Ten Things That Will Make Me Pick Up a Fantasy Novel

May 23, 2023 Top Ten Tuesday 9

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Graphic: Top Ten Tuesday, www.thatartsyreadergirl.com

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. The meme was originally the brainchild of The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Things That Make Me Instantly Want to Read a Book.

NOTE: Thank you to Nicole at Bookwyrm Knits for the topic inspiration. I saw her post title and immediately realized that was the focus for this week’s topic that I was looking for. I did not read her post before creating my own list. (In fact, I’m off to read it now.)

Ten Things That Will Make Me Pick Up a Fantasy Novel

It’s by an author I love. (Bonus if it’s in a series I love.) Sort of obvious, I know, but I do gravitate to books by authors I have read and loved. It doesn’t guarantee I will love the new book, but at least I have some idea of the author’s style, mood, and subgenre, so I have a better idea what I’m getting into. And if it’s a sequel to one or more books I have already read, I want to find out what happens next! (It goes without saying that if I love a series, I love at least some of the characters and a good bit of the world.)

It’s hopeful or optimistic in some way. I don’t mean it’s light, or funny, though there’s nothing wrong with either of those. I mean that something about the plot, the characters, and/or the world lifts me up instead of drowning me in despair, cynicism, or horror. The Lord of the Rings series satisfies this definition, despite the many and sometimes horrific things that happen… in part because the members of the Fellowship don’t give up, and in part due to the character of the hobbits. When deciding whether to read a new book, I can usually get some sense of this from the cover and synopsis/blurb, and from dipping into the book here and there. (And if I’m still not sure, I peek at the ending.)

It has appealing main characters. I need to be able to relate to and sympathize with the main character(s.) They don’t necessarily have to be “likeable,” but they have to be someone I can come to care about. I don’t really want to spend 6-20 hours on a book if the main character sets my teeth on edge. Or even if they just bore me to tears.

It has amazing writing. Beautiful prose, tour-de-force writing… I read plenty of books that are decently written, but if I hear a book is really well written, I’m at least going to take a look at it. And by well written, I mean the actual sentences, word choice, imagery, not just the storytelling. Patrick Rothfuss, Robin McKinley, Naomi Novik, Erin Morgenstern, Sharon Shinn… I have a list of really good writers I enjoy for the sheer pleasure of their prose, of whom Rothfuss probably tops the list. Most of them are particularly good at some aspect of writing. But I’m always on the lookout for authors to add to the list.

It has terrific worldbuilding. If the cover blurb doesn’t make this clear, I can sometimes tell from what reviewers have said. Of course, it has to be worldbuilding that I find appealing or fascinating, or at least interesting and not repellant. I once started a book once that was set in a world of dark, creepy woods. I should have taken the cover blurb seriously; it was literally a world of darkness. Like, always dark, never light, everywhere, and full of creepy plants and creatures. (Think Mirkwood on a planetary scale.) I found it so depressing and disturbing that I DNF’d the book. Examples of authors who are great at worldbuilding include Tolkien and Patrick Rothfuss.

It borrows from, builds on, or retells myths, legends, or fairytales. I’m particularly drawn to the Celtic and British mythologies, especially the Arthurian material, and European fairytales—but I’m willing to explore more globally, and have. This category includes everything from straight-up retellings like Beauty by Robin McKinley or Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga, to historical retellings like Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Magic series, to books that are only loose retellings or are heavily influenced by elements from myth/legend/fairytale, like Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series or Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver.

It’s historical fantasy. I love good historical fiction, and I love good fantasy, so a mashup of the two, if well done, is well-nigh irresistible. Naomi Novik’s Temeraire epitomizes this category; Lackey’s Elemental Masters series, Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night, and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus are also good examples. I also enjoy fantasy that draws heavily on real-world historical countries or cultures, but in a secondary-world setting; some examples are Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels and Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books.

It has a romance in it… and it looks like there will be an HEA. I don’t insist on romance in all the fantasy I read, but I really enjoy the combination of fantasy and romance, as long as it ends well for the main couple. (This category encompasses both fantasy with a romantic relationship in it, and the subgenre of fantasy romance, in which the romance is the main focus of the plot.)

It has dragons in it. Preferably sentient dragons, and preferably not hostile. Smaug is an interesting character, but I really prefer the dragons in the Temeraire or Pern series. (Yes, I know the Pern books are technically SF, but they read like fantasy.)

It has other interesting magical creatures. Again, preferably sentient. Gryphons, unicorns, pegasi, or creatures the author made up… if they are interesting and it’s possible to relate to them (or build some sort of relationship with them), I’m intrigued. I’m sure reading the Narnia books at an early age heavily influenced my interest! Mercedes Lackey does pretty well at creating interesting nonhuman (animal-based) species, from the Companions in Valdemar to the bondbirds, hertasi, kyree, and gryphons she introduced later in the Valdemar series.

Book Cover: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia A. McKillip

And a bonus entry:

It has great cover art. I’m never going to read a book based on the cover alone. But a really good cover, one which is beautiful or striking or unusual in a way that catches my attention and sets me wondering—a cover like that will make me pick up a book long enough to figure out if I want to read it.

What will make you instantly want to read a book?

    9 Responses to “Ten Things That Will Make Me Pick Up a Fantasy Novel”

    1. Lory @ Entering the Enchanted Castle

      Yes to most of these, especially the “hopeful” and “appealing main character” parts. I tend to shy away from the popular dark fantasy for this reason, it tends to be a downer for me.

      I really need to try Patrick Rothfuss. I did read The Shadow of the Wind, which I think I tend to confuse with The Name of the Wind, and of course it’s a completely different book, and NOT well written IMO. Curious to see if Rothfuss is all he is cracked up to be.
      Lory @ Entering the Enchanted Castle recently posted…“A poem’s not a thing” – Some recent poetry publicationsMy Profile

      • Lark_Bookwyrm

        Rothfuss is both an amazing writer and a terrific storyteller. The downside is that he has had major writer’s block when it comes to finishing the third book of his trilogy. We’ve been waiting for it for over a decade now.

    2. Lydia

      Yes, the Lord of the Rings had an excellent ending!

      I struggled with the middle book of the series due to how dark it was at times, but I was so glad I pushed on to the end.

      Here is my Top Ten Tuesday post.

    3. Emma @ Words And Peace

      Neat! But for some points here, unfortunately, you cannot really know until you read it!
      I’m bogged down right now in a scifi that I accepted for review. The synopsis was awesome, and it had all the elements I like. Unfortunately, there was much more, that was not in the synopsis, and now I’m stuck
      Emma @ Words And Peace recently posted…Book review: Skin DeepMy Profile

    4. Lark

      Dragons or other sentient magical creatures always make me want to read a book. And beautiful covers on fantasy covers often drawn me in, too. Fun TTT list. 😀
      Lark recently posted…Top Ten TuesdayMy Profile

    5. Katherine

      I love how you focused on a genre! I don’t read as much fantasy as I’d like but beautiful cover art and fairytale retellings are definitely things that draw me in!