Part of the fun of reading fantasy is just sitting back and marveling at the world-building. Reading how an author unfurls the details of a strange and unknown world is a hallmark of fantasy that other genres approach, but few embrace with such gusto. Lately in my reading I’ve noticed some authors taking the idea of world-building a little more literally. I’m talking about books that conflate magic with more mundane arts such as architecture, carpentry and construction. The results are wonderfully imagined fantasies that feel true and lived-in. It’s an interesting trend in modern fantasy that I can’t wait to see more authors explore. Leave your suggestions in the comments!
Fade to Black by Francis Knight
A dark, twisted world where cities are built on top of other, ever-expanding upwards, burying the poor in vertical labyrinths. When Rojan Dizon, a private investigator and pain magician, pursues clues to find his kidnapped niece, he becomes embroiled in a criminal underworld where the use of forbidden magics aren’t the only danger that can kill a man. A twisty noir tale with a wonderfully perverse and imaginative system of magic. The gritty tone isn’t for everyone, but if you don’t mind a little sand in your Vaseline, this is a great genre blender for fantasy and mystery fans.
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson
Shai can uses her magic to forge objects–rewriting reality’s history to suit her needs. A stone dungeon wall can become a wooden door, a withered crone turns to a deadly ninja. However, Shai soon faces a challenge even she may not be able to overcome. Shai must forge a new soul for the Emperor after an assassination leaves him comatose. Time is running out and the price of failure is death as Shai attempts to forge a new soul for the Emperor and survive the political maneuverings of the royal court. It’s not surprise that Sanderson has crafted such an intriguing and fully-realized fantasy world since he excels at this sort of thing. What is most striking about this short book are the tender moments between the characters that makes the stakes even higher for the reader.
The Alchemist’s Door by Lisa Goldstein
After a terrible accident involving magic, John Dee, renowned scientists, philosopher and alchemist, flees to Prague where his help is enlisted to call forth a Golem in order to protect Jewish citizens from dangerous persecution. This book is ripe with ornate descriptions of an alternate history of 16th century Prague, including the real lives of its citizens. Carpenters, bakers, merchants and many more characters are given life in this moving and unique tale. A rich story that revels in the lush setting and tense story.