Fantasy & Beyond

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By cupiscent
#1234
So now I've started The Will of the Many by James Islington, which came to my attention winning the Fantasy Faction best-of last year, and has jumped up my to-read pile because it's nominated for the same award as my book here in Aus, so I might need to have a conversation with the author at the ceremony next month... :phew: Though honestly, I'm not loving it. It's very YA fantasy, but long, not just in page count but in the leisurely progress, and unfortunately Islington's prose is not sufficiently to my taste to make the meander a pleasant journey for me. But the core plot seems to be kicking in (finally, around page 75) so I'll give it a bit longer to see if it picks up.
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By cupiscent
#1237
ultamentkiller wrote: April 17th, 2024, 14:58
cupiscent wrote: April 16th, 2024, 10:42 So now I've started The Will of the Many by James Islington, which came to my attention winning the Fantasy Faction best-of last year, and has jumped up my to-read pile because it's nominated for the same award as my book here in Aus, so I might need to have a conversation with the author at the ceremony next month... :phew: Though honestly, I'm not loving it. It's very YA fantasy, but long, not just in page count but in the leisurely progress, and unfortunately Islington's prose is not sufficiently to my taste to make the meander a pleasant journey for me. But the core plot seems to be kicking in (finally, around page 75) so I'll give it a bit longer to see if it picks up.
Awwww. I really liked his Licanius Trilogy. I plan to read this one once it's finished.
Hey, tastes vary, and lots of other people have really, really enjoyed it! I see a lot of comparisons to Name of the Wind (which I also didn't enjoy very much). It has been noted (often in negative reviews of my books) that I favour a breakneck pace and being thrown into a world and a situation; this book is taking a longer, more thorough path to introducing everything. So while I'm chafing a little, it's still an interesting story, in a world built on fascinating ideas and conflicts, with intriguing characters. And you may enjoy it heaps more.

All that said, I did just update goodreads with this:
This book is going to give me a stroke, not because of anything in its quality (it's perfectly fine, with some really interesting ideas) but because it is absolutely YA fantasy - a 17yo secret prince recruited to infiltrate a magic school; it's first-person present-tense ffs - but because it's male-authored with a male MC it's not shelved anywhere as YA and it's allowed to be 640 pages long...
...and I stand by it. It's not really Islington's fault, but this is so aggravating. I'm pretty sure I've even spied the two girls who will form the love triangle.
By Peat
#1238
Given that all of Clare, Maas, Bardugo, and Aveyard have flirted with or soared right over 600 pages as YA authors, I don't think Islington getting that word length is a matter of gender. NA rather than YA but Rebecca Yarros will be joining them on book two. Chloe Gong is regularly pushing the mid 500s, I'm sure she'll get there soon enough (and would be there if she wanted to).

Etc.etc.
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By cupiscent
#1241
Peat wrote: April 18th, 2024, 02:40 Given that all of Clare, Maas, Bardugo, and Aveyard have flirted with or soared right over 600 pages as YA authors, I don't think Islington getting that word length is a matter of gender. NA rather than YA but Rebecca Yarros will be joining them on book two. Chloe Gong is regularly pushing the mid 500s, I'm sure she'll get there soon enough (and would be there if she wanted to).
I was going to get into details of length, and pagination differences between YA and adult typesetting, and how that's the exception rather than rule, but actually it's all irrelevant, because:
a) it's not actually about length, it's about pacing
b) Islington is not YA. That's my entire point. No one, at all, anywhere (except maybe me when I'm done and tagging it) is labelling the book as YA. Which would not be the case if it were authored by a woman.

(To further support that assertion, I was going to get into Chakraborty's rants about people labelling Amina al-Sirafi YA, or even the number of YA tags on my own work, but it occurred to me that the best example is The Poppy War. Which is absolutely adult fiction, and much grittier than Will of the Many has been so far, but it's about a girl at a magic school and "Young Adult" is one of the tagged genres so often used that it shows up on its goodreads listing. In contrast, no YA-related tags appear anywhere in the entire list on Will of the Many.)

