Monday, November 5, 2018

Green-faced: The State of Fantasy on the Market

My children have a book called Yummy, Yucky. (“Daddy, read the Umm-umm, Bleh book”, they say.) A simple affair, pictured on the left page is always a child eating something tasty and a caption like “Soup is yummy” and on the right page a child eating something less tasty—“Soap is yucky”. Looking at the last two pages, on the left one sees “Ice cream is yummy” with the smiling child ready to dig into a full bowl, but on the right reads “Too much ice cream is yucky”, the child’s face green and laying in the empty bowl. I think I feel the same bleh about epic fantasy on the market these days.

It’s quite easy to observe the market is simply flooded with fiction, let alone fantasy. Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings films (and likely Terry Pratchett) kicking things into high gear at the beginning of the 21st century, there has been a floodtide of wizards, knights, dragons, and warring kingdoms since. Looking in places like NetGalley, the Locus Upcoming Books and Recommended Reading lists, Amazon’s new releases, book blogs, goodreads, ezines, publisher websites, etc. and there seems an infinite number of fantasy titles appearing. It’s literally impossible to keep up, let alone read the books. It’s gotten to the point, in fact, that all the books’ titles are blurring together—the dreaded, too-much-ice-cream green face.

For ha-ha’s sake, I started going through the aforementioned places, seeking out some—some—recent fantasy titles, and pulled together a list. Observe for yourself the abundance of mortality, magic, monarchy, and metals. (And sorry for the commentary, I couldn’t resist.)

