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?

Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

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.

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

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.

The Facefaker’s Game by Chandler J. Birch

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.

Hope and Red by Jon Skovron

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.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu

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…

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell

“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.”

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

“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.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

“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).

31 Comments on “Tough Traveling: Beginnings”

  1. It is so good to have it back. Dreamer’s Pool! Such a great book. I loved Kushel’s Dart too! And while I didn’t love Hundred Thousand Kingdoms its sequel was magical. Great beginning to a new life for an old meme! I have to say thank you so much for what you did the first time around; Tough Travels needed help to succeed and I think you joined the first week I had a link up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is great to have TT back! And yes, I think I jumped on board in the second week, haha – I remember using the first week to scout out on your blog to see how to do it. Good thing too, because the first week was a tough theme…something like “gigantic ancient structures”, or similar? I wouldn’t have been able to think of anything. 🙂


    • Interesting that you liked The Broken Kingdoms so much! I actually did an experiment with a friend and had her read TBK first before THTK to see how she related to the characters and revelations.

      I am happy to be part of the Team Tough Traveling again and am so glad senpai is still involved 😀


  2. I love this meme. Great picks – I was a hair’s breadth away from using Kushiel’s Dart – I love that opening and it’s such a great series. Truly a series of beginnings.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a lovely meme – and you’ve included some wonderful books, far too many of which I haven’t read. After reading Miranda and Caliban, I need more Jacqueline Carey in my life – and I’ll echo your love for Bradley Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings:). The Brandon Sanderson book is now definitely on my radar as I’m always after amusing, well written fantasy for my granddaughter. Many thanks for this great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think your granddaughter would enjoy Alcatraz! It’s middle grade so I know some adults who just find it way too silly – but I’ve never heard of a kid who didn’t like the books. And maybe I just find weird things funny, but that series made me laugh and laugh 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yay, it’s back!! I’m so excited 😀 Great picks! Twelve Kings and Dreamer’s Pool are both (still) on my tbr. Both, in fact, languish on my very-determinedly-going-to-happen-2017-tbr shelf on Goodreads. As for the meme…off the top, I immediately thought of The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen, which follows the trope almost exactly Lol. Fun children’s fantasy, if predictable. Thanks for the fun post!


    • Hahaha yep, it’s funny because I remember a recent comment of yours where you mentioned stumbling upon our old Tough Traveling posts and that made me think of the feature for the first time in a long long time. How funny that Laura was working on reviving it! 😀

      And not surprised about your comment about The False Prince, I think a lot of children’s books play on these fantasy tropes – just like Alcatraz! But I love that series 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, a brilliant revival! Lol I saw the meme blowing up my feed and was like, “Hey, isn’t that…yeah! YAY!” Happy times! This was a good one, too. Can’t wait for the next 😀


    • Dreamer’s Pool I knew I just had to find some way to work it into our first returning TT post! And I was glad I was able to use Facefaker’s Game too, I want to feature more of my recent reads for this meme.


  5. Bahahhah this post cracked me up.
    I’m so glad you included poor Alcatraz in here (though I’m still a bit traumatized…) because his series fits basically every children’s fantasy trope – in the most hilarious way possible. Also, it’s way making fun of Harry Potter, which makes me giggle a ton.
    Thanks for the excellent post. I can’t wait to see more of these.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, your traumatized comment cracked me up! 😀 I love Alcatraz, but I was pretty shaken how the series ended. I’m glad Sanderson has hinted at a follow up book because in the great words of Alcatraz, GAK! It just can’t end that way, it just can’t!


  6. Fun! And I laughed about kitchen menials- for a while that’s about all you ran into in traditional fantasy it seemed like. 🙂 Dreamer’s Pool sounds awesome BTW. I like the idea of starting in a dungeon!

    I’ve been thinking of trying Carey’s books too since she’s something of a local author.


      • I have not heard of any locally, although I haven’t been very good at keeping up with bookstore appearances in this area. I did check her site really quick and saw that she’s going to a con in Ohio looks like next month, but that’t the only appearance I saw.


  7. As soon as I read your bit about Dreamer’s Pool it went straight on my wishlist (here we go again…)

    I’m so excited that you’re so excited about this exciting beast being back! 😀


  8. Pingback: Sunday Post – 2nd April 2017 | Brainfluff

  9. This sounds awesome and such great book recs! I’m adding some to my TBR. I just bought that Diana Wynne Jones book so I’ll participate too. I haven’t read as much fantasy though so my list won’t be as long but I’ll try.


  10. Pingback: Tough Travelling #1: Beginnings | Zezee with Books

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