If you read the title carefully, you’ll notice the book is for both fans and authors. It’s really true. If you’ve read a decent-sized bookshelf worth of fantasy (or science fiction, or other speculative fiction) there will be plenty of enjoyment in Presley’s book for you. Heck, even one fantasy book and some movies might put this easy read into your “this will be fun” pile. The author uses plenty of examples from movies and books that keep it interesting throughout.
But does a fantasy author really stand to benefit from a worldbuilding book? I was a tad skeptical, but I saw Dyrk Ashton recommending it on Twitter and somehow I managed to be one of the first people to obtain a paperback copy. I’ve been sipping on it ever since and it has made me think very hard about the world I am building in my debut novel.
I suppose I imagined it would be boring or filled with self-evident reminders like, “Don’t forget to think about the way people in your world think about religion.”
Glad I was wrong. Turns out there are a ton of fascinating ways of thinking, survey results from fans of fantasy, historical examples and trends, and practical ideas about worldbuilding in this book.
Since I only write succinct reviews here, I will give just one example. Presley discussed a spectrum of reader wants running from the “familiar” on the left side and the “new” on the right side. I found myself pleasantly surprised how many subtopics related to this spectrum, including “the Entertainment Dilemma.” Readers often want “familiar” with a twist of the “new,” because they got such a high from one particular book or story.
The most familiar example he used was . . . the movie Die Hard. I didn’t realize how many movies (not just sequels) were Die-Hard-with-a-twist (White House Down, Lockout, Under Siege, Olympus Has Fallen). Then, just applying that to my own tastes in fantasy was an interesting exercise in self-awareness.
He also helped me understand why traditional publishing houses often put out books that I do not enjoy. The gatekeepers of trad pub are people tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. A literary agent or editor at a publishing house is much more likely to value the “new” departure from standard tropes while the typical reader really wants another immersive experience like the one they found in Middle Earth or Westeros.
Worldbuilding for Fantasy Fans and Authors is filled with fascinating topics, such as “Would an elf by any other name still have pointy ears?” Whether you’re a fan wanting to reflect more on why you love a well-crafted world or a writer who uses a top-down approach to worldbuilding (akin to being a “plotter”) or one who uses a bottom-up approach (a “pantser”), I believe you’ll be enthralled by Presley’s thoughts here.
Whether you’ve read the Iliad or not, this modern retelling of the tragedy of the hero Achilles and his beloved Patroclus is well worth your time. It is one of those books that casts life in a new light, surprising you with the revelation that not all is as it appears. Some heroes are unexpected. To say any more would be a spoiler. And it has been too long since I last read the Iliad for me to remember if Homer himself captured what I found to be the most poignant element of the book. (See the “Spoiler Excerpt” below if you don’t mind spoilers and want to know what I mean.)
My Favorite Things:
The wonderfully developed character arc of Patroclus, an emotional and gratifying surprise. To say more would be a spoiler.
While the tragedy in the story is well-known and almost 3,000 years old, Miller’s retelling takes such full advantage of the pathos it is almost an improvement on Homer.
[I like this excerpt because it demonstrates Miller’s poetic ability which is evident throughout the book, lending the entire novel a graceful splendor.] —
“Achilles nodded and bent over the lyre . . . The sound was pure and sweet as water, bright as lemons. It was like no music I had ever heard before. It had warmth as a fire does, a texture and weight like polished ivory. It buoyed and soothed at once. A few hairs slipped forward to hang over his eyes as he played. They were fine as the lyre itself, and shone.”
[This excerpt highlights the theme of tragedy in life, even for the “great ones.”] --
“His eyes opened. ’Name one hero who was happy.’ I considered. Heracles went mad and killed his family; Theseus lost his bride and father; Jason’s children and new wife were murdered by his old; Bellerophon killed the Chimera but was crippled by the fall from Pegasus’ back.”
[This excerpt is one of many in which Miller shows us how gods exceed us in glory. And Thetis is only a minor deity, as nothing compared to the Olympians.] --
“It was strange to see her among mortals; she made all of them, guards and Peleus alike, look bleached and wan, though it was her skin that was pale as bone. She stood well away from them, spearing the sky with her unnatural height. The guards lowered their eyes in fear and deference.”
Spoiler Excerpt -- Please only read if you’ve already read The Song of Achilles or simply don’t mind spoilers.
[What I love about this is the unanticipated moment when we question who is the hero of the novel. Is it Achilles?]
“Briseis does not flinch. ‘Kill me. It will not bring him back. He was worth ten of you. Ten!’ . . . Achilles buries his face in his hands. But she does not relent. ‘You have never deserved him. I do not know why he ever loved you. You only care for yourself!’”