I always enjoyed coming across the ‘Tough Travels’ weekly feature on fantasy blogs – started by Fantasy Review Barn, every week it highlighted a different fantasy trope, theme or cliché from Diana Wynne Jones’s classic Tough Guide to Fantasyland, and participating bloggers listed books related to that week’s theme. Now Laura Hughes has brought Tough Travels back and is hosting it as a monthly feature on Fantasy Faction, so I thought I’d join in and become a tough (or not-so-tough) traveller myself!
This month’s theme is beginnings:
The Tough Guide states that you will begin in rather poor circumstances in an unimportant corner of the continent; a kitchen menial, perhaps, or a blacksmith’s apprentice. From there, the Guide advises that ‘you will be contacted by your TOUR MENTOR (normally an elderly male MAGIC USER with much experience) who will tell you what to do, which is almost certainly to discover you are a MISSING HEIR.’
Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
The Black Prism
I’m listing The Black Prism first, not only because I recently finished reading it and need to express my love for this awesome book, but because one of the character point-of-views almost perfectly matches the Tough Guide’s beginning trope.
Kip is a poor boy from an unimportant town (he’s even an apprentice of a kind) whose magic-user mentor eventually swoops and informs him of his important lineage. However, the fact that he has to endure a lot before his mentor arrives, that his mentor is rather unorthodox and duplicitous, that he doesn’t exactly get any ‘chosen-one’ special treatment, and that he is not an heir to anything very desirable (indeed, his lineage seems to be a bit of a curse), meant this beginning didn’t feel like your standard stable-boy-abducted-by-wizard fantasy opener.
The Tombs of Atuan
It’s rare that a book hooks me on the first page… for most fantasies, even the brilliant ones, it always takes me a while to get to know the characters and really warm to the story. That’s why I’ve picked The Tombs of Atuan for this theme: not only is it a classic, but it had an intriguing beginning that immediately drew me in.
There are no benevolent mentors or blacksmith apprentices in this opening – only a disturbing cult and a girl unlucky enough to be torn from her family and chosen as a religious figurehead. She has her life and identity erased, is brainwashed into believing in her role, and is forced to partake in the cult’s disturbing rituals… from those first few pages I just couldn’t wait for her to rebel.
Prince of Thorns
The beginning of Prince of Thorns was unlike any I’ve ever read before… it felt like a slap in the face, so full of despicable characters doing despicable things that I found myself wondering how I could ever be drawn into this dark and depraved world.
I was so intrigued by the unorthodox set up, however, that I kept going, and sure enough, I soon found myself wound up in the story. By the end I was cheering for that ruthless antihero I’d found so awful at the start… though I have to admit, he didn’t get any less awful, I just came to appreciate his ability to out-awful all the other awful characters. This is 100% grimdark fantasy and pretty bleak, but I really enjoyed it!
For links to more Tough Travelling posts, or to join in yourself and see next month’s theme, check out the host page on Fantasy Faction.