Fashions in modern fantasy

It’s an old truism that if you hold onto your clothes long enough they will come back into fashion. They might be different colours, or made in different fabrics, but they’re still basically the same style.

You wouldn’t be seen wearing the ‘new’ fashions, of course, but your kids love them.

It’s the same with books.

If I had to pick a fashion in the science fiction world at the moment I’d say steampunk. If I had to pick a fashion in the fantasy world, I’d say urban fantasy. Werewolves and vampires reign supreme, and have done for so long now that we’re ready to move on to the next big thing.

When we first came up with the idea for Potion, high fantasy was at its peak (and yes, this story has taken a long time germinating). Epic journeys, heroes, quests and discovering new powers were the order of the day. By the time we had finished it, high fantasy was well and truly on the wane.

We put the novel onto Authonomy, and the reactions fell into three broad groups:

  • Traditional fantasy readers who liked the story.
    This was a small group, and sometimes the comments were tempered with, “Despite that fact that this story (has elves, is done to death, etc.) “
  • Traditional fantasy readers who didn’t like the story.
    These were the people who were so over elves, journeys and bar-fights that they automatically hated it. There were quite a few more in this group.
  • People who don’t traditionally read fantasy but enjoyed it anyway.

(There was also a fourth group, those people who flat out won’t read fantasy, but I’m not considering them here.)

I fall somewhere between the first and second groups. I read fantasy. Every time I pick up a fantasy novel I want it to be good, and I want it to be different. While I don’t mind a traditional fantasy, there are a lot of stories I pick up nowadays and don’t get that far into because I know the story. I’ve read it dozens of times before, in one guise or another, and I’m sick of it. It only needs one thing to keep me reading, mind you—a quirky or interesting character, something slightly new in the way the story is written, or even a new take on an old idea —but so many of these books are so similar they run together for me. That’s when I put the book down.

The second group took us to task for writing a traditional fantasy that wasn’t ‘traditional’. Our language is more modern, and faster paced than your traditional fantasy. Our writing style is fast, whereas many traditional fantasy novels are considerably slower. Even so, our story is probably as traditional as they come—swordsman and mage hire on as bodyguards on a rescue mission. There’s lots of fighting, evil enchanters, magic, and so on.

It was the third group that really interested me. Their comments were almost all along the lines of, “I don’t normally read fantasy, but I like this.”

Their feedback reminded me of an agent’s comment on a query for a fantasy novel. (I think it was on Miss Snark’s now defunct blog, in the Crapometer series.)

I read the query and thought, “No way, this story has been done to death”. The agent, however—who did not represent fantasy—said really positive things about it. “This idea sounds interesting, I like it,” and so on. I was surprised, and I have always remembered it because at the time it made me realise just how important it was to get an agent who knew the genre you wrote in.

Other than the fact that it tells us that we’re probably targeting our book to the wrong audience, I wonder if it means the next new fashion in fantasy will be a return to epic fantasy.

Leave a Reply