Basing Made Up Cultures on Existing Ones: How Far is Too Far?

Here’s something I’ve been meaning to write for a while.  (Yes, it is mostly inspired by my reading of Oathbringer)

A lot of high fantasy is grounded in some sort of reality.  Typically, you’ll find it’s based on medieval Europe which is, in itself, becoming tired and overused.  There are authors who stray from that (though a majority of them I have yet to read) and showcase cultures that aren’t based on Europe, but, where do we draw the line?

I’m going to focus on Sanderson only because he’s the only author I’ve read (so far) who doesn’t base his stories on medieval Europe.  Quite honestly, while I do like seeing more cultures represented, I sometimes feel like he goes overboard.  I don’t think he’s offensive in the way he does things (I certainly thought his obviously Latino based culture was pretty great – I’m Latina, btw), however…can’t he be just a little more creative with his cultures?  It gets pretty obvious very quickly which Earthly cultures he’s basing Roshar cultures on and there have been plenty of times I felt like he could have just as easily created something unique to his world alone.

Writing is hard.  I’m not going to pretend it’s not difficult to create new cultures and worlds from scratch – I’ve been there, I am there – which is exactly why we base them on already existing cultures.  However, I am of the mindset that we fantasy writers have a license to depart from those bases as much as we want.  We can mix & mingle and we can make up things that we don’t see on this world because of the unique history in the ones we created.

While I do adore Sanderson and what he and others are doing, I think we can push the boundaries of high fantasy even further.

Static Not Valid: Episode 7


Holidays in High Fantasy

I’ve noticed something recently.  Despite a majority of high fantasy (that I’ve read) having religions that end up being an integral part of the plot…none of them really have holidays.

How the hell is that even possible?!  I’ve never noticed it in The Wheel of Time (correct me if I’m wrong, it’s been a while) or any Sanderson book I’ve ever read.  Even though the passage of time across books can be a year or more, there never seems to be a season where people are preparing to celebrate.  There’s never some festival that correlates with some important date in their religion or…anything.

Is it something these worlds have, but just aren’t important to the story, so the authors cut it?  Or do they just forget to include it at all?

I would honestly like to see something akin to Christmas in a high fantasy novel.  Wouldn’t it be cool to see a character going through an important holiday in the midst of their struggles?  Wouldn’t that add an extra layer of drama and tension that makes them just a little more relatable?

…I’ll have to try and remember I actually said this because I probably will forget this little detail in my own writing.

Static Not Valid: Episode 6

The Immortal Prince

The Immortal Prince by Jennifer Fallon is right on the cusp of intriguing, yet a little too confusing to be appreciated.  I only made it through chapter six before skipping to the end to see if anything cleared up.  Honestly, it looked like it would only get more confusing.

The only thing potentially interesting was a race of people called the Crasii that was a cross between humans and other animals.  The Crasii also seemed to have been designed to be a slave race by ancient gods – a concept that was…extremely uncomfortable anyway.  Even so, I think Fallon may have been wanting to go somewhere with that to make a point, but I can’t be sure (especially since I didn’t finish the book).

Fallon’s writing style felt all over the place and went into too much detail about relationships of side characters I hadn’t even met yet.  At the very least, it wasn’t a style that matched my tastes.

Psychology in High Fantasy

Since I talked about wanting more disabled characters last week, this seemed like something I could get a little more into, largely because “disabled” doesn’t need to exclusively refer to physical things – it can also be about mental disorders.

With that in mind…do we seriously think psychology isn’t a discipline in the worlds we create?  I mean, sure, most (cliche) high fantasy is based on medieval Europe (which is really starting to get on my nerves), but who’s to say they didn’t develop these ideas before we did?  Who says some of the psychological terms haven’t weaved its way into the made up world’s pop culture?

Just because we’re making parallel worlds doesn’t mean it has to be an exact replica of our own.  Honestly speaking, adding in the psychology component could potentially turn out to be an essential component of the world we create (…or not, it really depends).  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a high fantasy hero who had a therapist?

Static Not Valid: Episode 5

Ending the YouTube Channel

After evaluating a lot of things, I have decided to stop doing youtube versions of my reviews.  I will of course continue reviewing books (and maybe even end up doing more than one a month), but a link to a spoiler filled version will no longer be available.  If you are interested, I do (spoiler-free) live-reads on my twitter account (@atypicalfemme) which I will continue to do.

Anyway, here is the link to my final youtube video: click here.

Disabled Terminology in High Fantasy

Continuing off last week’s post about queer terminology, I figured I would also address terms for the disabled in fantasy books.  (By the way, I really dislike the term “disabled” when referring to this community – any suggestions for a more respectful word to use?)

To start off, there is an inherent lack of disabled characters in high fantasy.  From what I’ve seen in various reviews as well as in my own reading, even those books that feature characters with a disability don’t do it well.  They either don’t represent properly or (*cringe*) heal them with magic (*shudder*).  Despite that, I haven’t seen much in the way of terms besides the ones in common usage: deaf, blind, mute, etc (whether or not they see themselves as disabled is another issue entirely).  Even then, the word “disabled” itself doesn’t make much of an appearance to begin with.

