Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons I Love Political Fantasy

"Tope Ten Tuesday" in a white font mimicking handwriting on navy starry skies

Top Ten Tuesday is a fun weekly meme, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Everyone is welcome to join in the fun.

This week’s prompt was reasons I love… so of course I picked my favourite sub genre. I go on and on about my favourite Political Fantasy books, but never why I’m so drawn to this type of book. Well, this is my excuse…

1. Twisty, complex plots

The main thing that distinguishes a political fantasy story from an epic fantasy is the plot. All the intricate schemes weaving around each other gives the book a complex plot that keeps you on your toes while you read as there’s so much to remember.

2. Intelligent Characters

Political fantasy “fights” are not physical battles. There may be physical altercations along the way, but the main conflict happens with words and manipulating others/the situation. As such, the winner of a political fantasy “fight” is not the strongest fighter or most powerful magician – it’s the character who can out-think all their opponents. As such, this makes for intelligent casts.

3. Trying to put the pieces of the scheme together

As with mysteries, I like to try and guess the schemes before the characters. They read a little like mysteries, with pieces of the antagonist’s plan scattered throughout the book for the hero to assemble. I find this really engaging, because I’m trying to out-think the characters, so become part of the story.

4. Rich World

I have yet to read a good political fantasy that doesn’t have an incredibly rich world. A lot of the schemes and tensions that make a political fantasy are based on the world – be it the locations or cultures – and how this sets up the characters’ goals. It might be everyone scrambling to control a trading route or a difference in theology that means two religions are vying for control. If the world isn’t there, the book doesn’t work, so the world gets a lot of attention.

5. Moral Challenges

A common theme in political fantasy is “how far will you go to achieve your political ends?” I love watching character confront massive moral questions that real world political leaders have to face, and thus explore issues from different points of view. If you’ve only got so much money to spend as a government, what do you prioritise?

6. Villains are shades of grey

Unlike epic fantasy, you’re less likely to find a straight up evil dark lord in political fantasy. Once a character has reached despotic levels, they’re usually not bothered in playing the political game – just send their legions of demons to conquer the world. I do love stories with black and white villains, but I also love the more subtle villains who truly are the heroes of their own stories. Unfortunately for them, in this one, their political goals oppose the main character’s.

7. Magic as a tool not a weapon

A danger in fantasy is that magic becomes too powerful and so there shouldn’t be any problem for the hero to succeed. However, as the focus in political fantasy is not the big battles, it avoids this problem most of the time. Instead, characters make shows of magic as a political bluff to warn off enemies, or exploit others’ abilities.

8. Having to work with your enemy

This is a common trope across all of fantasy, but there’s something particularly fun when two political enemies have to unite and the tension between their different approaches fills the pages. There’s always the question of which one of these “allies” will end up ultimately out-manoeuvring the other.

9. Chunky books

This isn’t always the case, but often the complex plot means the book itself is a chunky beast. Longer book = more time spent in the world with the characters. What could be better?

10. Never quite sure who will win

The best political fantasies have so many twisting plot lines that there’s always a (well set-up, and thus earnt) surprise waiting around the corner. Once several twists have been unveiled (and I’ve kick myself for not spotting the clues earlier), I spend the rest of the book expecting more twists so I’m never quite sure who the ultimate winner will be. The hero may achieve their goals, but that doesn’t mean they actually won…

Why do you love your favourite genre?

10 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons I Love Political Fantasy

    1. If you’ve read PRIORY or CITY OF BRASS, you’ve read it. It tends not to be well advertised (some people find the word “political” unsettling and gives them the wrong impression), but it’s out there in disguise!


    1. Political Fantasies are often hidden – as the “political” can put some people off, or give them the wrong idea. It’s not about making a point, but a book with an intrigue-heavy plot. PRIORY and CITY OF BRASS are political fantasies that aren’t marketed as such.

      Liked by 1 person

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