Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Epic Fantasy: Where’s the Love?
Welcome to the second installment of Fantasy Week, the first in a series spotlighting the different speculative fiction subgenres we write in here at Here Be Magic.
I’m a fantasy writer, not a romance writer. I say this repeatedly to anyone who will listen—not because I think there’s anything wrong with romance; au contraire! I think romance belongs in everything. But I want to make sure no one is disappointed when they read my books expecting a traditional romantic plot with the push-pull of a hero and heroine trying to resist one another and failing, full of erotic tension and the eventual surrender of both in the unequivocal HEA. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got that, too, but it’s only a part of the story.
My agent recently confirmed as much when I tried to write a traditional romantic suspense to sell to an established line. “I love your writing, as always,” she said. “But this isn’t really feeling like a romance to me.” Try as I might, I just can’t resist the allure of building my own world, creating my own mythology, and dragging my characters on an epic journey fraught with peril and rife with high stakes that can bring down entire kingdoms—or entire worlds.
Nevertheless, I spent the past week enmeshed in a different kind of alternate world: the world of the romance writer, at the RT Booklovers Convention. Because despite the fact that I don’t write romance, I can’t write fantasy without it. Fantasy without romance feels like it’s missing one of the most epic of adventures—the adventure of the human heart.
And that puts me smack-dab in the middle of a publishing conundrum. Romance readers are often a bit intimidated by the epic-ness of the epic fantasy. And fantasy readers have a tendency to be a tad suspicious when something looks like romance—despite the fact that at their core, many fantasies have a love story, though often underdeveloped. As a kid devouring both romance and fantasy, I always wished the fantasies had more of the former, and the romances more of the fantastical.
So there I sat at RT, surrounded by romance writers and readers, and feeling just as much a fish out of water as I did last November at the World Fantasy Convention. I’m some kind of chimera that can’t be classified. I have chocolate in my peanut butter. I may even be Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together with parts that work well together though they’ve come from different origins, but seeming a little scary and misshapen to those who’ve never seen one of me before. “What do you write?” people would ask. “Epic fantasy,” I’d reply, and then quickly add “with romantic elements” before they came at me with torches and pitchforks.
To most people who haven’t read the genre, when they hear “epic fantasy,” they think of 1,000-page paperweights full of elves and orcs and dragons, page after page of painstaking descriptions of drab medieval customs and complicated court intrigue with names no one can pronounce, and lots and lots of swords and sorcerers. And to be sure, books with those elements are epic fantasy, but none of those things are required to make a book an epic fantasy. What it requires, generally, is a uniquely invented world that is not our own, a protagonist whose problem is much larger than herself (her people and her world are depending on her and she usually has to fight someone powerful to save them), and magic. And what’s more magical than love? I say it fits right in with the epic.
Some of my favorite epic and romantic fantasies are Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series—its court intrigue woven together through highly charged erotic scenes, sacred prostitutes, and a healthy dose of BDSM; Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series, with its sexy, fae-like m/m lovers as medieval Sherlock Holmesian detectives who are also scoundrels and thieves; and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Yes, Harry Potter is as epic and romantic as they come.
So, really…what’s not to love about epic fantasy?
Don't forget to check out Sunday's kick-off post for Fantasy Week from Angela Highland on why she reads fantasy, and be sure to stop by every day this week for a new post from one of our fantasy writers.
Jane Kindred is the author of epic fantasy series The House of Arkhangel’sk, Demons of Elysium, and Looking Glass Gods. She spent her formative years ruining her eyes reading romance novels in the Tucson sun and watching Star Trek marathons in the dark. She now writes to the sound of San Francisco foghorns while two cats slowly but surely edge her off the side of the bed.