I'm just faintly exhausted that fantasy about boys coming of age is for everyone, no one even thinks about it. But fantasy about girls coming of age is just for teenage girls, and so many people just don't read "that stuff". Still.
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By Peat
#1243
cupiscent wrote: April 18th, 2024, 10:41
Peat wrote: April 18th, 2024, 02:40 Given that all of Clare, Maas, Bardugo, and Aveyard have flirted with or soared right over 600 pages as YA authors, I don't think Islington getting that word length is a matter of gender. NA rather than YA but Rebecca Yarros will be joining them on book two. Chloe Gong is regularly pushing the mid 500s, I'm sure she'll get there soon enough (and would be there if she wanted to).
I was going to get into details of length, and pagination differences between YA and adult typesetting, and how that's the exception rather than rule, but actually it's all irrelevant, because:
a) it's not actually about length, it's about pacing
b) Islington is not YA. That's my entire point. No one, at all, anywhere (except maybe me when I'm done and tagging it) is labelling the book as YA. Which would not be the case if it were authored by a woman.

(To further support that assertion, I was going to get into Chakraborty's rants about people labelling Amina al-Sirafi YA, or even the number of YA tags on my own work, but it occurred to me that the best example is The Poppy War. Which is absolutely adult fiction, and much grittier than Will of the Many has been so far, but it's about a girl at a magic school and "Young Adult" is one of the tagged genres so often used that it shows up on its goodreads listing. In contrast, no YA-related tags appear anywhere in the entire list on Will of the Many.)

I'm just faintly exhausted that fantasy about boys coming of age is for everyone, no one even thinks about it. But fantasy about girls coming of age is just for teenage girls, and so many people just don't read "that stuff". Still.
I think to cut to the core of it, you see a miscategorisation born out of disrespect, and I see a miscategorisation born out of chasing the gigantic hype machine and commercial juggernaut that is YA fantasy. And much as I understand being angry about disrespect and miscategorisation, I look at what I see in front of me and wonder how much of it's about a real situation. I'm jealous of the overnight success authors have in that category and the access female authors have to it. When was the last time you saw a male sensation in the YA category? Lev Grossman with Magicians?

And if we do want to talk about the disrespect, it's not like The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi has been particularly harmed by it judging from its Hugo final place. Or the Poppy War with its Nebula and World Fantasy final award places. How many authors wouldn't accept a faustian pact of "we'll put your book in the wrong category in 25% of places but at the end of the year you'll be a finalist for a major award"?

These honours, I would add, have recently mostly been denied to whatever stories about boys coming of age are out there based on a quick scan of the wikipedia pages listing finalists. I am not super on the pulse of what's coming out but I take in most of it and it doesn't feel like a major category these days and what does come out is rarely hugely hyped. Your post seems to indicate you see Islington's story as an example of how male coming of age stories are privileged over female ones, but I look at the market and I see female coming of age stories getting published and pushed in far greater numbers than male ones and as such, can't see any male privilege there. If anything, the opposite.

I'd also add that based on what I see online, the number of women who just don't read stuff by men exceeds the number of men who just don't read stuff by women and/or YA. I know that book sale numbers suggest I'm seeing a skew and the online community is not representative, but I'm seeing that to a point where I wonder what the most recent numbers would say. Particularly if we were to strip out the long tail of male classics and see what people are reading out of recent releases.

In summation, you're angry about the disrespect you're seeing towards female authors based in this case on what you see as preferential treatment for Islington's stories. But when that treatment keeps Islington out of the shelf-grabbing category (I'd suggest the fantasy section at your average Target is 80% YA/YA-esque fiction by women) I struggle to see the preferential treatment, and authors like Kuang and Chakraborty do better than Islington - or his American peers, to strip out that big advantage - come awards season, I'm struggling to see the disrespect.

Yeah, there's a bunch of hoary old codgers who go around sniffing at YA but they clearly don't wield any influence when it comes to who gets the awards or who sells, and honestly in my online circles they don't exist and would be shouted at non-stop by the many many champions of YA I know. In fact, with tongue in cheek but also being genuine, you actually might be one of the most anti-YA people I know online! Out of the people who matter, being YA-esque or categorised as YA here and there just doesn't matter and if anything, might be an advantage.

Maybe there's a bunch of behind the scenes stuff that I don't see that means it's a different picture to what can be seen in public. Maybe there's a bunch of sniffy people at book events that are a pain to talk to, or maybe the contracts are very unfair if you're touched with the YA brush unless you're a Yarros-esque breakout.

