3 Tropes I Love In Fantasy Fiction, by Lynn E. O’Connacht

For today’s Wyrd and Wonder contribution, I’m handing the mic over to a fantasy writer and fellow blogger to get the ball rolling on some discussion of favourite tropes in fantasy! Everyone, meet Lynn…

Image credit: Dragon by kasana86 on 123RF.com

 

When Lisa mentioned doing a series of guest posts on fantasy tropes we love, I knew I wanted to write something for it. I am, admittedly, actually utterly terrible at tropes and it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to write about my favourites. Don’t worry, you’re not going to get any too obscure ones, I don’t think, but it’s a good exercise in thinking about what we like in fiction and what we don’t like.

Also, it’s a perfect opportunity to introduce you all to some shiny and amazing books, so. You know. Hopefully I can help you find your next favourite fantasy read.

Anyway! I’m the kind of voracious reader that makes it hard to pin down what I love above all else because the answer depends on so many factors, like mood and the time of year or, say, what kind of magical creature is involved, etc. I find it easy to love books because all I really want is a well-told story with vivid characters and the trappings? Unless it hits one of my ‘nope’ buttons, I am good.

Still, though, in pondering the topic of “Well, surely I have some tropes that make me more likely to pick a story up than others”, I came up with a few that I think define me as a reader.

The first trope I want to discuss and highlight, then, is…

The Power of Friendship (Or Love)

Now, if you know anything about me, especially online, then you’ll know that I’m arospec (that is to say: on the aromantic spectrum) and acespec (on the asexual spectrum), so the fact that I love stories that revolve around the power of friendship probably isn’t very surprising.

Technically there’s a difference between The Power of Friendship and The Power of Love, but being arospec I will very happily lump them all together. The idea behind this trope is one that we’ve heard dozens of times before: through friendship and cooperation, we save the day. It is, quite possibly, one of the oldest fantasy tropes there is – this is especially true for The Power of Romantic Love because it’s the solution to, like, half the fairy tale plots out there – and it is certainly one of the most-used fantasy tropes.

We can see it from the Care Bears to My Little Pony, from Captain Planet to Sailor Moon, from Steven Universe to She-ra and the Princesses of Power, and that’s just some examples on tv! Although strictly speaking Sailor Moon was a manga first, so we’re already onto books.

It’s found in fantasy staples such as The Lord of the Rings, The Fionavar Tapestry, The Wheel of Time, The Circle of Magic, Harry Potter, Ella Enchanted, His Dark Materials

Some of them focus solely on The Power of Friendship, some focus solely on The Power of Romantic Love, and some contain a mixture, but in the end love, of whatever kind, is what saves the day. I grew up on these stories and they’re very dear to me, especially the ones about The Power of Friendship. It is, or feels, surprisingly rare nowadays to see books that focus strongly on The Power of Friendship, especially ones that treat The Power of Friendship as at least equal to The Power of Romantic Love.

I’m a fan of both, but largely because romantic love to me includes a component of friendship. This is a trope that doesn’t work for me if there is no friendship visible in the romantic love*. But if you forced me to pick one trope I could love? This would be it. There’s so much optimism and hope wrapped into it and so much potential. I love seeing the various ways this trope shows up in stories because it’s never, ever, quite the same in any story.

Some of my favourite books with this trope? I will always and forever recommend Claudie Arseneault’s Isandor series. This is a high fantasy series inspired by D&D settings but everyone is queer and most people are somewhere on the aro or ace spectrums. Friendship is at the very heart and core of this book in ways that I have, honestly, never seen any other story even come close to matching.

Because it’s a high fantasy book, it’s got a large cast which means that we get to see a wide variety of different friendships and different issues with friendship. One of the largest strands, though, deals with the way these unlikely heroes find themselves tossed into working together to save the city from an evil wizard and corrupt scheming nobles and to make the city (and by extension the world) a better place. There may not be any magical beams of friendship power to obliterate the enemies. There may not be scenes where The Power of Friendship pushes our heroes to find the strength to carry on. (Actually, those are definitely there, but they’re quieter and more introverted, more suitable to a bookish medium.) But The Power of Friendship is unquestionably there, connecting every strand and every action.

