The reason for my digression, and the point of this post, was that as I was reading the book I kept thinking who wouldn't love this? It's so great... And I ticked off the points of excellence in my head. But it also occurs to me that what makes for great fantasy in my mind isn't going to work for everyone else. I don't know how that could be-- but still I must acknowledge that we all have different tastes. So I thought, what the heck, I'm going to put up my bullet points. The things I look for in a in a good fantasy.
- Different-- But Not Too Different: The great thing about fantasy is that it can take us into new worlds and introduce us to new things. I grew up on sword and sorcery fiction with elves and princesses- and I'll probably always have a weakness for that. But familiarity breeds boredom and it's inevitable that authors are going to experiment with the genre. This often results with fantasy worlds with vaguely humanoid creatures that might have antlers or carapace but still speak the same language as human beings. Sometimes this works but I usually find it off-putting. The scenery can go off-the-rails too at times with floating cities and skies that aren't blue-- or whatever. I don't always dislike that, but it's rare to find an author that doesn't go overboard with their creativity.
- Magic-- But Not Too Much Magic: Most writers get this. But every once in awhile you get a book that bleeds magic from every page. Every character has some wizardly power. Or they may be a witch or a demon or something that can shoots flames out of their hands. I don't know. But after awhile the overuse of magic gets boring. It's like the last "Star Wars" trilogy-- the lights sabers aren't that interesting if you have a bunch of Jedi masters whipping them out every few seconds.
- A Character Should Know Their Limitations-- and Stick to Them: Why does everyone have to be a badass these days? I have never seen so many characters who are experts with samurai swords in my life. Everyone knows as least two forms of karate and has been studying since they were two. They also look spectacular at all times and turn the head of every opposite-sexed character they see. Because it's so much more interesting when the main character is perfect. Only not so much. I actually like to worry about the main character a little. I want to root for the underdog and it's hard to do that when no one is average anymore.
- Action With Purpose: One of the things that drives me crazy about some fantasy, and paranormal fiction is biggest offender here, is the tendency to have the characters blunder from one precarious situation to the next without any real direction. Often it's the female lead; the one with the snarky sense of humor who can't seem to walk into a room without shooting her mouth off and needing the handsome hero to swoop in and save her. These books are full of dues-ex-machina moments because there's no logic to them and the only way to pluck the character of their newest impossible mess is to think of an impossible solution. A good writer knows how to set things up so they follow a logical path and reading a well-crafted novel with a tightly woven plot makes me very, very happy.
- Complex-- But Not Complicated: This is a tough balance to strike. Even books I really like can venture into overly complex territory. I like big, epic fantasy. But it's hard to keep a story that requires maps and a list of characters to an acceptable level of intricacy. My personal preference is that a book should have a solid core of characters and not venture too far from maybe 5 or 6 main characters. Maybe that's simplistic (you can tell me what you think) but I have a hard time keeping track when the number gets too much higher. I also can't keep up when there are great gaps in time when a storyline is dropped and then later picked up. Though that could just be a sign that my age is catching up with me.
- Take Time Developing the Story: This is probably the thing I loved the most about "Among Thieves;" the author didn't rush the story. Action is great when it moves the story forward. But there are times when characters need to be developed and the stage has to be set. That doesn't mean the author needs to fixate on every piece of furniture in the room when the main character walks in; but I do appreciate a few details to get a general sense of the surroundings. I like meeting the characters in their comfort zone and seeing how they relate to each other rather than the busy rush of some books that mistake action sequences for storytelling.
- Surprise Me: I love a good twist. But it's hard to make a sudden turn of events credible. It's really easy to fall back on clichés that have characters coming back from the dead thanks to some magical voodoo you just knew was going to happen. I like it when an author sticks to the human story and doesn't resort to magical trickery to force a solution.
- Be Consistent-- But Diverse: Have you ever read a book that frustrated you because you couldn't get a handle on the main character? I've read books that described a character as brash only to have them back down from every confrontation. Another pet-peeve of mine is when all the characters speak in the same way. I read one book that had every character cursing up a storm. It didn't matter if it was a lowly soldier or a high-class matron-- they were all fond of four-letter words and it made no sense at all. Different people need to have different personalities.
What would make your list?