rich in politics, religion, and ecology, detailing the interactions between various factions vying for control over the spice. This vastness and depth of world-building has become a hallmark of many epic fantasy narratives. Furthermore, the narrative delves into philosophy and the human condition, exploring themes of power, religion, and ecological stewardship. This blending of speculative fiction with complex thematic exploration is a facet that Dune shares with epic fantasy. Dune’s enduring legacy lies in its intricate narrative structure and the depths of its thematic exploration, which have become staples in the epic fantasy genre. It is a benchmark in speculative fiction, illustrating the genre’s potential for depth and complexity. Dune’s influence in the realm of epic fantasy is undeniable, with its contributions helping to shape the genre into its current form.
Soaring with Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight
Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, the first book in the Dragonriders of Pern series, is a groundbreaking work that blurs the lines between science fiction and fantasy, making a lasting impact on the landscape of epic fantasy. Dragonflight introduces readers to the world of Pern, a colonised planet where the inhabitants have bio-engineered dragons to combat an alien spore, called Thread, that periodically rains down from the sky. McCaffrey’s world is one where traditional fantasy elements, such as dragons and telepathy, meld with science fiction concepts, including space travel and genetic manipulation. The narrative centres around Lessa, a young woman who forms a psychic bond with the dragon queen Ramoth, becoming a key player in Pern’s survival against the Thread. McCaffrey’s use of a strong, complex female protagonist, a rarity in the genre at the time of the book’s publication, has had a lasting impact on epic fantasy, paving the way for increased gender diversity in the genre. Dragonflight’s blend of science fiction and fantasy elements marked a departure from traditional epic fantasy tropes, expanding the genre’s boundaries. McCaffrey’s distinctive fusion of genres, combined with her focus on character-driven narrative, opened new avenues for thematic and narrative exploration within epic fantasy.
Unsheathing The Sword of Shannara
Making its debut in the mid-1970s, The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks played a pivotal role in the evolution of epic fantasy. It stands as one of the first successful high fantasy novels published after the monumental works of Tolkien, proving to the publishing world that readers were eager for more epic fantasy tales. Set in the Four Lands, a post-apocalyptic world brimming with magic, Brooks’ saga follows the half-elf Shea Ohmsford in his quest to wield the powerful Sword of Shannara against the malevolent Warlock Lord. The world of Shannara showcases a richly diverse cast of races including dwarves, gnomes, and trolls, as well as a unique magical system. While Brooks’ saga has drawn criticism for its perceived similarities to Tolkien’s work, it nevertheless helped to lay the foundation for modern epic fantasy. His storytelling, filled with grand quests, magical artifacts, and diverse characters, helped establish key tropes of the genre. The Sword of Shannara’s widespread popularity played a significant role in demonstrating the commercial viability of epic fantasy. This not only helped spawn a decades-long series of Shannara books but also paved the way for other epic fantasy authors.
Shattering Realities with Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber
In the 1970s, epic fantasy was given another twist, courtesy of Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. Zelazny’s work blurred the boundaries between fantasy and science fiction, weaving a tale of intra-dimensional politics and metaphysical exploration that was as philosophical as it was thrilling. The Chronicles of Amber centre on Corwin, a member of the royal family of Amber, the one true world of which all others, including our Earth, are but mere shadows. The concept of infinite parallel worlds, each a variation of Amber, offered an innovative take on world-building. Rather than crafting a single, detailed setting, Zelazny created a multiverse teeming with possibilities. Zelazny’s Amber series features a sophisticated narrative, characterised by non-linear storytelling, unreliable narrators, and an elegant, allusive prose style that draws heavily from mythology and poetry. His work, while replete with action and intrigue, also delves into philosophical and metaphysical themes, pushing the boundaries of what was traditionally expected from fantasy literature. The Chronicles of Amber’s integration of fantasy, science fiction, and philosophical musings represented a significant shift in the genre, opening the door for later works that would further blur genre boundaries and deepen the thematic complexity of fantasy literature.
Embracing Complexity with Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant Series
In a daring departure from traditional heroics of epic fantasy, Stephen Donaldson introduced a profoundly flawed protagonist in his Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever series. Launched in 1977 with “Lord Foul’s Bane,” the series was revolutionary, as it grappled with complex psychological and ethical dilemmas through its eponymous character, Thomas Covenant. Covenant is an antihero who is thrust into a magical realm known as The Land while suffering from a severe crisis of disbelief, exacerbated by his real-world diagnosis of leprosy. The series is marked by Covenant’s struggle to accept the reality of The Land, whilst grappling with his sense of morality and the burden of power. Donaldson’s works are recognised for their exploration of the human condition, introspection, and the moral implications of power. They are characterised by their dense, literary style and philosophical underpinnings, offering a stark contrast to the straightforward heroism often found in the genre. The series demonstrated that epic fantasy could delve deep into complex emotional and psychological landscapes. By focusing on an antihero, Donaldson underscored that fantasy characters could be deeply flawed and conflicted, opening the door for more nuanced character development in the genre. The series challenged the notion of escapism often associated with fantasy literature, instead confronting readers with harsh realities and moral complexities. This move toward greater complexity and realism has significantly influenced subsequent authors, making the series a landmark in the evolution of epic fantasy.
Exploring Interdimensional Conflict
Adding a new dimension to epic fantasy, literally and figuratively, Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga begins with “Magician,” a novel that ushered readers into the twin worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan. The saga, beginning in the early 1980s, brought a fresh take to the genre, blending traditional fantasy elements with ideas borrowed from science fiction, such as interdimensional travel and alien cultures. Feist’s narrative focuses on an epic conflict, known as the Riftwar, between the inhabitants of Midkemia and Kelewan, brought on by a rift in space-time. Over the course of the saga, readers are treated to intricate plotlines and a vast cast of characters, encompassing everything from humble apprentices to powerful sorcerers, from human thieves to alien invaders. Feist’s work stands out for its fusion of epic and personal narratives. While the Riftwar provides a backdrop of grandeur and spectacle, the saga’s heart lies in its focus on characters’ growth and relationships, lending a personal dimension to the interdimensional conflict. Feist’s Riftwar Saga offered a unique blend of elements, taking the best of epic fantasy—grand scale, intricate world-building, a large cast of characters—and blending it with the alien worlds and interdimensional concepts more common in science fiction. This cross-genre pollination, combined with the series’ emphasis on character development, played a substantial role in shaping the direction of modern epic fantasy.
Dungeons & Dragons
While our journey has primarily focused on literary works, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the influence of the iconic tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), on the evolution of epic fantasy. Devised by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, D&D broke new ground in the world of gaming and storytelling, inviting players to step into the shoes of adventurers in a multitude of fantastical settings. It established a framework of rules, races, classes, and magic systems that has since become synonymous with fantasy role-playing games. The game encourages collaborative storytelling, as players navigate through adventures, or ‘campaigns,’ guided by a Dungeon Master. This approach blends elements of improvisational theatre, narrative storytelling, and strategic gameplay into a singular experience. In this way, D&D mirrors the richness of epic fantasy literature, offering characters, plots, and worlds that can be as complex and captivating as any novel. D&D has not only inspired numerous fantasy authors but has also led to its own successful line of novels, such as the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms series (more on those in a moment). The game’s influence extends beyond the realm of literature and gaming, impacting broader pop culture and reinforcing the enduring appeal of the fantasy genre. Dungeons & Dragons’ influence on the evolution of epic fantasy cannot be overstated. It has influenced countless authors, and spawned its own rich literary tradition, solidifying its place in the annals of epic fantasy.
