The book that ended my fantastical monotony
By Grace Mckenzie- Mcharg
I’ve always been an avid reader of fantasy. From Shirley Barber’s fairy stories to being one of the first children to pick Harry Potter up off the shelf and finally graduating as a fantasy fanatic through the completion of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Yes I’ve dabbled in drama and entertained romance and even given the mystery/thriller genus a decent inquiry, but through it all my heart has always been held by the supernatural, the impossible, the not quite human.
However though I have always remained dedicated to the genre, eventually I began to notice that certain elements kept cropping up in these stories. Dragons, dwarfs, elves, a quest to destroy the sole source of all generic evil, a hero’s struggle with an inner evil they have no control over. This ringing a few bells for you too, huh?
That’s when I got into New Age Fantasy. Discounting the stupid name which inspires visions of tie-dyed hippies welcoming the Age of Aquarius, this is a genre that does everything it can to distance itself from the foundations laid by J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet. And I don’t just mean set in modern times and starring teens that now have to balance their love life as well as being a vampire/werewolf/ghost (zombies are starting to get a foot in this category too). I mean steering as far from convention as possible, such as having… an umbrella for a villain… yeah, weird.
There are many wonderful authors that match the demand for the unprecedented, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams and Holly Black to name a few; but for me, the book that broke down my expectations of fantasy was Kraken by China Miéville. This is a book that creates mysteries, conspiracies and questions within the first few pages.
Miéville takes the town of London, a city that we already love for its wondrously diverse and unpredictable nature, and gives it an underworld where surreal magic and pseudo science clash as multiple religious cults predict the coming of the apocalypse after the famous giant squid from the Natural History Museum inexplicably disappears.
From start to finish this was a book that demanded attention while refusing to be called predictable. No, the villain is not an umbrella but it certainly ticks the box as unconventional! Kraken was one of the first books that brought my solid walls of traditional fantasy crumbling down.
Suddenly the idea that ‘nothing’s impossible’ took on a whole new meaning. Now I realised just how infinite those possibilities were, and became even more eager to explore them all.
It certainly wasn’t hard to translate Miéville’s world to Melbourne town. Although the Hoddle Grid may seem simple on a map, Melbourne’s streets and alleys twist and turn and easily muddle your sense of direction. But the extra hour it takes to find your way home is worth the strange bars and stores and art galleries you’ll find along the way.
During these lazy days, if I’m not getting lost in my own city, you can find me sitting in Hell’s Kitchen over Degraves St reading my latest find from a second-hand bookshop or working on my own stories set in my own magical city.
Ironically her trade has never produced the one thing she desires: a heart.