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  1. #1
    Wirt's Fourth Leg Cirias's Avatar
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    Fantasy Thrillers?

    Has anyone out there ever come across something that can be vaguely called a 'fantasy thriller'? I'm talking about a style of writing/plot along the lines of Tom Clancy, Lee Child or Michael Crichton, but applied to a fantasy setting? I guess the closest thing I've come across so far is Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie. Great things could be done, I reckon.

    Cheers.

  2. #2
    Speaks fluent Bawehrf zachariah's Avatar
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    I've had similar thoughts myself, and have a side-project on something broadly on those lines, but the problem is that what we consider as a modern 'Thriller' story is, pretty much by definition, rooted in the real world. A lot of the thrill comes from the possibility that it could actually happen.

    Consider, for instance, a fantasy 'Hunt For Red October'. Let's say a rogue Goblin Captain is flying the latest product of the Evil Overlord's dragon-breeding program straight to the borders of Nice Kingdom, but Our Hero is convinced it's to make peace rather than war. Once you transpose all the elements into fantasyland, it either loses all links to the thriller ideal and becomes a standard fantasy adventure, or it becomes a thinly-disguised allegory for current social issues (fairly common for fiction of all types anyway, including SF/F). Even worse, if you include all the back story and technical details common to modern-day thrillers, you'd be seen as just following standard fantasy obsession with world-building.

    I think what you're really asking is can we stop using traditional fantasy tropes...Which lots of current writers are trying to do; some of them successfully, others less so.

  3. #3
    Life is fantastic, yes? CMTheAuthor's Avatar
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    I am amused that this topic came up now, since I was debating for a good while on whether my recently published novel is a thriller or a mystery (it's fantasy either way). I was originally putting it under mystery, but I might change my mind...again.

    In terms of non-self-promoting suggestions, I would suggest looking into the Artemis Fowl series of young adult books by Eoin Colfer. If the label "fantasy thriller" exists, it definitely applies to those books.

  4. #4
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Do you mean a thriller in a secondary world fantasy (pre-industrial, post-industrial?) that is either a lone gun mystery thriller, like Child, or a thriller disaster like Crichton or a thriller spy/war epic like Clancy? Those are not all the same things. Or do you mean fantasy stories in general? Most of contemporary fantasy and historical fantasy are thrillers, as is most YA fantasy. About half of secondary world fantasy are war thrillers, another large chunk are adventure thrillers. Pretty much all fantasy stories are suspense. So it depends on what specific framework you're looking at.

  5. #5
    Life is fantastic, yes? CMTheAuthor's Avatar
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    I'd think there's a significant difference between what qualifies as a thriller (one third to half of all fiction) and what can be marketed as a thriller. The latter is probably the more important of the two, so defining that is key.

    My initial impression of the genre is that a good definition of a marketable thriller would be a book that 1) has an active antagonistic entity(-ies) or force, and 2) generates tension from lack of knowledge (on the reader's part).

  6. #6
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CMTheAuthor View Post
    I'd think there's a significant difference between what qualifies as a thriller (one third to half of all fiction) and what can be marketed as a thriller.
    I'm not sure why you would think that. Anything that is a thriller can be marketed as a thriller and most of the time is. It's not a high bar for marketing. In SF, for instance, it's quite common as a designation (and Clancy and Crichton are often writing SF thrillers.) It is true that for secondary world fantasy, they usually don't use the word thriller as often because they use the term war epic or just adventure instead. However, there are some secondary world fantasy stories that the term is used for -- K.J. Parker's The Company, Steve Erikson's Malazan, etc. -- and some that are mystery series. Or do you mean that you are looking for secondary world fantasy stories that are also marketed in the suspense category market?

    My initial impression of the genre is that a good definition of a marketable thriller would be a book that 1) has an active antagonistic entity(-ies) or force, and 2) generates tension from lack of knowledge (on the reader's part).
    A thriller is a type of story which is built around the protagonist being in a situation of serious risk, usually risk of physical death of the protagonist or loved one, but not exclusively death (providing the "thrill" of the story.) A mystery is a story built around a mystery that there is an attempt to solve, again most usually a murder mystery but not exclusively. A mystery thriller is a mystery story in which the protagonist comes under serious risk while dealing with a mystery. They are just indications of general content. A technothriller, for instance, came into use with Clancy's hit The Hunt for Red October. Such stories in the past had simply been called war thrillers, but it was felt that Clancy had heavy tech and some SF elements that warranted trying out a new term, which stuck and meant stories dealing with war and high-tech weaponry. Crichton wrote what were called science thrillers. They are essentially near future SF thrillers. Lee Child's most successful series, the Jack Reacher series, is a straight mystery thriller with what's called a lone gun -- a guy (or woman) walks into a place and situation and has to deal with it. (Reacher, a former MP and intelligence officer, literally wanders into towns and gets into trouble.) It's a western concept (that didn't start with westerns but we've come to identify it as western in style -- stranger in town, showdowns, bringing justice, etc.) And we do have those in fantasy and secondary world fantasy.

