In the past 5-6 years I’ve read more fantasy novels than in all the previous years of my life. I think all of us could really get into fantasy novels (just look at how popular the movie equivalents are) as long as we are introduced to the genre by the right author. For me that author was Robin Hobb, followed by a heavy dose of Jennifer Fallon.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about, the right fantasy author is different for every person depending on what fantasy trope you dislike most (hot tip for any new fantasy writers out there; females whose only purpose is to be rescued is not a good selling point for a book).
Now that I can see the possibilities of fantasy, I can look past the tropes that I dislike and see the rest of the story. For me it is the ‘nearly Earth’ thing. When an author throws strange food names into a sentence, without describing that food and not having it sufficiently different from, say, an apple, I get ripped out of the novel and think ‘Oh, that’s the author telling me we are not in our world’. I already know it is a fantasy novel, I know it is not real world history, I don’t need people to be eating limots and greegaws to tell me that.
Worse still is the momos running with the elephants and the description of the momos being exactly that of zebras. You either have to name all the animals the same, or all different, or make them different animals. Don’t just randomly change a cat into a pipaw if your dogs are called dogs. A pipaw has to shed its skin or something different if in all other respects it looks like a cat. If not, it’s a cat.
None of the examples I’ve given above are actually taken from the books that inspired these comments. I don’t want to identify them because other than these crazy near-world things I’ve really liked them, so I don’t want to seem to be bagging them. As I said, I’ve learned to look past it and see the promise of a great story instead.
But before you all jump on me and tell me that fantasy novels should be allowed to change names, I have to say that I whole-heartedly agree, so long as it is done well and with purpose.
I read a great book last year where people drank something called Karv, the description of it made it clear it wasn’t coffee and it wasn’t tea, and by the end of the book I desperately wanted a cup of it myself. That is a good way to introduce other worldly things without the author hitting me over the head and putting a neon sign around the words NOT EARTH. That’s the mark of good fantasy world building.