Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Reading 101: High Fantasy by The Bookette

There are so many books I have read and loved since I began I Want To Read That that I never would have even picked up before I began blogging. Instead of asking people for individual recommendations for similar themed books I decided to invite a guest to do a post for me on a partictular genre or type of book. Hence Reading 101 was born.

So, without further ado, I will pass you over to Becky from The Bookette for the first Reading 101.



Before I became a blogger, I thought of Fantasy as a genre. A genre that I loved and could quite happily have married and lived happily ever after with. But I’ve been blogging a while now and I keep hearing different terms when it comes to Fantasy. There is High Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Sci-Fi Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery to name but a few of the different sub genres. It can become mightily confusing for the reader looking for something that is just Fantasy.

Sammee asked me if I would write a guest post about High Fantasy and because I love her and her blog I said why yes, of course. I would love to. But who would know there is such a contradictory definition of High Fantasy out there.

Wiki characterises High Fantasy as a story which is set in an invented or parallel, entirely fictional world. Our world as we know it is the primary world. High Fantasy novels are set in a secondary world which is fictional. Sounds really straight-forward, but oh no! Wiki then goes on to say that any of these three scenarios fit into the High Fantasy sub genre:
1) The primary world does not exist. Lord of the Rings is a great example of this because so many people have heard of it. The world which Frodo knows and loves is Middle Earth. In no part of the story is our real world referred to.
2) The primary world exists and provides a portal to the secondary world. Ah ha, so some characters may know only too well that the Primary World exists but they venture into the Secondary World. Great classic examples are The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis and Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The portals being the wardrobe and the rabbit hole respectively.
3) A distinct secondary world existing within our Primary world. Let’s all here it for the one and only Harry Potter. Harry knows muggles, has had the distinct misfortune to be raised by them and is punished for performing magic in front of them. Although some might argue that HP could be viewed as an Scenario 2 fantasy in the first novel as the Hogwarts Express is the portal to the magic school.
Source: Wikipedia
So you see many types of fantasy can be categorised as High Fantasy.

I prefer to think of High Fantasy as Scenario 1. That is fantasy books which exist entirely in their own worlds. The characters never knowing anything about our real world. So what books do I love that would fit in this very narrow definition?


Let’s begin with Garth Nix who I happen to adore. I love his Abhorsen Trilogy. The First book is SABRIEL. This is the blurb from the trilogy website.

For many years Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the random power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who won't stay dead. But now her father, the Charter-Mage Abhorsen, is missing, and to find him Sabriel must cross back into that world.

Though her journey begins alone, she soon finds companions: Mogget, whose seemingly harmless feline form hides a powerful -- and perhaps malevolent -- spirit, and Touchstone, a Charter-Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories.

With threats on all sides and only each other to trust, the three of them must travel deep into the Old Kingdom, toward a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death -- and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own hidden destiny.

A tale of dark secrets, deep love, and dangerous magic!


You can download a sample chapter of SABRIEL here.

One of the things I love most about this series is that each book is better than the last and there are not many series books that you can say that about.


For those of you who still love tween fiction I have to recommend the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage.

The series begins with MAGYK and it really is. I love the world building in these books. It is so enchanting and the characters are adorable too. Blurb from the series website:

The seventh son of the seventh son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby's father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a new born girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son Septimus?

The Septimus Heap website is the coolest. It has a brilliant map and you can do lots of fun things. Go check it out.

An oldie but a goodie is The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin. This was recommended to me by a friend at uni. What good taste in books he had (and political parties now I think of it)! It was first published in 1968. Blurb from Goodreads:

A superb four-part fantasy, comparable with the work of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the "Earthsea" books follow the fortunes of the wizard Ged from his childhood to an age where magic is giving way to evil. As a young dragonlord, Ged, whose use-name is Sparrowhawk, is sent to the island of Roke to learn the true way of magic. A natural magician, Ged becomes an Archmage and helps the High Priestess Tenar escape from the labyrinth of darkness. But as the years pass, true magic and ancient ways are forced to submit to the powers of evil and death.

An author who is prolific in the genre of High Fantasy is Diana Wynne Jones. I haven’t read many of her novels but I loved The Merlin Conspiracy. Blurb from Goodreads:

The islands of Blest keep the balance of magic in half the multiverse. If something goes wrong with the magic on Blest, it will have a ripple effect on many other worlds. Something is about to go wrong ?

It all begins when the Merlin of Blest dies of a heart attack. Or was he murdered by sorcery?

Two friends, Roddy and Grundo, suspect a conspiracy, but no adult will believe them. When a boy from another world, Nick, blunders into the trouble on Blest, Roddy tries to enlist his help. But what can three children who are just discovering their magical talents do against the new Merlin, the Earthmistress, and the dark powers they’re calling up? The dangers are great, and if Roddy, Grundo, and Nick fail to stop the conspirators before they disrupt the balance of magic, the results will be far more far-reaching and destructive than they can imagine.


And finally, my most recently discovered author of High Fantasy is Maria V. Synder. I read STORM GLASS book and loved it. The blurb from Goodreads

As a glassmaker and a magician-in-training, Opal Cowen understands trial by fire. Now it's time to test her mettle. Someone has sabotaged the Stormdancer clan's glass orbs, killing their most powerful magicians. The Stormdancers—particularly the mysterious and mercurial Kade—require Opal's unique talents to prevent it happening again. But when the mission goes awry, Opal must tap in to a new kind of magic as stunningly potent as it is frightening. And the further she delves into the intrigue behind the glass and magic, the more distorted things appear. With lives hanging in the balance—including her own—Opal must control powers she hadn't known she possessed…powers that might lead to disaster beyond anything she's ever known.

Maria has also written the STUDY series which I have bought but haven’t got around to reading yet. I hear nothing but wonderful things about it.

I am a dreamer which is I think why I love High Fantasy. I’d be really interested to see if anyone has read any great High Fantasies recently and get some recommendations of new authors to try.

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Thanks Becky! I am digging out my copy of Sabriel right now!

8 comments:

So Many Books, So Little Time said...

I find high fantasy a little difficult to read, but I have no idea why! I did really enjoy Maria V Snyder's Study series though.

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Becky said...

I am kind of nervous about people reading this but I really hope they are encouraged to try a high fantasy. There is no better escapism. Thanks for having me!

I Want To Read That said...

Sophie - I'm the same! But I really enjoyed Wintercraft and Song Quest which had the most 'fantasy' I've read so I really fancy trying some of these.

Becky - Thanks so much for doing this post for me. They all sound really good - especially Sabriel and Magyk!

Rachel Star said...

I'm a massive fan of fantasy and I love your choices! I'm really excited because Garth Nix is coming to my local library this August, which is amazingly exciting as I hardly ever get YA author visiting someplace I can actually get to!

Jo said...

Great post, Becky! I recommend Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings, the first in the Belgariad series. I absolutely adore that series. It's absolutely womderful. It's amazing!

Clover said...

I LOVE Garth Nix! He's one of my favourite authors. And I read the first book in the Earthsea Quartet and really loved that too, so I shall try some of your other suggestions as well..

Lauren said...

Very cool post. I've never been entirely sure what high fantasy is (I usually just know it when I see it) but scenario 1 sums it up great. I really need to try Sabriel and Earthsea. High fantasy isn't something I gravitate towards but I like the sound of both of these.

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