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Books and Reading: Fantasy Fiction

Fantasy Fiction Characteristics

"The core of fantasy is about creating an ideal world in which a reader can explore and adventure with their heroes".


The origins of fantasy fiction predate that of science fiction to a time when people viewed the natural world as confusing and frightening.  Myths, folktales, and stories featuring fairies, goblins, and other such folk are some of the oldest works of fantasy. Fantasy fiction frequently takes a familiar story, legend, or myth and adds a twist such that it presents a new way of looking at things that bring life to it again.

Characteristics of fantasy fiction

1.       Embraces the basic assumption that magic exists in whatever world the author has decided to set the story.  The magic is mysterious and not      explained.

2.       Is based on a storyline that draws on everyday fears.

3.       Has a romantic tone.

4.       Takes an intuitive approach to the world.

5.       Creates worlds that most people believe could never be and deals with an otherness of time and place.  These environments and their histories are dependent upon magic

6.       Creates specific landscapes that require the author to skillfully create a magical world populated by characters readers can relate to.

7.       Consists of realms and creatures that are larger than life, and not of this world.

Areas of enduring interest

Works of the big three in fantasy literature including L. Frank Baum, C.S. Lewis and, J.R.R. Tolkien.  The Northfield Library will endeavor to provide access to their signature works.

Fantasy fiction subgenres are all of enduring interest.  The Northfield Library endeavors to will maintain a collection that provides representative works from all these subgenres, including:

1.       Arthurian Legend

2.       Classic fantasy ( Books that have literary merit and continued popularity)

3.       Crossing over to the other side

4.       Dark fantasy

5.       Demons (Urban fantasy)

6.       Cats, elves, dragons and mythological beasts

7.       Dungeons and dragons

8.       Epic fantasy

9.       Fairy tales

10.   General fantasy

11.   Legends and myths

12.   Historical fantasy

13.   Magic and music

14.   Quest fantasy

15.   Sword and sorcery

16.   Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and zombies (Urban fantasy)

Current issues

Fantasy writers are co-opting other genres to create fantasy genre “mashups”.  These genre blenders combine fantasy with hard-boiled detective stories, murder mysteries, erotica, inspirational fiction, westerns, historical fiction, and science fiction space opera, among others. Steampunk is a fantasy subgenre which melds Victorian history and fantasy and is representative of an increased interest by fantasy readers for historical novels with a fantasy element.

Hot topic:  Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy defined by an urban setting. . Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements.  These stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, as well as fictional settings. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.




"In the grim darkness of the far future there is only WAR.”  This tagline is associated with the popular tabletop strategy game Warhammer 40,000 and is said to be the inspiration for a subgenre of speculative fiction called Grimdark.

Grimdark fiction is dystopian, amoral and violent.  No lowborn hero(ine) or hero(ine)s will emerge on an epic quest to halt the spread of creeping evil and stake their rightful claim to govern o’er the land.  There are no wise mentor figures hovering in the background who will make the ultimate sacrifice when the stakes are at their zenith.  In short, Grimdark is “Anti-Tolkian”. 

In Grimdark novels you will find morally compromised characters engaged in Machiavellian subterfuge. Acquiring personal power by any and all means necessary are the unspoken rules of the game.  It’s a bleak vision and one that’s absolutely marvellous for those with a taste for it. 

The best known example of a grimdark fantasy is the wildly popular A Song of Fire and Ice Series by George R.R. Martin but there are other lesser known books that are worth reading.  Below is a short list of Grimdark titles

  1. First Law Series by Joe Abercrombie. Amherst NY: Pyr, 2006-2008.  Trilogy

  2. Chronicles of the Black Company Series by Glen Cook. NY: Tor, 1984-2000.  10 books in series.

  3. Coldfire Trilogy by CS Friedman. NY:  DAW, 1991-1995.  Trilogy

  4. Sword of Shadows Series by J.V. Jones. NY: Tor, 1999-2010.  4 books in series.

  5. Song of Fire and Ice Series by George R.R. Martin. NY:  Bantam Books,1996-2011.  5 books in series.

  6. A Land Fit For Heroes Series by Richard K. Morgan.London: Gollancz, 2008-2014. Trilogy

  7. Acacia Series by David Anthony Durham. NY: Doubleday, 2007-2012. Trilogy

  8. The Worldbreaker Saga by Kameron Hurley. NY: Angry Robot, 2014-2019 (Trilogy)

  9. The Broken Earth Series by N.K. Jemisin.NY:  Orbit, 2015-2017. (Trilogy)

  10. In the Heart of the Mountains Series by Rosalyn Kelley.[n.p.]: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.  [To date book 1 published]

  11. The Poppy War Series by RF KuangNY: Harper Voyager, 2018- [To date one 1 published]

  12. The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee. NY:  Orbit, 2017- [To date book 1 published]

  13. Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee.NY: Orbit, 2010.  368 pp.

  14. Power Mage Trilogy by Brian McClellan.NY: Orbit, 2013-2015. (Trilogy)

  15. Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. NY: Thomas Dunne, 2016.  323 pp.

