1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Something other than kings and assassins?

Discussion in 'Novels & Stories' started by Yora, Oct 31, 2019.

  1. Yora

    Yora Maester

    684
    283
    63
    i recently realized that the most recent fantasy book I really liked was written in 1992. Somehow I completely disconnected from modern fantasy and I never can find anything from the past 25 years that sounds interesting to me. Maybe it's the way people talk about fantasy books these days, but it all sounds the same to me. So maybe you can help me finding something that might appeal to me.

    What I am always looking for is fantasy that is:
    - Not about thieves or assassins.
    - Not about political conspiracies.
    - Not grimdark.
    - Not set in a world that feels like 17th century or later.
    - Does not treat magic as a science and technology.
    - Does not require a wheelbarrow to haul around.

    Do such books still exist? I tried reading both The Copper Promise and The Lies of Locke Lamora, but they both didn't do anything for me.
     
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  2. Have you read books from David Gemmell? They're "easy" fantasy books. Little intrigue or magic in there. No assassins (at least, in those I've read). And they're both a normal size and available in paperback.

    If it's your kind of thing, I can recommend (almost) anything by Terry Pratchett. Though there's a few assassins in some of the books, they're not the plot element they are in other books. Magic is mainly something that's wielded by incompetent old men and preferably as little as possible. And they're all a nice size.
     
  3. Yora

    Yora Maester

    684
    283
    63
    Oh yeah, I read Legend. That wasn't bad. I should get back and pick up Waylander. (I just saw that that's a story about an assassin, though maybe back in the 80s it wasn't all the same cliche.)
     
  4. MrNybble

    MrNybble Sage

    210
    53
    28
    Assassins can be such a broad subject. Depends on the cliches you have been reading as they could apply to other professions.
     
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,314
    4,152
    313
    Josiah Bancroft's "Books of Babel" series checks most of those boxes, though it's clearly Edwardian in its era. I did read and enjoy Gavriel's Children of Earth and Sky. That one is more or less Renaissance Venice and the eastern Mediterranean generally.

    I'm in sympathy, Yora. All my Altearth tales are non-assassin, pre-modern, no political conspiracies, etc. My most recent book is set later, but it had to be set there. And my very first short story is from the 1950s, but that one came out of left field. I'm firmly and happily back in medieval times for the forseeable future.
     
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,314
    4,152
    313
    I just can't buy assassin as a profession. It's probably because I know too much about the historical assassins and that follows me around when reading fantasy books with a king's assassin or an assassin guild and such. I cast no shade on the author. This is fantasy, and authors may write whatever they wish. No need to coddle the stray medieval historian. :)
     
    Mythopoet likes this.
  7. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

    2,624
    881
    113
    Listen buddy, when you drop a thought nugget like that I’m going to have to ask you to pick it up and share.

    What about historical assassins again?
     
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,314
    4,152
    313
    They were an Islamic religious cult during the time of the Crusades. Shi'ite. They went after as many Sunni targets as Christian, but in Western history books it tends to be the Christian targets who get the press. It's difficult for me to imagine a religious cult somehow becoming a body of professionals. There are tons of books and articles about the Assassins. I like Bernard Lewis' best.

    That's on one side. On the other, there are plenty of examples of people being killed by hired killers or simply by people who wanted the fellow dead. You can go back to Brutus and Cassius, or Philip of Macedonia, and long before that. But those weren't professionals, either. They were rivals or thugs hired for the job. It's not like they made their living that way. Mercenaries were hired soldiers, but they weren't assassins.

    Again, though, that's all history, not fantasy. I've played all but the first two Assassin's Creeds and had a good time. Somehow when it comes to reading a book, though, it doesn't click for me. Personal problem, I reckon.
     
    Mythopoet likes this.
  9. Yora

    Yora Maester

    684
    283
    63
    Similarly, the Zealots where a specific Jewish sect of fanatics that led a guerilla war against the Romans. Though that doesn't have anythingnto do with the topic.
     
