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Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Schmantastic List of Fantasy: Fantastic First Novels

Welcome to the first installment of the Schmantastic List of Fantasy. There will be a new list posted the first Thursday of every month. Because I love you. Definitely not because I'm trying to stretch out material by making an update that has minimal effort with maximum content.

I would never do that to you.

In the spirit of Schmantasticness, this first list is going to highlight some truly awesome first novels by some great modern authors. Because if there's anyone who knows just how schmantastic publishing a genre novel is, it's them.

So, without further ado:

The Schmantastic List of 7 Fantastic First Novels by Modern Authors


Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Talk about your debut novels. Cinder was a NaNoWriMo novel, and you'd never know it. Perhaps it was just a fantastic editing process, or maybe Ms. Meyer is just that good. With roots in fairytale, this novel is a rough sci-fi take on the classic Cinderella. But my goodness, it is so, so very much more. Cinder is clever without being gimmicky, the nods to the original are well-implemented so as to be a nudge in the ribs, a gentle "see-what-I-did-there" without these pieces overtaking the story. Because we all know the story of Cinderella, but the story of Cinder? I was kept guessing and I was surprised. 

The second novel in The Lunar Chronicles, Scarlet, was published earlier this year. A fact this lady here with the two thumbs just found out. I know what my next read will be.


A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

Another NaNoWriMo creation, I swear I'm not doing this on purpose. I didn't know either of the first novels on this list were NaNoWriMo'd until after I read them. Like Cinder, A Long, Long Sleep also gets it's start from fairy tale, as a kiss wakes our protagonist from a 62 year sleep. But Rosalind Fitzroy isn't exactly Princess Aurora (that's Sleeping Beauty's actual name, if you weren't in the know -- her parents didn't actually name her Sleeping Beauty, that'd just be silly). Rose is fragile without being weak-willed or soppy, a refreshing change for a young female protagonist in modern genre-fiction. The story is compelling, there is action, there is intrigue, and there is a love story that doesn't devolve into the codependent drama of teen-love.

A Long, Long Sleep is sci-fi with fairy tale writing: beautiful, bittersweet and mesmerizing.  


Hero by Perry Moore

I might be cheating with this one, because Mr. Moore was already a NYTimes best-selling author by the time he published his first novel, Hero. But since that was non-fiction, Hero is still technically a first novel, so I'm running with it because it is good enough to bend the rules for.
Hero is a fantasy novel -- superheroes and capes, though, not unicorns and ogres (not that I have anything against unicorns and ogres). Protagonist Thom Creed is a high school basketball star with a secret -- or make that two. The first secret is that he has superpowers. The second secret is that he is gay.
The thing that makes Hero so wonderful is that, despite these secrets, each of which is big enough in the YA novel world to be entirely reductive, Thom is complex. He has other problems, other cares and concerns, other traits that define him, and the author never let's one story takeover or overshadow the other.

Sadly, I learned while writing this review that Mr. Moore passed away in 2011. 


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Yes, I know you've probably already heard of it. But when something is this good, it bares retelling.
The Night Circus bares more in common with Something Wicked This Way Comes (Bradbury) than the circus. Ms. Morgenstern is a rarity, able to write with poetry and character without obtuseness or condescension, an achievement that distinguished Bradbury's writing.
Dark without horror, airily eerie, whimsical without veering toward frillery or the grotesque -- you don't read The Night Circus for the plot, or even the characters. You read it for the writing. The characters are skimmed, the plot is beautiful but thin. You don't need either to enjoy The Night Circus. It is a rare book that you want to read simply because it is so undeniably pleasurable.

Another NaNoWriMo creation (did you know?), The Night Circus was a NYTimes bestseller. And the most schmantastic part? Ms. Morgenstern wrote the first draft in 2005 and the final product was published in 2011. She was reportedly turned down by 30 literary agents before she was signed. She knows all about the schmantasy world.


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Am I cheating again? Maybe, but only if you consider Mr. Adams to not be modern. Which I defy. His work was "modern" in the sense that I want to use it -- and I want to use it in a way that includes him. Are you annoyed with me yet? Well it's my blog and I'll do what I want.

If you haven't read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, then go do it. Now. You are missing out on some of the wittiest and silliest stuff that soft sci-fi has to offer. Not quite satire, but not quite not satire, The Hitchhiker's Guide is everything that your humorous debut novel wants to be. Imaginative, ridiculous and a genius blend of deadpan humor and pratfalls.


                                                            Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Wither is an example of an imperfect book with some clunks and holes and yet I just don't care.
I'm going to be honest with you: ever since I read The Giver back in 2nd grade, I have been obsessed with dystopias. I can't help it -- this kind of speculative fiction always manages to grab me easily and hold me until the end. And Wither does this -- and it does it well. A book that can make you forgive it's indiscretions, like a premise shakier than Bambi's legs or characters doing things that people just don't do, has a lot to say for itself. Wither has a lot to say about the world the characters live in and the relationships that they have. Wither captured me with the dystopia, but it kept me reading because it did something that so many YA novelists ignore these days: it gave me complex, non-romantic relationships between characters. Female characters at that. Multiple female characters. And the sister-wives' relationship was compelling, complicated and refreshing.

A novel doesn't have to be perfect to be fantastic.


Graceling by Kristin Cashore

And here's another imperfect novel that works. Graceling is fantastic because of two factors: first, Graceling flourishes through the sheer force of imagination. Second, Graceling made me want to devour the sequel, and the entire series, instantly.
The world in Graceling is a fantasy world that hasn't existed before, it is a completely different realm than any fantasy-scape you have encountered. For me, that equals instant bonus points. I love when authors introduce me to new fantasy-scapes, because so often we fall back on worlds that have already been defined. The Tolkien world, for instance. We rely heavily on the evil ogres, the stupid trolls, the pretty elves, the kind-hearted halflings. That world is rich, that world is fruitful, that world is proven.
I like the risk it takes to make something new, and the creatures in the world of Graceling are different and magnificent. In fact, I was so enraptured, that I read the whole series in the matter of a few days.

Any work that makes me that ravenous for the author's voice is clearly a deserving debut.

1 comment:

  1. In regards to Douglas Adams--be sure to watch some of the classic Doctor Who episodes where he was the lead writer. You can definitely see foreshadowing of elements that get used in the Hitchhikers Guide.