As an aspiring writer and voracious fantasy reader years (and years) ago, the aspect that intrigued me most and kept me reading and writing fantasy was the uniqueness of the world that could be found among the pages of each book. The arcane magic, the otherworldly creatures, and the never-before-seen races and creatures that inhabited the world captured my imagination and took me to new realms of awe and wonder. That is why it’s called fantasy, after all, isn’t it? The “new” is why we enjoy it so much, right?
So imagine the utter shock while reading Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay that it was the familiar that made the new so special.
It changed the way I wrote and the way I read fantasy novels. I realized that, as an aspiring writer, I’d been attempting to worldbuild the wrong way. I was trying to create worlds anew from whole cloth—new cultures, new races, new magic, new everything. But after this epiphany, I realized that the only reason all of the newness—all of the magic, all of the creatures—was so interesting was because it was being contrasted against a backdrop that was essentially 90 percent familiar. The idea that in order for fantasy to work well, to have as much power as it has, comes from the fact that the majority of the world where it’s set is essentially the real world was, frankly, stunning.