Okay! The final entries in my own fantastical journey. I had to change last minute when I realised my Urban Fantasy novel was definitely not Hol Appropriate so I decided to look into lighter Fantasy and historical fantasy instead.
Shadow and Bone (Grisha, book 1) by Leigh Bardugo
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.
This is what I’d call Fantasy Light but it also has some claim to being historical as it borrows (not necessarily correctly) a lot of elements from Russian history. It has a fantasy world of its own with relatively well established internal logic and no reliance on surrealism or quirkiness but it lacks the depth of The Old Kingdom universe. The world building and magic system is secondary to the characters and mostly, the romance. While there’s enough fantasy to get your teeth into, it slides by you at times rather like a back drop. The dialogue is also entirely modern which, given that the world is based on the 18th and 19th centuries, is a little jarring at times. It’s fantasy for people who don’t want to be walloped over the head with Tolkien-esque fantasy or people speaking cod Shakespearian English (and a very fun, unchallenging read) but consequently lacks a bit of bite.
Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix
On her eighteenth birthday, Lady Truthful, nicknamed “Newt,” will inherit her family’s treasure: the Newington Emerald.
When the Emerald disappears one stormy night, Newt sets off to recover it. Her plan entails dressing up as a man, moustache included, as no well-bred young lady should be seen out and about on her own. While in disguise, Newt encounters the handsome but shrewd Major Harnett, who volunteers to help find the missing Emerald under the assumption that she is a man. Once she and her unsuspecting ally are caught up in a dangerous adventure that includes an evil sorceress, Newt realizes that something else is afoot: the beating of her heart.
Now, this is what I’d call fantasy light, urban fantasy, fantasy romance and historical fantasy all wrapped up in one. It’s a light hearted romp through regency London where magic isn’t a secret: it’s an established part of life. The world is a glimmering, light-hearted one where none of the fantastical elements are taken too seriously. The romance meshes reasonably well with the borrowed setting and logic of the plot, escaping the unevenness of Shadow and Bone.
Having read these two side by side, I think I’ve decided that I like Fantasy Light when it’s not taking itself too seriously. While I enjoyed Shadow and Bone, I struggled a bit trying to work out what the book was striving to do. Whereas Newt’s Emerald is a total guilty pleasure: it’s silly and wonderful with the glamour of a by gone age which is portrayed just accurately enough not to jar you out of it while not bogging itself down too much in the source material.
Anyone agree? Disagree? I'd love to know