Rolling the Dice with Dragonlance
The Dragonlance series, initiated by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, holds a unique place in the evolution of epic fantasy. Born out of Dungeons & Dragons game sessions, the series merged the realms of tabletop gaming and fantasy literature, introducing a new level of collaborative storytelling and character development to the genre. Set in the world of Krynn, the Dragonlance series brought the high-stakes adventure and camaraderie of role-playing games to the page. The initial Chronicles Trilogy starts with “Dragons of Autumn Twilight,” launching readers into a tale of friendship, treachery, and epic battles, populated with a diverse cast of characters, each with their own distinctive traits and arcs. Dragonlance’s world-building is characterised by a blend of classic fantasy elements with original creations, such as the different types of dragons, the orders of knighthood, and the various races inhabiting Krynn. The pantheon of gods and the magic system in Dragonlance are also tied closely to the Dungeons & Dragons mechanics, creating a familiar landscape for fans of the game while extending the narrative possibilities. The series’ emphasis on character relationships and development, its exploration of moral themes, and the infusion of humour and camaraderie set it apart. The characters of Dragonlance, from the heroic Tanis Half-Elven to the enigmatic Raistlin Majere, resonate with readers, often because of their flaws and inner conflicts rather than their heroic deeds. The Dragonlance series, with its roots in Dungeons & Dragons, not only transformed the epic fantasy landscape but also highlighted the potential for role-playing games to inspire engaging and complex narratives.
Into the Depths with Forgotten Realms
Another cornerstone in the realm of fantasy literature rooted in the fertile ground of Dungeons & Dragons is the Forgotten Realms series. This franchise, with dozens of authors contributing over the years, has expanded into a vast literary universe that showcases the storytelling possibilities of shared-world settings. The most iconic subset of the Forgotten Realms series is R.A. Salvatore’s books featuring the drow, or dark elf, Drizzt Do’Urden. Drizzt, with his moral complexity, deep sense of honour, and struggle against his people’s cruel reputation, quickly captured readers’ imaginations, making him one of the most beloved characters in all of epic fantasy. Set within the sprawling world of Faerûn, the Forgotten Realms stories encompass a broad range of settings and characters. The vastness of this shared world allows authors to delve into a myriad of stories, from high-stakes epic quests to smaller, more personal narratives, all against a richly imagined backdrop. The Forgotten Realms series, particularly through iconic characters like Drizzt Do’Urden, underscores the genre’s ability to delve into the internal conflicts of individuals as much as external epic quests, offering a nuanced perspective on heroism and morality within the larger context of a shared universe.
Unraveling the Pawn of Prophecy
Continuing the trend of epic fantasy in the 1980s, David Eddings’ The Belgariad series, beginning with Pawn of Prophecy, brought a refreshing character-centric approach to the genre. Eddings constructed a richly detailed world filled with diverse cultures, a pantheon of gods, and prophecies that entwine fate and free will. The Pawn of Prophecy introduces us to Garion, an unassuming farm boy, who is catapulted into an epic quest to fulfill a grand prophecy. Eddings’ focus on character development and interactions, particularly in the banter among Garion’s traveling companions, set a new standard for character dynamics within the genre. Eddings’ approach to magic is also notable. In his world, sorcery is rooted in the Will and the Word, where a person’s will, when voiced, can influence the world. This concept adds an intellectual aspect to his magic system, tying it closely with the characters’ emotional states and mental discipline. The Belgariad series, with its blend of rich world-building, engaging characters, and thought-provoking prophecies, has made a lasting impact on epic fantasy, with several modern author citing at as the series that made them want to write their own epic fantasy. David Eddings demonstrated that at the heart of epic fantasy can be deeply human stories, where the characters and their relationships can be as compelling as the grandest of quests.
Unfolding Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun
Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, a four-volume science fantasy epic, marks a significant departure from conventional epic fantasy narratives. Its fusion of science fiction and fantasy, coupled with a complex, layered narrative, has profoundly influenced the genre. The series is set in a far future Earth, now referred to as Urth, a dying world governed by a decaying society that has forgotten its technologically advanced past. The narrative is presented as a memoir of Severian, a journeyman torturer who is exiled for the crime of showing mercy. Wolfe’s work challenges the conventions of the genre, not just through its setting and narrative structure, but also through its complex use of language and its exploration of philosophical and theological themes. The narrative is rife with allusions, allegory, and symbolism, which add multiple layers of meaning, making each rereading a new experience. The Book of the New Sun also stands out for its unreliable narrator, Severian, whose flawed recollections add another layer of complexity to the narrative. This technique has influenced many contemporary fantasy authors, showcasing the narrative potential that lies in the unreliable perspective. The Book of the New Sun is a landmark in the evolution of epic fantasy, broadening the genre’s thematic and narrative horizons.
Entering The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
When you think of Stephen King, the genre that first comes to mind is likely horror, not epic fantasy. Yet with The Dark Tower series, starting with The Gunslinger, King successfully merges these genres, producing a unique blend of epic fantasy, horror, western, and science fiction elements that defies easy categorization. The series follows the journey of Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger, in his relentless pursuit of the enigmatic Man in Black and the quest for the Dark Tower. The Dark Tower itself, the nexus of all universes, is a compelling symbol of the intersection between order, chaos, and the protagonist’s obsession. King’s complex narrative blends the mundane with the fantastical, intertwining parallel worlds, multiple timelines, and a medley of characters each uniquely flawed yet endearing. The inclusion of elements from his other novels lends an additional layer of complexity to the series, effectively turning it into a meta-textual journey through King’s literary universe. With The Gunslinger, King successfully integrated elements of American Westerns—the lone gunslinger, the arid desert, the pursuit of a formidable enemy—into the epic fantasy genre, presenting readers with a unique take on the hero’s journey. The Dark Tower series demonstrates the flexibility of epic fantasy, highlighting its potential to borrow from and blend with other genres, further expanding its imaginative boundaries.
The Colourful Chaos of Discworld
Meanwhile, Terry Pratchett was busy turning the epic fantasy genre on its head with his satirical and whimsical Discworld series. Set on a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants riding a gigantic turtle swimming through space, Discworld is a testament to the limitless bounds of the genre. Pratchett’s work played with tropes and clichés, using humour, satire, and wit to present deep philosophical and social commentaries. The diversity of his characters, from sentient luggage to witches and city watchmen, created a universe as colourful and chaotic as our own. By not taking itself too seriously, Discworld opened up a new path for the genre, one that allowed for laughter and profundity in equal measure. Pratchett’s contribution demonstrated that epic fantasy could be light-hearted yet thoughtful, pushing the boundaries of the genre in unexpected and delightful ways.