  10. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

    2,624
    881
    113
    So, historically, the concept of a professional assassin didn't exist in what would be now known as the Western World? Only the Hashasheen resemble an organized assassin workforce (for lack of a better term).
     
  11. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,726
    3,265
    313
    I know next to nothing about the middle eastern assassins. So far as I can tell though most fantasy assassins feel like they're based on the cliches and myths surrounding the ninja more than anything else. I wish there was some kind of infographic comparing the ninja, the hashasheen and the archetypal fantasy assassin.

    Professional hitmen are quite real though. And gangs or mobsters usually rely on a single person to handle their hits. The thing is though, it's not usually that difficult to kill someone. The "assassin" uses stealth and parkour and flip-flash weapons and grapples to scale building and escape. And none of that is actually necessary. Mobsters used to greet their target with a hug and an ice pick to the neck, and it was over just like that.
     
  12. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    5,456
    2,472
    313
    Can I just rant a bit here...

    The other day, I was browsing Kindle Unlimited for some new fantasy reads, and it struck me how almost all of the blurbs managed to turn me off on reading the book rather than pull me in. It felt like it was all about the fate of the world resting on the shoulders of some poor unsuspecting hero or other. After a little while it just made me sad and discouraged and I picked out something with a cool cover instead.

    That said, I don't specifically have anything against books just like what I describe above. If it's well written, I'll enjoy it. There's just something about trying to sum it up in 200 words or less that makes it seem awfully generic and off-putting. A lot of the time these days, I go by cover (which usually ends with me being disappointed) or by recommendation (which usually ends really well).

    As for what you're actually asking about...
    I don't recall reading anything in recent times that fit all of the above, but I think the closest is the Yarnsworld books by Benedict Patrick: Yarnsworld Series by Benedict Patrick (although I've only read the first two).
    These fit everything except the part about "Not set in a world that feels like 17th century or later." and they're superb. My knowledge of history isn't good enough to really say what kind of time period it would be. If you're looking for something in a non-European setting, start with the second one "Where the Waters Turn Black." The books aren't connected, but they take place in the same world (only different parts of it).

    Something else that surprised me recently was the Harbinger Series by Jeff Wheeler: Harbinger Series by Jeff Wheeler
    This actually hits more than half of the points above, but I want to mention it anyway. It's set in a fantasy world inspired by Victorian-era England - but with flying ships and mansions. I get the feeling it might not be what you want, Yora, but someone else might be interested in checking it out. I hadn't come across anything like that before and I quite enjoyed it.

    Anyway, check out Where the Waters Turn Black. :)

    EDIT: Because this is worth mentioning, and skip didn't do it himself.
    Into the Second World: An Altearth Tale by Ellis L. Knox - Into the Second World hits most of the points as well. It's set after the 17th, and the people of the world at least try to view magic as a science (but I get the feeling they still don't quite have the grasp of it).
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2019
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,314
    4,152
    313
    I have to be cautious here. I only know about assassins because I happened to teach a course on the Crusades for about thirty years, and that topic comes up in a secondary sort of way. But I can say the concept didn't exist so far as I know.
     
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,314
    4,152
    313
    >Professional hitmen are quite real though.
    Yes indeed, since the early 20thc anyway. It would be interesting to know how that profession developed. There have always been gangs and gangs have always visited violence upon their rivals and enemies. One forerunner would be the liveried retainers of petty lords who would be sent to harass and terrorize rivals. We read about them as early as the Paston letters (15thc England). Then there were the political gangs of the late Roman Republic.

    At a guess I'd say the modern hitman doesn't emerge until modern communications and transportation. Prior to that, the killer was the direct retainer of a gang boss (or noble lord; pretty much the same thing <g>). He would be maintained but not really paid. Once we get fully developed capitalism, coupled with the ability to send messages at high speed and to move the armed man from city to city, only then do you get someone who could make enough off contract work to make a living killing. Even then, I wonder about tax reporting. Maybe the modern hitman has some sort of front job.