But other than that - for all the legitimate anger because nobody likes being wrongly labelled - I can't help but see a situation where the cons of the situation feel mostly about perception, and a perception based on many years ago, and the pros are many and very concrete. Three-four years ago, I'd have agreed it was very unfair the way women are pushed into the YA category and men aren't. Now it feels like that imbalance is far more harmful to men than it is to women and as such, I don't get the complaint about how women are hard done by in comparison to men in this situation.
Last edited by Peat on April 18th, 2024, 21:48, edited 1 time in total.
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By cupiscent
#1252
Peat wrote: April 18th, 2024, 14:31I'm jealous of the overnight success authors have in that category and the access female authors have to it. When was the last time you saw a male sensation in the YA category? Lev Grossman with Magicians?
You may (or may not) have heard of Jay Kristoff, Neal Shusterman, Patrick Ness, James Dashner, Adam Silvera. This is off the top of my head. Even Pierce Brown and Ernest Cline though they are also shelved-and-awarded-as-adult-fiction. (Also, YA fiction is ruthless and cut-throat - basically you need to be an overnight sensation or your career is over. That's why hype is such a thing. VE Schwab has talked about the differences in the categories in the industry.)


But the author angle isn't really my point. I get massively frustrated at indications that - still, in the choices of people, the market, the industry - the coming of age stories (and experiences) of girls seem to often be flagged as not as important, universal, containing-literary-merit as those of boys. Male stories are for all readers. Female stories are for YA readers.

For the record, I get similarly irate over ongoing instances of people (/ media / institutions) assuming or insisting that fantasy is only for kids.
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By ScarletBea
#1253
Moving posts here from the "What are you reading" thread :wizard:

I think it's a super-interesting conversation.
Speaking for myself, I tend to stay away from YA as I think that I'm very much past reading about the emotional elements of growing up. I don't mind young protagonists, as long as the plot isn't that emotional journey, which means I sometimes really get caught by the misclassification - either by missing out on good books because they're called YA, or finding that arc on 'adult' books.
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By cupiscent
#1256
After reflection (over beer) I came back to add: If the balance currently is weighted in favour of women / YA / whatnot... then why wasn't Will of the Many published as YA? It is extremely YA, to the point of reflecting many of the common stylistic choices (first person, present tense, as I mentioned, and I have my suspicions about a love triangle).

(And I don't mean that in a quality way; I hear you on me being very critical of YA. Partly that's because I read - or at least try - a lot. Partly it's because I feel some of it isn't respecting its readership. I could give a long list of YA recs that I think are grievously overlooked by fantasy readers, and I have to assume it's at least partly because they're YA.)

But men totally should be allowed to write unabashed YA. And women should be allowed to write stories featuring teenage protagonists that are taken seriously as grown-up fare. And publishers don't push this stuff just because they're bloody-minded; they do it because they have some perception that that's where the money is / what the readers expect.
By Peat
#1257
cupiscent wrote: April 19th, 2024, 10:15 You may (or may not) have heard of Jay Kristoff, Neal Shusterman, Patrick Ness, James Dashner, Adam Silvera. This is off the top of my head. Even Pierce Brown and Ernest Cline though they are also shelved-and-awarded-as-adult-fiction. (Also, YA fiction is ruthless and cut-throat - basically you need to be an overnight sensation or your career is over. That's why hype is such a thing. VE Schwab has talked about the differences in the categories in the industry.)

But the author angle isn't really my point. I get massively frustrated at indications that - still, in the choices of people, the market, the industry - the coming of age stories (and experiences) of girls seem to often be flagged as not as important, universal, containing-literary-merit as those of boys. Male stories are for all readers. Female stories are for YA readers.

For the record, I get similarly irate over ongoing instances of people (/ media / institutions) assuming or insisting that fantasy is only for kids.
And I look at the shelves I see and the readers I know and I see the opposite. I see far more female coming of age stories and I see more respect for them.

The YA thing is absolutely shoving them into a restricted area but it's a restricted area containing one of the most fanatical fanbases and the restriction is going both ways...
cupiscent wrote: April 19th, 2024, 11:17 After reflection (over beer) I came back to add: If the balance currently is weighted in favour of women / YA / whatnot... then why wasn't Will of the Many published as YA? It is extremely YA, to the point of reflecting many of the common stylistic choices (first person, present tense, as I mentioned, and I have my suspicions about a love triangle).

(And I don't mean that in a quality way; I hear you on me being very critical of YA. Partly that's because I read - or at least try - a lot. Partly it's because I feel some of it isn't respecting its readership. I could give a long list of YA recs that I think are grievously overlooked by fantasy readers, and I have to assume it's at least partly because they're YA.)

