Discussion · Fantasy

Am I Falling Out of Love With Fantasy?

Fantasy was once my favorite genre. A trend I’m noticing – in my ratings, in my favorites, and even in what I add to my TBR now – is that I seem to like it less and less.

This is going to be long! I can’t promise it will be worth it, but here we are.


First, A Disclaimer

Defining what is and isn’t fantasy is complicated, as the line between sci-fi and fantasy can get really blurred, and as some genres are considered fantasy by some and not by others (for example, magical realism, paranormal romance, contemporary with a small speculative twist…)

In this post, I will use the word “fantasy” to mean a book set in a fictional/historical-fictional world in which magic has a significant role, and in which the technology is on average less advanced than our own.

I know this excludes a lot of subgenres, but drawing the line between what can be considered fantasy and what can’t is even more complicated in a contemporary or futuristic setting; as this post does not apply to urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, magical realism and all the subgenres and arguably separate genres one doesn’t immediately think of when the word “fantasy” is said, consider them excluded from the word “fantasy” for the purpose of this post.
I consider urban fantasy a fantasy subgenre, of course – it’s just not what I’m talking about, it’s not a genre I considered a favorite when I was younger. I also didn’t want to say “high and historical fantasy” every time when that’s what most people immediately think of when they hear the word “fantasy” anyway.


The Current Situation

43263188I have rated only one fantasy novel five stars this year. Said novel is The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore (review), and it’s a 4.5 rounded up because the buddy read with Silvia was a great experience. I don’t know if I would have rounded up had I read it on my own; it was fun, but far from flawless, and it doesn’t fully feel like a five star. It’s really the kind of book I’d actually love to have half stars for.

I have loved some fantasy short stories (The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections), novellas (The Ascent to Godhood) and graphic novels (Monstress), but novels… not so much. And I have been reading fantasy novels.

Let’s make a quick, simple list. Of the 91 books I read this year:

  • 33 are not novels (short stories, graphic novels, novellas, collections and anthologies of various genres)
  • 7 are novels I reread (of various genres)
  • which leaves 51 novels.

Of those 51 novels:

  • 17 are fantasy (of which one is a 5 star)
  • 9 are sci-fi/futuristic (of which five are 5 stars)
  • 14 are realistic contemporary or historical fiction (of which four are 5 stars)
  • 11 belong to the “contemporary with a magical/sci-fi/paranormal/horror twist” group (and three of them are 5 stars)

You see, it’s not like I’m not reading fantasy novels. But I’m not liking them, or at least, I’m constantly disappointed by them. Some of the most disappointing books I read this year were hyped fantasy books like The Fifth Season, The Ten Thousand Doors of January and House of Salt and Sorrows. And that’s just counting the ones I finished! I just DNFed Steel Crow Saga, for example, another anticipated release.

If you compare these stats with what I read in 2016 (around 100 books, of which 30+ were fantasy novels for the purpose of this post), yes, I’m also reading a lot less fantasy.


Why Is This Happening?

Here are some possible explanations, and what I think of them.

is the fantasy genre getting worse? I honestly don’t think that’s the case; if anything, I think that in the YA fantasy age range, it’s getting better; at least we’re not still stuck retelling the same 3 fairytales with straight, white main characters as we were in early 2016. I don’t know enough about the recent past of the adult part to say if it’s the same there, but I think we’re seeing a lot more women, more diversity and that’s of course positive. YA fantasy is also taking itself more seriously and that’s a double-edged sword, as some kinds of narratives and clichés just don’t work when you try to write that kind of story, but overall, I think the quality has improved.

I have read too much of it. Well, this is definitely a significant part of my recent dislike, especially when it comes to YA fantasy. YA fantasy is formulaic enough to feel stagnant, and when novels that actually feel like a breath of fresh air – like Six of Crows did back then – the genre’s response is to try and make lesser copycats of them instead of looking for more stories that branch out from the typical YA fantasy structure.
I was starting to feel “YA fantasy fatigue” in 2017, and I was 17 at the time, so I don’t even think it’s a “you’re not the target audience” problem. Teens get tired of reading the same exact story 20 times, too; I don’t think “this might be the first time a reader encounters that story, though!” is that much of a justification – it almost surely isn’t the first time, if said reader reads more than three YA books in a year, and if they don’t, they’re unlikely to reach for the midlist first! It’s almost as if this category almost only ever tries to play safe, and I don’t like that. (The “really formulaic” thing is also true for most YA sci-fi, but that genre has never been my favorite.) I understand that to some YA is kind of a comfort read, but that was not true for me as a teen; I mostly wanted original stories that didn’t go into adult territory, and I truly believe there’s space for both the cliché and the not.
Also, while I think that formulaic diverse stories have a value, I’d love to see publishers understand that marginalized readers might also want diverse stories that are not  formulaic, not “exactly the same plot as popular m/f YA fantasy book, but gayer” or something like that. You can have both. I promise.