  16. Crimson Empire Series by Alex Marshall.NY:  Orbit, 2015-2017. (Trilogy)

  17. The Empires of Dust Series by Anna Smith Spark.NY:  Orbit, 2017-2019 [To date books 1 & 2 published]

  18. The Rhenwars Saga by M.L. Spencer.NY: Stoneguard Publications, 2011-2018. 5 books in series.

  19. The Godblind Trilogy by Anna Stephens.NY: Talos, 2017-  [To date books 1 & 2 published].

  20. The Living Blade Series by Timandra Whitecastle.[n.p.]: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016-2017. Two books in series

Reading Lists

Fantasy Fiction Awards

David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy:  Started in 2007 these awards are chosen by readers from around the world.  The 3 awards are named after David Gemmell (1948-2006)  who was the biggest sellr of heroic fantasy in the U.K. Winners were announced in 2015.

Hugo Awards: Started in 1955, the Hugo Awards are Science Fiction's most prestigious award.  They are awarded annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year at the Worldcon convention.  Worldcon members vote to select Hugo Award finalist titles as well as winning titles.  The Worldcon convention is held each year in August.

Mythopoeic Awards: The Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature is given to the fantasy novel, multi-volume novel, or single-author story collection for adults published during the previous year that best exemplifies “the spirit of the Inklings” .The Mythopoeic Awards are chosen from books nominated by individual members of the Mythopoeic Society, and selected by a committee of Society members.

Shirley Jackson Awards: The Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. They are awarded annually in July.  The winner of the 2014 award is Annihiliation by Jeff Vandermeer

Sunburst Awards: For excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic:  Named after the first novel by Phyllis Gotlieb (1926–2009), one of the first celebrated writers of contemporary Canadian science fiction

World Fantasy Awards:  Awarded annually at the World Fantasy Convention which is held each fall.  This convention began in 1975.

Fantasy Classics

Characteristics of fantasy fiction

1.      The story presents a situation that could not happen in the real world as we know it.

 2.      Evocative writing of utmost importance as “world building” is the core of the genre.

 3.      Both readers and writers have an abiding interest in novels in series, although there are many outstanding standalone fantasy titles.

 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank. L. Baum. Chicago; New York: 1900. *Available at the Northfield Public Library

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. London: 1865. *Available at the Northfield Public Library

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  Volumes 1-5. London: 1950-1954.  Volumes 6-7. London: 1955-1956 .Includes: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (#1, 1950); Prince Caspian (#2, 1951); The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (#3, 1952); 4. The Silver Chair (#4, 1953); The Horse and His Boy (#5, 1954); The Magicians Nephew (#6, 1955);The Last Battle (#7, 1956) *Available at the Northfield Public Library

The Chronicles of the Deryni by Katherine Kurtz. Volumes 1-3. New York: 1970-1973. Includes Deryni Rising (#1, 1970), Deryni Checkmate (#2, 1972), High Deryni (#3, 1973) *Available at the Northfield Public Library

 The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson Volumes 1-3. New York: 1977-1979. -Includes: Lord Foul’s Bane (#1, 1977); The Illearth War (#2, 1978); The Power that Preserves (#3, 1979)*Available through SELCO libraries

Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series by Fritz Leiber

This series includes 38 individual stories that were first published in pulp-fiction science fiction & fantasy magazines and later collected and published in the fantasy short story collections. The collections include:

Swords and Deviltry 1970; The Two Sought

Adventure 1957; later republished as Swords Against Death 1970; Swords in the Mist 1968; Swords Against Wizardry 1968; Scylla’s Daughter 1961; later republished as The Swords of Lankhmar 1968; Swords and Ice Magic 1977; The Knight and Knave of Swords 1988 *Available through SELCO libraries

The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake. London:1950 Includes: Titus Groan (#1, 1946), Gormenghast (#2, 1950), Titus Alone (#3, 1959) *Available through SELCO libraries

The Hobbit by J.R. R. Tolkien. London: 1937 *Available at the Northfield Public Library

Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice by James Branch Cabell.New York: 1919. *Available through MnLINK

 The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin. New York: 1971 *Available through SELCO libraries

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. London: 1954-1955. Includes: The Fellowship of the Ring; The Two Towers; The Return of the King *Available at the Northfield Public Library

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley New York: 1982. *Available at the Northfield Public Library

 The October Country by Ray Bradbury. New York: 1955 *Available through SELCO libraries

The Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks. New York: 1977-1985. Includes:  The Sword of Shannara (#1, 1977); The Elfstones of Shannara (#2, 1982 ); The Wishsong of Shannara (#3, 1985)

Something Wicked This Way Comes: A Novel by Ray Bradbury. New York: 1962. *Available at the Northfield Public Library

Watership Down by Richard Adams. London: 1972 *Available at the Northfield Public Library

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. Berkeley, CA:  1972 *Available at the Northfield Public Library

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