Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review of The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference

Any book claiming to be a “complete reference” guide is setting itself a mighty high bar to reach. The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference doesn’t come anywhere close to offering a complete view of such a vast subject as fantasy fiction, but, for readers willing to accept its limitations, it still presents a handy reference manual and more than few sparks of inspiration.

But, first, its faults: The subject matter is aimed almost entirely at writers of high fantasy. Urban, contemporary, and steampunk authors (among others) won’t find much of use here. Even just a cursory glance through the book shows that it focuses on the history, weaponry, and clothing of the Middle Ages. (And, in fact, the book could almost have been written for authors of medieval historical fiction as much as for authors of fantasy.)

The entries, each written by a different author, come together in an uneven whole. The book opens with a few chapters on cultures (including what I felt was the most eye-opening chapter of the book, which focused on little-known and -used cultures, which authors could use to step away from the typical fantasy stereotypes of medieval western Europe), then dives into two heavyweight chapters on magic and follows up with relatively brief (and, in my opinion, as someone who’s studied medieval history, incomplete) chapters on commerce, costumes, warfare, and castles. Chapters on fantasy races—both classic and lesser known—were interesting, but didn’t offer much new information or much inspiration for creating original creatures.

Despite its limitations, however, I did feel the book offered a decent overview of fantasy standards and stereotypes, which should prove useful to beginning authors. Even better, its glossaries of fantasy and medieval terms are a handy addition to the resource shelf, if you plan to write anything that will feature castles and swords. This is certainly isn’t a must-read for fantasy authors, but if you can pick up a copy cheap somewhere, you may find it has its uses.
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