In the last couple years, I have been avoiding the non-contemporary fantasy on my to-be-read shelf. I’m not sure why.
The fantastical element isn’t the problem. I like elves and wizards all right. I’m not such a fan of the fourteenth century, where much non-contemp fantasy seems to reside. I think that’s it. That era was no fun at all for most people, especially women. It was a society that functioned in ignorance.
I’m not a big fan of empires, either. There was a time, when I was younger, much younger, that I believed someone was in charge. I believed a king (or a president, for that matter) would have the knowledge, insight, and wisdom to solve problems and combat evil. I don’t feel that way any longer. Traditional fantasy pits good against evil, but in real life, good is usually sullied, and bad is often relative. Life is not as simple and easy to understand as a battle between good and evil.
Then, there’s the cover art of fantasy. Horses, swords, winged men, and warriors. The battles will kill as many horses as men. I hate it when the horse gets killed. If the cover shows horses in battle, I think that’s all there is inside. It turns me off from ever opening the book.
Now, I was perfectly happy to live in the fourteenth century-ish time of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. It is dripping in medieval, feudal ambience. Many horses are killed in battle, as well as in jousting, a sport even stupider than football. Martin’s characters are such…people. They are evil and they are good. Even the smart ones make stupid mistakes.
Okay, so what about the unread non-contemp fantasy I’ve pulled from my to-be-read shelf? We have:
Nadya, by Pat Murphy:
The cover art shows a young woman of indeterminate age looking down into a body of water. The image reflected back to her is that of a wolf. It is set in the mid-nineteenth, and concerns a young shape-changer. This is not a YA, but it appears to have a coming-of-age theme to it. It occurs to me that I’ve had some resistance to coming-of-age stories for a while; is it that I’m not currently in the mood for that kind of pain? Have I lost patience with the too-trusting naiveté of young females? Possibly. I know I’ve had this book for a while, seven to eight years. Pat Murphy is a terrific writer, and I would be stupid not to read this.
The Last Rainbow, by Parke Godwin:
I purchased this on the strength of Sherwood. I was a huge fan of Robin Hood lore as a child (yes, I loved the TV series starring Richard Greene, but didn’t bother with the new one), and enjoyed that book as well. I suspect this is a fine book, but you know what? I honestly think I will never get to it. I’m going to donate it to the library.
Freedom’s Gate, by Naomi Kritzer:
Here we have cover art with horses-in-battle, swords, warriors, and archers. The blurb speaks of tyranny and slavery, but not a word about any supernatural, i.e. fantasy, content. Okay, wait, the first page intro mentions a sorcerer. I picked up this book at Diversicon in the Twin Cities. I sat on a panel with Naomi Kritzer and had it signed. I’ll keep it in the hopes I’ll get to it. Naomi’s a good writer, and I bet I’d get pulled into the story if I just opened it.
The Last Witchfinder, by James Morrow:
Whoops, this doesn’t belong in this group of books. It’s not a fantasy, I don’t think, except one praise blurb mentions fantasy. It appears instead to be historical fiction (late 17th century) mixed with social commentary. And although Morrow sometimes gets a bit heavy-handed with his social-religious commentary, I really love him. And it’s got a kick-ass cover.
The Year of Our War and Dangerous Offspring, by Steph Swainston:
The cover and a glance at the blurbs seem to indicate traditional fantasy fare. The hero is immortal and can fly. Horses, and other beasts, rampage. There is an emperor, battlefields, and one or more castles. On the other hand, one back-cover reviewer calls her “…the queen of Weird Fiction” The books were highly acclaimed when they came out several years ago, which is why I purchased them. The “…queen of Weird Fiction” has me. I will keep these.
My tastes change over time, and my mood shifts. There was a time when — during the Towing Jehovah period — I would have read James Morrow immediately upon purchase. By the end of that series, I had become saturated with his view of the universe. There was a time I would have forced myself to read the Steph Swainston books because they were so well reviewed. I don’t feel the need to force myself any longer. Reading is for my entertainment, and it’s supposed to be fun.
I’m of two minds about the situation. Mind One says there are no rules — about what I feel, what I have to read, what I have to finish, what I’ve changed my mind about. There is no wrong or right about which books I read. Mind Two says, yes but. Yes but 1) think of those works you were forced to read at some point in your life that then proceeded to blow you away; 2) what about those admittedly relatively few times you wanted to ditch a book after forty pages only to have the book take off at page fifty? 3) and what about the times a writer’s supposed genre (like zombie novels–see previous post) has put you off, but it turns out it’s a great book anyway?
You have to keep an open mind.
And I will.