{Fireside Fridays} Four Random Things I Like in Fantasy Books

Last month, I read two incredible fantasy series, and I was hit with the I-really-want-to-nay-I-must-talk-about-these-books-but-I-have-no-words-to-do-them-justice-HALP syndrome. Have you ever had that? I don’t think it’s that rare of a disease, at least among bookworms. Anyway, I finally decided that instead of doing a review (I give this book five stars ’cause it was awesome and I really loved it and you should read it … yeeeeah), I’d pinpoint some specific things I liked in each of them and use them as a broader list for what I like in fantasy in general. Sometimes, only one of these series really applies to the point I’m making, so don’t worry if I only mention one.

{The Series}


The Foundling’s Tale {Foundling, Lamplighter, Factotum} ~ D. M. Cornish

(also known in some places as The Monster Blood Tattoo series)

don't let the first cover scare you away, by the way ;D

Dickens meets Tolkien. Full of incredible sketches by the author. Includes huge glossaries and appendices and juicy world-building stuff. A massive world (think: Brandon Sanderson) where humans have battled monsters for ages. Enter Rossamund Bookchild, an orphan boy with, unfortunately, a girl’s name.

~ * ~ 

100 Cupboards {100 Cupboards, Dandelion Fire, The Chestnut King} ~ N. D. Wilson 

(gotta wonder what it is with two initials + last name)


Andrew Peterson meets … Rick Riordan? Pretty close. Anyway. Unique, lyrical writing style, sparse yet also poetic. An attic room that is more than it seems (hint: it has one hundred cupboards leading to different worlds). A simple Kansas family that is more than it seems (hint: they live in the house with the attic with the cupboards). A boy, Henry, who—you guessed it—is more than he seems (no hints because spoilers).

~ * ~ 

It is from these trilogies that I discovered:

{Four Random Things I Like in Fantasy Books}


1. Simple heroes. 

I’m a little conflicted with this one, because I love a “hero” hero. You know, the dashing, impressive, awe-inspiring type that makes you swoon a little. Think Aragorn or Odysseus. But what about heroes that don’t really seem to be that “cool,” just normal, boring people? In both Wilson and Cornish’s stories, their main protagonists—Rossamund and Henry—begin like that. Of course, you learn later on about their special talents, but they remain simple at heart.

See, some heroes have that attitude of being “burdened with glorious purpose” (not saying Loki’s a hero, but it’s an applicable quote), that sense of dignity, grandeur, even a little haughtiness. Sometimes it’s appropriate—Aragorn’s a king, for heaven’s sake. He’s supposed to act like that. But I appreciate heroes who don’t think of themselves as anything, who are always wondering who they are, how they fit in. Heroes who, even when they find their special powers, still act and feel small. I’m not saying I like wimpy heroes, but ones who realize that they are just one of many special people in a big world.

Both Rossamund and Henry are young, a little insecure, and unaware of anything that makes them unique. Even as they mature and discover more about themselves, they care about simple things, about family and friends, about sparrows and baseball. They don’t want glory or grandeur, fame or acclaim, weighty duties or chances to prove their greatness. All they ultimately want is a home, a cozy, comforting belonging place. Their humble, heart-filled desires are what I’d like to see from more heroes, and less cocky, self-centered individualists.

2. Characters with the same names.

 Okay, so I actually have never met another Aberdeen (though I’m sure there are a couple out there), but I do know plenty of Abbys. If your name is Sarah or John, chances are you’ve met others with your name. Even if you haven’t met someone with your name, you’ve at least heard of someone with it. There are only so many names for seven billion people. But in fantasy stories, every single person has a different name. It’s something that has irked me for a long time.

However, in Wilson’s 100 Cupboards series, there were two delightful instances of identical names. First, there’s Henry’s uncle and a certain Fat-Faerie, both named Frank. It helped me read carefully, because sometimes I’d get mixed up about which Frank Wilson meant. But isn’t that just like normal life— “Wait, that Alex? I thought you were talking about the singer, not Lydia’s brother!” Second, Henry the boy ends up moving to Henry the place—yup, the town of Henry, Kansas, where his cousins live. There’s probably more meaning and symbolism there than simply trying to make the book realistic, but I still love that aspect of it. I’ve certainly snapped pictures of road signs with towns that have my friends’ names.

