From History to Fantasy

Powerful women have dotted the pages of our history books since humans began chiseling symbols into rocks. These ladies have stirred our imaginations and inspired our ire as tragic heroes and vile villains, with stories of their own to tell…

Continue reading “From History to Fantasy”

Interview with Author Mica Scotti Kole

An award-winning author, and a regular to the pages of Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, writer and editor Mica Scotti Kole gave us the chance to peal back the pages and get a glimpse inside the life of a dreamer, artist, and someone who has followed her dreams straight into a reality …

Continue reading “Interview with Author Mica Scotti Kole”

5 SFF Books About Pyromancy

Pyromancy, as it was originally described, is the act of divining the future by looking at flames. Similar to other methods of divination that date back to ancient Greece, like knissomancy (using incense smoke) or osteomancy (using arrangements of bones).

But, in today’s SFF scene, pyromancy often refers to the ability to control fire, and pyromancy appears in countless sword-and-sorcery novels.

We’ve compiled a short list of some of the most prominent books that involve fire magic!

Pyromancer by Don Callander

pyromancer by don callander

While it’s a bit on the nose, Pyromancer is, in fact, about fire magic. As the first book of Callander’s Mancer series, the book follows Douglas Brightglade as he comes to master his abilities over fire. Along his journey, Brightglade makes many friends, animal and human, who help him take on the Ice King.

This story has often been described as simple, with a fairly basic plot of good against evil, but it’s a quick, fun read for anyone that loves old sword and sorcery fiction.

This classic fire vs. ice story was first published in 1992 by Ace, and reprinted again fairly recently. If you’re looking to read this story, I suggest finding an older printing, because the new edition is full of typographical errors.

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher

beyond redemption micheal r fletcher

While this book sparked some controversy over it’s use of mental health issues as fundaments of magical power, it does feature pyromancy.

In Fletcher’s world, there are two kinds of people: the “normal”, sane people, and the Geisteskranken, which translates to The Insane from German. Within the second group, there are various different people who gain power from their relative insanity. The Hassebrands in particular, are adept at fire magic.

This grimdark SFF book follows a group of murderers as they attempt to capture and kill a young boy Morgen, who they believe will become a new god. This book isn’t for the faint of heart, as Fletcher goes into very dark territory. If you’re looking for some wicked fire magic, this book is for you, but make sure you read something more lighthearted—like Pyromancer—after you finish it.

The Castes and the OutCastes by David Ashura

a warrior's path davis ashura

This trilogy consists of A Warrior’s Path, A Warrior’s Knowledge, and A Warrior’s Penance. The first book won the 2015 Beverly Hills Book Award for fantasy, and was a finalist for multiple other awards.

In this series, which is loosely based on Indian mythology, there are the castes, and the outcastes. The main character, Rukh Shektan, is born into the Caste Kumma, and becomes a renowned warrior, skilled with both fire magic and the blade.

The characters are well-developed, and the world presents enough similarities to traditional fantasy books that it feels familiar, but has aspects of political intrigue, deception, and action that make it unique.

This sword-and-sorcery series has been likened to The Wheel of Time, the works of Zelazney, and other big-name fantasy series.

The Fire Mages by Pauline M. Ross

the fire mages pauline m ross

Even thought The Fire Mages is part of the Brightmoon series, it can be read as a standalone book. The story follows Kyra as she navigates a world of magic and deception. Magic in this world requires specific symbology written on magic paper, with very few magicians capable of using their powers without these things.

As such, fire magic is pretty dangerous, seeing as how the mode for power is flammable paper.

The book reminds me of a mix between The Name of the Wind (thinking about Kvothe’s struggle with money and school) and The Armored Saint by Myke Cole.

It’s a fun ride, and the characters are well-thought out and the world is full of rich details. Definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of traditional fantasy magic.

Firestarter by Stephen King

firestarter stephen king

Moving out of the realm of fantastical magic-wielders, Firestarter imagines a world where experimental drug trials leave some individuals with psychic abilities. The main character, Charlie McGee, has a very strong pyrokinetic ability, which she often uses to protect her and her father from secret government agents who are hunting them down.

Firestarter is a sci-fi horror story, typical of King’s style as a writer. The book was first published in 1980, and was adapted as a film in 1984. The reboot of the film comes out later this year, starring Zac Efron as Charlie’s father, Andy, and Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Charlie.

If you like stories about powered people hunted down by shadow organizations, then Firestarter is a must read.

If you liked this post, consider checking out some of our other Top 5 book lists!

Top 5 Desert Fantasy Books With Sandy Cities

For a long time, the fantasy genre was dominated by stories about tall stone castles, misty forests, and knights in medieval armor. This intense focus on the medieval European landscape kind of defined fantasy as a genre. Just saying the word “fantasy” inspires thoughts of dragons, knights, and maidens in despair.