What I’m really trying to say here is: I’m sick and tired of seeing able-bodied people be the heroes of the story.  I want to see more variety and I want terms that tells readers exactly what lens you are looking at the story through and I don’t want these characters to be cured by some arbitrary magic, even if it does make sense in-world.  That’s called erasure.

Static Not Valid: Episode 4

Queer Terminology in High Fantasy

Alright, after coming off my little series of blog posts about perspectives, I thought about starting another one.  This time, I want to do a small series of posts about some of the things I find lacking (or excessive) in the genre of high fantasy.  I obviously don’t speak for all bookworms and if I’m missing out on a book that you think addresses my concerns, feel free to recommend it and I’ll be more than happy to add it to my TBR pile.

So to start off, I want to talk about queerness in fantasy.  Yes, I know of (and have read) some high fantasy books that have had queer main characters and while I did enjoy them, I noticed a lack of any terminology used to describe their queerness.  Sure, sure, labels may not be necessary, but, if you’re building an entire world…why wouldn’t there be any?

The only time I’ve actually seen something like that used was in The Last Herald-Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey, but even then it was “borrowed” from another in-world language rather than something the culture had already made up.  (That aside, there was too much focus on the queerness aspect of the main characters anyway.)  Otherwise, none of the fantasy worlds I’ve read have ever had queer terminology in it even when there were queer characters in it, whether side characters or main (some readers may know how upset I get when said characters are only side characters).

And let’s not even get started on the fact that I never see characters that are transgender or non-binary in high fantasy.  Either way, as a writer, I plan to address some of these concerns by writing them myself and creating unique in-world terms for queerness that will make perfect sense within the context of the culture.  …Wish me luck.

Static Not Valid: Episode 3

The Shadow Mark

The Shadow Mark by Mason Thomas is the second book of his in a series called Lords of Davenia.  Though, calling it a series is a bit generous since it doesn’t follow the same characters despite taking place in the same kingdom (Davenia) – I’m assuming it’s also taking place in the same time period as well.

Anyway, this book follows Auraq Greystone who is an ex-soldier as he stumbles into some dark mystery when he meets Kane, the bearer of a mysterious mark on his arm.  In their journeys, they constantly evade assassins and other dangers until they finally make it to the capital for the final unraveling of the mystery.  And, at some point, they end up falling in love with each other.

Overall, this book was incredibly cliche, predictable, but…still pretty decent.  I enjoyed it well enough, though it was, admittedly, not as good as the first one.  The romance aspect was on the verge of unbelievable with some fairly sweet moments thrown in.  While I do like more subtle, slow-burn romance, this may have been pushing it just a little.

As for the characters, I did like Auraq well enough and I think there’s a possibility of him being on the asexual/aromantic spectrum, though it’s not obvious and might just be me reading into things more than anything else.  Auraq is a very self-assured character and I truly enjoyed reading the story through his eyes.  As for Kane…he’s the love interest.  That’s pretty much it.  He’s the one that needs to be protected because of the magical mark on his arm and ends up being in a relationship with the main character.  Unfortunately, not a lot of substance was provided.

And then, there’s Thomas’ writing style.  He sticks pretty closely to Auraq in third-person limited, but good God, could you get anymore cliche?!  I swear, he uses every single cliche in storytelling in the history of ever.  From someone missing the table when they set a goblet down because they’re so shocked to the villain interacting with someone “offscreen” while taunting the main character.  It would’ve been annoying if Thomas’ writing didn’t have a certain…charisma.

So, if you don’t mind a by-the-numbers leaning book, I’d certainly encourage you to give The Shadow Mark a go.  At the very least, I am more than willing to read Thomas’ future books.

Check out the YouTube version of this review here!  Warning: video contains spoilers.

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and twitter!

Rewind Perspectives

I know there was a bit of an interruption from my announcement last week, but let’s continue with the perspectives discussion.  Rewind perspectives.  I’m not sure if everyone’s going to know what I’m talking about when I use that term, so, what I mean by that is when an author writes the same story that a reader has seen before from a completely different point of view.

A prime example of this is Peter V. Brett’s The Demon Cycle…which annoyed the hell out of me, by the way.  Thinking about it, I find the very idea of an author doing this abrasive, yet I’m also guilty of doing it (or planning on it).  Either I’m a total hypocrite or I’ve just never seen this strategy pulled off in a way that left me satisfied – I’m 85% positive there’s a book I haven’t found yet that has rewind perspectives and is perfect for my tastes.

I should also say this criticism is strictly in regards to books.  There’s a British movie called Frequency that did this exact thing for three different characters and I really enjoyed it.  Just another one of those tactics that comes down to taste & style.

What’s your take on it?

Static Not Valid: Episode 2

New Website

The time has finally arrived!  I, at last, have an author’s website:

For those of you interested in seeing the kinds of things I write (this blog aside), I’ve got a little weekly series as part of the website that will serve to showcase some of my writing.  It’ll probably be pretty obvious that these episodes aren’t entirely polished, but I’ll say right now that they’re not exactly meant to be.

The first episode is already up and the plan is to have a weekly release in correlation with my blog.  I’ll also post a link to the latest episode at the end of each post (whether I talk about it or not) since that’s probably the easiest reminder for everyone.  Hope you like it!

Static Not Valid