    But no royal assassins such as we find in fantasy books. It's a curiosity that I'm not bothered at all by trees that can talk and walk, but a guild of assassins strikes me as unrealistic. Like I said: personal problem.
     
  15. MrNybble

    MrNybble Sage

    210
    53
    28
    A way to have fun with non-traditional assassins is to give them roles beyond just killing. I played with the idea of combining the idea of the movie Mr and Mrs Smith with the Brady Bunch. Got a family that is raised from birth to be assassins but pretend to be a normal middle class family. These mercenary assassins don't just murder but also steal, sabotage, spy, or destroy reputations. Think of it like like Kingsmen but without the high moral standards and for hire by anybody with deep pockets.
     
    Trick likes this.
  16. Yora

    Yora Maester

    684
    283
    63
    Two books that have come up on my radar and that might be worth a try are Malice and Blackwing. I've not been able to find out much about them yet, but they sound somewhat promising.

    A couple of years ago it seemed like there was some interest in Sword & Sorcery, with a handful of new collections being released. But it seems that nothing has come of that. Though it probably didn't help that I think they were all between disappointing and bad. One way to look at it is to say the genre is dead. The other is that it's a completely unoccupied niche with no competition.

    One possible contender tha has entered the anglophone market now is The Witcher. It's actually from the 90s, but after the very succesful videogames got it an English translation, the Netflix show now should give it another boost. I really quite like it, and I think it's a great example of how Sword & Sorcery can be done for modern audiences and evolve beyond the pulp schlock from the 60s.
    But the terrible scarcity of such works was the whole reason I started considering writing myself. I think an audience for it is clearly there.
     
  17. What about spies and spy networks? It's a fairly similar concept in many fantasy novels where some king or upcoming noble (usually the smart ones) has set up an all encompassing network of spies similar to a couple of professional assassins. Do you know if there's a historical equivalent for these, or are these again a more modern invention?

    Another writer I thought of is Raymond E. Feist. There's certainly some of his books that meet the criteria. Some are more complicated then others. But overall they're an easy read, and fairly light on the assassins or magic as a main plot element.
     
  18. Yora

    Yora Maester

    684
    283
    63
    Perhaps. But I am looking for something different, not something that is mostly the same.
     
  19. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,314
    4,152
    313
    YoraYora Have you read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials?
     
  20. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,255
    1,302
    163
    Well, Eve of Snows is different, although it is arguably grimdark, and while plenty of people die, there is nothing to do with professional assassins. Conspiracy? It depends, there is an element of that, but it fades as the story moves on. Pre-plate armor, no knights let alone post 1700’s, more Viking feel but as the books progress you will move from a Viking setting, through something more medieval Europe, to sub-tropic to tropical setting. Also, while I the author know the system of magic, neither the reader nor the characters themselves know how anything works, although various peoples think they do, heh heh.

    The thief and assassin guild thing has always bugged me, but at the same time professional killers have existed since the advent of money, I’d wager, LOL. Hell, it might trace back to the age barter... I’ll give you three horses to kill Ogg over there. Making a living from it in an organized manner is another thing entirely, heh heh.Once organized crime exists, then “guild” could just be a term, a name, like any other. An actual guild structure would be freaky, but as a humorous name it’d work. But, organized crime would have people with ambiguous morals handling violence.

    Tangent, I recall reading a mob story where the guy used to run numbers in NYC and he said the whole idea of breaking arms and legs and killing people over debts was overblown... why? Simply bad business. A dead man in particular never repays a debt. Assassin just isn’t a good business model, for the most part. At best, it’s a part-time gig, without some peculiar societal quirk. Which, of course, can happen in a fictional world.
     
Loading...

Share This Page