personable fantasy?

September 27, 2017

I’m going to be thinking out loud here for a minute.

I just basically binged all of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric & Desdemona novellas. Read the first a couple years ago, the second this year, and then just couldn’t stop. They’re nice. They have some of the compulsiveness of the Vorkosigan books. I haven’t read all of Bujold’s fantasy, but I found these to be really nice comfort reads. Warm blanket and cocoa on a rainy day reads.

And this got me thinking. I like fantasy. I like traditional second-world fantasy. I want to write more of it at some point. But I’m really, really picky, it turns out. I usually never get past the first novel in a series, not because I don’t like it, but because I’ve had enough at that point, and don’t feel compelled to continue through “x” number of volumes of 500+ page novels. Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen is the only epic fantasy series I’ve read all the way through, and even I petered out when he and Ian Esslemont started publishing endless side novels. There’s a self-importance and overwroughtness to a lot of fantasy (even urban fantasy) that turns me off. Not everything needs to be a cosmic battle between earth-shattering forces. Not every story needs to involve armies and politics and international intrigue.  A traumatic backstory is fine, but I don’t necessarily want my main character to wear that backstory like a coat of arms, all-encompassing, without room for any other identity.

So what do I like? Turns out I like personal stories. Stand-alone stories. Exquisitely written, compact, heartfelt stories. Apart from the Penric stories my favorite fantasy of the last couple years was probably Patricia McKillip’s Kingfisher.  (All of McKillip’s gorgeous stand-alone fantasies are among my favorites.)  I blurbed a book coming out next year that I really enjoyed and kind of wanted to reread as soon as I’d finished — it was an interesting story about good people with a sweet romance.

Personable fantasy.

Quite possibly the direct opposite of grimdark?

I’m not sure. But lately I’ve just been wanting really well-written fantasy stories about good people who I want to spend time with. Any suggestions?


12 Responses to “personable fantasy?”

  1. WanabePBWriter Says:

    Calhan’s Bar series by Spider Robinson. Each story is a standalone.
    Special Deliverance Clifford D Simak (most would think of this as science fiction, but it always felt like fantasy to me, kind of a door to another world thing) I have read this one three times over the last 15 years.

    Myth Inc. By Robert Asprin

    Probably not what you where looking for, but what came to mind from the flavor of your post.

  2. emgrasso Says:

    Have yu read the Goblin Emperor?

  3. We need a name for the “personable fantasy genre” that’s as good as grimdark! Cozy-spec? Char-driv? (Character driven) Mannered Fantasy? (Manored Fantasy? I’m thinking of Comedy of Manners, here.) No, none of those are quite right, but yes, I would love to read more stuff that combines people-stuff with exotic magic.

    I think it’s a very important point in a lot of this Domestic Fantasy that I like that magic is just one tool in the hero/ine’s toolbox, and it’s not always a very good one. User error abounds, and often it’s easier to solve the problem with people skills (and maybe just a tiny boost from the magic).

    When I was younger, I really liked the Mercedes Lackey stories that involved singing as magic. I think Terry Pratchett is a huge influence in this Domestic Fantasy trope, too, with his ever-so-practical characters who cut through the BS and just want to solve the problem, not angst for three and a half books. I’ve only read a few of KJ Charles’ stories, but I like them a lot and I think they are also about solving personal problems rather than saving the entire universe.

  4. tyrshand Says:

    Have you ever read any of Rachel Neumeier’s books? Most of hers aren’t in series so far and I think they fit personably pretty well. City in the Lake may be my favorite. I loved her recent mountain of Kept Memory, too.

  5. I’m embarrassed to mention this at all, but I have a standalone humorous epic fantasy called Horde coming out on October 9th. I don’t want to post a link because then it feels pushy, so I’ll just tell you it’s easy to find and has my name on it if you want to look, and if you want a review copy, I’m happy to send one.

  6. Martin Says:

    I’ll have to second Terry Pratchett. Definitely one of my all time favorite authors. A bit like Neil Gaiman’s humor, but with more of a carefree attitude.

    However another author that managed to really grab my attention for some 30+ books is LE. Modesitt Jr. The main reason for this is that his books alternates between characters that fight for order and chaos respectively. The shifting perspective questions ‘the truth’ in an appealing way.

    If you are talking about characters that I would like to meet it would probably be Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray mouse.

  7. carriev Says:

    Thanks for all the recommendations! I’ve read some Pratchett and some Lackey, but the rest are new to met.

    I should also mention I really liked Guy Gavriel Kay’s Children of Earth and Sky. I read a bunch of Kay in the 90’s, then stopped for a while, but came back to this latest one for whatever reason and was not disappointed.

  8. Erik K Says:

    I will recommend The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s a stand-alone YA, and I would happily be best friends with any of the characters. It’s also beautiful.

    Tanya Huff is quite dependable for what you’re looking for. I have a special place in my heart for her “Gale Women” books (of which there are currently three).

    And, frankly, if you were anyone else, I’d recommend the Kitty books. But I imagine you’ve already had your fill of those. ^_^

  9. I am amazed that no one else has mentioned the two David Eddings series: The Belgariad and the Maloreon. Chosen One vs. The End Of The World – twice!

  10. Sharon Says:

    I suggest Lawrence Watt-Evans’ Ethshar books starting with The Misenchanted Sword, most of them are independent stories in a shared world.

    Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I. books – noir detective stories crossed with
    Fantasy, its a series but each mystery is on its own. The first is Sweet Silver Blues.

    Anything by Patricia Wrede but especially her Mairelon the Magician books – Georgette Heyer crossed with Fantasy; and the Sorcery and Cecelia books.

    Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw – Trollop with Dragons; also My Real Children – in which an elderly woman can remember two different pasts; and Among Others – a teenager who can see fairies and do magic is also an SF fan.

    Diana Wynne Jones – author of Howl’s Moving Castle which inspired the film by Miyazaki but is quite different; also the Chrestomanci novels starting with Charmed Life; and The Tough Guide To Fantasyland – if fantasy stories were a tour you could sign up for.

    Anything by Jane Yolen but especially Briar Rose. She wrote the Commander Toad children’s picture books that I discovered when my son was young.

    Looking this up, I find that I have missed many books by some of my favorite authors, I need to fix that!

  11. NancyB Says:

    Do finish reading all of Lois Bujold’s fantasies–all of them are personable fantasy, and in my case they are all comfort books. (Well, The Spirit Ring never quite made it to comfort book status, but it’s still a good read.)

    Just finished another listen to the Paladin of Souls audiobook and am wrapped in that comfie blanket feeling…

  12. You might like the Sharing Knife series. It is a bit more romance than pure fantasy, but there is fantasy a plenty. And it does ask some hard questions (how to win the peace, how to bridge the talented and the banal, how to go on after tragedy). And the characters are never (contrary to characters self conceptions), stupid. Frankly, that is what I enjoyed most: even the antogonist(s) (at least the human ones) are acting in realistically self interested ways. The different roles they are filling affect their choices so that you never say, ‘That made no sense!’ more ‘that is a hard situation, and I don’t see that there is an obviously better choice.’ LMB is quite good at that, no?

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