In Defense of (Bad) Fantasy - Part Two

Last week, in Part One of our discussion on 'bad' fantasy, I took my cue from a number of 'worst of' lists around the net (Best Fantasy Books has a great list, as does Goodreads here and here) and talked a bit about how many 'worst' reads I enjoyed. There were a few series I don't remember in any great detail, but which I enjoyed enough to read multiple volumes, and others that I'm quite fond of, despite the disdain and hatred they've earned from others.

This week I wanted to turn things on their head a bit and look at some of the 'worst' titles I've deliberately sought out and, in many cases, enjoyed. Sometimes it's just a matter of wanting to read something completely different; other times it's just a contrary desire to prove people wrong; and sometimes it's a matter of finding some sort of dark appeal in whatever element it was that sparked their hatred.

  • The Last Herald-Mage by Mercedes Lackey is the first series I can remember deliberately reading out of spite. It was back in my highschool days, and I was just getting into the genre. I thought her books looked interesting, but I was quickly cautioned against her. Aside from the fact I was assured female fantasy authors just weren't very good, it was also whispered that her hero was (gasp!) gay. Well, I went ahead and read the series anyway, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it was well told, and I thought Vanyel was a fascinating hero. I've since seen Lackey dismissed on those 'worst of' lists for muddled plots, flat characters, and poor writing, but she's an author I keep returning to when I want a taste of traditional high fantasy.
  • Dragon Prince Trilogy by Melanie Rawn is series I read not long after Herald-Mage, as part of my quest to prove that an author's gender had nothing to do with whether a book was any good. Rawn, of course, came with the added baggage of being accused of being nothing more than a romance author in disguise. Well, the series proved to be one of my favorites, prompting me to go on to devour the Dragon Star Trilogy, The Golden Key, and Exiles. Extremely well-written, with solid world-building, and fantastic characters, she's an author I'm eager to catch up with in the Glass Thorns saga (even though I wish, like so many others, she'd finish the next Exiles book).
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman is a book I decided to pick up, despite my general disinterest in the YA genre, specifically because of the horrendous accusations that it promoted atheism and attacked Christianity. It was an okay read, and one I likely would have enjoyed much more in my youth, but it lacked the substance for me to keep reading beyond the first book. Having said that, I quite liked how Pullman tackled the issues of faith and religion, but I also despise Narnia for the same reason, so take that as you will.
  • Chronicles of the Shadow War by Chris Claremont is a series I was initially prepared to dismiss along with everybody else, but curiosity got the better of me. Yes, it's a very dark tale that makes no attempt to recapture the humor and magic of Willow, and which kills off most of the main characters in the prologue, but that doesn't make it a bad tale. In fact, as a fantasy saga on its own, it's quite remarkable. The world-building is extraordinary, really fleshing out what was glimpsed on the screen, and the mythology was just as fantastic. It took me a long while to warm up to Elora, and even longer to adjust to an older, more mature Willow, but I appreciated the fact that we'd all grown up and matured together.
  • The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington is a book that I couldn't possibly not read once I'd been told what a vulgar, violent, obscene, and disgusting book it was. It is definitely all those things, but it's also darkly/morbidly humorous, incredibly imaginative, and well-written. I had a ton of guilty fun with that book. I was honestly a bit shocked that some of it made it past an editor or publisher, but I was also ridiculously pleased that they did let it go. It's definitely one the most unique fantasy novels I've ever read, and while it's not for everyone, it fit my tastes perfectly. His follow-up didn't work quite as well for me, but I still have to go back and read his first.
  • The Broken Empire by Mark Lawrence is one of those series I decided to read because I found a dark appeal in the element that sparked so much hatred. Jorg Ancrath, I kept reading, was an amoral, psychopathic killer, and one without a shred of humanity. As heroes go, he was as anti as they get, and as grimdark goes, the series was as grim as it gets. How could I not give it a read when it had all that going for it? While I think Jorg got shortchanged by a lot of readers who didn't bother to look beneath the surface, there's no doubt he's a very dark protagonist in a dark sort of fantasy, and I really enjoyed that. Lawrence dared to do something different, and even if it didn't work for everybody, it did for me.

That, for what it's worth, is my take on defending the 'worst' of the genre. There are, of course, a lot of 'bad' fantasy novels I was warned away from that were indeed 'bad' fantasy, but I'm not here to pile on the hate. Feel free to share your thoughts on 'best' and 'worst' below.


  1. Interesting list.

    As for Lackey's Herald-mage trilogy, I fall into the hate category - at least I did when I was a teenager. It just wasn't't for me, and it did nothing to do with the main character being homosexual. The books just bored me. I do recall enjoying her "Vows" series though.

    Dawn. Loved the first book. Have always intended to read the rest, just never got around to it.

    Pullman. Never read them. No really interest to do so, for some reason.

    Department's Shadow War. What I have read was fine. Different from the movie but definitely okay.

    Thorns by Lawrence. Book one was a fabulous take on a sociopath a thick main character. Loved it. Book two was repetitive and used the superpower of the day solution to all problems. Have not had the inclination to read the third books. I've heard it ends in a fitting way. That is good. In all honesty, the books remind me of the movie Natural Born Killers.

    1. I've only read the first Vows book (back in my Xena days) and I enjoyed it. Her recent collaborations with James Mallory are fantastic, and something I catch up with when I just need some dragons, elves, magic, and monsters. Even though they're a bit romantic, her 500 Kingdoms books are an interesting take on the classic fairy tales as well.

      I'd strongly recommend the third book of Broken Kingdoms. I had exactly the same reservations about the ancient superpower of the day after book two, but it all comes together with a fitting resolution at the end.

  2. Women can't write fantasy? CS Friedman writes some kick-butt books. While I do read a lot of books by men, a woman author has never made me turn away.
    I read Dragon Prince ages ago and enjoyed it.

    1. I think it was more macho highschool ignorance than sexism, but that was the prevailing attitude. I'm just glad I didn't listen.

      Friedman, Lackey, Kerr, Rawn, Hobb, Daniells, Douglass, Wurts, West, Martin, Jemisin, and more - there's no shortage of fantastic female fantasy authors.

  3. Who has Lawrence on their worst of fantasy list?

    1. It came up on a few Goodreads lists, Nathan, but that was more a case of being curious about the story and reading some reviews before diving in for a back-to-back-to-back read. The complaints about Jorg were what really caught my eye, and what convinced me it was worth dedicating some time to.

  4. I remember picking up Dragon Prince many a time back in my high school days, when there were those stores with books for sale. The cover art was always eye-catching--maybe it's the yellow coloring? Never read it, though.

    Thanks for the recommends on Lackey. I will have to check out some of those series!

  5. THE BROKEN EMPIRE sounds like something I should avoid on all cost :)


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