But there are plenty of other kinds of fantasy out there that don’t take such heavy inspiration from the Middle Ages. One of the most interesting fantasy genres is desert fantasy. Authors of desert fantasy replace the mountains and ancient forests with vast seas of sand and massive trade-center cities.

Here are the top 5 desert fantasy books that feature sandy dunes, complex cities, and a fresh take on the fantasy genre.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

When this book first came out in 2012, it was a big hit. It was one of the most popular desert fantasy books by far, and it still stands as a great example of non-European fantasy.

But it was planned as a series—The Crescent Moon Kingdoms. But it’s been 10 years and we haven’t seen a second book released. It has a title and a description on Goodreads, but no official news about its publication date.

The story follows a number of interesting characters, including a ghul hunter, a holy warrior, and a shapeshifter. All the characters are investigating a series of murders that are all connected, and when they end up banding together, they realize there’s a plot much bigger than anyone realized. In the kingdom of Dhamsawaat, the Falcon Prince is brewing up a revolution, and it’s up to the ragtag band to stop him.

The author, Saladin Ahmed, is a quite prominent writer for Marvel, working on numerous Spider-Man comics.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

We Hunt the Flame is part of the Sands of Arawiya series, and is succeeded by the book, We Free the Stars. This book was published in 2019 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. The kingdom of Arawiya was inspired by ancient Arabia,

The story follows Zafira, a hunter of rare artifacts. She disguises herself as a man to avoid scrutiny as she acts as a champion for her people. When she sets out to find a precious artifact that can heal her people, the Prince of Death, right hand of the sultan, is put onto her trail. During the course of their hunt, the two champions realize that something much bigger is stirring in the world, something neither of them can control.

We Hunt the Flame is often considered a young adult series, but it stands on the line between adult fantasy and young adult desert fantasy.

The Eyes of the Tamburah by Maria V. Snyder

The Eyes of the Tamburah is the first book in the Archives of the Invisible Sword series, and is often considered a young adult novel. The book was published in 2019, so it’s a fairly new addition to the desert fantasy genre.

The story follows Shyla, an 18-year-old outcast. Her sun-colored eyes maker her a sun-kissed, a child marked by the Sun Goddess as a sacrifice. But instead of meeting a gruesome death, Shyla was raised by monks.

Soon after leaving the monks, Shyla ventures into the underground desert city of Zirdai and starts working as a kind of Tomb-Raider-esque archaeologist. When a precious religious artifact is stolen, Shyla is blackmailed into finding it, but ends up getting caught in the middle of a deadly turf war.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu

As the first book in The Song of Shattered Sands series, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai sets up the whole desert environment. From the tallest spire of the desert city’s towers to the gnarled, magical trees that pepper the windswept plains outside the city walls.

In this book, we meet Ceda, a pit fighter and a rogue, trying to unravel the mysteries in her late mother’s diary. Little does she know; she holds the secrets that the Twelve Kings tried to purge from existence. Finding foes at almost every turn, Ceda must navigate the dark streets of Sharakhai to finish what her mother started and free the people of the desert from the kings’ tyranny.

This book is one of my favorites, and it has such rich lore and backstory. Many of the elements are inspired by Arabic folklore, specifically Egyptian. The Song of Shattered Sands includes 6 full-length novels, a prequel novella, and a handful of other novellas/short stories.

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

The Blue Sword is the oldest book on this list, having been first published in 1982. The book is first of the Damar series, which includes four other books.

The Blue Sword takes place in the desert land populated by Homelanders and Hillfolk. The protagonist, Angharad “Harry” Crewe, is captured by the Hillfolk King and taken deep into the desert. Harry is then trained to be a master warrior, and develops a keen sense of respect for the Hillfolk. As Northern invaders threaten their sovereignty, Harry must be the bridge that brings the Homelanders and the Hillfolk together.  

There are plenty of other desert fantasy books out there that we didn’t mention, and the genre is still growing! If you have a favorite book that wasn’t mentioned here, feel free to leave a comment below!

And if you liked this blog, consider checking out some of our other content:

The Ups and Downs of Low Fantasy vs. High Fantasy

For many people, when they think of “fantasy”, pictures of massive castles, dragons, and knights come to mind. For other people, they think of monsters and heroes walking in our city streets, an addition to our mundane world.

The distinction there is low fantasy vs. high fantasy, and it’s one of the most interesting concepts in genre-fiction.

In this article, I want to try to understand how one genre of fantasy fiction has gotten to be considered “low”, while alternate world works like The Lord of the Rings have attained a lofty “high” fantasy title.

Low Fantasy vs. High Fantasy: Definitions

In the general sense, high fantasy differs from low fantasy primarily because of the setting. High fantasy novels are set in a secondary world, with very little that links them to your present Earth timeline.

