Tough Traveling: Orphans


The Thursday feature “Tough Traveling” is the brainchild of Nathan oReview Barn, who has come up with the excellent idea of making a new list each week based on the most common tropes in fantasy, as seen in (and inspired by) The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones. Nathan has invited anyone who is interested to come play along, so be sure to check out the first link for more information.

This week’s tour topic is: Orphans

No one in Fantasyland amounts to anything if they still have both parents. Rule number one. Thanks to Stephanie for the suggestion (and let us all be surprised together that it isn’t in the Tough Guide).

 Tiara’s Picks:

Batman used to be a normal kid like you until he took a bullet to the parents.

… until he took a bullet to the parents.

For this week’s topic, I actually picked all my books with my own children in mind. My picks are all books that I’ve read with my children either aloud (with me reading to them or my son reading them to us) or via audiobooks. Children’s books are ripe with stories about orphans in various fantastic situations who usually go on to do fantastic things. I’ll start off with two of our most recent reads by Diana Wynne Jones.

Eight Days of LukeDavid Allard (Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones)

David, who is an orphan obviously, comes home from his boarding school where he learns that he’ll have to put up with his awful relatives during his school break. While having a tantrum, the words that David speaks, which he believes he’s made up, cause a wall in his garden to break and a boy named Luke appears, leading to 8 days of mischievous adventure. This was a wonderfully imaginative story that played with Norse mythology with Luke being everyone’s favorite trickster god.

Earwig and the WitchEarwig (Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones )

Earwig is a young girl who was left at an orphanage as a babe with a note that said: “Got the other twelve witches all chasing me. I’ll be back for her when I’ve shook them off. It may take years. Her name is Earwig.” So, her mother may well not be dead. Usually orphanages are dreary places, but Earwig learns that she can make people do whatever she wants. She isn’t keen on leaving when a woman named Bella Yaga adopts her, but she does want to learn more about magic.

The WitchesThe Witches by Ronald Dahl

An orphaned boy who finds himself in the care of his grandmother learns that witches are real. Not only are witches very real, but they plan to get rid of all the children. Grandma and boy decide they’re not going to have any of that and decide to get rid of all the witches. All of them. In the entire world.  Badass.

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic EyesPeter Nimble (Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier) – As the book itself states:“For those of you who know anything about blind children, you are aware that they make the very best thieves.” Peter is a blind thief, the best thief, who steals a box that contains magical eyes that begin a marvelous adventure for him. What I loved about this book is that Peter’s disability is not treated as some sad, sad thing. He’s given so much agency in this book and accomplishes some incredible things, and it’s for that reason the ending leaves me with mixed feelings.

The Accidental HeroJack Blank (The Accidental Hero by Matt Myklusch)

Jack lives at St. Barnaby’s Home for the Hopeless, Abandoned, Forgotten, and Lost. If that wasn’t bad enough, it’s in the middle of a swamp. Jack loves comics, but one day he finds himself face to face with something straight out of a comic, a robo-zombie. Jack is spirited away to Imagine Nation (get it?) where all heroes and villains originate, and Jack learns his true origins.

The Orphans (Time Snatchers by Richard UngarTime Snatchers

A group of orphans are adopted by a man called Uncle for the sole purpose of learning to use time travel to steal valuable objects. However, things are beginning to get a bit complicated and muddled for one of the orphans, Caleb, and he starts thinking about getting away. But how can he when Uncle can find him anywhere in any time? And runaways are not tolerated.

Also because I am actually 12-years-old and also a terrible human being:


Mogsy’s Picks

 I’m actually quite surprised Orphans wasn’t listed in The Tough Guide either, considering how you can’t swing a cat in Fantasyland without hitting one (not to be confused with Abandoned-At-Birth children though, because there seems to be a ton of those too). They appear pervasive across every SFF sub-genre there is, so I’m looking forward to see a huge variety of books this week, and it also gives me a chance to use a couple of my more recent reads as well as books I’ve never featured for Tough Traveling before:

GracekeepersThe Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

North and her bear are one of the main attractions aboard the traveling circus ship Excalibur. Long ago, North’s mother had a similar dance act, until she was killed by her own bear on stage, leaving the orphaned North to grow up raised by the ship’s captain and ringmaster Jarrow “Red Gold” Stirling.

The Liar's KeyThe Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence

Prince Jalan’s quest party grows in this latest installment of The Red Queen’s War, when Jal, Snorri, Tuttugu and the northern witch Kara come upon an orphan named Hennan in Osheim as they make their way south. They bring Hennan along with them on their journey since after losing his grandfather and only family he had left, the boy had no place else to go.

DefiantDefiant by Karina Sumner-Smith

Xhea is a teenage girl who has been living on her own in the depths of the Lower City for as long as she can remember. She survived her early years with the help of an older street girl, until later she disappeared as well. In Defiant, Xhea gets to learn more about her past and the circumstances behind how she was orphaned and left to fend for herself.

