It’s not the right kind of fantasy fiction.
If someone had asked me a few years ago what a decent fantasy fiction book needed my answer would have called for an elf, a dwarf and some goblins. Not to mention a muscle bound, sword swinging hero with the medieval equivalent of a t-shirt bearing the legend “Good Guy” plastered over his armour defining chest. With such a narrow definition it’s no wonder I got bored and drifted away from the genre.
Recently I found myself browsing through one of the few remaining book shops on my local high street. Leafing through books in the Sci Fi and Fantasy section. I wanted something to read, but what? There were numerous titles that featured assassins, wizards, evil kings and noble knights, firm indicators they were my staple reading fodder of old. None of them appealed. Helped by a staff recommendation I paid my money and left with a copy of The Vorrh by Brian Catling, a book and author I had never heard of.
There were no goblins or elves in the book, but there were angels, cyclops and a living forest. A manageable variance in my eyes. Thankfully the book drew me in from the first page. It had me firmly in its grip thanks to Catling’s excellent wordsmithing and intriguing plot. But… it was set just after World War One and this, more than anything else, made me ask – is it really fantasy? For some reason, despite the abundance of clearly fictional creatures, and a touch of the magical, I had a problem getting past the era it was set in. However, I am a great believer of “in for a penny, in for a pound”.
I finished The Vorrh and then moved onto more books set in more modern times, forcing me out of my comfort zone. Books where swords have been replaced by guns, and noble steeds by cars or bicycles. With each title I read I found myself challenging the definition of fantasy fiction I had previously constructed for myself.
Frankly its been one of the best quests I have ever undertaken in the literary realms. Journeying far and wide through the minds of Pratchett, Abercrombie, Catling and Henry, has brought a wealth renewed enjoyment to a genre I had once seen as a bit stale. The most difficult question I face now is “What sort of books do you like to read?”. Its taken a while, but I think I’m getting closer to an answer, “Great books, with just the right amount of weird in them.”