Six Fantasy Novels That Pulled Off British Settings

Six fantasy novels blog header

I rail about fantasy clichés, stereotypes and tropes a lot and I particularly pick on the pseudo-medieval, thinly disguised English fantasyland. However, contrary to popular belief, I am not entirely against this trope. It’s become a trope for a reason–Britain is just a good country as any to base a fictional land off. Besides, Tolkien and Lewis did it marvellously, which has, of course, given rise to thousands of copycats.

Do I think setting fantasies in Britain (specifically the bland, all-life-removed English-type countryside) is getting tired? Yes. But do I also think that it can be revitalised and used in interesting and new ways? Also yes.

So today I’m going to bring to your attention five fantasy novels/series (not including any written by Tolkien or Lewis) that really bring the English, or wider British, country and culture to life.

The Pendragon Cycle by Stephen Lawhead


I’ve been hearing about this series for years and I bought the first three books at a book fair several years ago. I started reading Taliesin in January this year and now I’m hooked. Honestly, people, excepting The Lord of the Rings, this is my favourite fantasy series.

Unique Aspects:  This is a historical fantasy retelling of the King Arthur story and it really focusses on the period of turmoil Britain went through as Rome’s influence crumbled, leaving the scattered people weakened and open to attack by the many enemies lurking off the coast. These novels do a great job of showing historical aspects of the story, but also the clash of cultures and the many different kingdoms and ethnicities that inhabited the British Isles at the time. It doesn’t skimp on complexity, which is a major issue I have with a lot of other fantasies. It shows hostilities and language barriers, different cultural understandings and beliefs, etc. Of course, some of the cultures are fictional (such as the Atlanteans), but many of them aren’t and are portrayed very interestingly.

The Staff and the Sword by Patrick Carr


This is actually a Christian fantasy trilogy, but surprisingly enough, I quite like it. It’s adult and I actually have no idea why I picked it up in the first place. And while it does fall into a lot of clichés (the treatment of women in this story ranges from Damsel in Distress to Hot Fighting Pseudo-Middle-Eastern Lady and there are no well-written females), it does have some interesting worldbuilding.

Unique Aspects: This book features a religious system which is obviously heavily derivative of the medieval Catholic church, however it did incorporate a lot of fantasy aspects into it. There are priests, a church council, but also readers and casters. The readers and casters are people with a special sort of sight, who are made to cast lots in order to decide important decisions and gain information, much like the lot casting described in the Old Testament. There are a lot of rules and traditions surrounding this practise and the fact that a young drunkard can suddenly read these stones drives the main plot.

The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross.


Unlike the two aforementioned books, The Queen’s Rising is a new YA trilogy (series?). It was met with very mixed reviews (its one of those love it or hate books), but I happened to enjoy it a lot! Except for the creepy romance. I haven’t reconciled to the teacher/student romance and I never will. One of my reasons for liking it though was the interesting world building.

Unique Aspects: This story takes place partly in a fantasy version of France and partly in a fantasy version of Scotland. The reason I found this so interesting is because the traditional alliance between France and Scotland is never usually taken into account and the effect they had on each other’s cultures is quite fascinating. Of course, being fantasy, Ross never dives really deep into the nuances of the culture, but I enjoyed the parallels I managed to find! (I’m noting though, that while Ross’s fictional culture was interesting, it was also rather clearly inspired by Braveheart, which is not an accurate picture of Scottish culture. Sorry).

Bottom line is that she saw something unique and took it and it made it her own. If it actually was set in Scotland it’d be a no from me, but since it isn’t, it was interesting.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater


Guys, this book. I know I’m not alone in my love for this brilliant piece of YA literature. To be honest, I couldn’t even really tell you why I liked it so much. It was just so lyrical and the prose was beautiful and the water horses and the normal horses were all beautiful. If you haven’t read it, and you don’t mind two or three instances of crude language, go and read this book!

Unique Aspects: Well, the water horses and the whole idea of the Scorpio Races is really unique. Also, Stiefvater somehow just manages to bring the little island of Thisby to life. You can almost believe that this is a real place, where real deadly races are run every year. Stiefvater doesn’t just slap a “England” label on her setting and leave it at that. She develops the uniqueness of her setting, takes advantage of it and weaves an awesome story with it.

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes


While I wasn’t quite as impressed as some friends of mine when it came to Fawkes, I did love the setting. Basically, Fawkes follows the story of Thomas Fawkes, son of the infamous Guy Fawkes, who the English (and Australians, until fireworks were banned) like to burn on a bonfire every year. There’s assassination and spoilt kings and all that funness.