Servant of Rage by A.Z. Anthony (“Bill, we need more roaring! More roaring, get it?!?! This is Servant of Rage, not Servant of Marshmallows! 3-2-1, action!”)
Age of War by Michael J. Sullivan (Not a historical retrospective of the 20th century you say? Hmmm, disappointing…)
A Time of Dread by John Gwynne (F. Scott Fitzgerald? D.H. Lawrence? Thomas Hardy? No, John Gwynne…)
He Who Fights by Mike Morris (Really? Really?!?!?! He Who Fights?!?!?! Mankind has reached the 21st century with smartphones, lunar landings, and the European Union, and we still come up with book titles like He Who Fights?!?!? The cover must be a pair of testicles, and the subsequent text a scant few pages about a caveman bonking people with a club a la Gary Larson….)
Blood and Tempest by Jon Skovron (Blood and _____(fill in the blank)______. Possibilities include: axe, fire, stone, hedge clippers, tiddly-winks… Oh, sorry, Tempest, yes, Tempest, I got carried away…)
A War in Crimson Embers by Alex Marshall (Can you hear the kettle drums—with poetry inscribed on them? I sure can…)
Detonation Boulevard by Craig Schaefer (Could be the title of the next Radiohead or U2 album…)
Blood of Assassins by RJ Barker (Doesn’t sound like they are very good at their jobs. Shouldn’t they be killing normal people?)
Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames (Building your novel from a cheap double entendre, hmmm…)
Symphony of the Wind by Steven McKinnon (Sample: “And it came to pass, that when their last acre of land had been sown with salt, their sons spilled their last drops of blood, and the fiery rage of their tormenter, Bob the Turkey Jowelled, was quelled, that the people of Dunn did forsake their gods and look to the Holy Turnip, for it offered unto them a tangible, unequivocal sensation that their future might be one wrought with greater hope—a new day, a phoenix from the ashes, a symphony of wind to blow the blues away…” For those truly concerned, that was not a real sample, just my b.s...)
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Cue theme from Jaws. Cover copy: “The birth pangs are real, baby!!!”)
The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan (Sounds like a case for Sherlock Bones and his faithful sidekick Dr. Catson…)
Darksoul by Anna Stephens (Needs to team up with Shadowdark below…)
Furyborn by Claire Legrand (I can almost see the cover: “From the fires of fury they were born—RAWR!!” with a bunch of testosterone-addled men in loincloths, shiny metal swords in hand, emerging from a toothed, gaping maw… Such is the state of culture…)
Iron Gold by Pierce Brown (Titanium Lead, Platinum Copper, Tin Strontium… I see the fun!)
Jade City by Fonda Lee (Better be a mosaic novel...)
King of Assassins by RJ Barker (Needs to duel with the next title to find out who the czar, emperor, duke, master, king, whatever really is…)
Master Assassins by Robert V.S. Redick (Am I the only one who at first glance thinks the author’s name is at odds with itself?)
Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell (Spoiler: does eventually hook up with Darksoul and produce a child: Blacksoul)
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (Is Rumplestiltskin’s long lost cousin Shrinklezumpkin somehow involved here?)
Starless by Jacqueline Carey (Hopefully not the reviews… )
Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce (“Go with what you feel.” her friends told her when asked what the title should be. And she did…)
The Bitter Twins by Jen Williams (The Bobsy twins and the Golden Age of American culture have clearly left the building…)
The Deathless by Peter Newman (Gods, I’m bored just reading the title… They are fucking zombies, just say it!!!)
The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding (Did the Ember Blade come from the previously mentioned War in Crimson Embers? Is it crimson colored? Is it crimson colored because of elf magic, or because of blood? Oh, I see. Fire, like normal, nothing bloody or assassin-y. Hmmm, I’ll think about it…)
The Empire of Ashes by Anthony Ryan (Empire of Ashes and Blood sounds better, or maybe Empire of Ashes and Blood and Assassins… But wait a minute, I’m just noticing, isn’t the title a paradox?!?! Shouldn’t it be The Empire’s Ashes? Otherwise, it’s a dirty place to take your new pair of penny loafers…)
The Fall of Dragons by Miles Cameron (They just kept investing in high-risk portfolios, and eventually the market caught up with them…)
The Forbidden City by Deborah Wolf (Located just a hop, skip, and jump on the map from Jade City…)
The Girl in The Tower by Katherine Arden (Sing along, please: “…There was a girl who lived in a tower and Bingo was her name-o, B-I-N-G-O, B-I-N-G-O…”)
The Infernal Battalion by Django Wexler (My grandpa told me stories about these guys, a wee bit dangerous he said they were, what with all the poetry recitation, finger sandwiches, and tickling…)
The Outcast by Taran Matharu (Somehow Outkast sounds more original…)
The Skaar Invasion by Terry Brooks – (Everything is much cooler when you add a second ‘a’. Aassaassins, waar, heavy metaal, draagons…)
The Tower of Living and Dying by Anna Smith Spark (Really, that’s the most poetic title the author could drum up? Must truly want to be grim and dark, grimdark… GrimdAArk! Warning do not proceed further or risk encountering bad humor: The Adventures of Grimdaark the Aardvark in the Fiery Termite Mounds of Mazzarth... You were warned.)
Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan (What’d you say, man? Can’t hear you for the killer riff! Iron Maiden are having a comeback tour?!?! Killer, man, fucking killer!)
As Iron Falls by Bryce O'Connor (“…we go whistling in the dark…la-lala-la-la, la-lala-la-la…iron falls… la-lala-lala..”)
Behind the Vale by Brian D. Anderson (“…lay a meadow flowing with daisies and petunias, a place where lovers would come to while away the afternoon’s hours, laying softly in one another’s arms…” Yes, that’s right, there ain’t no epic fantasy here! This is romance! Go elsewhere!)
City Of Kings by Rob J. Hayes (Another f#$%^& fantasy city…How many f#$%^& cities are on this list?!?!?)