But men totally should be allowed to write unabashed YA. And women should be allowed to write stories featuring teenage protagonists that are taken seriously as grown-up fare. And publishers don't push this stuff just because they're bloody-minded; they do it because they have some perception that that's where the money is / what the readers expect.
Hence Will of the Many not being classified as YA. My guess is the publishers looked at it and went "everyone knows YA is for women, so if we stick YA on this men will avoid it and they're our core audience". Or in other words, we are in agreement. These are publisher driven classifications based on where they think the money is.

Where the difference seems to be is who it hurts most. Or, more accurately, level of hurt vs level of reward and resulting perceptions.

I think in the last ten years we've seen some colossal shifts in the fantasy genre. One of them is that the loudest most public and most current part of the fandom is dominated by women who grew up reading YA and still do and the result is a generally widespread acceptance of YA. I think a good example of that is the Goodreads Choice Awards for Fantasy since 2014. Only three authors not heavily associated with writing YA - Harkness, Miller, and Gaiman (and it's like Gaiman hasn't) - have won. The other seven are two for Rowling, two for Bardugo and three for Maas. One of the Bardugos and Maas were as adult classified books minimum but their popularity stems from their YA fanbase who've just aged up with them.

Which is why I see this as more bad for Islington and other male authors than bad for women. They're not trying to sell Islington to that extremely important crowd. And I suspect the reason for that is they're right they're not interested.

Because one of the other shifts is YA becoming heavily female-dominated, with the vast majority of the male authors in that space being grandfathered in. The only author on that list to debut in the last ten years is Adam Silvera and I have honestly not once heard of the guy. Well, and Brown, but I think Brown is mostly classified as sci-fi and I'm talking fantasy, and he wasn't sold as YA despite writing YA. And my anecdotal experience is there's an awful lot of women in that space whose reading is heavily skewed towards women.

And the publishers are happy to roll with this, just as they're not that upset if a few places categorises The Poppy War as YA. It works for them.

Which, yes, means there's a lot of female coming of age stories that are put in places where they're not expected to sell to men. And I hated that when the expectation was men would read men's stories, and women would read men's and women's stories. Now that it appears to be a case of what's good for the goose is good for the gander... well, I hate it in a different way, but I no longer think of it as "this is unfair to women".

Which is not to say there isn't a very sizeable market of male fantasy readers (there's an area where classic English grammar creates an ambiguity!) who don't vote in awards and don't shill their favourites online but do quietly put a lot of money into pockets. Part of the reason I responded the way I did was it landed on the same day as the Orbit New Voices of 2024, which iirc has managed an astonished gender split of 12 women to 2 men (there's 1 non-binary and chasing down what they present as wasn't feasible in 2 minutes so I didn't bother). I found that rather alarming to say the least as someone who'd like to be published, particularly when I did some research and found it's the fourth straight year of at least a 66/33 split of female to male (trying to find new voices from other publishers was like pulling teeth but both the recent-ish Tor samplers I found were similar too). And I had a little think about that, how it might be bad as well as good for women, then talked to a mate in publishing. She confirmed my suspicions on both counts.

Yes, they're taking on more female authors due to shifting demographics and chasing that BookTok money. But yes, they take on more female authors due to male authors tending to last longer. Male authors are a lot more likely to find their audience and stick then female. Which points to a quietly powerful male reader market (and all the women who read books by men but I'm really not kidding about how many women I know who don't really do that with new fiction anymore). Which goes back to what you say about the cutthroatness of YA. I suspect there's other factors involved too. We all know not every published author is backed equally. So I get that the rockstar status of a few women doesn't equal greatness for all and that many are in a more precarious position and wouldn't be if they pushed female authors to men more. Which, despite increasing numbers of men who read modern YA, is less likely to happen with that genre labelling.

But then, if they're taking on that few male authors, they pretty much have to back all of them because what other novelty do they have to offer to a market that likes masculine leaning books? I think there's a reason readers like me go "I just don't like current fantasy" and this is part of it. Life as a male fantasy author would be just as cutthroat as a YA author if there was the same flooding of the market. Good for the authors who make it - bad for the authors who don't get a chance and bad for the readers. At the very least, it's still a crap situation of a different flavour.

To me, to oversimplify, the situation feels like we're all in army at war, but we're not in the same regiments.

The YA-esque regiment is right on the front lines. Casualties are high, but so too are promotions, loot, and medals.

Modern standard fantasy is in the rear with the gear. A few people get major recognition, but most don't.