Returning to Roots with Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn Trilogy
As epic fantasy continued to evolve, Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy returned to the genre’s roots while simultaneously pushing it towards new horizons. Launched with “The Dragonbone Chair,” the trilogy is lauded for its revival of traditional fantasy motifs, skillfully reimagined within a complex narrative and thematic framework. Set in the realm of Osten Ard, Williams’ series explores the fallout of a historic war between humans and the immortal Sithi. The trilogy centres around Simon, a young kitchen boy, who is catapulted into an epic quest replete with magic swords, ancient prophecies, and warring factions. While Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn employs traditional epic fantasy tropes, Williams breathes new life into these conventions. His characters are complex and well-drawn, with Simon’s journey from kitchen boy to hero unfolding in a realistic and compelling manner. Williams also delves into the complexities of power, history, and memory, infusing the series with a depth that transcends typical fantasy narratives. Perhaps the most lasting impact of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, however, has been its influence on subsequent fantasy authors. George R.R. Martin, in particular, has cited the trilogy as an inspiration for his A Song of Ice and Fire series, praising Williams for showing that epic fantasy could offer both the wonder of the imaginary and the dissection of human nature.
Spinning Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time
Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is a cornerstone in the landscape of epic fantasy, known for its enormous scope and intricate detail. Comprising 14 books, it is a sprawling saga set in a world that might be a far-future Earth, reshaping the genre with its depth and complexity. The series explores the cyclical nature of time through its protagonist, Rand al’Thor, the reincarnation of a powerful figure destined to fight the Dark One. Jordan’s work stands out for its enormous cast of characters, each contributing to the elaborate tapestry of a world teetering on the brink of chaos. The magic system in the Wheel of Time, based on the male-female duality of the True Source, is a masterful blend of eastern philosophy and western mysticism. This gender-based magic system contributes to the series’ exploration of gender dynamics, lending an interesting dimension to the narrative. Jordan’s world-building is astonishingly detailed. His societies are steeply stratified and feature distinct cultures, languages, and histories, making the world feel incredibly real and lived-in. He also masterfully interweaves political maneuvering, large-scale battles, and deeply personal character arcs, creating a rich, textured narrative. It is a testament to the genre’s capacity for grandeur and depth.
Exploring Historical Reflections
Known for his meticulous and evocative historical fantasy, Guy Gavriel Kay took a poetic leap with “A Song for Arbonne”. Published in 1992, the novel is set in a world inspired by the rich culture and turbulent history of the medieval Occitan region, now modern-day southern France. “A Song for Arbonne” offers readers a world of courtly love, bitter rivalries, and intricate political machinations, a backdrop against which Kay explores themes of love, honour, and the brutal cost of war. His characters, from the honour-bound Blaise to the fiercely independent troubadour, Lisseut, are drawn with a level of depth and complexity that elevates them beyond mere reflections of their historical counterparts. Kay’s approach to historical fantasy is unique in the way he infuses his world-building with a strong sense of real-world history. While he reimagines historical events and cultures, he does so with such finesse and depth of understanding that the resulting world feels as vibrant and real as any true historical setting. “A Song for Arbonne” is a prime example of how historical fiction and epic fantasy can meld together, creating a subgenre that offers the best of both worlds. The novel stands as a testament to Kay’s skill as a storyteller, demonstrating the potential of epic fantasy to delve deep into human history and experience. This work has undeniably influenced future authors who weave historical tapestries into their fantastical worlds.
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin has indisputably reshaped the landscape of epic fantasy. Set in the continents of Westeros and Essos, the series is best known for its intricate character webs, political intrigue, and a disregard for protecting its key characters. The narrative, told from multiple points of view, explores the power struggles among noble houses vying for the Iron Throne. This multi-perspective storytelling gives readers a comprehensive look into the complex, often morally ambiguous world Martin has created. His characters, whether heroes or villains, are deeply flawed and multifaceted, challenging the traditional binaries of good and evil found in many epic fantasies. Martin’s world-building is meticulous. From the harsh winters of the North to the sprawling desert lands of Dorne, every setting is imbued with a distinctive culture, politics, and history. The series’ nuanced exploration of power, war, and societal structures sets it apart, making it a pioneer in ‘grimdark’ fantasy. However, Martin’s most significant contribution is arguably his willingness to subvert reader expectations by killing off key characters. This disregard for narrative safety adds a level of unpredictability, creating a palpable sense of danger and tension throughout the series.
Through the Eyes of the Farseer
Following this period of increasingly expansive and intricate world-building, a new chapter in the evolution of epic fantasy was heralded by the arrival of Robin Hobb and her Farseer Trilogy. Hobb took a different approach, bringing the reader down from the soaring heights of cosmic struggle and grandeur to focus on a single character’s perspective—FitzChivalry Farseer, a royal bastard trained as an assassin. Hobb’s mastery of character development and emotional depth added a new dimension to the genre. Her world-building, while no less rich or detailed, was presented more subtly, woven into the very fabric of Fitz’s life and experiences. She also introduced a unique magic system, where abilities range from animal telepathy (the Wit) to empathetic manipulation (the Skill). She showed that epic fantasy need not be all about grand conflicts and large casts, but can also be deeply personal and emotional, delivering epic scope through the lens of a single character’s experience.
Unveiling the Malazan Enigma
In the evolution of epic fantasy, Steven Erikson’s formidable Malazan Book of the Fallen series stands out. Erikson plunged readers into the deep end of a labyrinthine world, mirroring the complexity of real-life archaeology and anthropology. Spanning continents, timeframes, and dimensions, Erikson’s ten-volume epic navigates through a vast sea of races, ancient history, a uniquely intricate magic system called ‘Warrens’, and an array of gods who meddle in mortal affairs. But the grandeur of the Malazan world does not overshadow its exploration of philosophical and human themes. Erikson digs deep into topics like compassion, mortality, and the cyclic nature of history, using the Malazan universe as his canvas. His approach to storytelling, a jigsaw of perspectives and non-linear narratives, offers a multifaceted exploration of these themes. The Malazan Book of the Fallen, with its dense complexity and intellectual depth, stretched the boundaries of epic fantasy. It proved that the genre can engage the intellect while providing entertainment, and redefined expectations for world-building and narrative depth.
Exploring Parallel Worlds in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, beginning with “Northern Lights,” introduced a level of philosophical and theological depth to epic fantasy that was groundbreaking at the time of its publication. Set across parallel universes, including one resembling our own, the series follows Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry as they navigate complex universes teeming with witches, armoured bears, and daemons—external representations of a person’s inner self. What sets His Dark Materials apart is its ambitious tackling of profound philosophical and theological questions. The series deftly explores themes of free will, the nature of consciousness, and the criticism of organised religion. This thematic richness, combined with Pullman’s brilliant storytelling, brings an intellectual heft to the genre. Pullman’s creation of daemons—external manifestations of a person’s soul in the form of animal companions—is a unique contribution to epic fantasy, providing a strikingly original mechanism to explore characters’ inner lives. Furthermore, the series’ protagonist, Lyra, is a complex and engaging female character whose narrative is not defined by a romantic storyline, a relative rarity in the genre. Pullman’s focus on a strong, independent young female lead has had a lasting impact on epic fantasy, paving the way for more such empowering characters.
