Category Archives: Discussion

What Makes a Fantasy?

discussion

Hello and welcome to another discussion! As is my habit this year, I’ll be linking this post to the Discussion Challenge linky, where you can find many interesting discussions about books (and sometimes other things as well).

Today, I want to talk about fantasy. Specifically, I want to know what makes a fantasy. I’ve been sitting on the idea for this post ever since I read Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy (see my reviews of parts 1, 2, and 3) and have now decided to finally write it as I had an interesting conversation with Mogsy when I reviewed And I Darken by Kiersten White.

In the Shattered Sea trilogy (and I warn you for minor spoilers here), the events take place in a ravaged land with a Viking-like society of very brutal people (Hello, it’s Abercrombie. Of course it’s brutal.), but it wasn’t clear to me for a while that it might not be an actual fantasy land but a postapocalyptic society that lives in the area of the Baltic Sea. And that all the fiery weapons the characters think are magic are actually guns, relics from a society that they call Elves because they knew how to build tall buildings made of glass and iron.

See, I felt cheated by this revelation that there were actually no elves in that world. And that “magic” consisted of gunpowder. I thought the author had imagined a fantastic new world where instead he used the relics of our disintegrating one to build a society that is just as “backward” and human as ours. *sigh*

Then I talked to my husband about it – he’s a huge Abercrombie fan – and he remembered this quote by Arthur C. Clarke, who allegedly said (or wrote?): “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And I think this is what Abercrombie played with in his books. He used our (readers’) expectations and put us in the mind of people who’d never seen electricity or guns or anything similar. I don’t have to like it but there it is.

zmaj-desno

And then I read And I Darken, which is an alternative history retelling of the life of Vlad the Impaler, where the main character of the story is a girl, Lada, an unpleasant and cruel kid. I didn’t really think much of it, I just read the book as if it was any old historical YA and left it at that. And then Mogsy said that she considered every alternative history book to be fantasy/sci-fi, too – especially if it was written for adults because apparently such books are always classified as speculative fiction.

Now, I haven’t read enough alternative history novels to be really familiar with the subgenre, but my response was something like: “But, but, but there are no dragons! No magic! How can it be fantasy?” 

And yeah, I still hold to that. I’m aware it’s a personal preference but I only classify books as fantasy if there’s something magical about them. If they take place in a world that does not exist in our consensual reality, if the characters have supernatural abilities, if there are magical creatures like dragons and the Fae. I remember reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” and Ursula K. Le Guin’s “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie” (I think this is a full article!) and I agree with a lot of what they said. It’s pretty old school but still.

So did I go back and correct my classification with Abercrombie’s trilogy? No. But I kind of want to. Because although it’s alternative history and written as if it’s a fantasy, it’s really not – not by my rules. And I probably wouldn’t go all “my way or the highway” if I was writing an article for publication, for example, but I can certainly do it here. :)

zmaj-levo

So, how do YOU classify fantasy? 

Do you need dragons and magic or is the author’s/publisher’s word enough for you?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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Super Long Books

discussion

Hi, lovely reader, and thanks for joining me today for another round of rambling about books. I’m linking this to the Discussion Challenge, where great bookish debates are to be found on a monthly basis.

I’ve been meaning to write about fat, long books for a while now. Greg mentioned a cool expression, “doorstoppers”, and I think this is an appropriate term for the big tomes that have some 600 pages or more. I know Cait talked about this briefly in one of her reviews, too, and probably a bunch of other people, but I wanted to discuss this as well, because I have a kind of love-hate relationship with these massive books.

srcek

Fact the first. Some of my favourite books are massive doorstoppers. The Lord of the Rings, The Name of the Wind, The Assassin’s Apprentice, Harry Potter, and many more besides. You’ll notice that these are mostly fantasy novels, though I recently read Me Before You, which has 560 pages in the Slovenian paperback edition, so it’s no small book, either.

Fact the second. If you count the entire series as a single unit, most of the trilogies and longer series are super long. Now, this might be unfair, a series can have a large number of very slim volumes but I count the time it takes to read the entire story. Some of the heftiest series I’ve ever taken on are: Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time (this one has fourteen 800-page books, folks, that’s crazy right there), Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich (these are very moderate in length but I think 22 have been published so far!), George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (I let this one go), Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass (unfinished), Robin Hobb’s Farseers (and subsequent trilogies featuring Fitz), and Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard Sequence (unfinished).

