If you are a follower of my blog you know that I have a love for Fantasy novels. Especially if they have a hint of romance, but definitely if the book has some great world building that I can escape away from the realities of my regular world. Hmmm, interesting statement, right? Fantasy novels actually do a great job speaking to hot topics, but when it’s set in a new land, or deals with a magical race does that make it easier to accept the real message? I want to delve into a few examples of how Fantasy authors use their genre to voice an opinion and maybe in small part use their genre to shield them from criticism for tackling difficult topics.
- Love: Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters novels do a great job introducing the subject of all types of romances. The most famous of which is the taboo of love between a brother and sister. Aren’t we glad that turned out ok? Let’s think about how we all reacted to that news. I was seriously distressed, kind of grossed out, and very uncomfortable, as I’m sure most of her readers were. When I look back on the sequence of events in City of Ashes, I realize that not only was that plot point a red herring moment but it happened as Alec was fighting his jealousy and romantic feelings for Jace. It introduced the subject of two men having romantic feelings for each other as safe, rather like Vanilla as a flavor of ice cream. Although to most of us a homosexual romance is quite normal, I’m sure there were some YA readers that may have needed that comparison. I LOVE her Dark Artifices novels the best. The emotional drama between men/men, women/men, trans/men and women/women (did I forget any?) kept my mind occupied and my heart racing. Great books!
- Bigotry: Fantasy novels often have multi race universes, however those races aren’t always differentiated by color. They may be humanoid, magical, beast-like, etc. Their relationships within their world are remarkably like ours. Cultures go to war with each other, they look down on each other and they denigrate each other. Our hero or heroine is usually fighting for equality, overcoming a dictator type king, or dealing with the bigotry of a multi-race romance. One of my favorite romantic fantasy novels is by Grace Draven. Radiance is about two species who inhabit the same world and are in neighboring kingdoms. One race, the Gaur is humanoid, awake during the day and sleeps at night, fair skin, etc. The other race, the Kai, is dark, has long pointy teeth, is awake at night and sleeps during the day. Our princess and prince of these two kingdoms must intermarry in order to retain peace between their countries. Brishen, our Kai prince finds Idilko, our Gaur princess, truly ugly, even though in her land she is gorgeous and refined. Idilko also find’s Brishen horrifyingly ugly, and those teeth oh so scary. When they marry Idilko has to move to Kai where she will be the only humanoid person among the Kai race. Of course, eventually they realize that they are both beautiful on the inside and actually find love for each other, but they have to deal with their blooming feelings for each other while also hearing others speak horribly about the person they are falling in love with. It is a really well told bi-racial love story, yet they are in essence two alien races. Brilliant. Small sidenote- I was disappointed that he didn’t have the big teeth in the cover though…
- Gender Equality: In Young Adult Fantasy novels there is a huge empowerment movement. Teenage girls have the power to save their world. I think having these role models for young girls and women are a wonderful thing. It is also wonderful that authors are introducing young people (and adults) to gender neutral characters. I read one novel last year that stood out for me because it was the first in this genre that I could recall reading that had a gender neutral main character. The book was Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller. Sal was a thief who wanted to leave that life behind to become a member of the Left Hand. The assasin team of the queen. Sal entered a contest to gain that spot with other characters and they’d all try to kill each other. The last one standing would become a member of the Left Hand. This novel had it all, exciting action, a love story and betrayal – and our hero was gender neutral. Each candidate had a number so Sal was addressed by number which made things easier, but the other characters were curious. Was Sal a boy or girl? How would they like to be addressed? All of these questions were the same that I as a reader was asking. What mattered was that Sal had honor even though they were a thief, developed all types of relationships regardless of Sal’s gender identity and that the story held up. This was one of my top 10 picks for 2017 and if you haven’t read it? You should.
These are only a few of the subjects that Fantasy authors have voiced their opinions or come up with their own solution. It is not always done in the correct manner or in ways that are acceptable to the average reader. Most notably Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark took a lot of criticism for portraying racism. Her world was a little too close to ours for some people and their lighter skin, darker skin comparisons may be too obvious. I did read this novel without reading any reviews and was pretty obliviousto those nuances, taking things at face value. Looking back, I can see it. I haven’t read the second novel but I’m going to take a guess that she takes care of some of these criticisms in the plot. I hope so anyway. I also hope it’s a better book. I didn’t love it.
If you are a fan of Fantasy, can you think of another novel you’ve read where a difficult real world topic is handled in a graceful way? Or another book where the topic may have been mishandled?
Have you read one of the above books? What did you think?
Until next Sunday!