I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what qualities I love to see in a fantasy novel. What makes a fantasy novel a hit for me, what makes it a miss? As someone who reads a lot of fantasy I’ve noticed the more great ones I find the pickier I become. All of this led to me thinking about how we all have such different opinions when it comes to the books we love and the books we don’t (which is something I love about the book community). Qualities that lead to me loving a fantasy novel could be the qualities that lead to someone else hating the same novel and vice versa. We can all agree that the two things that make or break a fantasy novel are the characters and the world building but beyond that the waters get a bit murky. Which brings into play what I want to discuss –
What makes a fantasy novel good for you?
I’m going to share three qualities that I like to see in fantasy and three qualities that I don’t.
Qualities I Like
Complex World Building
I know I said that world building was a given, and it definitely is, but with complex world building I mean something more along the lines of a brand new world that consist of several worlds with all of its own workings and a unique, never before encountered magic system (i.e. A Darker Shade of Magic) or another brand new world that is mixture of paranormal and dystopia that has a ton of slang words to learn, with all of these clairvoyant orders, different communities, creatures from a mysterious world between worlds, all wrapped up in corrupt government that might just be puppets on a string (i.e. The Bone Season). By complex world building, I mean the really heavy stuff. The stuff that can sometimes slow down the pacing. It’s usually a quality that causes a reader to love or hate a book with no in between. I actively search out books with heavy world building because it completely pulls me in. However, there are exceptions because it doesn’t always work out – I’ll bring up why in the qualities I don’t like.
Imperfect Characters – Not the hero or the villain or Not a special snowflake.
The Bone Season, A Court of Thorns and Roses, Six of Crows, and A Darker Shade of Magic. These four have solidified the fact that one of my favorite qualities to find in a fantasy novel is imperfect characters. Six of Crows, in particular, always brings to mind the saying about how the hero is always the villain of someone else’s story. I mean I think we can all agree that Kaz is an incredible character but definitely less hero, more anti-hero, and most certainly the villain of someone else’s story. Characters with faults seem so human in a fictional world where inhuman things are possible and I connect with characters like that. As for not being the special snowflake – Paige from The Bone Season has yet to solidly master her voyance. There’s a realness in that aspect of her that I love. It bothers me when a character, without practice, is suddenly this almighty powerful being. (No examples for ACOTAR or ADSOM because spoilers for one and the other I haven’t finished.)
The romance is there but at the same time it isn’t, slow burn romances.
I won’t even lie and say that I don’t look forward to a little romance in my fantasy novels. I don’t mind if they don’t have any romance (in fact sometimes I prefer it) but I’m shamelessly a shipper and a lot of the time I need a ship. Given that, I have to say that when it comes to romance in fantasy novels I always prefer it to be a slow burn one. Those types of romances don’t actively take over the plot and give room for growth in the characters. I don’t have a detailed example for this that wouldn’t spoil something but I just think there’s something beautiful about romances that build over longer periods of time. Even if the one’s I love the most have broken my heart a time or two (yeah, I’m looking at you Warden and Paige).
Qualities I Don’t Like
Info Dumping – Too much of a good thing at one time is never a good thing.
I’m a big time supporter of the show don’t tell motto when it comes to fantasy. However, sometimes we can only be told information and not shown. This goes back to how I was saying that I adore complex world building. A downside to the heaviness of that is the possibility for info dumping. When there is so much to introduce about a new fantasy world a lot of the time in can cross the line into telling too much at one time which can not only become boring but also cause a giant pause in the plot. Thing’s don’t move with all of that info dumping going on and can become repetitive. That being said, I prefer it when the information we’re receiving is ingrained into the plot so that it’s revealed seamlessly over time. Not only does that keep me guessing but it keeps the information from overpowering anything.
Series enders that are too open, most of my questions were not answers.
I’m terribly picky with how a beloved fantasy series ends. That pickiness more often than not causes me to be disappointed or a little let down by series endings. But when a fantasy series ends way too open and leaves me with a lot of questions then I’m beyond disappointed. What about that secondary character who was such a big part of the series? What about that friend that just suddenly disappeared that the MC thinks about a lot? What happened to them? What about that one thing that kept being mentioned? You get what I mean. I need a resolute(ish) ending. I don’t mind when the ending is a little open and gives room for our imagination but I’ve run into quite a few that were just a bit too open.
Insta love – Don’t let the romance overpower the plot.
I think a lot of you guys are going to agree when I say that insta-love and fantasy together are terrible. More often than not when there is this instantaneous love between the MC and their love interest it completely overpowers the plot and becomes the focus of the book rather than the plot. We don’t get to see either character grow separate from their feelings for each other, we don’t get to enjoy the introduction of the plot because everything suddenly becomes about the romance. Or at least most insta-love I’ve run into while reading fantasy has been that way. I read fantasy to discover and be immersed in new fictional worlds so when that’s overpowered by the romance it takes the enjoyment out of that. Plus, character development being sacrificed for romance is a big no no.
That brings me to the end of this extremely long post and onto discussing it with all of you.
Like I asked above-
What makes a fantasy novel good for you?
What qualities do you love or hate in fantasy? Do we have any in common?