Fact the third. In the time it takes me to read one such book or series, I could have read many, many more shorter stories or standalone novels. Yes. See, here’s the heart of my problem. If I start a series that clocks in at 3000 or more pages when all is said and done, I’m effectively giving my reading time to a single author when I could, in fact, be reading six different authors and giving them a chance as well. The question that arises is: is this author’s writing really worth more than the writing of six other writers put together?

super-long-books

Well, it depends. As I said, some of my dearest books and series are incredibly long. And I have zero regrets in having read them and given the authors the time their books deserve. But sometimes, like with Martin, I become so disillusioned with the series, I drop it – and find I’ve wasted hours of precious reading time chewing my way through stories that should really have been much shorter (I think Martin’s series was originally planned to be a trilogy. Oops?).

I love long books and series for a number of reasons. They give me the chance to really get to know the characters, the worldbuilding is usually excellent, and there’s just so much going on I forget that my arms are supposed to hurt from supporting the massive hardback I’m holding.

But then I wonder: did the author really need to include that particular subplot in the story? Is this character absolutely necessary? Or are they just examples of an author refusing to kill their darlings and an editor not insisting enough? Because I know I would have loved some of the massive books more if they were shorter. If they were more concise, direct, and not such a time sink. I’ve joked with my editor (when talking about translating fantasy) that every book above 500 pages should have a 100 pages axed and every book above 800 could definitely lose 200. And it’s sort of true. If you’re completely honest with yourself and look at your favourite chunky book, you’ll soon see what I mean. Sure, that dialogue is quirky and that description beautiful, but do they bring the plot forward? Do they make story tight? Probably not.

Also, these massive books take authors years to write. And by that time, I’ve forgotten everything that has happened in the previous book and hardly ever have the time or inclination to re-read a 800-page monstrosity to “refresh my memory”. *sigh*

srcek

There’s another, perhaps lesser reason why I wish authors would write shorter books: they’re cheaper to translate. In a book market as small as Slovenia’s, the biggest print runs for absolutely best bestsellers are perhaps 5.000 copies (and yes, I’m talking Harry Potter and ASOIAF). Libraries here do a brisk business because books are relatively expensive – and they have to be. And if you consider how many pages there are to translate, you can bet that the translator is getting the lowest possible rate because the publishing house simply cannot afford to pay them more! So it’s financially better for everyone to translate shorter books that don’t need to be as expensive on the market and can be done in a reasonable amount of time.

So you see, I really wish some of my favourite authors would consider writing shorter books. Their writing is great, sure, but so is other people’s writing, and I often can’t justify starting another 6-part series when it’s just such a massive time and money investment. I’ll still be reading my favourite authors’ series, even if they’re huge, but I’ll be wishing for something lighter all along.

srcek

How do you feel about super long books?

Do you ever hesitate before starting a really long series?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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Reading Novellas

discussion

Hi there! How are you? I’m trying not to make any typos today because I’m switching between my Mac and my desktop computer and they have different keyboards, which is driving me nuts –  like I keep trying to reach for the trackpad when I’m on my desktop and trying to use ctrl as a command key on the Mac. Also, the apostrophe, y/z, and a whole bunch of other keys are in different positions. *sigh*

So bear with me. This discussion is my attempt to participate in the Discussion Challenge, where lots of great people talk about great bookish stuff. Go check it out.

srcek

Today, I want to talk about reading novellas. Do you read novellas? By this, I mean the companion stories to novels and/or series, not just separate, standalone short stories. I like short stories though I don’t nearly read enough of them. But I haven’t quite made up my mind about companion novellas.

slow-regard-of-silent-things-rothfussThis post is the result of the… disappointment? surprise? uncertainty? I felt about The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss. I won’t be reviewing the novella itself here but I reviewed the first part of this series, The Name of the Wind, on my blog a while ago – and it remains one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read (which is saying something). I’m currently working my way through a re-read of The Wise Man’s Fear and I decided to read this novella because my husband got a copy and it was short and I needed something new.

And I have to say that I didn’t enjoy it all that much. I expected more of Rothfuss’s witty, gorgeous writing, more of his amazing storytelling – and I got a contemplative piece with no clear plot, little character development (this confused the hell out of me because it’s a book that focuses very strongly on a single character), and little to no addition to the main plot of the series. I like Auri as a character, she’s very interesting and, I think, much more important that anyone gives her credit for. I’m just not sure I wanted to read 100 pages of her confusing thoughts and rituals.

