For this post I am going to take you back to the dark ages. The days before the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Travelling into the city to the largest bookshop was a wonderful adventure. The beautiful old two-storey building was filled from top to bottom with books. There was only one section that sparked my interest. It consisted of an area less than one side of a bookshelf. Yes, you heard right. Part of the last row was filled with science-fiction. In that tiny space young adult fantasy was placed side by side with fantasy. Gasp! Yes, this is where I found the first edition of Sabriel by Garth Nix. Wedged near the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The children’s section was far away at the other end of the shop. It was here, tucked neatly away. That the first Harry Potter book appeared.
Growth of Fantasy
Much has changed since then. My last visit to the city revealed walls covered with bookshelves for fantasy. That’s not all, there were two whole bookshelves in a dedication Young Adult section. That’s right, the genre had grown. Not only had it expanded, but it had merged with other genres. Forming all sorts of hybrids and niches. No longer could I be assured of the beloved fantasy tropes. That were eagerly anticipated. Hiding away in the depths of these beautiful covers was a terrible secret. Some of the fantasy tropes were missing.
On the Search for Fantasy
For my part, I look for keywords. That will lead to disappointment or an underwhelming experience. The truth is, in the last few years it has become impossible to tell a hybrid from a fantasy. The cover and blurb look the same. Relying on the key words ‘fantasy’ and ‘epic fantasy’. It’s only the reviews that give the game away. So, there I am in the middle of the shop searching the interwebs for author names. Hoping for a sign in the reviews that the book I am about to buy is a hybrid. I must confess to being caught out. When the reviews repeat the same keywords ‘fantasy’ and ‘epic fantasy’.
When the Cover Says ‘Fantasy’
You can imagine the disappointment that happened next. As I settled down on the couch with my comfy blanket and hot chocolate. Dreaming of taking over the world and fighting worthy villains. The excited anticipation of adventure, magic and danger. Reading through 100 pages and waiting for the story to begin. Making it to 200 pages and still waiting. More than halfway and I was aware of the loss of an entire set of fantasy tropes. I love fantasy, but there is something I cherish even more… Honesty. When a beautiful book with a brilliant blurb promises fantasy that is what I long for.
14 thoughts on “The Changing Fantasy Genre”
Oh I remember those days, people think fantasy is limited now! It used to be so tiny, I remember being a teenager and having to read adult fantasy because my library didn’t carry any YA. Even the adult fantasy section was only one shelf that was rarely rotated with the other libraries. And I’m totally with you on tropes and originality. It’s such a disappointment when a book is filled with one and lacks the other.
It’s hard to believe the genre has changed so much. The YA fantasy section was tiny! I rely on book reviews these days 🙂
I’ve made this mistake in accepting ARCs online!
“It’s a fantasy!” – it was a romance, the guy just happened to be a wizard. It was set in medieval Britain.
“It’s a dystopian fantasy!” – spent most of the time in their apartment or flat and very little of the dystopian fictional world is portrayed.
What makes a true fantasy for you? What kind of thing are you looking for and what are these “hybrids” like in comparison?
I can think of a couple of fantasy series which are traditionally seen as adult fantasy but which would be suitable for YA if you’re open to recommendations 🙂
It’s difficult to explain what’s missing until it’s gone. I miss the subtle worldbuilding, the big picture problems, and the danger mixed with hope. The great struggle and ability to overcome obstacles. I am all for sharing the genre with hybrids, but I would like to know that before becoming invested in the book. If you have some recommendations that would be wonderful 🙂
Just things like David Eddings’ Belgariad and Mallorean, Ursula Let Guin’s Earthsea series, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern; books written before “YA” was really a thing, and although presumably aimed at adults are also suitable for younger readers 🙂
Thank you 🙂
An interesting series that challenges high-fantasy is Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series.
It has all the elements: world-building, character developments, prophecies and evil vs good.
It truly is an excellent read 👌😃
I read one in the series a while ago, but became sidetracked. Will have to re-visit it 🙂
Fantasy is my absolute favourite! I go through phases of the spectrum; paranormal, cliche stuff, to urban to high fantasy.
Lol 😀 That’s my type of mixed reading 🙂
Oh the Old Kingdom series, such a special series to me. I love the Australian covers as well 🙂 great post!
Thank you, much appreciated 🙂
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