Unique Aspects: For a starters, this is fantasy which is set in the early 1700s, which is unusual time period to write in anyway. There’s masks and magic, which really add some flair and colour to the already colourful and rather crazy period. There’s also some allegorical references to the constant tensions and full on physical violence going on between the Protestant and Catholic churches at the time. Brandes also introduces a woman of colour to the story, to further add a unique streak. Despite my somewhat mixed feelings on the plot, the worldbuilding is spot on and fascinating.

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell


Cressida Cowell is best known for her How to Train Your Dragon books, but this is her new series. Its either set in Britain, or in an alternate universe version of Britain (its not been made clear at this point) and it also draws a lot of inspiration from the Roman Britain period.

Unique Aspects: In this series, Cowell digs deep into her setting, looking magic systems, animals, fairy folk, and the culture clash between the Wizards, who are very British/Celtic type people, and the Warriors, who bear more than a passing resemblance to Roman soldiers. Essentially, this book explores racism, cultural misunderstandings and reconciliation, in a way that’s quite interesting, but also appropriate for her Middle Grade audience. I’m really enjoying this series so far!

What about you guys? Do you prefer fantasy with or without British settings? Of course, I only included books I’ve read on this list, so do you have any good suggestions for me to read next? What’s the best fantasy you’ve read recently?

A Semi-Definitive List of Instrumentals to Listen to this NaNoWriMo

Soundtrack blog header

I love instrumental music. I also love NaNoWriMo. So today I’m going to bring you a list of some of my favourite instrumental soundtracks and albums that you might enjoy listening to during this NaNoWriMo!

I’m going to divide these up into genres, just for fun! But of course, you’re welcome to write and listen to anything you feel like listening to!

If You’re Writing Fantasy, Listen To…

The Lord of the Rings is the quintessential fantasy music, of course. While all three soundtracks (plus the three Hobbit soundtracks) are all fantastic, my personal favourite is The Fellowship of the Ring. There’s such melancholy and grace and bittersweetness and happiness all mixed into one glorious CD. Continue reading

Know The Novel: Introducing Southern Cross (NaNo 2019)

Know the Novel Part One (2019)

Christine Smith is hosting the Know Your Novel linkup again! Which is great, because this is such a fun linkup! But also, it means that NaNoWriMo literally starts in 20 days.

Anyway, I thought it was high time I introduce my NaNo 2019 novel! Welcome to Southern Cross, a historical novel set in Australia during the latter days of World War 1.

1. What first sparked the idea for this novel?

I’ve wanted to write what I call “a WW1 Epic” for years and years. However, it took me a long time to formulate exactly the plot I wanted to tell and the characters I wanted to explore. In the end, I used the two main characters (Curt and Amy Digby) from a very old (and very bad) story of mine. I used a few other characters from the same novel and added a few new ones, and the plot is coming to me in bits and pieces and voila I have this story! Continue reading

Disney Writing Tag

disney writing tag

I know that I’m doing a lot of tags at the moment, but that’s because they’re quick, easy and fun! I have some very philosophical, deep sort of posts coming up, but I need some time to think these through and write and edit them. So for now, we’re going to do some tags!

Celeste sort of tagged me for this one about a month ago and it looked like a lot of fun. Generally, I’m not really a Disney person (yeah, I know. Don’t come at me like that) but I like talking about my WIPs and all that, so let’s get into it!

(Also, unless otherwise specified, I’ll be talking about Wattle Fires!)

1. ALADDIN — Poof! A genie appears and is willing to grant you ONE wish to fix your current WIP. What do you wish for?

I would wish for some clarity as to what needs fixing in Wattle Fires. I know there’s a lot wrong with it, but I’m just not sure how to fix them. I also need some clarity on the plot…it’s quite confusing and I am confused, and the one person who has read the opening chapters was also confused.

Yeah…it’s got issues.

2. LION KING — If you had to retell a Shakespearean play using animals as the main characters, which play would you choose and which animals? 

I’m not familiar with most of Shakespeare’s plays, but I would love to do Macbeth. Maybe with dogs? Or with otters. I don’t know which would be better. I have written a novel where all the characters were anthropomorphic otters, so it would be familiar territory for me.

3. POCAHONTAS — Have you ever pulled inspiration for a story from history, and what was it?

All the time! Wattle Fires is a retelling of the lives of King Charles I and Marie Antoinette and so a lot of the plot is based on the English Civil War and the events leading up to the French Revolution. I also drew a lot of inspiration from the lives of King George V and VI and Queen Henrietta (Charles’ wife).

Trust me, the amount of books on the English Royal family I read were astounding and I’ve weave a lot of the details i learnt into the plot and setting of Wattle Fires.