Death March by Phil Tucker (Sorry, but sounds better as Death March by Tuckered Phil.)
From the Shadows of the Owl Queen's Court by Benedict Patrick (Seems it should have assassins in the title somewhere…)
Hero Forged by Josh Erikson (Surely must be referring to my daughter’s Hello Kitty slippers. Every winter morning they save her the discomfort of cold feet—my hero!)
Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron (Sounds like it belongs on the last page not the front cover, the story already told…)
Paternus: Wrath Of The Gods by Dyrk Ashton (This is going to be the lowest blow; my apologies to you Mr. Ashton off the bat. I hope you’ll take this in good spirit, but I’m in the groove and can’t get out. This book would certainly have a higher chance of grabbing the attention of academia were it to have been authored by Dyrk Diggler…)
Pursuit of Shadows by J.A. Andrews (Must be the unintentional sequel to Shadowdark, or was it Shadowsoul?)
The Dragon's Blade: The Last Guardian by Michael R. Miller (Could just as easily be Last Guardian: The Dragon’s BladeDragon’s Guardian: The Last Blade… Or maybe Guardian’s Blade: The Last Dragon… Fantasy mix and match—a sad but true metaphor for the state of affairs…)
The Imbued Lockblade by M.D. Presley (“And the award, for Most Forced Fantasy Title Ever, goes to… Sorry, can somebody please give me a knife to open this envelope so we can learn the winner? No, not that one, it’s imbued…” Yes, utter nonsense! Imbued, pa…)
The Wolf of Oren-yaro By K.S. Villoso (Somebody will need to check if this is the town where the three little pigs are from. May have a case of plagiarism here, folks….)
Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords by Benedict Patrick (This title is great until the last word. Would make more sense as Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Piebald, or Gooblegrutts, or Fluterflust, or some other nonsensical city name)
Threadbare Volume 1: Stuff and Nonsense by Andrew Seiple (I want it to be an in-joke—a commentary on the state of epic fantasy today. Alas, I’m afraid to find out…)
Too Cold to Bleed by D.M. Murray (I picture Rambo killing a Polar bear on the cover, taking a chug from the latest energy drink, Testostergreen! Now in blue!)
Truth of Darkness by Craig Aird (Not having ‘the’ at the beginning seems to imply a birth, a coming forth, the grimdaark epiphaany of epiphanies…)
We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson (This must certainly be the children’s version of The Doors’ classic song…)
Aching God by Mike Shel (“Aspirin, does anyone have any aspirin? And be sure to have it consult his/her doctor before taking anything. We don’t want to be liable—it’s a god we’re talking about, after all. Lazy bastard, why doesn’t it damn well heal itself…”)
City Of Lies by Sam Hawke (We think this municipality lies two miles east of Jade City, three east of City of Kings, and five north of City of Brass, but we can’t get the truth from anyone… )
Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio (Book consists of a solitary, empty page.)
Here Be Dragons by David MacPherson (Well geesh, I was wondering where they be. Couldn’t seem to find them in any other epic fantasy novel…)
Kingshold by D.P. Woolliscroft (Just doesn’t seem enough… Too blasé, banal. Needs more blood, or assassins, or metals. Iron Strontium Kingshold, or maybe Kingshold Assassins, perhaps Bloody Tempest Kingshold…)
Lost Gods by Micah Yongo – (Christ, get somebody on the phone and let’s find them! We’ve got a miracle needs a doin’ here! Somebody has to save epic fantasy from imminent doom!)
Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young (Why does my brain keep saying ‘Deep in the Sky’??)
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton – (Doesn’t sound very epic… The Assassin Belles—ok, much better. The Bloody Assassin Belles—ooh, even better! The Bloody Assassin Iron City Dragon Belles—Yes! Yes!! Yes!!! That’s it! E.P.I.C !!!)
The Book of M by Peng Shepherd (Well, it had a one in twenty-six shot…)
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (Jade, Kings, Forbidden, Lies, Brass, Swords… What’s next, hemp? Puppy chow? Carbon polymer? Consternation? For all the time spent traipsing through wood and dale on magical quests, there sure are a lot of urban areas in fantasy…)
The Game Bird by Aidan R. Walsh (This title is more intriguing if ‘game’ is taken in the ‘willing and excited’ sense—intriguing as in ‘what the possible fuck could this book be about?’)
The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli (Nobody ever talks about the middle one for some reason…)
The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards (Sounds like the prequel to Too Cold to Bleed…)
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang (If I’m not mistaken, there is an actual book about the British involvement in China in the opium trade called The Poppy War… I checked. I’m wrong. There is The Opium War and another titled The Opium Wars. Close, but no cigar. )
The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner – (Already the title has one too many words, multiply that by every phrase, sentence, paragraph, page… and they say fantasy is bloated.)
The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso (Can’t be much of a mage… Maybe he’s like a bumbling Jack Vance magician?)
The Thousand Scars by Michael R. Baker (Like the three little bears, one million seemed overkill, one hundred too little, but one thousand scars was juuuuust right… And I can’t help but notice the R. I need an R. All the cool guys seem to have one. Specu R. Liction, Esq. There, done.)
The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston (Probably one of the previously mentioned lost gods. He sold out his friends for a buck, now he’s on the run….)
Under The Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng (I just can’t get an image in my head no matter how hard I try… Is it some sort of convex world?)
Walking Through Fire by Sherri Cook Woosley (Could just as easily be the latest self-help book on drug abuse, or an 80s celebrity autobiography…)
Witchmark by C.L. Polk (I don’t know, which? HAHAHAhahahahaha… ha… Time to stop.)

