Victor LaValle, The Changeling, 2017, Maggie Stiefvater, Call Down the Hawk, & Tasha Suri, Empire of Sand, 2018
Fantasy fiction seems to be in the midst of a crisis. The content of recent novels is ripe with bizarre plots and characters––the more extreme the better. Of course, I’m basing this on a small sample, but it’s worth pointing out in hopes someone will read this and prove me wrong.
I couldn’t finish The Changeling, an award-winning novel. It is billed as a fantasy, but what makes it so is a macabre story line where the fantasy portion only appears half way through the book. The book’s title doesn’t make sense for over two hundred pages. The Changeling is really horror, not fantasy, fiction. The publisher probably thought they’d sell more copies if they labeled it fantasy.
Maggie Stiefvater is also the author of award-winning fantasies. Call Down the Hawk, the title of which has little if anything to do with the story, is the first of a series about a world in which dreams can become real to dangerous consequences. I had to force myself to keep reading. The story line is buried, overwhelmed by the world building.
It seems that fantasy fiction these days has to revolve around extreme worlds with unexplained evil. An example is Tasha Suri’s Empire of Sand. The bad guy in this novel is pure evil. His motivation is an old theme––the drive for eternal life. That he has no redeeming characteristics makes the story less interesting to this reader. I’m having trouble reading this to the end because I know the protagonist will survive so that the story can move on to the next book in the series. That’s another problem I have with fantasy fiction. Every novel is part of a series.
All three of these books were recommended by agents on their websites. It feels like there’s an agreement between agents and pubishers to champion the most bizarre stories––the more bizarre the better. Is that really what readers want? Not this reader.