Dirty MagicProspero’s War series by Jaye Wells

Orphaned after their mother died, Kate Prospero and her brother Danny were taken under the wing of their crime boss uncle. Not wanting to be part of a dirty magic coven anymore, Kate takes Danny and leaves that life behind in order to start clean. She eventually became a cop, investigating magic-related crimes while also trying to raise her recalcitrant little brother by herself.

Dust and LightDust and Light by Carol Berg

Here’s another story about an older sibling taking care of a younger one after being orphaned when their whole family perishes in a fire. Left with nothing, Lucian can only depend on his magical talents to support himself and his sister Juli, working as an artist for the Pureblood Registry since he had not yet reached the age to inherit his father’s title as head of his house.

Master of PlaguesMaster of Plagues by E.L. Tettensor

Nicolas Lenoir is a brilliant detective, but he had help to get where he is today. Sometimes, Lenoir relies on the tips from his informers, one of them being the street urchin named Zach, the boy Lenoir seems to tolerate more than most. The detective sees potential in the young orphan, and attempts to groom the boy to become something more when he grows up.

9780803739765_The_Mad_ApprenticeThe Mad Apprentice by Django Wexler

Alice has no one else after her father goes down in a shipwreck, so she is sent to live with her strange “uncle” Geryon, who she’s never even heard of. Geryon turns out to be a Reader, a magic user who can enter the worlds of certain books. He takes Alice on as his apprentice, and she has the chance to meet other Reader apprentices in The Mad Apprentice, many of whom are orphans as well. In this book, she also learns more about what happened to her father.

210a3-themonstrumologistThe Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

I’m sure I’ve used The Monstrumologist for Tough Traveling before (multiple times, probably) but I can’t help it, I’m an evangelist for this book. The novel is presented as the diary of Will Henry, an orphan working as an assistant/apprentice to the weird Dr. Pellinore Warthrop who is a monstrumologist, someone who studies monsters. IT IS NOT AS CUTE AS IT SOUNDS. In fact, it’s creepy and disgusting. Sometimes, I still find it hard to believe that these books are categorized as YA.

 Wendy’s Picks

Being an orphan can really suck sometimes. Especially when you discover the truth about your parents. Like when you find out that your mentor lied to you and your dad is really a jerk but he’d really love it if you came to work for him so you can rule the galaxy as father and son. (Star Wars)


Haha you made out with your sister.

Or when your father takes off to continue his life as an awesome space pirate, leaving you and your brother to suffer abandonment issues and be stalked by a not so nice guy named Mr. Sinister. (X-Men)



Or maybe you know who your dad is, but because you’re his bastard son, begat with some scullery maid (or so you believe….) you’ve been shipped off to live with your uncle and his young wife who doesn’t like you very much. (Dragon Age)

Alistair Dragon Age

I know who your mother is…

Or your real dad (brother in the TV series) turns out to be that evil despot you’ve been sworn to kill, while he’s busy doing his best to kill you, or at least turn you evil too. (Legend of the Seeker/Sword of Truth)

legend of the seeker

Family reunion.

Perhaps the decision to abandon your parent/child relationship has something to do with your dad being an evil demon lord, and you fear becoming like him and instead, use your powers for good. (Teen Titans)

Maybe, after the tragic, tear jerking death of your mom, you become a petty thief and then fate, friends, and a little courage turns you into a hero. But little do you know that the mysterious dad you never knew is actually a pretty big asshole. (Guardians of the Galaxy)

2014 - 1

Or you think your mom is a jerk for assassinating your dad, until you learn that you are the product of their love, which is totally against the Peacekeepers rules, and she was forced to choose between killing him or killing you. (Farscape)


A mother’s love…


Maybe, just maybe, your orphan hood is a good one. Or it’s a bad one. Or it’s a misunderstood one. Or it’s all sorts of things because you didn’t realize that your actual parents were test tubes and that you are not the only one… (Orphan Black)



Wow, being an orphan really can suck sometimes…

58 Comments on “Tough Traveling: Orphans”

  1. Oooh, Roald Dahl’s Witches is a great choice! That’s one of my favourite childhood books, though I read it in translation first, of course. It’s pretty scary if you think about it but then Dahl always walks the line between appropriate and inappropriate, I love his work.
    And that’s a great gif of Chris Pratt. Made my day and all 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I meant to say how much I’m enjoying your Tough Travels series. It’s a really neat idea having the theme and then picking your favourites.

    In terms of orphans, I will mention our beloved Frodo Baggins, adopted by his uncle, Bilbo.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Someone else who has read Eight Days of Luke! I finally tracked down a used copy a couple years back…and Jones died the next day. It was weird.


    • Oh no, don’t talk about her death! She died on my birthday. Worst day. Some of her books are part of my son’s accelerated reader reading plan he’s been following since pre-K, so we checked it out from the library who works in the conjunction with the schools and tabs their children books for the different level of AR kids. This one was on his list a while back and we tried it.


  4. ORPHAN BLACK! 😀 That’s such an awesome show. But yeah, that would suck to know your parentage was basically science…

    It’s staggering how many orphans are in fantasy literature. I’ve read or am planning to read a number of books on this list… but a few others I can think of are:

    – Alina Starkov (Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy)
    – Karou (Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone – well, she doesn’t know where she came from initially, so maybe that counts…?)
    – Bitterblue (Kristin Cashore’s Graceling novels, after her parents are killed in the first book)
    – Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia – I believe his parents died when he was young…?)
    – Harry Potter (I couldn’t help it… *lol*)


    • Alina is a great choice! As well as Mal. Completely forgot that they both grew up in an orphanage type place.

