I’ve been having such a love affair with high fantasy lately, which is a weird sentence to write and not even because of the actual content, but because I’m almost always reading high fantasy, so I’d like to say I don’t know what changed, but I do. I haven’t had a TBR for the last two months, haven’t had something that I was supposed to follow and branch out and try new things. I’ve just been allowed to meander my way through 500+ page tomes steeped in chaotic world-building and magical casts, and it’s been an absolute delight. Fantasy is already my favorite genre, as is very obviously evident from more than half the things I post, but high fantasy is where it’s truly at for me. My bookshelves are split up by genres, and fantasy is split up into subgenres because ya girl has got an entire eight foot bookcase dedicated entirely to high fantasy. Urban fantasy takes up a solid three to four shelves, but it’s nothing like all six glorious shelves of these massive bricks that could do some serious damage if you threw one at someone.
And yet, despite this endless love for high fantasy, I almost never write it. I have one high fantasy series, though, even then, it feels like it teeters between high and urban. Yes, it takes place in a separate world, thus firmly slotting it into high fantasy–I talked about the differences between the two subgenres a while back–but it takes place in a city that feels so similar to everything else that I write that I sometimes wonder if I didn’t just take my beloved urban fantasy vibes and slap it into a different world just so I could call it high fantasy. Alas, Saintsverse really wouldn’t work on Earth, particularly given the giant sea of islands that dominates the rest of the world, but it’s always given me pause. Why, exactly, if I love high fantasy so much, don’t I write it?
At any given time, I’m ready to read a high fantasy book. It literally does not matter how soon after I’ve just finished another fantasy tome, I’m ready. Bring it on. I may sneak a quick contemporary in between just as a palate cleanser, but I’m generally headed for another high fantasy as soon as I finish one. Maybe that’s why. Maybe I spend so much time reading them that, when it comes time for me to sit down and write, I want something different. Even as I type that, though, I know it isn’t true because urban fantasy is also one of my favorite things to read, so the math just doesn’t add up.
Honestly, I know it’s because high fantasy is daunting. My first introduction to high fantasy was Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien just goes above and beyond in all ways. Not only is his story set on a different world, but he has multiple foreign languages, has created several different races, and opens up his magic system in ways that I’ve yet to see anyone else do. Growing up, the level that LOTR was at was where I wanted to be, which is a pretty massive pipe dream for a twelve-year-old, but we’ve all got to start somewhere. In the beginning, too, high fantasy was mostly what I wrote. If it was big and bold and ridiculous, I was probably writing it, and I spent a solid portion of my writing life devoted entirely to high fantasy.
And yet, here I am, 95% an urban fantasy writer. Sure, Saintsverse is high fantasy, but it’s the only one, and I can say with a lot of confidence that it’ll likely be the only one. I mean, who knows, maybe something will change along the way, maybe I’ll swerve right back into it unexpectedly, but everything I’ve written in the last several years, with the exception of Saintsverse, has been urban fantasy, and it’s looking likely that it’ll stay there.
Daunting is a good word for high fantasy, though. I’m working on this one novel that spans two thousand years, and the amount of research that’s going into it is reminding me a lot of writing high fantasy. Though I’m trying to fit this story into a history that already exists, high fantasy is similar in a lot of ways. I may not be creating my own world, but I am trying to fit the parameters of the one already set for me. My characters can’t just pop the kettle on the stove for tea in BC. They wouldn’t just go barefoot at home because they felt like it, but more because that was the political or societal atmosphere at the time. And while I’m definitely not doing as much legwork as high fantasy, this extensive research leaves me a little daunted, too.
I don’t know what the point of this post is? It’s both a love letter to high fantasy because a) it’s the best, fight me, and b) y’all are amazing for writing it. Being able to create not just this incredible, unique world, but to then add character development that’s often deeply entwined with a complex magic system?? WOW. High fantasy is insane, and I love it so damn much.
I’ll never stop thinking about There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool because she literally did it all. The world that she’s created is just phenomenal, and it’s not even just because of the sprawl of places, the gorgeous map, or the very real way each city feels. It’s how deeply woven both the magic system and the religion is into the larger story, how no single piece can survive on its own without each other. If you plucked the characters out and set them in the real world, they’d still be amazing, but there would be something missing from them, and those elements that make a book high fantasy are what elevates it to such a higher plane of existence.
Every time I think about writing high fantasy, it’s with this wistful sigh of maybe someday. I would love nothing more than to actually tackle a high fantasy series, but then I get to thinking about actually doing that, and I just–nahhhhh. That’s so much work. Granted, urban fantasy is a lot of work, too, and it shouldn’t be that taking the story out of a new world and placing it in the real world suddenly makes it so much less work, but there’s just something easy about urban fantasy. I don’t have to think at all when I’m working on sister witches. Yes, building the magic system took time, and it was difficult to get right. Yes, I still had to develop the characters in believable ways. Yes, all the intricacies of fantasy are there, and it took a lot of effort to braid them together. But they’re just in Salem, and that, for some reason, is the thing that makes it easy. I never have to worry about larger world-building things because they’re already built into the real world. I don’t have to think about the cultural background of a community of people because it’s already there. I don’t have to work to create new faiths or sketch out these stark differences between characters based on where they’re from and how they’ve grown up because it’s literally all already in the framework of the story.
Writing in Salem means that a lot of the heavy lifting is done for me, and maybe it’s laziness that’s keeping me from writing high fantasy. Maybe the idea of world-building at that scale is so daunting that my brain just does a big old NOPE and writes urban fantasy instead.
Honest to Satan, what was the purpose of this post? I don’t know. I love high fantasy, but I don’t think it’s likely I’ll ever write it outside of Saintsverse, and this post explains why? If you feel like I’ve rambled aimlessly around a vague topic, same.