Flying High with Eragon
Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, the inaugural novel in the Inheritance Cycle, brought a youthful perspective to the epic fantasy genre. Written when Paolini was just a teenager, the series resonated with a younger audience, carving out a place for adolescent voices in the realm of epic fantasy. Set in the world of Alagaësia, Eragon follows the journey of its titular character, a young farm boy, whose life takes an adventurous turn when he discovers a mysterious blue stone that turns out to be a dragon egg. The story combines classic elements of epic fantasy, such as dragons, magic, and a grand quest, with a coming-of-age narrative that speaks directly to younger readers. The world-building in Eragon is expansive and immersive, featuring a host of races, languages, and cultures. Despite its traditional epic fantasy backdrop, the series manages to deliver a fresh take by focusing on the protagonist’s personal growth and the moral complexities he grapples with as he navigates his journey. Perhaps the most significant contribution of Eragon to the evolution of epic fantasy lies in its appeal to a younger audience. Paolini’s series helped to bridge the gap between children’s fantasy and adult epic fantasy, thereby expanding the readership of the genre.
Uncovering The Lies of Locke Lamora
, the first book in the Gentleman Bastard series, is a high-octane adventure that blends elements of epic fantasy with crime caper. This novel shines a light on the seedier side of fantasy, providing a refreshing contrast to stories of royal lineage and world-saving quests. The narrative introduces Locke Lamora, an orphan turned con artist leading a band of thieves known as the ‘Gentleman Bastards.’ In the city-state of Camorr, a place with Venetian-like canals and Elderglass towers, they execute elaborate scams targeting the city’s rich nobility. Lynch’s world-building is rich and immersive, portraying Camorr as a city teeming with political intrigue, gang warfare, and ancient secrets. The magic, while not as prevalent as in other fantasy novels, lurks in the background, adding an air of mystery and menace. What truly sets this novel apart is its focus on clever, high-stakes cons, and the deep camaraderie among the ‘Gentleman Bastards.’ Lynch presents an intriguing and gritty look at the lives of thieves, highlighting their ingenuity and resilience in a world filled with danger.
Unraveling Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles
Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles, beginning with “The Name of the Wind,” signify a distinctive approach to epic fantasy, combining traditional tropes with a deep dive into the psyche of its protagonist, Kvothe. The series unravels as a first-person narrative, with an older Kvothe recounting his life story to the Chronicler over three days. This framework lends a uniquely introspective slant to the narrative, delving into the character’s motivations, feelings, and innermost thoughts in a manner seldom seen in epic fantasy. Rothfuss’s world-building is both comprehensive and captivating, encompassing a magic system rooted in scientific principles, an array of diverse cultures, and a richly detailed history. The inclusion of songs, poems, and stories within the larger narrative creates a deeply immersive world, harking back to the oral tradition of storytelling. However, the series distinguishes itself through its focus on the personal journey of Kvothe. While most epic fantasies revolve around large-scale events and their implications, the Kingkiller Chronicles zeroes in on Kvothe’s life, from his days as a troupe performer to his time at the University stud/headying magic. This character-driven narrative creates a powerful sense of intimacy, making Kvothe’s triumphs and tribulations profoundly relatable.
Stepping into The Way of Shadows
Brent Weeks’ The Way of Shadows, the first installment in the Night Angel trilogy, is an exhilarating foray into the dark underbelly of a world where assassins, or “wetboys,” wield magic. The novel features a high-stakes tale of survival and transformation, delving into themes of power, sacrifice, and the moral complexities of vengeance. The protagonist, Azoth, is a guild rat, struggling for survival in the slums, who apprentices himself to Durzo Blint, the realm’s most feared assassin. His transformation into Kylar Stern, a professional killer, challenges the narrative conventions of the hero’s journey, exploring the harsh realities and moral ambiguities that come with his profession. Weeks’ world-building is striking in its grit and complexity, with a magical system that is both mystical and cruel. The magic, termed Talent, is intertwined with the profession of wetboys, who employ it not just for killing, but also for stealth, healing, and even immortality. The Way of Shadows blends elements of epic fantasy with a dark, almost noir-like atmosphere, resulting in a distinctly grim and captivating narrative. Its focus on a morally gray protagonist, intricate magic system, and the exploration of sacrifice and survival broadens the horizons of epic fantasy. Weeks’ series signifies the genre’s capacity for darkness and introspection, and the continuing exploration of its ethical boundaries.
Reframing Morality with Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy
Entering the scene in the mid-2000s, Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy cast a gritty, grey-tinted lens on the epic fantasy genre. Known for its grim realism, moral ambiguity, and raw characterisation, Abercrombie’s series marked a significant departure from the genre’s traditional ‘good versus evil’ narrative. The series, beginning with “The Blade Itself,” introduces us to a range of deeply flawed, complex characters, from a barbarian warrior to a crippled torturer. Abercrombie’s world is not one of clear-cut heroes and villains but a murky realm where characters wrestle with their own vices, prejudices, and questionable morality. Abercrombie’s works stand out for their harsh realism and biting wit. He handles violence with unflinching honesty, emphasising its brutality and consequences. His knack for subverting tropes and expectations has made the First Law Trilogy a standard-bearer for the ‘grimdark’ subgenre of fantasy.
Facing the Darkness with Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle
In a world where nightfall brings fear and the ever-present threat of demonic attack, Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle unfolds. Starting with “The Warded Man” in 2008, the series melds the traditional fantasy premise of good versus evil with a nuanced examination of human nature and societal dynamics. Brett’s world is one besieged by demons, known as corelings, rising from the earth’s core each night. The only defence against these creatures are the protective wards, ancient symbols of power, which the inhabitants of this world use to shield their homes. This daily fight for survival creates a tense and relentless atmosphere that permeates the entire series. Central to the Demon Cycle’s narrative is the journey of its characters, from fearful survivors to heroes. However, Brett adds depth by highlighting the societal changes and conflicts that emerge as these characters wield their newfound power, raising questions about leadership, responsibility, and the cost of survival. The Demon Cycle is a significant contribution to the epic fantasy genre for its fusion of traditional fantasy tropes with intense survival drama and sociopolitical commentary. The series demonstrates how the boundaries of epic fantasy can be expanded without sacrificing its core themes of heroism and conflict.
Exploring A Darker Shade of Magic
V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, the inaugural book in the Shades of Magic series, is an exhilarating dive into parallel Londons, each with its own distinct relationship with magic. Schwab’s novel masterfully blends elements of epic fantasy, parallel universes, and adventure, adding a splash of vibrant colour to the genre. The story revolves around Kell, an Antari magician who can travel between four different Londons—Red, Grey, White, and the forbidden Black London. Each of these worlds is strikingly unique, varying in their level of magical saturation and societal structures, and is brought to life through Schwab’s immersive world-building. Schwab introduces a compelling magic system, where magic is seen not just as a tool but as a living entity with its own will. The relationship between the characters and magic is intrinsically tied to the world they inhabit, forming a crucial part of the narrative’s tension and intrigue. Also noteworthy is Delilah Bard, a cunning thief from Grey London, who aspires to be a pirate. Schwab deftly subverts the damsel-in-distress trope with Delilah, who is driven by her ambition and thirst for adventure. A Darker Shade of Magic is an excellent representation of the innovative potential in epic fantasy and showcases the vast, multi-dimensional landscape that epic fantasy literature has evolved to inhabit.