Another book which features The Power of Friendship is Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp (and its sequel Latchkey) and here we do get glimpses of the way The Power of Friendship gives characters the strength to just push on in a way that is more visually dramatic than in Isandor. Like Isandor, though, friendship lies at the core of this narrative. There isn’t a hint of romance in them. This is all about friends being there for one another and unlikely friendships through hardship. More than that, it’s about prickly people becoming friends without needing to change drastically, defying the idea that only certain types of people can have friends without compromising who they are. And it’s about friendship, in particular, enduring every attempt to eradicate it and triumphing over the systems that tried to stamp it out.

And those are some examples of what is undoubtedly the one trope I could pick out easily. So let’s move on to the next trope I wanted to talk about. That one is…

Wait for it. You’ll never guess this one, but I wanted to give you a chance to try.

Have you made a guess?

Great!

Because the next trope I want to talk about is the Magical Library. I like my tropes straight-forward, yes. That’s another thing I can say rather conclusively about me and tropes. This one is exactly what it says on the tin, no messing, no guessing. It’s about libraries that are, in some way, magical.

I love libraries. Or at least I do when I get on with them. Sadly, decent-to-good libraries are not universal (anymore because budget cuts), so support libraries as best you can and help them stay awesome! Anyway, I do love libraries. And book shops, come to think of it. If it’s a place with a lot of books on a lot of shelves, I am a happy, happy person and my day has just improved by several thousand percent**.

There’s just something about having so many books in one place. All that knowledge, all that learning, all that emotion… Libraries, just on their own, are magical. Add in actual magic and I’m in bookish heaven. You know. Unless the concept of ‘magical books’ involves ‘books that try to murder you’ because those exist too and are not particularly heavenly. The rest, though…

Since I’m talking about magical libraries, you can probably guess the first book I’m going to mention. Well, it’s a series really and it is, of course, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. I mean, come on. A magical library cannot get much better than L-space. It’s literally every library everywhere.

I first encountered L-space not in the Discworld books, which took me forever and a day to get into, but the computer game adaptation, sort of, of Guards! Guards!*** from 1995. Where you, yourself, get to travel through L-space. It was, I think, the first magical library I ever encountered and I adored it.

More recently, I discovered the magical library in In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard. While technically just a highly technologically advanced library in a world that no longer knows quite how the technology works, it is every bit as vast as you could hope a magical library to be. And it can create copies of the books stored in it at will and it can probably anticipate what you’re looking for a lot better than L-space can, so…

Lastly, there’s a trope that I adore when reading and… less so when I’m writing. And that trope is the Here There Were Dragons trope. Or the Dragon Come Back one. I adore a combination of the two especially.

Dragons are, of course, another staple of fantasy and it is, to be honest, one of the reasons why I dislike seeing them in fiction. It takes a lot to write about them in a way that feels really new and intriguing and they often leave me grumbly. This trope doesn’t pertain just to dragons, though. More generally it can be applied to anything magical, whether actual magic or fantastical creatures, that were once around and may or may not be coming back. There’s something really, really fun that stems from the combination of that plot. It inevitably means that we learn that aspects of the past were very different from what we thought it was and I love the stories that play coy with that past (such as The Elder Scrolls’ Dwemer or the Dragon Age franchise****) as well as the stories that revolve around upending everything the characters (and the reader) thought they knew. I love watching the characters struggle with this shift in their perspective.

One of my favourite book series utilising both these tropes is Becca Lusher’s Wingborn series and the Dragonlands one before it. Dragons are ever present in Wingborn, having been responsible for saving humans from extinction and creating the winged creatures they now fly, but they mysteriously disappeared centuries ago. The Dragonlands books explore, to some extent, why and how this happens and reading the series in conjunction (start with Wingborn and then alternate between series for each book for maximum effect) and they’re just a delightful look at this trope.

Another is Marie Brennan’s series The Memoirs of Lady Trent, which sees Lady Isabella Trent recount her past and the way that she became the foremost expert on dragons. Though dragons are not entirely gone in this setting, much of their history is unknown. It’s a story about the power of science and the importance of understanding the past and the way knowing more of how the world works can change it forever.

