In today’s discussion post, I’m looking forward to sharing some of my favourite tropes in the fantasy genre. As I’m sure you’re well aware by now, I read a lot of fantasy. I would safely say that the genre makes up about half of my reading overall. I started reading as a teenager, and it has been my favourite ever since then. So, I know exactly what I my favourite fantasy tropes are, and why!
Realistic Magic Systems
When it comes to magic in fantasy books, I like mine to err on the side of realism. There is nothing more frustrating than getting really into a book to come across a convenience in the plot facilitated by magic because the author didn’t know what else to do to get their main character out of their predicament.
With this in mind, you can probably understand why I am such a fan of Brandon Sanderson. A lot of his books contain magical systems, but they have limits. For example, in his Stormlight archive books, the magic system centres around electrical storm light, which is captured in crystals and stored until used. But, once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Likewise, in his Mistborn series, there are physical limitations to the abilities many characters use. Firstly, abilities are limited by what metals individuals have affinity for. And likewise, when it comes to restrictions, they have to ingest the particular metal to be able to harness their powers. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Not only do these physical limitations make for a more realistic story, but more often than not, they provide some tension. The sign of a well thought out magic system, in my opinion, is if an author can deliberately write in these limitations, incorporate them somewhere in the plot to make for a tricky situation, and then have the main character figure out a plausible way of getting themselves out of said tight spot.
Reluctant hero / Non altruistic characters
Plenty of narratives throughout history have been written in a structure where characters are either inherently good or inherently bad. Think fairytales, for example. But the reality is, most people are neither. We all have some good, and we have some bad, and that all combines to make us the morally grey people we are.
I like this to reflect in the fantasy I read, and especially so in the protagonist role. There are plenty of books I’ve read with this kind of character in mind. The Raven’s Mark trilogy by Ed McDonald is the first that comes to mind. There are much larger examples of this amongst my reading. Why do you think I’m such a fan of A Game of Thrones? There are no significant characters in that book that come out clean, shall we say.
Whilst I have branched out somewhat in the last 12 months in trying to read more eastern inspired fantasy, I have a read far more that are inspired by a medieval European setting. Think large castles surrounded by vast swathes of villages, farmland and homesteads of the common people. It is very heavily used by Western fantasy writers, and I’m not even mad about it. I really enjoy this type of setting and it’s familiarity.
That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed branching out. In fact, it is something I’m going to be looking to doing more of in future!
Those are my top three fantasy tropes!
Are there certain tropes in fantasy you love reading again and again? Are there any fantasy tropes you really don’t like? Let me know by leaving a comment below!