3. No dragons.

Wait—don’t get me wrong! I love dragons, and I love a good dragon story. But what I love even more is when cliches (like, I hate to say it, dragons) are broken, and people prove that you can still have exciting, epic adventures without what is normally used.

Cornish set out to write a good fantasy that used no cliches, and I’d say he succeeded. No dragons, elves, or end-of-the-world catastrophes here. His monsters are unlike anything I’ve seen before, and his “magic”—the surgically-altered fulgars, who can control electricity, and wits, who can control people’s minds—is also radical and different. In fact, every detail of his world breaks the trends, from the gastrines, artificially-grown muscles that power ships, to lamplighters, brave souls who keep the highways lit to ward off monsters. I could go on for a while, but I’ll end with this: I relished diving into such a rich, well-thought-out world that was so new and unexpected.

4. Bittersweet endings. 

I like when there is a cost, when everything doesn’t turn out all perfectly hunky-dory. Now, I don’t like when books leave you in utter despair or emptiness. Ideally, books close in triumph while recognizing the cost of this victory. Factotum did this marvelously. Actually, the ending wasn’t anything like what I expected, which is another feature I like. But it did beautifully combine the success, while also portraying what Rossamund had to give up to achieve this good thing. (Sorry for the vagueness, but spoilers!)

The Chestnut King was a little more your traditional everything works out, but it did demonstrate how Henry’s new life, so much better though it was, still wasn’t perfect. (Actually, Dandelion Fire did this even more notably.) He was still torn between Kansas and Hylfling, and he would have to live with the two different sides of him for the rest of his life.

Yes, someday, everything will be truly happy. But I think while we are here on earth, the more bittersweet endings ring truer to life. They give us hope while recognizing the struggles we still deal with.

(And I just have to say: This is why I loved the ending of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance. I know a lot of people hated the ending of that series, but I thought it was perfect.)

Have you read either of these series? And even if not, what do you think about these points? What other random things do you like or dislike in fantasy books? 

10 responses to “{Fireside Fridays} Four Random Things I Like in Fantasy Books”

  1. Ahhh I love 100 Cupboards for some of these very reasons. I love how you pointed out these aspects, since I completely agree but haven’t really thought about them much before. Except for the last one. I’ve thought about that one quite a lot. xD

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Aberdeen discussed four things that she loves in fantasy novels; her post was really simple and hone…She didn’t talk about writing theory; she just wrote from the perspective of a reader, and I really appreciated that. […]


  3. Victoria NightSky Avatar
    Victoria NightSky

    So I tried reading the 100 Cupboards series a few years ago, but I remembered I got really bored by it halfway through the second book. #thisisrandom #whyamItellingyouthis The other series looks really interesting; I might have to check it out.
    Anyhow. I like these reasons. I honestly think we need more original fantasy — another thing I think is incredibly overdone is medieval-esque cultures in fantasy worlds. So annoyingly overdone. I’m ready for something new, peoples.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, that happened to me too. I tried it last year, I think, and really couldn’t get into it. But this time, I loved it. So maybe give it some time and then try it again?
      Mmm, I agree. I (and I think most fantasy authors) know more about medieval Europe than I do about basically any other part of the world, so it’s easier to use that setting. But if we were willing to branch out and research, we could come up with some way cooler and more unique worlds.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. thelonelysparrow Avatar

    I haven’t read either of these (now I’ll have to be on the lookout for them), but I totally agree with all these points except having people with the same name– which is all my fault, since I read too quickly and dislike being confused about who’s talking. On the flip side of that, maybe having two characters with the same name would MAKE me slow down, which would be good, although I’m not sure I would enjoy it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, I totally understand. Usually it was easy in this case, since he’d write “Uncle Frank” or “Frank the Fat-Faerie” instead of just plain Frank, but sometimes I still got confused. xP Exactly. It made me slow down, which was good. ;D