    Most of contemporary fantasy is built around thriller stories because they adopt suspense stories -- the spy thriller, the mystery detective, etc., but also including war thrillers. Historical fantasy also has a tendency to do this, though sometimes the historical stories are adventure and war thriller stories. YA is focused on a young adult protagonist. That protagonist in a fantasy YA novel usually gets into trouble with serious risk to him or her. SF, obviously. Portal and multiverse fantasy stories tend to be thrillers, often with a ticking clock aspect related to travel between worlds. Satiric fantasy may be suspense thriller filled, or it may just have suspense elements. Dark fantasy, well, the thriller aspect is clearly in the name, along with fantasy horror. Having identified itself with epics, re mythological source material, secondary world fantasy uses the term thriller less often but again it isn't absent from the marketing material necessarily.

    So what it seems to me is that you are looking for, possibly, are mystery thrillers in a secondary world fantasy setting? Possibly just pre-industrial ones? And how dark do you want them to be? Clancy, Crichton and Child aren't particularly dark, but Child is definitely noir and maybe closest to what you want? Or are you looking for spy/adventure thrillers?
    Last edited by KatG; December 6th, 2012 at 09:49 PM.

  7. #7
    Wirt's Fourth Leg Cirias's Avatar
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    In response to KatG, I guess I was defining 'thriller' too broadly. What I was getting at was secondary world fantasy stories, but with a plot you'd typically find in a Crichton or Dan Brown novel. Instead of a fantasy story that consists of a war or struggle against a vengeful god, why not a story about a series of unsolved murders, or a magical/biological virus, or a scandal that could bring down a nation?

    I'm aware that it's difficult to make certain plots work in a secondary world fantasy, because the weight of certain actions/events won't mean as much to the reader if it happens to the Emperor of Flibbledegook as opposed to the President of the United States. But it can be done. My question, I suppose, is this... Have any authors out there written stuff like this?

  8. #8
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Yes. But you'll have to wait for the weekend for me to assemble you a list because it will be very large. In the meantime, try Jon Sprunk, Michael Sullivan, Scott Lynch, you know, authors we've sometimes talked to here. *smiley face*

  9. #9
    @PeteMC666 PeteMC's Avatar
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    Definitely Scott Lynch (I haven't read the other two) - Lies of Locke Lamora is basically a gangster movie set in an alternate-world Renaissance Venice. By which I mean it's very cool :-)

  10. #10
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Oops, I kind of forgot I said I was going to do a list here. Sorry about that.

    Some books that are examples of thrillers and mystery thrillers in secondary world fantasy that may be of use to the OP (they are not all noir style, though some are):

    Peter S. Beagle: The Innkeeper's Song
    C.J. Cherryh: Angel with a Sword, Rusalka series
    Scott Lynch: Locke Lamora series as noted
    Peter David: Sir Apropos of Nothing series
    Caitlin Sweet: A Telling of Stars
    K.J. Bishop: The Etched City
    Daniel Hood: Fanuilh series
    Stephen Hunt: The Court of Air
    Chris Wooding: Tales of the Ketty Jay series
    Tamara Siler Jones: Ghosts in the Snow series
    Paul Kearney: Monarchies of God series (kind of epic war)
    David Keck: Tales of Durand series
    Mindy Klasky: Glasswright series
    Margo Lanagan: Tender Morsels
    China Mieville: Perdido Street Station
    Stan Nicolls: Orcs series
    Sharon Shinn: The Shape-Changer's Wife
    Vivian Vande Velde: Spellbound series
    Lynn Flewelling -- Luck in the Shadows series
    Michele Welch -- Confidence Game
    Ellen Kushner -- Swordspoint series
    Patricia Bray -- The Chronicles of Josan series
    K.J. Parker -- Engineer series
    Lois McMaster Bujold -- Sharing Knife series

    That's all I've got time for and it misses a good bit of the noir stuff up recently. It's just a handful, though I did do a wide variety and definition for the thrillers. See if anything there is useful. Suffice it to say, there are quite a few mysteries, intrigue/spy thrillers, adventure thrillers in secondary world fantasy.

  11. #11
    There is no tomorrow RedMage's Avatar
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    I'll second KatG's recommendation of Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora and the entire Gentleman Bastards series. Absolutely fantastic. Check them out if you haven't.

    I also second Stephen Hunt's The Court of the Air. I really liked this first book in his series. I was not able to continue and read any of the others, despite attempting 2 of them. But the first was a fun and very intriguing read for me. I think you would like it.

  12. #12
    I am not sure if it is what you want but I can't resist suggesting the Garrett stories by Glen Cook, which transplant the clichés of the private investigator novel to fantasy.

  13. #13
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mostlyharmless View Post
    I am not sure if it is what you want but I can't resist suggesting the Garrett stories by Glen Cook, which transplant the clichés of the private investigator novel to fantasy.
    I can't believe I forgot that one. It's one of my favorite series. Also, Glen Cook's Black Company books, while involved in a war epic plot, also make good war thrillers.

  14. #14
    Peckish hippokrene's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cirias View Post
    Has anyone out there ever come across something that can be vaguely called a 'fantasy thriller'? I'm talking about a style of writing/plot along the lines of Tom Clancy, Lee Child or Michael Crichton, but applied to a fantasy setting? I guess the closest thing I've come across so far is Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie. Great things could be done, I reckon.

    Cheers.
    Dean Koontz.

    Though I've noticed most people call them 'supernatural' instead of fantasy because they're set in the modern world.

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