Thursday, 17 November 2011

Fantastical Intentions: Fantasy Races

If you didn't see last week's post, here, Fantastical Intentions is a new collaborative feature between, well, me (obviously), and Hannah, who runs the fantastic Once Upon A Time blog.

At any rate, here's the lowdown. Each time, we're going to run on either mine or Hannah's blog with a new topic - this time, to take an example, it's fantasy races. We'll each post our pick here: our selections from the chosen category - and, of course, why. And if you've got your own choices, or just think we're wrong (bring out the incinerator!), feel free to write your own post and leave your link in the comments below, or simply comment with what your pick is!

But before we start, I'll let Hannah introduce herself:

"Hi! I'm Hannah and I write for Once Upon A Time ( I've always been a total bookworm and lover of all things weird, even during a pretty long reading slump I was playing fantasy MMOs, so I'm safe to say that fantasy is my thing. I love epic fantasy and recently I've been really getting into urban fantasy. My favourite authors are Pat Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Robin Hobb, Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Caine... to name a few! But I do also venture into historical fiction, chick lit, and literary fiction from time to time. It can be pretty rare though as I am a fantasy girl at heart."

So now you know everybody involved, onto the feature! Hannah's pick this week for favourite fantasy race is... um. My reviewer spoiler alert has cut in, so just read what she has to say instead...

I went through much deliberating over this week's topic because fantasy races is such a huge thing. At first I thought, "Well it has to be elves, doesn't it?" I always play elves in fantasy RPGs, always, and I love their cultures, but then I thought, "But what about dwarves?" Dwarves are so hearty and fun, I always love reading about dwarves, but saying that they aren't quite a favourite so I cycled through a few. The Istari of Middle Earth have always intrigued me, the idea that they're basically sent to watch over Middle Earth and protect it, and they are the closest thing to wizards that Lord of the Rings has, I always adored Gandalf. But no, I'm not so sure. What about Koloss or Kandra from Mistborn? No.. not quite. And then it struck me. Humans, of course.

There are so many fantasy stories, probably the majority, in fact, that focus on the human race in a fantasy setting. How they become corrupted and how they use magic and interact with this astonishing surroundings, and how the few set out on their quests to rid their world of evil. Humans in fantasy are amazing and I never tire of reading about them. Never. So really, for me, once it came down to it, it was a no brainer. Humans bring intrigue which is one of the tropes of any genre that I love the most. It is what I love about historical fiction and it is why I'm so engrossed in the Song of Ice and Fire and FitzChivalry's world. No other fantasy race is quite as rich in intrigue as the humans. Sure, they all have it, but humans have a breadth of real history to draw from which perhaps makes them feel that little bit more real.

Of course, I do love reading about different races. The variety and absolute otherworldliness is something that makes epic fantasy what it is, but I will always love humans.

And my pick is on - well - the other end of the spectrum. In other words? The K'Chain Che'Malle.

Favourite fantasy race? It's a hard choice - when modern fantasy is dominated by humanity, who we've got an unwavering empathy for (I wonder why...), which other races do we turn to? The answer, of course, is the K'Chain Che'Malle: because who doesn't like technologically-minded dinosaurs?

Nobody, that's who.
Rather awe-inspiring K'Chain art by Seraph777

The K'Chain Che'Malle are just that. A nearly-extinct race in Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, they lived in matriarchal colonies: each one born to a specific purpose. The more perspicacious of you should now guess 'dinosaurs with blades for hands?' To which I will answer: YES. (I am not joking. The K'Chain Che'Malle really are this awesome). Joking aside, the K'Chain Che'Malle are truly amazing as a race: engineering floating fortresses, breeding a shorter-tailed version of their race as slaves, and then fighting the same in civil war. Insane and malicious on occasion, yes. But amazing.

Of course, there aren't many left. And as always with Erikson, part of the fun is piecing together the scattered clues you're given. And so, when you see a floating chunk of rock, or a plaza of grey stone hundreds of miles across... You'll be thinking: K'Chain Che'Malle. It's this fact which really makes the lizards such fun: even dead, their inventions are still key to the series. They're also surprisingly human, and flawed - no perfect precursors, these. And that makes the spoilerific events which occur a lot more poignant. And, since giant lizards are involved, unfailingly dramatic.

