Friday, 27 May 2011

Article | Surpassing Conventions - and Who Does

There are a few conventions in fantasy we've read dozens - or hundreds - of times. The orphan protagonist. The hero with a troubled past. The pet pengui- well, alright, that probably isn't one. But I wish it was. At any rate, there are a few conventions - even cliches - that have historically been so overdone that modern fantasy regularly gives them a wide berth: for good reason. So I'm going to venture into this territory to compile my toplist: how conventions have been best done, and by whom - in my rather whimsical opinion! So, here goes:

The Protagonist with a Troubled/Angsty/Excuse Past:  
Lupe dy Cazaril in The Curse of Chalion
The Curse of Chalion is a novel which I think is almost criminally under-read. Cazaril is a fantastic protagonist: flawed, sympathetic, and ultimately heroic - in an interesting way (secretaries don't go in for your everyday heroics, you see). Before the novel, Cazaril was a castle warder: omitted (intentionally) from the list of those to be ransomed following a siege, he was instead forced into slavery as a galley slave. Yes, it's a fairly tragic past, but Bujold uses it deftly: it's not belted out to other characters in a 'look, I'm really quite tragic and just look how angsty I am' monologue, but introduced gradually. It's also overcome and plot relevant - Cazaril is forced to confront, rather than be defined by his past, and it makes for interesting character development. This betters one of fantasy's typical conventions: and The Curse of Chalion is a great novel for it.
You can find The Curse of Chalion on here: Curse of Chalion 

The Power Which Glows:
Stormlight in The Way of Kings
 In most fantasy, magic seems to glow for no discernible reason - it's not an irritating convention, but an unexplained one, and something that should perhaps be thought twice about. Many modern fantasists have been opting for subtler magic systems, but The Stormlight Archive shows that you can still have pretty lights if you give a reason for it. In The Way of Kings, the magic system we first glimpse is based on stormlight - light stored from passing storms. When this is used to perform magic, the light itself is also released: so there's a reason for power to glow.

The Possession:
Matthew Swift in A Madness of Angels
  Examples of possession in fantasy are generally confined to the evil: and the cliched. Possessed characters can be expected to:
a) Acquire somewhat disturbing red eyes
b) Rather easily give themselves away
c) Be completely non-consensually possessed
A Madness of Angels puts a twist on the trope: yes, Matthew Swift is possessed by the blue electric angels - but they're cohabiting. Swift's narration might be slipping regularly into pupils, but the angels aren't bad - or good. They're spirits of information and electricity - waste life poured into the telephone system - and the real world is interesting enough for them already: they've got no need to destroy it. This uneasy shared human/inhuman personality makes Matthew Swift's own heroic journey an interesting one, and I strongly advise you to check it out. I've reviewed A Madness of Angels, and it is every bit as awesome as its title.

So, these were my choices: what are yours? And which conventions should I feature in my next post?
Comment below and tell me!


  1. These look interesting! Don't be a stranger; stop by my blog and say hi!

    Looking forward to hearing back from you,
    Cory @ Anti-Drug Reads

  2. I have A Madness of Angels sitting on the top of my 'to read' pile right now! Really looking forward to it :)

    Possible convention for you:
    Story that begins with the destruction of the hero's quaint/rustic/indigenous/generally innocent village.

  3. Yes, 'A Madness of Angels' definitely is a great read (and its sequels don't disappoint either). IMO, the magic system was particularly interesting: it lent itself to both mechanics (ie. non-deus-ex-machina resolutions) and a nice, mysterious atmosphere, when normally one is traded off for the other.

    Now, that is a good convention for next time! I can't believe I forgot it.

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