⇝ Since I have read a lot of it, I have higher standards. Also true. I know what has been done really often before in fantasy more than I do in other genres. A lot of fantasy books I love, even books I loved this year on reread like Shadow and Bone, aren’t books I’d give five stars to today if I read them for the first time. It’s less about nostalgia (for Shadow and Bone: I read it in 2015 and that isn’t a time I’m nostalgic about, really) and more about that being the first time I experienced this kind of story, with a main character who was almost exactly the same as 15-year-old me; it carries a weight that similar stories could not today. I would still like it, of that I’m certain, but I wouldn’t love it (and would be annoyed by some things that I forgive in fantasy published in 2012 but not now). It would probably be around four stars.

⇝ finding adult fantasy without a serious pacing problem is difficult. It doesn’t make sense to me that adult fantasy is totally fine with taking 200+ pages to get to the point almost every single time, because the more I approach actual adulthood, the more I think I’m not 13 and I don’t have unlimited free time anymore, can you shut up and get there already? For example, Jade City and especially Jade War by Fonda Lee would have been such great books, if not for the fact that half of the text that isn’t dialogue could have been omitted to make a perfectly viable story anyway. Who allowed them to get that long?
And the thing is: adult sci-fi, which has just as complex (and sometimes more complex) worldbuilding, doesn’t have this problem nearly as often, or maybe I’ve been really lucky. It might have to do with the fact that adult fantasy has had a history of being long-winded since basically the beginning? I know nothing about older sci-fi, so I’m not sure how the two compare.

⇝ a lot of fantasy acts as if having a sense of humor could kill it. We‘re very serious people here! This is meant to be Meaningful! Fun is forbidden because here we are Edgy and it’s all about pain! Of course, this isn’t the case for all books, but I wish dark fantasy’s sense of humor weren’t just really occasional sarcasm. I think most of us really are here to have fun – maybe not literally, I think it’s more about being interested and captivated and that doesn’t necessarily mean that the book has to be funny, but I don’t think I’m the only one who finds overwhelming misery overrated, as it’s really easy to come by without needing a fictional world. Balance is everything to me, when it comes to these things, and adding humor to difficult circumstances doesn’t make a story cheaper.
(Though I have to say that when the book has a sense of humor I don’t actually find funny, it gets awkward. See what happened with Steel Crow Saga.)

⇝ something that I also need to remember is that it’s more difficult to tell apart fantasy that isn’t going to work for me. I’m pretty good at guessing which sci-fi I need to abandon within the first chapters; this also works – though not as much – with contemporaries. With fantasy, I struggle. I’m not sure why; I can tell that a sci-fi book does not interest me from the premise but with fantasy I’m not able to do the same as often and end up with more low ratings. However, this does not explain why there are so few high ratings.


What About the Future

I’m still going to be reading fantasy books. Of course. However, I don’t consider it my favorite genre anymore, and I think me and YA fantasy are inevitably going to grow apart, not because I’m not interested in reading about teenagers anymore – I’m not thirty either, but that doesn’t make fantasy stories with adults in their 30s as main characters automatically uninteresting – but because it isn’t doing much for me anymore. Things could change, but if they don’t, my YA fantasy reads will slowly become more the exception than the rule.

I don’t see myself growing apart from fantasy altogether. For example, if it hadn’t been for the problems I had with the romance and portrayals of female characters, Mo Dao Zu Shi (review) would have probably been a five star, and even though it wasn’t, I still couldn’t think about anything else for a week, so yes, I can still love fantasy.

A Few Fantasy Reads I Have High Hopes For

Who knows, maybe I will be able to find a full five star read in the fantasy genre before the end of this year!

⇝ The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
If I ever get to this, which might not happen because I am a coward, I’m actually pretty sure that I’m going to like it. I’ve heard that as far as books this long go, the pacing is great, and what I’ve heard about the characters and worldbuilding was encouraging as well.

Descendants of the Crane by Joan He
I’ve heard this one is slow, but slow YA fantasy is easier to deal with than slow adult fantasy, being on average shorter and lighter. I’ve also heard this has political intrigue and interesting court dynamics and I live for that. I haven’t been reading enough “backstabbing at court” books this year, and I usually like those.

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
I’m not completely sure what this is about but it comes highly recommended from people I trust. I’ve heard there are complex villains and queer characters in here, so that’s bound to be interesting. I haven’t heard a lot about the series in general but I’m hopeful.


Have you ever felt like you and a genre were growing apart? What are your current thoughts on fantasy?

14 thoughts on “Am I Falling Out of Love With Fantasy?

  1. Oh man, I feel this so hard. It’s been ages since I actually LOVED a fantasy novel, and I think my reasons are pretty much the same as yours – I’ve been oversaturated with fantasy and therefore my standards are way higher. It’s harder and harder for me to find a fantasy that feels original! And with adult fantasy, they’re so often soooo slow, and feel too gritty and grimdark for my taste (I blame game of thrones). That said, I actually did love The Priory of the Orange Tree! It did take its time getting going and the pacing was my one small gripe with it, but I ended up getting so invested 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That makes sense about Game of Thrones – it certainly influenced the genre in a certain direction I don’t love either. Even books that don’t feel similar to GoT as a whole have that kind of grim, hopeless tone and that’s just not my thing.
      And that’s encouraging about Priory! I’ll go into it expecting to be slow because I think it’s inevitable when a book is that long, but I hope I’ll be able to get invested too.