 We'll be moving back to Hannah's blog next time for a new topic, so keep an eye open. ;)
 So here are our choices: but what are yours? Comment below and tell us!


  1. The only way said dinosaurs could be more terrifying is, naturally, if they were given the unholy gift of jet packs in addition to those blade hands. But then, of course, that'd just be silly - I mean, we'd be crossing into the sci-fi realm then!

    In all seriousness though, good choices from the both of you. I'm partial to the K'Chain Che'Malle, of course, in all their dinosaur glory, but the human choice was an interesting one. I don't think anyone expects someone to pull that one out for "favorites" on the fantasy card - but when you put it out there like that, I understand the reasoning. We are a diverse lot, on and off the literary field - one scarcely needs the other fantastical races when you realize just how very much can indeed be done in introducing our own species into the endless possibilities of the mystical realms...

    But on my end, I must say I've always been intrigued (see: Bloody well must know more) by the Nonmen of R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing and Aspect Emperor series. Fascinating and deadly powerful creatures, and the tidbits of history he keeps teasing out in regards to them only up the intrigue further.

  2. I tend to be a fan of the elves. I tend to play elves in MMOs (...level 85 blood elf paladin, among others), although in fantasy novels I also tend to side with the Trickster-archetyped fairies when they are present. I'm generally rather ambivalent toward humans in fantasy because I am human in real life, and fantasy tends to be escapism.

  3. @Cianphelan: Haha, no kill like overkill. But yes, we would.

    I haven't read Bakker (a fatal flaw! Burn the herteic!), but I really need to - and we do seem to have a certain empathy for humanesque races more than others, unsurprisingly. I'm not a big fan of elves and dwarves, who tend to be clues to a generic fantasy, but they have been done well too: the tiste Andii, to use Erikson again, I'm much fonder of than say, Paolini's!

    Then again, many of my favourite novels have few speculaive elements, and humans, of course, focus the attention on character rather than race. (Or 'oh look, he can smell through his eyeballs' surprise ;))

    @bookswithoutanypictures: Hehe, nice. I used to be an MMO fan (but don't really play any longer... apart from the occasional spot of Minecraft, of course). I have liked elves on occasion, wen done less generically or with justification, but not the flawless immortals ala Paolini. I particularly dislike races intended to be 'good' or 'evil': make it ambiguous, people, don't just stereotype! Because it's boring. :P

  4. Funny i was never fun of dinosaurs when my favorite "race" is dragons. I'm totally in love and obsessed with dragons of any kind no matter the story or if they are bad. They are just awesome!

    As for a more humanoid race, i would say like elves in general. They seem magical and beautiful, and don't let me start about the elvish language of Tolkien.

  5. Heh, I do like dragons when they're done originally (ie. with a few new ideas, not just calling them something else). Also, they've kind of become increasingly common, and as a result less impressive, over time - so I like dragons that put some of the fear back in. :P Dammit, why is Erikson my example for ALL of these?

    Because the Eleint (dragons) in his novels, are some of my favourites, along with Robin Hobb's.

  6. Funny but i haven't actually find a book with dragons that please me. Maybe Eon and Eona but those are closer to the asian version.

    Haven't read any of the authors you mentioned. Not planning until i finish Feist's books. And they are many :p

    I guess til then i will have to stick to my own imaginary dragons ^^

  7. I have to agree with Cianphelan on this one... Bakker's Nonmen are my favorite;) I've also always been a fan of Merfolk, or creatures of the sea. I think that's a goldmine waiting to be tapped. Not many fantasy delves into the ocean depths!

  8. True, actually - the only one I've read recently has been 'Sea of Ghosts', I think: if that's the title. People being changed by poisonous 'brine', etc. Actually quite good, but I really need to find the sequel - and yes, the sea - well, undersea - is underused IMO.

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