I kept asking myself whether Rothfuss’s publishers was just so happy they had something to publish in the long wait for the third book, The Doors of Stone, that they just published this to tide the fans over. I am in two minds about this. If they genuinely loved the story, I’m okay with it – I might not like it but others still do and will enjoy it and all. But if it was a marketing ploy, I’m not too happy with it. But there’s no way of knowing for sure.

srcek

I have read other novellas – though I don’t pick them up very often, truth be told. As much as I liked Sarah J. Maas’s work until recently, for example, I never bought her Throne of Glass novellas. I understand the fans who do want to read such stories – like I felt with The Slow Regard of Silent Things, they are probably desperate for more content about their favourite characters.

It just feels to me like this extra content is something that was rightfully axed from the original plotline, which probably means it made the story weaker. If it was an essential part of the plot, or character development, or whatever, it would have been kept in the main storyline! No? I know novellas are a way for the authors to explore their worlds or characters in more depth but are these scribbles really meant to be published? To be shared with eager fans?

I’m not sure about this. I think I would rather read fewer pages from a certain author if I know they’re polished to perfection and the story is tight and the characters solid. Reading novellas feels like loosening that effort, like watering down the greatness that was the original story.

So reading novellas that accompany your favourite series is a double-edged sword. You’re desperate for more page-time with your beloved characters but at the same time, you’re probably reading discarded thoughts that should never have seen the light of day (or the outside of an author’s computer).

srcek

So, how do YOU decide? Do you always pick up companion stories or are you a purist in this regard?

Have you read any really great novellas to your favourite series?

I’d love to hear from you!

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Watching People

discussion

Hello and welcome! It’s time for me to discuss another absolutely random bookish topic. As usual, I’m linking this to the awesome Discussion Challenge, where you can find more people talking about books.

Today, I want to talk to you about watching people. Or people watching. In any case, I want to make an argument that we, as readers, are essentially chronic people watchers and that I am quite happy to be one. (I also wanted to use the word “voyeur” here but luckily checked the dictionary beforehand – and found out its meaning is much narrower than I previously thought. *oops* I really hope I’ve never used in any “general” sense before.)

Anyway. I was sitting on the bus the other day, listening to music, as one does when trying to protect oneself from inane conversations of fellow passengers and the bus drivers’ horrible choice in music when I found myself staring at a car that stopped beside us at the traffic lights. There was a man dressed in a fancy business suit sitting behind the wheel – it was a fairly new Volvo with cream leather seats – and I couldn’t see his head. But on the back seat, there was a kid of about six years and he was laughing at something, they were holding hands across the seats and having such a cool moment I couldn’t help but smile.

And then I thought: they have no idea that I’m watching them, that their private moment of laughter and fun is being witnessed by a perfect stranger. (Seriously, people, don’t do anything in cars that you wouldn’t do out in the open. People are probably watching you, as weird as that sounds.)

srcek

Now that I’ve creeped you out with my confession of enjoying other people’s private moments, you’re probably wondering how this relates to books.

I would argue that we, as readers, do this kind of people watching every time we pick up a book. When we allow the author to tell us all about the characters’ lives, we engage in exactly this sort of behaviour. The poor characters don’t even know we’re watching and here we are, witnessing their worst and best moments.

And you know you want to watch their most private moments. You want to know what they think, how they react, how they live. If the author doesn’t provide us with these glimpses of the characters’ inner workings, it’s virtually impossible to make an emotional connection and therefore care about them – or the book in general.

So I would say that we are well used to poking our noses into other people’s private lives, even though they’re mostly fictional. Whether or not you’re also fond of doing this in real life is another question – and probably depends on your habits and personality.

I like to imagine stories for people I see in my daily life: the dad probably just picked up his kid from school and they were going home to meet the mom and then leave for a weekend getaway of mountain hiking. Or the kid was picked up from school by his cool uncle because his parents were busy and they were going to play video games for the whole evening and eat their weight in popcorn and candy. Or the kid had just won a science award at school and was telling his dad how his experiment had wowed all the girls in his class.

In any case, I love stories about people. And this is what makes reading so magical to me, this chance to witness their experience, their joy and grief and everything in between.

srcek

Do you like to watch people (fictional or otherwise)? 

Does reading seem a bit dirty all of a sudden? :)

I’d love to hear from you!