Also there are dragons. Lots and lots and lots and lots of dragons. (Seriously, if you love dragons and have not read this, what are you waiting for?) The tropes may take a while to show up extensively since Brennan is sparse on the details and it’ll take you at least four books to start seeing the full picture along with Isabella. Each book stands on its own and is delightful, but together they add up to such a powerful narrative that saying too much about would thoroughly spoil it.

Just know that when I think of dragon tropes, I think of these books and I mostly just want to push them in people’s hands going “Read this”.

With three tropes discussed, I think that’s enough from me. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at some of my favourite tropes and some of my favourite books that feature them.

* And yet I still manage to love fairy tales with all my heart. Funny how that works.

** Especially if it’s a nice, big bookshop and someone’s given me one of those You Have X Minutes To Shop And Everything In Your Basket Is Free events. Oh, that would be bliss. Until I had to take everything home. Then my back would probably murder me.

*** Its plot is roughly similar to Guards! Guards! but it stars Rincewind and combines aspects of several other books as well.

**** Now, of course, they’re also including the Dragons Come Back trope to, in my opinion, great effect.

Lynn E. O’Connacht (she/they) is a queer SFF author with an MA in English literature and creative writing, but wouldn’t call herself an authority on either. She currently resides on the European continent and her idiom and spelling are, despite her best efforts, geographically confused, poor things. Her tastes are equally eclectic, though fantasy will always be her first love and speculative fiction is a guarantee for anything longer than a short story. She has been chasing stories one way or another since she was old enough to follow a narrative.

Her works include the Fairytale Verses series, a series of queer fairytale retellings in verse, and The Princess who Didn’t Eat Cake, a short fairytale aimed at exploring and introducing demisexuality in a playful and creative manner for those who learn best through fiction.

You can find her on her blog, on Twitter as @lynnoconnacht, and also on Patreon.

4 comments On 3 Tropes I Love In Fantasy Fiction, by Lynn E. O’Connacht

  • Gah. Jorie, you’ve written such a lovely, thoughtful response and here I am struggling to respond to even half of it. *hangs head* I apologise for that, but I’m so honoured my post touched you so deeply.

    I gave Discworld a whirl through Tiffany Aching? However, for whichever reason that particular witchy book made my head spin and I found my port of entry to be confoundingly confusing to say the least! It was one trippy book to read and I just wasn’t sure if his style of story was my cuppa to be honest!?

    If it helps any, it took me half a dozen books and what feels like half a lifetime to get into Discworld. The only reason I persisted was because I knew from playing the games that I actually liked the humour. For me it turned out I just wasn’t in a spot where I could appreciate what Pratchett was doing with the narratives.

    Someone else is grumbly about #dragonfiction!? And, here I thought I was the sole grumbler!!

    Nope! You’re definitely not. Dragons are a tough sell for me. I’ve never heard of the LelandDragons, though? What’re the books about?

    For me, sometimes Fantasy turns quite dark and sometimes the kind of Dark Fantasy out there is just not my cuppa !! Dark is alright for certain types of stories but if the Light is so muted and so indescribable – I find myself put off. I also hate dragons who are mercenaries or are mostly violent towards everyone and every creature in sight – I mean, seriously!?

    Thankfully, the Lady Trent books aren’t like that. There is some darkness, true, in that it covers the way people can treat the environment as well as racism and sexism, but nothing like what you’re describing here. Hopefully that means you’ll enjoy them whenever you get to them. I’m so excited to know we’re getting a new book in the setting! 😀

    Outside of the Lady Trent series, which dragons have you come to love?

    Honestly, I’m not kidding when I say I don’t like (Western) dragons much. This is pretty much it? I focused on dragons in discussing the trope because I do love both these series a lot, but I’m honestly more about the way that the fantastical element influences the worldbuilding and that can be hard to talk about without giving away spoilers.

    The Lady Trent books are all about how our understanding of biology can increase (or in this case upend) our understanding of our collective past, and that strand is woven through these books very deftly. Brennan builds up the idea of what is actually going on in book 1, but unless you’re an incredibly astute reader, you probably won’t start piecing the backstory of the world together until book 3 or 4 at earliest before book 5 focuses on it.

