Mike Revell's picture
Mike Revell from Cambridge is reading The Knife of Never Letting Go October 25, 2013 - 1:50am

When you read a fantasy book, what (for you) makes it a good fantasy?

What are the key elements that make it sing?

What makes it stand out from everything else on the shelf?

JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life October 25, 2013 - 10:13am

I'll talk about more recent fantasy books, because while I love JRR, Moorcock, Le Guin, Brooks et al, if you're asking real questions about fantasy, I will assume you've read them.

1) If it can effectively remove me from whatever my current real-world context is (work, kids, bills, etc). Even more importantly, for me, if it can make me forget about reading the author, and just read the story. So I'm not thinking to myself 'Oh, that is a great technique' or 'This description is dragging on, where was the editor?'

2) Immersive, colorful, authentic world-building (check out Alan Cambell's Deepgate Codex or Gravedigger Chronicles or Jeff Vandermeer's Finch. Both are effortless, wonderful examples of creating fundamentally different, strange fantasy worlds). Non-cheesy dialogue (a great example is Joe Abercrombie).

3) A good cover is important, to me. I will read a lot of books with shitty covers, but great covers draw me in. Of course, an author name I recognize. Blurbs from authors I like does a fair amount as well. Put S King on the cover saying it's a great book, and I will be inclined to read it. It puts it into a context for me (generally, you won't see a Brent Weeks blurb on a comedic light-fantasy novel).

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 25, 2013 - 10:19am

I rarely read the genre but I've stuck with a few series over the years. I prefer fantasy books that are well-researched in history and mythology and apply it interestingly to their own world-building. Either that or they're thematically rich enough to fill out their world with great unique imagery. There are a lot of fantasy sub-genres so it's hard to pinpoint, but I think those are the main things for me.

The thing that makes it stand out on the shelf is probably just the cover art, which comes back to having a lot of unique imagery that sets the world apart from other series, or makes it more relatable to what kind of genre-mix I'd be interested (an Old West-style world with giant ornithopters taking over the sky etc.)

What kind of fantasy series are you interested in? I don't really know where to start on this subject just yet, it's open to a lot of interpretation.

Fritz's picture
Fritz October 26, 2013 - 9:35am

What makes it stand out from everything else on the shelf? 


This one hasn't been answered yet (i don't think)

answer: A sense of grandeur (as defined below)

1.the quality or state of being impressive or awesome: the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. 

2.the quality or state of being lofty or elevated in conception or treatment: the grandeur of a prose style. 

3.the quality or state of being exalted in some deliberate way: the grandeur of a royal court. 

4.an instance of something that is grand: the grandeurs of Rembrandt's paintings. 

Jack Ketchum's picture
Jack Ketchum October 26, 2013 - 10:32am

Discussed your new story, Mike.  Check it out...

Jimmy M.'s picture
Jimmy M. from New England October 31, 2013 - 3:21pm

When you read a fantasy book, what (for you) makes it a good fantasy?

What are the key elements that make it sing?

What makes it stand out from everything else on the shelf?


When I read fantasy, I like what most fiction readers want: A combination of interesting characters, gripping story, and writing style, but in particular to fantasy, I like to experience really amazing worlds- amazingly complex and original, and cool takes on magic.

Probably the biggets element of the above (again, having them all equal makes for a better book), but I'm a sucker for plot line. I love reading a story that I don't want to put down, that is shrouded in mystery and mysticism.

It's pretty petty of me, but I really like books with cool covers- usually one that has a large, epic landscape, but I'll make exceptions. Check out the covers of Brandon Sanderson's "Mistborn" and "Stormlight Archive" series', Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, and Sanderson's "Elantris" novel for what I mean.


Michael J. Riser's picture
Michael J. Riser from El Cerrito, CA (originally), now Fort Worth, TX is reading The San Veneficio Canon - Michael Cisco, The Croning - Laird Barron, By the Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends - J. David Osborne October 31, 2013 - 9:55pm

I don't read a lot in the genre, but for me I'll say what makes any fantasy book stand out is when it doesn't appear to do any of the things that things I hate that fantasy books frequently do. The stupid fake languages that sound goofy, the overly fantasy-esque names of characters, world-building that's really big but without depth, or great depth without a soul. Lack of originality. Overly descriptive language. Turning everything into a series as though it were not possible to write a goddamn standalone fantasy novel.