Diving into Six of Crows
Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, the first in a duology, blends the thrilling heist elements of crime fiction with the immersive world-building of epic fantasy, creating a unique narrative that broadens the genre’s scope. Set in the gritty, bustling city of Ketterdam, a hub for international trade and criminal activity, the story revolves around Kaz Brekker and his crew of skilled outcasts. These misfits are tasked with a near-impossible heist: breaking into the impenetrable Ice Court to retrieve a prisoner with invaluable knowledge. Bardugo’s world-building is rich and intricate, extending the Grishaverse established in her earlier trilogy. She uses the heist as a narrative device to explore the socio-economic dynamics, racial disparities, and political machinations in this morally grey world. The novel stands out for its well-drawn ensemble cast, each with a complex backstory and personal motivations that drive the narrative. They bring diversity to the genre, not just in terms of their varied backgrounds, but also through the exploration of themes such as trauma, addiction, and identity. Six of Crows is a testament to the genre’s ability to evolve beyond conventional fantasy tropes and settings. Bardugo skillfully intertwines elements of crime and epic fantasy, crafting a narrative centered around a high-stakes heist while exploring themes of friendship, loyalty, and survival.
Sailing with The Grace of Kings
Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, the first in the Dandelion Dynasty series, signals a significant shift in the epic fantasy genre towards a more diverse and globally inspired narrative. Drawing on elements from Chinese history and mythology, Liu crafts an epic tale of rebellion, friendship, and the transformative power of stories. The story takes place in the islands of Dara, where two unlikely friends, the bandit Kuni Garu and the defiant nobleman Mata Zyndu, rise against the tyranny of the emperor. Their friendship, tested by the tumult of rebellion and their differing ideologies, forms the emotional core of the narrative. Liu’s world-building is elaborate and distinctly Eastern in flavour, a divergence from the predominantly Eurocentric settings in epic fantasy. He infuses the narrative with elements of Chinese philosophy, mythological creatures, and a unique system of airships and battle kites. Liu’s innovative blend of epic fantasy with elements of wuxia, silkpunk, and Chinese history exemplifies the potential for cultural diversity within the genre.
Unleashing The Fifth Season
Marking a shift in the tectonic plates of epic fantasy, N.K. Jemisin’s groundbreaking The Fifth Season redefined what the genre could encompass. Set in a dystopian world, The Stillness, plagued by catastrophic climate changes known as ‘Seasons’, Jemisin weaves a story of survival, oppression, and the power of the earth itself. Jemisin’s innovative narrative structure, employing second-person point of view and non-linear storytelling, challenged traditional storytelling conventions, lending a distinctive voice to the genre. She breathed life into her characters and magic system, where ‘orogenes’ can control seismic activity, adding new layers to the world-building palette of epic fantasy. Jemisin uses the plight of the orogenes to explore themes of systemic oppression and racism, embedding these discussions naturally within her world. Her nuanced treatment of these subjects is both challenging and thought-provoking, ensuring her work resonates beyond the realm of fiction. The Fifth Season, with its fusion of sociopolitical themes and inventive storytelling, solidified Jemisin’s place as a transformative force in epic fantasy.
Igniting the Powder Mage Revolution
Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy ignited a fresh spark in the world of epic fantasy with its innovative blend of traditional magic and historical elements, forming a genre sometimes referred to as ‘flintlock fantasy.’ McClellan constructs a unique world that resembles 18th-century Europe in the throes of revolutionary fervor, yet suffused with magic, where the smell of gunpowder is as familiar as the scent of blood. The story revolves around a diverse group of characters caught up in political upheaval and civil war, including the titular ‘Powder Mages.’ These are individuals who can manipulate gunpowder to explosive effect, and even ingest it to enhance their physical abilities. This inventive magic system, juxtaposed with the series’ more conventional ‘Privileged’ sorcerers, establishes a tense dynamic that reflects the broader class struggle within McClellan’s world. The Powder Mage series offers a distinctive twist on epic fantasy, merging elements of historical and military fiction with traditional fantasy tropes. McClellan’s emphasis on military strategy, political intrigue, and battlefield tactics, combined with his gritty, unvarnished portrayal of war, adds a layer of realism that grounds the fantastical elements of the story. Through the Powder Mage trilogy, McClellan demonstrates that epic fantasy can successfully incorporate and reimagine elements from other genres. His unique blend of magic, history, and politics not only expands the genre’s boundaries but also highlights the creative potential of epic fantasy, contributing to its ongoing evolution.
The Onset of The Poppy War
Navigating a fresh course in the sea of epic fantasy, R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War offers a gripping, ruthless perspective on war and its costs. Drawing inspiration from the tumultuous history of 20th century China, including the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Opium Wars, Kuang masterfully interweaves real historical events with fantastical elements, offering a rich, immersive backdrop for her tale. The story follows Rin, a war orphan who escalates from obscurity to power through sheer determination and grit, but soon finds herself embroiled in the brutality of war and divine politics. Rin’s journey is not one of heroism in the traditional sense—instead, it’s a harrowing examination of the devastating effects of war and the corrosive influence of power. Kuang’s depiction of magic is tied intrinsically with gods and the price one must pay for their help. This links the fantastical with the horrific realities of war, and serves as a metaphor for the destructive power of weapons and the ethical dilemmas inherent in their use. The Poppy War is a stark departure from many of its epic fantasy contemporaries. Its unflinching portrayal of war’s horrors and its engagement with themes of colonialism, racism, and power dynamics present a challenging, thought-provoking narrative. Kuang’s work underscores the capacity of epic fantasy to grapple with grim historical realities and complex moral issues, further broadening the genre’s horizons.
The Unfolding of The Green Bone Saga
Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga, beginning with “Jade City”, offers a unique hybrid of epic fantasy and crime thriller, set in a world reminiscent of 20th-century Asia. Lee’s trilogy deftly mixes martial arts, organised crime, and magic into a narrative that challenges traditional definitions of epic fantasy. Centred on the island of Kekon, the story is grounded in the power of jade, a substance that bestows superhuman abilities upon its wearers. The societal and economic implications of jade form the heart of the narrative, with rival clans vying for control over its trade. Lee’s portrayal of jade as both a source of power and a potential curse mirrors the double-edged nature of wealth and ambition in real-world societies. Character dynamics in the Green Bone Saga are deeply entwined with family loyalty and clan politics. The protagonists, members of the Kaul family, must navigate treacherous political waters while dealing with their own interpersonal struggles and the moral complexities of their actions. With the Green Bone Saga, Lee effectively fuses elements of gangster drama with epic fantasy, creating a world that feels lived-in and authentic.