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Superntural Love Interests

discussion

Hello and welcome! :) It’s time for another discussion here on Of Dragons and Hearts. I know you’ve missed my rambling posts (right?) and here I am again. As usual, I’m linking this up to the Discussion Challenge, where great posts are collected by two awesome ladies who are hosting it.

This time, we’re chatting about SUPERNATURAL LOVE INTERESTS. In paranormal romance or fantasy (am I missing any other genres?), the species of the protagonists is often something other than human. I won’t go into the deep symbolism of each of the creatures I’ve listed below, though that could be a fantastic post to write, as well. I won’t go delve into why male protagonists are more often inhuman while the woman (the heroine of the story) is often a “weak” human, though that does rub me the wrong way sometimes, too. (So many possible future discussions!)

Personally, I have to admit that I prefer that love interests are warm-blooded and human-looking at least part of the time. Not all creatures are created equal and though I’ve heard of things like tentacle erotica, they mostly just make me shudder in horror. What can I say, I’m a traditionalist. I like to imagine supernatural love interests as humans with some supernatural abilities – because I like humans a lot.

Now, why would anyone even want to read about a human falling in love with an inhuman? I think that in paranormal romance, it’s the thrill of, er, doing something (or someone) forbidden with a set of attributes (like extra great stamina or, um, extra great parts of the male anatomy) that human men lack – or so these romances would have you believe. *sigh* In fantasy, however, a partner of a different species can offer a chance to explore issues like gender and societal expectations. If you have any good examples of this, I’d love to hear about them!

srcek

This is a list of the supernatural love interests I could think of, along with some examples of novels where they appear (where I reviewed the book, the link goes to that review, otherwise you’ll be directed to Goodreads).

  • Vampires. Hello, obviously. This is probably the most common supernatural creature in paranormal romances I’ve read. I see why they are attractive to a lot of people but if I had to pick one species, vampires definitely wouldn’t be it. Something about them being dead just gives me the creeps (am I the weird one here?). Try: Twilight (haha), A Discovery of Witches, Dark Lover, The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires.
  • Werewolves. Again, obviously. These guys are probably the second most common ones? I like them better than vampires, especially in their modern reincarnations, where they shift form at will, not just at full moon, and they retain some humanity and reason even when they’re furry. Try: How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf (seriously, Molly Harper is the best), Shiver, Soulless.
  • Shifters. Every possible kind of werecreature. Werecats, werebadgers, werebears – I’ve seen them all. I can’t even remember where they popped up but there were even wererats. I think they weren’t meant to be seen as sexy but there you have it.
  • uprooted-naomi-novikWitches. These are probably the most humanoid. I mean, they are just humans with magical powers, no pointy ears or animal attributes or fangs or whatever. I like witches, they can be seriously badass. Try: A Discovery of Witches, Half Bad, Book of ShadowsWhite Cat, Uprooted, The Near Witch. So many good ones here!
  • Aliens. This one is probably the most disturbing to me. How cocky are we to assume that aliens would be humanoid and capable of having any sorts of relations with humans? *sigh* Try: Obsidian, Saga (okay so there aren’t any humans in this one so far but still).
  • Demons. Ooh, demons. Maybe my favourites? There are just so many types of them. And okay, I wouldn’t want to meet an actual demon, like the servant of Satan, but they can be pretty cool. Try: Dark Desires After Dusk.
  • angelfall-susan-eeAngels. Angels are interesting because in both series that I’ve read that feature them, there’s a big debate over whether they are all good or not (not) and whether being a gorgeous winged person means you have the right to rule over humans and other creatures (nope). Try: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Angelfall.
  • Fae. The Fae are just amazing. Along with demons, they are my favourite supernatural creatures. They are usually described as gorgeous and alluring but they are, in fact, not human at all and have little patience for mortals. *shudder* Greg discussed them recently if you want to take a peek. Try: Darkfever
  • Valkyries. I only read one series (Immortals After Dark) with valkyries, but they were significantly changed from the maidens who welcomed warriors to Valhalla in Norse mythology.
  • stardust-neil-gaimanStars. Okay, a star. Because I can only remember one, from Stardust.
  • Dragons. Okay, so these are kind of awesome. They have human forms, of course, but are capable of turning into full-fledged, winged, fire-breathing monsters. So COOL! Try: Nice Dragons Finish Last, Talon.
  • Demigods. Okay, so this one is more of a middle grade novel, not a romance, but there’s still some falling in love! :) Try: Percy Jackson.
  • Trolls. This is a really weird one I can’t get my head around. I only read one series with trolls and excuse me, but aren’t trolls grey and enormous and relatively unintelligent? Eh. Try: Stolen Songbird.

srcek

Have you read any of these? Do you have other (romance) recommendations for me?