4. SNOW WHITE — What was the very first story you ever wrote?

The first “proper” story I wrote was the otter story I mentioned above, actually. I wrote some things before that, but I consider Otter Storm to be my first actual story. The very first story was so long ago I wouldn’t even be able to remember, to be honest.

5. MULAN — Who is the strongest character you’ve ever written and what made them strong?

This question isn’t fair at all! All my characters are strong in one way or another and picking one out of all the characters I have (even if I narrow it down just to Wattle Fires) is really difficult.

Yilla is probably one of my strongest characters, physically, mentally and emotionally. Tahitoa is also very strong (my dear, sad boy). Plus, both of their arcs centre around becoming strong in unconventional ways and learning that weakness is not the same thing as showing emotion or being kind.

Unconventional strength is one of my favourite tropes.

6. STAR WARS — If you had to live in one of the worlds or setting you’ve created, which would it be and why?

Probably The Dreamland, the world of Wattle Fires. Futeristic Australia, the setting of TSFI is depressing and dystopian, whereas the Dreamland has its issues, but also a lot of beauty and unique culture. I think living there would be lovely.

7. ANTHEMS — Which Disney song(s) would you put on your writing playlist?

While I’m not sold on most Disney movies, I love Disney songs! I even have a bit of a list for Wattle Fires:

-“Be Prepared” from The Lion King. the whole plot of WF is an attempt to usurp the king, so this definitely applies!

–“Reflection” from Mulan. Tahitoa really struggles with feeling that he isn’t good enough, that he’s a failure and that the mask he puts on for the rest of the world isn’t who he really is.

-“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana. This would be the anthem song of practically all the girls in WF, but particularly Puatea and Heirani. Both struggle with their dedication to their duty vs their desire to be free.

-“Mother Knows Best” from Tangled. Like Rapunzel, Tahitoa grows up with a domineering, ambitious and emotionally manipulative mother. She convinces everyone around her, but particularly Tahitoa, that they can’t survive without her, and she manipulates everyone (especially her husband the High King) into doing what she desires.

-“Speechless” from Aladdin.  I know this song is supposed to be a feminist anthem sort of thing, but I really like viewing this song from the point of view of Jasmine’s royalty. Looking at royalty over the years, particularly princesses and queens, but all of them really, they’re often puppets of more domineering, powerful people. One of the climaxes of Tahitoa’s arc is him deciding that he isn’t going to be anyone’s plaything anymore, so I like to see this song as one of his anthems.

8. RETELLINGS — Which fairytale movie would you want to retell?

I’ve been working on a Little Mermaid x King Arthur retelling for over a year now. While I love the plot and general aesthetic of the story, but there are several details that I haven’t been able to work out and these have kept me from the editing the story.

I do love it though. Basically, Morgan curses a young girl who strays into her realm to become a water nymph in the service of the Lady of the Lake. When young King Arthur arrives at the lake to receive Excalibur, Nimue–the nymph–falls in love with him. She later makes a deal with Morgan and then saves Arthur from falling into Morgan’s clutches…

Alas, it is based more on the original tale than the Disney version.

9. FROZEN — Which character that you’ve written is Most Likely to be misunderstood or incorrectly interpreted as a villain?

Oooh, this one is hard. I’m not really one for morally grey characters (I like solidly good or solidly bad characters, with the occasional antihero/ine thrown in there). But maybe Tahitoa’s uncle, Rahiti. Rahiti isn’t a nice person, he is even villainous sometimes and cunning all the time. But he isn’t a villain, or at least, he isn’t the most villainous person in WF. He also really does love his nephew…he just has a funny way of showing it.

10. MOANA — If you had to go on an epic journey with ONE of your characters, and the two of you were tasked with saving the world, who would you choose and why?

Definitely Yilla! Out of all my characters, Yilla is one of the most like me, personality wise. But life-experience wise, she’s very different and has a completely different skill set and together I think we could do a great job at saving the world.

11. PINOCCHIO — What’s the most common lie you tell people about your stories or writing?

“Yes, you can read it when I’m done”.

Usually this phrase is followed by me awkwardly ducking out of the conversation and hoping that, in a year, the recipient of those words will have completely forgotten about my book.

12. SIDEKICKS — Who is your favourite minor character you’ve written that you wish you could give their own full story to?

This one is easy! In WF, three of my absolute favourite characters are my three female side characters, Vaite (Puatea’s sister and handmaid), Heirani (Tahitoa’s sister), and Wirra (Yilla’s sister). These three are awesome and I would love to do a spinoff story where the three of them go on an adventure of their own. They’re all spunky and kind, but all different and have such different philosophies and cultures. I love the dynamic the three of them have.

How about you guys? Who are your favourite sidekicks? If you had to go on a quest with one of your characters, who would you choose? Have you ever pulled some inspiration from history?