Throughout my life, I’ve read a lot of genres. I’ve read everything from thrillers like Joshua Hood’s The Treadstone Exile and Lee Child’s Killing Floor all the way to Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy and Andy Weir’s The Martian (you can check out my list of favourite books – part 1 & 2).
If I updated the list today, there’d definitely be more fantasy books on it. I’ve gotten back into the genre after a while out and I remember why I love it so much. Having written a couple of fantasy short stories myself, it feels only right to mention some tropes that I just adore. Here are five of them.
5. Castles and Court Life
Gallant Knights, noble royals, wise kings, feasts, jesters, and more, who doesn’t love the rush of court life from medieval times?
What’s that? Peasants that formed the lowest societal rung, that were pretty much treated as property for those deemed to be of a higher social class, and who couldn’t even aspire to a higher station in life?
Who cares about how they feel?
Instead of confronting the well-established fact that most of what we believe about the Medieval Ages was an extremely idealised version of reality, most fantasy novels dive into this idealised version of events head-on and I for one absolutely love it.
I love the different social classes mingling together, the political games at play where one wrong move could seal your fate. I’m a fan of these types of scenes in novels as I feel they can bring out a character’s inner facets, revealing their various outlooks on the many trappings of court life. If done well, it can really develop characters on a deeper level than they may have gotten if they hadn’t been plunged into the melting pot.
4. Knight, Mage, Rogue
The original power trio of the fantasy genre, we’ve got the classic Knight, Mage, Rogue combo meal with fries and a drink.
This trio of characters always feels like they complement each other. The knight is generally the moral paragon of virtue and truth, right in the front of the battle lines and not always the brightest bulb in the room.
The mage is generally the academic one of the group, using their arcane skills to get them out of trouble when the knight's brute force doesn’t quite get the job done.
Finally, we’ve got the sneaky rogue with a more flexible moral compass than the others, more accustomed to sneaking behind enemy lines and slitting their throats while they sleep. The rogue’s also normally the party's comedic relief character.
I feel these three with their differing morals, life experiences, outlook on the world, and solutions to life’s problems keep the characters bouncing off each other and can generate some really engaging inter-character conflict. It also keeps them from being clones of each other which is always frustrating to read.
3. The Dark Lord
A being of pure evil, created from the darkness of the cosmos with their sole purpose to destroy the universe’s light just because they are the antithesis to it.
I’m all for complex and nuanced takes on the antagonist of a story but sometimes the simple and straightforward motivation that The Dark Lord possesses is enjoyable for a change. Sometimes morally grey characters just blend together and become way too bland for me to enjoy reading.
The Dark Lord doesn’t have that problem, there’s nothing about him that’s morally grey and it’s so good to just sit back and enjoy the story without having to try and reverse engineer the antagonist’s motivations to try and figure out if they actually are the antagonist.
2. Magic Systems
Straight up, I love magic systems. Anything with these systems immediately piques my interest. I love the way magic systems can be transformed and morphed to suit the story the author is telling, be that as a background player or right at the forefront of the story.
The different ways these systems can be implemented in the story’s world is just so much fun to read, and who doesn’t love characters chucking fireballs at everyone left, right, and centre?
A good magic system will keep me engaged in a book with an average story just so I can see all the cool stuff that characters with mastery of the craft can do. I also enjoy a magic system that breaks off from the law firm of earth, wind & fire and goes with new variations on the common elements or at least less common ones and with some tangible costs to the user.
1. Never Ending Cycle
Endings are satisfying, aren’t they? I suppose that’s one of the reasons we love stories so much. They’ve got a clear structure with a beginning, middle, and ending… but what if that one story’s ending was just the beginning of another great story?
Both Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series are predicated on the constant flow of time with cycles repeating onwards until time ceases to exist with heroes turning into myth and legend as time pushes them aside.
I personally feel this type of storytelling allows for more interesting stories as previous cycles help feed into the backstory of the world and melding into the next and it feels closer to real life having things lost to time instead of having them trapped within a self-contained bubble like most stories are.
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Have a great day,