      Like

  2. Love this post! I do agree that YA has a tendency to all jump on the bandwagon at the same time. A Court of Thorns and Roses was so successful, let’s name a bunch of books a BlANK of BLANK and BLANK and call it a day.

    I think it’s why I mostly gave up on it. I do read it occasionally but mostly if it’s carefully vetted first or the premise really is intriguing.

    And I’ve been wondering the same thing about myself. I feel like my patience for reading is really low this year and my ratings have also been lower and I’m wondering if I’m just that fatigued.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t given up on YA fantasy completely but I’m slowly getting there, and will probably get there in the next few years if things don’t actually change, which I don’t really see happening. Bandwagons have worked for publishing so far, so I don’t think it feels the need to stop, sadly.

      About the fatigue, I think that for me it comes partly from having read similar stories already (so, sadly, unavoidable to a degree?) and from having tried to impose a schedule on my reading (because of ARCs, mostly) and I just don’t think that’s working. What I can change to make this less of a chore, I will try to change.

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      1. I agree about the ARCs. I am careful not to ask for too many, but I think they come from so many different sources, that I forget how many I actually have for a given month, and then I’m overcommitted, and then I’m stressed because I’m not also reading the backlog titles I want to read, and I end up feeling like I’m not enjoying it as much as I want to. I keep telling myself: you can always get it at the library! But then I get overexcited and request anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. This. I’m trying to go on netgalley and edelweiss less because I always fall for the “free book one click away!” idea. (Not having a library with English books doesn’t help, but even if I had it, I probably would still have this problem.) I’m also trying to keep track of how many I have per month – and not allowing myself to have more than three – which is helping a little.

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  3. This is a really interesting discussion! I think I’ve had almost the opposite journey; over the past couple of years I’ve fallen back in love with the fantasy genre and I’ve been having so much fun with it, but I can still completely understand the fantasy burn out. I do think YA fantasy is getting much better at telling unique stories instead of churning out the same plot over and over again, but I’m more likely to reach for adult than YA when I reach for fantasy.

    I’m sorry to hear The Fifth Season and The Ten Thousand Doors of January didn’t work for you! I agree with you in that when we become really familiar with a genre we can be a lot harder to please because we’ve seen it all before and, often, we’ve seen it done better. Not only that but it’s natural for our reading tastes to change! I hope you manage to find another 5 star fantasy read this year. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s really interesting! I hope I will eventually make this opposite journey as well; I loved this genre, and it might be natural for things to change, but it still kind of saddens me that it’s not really the case anymore.

      Anyway, I want to hope all of this will temporary. It’s probably not going to be a 5 star, but I am really enjoying the historical YA fantasy novel I’m currently reading, so I’m still able to like this genre, and that’s something.

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  4. I’m trying to get more into fantasy because romance and every other genre just let me down, but I prefer to read diverse fantasy and I’ve found they’re all really, really slow and tedious to get through like you said. For example, I read Serpent & Dove because everyone was talking about it and I got through it really quickly (it has virtually no diversity), but for something like Breaking Legacies by Zoe Reed it almost felt like a chore just to read it (even though it was only 400 pages long). I’m currently trying to read Gideon the Ninth and I’m basically forcing myself to get through it because none of it makes sense but everyone says it gets better towards the end. I’m going off on a tangent, but basically: I want to get into fantasy but fantasy doesn’t want me to like it lmao

    But, I did read The Priory of the Orange Tree and it was a nice change from the usual slow fantasy books because I got through it in a few days and I never felt overly bored like I do with other f/f fantasy that are about 250-400 pages

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s really interesting, because I had the opposite experience: I mostly stopped reading non-diverse fantasy even before I started feeling fantasy fatigue, because I always found it boring – they were usually quick reads, but because they had no substance to them and I found myself skimming. Every time I try again, I end up regretting it (House of Salt and Sorrows: so not worth it).

      And that’s encouraging about Priory! My main worry was that it would feel even longer than it is, and I’m glad most people agree that’s not the case.

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  5. I’ve been weary and much pickier about the fantasy I read these days. I’ve actually managed to find several fantasy novella series that I’ve been enjoying. Short, fast, straight to the point and just as enjoyable as any fantasy epic w/o 100,000 words bogging down the story.

    I have been finding adult fantasy to my liking because I’ve been finding less Eurocentric fantasy. I think it shakes up the narrative a bit to read a story about an East Asian warrior or an African goddess or Latina American myths and lore.

    I also don’t get why adult fantasy writers feel the need to make books long and boring just to be taken seriously and be considered literature. Ahhh. I think what’s helped me this year is reading outside of my comfort zone and discovering non-fantasy books or genre-benders (fantasy mixed with aliens, fantasy mixed with historical fiction, etc)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Diversifying definitely helped a lot when I felt like I was reading the same story over and over in the past – I barely ever read classic fake-European fantasy, especially if about straight people, anymore.
      And I agree about novellas and genre-bending books! They are what are saving the genre for me right now.

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