Today I'm thrilled to have Raven Nightshade back on the blog, for another discussion! For today's conversation, we sat down and chatted about everything regarding fantasy. We have varied tastes, but it was amazing to talk to her about world building, elements of fantasy, and toss book recommendations at each other. If you'd like to read our first discussion, on the importance of reading, I'll link it below the conversation.
Lev: Welcome back to the blog, Raven! Now, you’ve been a guest before, but for anyone who hasn’t read our first discussion, could you introduce yourself?
R: Hi, thank you for having me back on your blog, this is a real honour. So, about myself? Well, I’m a massive bookworm, I’ve gained a reputation for being a walking library, and a lover of fantasy books which has translated to my writing, where most of my work fits into that genre.
L: So, I write fantasy, you write fantasy, we should all write fantasy. Can you tell us what draws you to the genre? Are there any subgenres of fantasy you’re interested in?
R: I was drawn to fantasy, and still am, by the fantastical worlds that these stories are set in with creatures and places unlike the ones we find on Earth. I’m a huge lover of magic, it captures my imagination as I’m sure it does others, and has really played a massive part in my love of fantasy. I was, and still am, one of those people who wished they could attend Hogwarts or Camp Halfblood. I’ll read basically anything that includes the stuff, but I’m particularly attracted to high fantasy, mythological fantasy and dark fantasy. In the past couple of years I’ve found some great folklore and fairytale retellings that I’ve really enjoyed, all which play a role in the types of things, whether that be novels or short stories, I write today.
What are subgenres you write in?
L: That is so interesting that any type of fantasy pulls you in! As for me, I’m a bit more particular. I’m not a fan of high fantasy, but I do enjoy dark fantasy. Books like Ninth House, Nevernight, A Darker Shade of Magic...ones written for adults, with a dark vibe really are great. My main genre that I write in however, is historical fantasy! It combines historical fiction and magic, which I adore.
Who do you feel are some great fantasy writers?
R: The fantasy authors I love include Leigh Bardugo, Maggie Steifvater, Rick Riordan, and Tomi Adeyemi with her Children of Blood and Bone series. I love these authors all for different reasons, but I love Rick Riordan’s ability to bring ancient myths into the modern world and Tomi Adeyemi breaking from the typical western fantasy setting.
L: Fantasy is something that you have to absolutely love to write properly, and I see that reflected a lot in the work from Bardugo. I’ve tended to stray a little ways from YA fantasy, but some adult authors that I love are S. A. Chakraborty (who write The City of Brass), Leigh Bardugo (Ninth House), and V. E. Schwab (too many things to count.) The City of Brass is another one that is not set in the Western world, but in the Islamic empire of the 18th century, and I love how books like this can combine magic and reality, in beautiful ways.
In writing fantasy, what are you drawn to?
R: When I’m writing fantasy, one of the biggest things I’m drawn to is magic and the magic systems in the world. That’s one of the world building aspects I spend a lot of my time on, as I like a hard magic system and I like it to be detailed and those rules and limitations being integral to my plot. Another thing that I’m drawn to in fantasy is all the different religions that can be had in a fantasy world. With these, I love especially polytheistic religions and love to create pantheons of gods for my world. While these often don’t feature heavily in my plots, they’re great for background and grounding of a story.
In historical fantasy, what kind of things do you have to world build for your settings? Are they in any way different to the things you’d find in high fantasy or are they quite similar? What would you say is your favourite?
L: I’m someone who doesn’t mind soft magic, and often will write it. In my historical fiction duology, The Spectacular Flying Thieves of 1903, I kept the settings mostly the same as our world, but I hid magic in particular places. I went through the journey of the characters, figured out what would be important to magic (famous churches, such as Notre-Dame, and important buildings like the Venetian Arsenale). It’s kind of just weaving magic into what is already there, for historical fantasy.
What are some things that you think are “overdone” in fantasy?
R: I love the idea of finding ways to hide magic in a historical setting. I don’t do that in my WIP, it’s more trying to figure out how the world would look if people had access to magic and what magic that is. Whilst I know that elemental magic is often seen a lot in fantasy, I have actually written into that trope. It’s one of the ones I don’t mind as much, but anything overdone can be given a breath of new life if found new ways to be explored. Though I love them lots, I find creatures like dragons and unicorns to be quite overdone in certain types of fantasy. I love finding books where they use either their own creations or lesser known creatures from existing mythologies. The dragons have had their day, I think we should be giving new creatures the spotlight.
Are there any tropes in fantasy that you would happily write?
L: This isn’t a specific trope for fantasy, but I will happily try the found family trope. I think it’s great.
What are some challenges that come with writing fantasy?
R: I agree with you on the found family trope, I absolutely adore both reading and writing that one. I’m a strong believer that family isn’t defined by blood, but by the trust and love between people. What I often find challenging in fantasy is trying to build a world from scratch. I’ve spent a few years on the worldbuilding of the setting of my WIP, a continent called Lumia, and, whilst the experience has been fun, there have been times my head has felt like exploding from the effort it takes for an undertaking like that. I find that, to make a world both realistic but also magical, takes a lot of balancing between familiar elements and those fantastical ones you want to add in. I love worldbuilding, but that doesn’t make every step challenging.
On the subject of challenges, what advice would you give to people wanting to make a realistic setting for their fantasy novel? What tips would you give for the integration of a magic system to an otherwise real-world setting?
L: I truly believe it has to feel natural. Think about the content of your story, think about what kind of tale you want to tell. If you’re writing a fantasy that takes place during WWI, then have the magic centered around the military and major cities of the war. If you’re writing something that takes place during the French Revolution, you can research important locations and cultural details of Paris. Everyone integrates magic into their work differently, so just play around and realize that you can always change things!
My final question for you is...what are some things that should be more explored in fantasy?
R: Research is critical in worldbuilding, no question about that. And things can always be changed, so don’t think you’re systems stuck in stone.
Also, non-Western settings. It doesn’t always have to be a medieval setting, that stuff’s getting overdone now. I’m not saying that these are bad, but these seem to be the most prevalent backdrop of fantasy and, well, why should they? Go set something in ancient China and explore the different dynasties (provided you don’t stereotype and do your research) or base a story on Russian folklore. As a huge mythology nerd, I’d love to read about more than just Arthurian legend, Greek and Norse mythologies (not discrediting them) but there are dozens of cultures with lore that haven’t had the opportunity to be shared or heard. I know there’s the whole argument of “write what you know”, but if that’s the case, a lot of mainstream novels are written by western authors, meaning the rich culture of everywhere else in the world isn’t getting represented.
I would also love to say one last time thank you so much for having me back on your blog. It’s been great talking with you about my favourite genre, fantasy. I really enjoyed it!
Follow Raven on Instagram: raven_nightshade_28
Check out our first discussion: https://www.levlyonne.com/post/the-importance-of-reading-a-discussion-with-lev-and-raven