Do you like reading about supernatural creatures or do you prefer your hero(ine)s to be human?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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Should Romance Be Realistic?

discussion

Welcome to another discussion here on Of Dragons and Hearts. I’m participating in The Discussion Challenge this year, so head over here if you’re craving more debates on books. And if you want to see my old discussion posts, simply scroll to the end of the post and click the “discussion” tab – I’m pretty good with using those, so you’ll get all the discussions in one place. Also, if you’re not up to a discussion on sex, you should probably just… um… skim this? :)

I’ve been thinking about the issue of realism in romance a lot. Cait wrote a similar post a while ago, but hers was centered more on young adult literature and not as specific as mine will be, but go check it out anyway. She’s cool. 

Now, romance, as you well know, is by its definition a genre that deals with fantasy – maybe not in the sense of dragons and fire-throwing wizards, but fantasy of the other kind, where the happening is so idealized and dreamy, it’s completely removed from reality. So if we take all the fantasy out of a romance and portray love relationships as they really are, chances are 90% of romances would be a) boring, b) depressing as hell

Don’t think I’m a cynic, please, you know I’ve found my own happiness and that I’m a hopeless romantic at heart, but most relationships just aren’t whirlwind romances with days of sweaty sex and soulful declarations. You can absolutely disagree with me here but my beliefs are based on years of observation (kidding – kind of). But it’s all the more satisfying when a relationship DOES succeed, when two people who are right for each other find themselves in a joyful, non-toxic union and live happily even after. *sigh* (I told you I was a romantic.)

srcek

Anyway. What I’m going to talk about is the fantasy of romance, or rather the extent to which romance should be realistic to still be believable. 

You know when you’re reading a fantasy novel and the worldbuilding just sucks? Or the hero/ine is this exceptionally gifted individual who can do no wrong? And it keeps throwing you out of the story and has you rolling your eyes? Well, I think romances function in a similar fashion. 

You get your fantasy of two attractive people feeling a powerful attraction to each other, they banter and bicker and inevitably end up in a liplock of epic proportions, usually followed by amazing sex, love, and marriage. But there are a million ways of putting these elements together – and their execution is very important for the reader’s immersion in the story. I’m not going to go into the ideology of romance here or gender roles or character traits – this discussion is long enough as it is.

srcek

So what I wanted to do, really, was make a list (heh) of three things that throw me out of the story, that have me rolling my eyes and skim reading until the scene is over. Because come on, I know they aren’t possible (or are they?!). 

  1. Exaggerated descriptions of the perfection of the couple’s bodies. I know all romance heroes and heroines are supposed to be attractive. And, you know, I’m aware we can’t have a sex scene without the description of intimate body parts, but can we please hold it with the details? I’m not trying to be a prude, just… don’t even get me started on the expressions used to describe these body parts. If I’m completely honest, the male models featured on romance covers are usually unattractive to me. They kind of look scary. So. Less is more
  2. fifty-shadesExceptional prowess in bed. AGAIN, I know that nobody wants to read about bad sex. It would be completely useless and unsexy and probably embarrassing to read about. But modern erotica, especially, features sex so fantastically, euphorically spectacular it really does make me roll my eyes sometimes. I know multiple orgasms are possible for women and I know men can have stamina. But Fifty Shades of Grey and its successors made both male and female bodies sound like some alien/robotic objects capable of hours, even days of strenuous physical activity, which just puts me off.
  3. Heroes (or heroines – though this is much, much less common) who have had a LOT of sexual partners. This is closely related to the previous point but am I the only one who finds the idea of a guy who has slept with a hundred women unappealing? And does anyone actually know such a creature? Yes, I know I’m being judgy but I can’t imagine that sex would mean anything to a man (or woman?) who has had so many different partners. Is there anything he hasn’t tried yet? Anything he hasn’t seen? I know my experience with such individuals is painfully limited, so I’m basically treating them as a sort of a mythical being, like a construct in a fantasy world.

srcekI will stop here and say that this list could have been a lot longer, but I will ask you for your input now:

What throws you out of the story?

Do you have pet peeves when it comes to realism in romance? 

And should romance be realistic or is it okay if the fantasy is a bit out there?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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