When thinking of high fantasy, think Middle Earth, Roshar, or Temerant. These places are so unlike our own that there’s no way they could be mistaken for such.

Low fantasy, on the other hand, brings fantastical elements into our world. Urban fantasy, superhero movies, paranormal fiction—all of these genres could be lumped into the low fantasy basket. Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Supernatural—low fantasy.

Now, there is a bit more depth to the distinction between low fantasy and high fantasy that I want to discuss, and that’s literary intent.

low fantasy vs. high fantasy
A Lord of the Rings illustration by John Howe

Agents of Change

Lori Campbell, author of the literary criticism Portals of Power: Magical Agency and Transformation in Literary Fantasy, believes that low fantasy provides a better opportunity to enact social change because of the close alignment to our real world.

And in some ways, she’s correct. It’s much easier to draw comparisons to real-life problems/events when their metaphors occur in a world we understand. For example, in Harry Potter, the Death Eaters represent a rise in alt-right extremism across the world, and the whole conflict might be seen as an analogy for the fight against racism and fascism.

For some people, this metaphor is easier to digest than the real-life situations were white supremacists commit acts of domestic terrorism in the name of a defunct ideology.

But can we really say that Harry Potter is heralding the anti-fascism banner as it’s sole literary intent? Not really. Can we even say that Harry Potter succeeds in taking a firm stance against discrimination because the low fantasy classification makes the stance more digestible? Maybe, but J.K. Rowling’s recent stint of transphobia and bigotry makes her anti-extremism argument less compelling.

However, Campbell’s argument hinges upon the premise that readers are ill-equipped to draw high-level connections between high fantasy and our real world. That’s certainly not the case.

While low fantasy might outwardly present real-life issues because of its proximity to our reality, high fantasy isn’t “high” fantasy because it’s something only the elite can understand. You might have to dig a bit deeper to get to the point of social contention in a high fantasy novel, but if it’s there, you’ll find it. Readers aren’t dumb, and I feel like that’s what Campbell as implied.

How High is High Fantasy?

What I find really interesting about the classification of low vs high fantasy is that one is held in a “higher” regard than the other.

The implication of the term high fantasy is that it’s an elite genre, that it’s held above low fantasy for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the creation of a wholly unique secondary world ranks above the alteration of our own reality present in low fantasy. Or perhaps the sliding scale of low fantasy vs. high fantasy favors the wildly fantastical over all else.

I think this is where we run into the many problems with classifying fiction. There’s no real way to make a checklist that can accommodate every novel, movie, short story, or video game. Instead of getting micro-specific, we have to draw back and become far more general.

Does this story take place in a secondary world? Yes. Then it’s high fantasy.

That just doesn’t seem like an accurate qualifier, in all honesty. There’s so much distinction between high fantasy work, that there almost needs to have a slide scale all unto itself.

For example, The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss are in a secondary world, Temerant, which makes it a high fantasy. But, contrary to other high fantasy novels, The Name of the Wind doesn’t contain dragons, orcs, goblins, elves, or any other manner of typical fantasy creatures.

The story focuses on human interactions, and with the addition of magic, it seeks to explore how that impacts human relationships and character development.

This kind of high fantasy contrasts starkly to the high fantasy that’s been popularized by works like The Lord of the Rings, The Inheritance Cycle, and The Stormlight Archives.

low vs high fantasy
A cover variation of Words of Radiance from Michael Whelan

I do think that we have moved away from such strict standards for identifying genres. With the rise of Game of Thrones-like fantasy, people are more inclined to say that The Name of the Wind is just as much high fantasy as The Lord of the Rings. It might not have dragons or dwarves, but it still counts.

Meeting in the Middle

In many ways, I think that the classifications we put on art don’t fully encapsulate the unique microcosm we find behind each book cover. You can walk into a book store and find a vast range of books in the Fantasy and Science Fiction section. Jim Butcher brushing dust jackets with Neil Gaiman, Seanan McGuire cozying up next to C.L. Moore.

The classifications of low and high fantasy are fairly vanilla in their describing power. Sure, a low fantasy might be set in our world, but it could be about ghost-hunting lesbians or it could be about demigods squaring off against titans.

And any power these books might have for enacting social change is purely subjective. You can choose to read a book as a manifesto for change, or you can read a fantasy book as an escapist joyride. Lori Campbell isn’t entirely wrong about low fantasy being capable of spreading change, but at the end of the day, it’s not just low fantasy. Novels from across the sci fi and fantasy gamut have impact every single day, and it’s not because of their classification, it’s because of their power as motivators.

A book won’t go out to a protest or argue with climate deniers. But it could prompt you to. Books motivate us to do better, and if that’s a $3 dollar store vampire romance novel, we don’t judge.