I’ve mentioned my love-hate relationship with fantasy before… but I think it might have just turned into love!
Let’s rewind. I used to absolutely adore high fantasy when I was a kid. I was obsessed with books such as Lord of the Rings, Eragon, anything by Cornelia Funke, and The Last Dragon Chronicles by Chris d’Lacey. But as I started to get older, I found that a lot of the fantasy books I was reading just didn’t live up to my reading experiences I’d had as a child. A lot of the fantasy that I tried to read just wasn’t as fun. I found that there was a lot of focus on world building (which often led to boring info-dumps) and battle scenes, whereas I was more interested in character development and interaction.
So, for a long time I just stopped reading fantasy. I moved onto classics and more literary fiction stuff, and then I was at uni, and I didn’t really have time to read for fun. I tried a couple of magical realism novels, but at that point I think I just wasn’t used to reading anything with fantasy elements, and they just didn’t work for me.
BUT THEN! I started looking more into the world of diverse books. I saw loads of people talking about diverse fantasy, most notably The City of Brass and Children of Blood and Bone. So, ever eager to be part of the conversation and understand what the heck everyone was talking about, I tried them. And they were good! I wasn’t hooked, but I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting they were. Following that, I read a couple of more fantasy books, such as The Poppy War, which was great, and The Bone Witch, which was beautifully written.
And then I saw that there was a bit of a new book trend – that of queer witches. I’m always looking for more books that have queer characters in them, and witches are pretty cool, so I tried books such as The Devouring Gray, Summer of Salt, and The Lost Coast. And I was blown away by how much I enjoyed them. I think in particular it was the way that queerness and witchcraft/magic just melded so well together. It just kind-of made thematic sense, and led to really satisfying reads. (On that note, if anyone knows of any academic writing that talks about the intersection between queerness and witchcraft, I would 100% like to know about it!!)
That’s not to say that the only fantasy books I’m interested in have to have queer witches. I think that I am particularly interested in a very specific type of fantasy. I like books that have elements of the normal world in them. For me this allows the fantasy to be anchored to a world that I am already familiar with. I like seeing how mundane settings like small towns and high schools can be subtly shifted to incorporate elements such as ghosts, vampires, or arcane magic. So books such as The Past and Other Things that Should Stay Buried and Into the Drowning Deep work super well for me.
I’m also quite interested in fairytales, so books that play on them, such as The Hazel Wood, are also very interesting to me. I know that some readers were disappointed that only half of the book was true fantasy, but that worked super well for me because, like I said, I like the way that fantasy interacts with the normal world. I think fairytales are interesting to me, as well as to a lot of other readers, because they play into memories and primal fears from childhood. I like how they can quickly be made much, much darker than the Disney-fied fairytales that I am so familiar with.
So, in conclusion? I’m not saying that fantasy is my favourite genre, or that I’m going to be reading strictly fantasy novels from here on out. But I am saying that I think I have a lot better handle on what I like to read, and that I’m a bit more open to trying books with varying fantastical elements. I think that I get fantasy more. For me, it’s less about dragons and battles, and more about different ways of reflecting the magic and darkness of the real world around us.