Getting Started in Fantasy Reading


“Fantasy: A general term for any kind of fictional work that is not primarily devoted to a realistic representation of the known world. This category includes several literary genres describing imagined worlds in which magical powers and other impossibilities are accepted.” – The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms

When I tell people I write contemporary fantasy, sometimes they say, “wow, cool” and sometimes they say, “I read the Chronicles of Narnia when I was little, but know little about the genre.”

There are so many types, styles, flavors an sub-genres in fantasy, the wealth of material out there to read is often hard to explain to those wanting to know more. I agree with Terry Pratchett when he says that  “Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can. Of course, I could be wrong.” However, here are a few links and ideas that are a bit more specific.

Wikipedia has a decent article on fantasy that works as a starting point. (Click on the graphic to read it.) The main article branches off into a series of additional links for sub-genres, books, and authors.

When people want to know more about the types of fantasies, I often send them to sites like Focus on Fantasy for a quick overview and Top 50 SciFi & Fantasy Novels blogs where they can sample some of the viewpoints and commentary out there.

bestfantasyI like Best Fantasy Books because it introduces newcomers to fantasy by listing books in various groupings and then, for each book, showing others that are similar to it. If you look at this site, you’ll find stand-alone books, books in a series, influential books, and a cool list called “Fantasy That Blows Your Mind.”

To keep up with recent books and new titles, you can subscribe to Amazon’s list via RSS. This puts it on your browser where you can click on it easily and see the names of the titles. You’ll find recent fantasy book reviews on Fantasy Book Critic. This site also displays an excellent blogroll that will send you off on an exploration of fantasy blogs, most of which links you to more blogs.

earthseaOnce you find a favorite author and genre, s/he will often be another source via comments, interviews and viewpoints in a personal blog or web site.  Fantasy is so diverse, that it’s really hard to nail it down and say that any one book of series is representative of the genre. Personally, I like contemporary fantasy the best because it overlaps are known world as J. K. Rowling did with her Harry Potter series. Rowling, though, is apples and oranges different from, say, Tolkien, or Erin Morgenstern’s recent The Night Circus or Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic Earthsea series.

Kindle, Nook and other e-readers make it easy to sample a variety of fantasy books at a lower cost before adding your newly discovered favorites to your bookshelf in hardcover or paperback. You can even find some of the older fantasies available on Project Gutenberg and other sites as free downloads. Happy exploring!


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy, including “The Sun Singer,” “Sarabande,” and the upcoming “The Seeker” (March 2013).



Got book lovers? Here are three Christmas ideas

If you still have some holiday shopping to do, here are a few of my favorites this year that might make for some very nice gifts:

goatsong “Goatsong” by Patricia Damery, il piccolo editions Fisher King Press (November 1, 2012), ISBN-13: 978-1926715766 – A wise view of the world through the eyes of a child, homeless women, a goats.

  • From my review: When you read Goatsong, you are breathing in fresh air off the Pacific ocean, smelling the sweet scent of the bay laurel, and cooling your tired feet in sacred streams flowing through old redwoods in the company of wise women who, without agenda, may well change you as they changed the ten-year-old Sophie in those old family stories about the town of Huckleberry on the Russian River.

sunlightshadow“In Sunlight and Shadow” by Mark Helprin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (October 2, 2012), 978-0547819235 – A combat veteran whose business is threatened by the mob falls in love with a young woman from a rich and influential family. Readers will discover a poetic view of New York  City played off  against the Mafia’s protection racket and the protagonist’s combat experiences as a behind-enemy-lines pathfinder.

  • From my review: Mark Helprin recalls post World War II New York City throughout In Sunlight and in Shadow with the accuracy and atmosphere of A Winter’s Tale (1983) and his protagonist’s combat experiences with the chilling combat detail of A Soldier of the Great War (1991).

vacancy“The Casual Vacancy” by J. K. Rowling, Little, Brown and Company (September 27, 2012), ISBN-13: 9780316228534 – Rowling steps away from teenagers and contemporary fantasy with a story about the people and politics of a small English town.

  • From my review: Winesburg, Spoon River, Grover’s Corners and Peyton Place reside so powerfully in the consciousness of readers as accurately rendered representations of small town life that their people, town squares, relationships and secrets are forever in our memory almost crossing the boundary from fiction into reality. The English village of Pagford in J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy belongs on this list.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy novels, including “Sarabande.”

Contemporary fantasy for your Kindle.
Contemporary fantasy for your Kindle.

Rowling’s Amazon Experience

As the week winds down, and I sit here with a glass of dark red wine contemplating J. K. Rowling’s negative reviews on Amazon, I have come to the conclusion that the wrong people bought  The Casual Vacancy and then got mad about it. By the “wrong people,” I mean people who are reading literary fiction who normally stick to commercial fiction and people reading about troubled everyday characters who normally read fast-paced, high-energy page-turners.

As of this moment, The Casual Vacancy has 193 one-star reviews and 125 five star reviews. Who would have thought during the heady days of Harry Potter and midnight book sale parties that a Rowling book would fair so badly in the public eye?

Those who don’t like the book claim it’s dull, that nothing happens, that the people are gloomy low life trash, that they weren’t entertained because there wasn’t any humor in it, that the author’s normal charm was missing, that the characters were petty and had disgusting behavior, and that the story was filled with general dullness and lackluster material.

I don’t agree. Since I’m only 250 pages into the 500-page novel, I can’t write a review yet. So far, the book is a gem that I think may well be viewed as an important novel about small-town life in England long after the Harry Potter series has faded from the public consciousness. I say this even though, as a writer of contemporary fantasy, I’m a fan of the Harry Potter series.

I don’t want to spend the time doing this, but I suspect that some of the reviewers who claimed that the characters in The Casual Vacancy were trashy and disgusting, probably gave five stars to Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo whose characters were far more violent and disgusting. Why? Most of those reading Larsson’s riveting Millennium Trilogy want a rush of crime, sex and fast-turning pages rather than a book filled with characters who are rather like the Harry Potter’s Dursley family on a very bad day.

If somebody forced me to read the genres and styles I usually avoid, quite possibly I would want revenge. If I had just smoked or drank the wrong stuff, I might take out my frustrations on the authors of some very fine books that just don’t happen to be my cup of tea. But that would be unfair, rather like criticizing a sushi chef for preparing a meal for a person who hates fish.

The book reviewing world feels out of sync to me when people proudly claim they “reviewed” The Casual Vacancy based on the synopsis alone or trashed it in public after reading only a hundred pages then believe what they left on Amazon is a review. No, it was a non-review. Perhaps the wine has loosened my tongue, but I really want to tell such people to shut the hell up.

I’m enjoying the book. It has its own magic and its own truth.