Exploring New Horizons with Black Leopard, Red Wolf
Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first installment in the Dark Star Trilogy, signifies a powerful emergence of Afrofuturism in the realm of epic fantasy. With a narrative that interweaves African history, mythology, and James’ potent imagination, the novel challenges conventional fantasy tropes and brings in a fresh, non-Western perspective. The novel’s protagonist is Tracker, a man with a keen sense of smell, who’s hired to find a missing boy. Accompanied by a diverse cast of characters including a shape-shifting man-leopard, he traverses ancient cities, dense forests, and treacherous kingdoms on his quest. James’ world-building is both immersive and expansive, drawing heavily from African folklore and mythology. This rich cultural tapestry gives rise to a fantastical realm filled with unforgettable creatures, mystical landscapes, and deeply entrenched power struggles. But it’s not just the African-inspired setting that distinguishes the novel. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is an exploration of truth and power, of love and loss, and the destructive and redemptive aspects of humanity. With Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Marlon James redefines the boundaries of epic fantasy, bringing in the richness and diversity of African culture. His complex narrative, combined with an innovative approach to storytelling, contributes significantly to the evolution of the genre, making it more inclusive and globally representative.
Riding the Indie Wave with Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations
As the publishing landscape expanded and evolved, so too did the paths available to authors in the epic fantasy genre. One such trailblazer is Michael J. Sullivan, whose Riyria Revelations series emerged as a leading light in the independent publishing sector. Riyria Revelations, which begins with “Theft of Swords,” combines traditional epic fantasy tropes with a buddy-cop dynamic, as it follows the adventures of the skilled thief Royce Melborn and his mercenary partner Hadrian Blackwater. Sullivan’s journey to publication is particularly noteworthy. Initially rejected by corporate publishers, Sullivan decided to self-publish his work. His series quickly gained a devoted following for its unique blend of high fantasy, humour, and heartl, illustrating the possibilities for independent authors in the modern publishing landscape. The rise of self-publishing and independent authors like Sullivan has significantly broadened the epic fantasy genre. It allows for greater diversity in storytelling, as authors who might not fit the traditional publishing mold, or whose stories are deemed too risky or niche, can now reach their audience directly. This freedom has led to a flourishing of new voices and narratives, enriching the genre in countless ways. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations not only demonstrates the compelling storytelling of indie authors, but it also serves as an important reminder of the evolving pathways to publication in the genre. Indie publishing continues to reshape the epic fantasy landscape, offering both authors and readers alike a wider array of narratives to explore and enjoy.
Allomancy and Highstorms: A New Giant Emerges
It’s fair to say we find ourselves in the age of Brandon Sanderson. A veritable powerhouse of the genre, Sanderson has crafted works of staggering scope and imagination. Sanderson’s Mistborn series is a key development in the epic fantasy genre, recognised for its innovative magic system, intricate plotting, and complex character development. The series, beginning with “The Final Empire,” is set in a world where the prophesied hero has failed, and a tyrant known as the Lord Ruler has established a reign of terror. Sanderson’s narrative turns the typical fantasy trope of the ‘chosen one’ on its head, offering a fresh perspective on the epic quest narrative. However, the series’ standout feature is Sanderson’s intricate magic system. Allomancy, the main magical system in Mistborn, is based on metals, where ‘Mistings’ can ingest and ‘burn’ a single type of metal to gain specific abilities, while ‘Mistborn’ can use all. This highly structured, almost scientific approach to magic has been influential in the genre, prompting other authors to rethink magic as a system with its own laws and limitations. His characters are multi-dimensional, each with their own flaws, strengths, and motivations. The narrative weaves multiple plot threads together, building towards an intricate, well-executed conclusion that pays off the series’ various narrative strands. Following the Mistborn series, Sanderson embarked on an even more ambitious project, The Stormlight Archive. Roshar is a world beset by fierce storms, and its flora and fauna have evolved to survive in these harsh conditions. This unique setting lends itself to some of the most original world-building in the genre. Sanderson creates complex societies, intricate political structures, and detailed histories that enrich the reader’s experience of Roshar. Sanderson introduces several magic systems in The Stormlight Archive, including Surgebinding and Shardbearing, each with their own distinct rules and limitations. This approach further showcases Sanderson’s ability to innovate within the epic fantasy genre, taking the idea of structured magic systems to new heights. The series also features a diverse ensemble of characters, each with their own narrative arc, contributing to a multi-layered, complex story. Characters grapple with issues of morality, duty, and identity, lending a depth and realism to the epic narrative. The Stormlight Archive, with its exceptional world-building, multiple magic systems, and complex character arcs, represents a high point in the evolution of epic fantasy. By weaving together these elements in a grand narrative, Sanderson demonstrates the genre’s potential to explore complex themes and ideas while captivating readers with rich, imaginative worlds. His Stormlight Archive series, still in progress, is emblematic of the ongoing evolution of epic fantasy. As the genre continues to grow and change, so too do the expectations of its readers. Gone are the days when a simple tale of good vs. evil could suffice; now, readers demand intricate plots, morally ambiguous characters, and worlds so vast and detailed, they could be charted by a cartographer.
Embracing the Future of Epic Fantasy
And, so, we have arrived at the present day, with epic fantasy more diverse and imaginative than ever before. From Tolkien’s foundational work to Sanderson’s groundbreaking sagas, the genre has grown by leaps and bounds, enchanting readers the world over. It is a testament to the power of human imagination and the enduring appeal of a good story. As we stand on the precipice of uncharted literary territory, one thing is certain—the future of epic fantasy is as bright and boundless as it has ever been. And so,let us raise our goblets in a toast to the tales that have come before, and to those yet to be told. Cheers!
Explore Noblebright Fantasy, a sub-genre that celebrates hope, virtue, and triumph of good over evil. Discover top books and how it contrasts with Grimdark fantasy.
If you’re a fan of fantasy literature, you may have come across the term “noblebright.” But what exactly does it mean?
In this post, we’ll explore the concept of noblebright fantasy and what sets it apart from other sub-genres of fantasy literature.
What is noblebright fantasy?
Noblebright fantasy is a relatively new term, first coined in 2014 by author C. J. Brightley. It’s an approach to fantasy that emphasises hope, virtue, and the triumph of good over evil.
The stories are generally uplifting, featuring heroes who are motivated by a desire to make the world a better place.
Noblebright fantasy often contrasts with the more grim and gritty sub-genres of fantasy, such as grimdark or dark fantasy.
What makes a fantasy story noblebright?
One of the defining characteristics of noblebright fantasy is the presence of noble and virtuous characters. These characters may be flawed, but they strive to do the right thing and uphold moral principles. They often work together to overcome challenges and obstacles, and their actions inspire hope in others.
How can you tell you’re reading a noblebright fantasy?
The worlds of noblebright fantasy are often filled with awe-inspiring landscapes, magical creatures, and wondrous artifacts. These elements are used to create a sense of wonder and enchantment in the reader, reminding us that there is still magic and beauty in the world.
What are the themes of noblebright fantasy?
Noblebright fantasy often features strong themes of community and cooperation. The heroes work together to overcome obstacles, and their actions have a positive impact on the world around them. There is often a sense of interconnectedness and unity in these stories, with characters coming together to support each other and achieve their goals.
What are the criticisms of noblebright fantasy?
Noblebright fantasy can sometimes come across as too idealistic or simplistic. Some readers may find the lack of nuance or shades of grey in the storytelling to be unrealistic.
However, defenders of the genre argue that there is still room for complex characters and difficult choices within a noblebright framework.
Where to start reading noblebright fantasy?
“The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien.
