What makes it fantasy?

My husband used to tell me he only liked "real" science fiction, not that "fantasy" stuff. So it's kind of surprising to find him thoroughly hooked on fantasies like Game of Thrones and Mistborn. But it's satisfying too. It seems what makes fantasy work for him is when it has a well-imagined, logical worldview, when magic obeys its rules rather than making them up to change with the novel's changing needs, and where characters become real and believable rather than cardboard cutouts. That being so, it's not surprising he loves Harry Potter (definitely logical) and Mistborn too. Meanwhile I just love fantasy, always have done and doubtless always will.

But what makes it fantasy? Is it magic? Is it different worlds (but surely they're part of science fiction too)? Is it swords and sorcery and dragons? Gods and goddesses? And what makes fantasy different from (hard) science fiction?

I suspect for my husband at least, real (hard) science fiction has to be based in what we currently know, taking serious speculation and writing a tale that grows from scientific what-ifs. Fantasy, on the other hand, postulates something beyond the realms of science - a whole new force not yet discovered (that could be called magic by we who have never known it); a whole new power of the mind that's not yet been explored; a world that's completely hidden behind our own...

Mistborn (and its sequels The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages) is set on a very different world, has magic that's delightfully complex and well thought out, and offers the sort of deep world building that has you believing there's a real history behind it all. I fell in love with the series and characters as soon as I started reading. Mystery, history, politics, revolution ... yes hints of swords and sorcery but so much more. Enjoy with some seriously complex four-star coffee.

Stephen Zimmer's Rayden Valkyrie novellas are set in a world informed by the histories and mythologies of our own, and follow the adventures of a powerful female warrior. Like heroes of old, she helps the weak and strives against injustice. She's a great character, and the stories can probably be read in any order, though it's clear an overarching plot will lead her to destiny. Sun's Caress introduces characters and ideas, takes them through war and its aftermath, and goes well with a bold, dark five-star coffee.

The Belle Stalker by Minnette Meador is set in our own present-day world, but intersects it neatly with another - a world with different rules and powers ... and characters. Set in Portland Oregon, England and elsewhere, blending romance with action adventure and fantasy, it's dark themes will go well with some more dark five-star coffee.

The Invocation by Carl Alves also intersects our world with another, this time using a Ouija board as the gateway between them. It's a scary novel blending fourth grade and adult protagonists as a monster invades the world and must be driven back. Like the Stranger Things TV series, it's an adult, middle-grade crossover horror, best enjoyed with some dark five-star coffee.

And finally, there's Sound Bender by Lin Oliver and Theo Baker, a middle grade novel with orphaned boy, scary uncle, clever technology, and a heart for the world. Enjoy this one with some lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

My husband probably wouldn't enjoy all of these. But at least he admits he likes some fantasy now.


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