    Becca’s books (and, fair warning, the Wingborn ones are predominantly about war) are less about what happened and how that influences the worldbuilding, but still reflect on how the past echoes into the present. One example is the antagonist in the Wingborn series, but perhaps a better one is the contrast between the Rift Riders. Set several hundred years after the Dragonlands books, Wingborn follows in the trend of Alanna where women are, for the first time, allowed to join the military. Except, as the Dragonlands books very clearly demonstrate, the idea that women were never allowed in the Rift Riders is, well, a fabrication by the way society changed in those years. Read together they’re an interesting look at the way societies change.

    The actual dragons… Well, they’re not actually the heart of the trope I love in these books. They’re just the archetype (see: Dany’s dragons in Game of Thrones) we use to make the trope immediately recognisable.

    • As we’ve been having such a wicked brilliant discussing this – I decided to move the convo to a PM between us to where we can expand and respond to the aspects of it which are of mutual interest. I am LOVING this comment and the ways in which I can respond to what you’ve said in response to my own comments/thoughts. It is lovely when you can find someone who is as bookishly geeky and chatty as you are yourself and this convo is one of the highlights for the event for me this year!! I’ll be in your Inbox shortly!!

  • Hallo, Hallo Lisa!! And, welcome to #WyrdAndWonder, Ms O’Connacht!!!

    You might find this interesting – I started writing this comment earlier in the afternoon and I wasn’t able to finish my thoughts until the wee hours of the morn on Saturday! lol When I first started reading this post – I found a bookish soul sister because I am infamous on my blog Jorie Loves A Story from self-declaring myself a “particularly particular kind of discerning reader” – meaning, similar to Ms O’Connacht, I too, find myself treading carefully whenever I am about to broach into a story which on the surface of it “appears to have all the loveliness I am seeking” but perhaps, by the undertone or the direction of the narrative falls slightly short of eclipsing my joy of discovering it. Oft-times too, I can have all the elements of a story within reach but it is how the story is writ which puts me off and leads me to take a quickstep of an exit rather than to feel firmly rooted inside the narrative which previously felt like such a wickedly intriguing story to be read!

    I, too, fail miserably at ‘tropes’ in fact I had to leave some twitterverse chats due to how I never spoke in tropes or in the general language of writing but rather I fuell my discussions (as I host a regular chat about Women’s Fiction/Romance via @SatBookChat) about the character’s journey, the internal drama of their life and definitely like to tip a spotlight on the setting or the aesthetics of how the author approached writing their story or even, what motivates them to write in the genres I focus on chatting about the most.

    If I can be so bold I never even heard the ‘term’ tropes til I became a book blogger and I blessedly staid in the dark for years before it became a buzz word I stepped out of chats to avoid. I think people get too bogged down in the particulars and at times, forsake talking about the stories and the characters or the world for debating about the proper methodology of approaching ‘how to write it’ they forget why they are attracted to those kinds of stories in the first place?

    I love to expound on the genres, topics and subjects I am reading rather regularly – which is why my blog is cross-indexed a bit to the hilt and why my Story Vaul it uniquely organised by genre though at times, there are sub-niches of influence within those branches of literary wanderings, too! Like you, if you were to try to pin me down to a particular niche in literature – you’d be hard pressed to do it as I am a hybrid reader of both mainstream and INSPY Lit but from those jumping off points the sea is wide, diverse and varied! I also love championing Indie Authors, Self Published Authors (who I consider Indie as well) and the publishing world outside of Major Trade; even though, yes I read Major Trade, too! I just love how more expansive my readerly choices are now that I’ve been a blogger as the world quite literally OPENED to a heightened level of interest as the more connected you are in the book blogosphere or the bookish side of Twitter, the more you can honestly source and find. Thus, the literary world grows small and yet remains infinitely exponential in its potential.

    I am also one who champions relationship-based Romance – if it is given an entry point through a route of lust or anything of the like I’m not the girl whose going to be keen on that kind of story. Similar to you – I equate romance with friendship, but then again, nearly all my points of reference growing up were my relatives who were first friends and then romantic partners – they fell in love whilst they grew their friendship and to me, romance and friendship has always felt to be entwined. Even in my own relationships I find the best matches are the ones where you literally fall for your best friend as they see you better than most and they understand you on a heart level.