This classic epic fantasy novel is the perfect introduction to the genre and has had a significant influence on the development of noblebright fantasy.
“The Earthsea Series” by Ursula K. Le Guin.
This series follows the journey of a young wizard as he learns to harness his powers and fight for what is right.
“The Belgariad” by David Eddings.
This five-book series is a classic of the epic fantasy genre and features a cast of memorable characters and a thrilling story of good versus evil.
“The Dragonriders of Pern” by Anne McCaffrey.
This beloved series combines elements of science fiction and fantasy and features dragons, telepathic bonds, and a richly detailed world.
“The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis.
This series of seven books is a beloved classic of children’s literature and features a magical world filled with talking animals, mythical creatures, and epic battles between good and evil.
“The Riddle-Master Trilogy” by Patricia A. McKillip.
This beautifully written series follows the journey of a young prince as he seeks to unravel the mysteries of his world and defeat the forces of evil.
Overall, noblebright fantasy offers readers a refreshing and uplifting take on the fantasy genre. If you’re looking for stories that celebrate hope, virtue, and the power of good to triumph over evil, noblebright fantasy may be just the sub-genre for you.
If you enjoy fantasy books, you can get a free Ravenglass Universe starter library when you join Jon’s VIP newsletter.
Discover the world of fantasy literature with our beginner’s guide! Explore recommended books and series for new readers, including The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, Harry Potter, and more. Start your epic adventure today!
Fantasy literature is a beloved genre that has captured the hearts of readers for centuries.
From epic adventures to intricate world-building, fantasy stories offer something for everyone. But with so many books and series to choose from, it can be overwhelming for new readers to know where to start.
In this beginner’s guide to fantasy literature, you’ll find some recommended books and series for those just starting to explore this fantastic genre.
The Lord of the Rings
One of the most popular fantasy series of all time is J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” This classic series, which follows hobbit Frodo Baggins on his quest to destroy the One Ring, is considered the foundation of modern fantasy literature.
The series is known for its intricate world-building, memorable characters, and epic battles. If you’re new to fantasy, “The Lord of the Rings” is a great place to start.
A Song of Ice and Fire
George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, which was adapted into the hit TV show “Game of Thrones,” has grown in popularity in recent years. This series, set in the medieval-inspired world of Westeros, is known for its complex political intrigue, rich world-building, and morally-grey characters.
If you’re a fan of the TV show, be sure to check out the books as well.
The Wheel of Time
Another adapted for a high-budget TV show is “The Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan. This series, which follows a group of friends as they struggle to save the world from an ancient evil, is known for its expansive world-building, richly-detailed magic system, and huge cast of characters.
For readers looking for something a little different, the “Kingkiller Chronicle” series by Patrick Rothfuss is a great option. This series, which follows the journey of a young musician who is also a powerful magician, is known for its unique magic system and character-driven story.
For those looking for a fantasy set in our world, the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling is a must-read. These books, which follow the adventures of a young wizard and his friends at a magical school, are known for their charming characters, inventive world-building, and exciting plot.
Finally, for readers looking for something a little more out of the box, the “Gentleman Bastard” series by Scott Lynch is a great option. This series, set in a fantasy world with a unique magic system, gritty world-building, and one of the best anti-hero pairings in fantasy..
How many have you read?
These are just a few of the many fantasy series and books available for new readers to explore. Whether you’re looking for epic adventures, intricate world-building, or memorable characters, fantasy literature has something for everyone.
So, grab a book and start exploring the fantastic world of fantasy today!
Embark on a thrilling journey where gaming and fantasy collide! Join us as we uncover the captivating world of T.L. Branson, the mastermind behind action-packed tales. Discover the inspiration behind his books and the secrets of his creative process. Get ready for an immersive adventure that will leave you craving for more.
If you’re a fan of immersive and action-packed stories that blend elements of gaming and fantasy, then you’re in for a treat.
In this interview, we’ll get to know the author T. L. Branson, about his books, his inspiration, and the answer to the most important question—what would he name his pet dragon?
So, grab a cup of tea and join us as we delve into the mind of T.L. Branson.
What inspired you to start writing in the fantasy genre?
From the moment I picked up R.A. Salvatore’s The Hundred Orcs, I’ve been in love with fantasy novels. I’d “fantasized” about writing my own for years. I pictured myself out on a park bench in the beautiful sunshine creating worlds of adventure…
Yeah, that never happened.
But, I did get to a point where the stories in my head were bursting at the seams to get out and onto the page, and in 2016, I bit the bullet and started writing.
It was in a house in Western Pennsylvania where it’s gray, overcast, and cold most of the year, but the location wasn’t what mattered. The time spent writing was, and it’s a process that still works today. We authors like to say “Butt in chair” time.
How do you approach world-building in your stories?
I try to have a fully-formed world before I even begin the writing process. This takes a lot of brainstorming sessions. Usually I’ll be mulling over ideas for days or weeks.
This might be a scheduled time where I’m actively writing notes in Word, or while I’m driving my car (the worst because I can’t write things down), or waiting at a doctor’s office.
As soon as I’m able, I’m adding notes to my file. It works best when my laptop and phone are synced to the same Note so I can update it no matter where I am and the changes are there.
My notes will often contradict themselves as I come up with newer and better ideas. I never delete old ideas, just add new ones to the Note.
Then when I’m ready to begin writing, I go through, compile all the good ideas, throw out the old, and start organizing them into a cohesive whole.
Can you walk us through your writing process?
I’m what they call a plotster. There are three kinds of writers: plotters, pantsers, and plotsters.
The first plots out their entire novel in great detail before ever beginning. They have pages and pages of outlines with detailed info about what happens in each scene and how the plot progresses.
Pantsers have no plan at all. They just start writing and what happens happens.
A plotster is a pantser that doesn’t like having no direction at all. We like a little structure, but we also don’t want to be so bogged down by a formal outline. We want the ability for the story to go a different direction if it feels like it needs to while writing.
To change anything to a plotter means hours of revision work to their outline. And hours wasted.
So what I prefer to do is map out the next 3-4 chapters. Sometimes this is very detailed about what exactly needs to happen. Sometimes it just includes a note like “We must meet the water elf queen in this chapter.” Other times it includes full blocks of dialogue that popped into my head one day and I wrote it all down line for line.
The point is, I like my story to be organized, yet open to interpretation and change without losing hours of work thanks to a rigid outline.
Would you survive in your own fantasy world?
Probably. Very few people have magic, so most everyone is an ordinary person. And all of the conflict happens between the nobles and rebels. If you’re not a rebel or a noble, you’re probably safe.
There is always collateral damage, and I couldn’t help it if my house suddenly collapsed due to a conflict I couldn’t control. But it’s not a brutal world where no one leaves the safety of the commune or anything.
What themes do you explore in your work?
I don’t really do themes. I write for fun. Just good old romps, battles, and magical creativity.
What do you consider to be your biggest influences as a writer?
Other writers. I’m a voracious reader. Also video games. The amount of story elements or inspirations that came from playing RPGs is amazing.
This isn’t copying something that already exists. It’s usually a small element that influence how my world already operates, but heightens it.
