Don't get too excited, I'm talking about the fantasy that contains wizards and dragons and elves rather than silk and stockings and suchlike. Still here? Good.
Fantasy is my reading genre of choice, but that hasn't always been the case. I read much of it in my teenage years, then suddenly became bored with it. It may have been a case of overdosing, but all the stories began to feel the same: a youngster with a hidden past is really the son of a god/wizard/mighty warrior; his powers are nurtured through the course of the trilogy (for three is the magic number) by a wise old mentor in preparation for a final conflict with the utterly vile villian; the stakes are the world as we know it, nothing will be the same if the dark lord wins, etc etc etc.
Now that's a crass interpretation of fantasy, the bones its detractors often pick through, but that's genuinely the way I thought. I've always enjoyed fanatsy role-playing games, but that was due to being part of a great set of players, having adventures told by gifted games-masters. The books, though; all filled with cliche, right?
Not quite. I read little fantasy between 1993 and 2006, dipping into the odd David Gemmell now and again just for old times' sake, but nothing really gripped me. Then, two writers came along that changed my view of Fantasy - Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch. I recommended the former to a friend, based on reviews I'd seen in a magazine, and he loved it. Borrowing his copy, I loved it too; here was something fresh, exciting, vibrant, all those kind of adjectives. Characters were shades of grey, rather than black and white, there was no magic 'get out of jail free' items or spells.
While my friend went for Abercrombie, I tried Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora and was equally impressed. the titular character is a scoundrel and a rogue, but sympathetic and amusing. His is a tale well told - even more so, I think, in the sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies - in a well-realised world.
Other writers have since came along, expanding the genre with fresh ideas as well as interesting twists on the usual tropes. The same could have been happening in my wilderness years, I'm sure, but it's only in the last few where the ante feels to have been upped. We're seeing fantasy novels on the best of best-seller lists, with fresh talent emerging, all inspired by those who have gone before them. It's a good time for the genre (in part due to the success of certain movies and TV shows), and therefore a good time for the reader. If you haven't read any or, like me, gave up on it for a while, why not pick one up and let yourself be transported to a new world?