    I’ve been supporting libraries locally and virtually since I became a social reader six years ago though the momentum of sharing more about my library life has grown as well. I try to remember to share on Twitter which books I’m requesting as purchases for the library, which ones they purchase for me and which ones I’m borrowing – either locally or through ILL’ing (inter-library loan). I’ve also championed the #savethelibrary causes though nowadays there are so many, I don’t know how to support them all so I’ve reverted back to tweeting about being a #librarygirl wherein I try to encourage my library to add materials to our card catalogue where the authors are from UK publishers, small Indie publishers/press or are Self Published. They are really open to all of those alternative routes of publication and since I can’t purchase copies myself in-line with my curiosities to read them, I feel incredibly blessed they can — despite the hiccups and budget cuts.

    Also, inter-library loans are a godsend truly as they let me reach out to seek out books in a series I want to back-read in order to read front list titles and/or they help me seek out the stories which are harder to find / source through out of print searches, etc. Mind you, I also you ILL’ing for seeking dvds on tv series – such as the year(s) we binged through Monarch of the Glen, sampled Doctor Who for #RRSciFiMonth or went through 4x years of Mannix before the discs were damaged in the 5th and now we’re attempting to see LA Law!!

    I love the concept of Magical Libraries – that’s why I was watching “The Librarian” series but again, it ran amuck when my ILL’s ran into damaged discs — one day, of course I’ll re-try but the few I saw were quite lovely but fell a bit short at the same time? I think I loved the concept more than the execution of the concept which is something that can happen to me time after time – by tv, film or book.

    I gave Discworld a whirl through Tiffany Aching? However, for whichever reason that particular witchy book made my head spin and I found my port of entry to be confoundingly confusing to say the least! It was one trippy book to read and I just wasn’t sure if his style of story was my cuppa to be honest!?

    Someone else is grumbly about #dragonfiction!? And, here I thought I was the sole grumbler!! I am so dearly particular about which dragon stories I am reading – I literally haven’t ventured too far away from my beloved #LelandDragons! I even created the two tags in this paragraph to a) generate interest in a beloved author’s trilogy and b) to see if other readers would catch-on to the genre tag and use it regularly. This series also introduced me to shifters and I fell hard for a shifter named Bannon! lol For me, the tale of the Murkens is still left unfinished… I had so many questions after the 3rd novel and so many dearly unanswered/unresolved questions.. it hurt my soul a bit to leave them where they were left.

    I’ve been attempting to read Lady Trent’s series for too many years to even honestly count — last time I tried it I borrowed the first novel from a local library and due to circumstances I had to return it unread. With my plate full this #WyrdAndWonder I know it is not the right timing either in May; my new goal is to read #dragonfiction & gryphon fiction for Year 3 of Wyrd And Wonder – (yes, I said Year 3!) – as it would be an awesomesauce focused enquiry due to how many times I attempt to read about dragons and find myself dearly disappointed! 🙁 For me, sometimes Fantasy turns quite dark and sometimes the kind of Dark Fantasy out there is just not my cuppa !! Dark is alright for certain types of stories but if the Light is so muted and so indescribable – I find myself put off. I also hate dragons who are mercenaries or are mostly violent towards everyone and every creature in sight – I mean, seriously!?

    Outside of the Lady Trent series, which dragons have you come to love? Are you holding onto this series as dearly as I am my #LelandDragons!? (FYI: the whole series is blogged and there is a post where I added new notes / thoughts on behalf of the trilogy overall, too)

    Goodness — perhaps I ought to have sent this by PM instead!? lol

    You did write a very illuminatingly inspiring piece today and I am so dearly thankful for it as I have stories I want to seek out and see if one or more of them would be a good fit for me! How champion!?

    Thankful your part of our Wyrd And Wonder, this year!

    PS: I augmented my writing style to be more AmeriBrit to offset my dyslexia,..

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Dear Geek Place is my new home on the internet, though I've been around here before - I am the blogger formerly known as @EffingRainbow. Here, you can still find reviews of science fiction and fantasy books, but hopefully more besides, as I throw myself cheerfully out into the world and attempt to chronicle my experiences, one adventure at a time.

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