Tough Traveling: Beginnings
No, you’re not seeing things, it’s actually true — the Tough Traveling feature is back, with huge thanks to Laura from Fantasy Faction who is reviving this meme! Back in 2014, the idea first started with Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn who came 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 — a tongue-in-cheek parody of the fantasy genre. Tough Traveling was widely successful, with over fifty bloggers participating at one point before the feature went on hiatus.
Starting this month though, the Tough Traveling tradition is making a comeback – with some changes. It will now be a monthly feature instead of a weekly one, though the idea remains the same. If anyone is interested in participating, we invite you to come play along!
This month’s topic:
The Tough Guide states that you will begin in rather poor circumstances in an unimportant corner of the continent; a kitchen menial, perhaps, or a blacksmith’s apprentice. From there, the Guide advises that you will be contacted by your TOUR MENTOR (normally an elderly male MAGIC USER with much experience) who will tell you what to do, which is almost certainly to discover you are a MISSING HEIR.
What better way to kick things off (again!) with a topic that celebrates the memorable openings to the speculative fiction books and series we like best?
Not only is Dreamer’s Pool one of my favorite fantasy novels of all time, it also fits this week’s theme to a tee. When the book opens, we are introduced to the series protagonists Blackthorn and Grim, who are a pair of prisoners rotting in the dungeon of a wicked and corrupt lord. Poor circumstances? Check! A rather unimportant corner of the continent? Check! Hours before she is to be executed though, Blackthorn is visited by a fey named Conmael, who offers her chance to escape in exchange for her promise to set aside her desire for vengeance on the man who destroyed her life. Our Tour Mentor here might not be your conventional magic user, but I would that say a faerie who can get you out of prison with the snap of his fingers comes close enough. Reluctantly, Blackthorn agrees to Conmael’s deal and makes her way north to Dalriada to start her new life, followed by fellow escapee Grim who later on becomes her most steadfast and loyal companion.
I’ve only just caught up with this middle grade series by Brandon Sanderson, and I’m glad I did because it’s hilarious. It stars a young boy named Alcatraz Smedry, who lives with his ordinary foster parents in an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood. On the day of his thirteenth birthday though, he receives an old bag of sand in the mail – apparently the only inheritance left to him by his birth parents. But before you can even say “Gee, thanks mom and dad!” the bag is stolen by a member of an evil cult known as the Librarians. Fortunately though, a wise Tour Mentor in the form of our protagonist’s long lost elderly male Magic User grandpa show ups (late!) to save the day, revealing to Alcatraz the truth of his birthright – Alcatraz is, in fact, literally the lost heir to the Smedry line. Together, Alcatraz and his new allies must stop the Librarians by carrying out a daring mission into the heart of enemy territory – also known as the central downtown library.
Talk about beginning in poor circumstances. The main character of The Facefaker’s Game is a fourteen-year-old boy with no past. One day, he simply became aware of himself, standing in the middle of the street with no memory of where he came from or even what his name is. Covered in soot, the boy decides to give himself the name of Ashes. By begging, stealing, and cheating at cards, he’s able to scrape together just enough money to get by, but then one day he gets on the wrong side of a crime lord. Instead of meeting his end though, Ashes is unexpectedly rescued by an Artificer named Candlestick Jack. Like any good Tour Mentor, Jack decides to take the boy on as an apprentice, teaching him the mysterious magical art of light manipulation and illusion.
Instead of just one humble beginning, in this book we have two! Meet Hope, who at the age of eight became the lone survivor of a massacre on her small fishing village. Rescued by a merchant ship, she was then taken in by the ancient order of Vinchen warriors and taught their ways by their grand master Hurlo, who went against his order’s rules to train the girl in secret. Next meet Red, who was captured by slavers not long after he was orphaned and left alone to fend for himself in the slums. Lucky for him, the infamous rogue known as Sadie the Goat was captured alongside with him, and after the two of them made their daring escape, Sadie was so impressed with the boy’s talents that she made him her protege on the spot. Two tour beginnings, two Tour Mentors – all for the price of one.
Not every beginning I’m featuring today fits the description of the theme. After all, the overarching idea is really just to list the fantasy books or series we’ve read that have memorable intros, and in my opinion, few intros are more memorable than the one in Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. The novel’s main character is Çeda, who’s probably one of the best female protagonists I have encountered in years. We open the novel with a scene from the fighting pits, where she is a competitor in the tourney. Right after a phenomenal combat sequence which ends with Çeda serving her opponent his ass on a platter, she then goes on to engage in an intensely passionate tryst with the fighting pit’s owner. If all this was part of Beaulieu’s attempt to capture the reader’s attention right off the bat, well, it certainly worked on me!
In the beginning, there were… beginnings. There are some wonderful, memorable beginnings to many books, but I decided to narrow my list down a bit to my three very favourite series. Their beginnings led me on incredible journeys with characters I have grown to love and return to every few years. What And what better way to start a memorable tale than the good old fashioned…
“Once upon a time, in a land that was called Britain, these things happened.”
I am not really a King Arthur fan. Oh sure I’ll watch a good King Arthur movie, and I’m quite fond of the 2004 film directed by Antoine Fuqua for reasons.
But I will always compare any Arthur story I watch or read to Bernard Cornwall’s Warlord Chronicles. They introduced me to Arthur through the eyes of a man who loved and served him beyond all measure. A greater friend, no being could ever have than Derfel. And seeing Arthur and his story told in this way forever changed my views on the once and future king.
“These are the tales of Arthur, the Warlord, the King that Never Was, the Enemy of God and, may the living Christ and Bishop Sansum forgive me, the best man I ever knew.”
“Lest anyone should suppose that I am a cuckoo’s child, got on the wrong side of the blanket by lusty peasant stock and sold into indenture in a short-fallen season, I may say I am House-born and reared in the Night Court proper, for all the good it did me.”
This was how I met Phèdre nó Delaunay, a child seemingly cursed with a mark of the gods. This was my first introduction to erotica. Or rather, erotica that was not part of my sister’s romance novels that I used to sneak around to read when I was younger. This was a book steeped in beautiful prose and beautiful people, and an entirely new and eye opening perspective on sexuality.
“I am not as I once was. They have done this to me, broken me open and torn out my heart. I do not know who I am anymore. I must try to remember.”
And this was the series that broke me open and tore out my heart, so much so that it took me three years to get through this trilogy, simply because that’s how much time I needed between each book to settle my emotions. This was the first book I read by N.K. Jemisin, and like Octavia E. Butler before her, I am in awe of her imagination and her vision, and the opportunity to see characters like myself in the stories I read.
Join us, or better yet, come participate with us for Tough Traveling next month! The theme will be:
Assassins are ubiquitous throughout fantasyland. Sharp-eyed readers (or even dull-eyed ones) will notice that their hooded forms often adorn book covers, and that they frequently appear – rather improbably – not to mind being the sole focus of our attention. Whether they’re spotlight hogs or camera-shy and brooding, most assassins will have trained for years and are very, VERY good at their job (i.e. killing people for money).