And as someone consigned by selection policies to be in the rear - if I even make it that far - I just don't get complaining from the people who get to be seconded to the front lines (or that some people aren't). Maybe it was the crappest badge in the army ten years ago, but that was then and this is now. I think things have really changed that much that quickly and that, ego at the reputation aside, it's complaining about being in the better position. I really do think that.
Last edited by Peat on April 19th, 2024, 16:02, edited 2 times in total.
By Peat
#1259
cupiscent wrote: April 19th, 2024, 11:17
(And I don't mean that in a quality way; I hear you on me being very critical of YA. Partly that's because I read - or at least try - a lot. Partly it's because I feel some of it isn't respecting its readership. I could give a long list of YA recs that I think are grievously overlooked by fantasy readers, and I have to assume it's at least partly because they're YA.)
Also on this bit...

I'd be curious to see the list. I suspect I'd know some and think "I know people into this" and probably not know a lot more.

And yes, I think the label is part of it getting overlooked. I also suspect part of it's due to the glutting of the market. It's just impossible to keep up with.

There are also obvious reasons why true YA won't land with non-YA readers. One is the evocation of an emotional state that no longer really resonates. Another is a lean on archetypes that older readers have seen before and are a bit bored of. I suspect that for a certain amount of the adult fantasy audience, it's not worth trying no matter how well it's written because it's not what they want, in the same way that they're never returning the 80s/90s fantasy they read when young either. I mean, look at the Wizard of Earthsea thread.

As someone who does return to that stuff super regularly, I do - or rather did - dip my toes into YA semi-regularly in the hope of finding that good pacy adventure stuff. There's been some successes. I think Leigh Bardugo in particular is fantastic... or I did once I tried her more recent stuff and started to work my way back. I DNF'ed Shadow and Bone.

And part of the reason I DNFed Shadow and Bone is it's not hugely more abashed at treating blokes as sexy trophies for the lasses than a lot of classic 80s/90s fantasy was about treating lasses as sexy trophies for the blokes, which is true of quite a lot of the stuff I tried. And fair play, why not, but it's obviously not a selling point to me. And this is true of the majority of what I tried. Not a deal breaker - the amount of soap opera vs adventure was far more of an issue - but more con than pro.

Which I guess is part of why YA carries a stigma that authors don't want on their work that I hadn't initially considered (although it is also kind of present in The Poppy War, and it's also present in Chakraborty's City of Brass and tbh I think the fact that one isn't talked of as YA more than it is is testament to how fast things are shifting because I think it'd get it a ton today).

Indeed, maybe that is one of the differences that should be present between YA and adult fiction. I was toddling through an old GGK AMA the other day and he was talking about how, as an author, he strove to be big enough to contain understanding of a ton of life experiences so he could write stuff set in medieval China that Chinese people like and the rest of it. YA being a bit more focused on the self and treating all others as orbiting satellites makes sense.

Which perhaps explains why I never really agreed with the whole "oh, those 80s epic fantasy books were really YA" because they're not really focused on the self, they're focused on the adventure that they just happen to use a young man as the experience. Modern YA feels a lot more focused on the drama of coming of age and self. Hell, old YA is. Sparrowhawk's or Alanna's coming of age problems matter far more than Garion's or Pug's. I think The Wheel of Time delves deeply enough that it makes sense to say it's doing the YA thing, and so does oddly enough A Song of Ice and Fire. But it's not the commonality.

Which, to go back to gender markets, suggests part of the answer is the majority of men aren't interested in thorough examinations of their coming of age and haven't been for a long time and can't really be made to be unless fooled by a honking big adventure story. I'm sure there's exceptions but I think they're mostly exceptions and the market there just wants action, adventure, and an easy love story - which seems to be rather unfashionable.

And I have rambled far off my point.

In any case, I would like to see the list! There are many legit reasons why work in that realm doesn't land with adults - I forgot to mention the tendency to be "beat you over the head" obvious - but a lot of them don't apply to me. A lot of it still doesn't work, but that's true of everything, and books like The Darkest Part of the Forest feed a part of my reading soul like, well, virtually nothing that's coming out these days.

p.s. Actually I would add one thing I find offputting about today's YA genre and that is the hyperbole. I went to look at the review for Realm Breaker, which I enjoyed but didn't love, to see where the rest of the series was at and I made a mistake of looking at the first reviews. That level of emotion about a book just sets my teeth on edge.

Incidentally, it's also a big part of why I read a lot less indie than I'd like to. There's a sizeable enough proportion of the indie community that treat every book like it's an incredible masterpiece ten times better and more daring than anything trad publishing is doing that I just can't.

Okay I'll stop now.