For the final meeting of the 2016-17 year, the Southeastern Mass. Reader’s Advisory Roundtable (SE-RART) met Wednesday, June 7, at the SAILS Library Network to discuss the Fantasy genre, with a focus on titles by authors selected with an awareness of diversity.
The benchmark title was The Grace of Kings, first in the Dandelion Dynasty trilogy, by Ken Liu. Ken Liu is a Massachusetts author! The Grace of Kings, his first novel, won the Locus Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the Nebula Award.
First we talked about hallmarks and appeal factors of the Fantasy genre, in general, such as:
- Detailed settings, “world-building”, length not a problem!
- Magic of some sort plays a role in the story
- Familiar characters and continuing series are major appeal factors
- Good is expected to triumph over evil by the end, usually at a cost
- Escapist, but can reflect real societal issues at a remove
To get a general overview, we checked out The Complete Guide to the Fantasy Genre at Best Fantasy Books. We also referred to Expanding the SF/Fantasy Universe by Meg Rosol in Library Journal, May 1, 2017, and the Carte Blanche column by Michael Cart in the August 2016 issue of Booklist, Speculative Fiction and LGBTQ Literature.
Other supplemental readings we used were:
- Alter, Alexandra. N.K. Jemesin on Diversity in Science Fiction and Inspiration from Dreams. The New York Times, August 24, 1016.
- Govinnage, Sunili. I read books by only minority authors for a year. It showed me just how white our reading world is. The Washington Post, April 24, 2015.
- Saricks, Joyce. Fantasy (Chapter 14) The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. pp.265-87
Our benchmark title, The Grace of Kings was an excellent example of historical fantasy, and at over 600 pages, certainly filled the bill for length! The note on pronunciation and the long list of characters with hard-to-pronounce names had a daunting effect right off the bat for some of the group, but we thought fantasy readers looking for detailed world-building loosely based on an historic frame would immediately feel right at home seeing these at the beginning, along with the maps.
Ken Liu was born in China and immigrated to the U.S. at age 11 with his family. In addition to being a full-time computer programmer, he has written numerous short stories in the S/F and Fantasy genres and has translated several Chinese science fiction novels into English, most notably The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, which won a Hugo award.
We discussed the following quote from Ken Liu in interviews:
“The Grace of Kings draws on Western traditions as much as it does on Chinese traditions, though the bones of the story are drawn from the Chu-Han Contention period before the Han Dynasty.”
With its historical underpinnings, extensive political intrigue, detailed descriptions of battles, and discussions of strategy, The Grace of Kings could be suggested to readers of historical fantasy by authors such as Guy Gavriel Kay (Maggie recommends Tigana) and Lian Hearn (Tales of the Otori Trilogy), or fans of G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. The mood is ultimately hopeful, though dark and sombre at times, lightened by humor and the god’s-eye perspective. Readers who like medieval folk stories, the ancient epics, and sagas may also find The Grace of Kings appealing.
Please submit your second title if you have one, even if you weren’t able to attend the meeting! Second titles will be posted soon.
Missed the meeting? View the agenda which also lists additional RA resources we talked about. Be sure and check out the Fantasy Genre Overview webinar on the MLS Web site, done by our very own Miki Wolfe!
Thanks to the SAILS Library Network for hosting!
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