When I tell you all those books appeared only in the past year, not to mention are only a small portion of the total fantasy released, your mind is further blown…

I don’t know what to say. That is the rat race state of epic fantasy (where anybody and their grandmother are allowed to enter a rat given crowd funding and self-publishing). The amount of war, blood, and latent violence contained within the titles is amazing, and I can imagine that it would only be absolutely mind-numbing were we, dear readers, to consume all of that in one, long, tortuous go. It seems I now need to write a piece on how epic fantasy, with its massive worlds, innumerable characters, varied cultures and races, detailed cosmologies, etc. is simply unsuitable for such a rat race, not to mention how publishing of innumerable titles only waters the whole down—no matter how good some of it may be. And don’t even get me started on the book covers; if I had a penny for every scowling teenaged girl wielding a sword I’d be able to buy—wait for it—a bowl of ice cream… It’s umm umm until it’s bleh


  1. So glad you're back to reviewing items on the site and offering some commentary! I've missed it! I think you've really hit on an interesting topic in terms of a glut of fantasy. However, 2 things to play devil's advocate.

    1. We're in a glut of a lot of genres/forms of entertainment at the moment. I'd argue much of the entertainment to be found in some of these formats are the best it's ever been (comics, books, games, TV shows, movies. Eh, okay, maybe not the last one). TV is in a dubbed "peak TV" moment. Comics, particularly smaller press comics, offer plenty of creative ideas that drive a lot of Hollywood now. Books are a staple. I do think the bubble will burst, however, maybe it's worth thinking that for as much as there is that's out there in epic fantasy, maybe a lot of it is better on average than books produced in earlier periods? It seems the last few epic fantasy novels you've reviewed you've quite enjoyed.

    2. I think the commentary on the names is hilarious! But couldn't you do the same with virtually every fantasy book, even the touted series? The Lord of Rings, The Shadow of the Torturer, Elric: Stealer of Souls, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Wheel of Time, The Black Company, Legend, The Dragonbone Chair, etc.?

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Sorry for being soooo late to reply.

      1. My guess is the law of averages applies, and by that I mean the quality today is no different than yesteryear, just that the overall volume is exponentially larger today, good, bad, and ugly.

      2. I've heard the prase "Jimmy Page stole all the good guitar licks", and I would apply that logic to titles, i.e. that the original titles are cut some slack for their cheesiness. It's only in that context I could even comment on the modern titles.

      Thanks, hope I haven't scared you away with the years waiting. ;)

  2. Hero Forged - slippers?? Your slippers are made of steel?

    1. Now you've gone down that road... "Forged" can be a lot of things, from metalworks to forgery, and in its broadest meaning it can be to make or create something - like the slippers the hero made for my daughter...