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, cool post. I’m not a huge fan of fictional series in general (too picky and literal), but both of these peaked my interest. Must be your awesome review/analyzing skills 😉 I hope to check them out and see if I get consumed with them as well.
    While I do like heroes to be relatable along the “simple” route, I get tired when they do nothing but insist at every turn that they’re a nobody who can do nothing. I mean, come on! You’re still a person with talents. Use them to save the world, already! This is why I always liked the Narnia series, because all of the children were ordinary, but didn’t complain about it. And because they were brave or what have you, they became extraordinary.
    I never thought about the same name thing . . . it definitely happens in real life, but the confusion is always avoided in books, as far as I’ve noticed. I’ll have to remember that point.
    Dragons, I agree, are a little cliche. They have to have a very different twist for me to be more interested in them than any other old dragon 😉
    Bittersweet ending, YES! Not everyone liked the ending to The Hunger Games trilogy, but I thought it was a lovely balance between happy and horrible. This si why I get very tired of romance books– they all end at the proposal or wedding instead of at the overcoming of a trial in marriage or something. Not very real.
    I appreciate passive cursing in books, when called for. Not actual cursing, but saying “he cursed” or having them swear by some fictional god or in another language. It adds reality and depth to the character without compromising what I believe about swearing. But some books just don’t call for it, and that’s even better 🙂
    It really bugs me when a character keeps insisting they can’t do what they’re supposed to because of X all of the time, instead of them actually trying and overcoming X, Y, and Z. I also hate really simple plots that are just really drawn out when someone’s gone through all the trouble to create this great big world. It’s gotta be deep or simple all the way. No in between! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I don’t consider myself a good reviewer, but I’m glad I’ve peaked your interest all the same! ;D
      Yes, I agree that mopey protagonists are no fun. There’s a balance between humility and apathy. Great point about the Narnia children—I love that about them too.
      That’s true about romance novels. I’ve never really liked them, for a number of reasons, but the endings might be a large one. Good point!
      Mm, I totally agree about passive cursing. I understand the necessity for it sometimes, but I really appreciate when authors just say “He cursed” instead of giving us the details.
      It is frustrating when characters complain about an obstacle without trying to overcome it. And I also don’t like when there’s a big the-world-is-ending but, like you said, the plot still feels overly simple.
      Thank you for commenting, Abi!


  6. I haven’t read either of these series, unfortunately.
    I agree with you so much on the “simple heroes” thing. It’s nice to have a hero who feels like someone you could be friends with, not just fangirl over. And that’s an interesting point about characters with the same name . . . I’ll have to think about that sometime. I disagree with you about dragons, though. Yes, they’re highly common. But they’re awesome all the same.
    Other random things I like or dislike in fantasy books . . . a random thing I like would be when the author pays attention to things like expressions (e.g. “Storms!” or “dragon’s teeth!” or “by the lion’s mane!” or “felt like one of the ten fools” or so on) and food. Random thing I dislike is when every storming character has to have a weapon shoved in their hands at the first possible opportunity and all the characters must be able to defend themselves capably, if not more skillfully than the average. I mean, yes, it does make sense . . . but I like having the occasional character who can’t fight worth anything, but is really good at some other skill.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mmm, that’s a good way of putting it, someone you could be friends with, not fangirl over (though, don’t get me wrong, I do like those heroes occasionally too =P). Mhm, I understand that about dragons. Maybe I’ve just read too many lesser-quality dragon books in the past few years.

      Ah, yes! I love that, too. It’s one of my favorite things about both Sanderson and Stengl, their expressions. And ugh, that is so annoying. First off, it takes a long time (usually) to get really good at a weapon. And second, few people are ever going to be best-in-the-world swords/bows/whatever-men. It can make sense for some characters to be that way, but I agree: I’d love to see more characters with different skills.

      Liked by 1 person

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