Note: I’m going to be mostly talking about fantasy in this post so that’s the word I’ll use throughout, but Mieville’s book that I mention really falls more under the broader umbrella of speculative fiction.
One of my favorite fantasy books is The City & The City by China Mieville. I just love the idea behind the novel. But it’s not a book that’s easy accessible to non-fantasy readers. (I learned this the hard way by giving it to my mother to read and getting it handed back to me the next week with a “What the hell was that?” response.)
Me, I grew up reading fantasy books. From A Wrinkle in Time to the Oz books to pretty much everything my library or the Science Fiction Book Club offered, I read it. That’s thirty-plus years of immersing myself in fantasy, so I found Mieville’s book an easy and fascinating read. Same with Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters books.
But it turns out that many of the books I read with ease aren’t accessible to my mother. She’s a long-timer reader, but her background is mostly with romance books. She loves her some Nora Roberts–which often include witches and vampires and other fantasy tropes, but are not fantasy novels in the way I’d classify fantasy. They use fantasy elements more as window-dressing than as part of the core story.
Lucky for me, my mother started poking around at fantasy novels after I introduced her to Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. (Say what you will about that series, it brought a whole slew of non-fantasy readers to the genre.)
At last I was able to share my favorite books with her!
Except, I wasn’t.
She bounced off of a lot of the novels I tried to share with her. Some I sort of bounced off, too. (Like The Goblin Emperor. I read it to the end and it is well-written, but I didn’t love it the way many have. My mom stopped on the first page.)
So, who has she read and liked? What fantasy authors are accessible to a mostly romance-oriented reader?
Well, let’s see:
Mercedes Lackey–I introduced her to the Valdemar books and she devoured them. Liked them enough that she’s going to buy herself copies.
Robin Hobb–I gave her the Rainwilds books, she went out and bought herself the Farseer, Tawny Man, and Fitz & the Fool books. (She says to skip the series originally put out under the name Megan Lindholm, though. Haven’t tried them yet myself. Partially due to that comment of hers…)
George RR Martin–Somewhat surprisingly, she devoured the Game of Thrones books.
Patrick Rothfuss–She loved those books. Read right through them and bought that funky novella he released last year.
Kristen Britain–She picked up buying that series when I stopped reading it.
Karen Miller–Can’t remember whether she’s the one with a book that involved someone eating part of someone else. If so, my mom liked her other books but hated that series and didn’t even start it because of that.
Jim C. Hines–She devoured the princess books. She kept with them to the end where I would have stopped after book two.
S.L. Farrell–Happens to be a pen name for another author as it turns out. I just randomly found the books at B&N one day, but she loved them, too.
N.K. Jemisin–She really liked the hundred thousand kingdoms ones, but not enough to put Jemisin on her “buy everything” list.
Rae Carson–By this point I’d developed the strategy of buying one book in a series, reading it, giving it to my mom, and seeing if she’d buy the rest of the series and lend it back to me. She did with Rae Carson. 🙂
There are probably a few others, but I think that’s a pretty good list of authors to start with if someone likes some of the fantasy they’ve read but can’t quite get into the fantasy that seems to make the awards lists. (I’ve tried with two different Jo Walton books and they just don’t do it for me the way a Mercedes Lackey or Darkover book does…Although, interestingly, my mom didn’t get into Darkover either. Might be because I started her at the wrong spot.)
I’d say what most of the authors above have in common is a focus on story and character over complex world-building or ideas. She tends to get lost in too many details or complex names or convoluted politics. She likes to read about people and their struggles.
Which is not to say that the ones my mom bounced off of are bad books. (I love Guy Gavriel Kay’s older books. And Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series. And Inda by Sherwood Smith. And Terry Goodkind and Robert Jordan. They just weren’t for her.)
Some fantasy is more accessible to outside readers than others.
So if you’re new to fantasy and you start a book and it isn’t for you, that’s okay. Keep going. Don’t give up. Trust me, somewhere out there is a fantasy novel you will like. I think that’s true for every single person on the planet.