For instance, I was watching Dr. Strange while writing my first novel, and he punched a guy in the chest and his spirit flew out of him. Or something like that. The magic in my books deals a lot with souls, so this seemed like an excellent opportunity to heighten the main character’s magical abilities by allowing him to eject souls with something like a punch, rather than simply removing them from the body.
What do you hope readers take away from your stories?
Just like themes, this isn’t something I think about. I’ve got a story in my head, and I write about it because it sounds fun to me. I don’t have any hidden messages intentionally built in. We all have pasts and history and values that we inherently bake into the story because it’s who we are, but I don’t ever sit down and say “I want this book to influence people this way”
Would you rather have a pet dragon or a unicorn, why?
Dragon, no question. I’m sure a unicorn is safer, but I’m not much of a horse person. Dragons just sound fun. I’m kind of like Hagrid in that regard.
If you could have any magical ability, what would it be?
Either invisibility or flight, though I’m almost certain it’s flight.
If you were stuck on a deserted island with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
Ocken. He’s tall and strong. He’d be great for building shelter and doing all the “hard work.” Not that I wouldn’t do anything, but surviving on an island is no joke and having some muscle around would be helpful. Plus, he doesn’t talk much, so he wouldn’t bother me while I was reading, provided I had a crate full of books whilst being stranded on the island.
What would you name your pet dragon?
No idea. Fireball?
Where is the best place to start reading your work?
“We start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” But no seriously, Book 1 is a great place to start. It doesn’t matter what series.
T.L. Branson is an author of YA and Epic Fantasy. His debut novel, Soul Render, is the first in a planned quartet. Branson started writing when he was eighteen but didn’t take it seriously until eleven years later. Born in Pennsylvania, he currently lives in California with his wife and two children.
He finds his inspiration from the kings (and queen) of story, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George Lucas, and J.K. Rowling. That’s code for “he’s a total nerd!”
Branson first fell in love with fantasy when he picked up a copy of R.A. Salvatore’s The Thousand Orcs. Since then, not a day goes by where his mind doesn’t wander into the realm of elves, dwarves, and orcs or crave for an epic adventure.
Explore the enduring connection between fantasy fiction and heavy metal music, discovering the shared themes, influences, and epic storytelling that unite these two powerful art forms.
Fantasy fiction and heavy metal music have a strong and lasting connection, with fantasyproviding artists with a rich source of inspiration for their lyrics and music.
Both forms of art often deal with similar themes such as darkness, otherworldliness, and rebellion, making them a natural fit for each other. Fantasy fiction has been around for centuries and is inspired for many artists, including heavy metal bands and musicians.
The worlds created in fantasy often feature mythical creatures, magic, and battles between good and evil—themes and motifs found in many metal songs.
Iron Maiden has been creating music for over 40 years and has been heavily influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and has written several songs inspired by the world of Middle-Earth, including “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” “The Trooper,” and “Fear of the Dark.”
German metal band Blind Guardian also draws influence from J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, as well as other works in the fantasy genre. The band’s music often features complex and intricate storytelling inspired by the rich worlds of fantasy fiction. Blind Guardian’s music is characterized by its sweeping epicness and powerful vocals, making them a must-listen for fans of both heavy metal and fantasy fiction.
Rhapsody of Fire is an Italian metal band inspired by classic fantasy such as “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Their music often features grandiose orchestral arrangements, which are inspired by epic battles and fantastical worlds. Rhapsody of Fire’s music is a testament to the power of fantasy fiction to inspire heavy metal music.
Austrian black metal band Summoning produce dark and atmospheric soundscapes, which are inspired by the dark and foreboding world of Middle-Earth.
Nightwish is a Finnish symphonic metal band that has drawn heavy influence from several fantasy novels, including works by J.R.R. Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, and H.P. Lovecraft. The band’s music often features grandiose orchestrations, soaring vocals, and epic storytelling, which are inspired by the fantastical worlds of classic fantasy novels. Nightwish’s music is a testament to the power of fantasy fiction to inspire music.
Fantasy and metal have a long and intertwined history. As both forms of art continue to evolve, it is likely that this relationship will only grow stronger. Whether you are a fan of fantasy or metal, it is impossible to ignore the impact that each has had on the other.
Would you like a free Ravenglass Universe starter library?
You will get the novel Birth of Assassins, the novellas The Fool and Blades of Wolfsbane, plus you’ll be first to know about the latest updates in the Ravenglass Universe.
Discover the 10 fantasy films that fueled my love for the genre since childhood. From Greek mythology epics to magical adventures, these influential classics shaped my passion for writing and imagination. Join me on a nostalgic journey through the enchanting world of movies.
Since I was a child, fantasy movies have ignited my imagination and fuelled my love of the genre.
Ten movies in particular stand out as instrumental in developing my passion for fantasy and desire to write my own stories in the genre.
Here they are, in roughly chronological order:
Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
This film brought to life the Greek myths of Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece. The sword fight with skeleton warriors and the giant bronze statue Talos still stick with me as some of my earliest memories of watching movies.
Clash of the Titans (1981)
This epic fantasy adventure film based on Greek mythology was my gateway into ancient myth and legend. My Nan had it on VHS and I watched it endlessly. I loved watching Perseus battle creatures like the Kraken, Pegasus the flying horse, and the snake-haired Medusa. The stop-motion effects were groundbreaking, but sadly seem almost laughable today.
This retelling of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table brought to life the classic tales of Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot, and the Lady of the Lake in gritty, dramatic fashion. The stunning cinematography and soundtrack intensified the sense of magic and myth.
The Dark Crystal (1982)
Jim Henson’s imaginative film featuring mystical creatures called Gelflings living in a world of dangerous beasts and an ominous dark crystal mesmerized me. The visuals were groundbreaking for the time.
Return to Oz (1985)
This dark, imaginative sequel to The Wizard of Oz took me back to the land of Oz, but in a much creepier fashion. Dorothy has to defeat a villainous witch named Mombi and her gallery of interchangeable heads, as well as a rock creature named Nome King. The visuals were delightfully scary and weird.
This musical fantasy film starring David Bowie as the Goblin King Jareth captured my imagination. I loved the whimsical creatures, the clever riddles and puzzles, and Jennifer Connelly’s courageous journey to save her baby brother. And there has never been a better mullet in any movies, ever.
This fantasy action film starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery as immortal warriors fascinated me with its concept of immortals living secretly among humans and fighting each other in swordfights that could be only ended by beheading. The blend of fantasy, action, and romance was utterly compelling to me.
The Princess Bride (1987)
This comedic fairy tale adventure had everything a fantasy lover could want: fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles. And it’s inconceivable how many quotable lines can be squeezed into a script…inconceivable!
Ron Howard’s fantasy adventure film about a dwarf warrior protecting a special baby met a craving I had for imaginative, original fantasy films not based on established book series. Val Kilmer and Warwick Davis were perfectly cast.
The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy set the standard for fantasy films. The scale, cinematography, costumes, and unforgettable characters have made this my favourite fantasy film series.
This collection of movies ignited my lifelong love of fantasy. Their sense of adventure, imagination, and wonder inspired me to craft my own tales of magic and myth.
My writing career was born out of a desire to recreate that feeling I had as a child watching these genre classics.