      And you know what, I don’t usually put in LOTR or Harry Potter unless I’m very desperately looking for titles to fill my list, but this week, Harry didn’t even occur to me! Like, it didn’t even REGISTER. I feel so dumb!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I want you to know that your review of Smoke and Bone encouraged me to buy the book. And I’m hoping to get around to it soon! I’ll dropped it in my upcoming list, which I’ve been good about sticking to around my ARCs.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I laughed so much at the inclusion of Orphan Black. Most confusing orphanhood ever.

    I made my sister feel very guilty about recruiting the Templars on her first play through by pointing out that she truly orphaned Alistair once and for all. I’m a terrible older sister.

    Lots of exciting looking books on the list this week, I’m particularly interested in The Monstrumologist with that great description!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t that what sisters are for? My sister is 13 years older, so we never had that kind of relationship. My daughters are 7 and 9, so I’m living vicariously through their sisterhood. I fully expect important guilt trip moments like this. How could you do that to poor Alibear 😦


      • It is *definitely* what sisters are for. I think I wanted her to feel extra bad on this occasion because I was annoyed she hadn’t sided with the mages, and so I couldn’t explode in excitement with her about the fact there was TIME TRAVEL in DRAGON AGE. I LOVE that mission!!


        • Ugggghhhh I haaaated the time travel. Basically, we went into the future to discover that Cory wanted to assassinate the Empress. THERE ARE RAVENS FOR THIS! Time travel plots are bad. Dangerous! Unless you’re the Doctor.


          • But ravens are not nearly as exciting as time travel!! Tbh I would probably put post-apocalyptic time travel with Dorian and cello music into every game ever if I was in charge. (You can take this moment to be glad I’m not in charge, lol)


    • The Monstrumologist is NUTS. I was like, a horror YA with a 12 year old protagonist? How scary can this be? It’s actually very gruesome. Like, if they ever made movies out of the books and remained faithful to them, the movies would be rated R for excessive violence and gore.


    • I grew up with mostly my cousins with out grandparents, so they’re like my other brothers and sisters. I guilt trip the hell out of my one cousin for his decision. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU KILLED, ZEVRAN? Okay, okay, giving Morrigan a knife is pretty funny watching her stab things. OMG, YOU CAN’T JUST LET YOUR WARDEN CALL PEOPLE NAMES!” Good times.


      • Hahahah the same sister who I chided for orphaning Alistair also once kicked someone out of a party she was hosting because she found out he killed Wrex in Mass Effect. She was just like, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE, TRAITOR.


        • *points accusingly at Wendy* J’accuse! But listen, my friend Nick is the worst person to ever be allowed to grace a Bioware game. I didn’t know Phantom Jack was a thing in ME3 until he was like… “Oh, I forgot to save Jack… She’s trying to kill me now.” And I’m like: “How are we friends?” He’s been consistent in giving all his characters the name Bad Nick.


          • I would defend Nick’s honor right now because he is my friend, but he is also trash. I told him that I don’t know how his games don’t start with the world already in ruins.


          • Killing Wrex was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do ever. I did it on a full renegade playthrough and was so mad at myself. I took so long to finally choose the option to do it. Shepard didn’t even have the guts to shoot him in the face and Wrex even called him on that. My only consolation came months later when I was able to save Mordin because of it.

            But this was an alternate save! Not Legacy Shep. I’ve even inducted my new cat into the Urdnot Clan. I could never have killed Wrex for realz.


  6. Oh my gosh, The Witches! I freaking LOVED that book when I was a kid!! Good point about the ‘abandoned-at-birth’ kids, Mogsy – they are a category unto themselves. UGH Orphan Black is life! How did I miss that one? Allison and Donnie are so on-point this season. Fab list as always, ladies!


    • It was really good. We liked it, but my son’s teachers (or his old teacher since he’s out for the summer now) HATES that book. She thinks it demonizes teachers. LOL.


  7. Such a lot of goodness on here this week – The Witches!
    And the Prospero books.
    And I can’t believe I didn’t think of Hennan! I just read that book for God’s sake!
    I am Groot..
    And, yes, I’m a totally ‘easy choices’ type of person (or just plain bloody lazy) – I’ve made it a mission to either name Lynch, Tolkien or Rowling every week – so far so good!
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is nothing wrong with the easy choices. That makes the work of writing these a lot easier, too.


  8. Y’all always truly lay out how prevalent a trope actually is – it’s awesome. I like also how all three of your lists are very different and done with a different approach. My favorite pick has to be Aeryn on Farscape as I adore that show. And what’s up with organizing orphans as thieves? That could be a trope all its own.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Guardians was fun. Farscape… any emotional scene with Claudia Black makes me want to curl up into a ball because the feels hit so hard with that woman. I really need to watch that series again. And again. And again.


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