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The category of fiction encompasses a wide variety of books. Many people tend to read in just one of these genres, without exploring the different possibilities available. This section will take a closer look at the various fiction categories. We will try to define each genre, explain a little bit about it, and cover some of the popular authors. We hope that you will try at least one book in each category.


Fantasy novels, like science fiction, take place in another reality. And while the two are often grouped together, they are really quite different. In science fiction there is always a technical explanation for what is happening, even if that technology has not yet been invented; however, in fantasy, that explanation always lies in some form of magic or enchantment.

Fantasy novels are based in magic, myths, legends and fairy tales. They take elements of the familiar and mix them with elements of the fantastical; as a result, they are filled with fairies, magic, sorcery, dragons and enchantments of various kinds. Fantasy novels also usually involve some variation of good against evil— or the light against the dark. In fact, Barbara Hambly’s Darwath trilogy (beginning with the Time of the Dark) takes the concept of light against dark quite literally. Part of the appeal of fantasy is not only the escape from reality they provide, but also that good generally triumphs over evil. There is also often adventure and action, a quest of some kind to be completed and there can even be varying amounts of romance. If the romance part appeals to you, Lois McMaster Bujold’s first Sharing Knife book, Beguilement is very good. You might also try Shana Abe, who writes a series that reads much like a historical romance with some added fantasy elements; start with The Smoke Thief. If you enjoy romance novels, but are not sure you are ready to jump right into fantasy, you might try Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells, as this is mostly in the romance genre with a few elements of magic thrown in. But whatever else fantasy novels include, it is the magical elements that are the core of the story. The amount and kind of magic varies according to author, as does the tone of the book. Like other genres, fantasy novels can be quite dark, or they can be light and funny.

Traditional fantasy novels took place in a world that came from the author’s imagination; for example, Tolkien’s Middle Earth. These kinds of books are still being written today, but the genre has expanded to also include books that are based on some version of our contemporary society, or anywhere in between. For example, in the Harry Potter books, half the book takes place in a slightly altered version of modern England and half in a world which was a product of J.K. Rowling’s imagination. In books where the setting is a product of the author’s imagination, it is usually some variation of a pre-industrialized world, without any modern technology. Authors that create their worlds from the ground up are often called “world builders”, and the worlds they create are sometimes done in such intricate detail that they can seem almost real. In fact, readers can get very attached to that world and its characters, especially if the author is writing a series, which is often the case in the fantasy genre. David Eddings is a good example of an excellent world builder; try his Belgariad and Malloreon series. Robert Jordan also creates a very complicated world in his Wheel of Time series, and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is another long-running series to try.

Another category of fantasy that has become quite popular recently is urban fantasy. Like contemporary fantasy, these stories are set in our modern day world, in an urban environment, and supposes that there is a whole other hidden world of magic and enchantment that exists below the surface of what most people see. For example, Patricia Briggs’ Mercedes Thompson series takes place in the modern day Pacific Northwest where werewolves, vampires and the fae all exist and live alongside normal people. At the beginning of her series (Moon Called), the fae have already come out and have been forced by the government onto reservations (much like what was done to Native Americans) and each must also register with the government. The existence of the vampires and werewolves, however, remains a secret. Urban fantasy books are often darker and can lean towards horror, as it often involves beings, like vampires and werewolves, that are traditionally associated with horror. Other urban fantasy authors include Jim Butcher, Charles de Lint, and Karen Marie Moning (crossover with Romance).

Books based on the Arthurian legend, like T.H. White’s Once and Future King or Mary Stewart’s books, are also included in the fantasy genre.

Fantasy novels are often popular with teens because many contain elements of coming of age stories, featuring younger protagonists; for example, Arthur in the Once and Future King and other Arthurian legend stories, Garion in David Eddings Belgariad, the five college students in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry, and so on.

In fact, there are a number of very good fantasy series that are generally shelved in the children’s or young adult sections, but have a wider appeal; the most recent and obvious case being J.K. Rowling’s extraordinarily popular Harry Potter books. The Narnia series (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) has remained popular, and Susan Cooper’s the Dark is Rising (Over Sea and Under Stone), which contains Arthurian elements, had enough of an impact on me as a teenager that I still remember it today.

A well-written fantasy can stay appealing to readers for years, so do not let the date it was written keep you from trying it. The classic example is Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is still popular today even though the first book in the series was originally published in 1954. David Eddings and Guy Gavriel Kay both wrote very good series in the 1980’s that have not lost their appeal. Look for Eddings’ Pawn of Prophecy and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry (Summer Tree is the first book). Barbara Hambly’s Darwath trilogy (Time of the Dark, Walls of Air and Armies of Daylight) and the two books that follow (Mother of Winter and Icefalcon’s Quest) are also still excellent, with great characters, an imaginative world and a building sense of dread for the dark.

More recently, Anne Bishop wrote an interesting series where the idea of light equals good and dark equals evil is flipped; Saetan, the High Lord of Hell is one of the good guys. This series is interesting for this concept alone, as it flies in the face of the traditional depiction of good and evil. But be warned, these books are quite dark.

Fantasy novels are probably something many of us tried as teenagers, but if you have not read one recently, maybe it is time to try again. Who knows, you might find something you like.

Fantasy Authors

  • Shana Abe
  • Piers Anthony
  • Anne Bishop
  • James Blaylock
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Patricia Briggs
  • Terry Brooks
  • Steven Brust
  • Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Jim Butcher
  • C.J. Cherryh
  • Charles de Lint
  • Stephen Donaldson
  • David Drake
  • Dave Duncan
  • David Eddings
  • Raymond Feist
  • Neil Gaiman
  • David Gemmell
  • Terry Goodkind
  • Simon Green
  • Barbara Hambly
  • Laurell K Hamilton
  • Elizabeth Haydon
  • Tracy Hickman
  • Robin Hobb
  • Tanya Huff
  • Robert Jordan
  • Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Katharine Kerr
  • Katherine Kurtz
  • Mercedes Lackey
  • Steve Lawhead
  • George Martin
  • Anne McCaffrey
  • Dennis McKiernan
  • Patricia McKillip
  • L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • Michael Moorcock
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Melanie Rawn
  • Mickey Zucker Reichert
  • Joel Rosenberg
  • J.K. Rowling
  • R.A. Salvatore
  • Robert Stanek
  • Mary Stewart
  • J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Margaret Weis
  • Martha Wells
  • T.H. White
  • Tad Williams
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