Fantasy stories about the commonfolk?
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I'm looking for fantasy books that tell stories of common people. What I mean by that is for example right now I'm reading "A Song Of Ice And Fire" by George Martin and it's great. However, it concerns itself with all these lords, kings, queens, ladies etc. Same for the Tolkien saga which I've read some years ago - great heroes try to save the world bla bla bla.
These all are fine but it would be nice to read stories of the "commonfolk", perhaps with all the kings and queens as background story but not as the main plot points. In the context of George Martin's saga I would love to read some stories from Bronn's life or stories about Hodor.
In general I'm after stories that don't involve the end of the world, conquering/destroying kingdoms etc.
Trolls, dragons and mammoths considered a plus :)
Good question! I'll certainly be following this thread with interest :)
Patricia McKillip is often good for stories of more common folk and/or more intimate/less world-altering stakes. The Bell at Sealey Head and Changeling Sea come to mind.
And probably not what you're looking for, but the idea of "kings and queens as background story" makes me think of Phyllis Karr's The Idylls of the Queen. It's an "Arthurian" book, but unlike most of that genre, the whole Arthur/Guenevere/Lancelot/Merlin drama is just background. The book's more of a murder mystery with Sir Kay and Mordred as the main characters. It's a great change-of-pace and made me really wish more author's would do something similar.
Heaps of fantasy stories start out about the common folk - but unfortunetly they nearly always end up becoming kings or queens etc. either through blood or marriage or one of those pesky prophecies or loose destinies that are just floating around waiting for an unlikely hero. Sarcastically tagged as 'pig-boy' by some.
Born to exile keeps it all fairly low key, very little conquering or kingodms happen. No trolls or dragons though.
Curse of chalion maybe, just about. Minor princes IIRC rather than kings.
The hobbit of course! does feature dragon and trolls. No conquering! but you've alomst certainly read this already. Nobody starts out more common than Bilbo.
hmmm can't think of many.
Folks, thank you for all the recommendations so far, I will check them out for sure. One thing came to my mind after posting my last message - I've recently looked up trolls on Wikipedia and stumbled upon a really interesting bit of information:
"Trolls on the Discworld are, essentially, living, mobile rocks. Trolls have grown to overcome those vicious stereotypes of yore and have lived very prosperous lives in heavily populated cities with (relatively) little killing, and have held jobs as diverse as police officer and concert promoter."
If there are stories with trolls as concert promoters in Terry Pratchett's books then I guess it has to be pretty close to what I'm looking for? I want to start reading the Discworld series as soon as I finish "A Song Of Ice And Fire" (all of the published books anyway - I know there are some forthcoming still). I've already bought the first book (The Colour Of Magic) and read a few pages. So far it is hilarious ("big bang" theory anyone? :) but I know basically nothing of the plot and what kind of tales are there so I'm not sure if it's a match.
These are YA really, but they're well written and definitely about the common folk - Sharon Shinn's The safe-keeper's secret, The truth-teller's tale and The dream-maker's magic.
J. V. Jones' Sword of shadows series that begins with A cavern of black ice is about clansmen from the wild north and features magic and strangeness but no royalty yet. It's fairly gritty too, though not so much as Martin. (These read as though they are set in a land like that beyond the Wall in terms of cold climate and wild haunted terrain.)
Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy (book 1 The blade itself) is mostly from the pov of various grunts caught up by war, and I believe Glenn Cook's Black Company books are similar.
I second the vote for Curse of Chalion, one of my all-time favourite fantasies, though it is set at court and involves intrigues among the nobles. And Patricia McKillip is awesome too, with very beautifully written prose.
>5 The nice thing about Discworld is that even though he writes them almost faster than people can read them, the books fall into somewhat discrete categories. Some are about the witches, some about Rincewind the magician, some about the City Guard (with my favorite troll, Detritus), and some about Death (the character) and some sort of stand alone. The City Guard and Death are my favorites, so I will sometimes skip over the other ones to read new stories about my favorite characters. It is not necessary to read all the books in order if you find you enjoy some of they myriad cast of Discworld more than others.
Troll Fell might be a good one for you to look at -- the trolls are Scandinavian-style trolls, and the hero of the story is a farm boy, as I recall.
Some of the roleplaying spin offs might work quite well too. These tend to be about a group of 'ordinary' people having adventures. The original DragonLance series is a good place to begin, little if any conquering although the end of the world does becomes a possability at one point.
I have read all the so far published George R. R. Martin books and am currently tackling A Dance with Dragons and I know exactly how you feel. As the books go on he does feature some of the common born characters more, but the emphasis is still on high politics which is fine, but it would be nice to have a change from this.
I think Discworld is a good choice, Terry's books do sometimes deal with powerful people, but mostly they concentrate on the commeners, they are very down to earth. The only thing I would warn you is that his first book The Colour of Magic is considered by many, me included, to be one of the weaker books. He had not really mastered the art of plot yet and it meanders something terrible! If you're bent on reading them in chronological order then this is just something to bear in mind, but my advice would be to start three books in then go back and read the first few later, the books are mostly self contained stories so this is perfectly doable.
Mercedes Lackey's "Bardic Voices," as I recall, focuses primarily on itinerant musicians, common people indeed (though uncommon in talent). Her "Elemental Masters" series also deals almost entirely with non-titled people who have extraordinary powers.
My favorite Discworld books are those that focus on Sam Vimes and his Night Watch. These may not be what the OP is looking for because the Patrician inevitably plays a major role in these, and of course we have (ahem!) Captain Carrot, but they are the funniest of the Discworld books, IMO.
Another "thank you" is in order for another batch of recommendations. I wonder if the rarity of such titles is perhaps caused by the greater challenge of making a story interesting without "escaping" into good vs evil, end of the world or some such.
Still it would be great to read about some adventures of an average sellsword or economic struggles of keeping a brothel in the green/black.
Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede. Just finished it and loved it. Alt history fantasy set on the western frontier of the US.
Um, maybe The Innkeeper's Song by Peter S. Beagle? Many of the characters, including the titular Innkeeper, are common folk caught up in story-worthy events....
Some more YA: Erin Bow's Plain Kate which I just finished and really enjoyed. She's an ordinary woodcarving girl, and her battles are personal. But it's YA, so that might not fit the bill if you're looking for adults' issues. Another YA I liked was A Curse as Dark as Gold which has more of an "ago" setting. (Maybe just pre-Victorian-ish?) It is billed as a re-telling of Rumpelstiltskin, but I thought that wasn't hit too hard. Heroine is a young woman running a textile mill and coming into her own strength.
If you read YA a lot of the Tamora Pierce books, especially the Circle books revolve around common people. Also I just read the first two of Michelle Paver's Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, no nobles or kings there, but that is because it is set in the stone age and predates complex social structures :)
If you're starting off with Pratchett, you'll appreciate the Guards books, which contains the quintessential common man, Sam Vimes, who despite himself becomes quite important and hates the fact that he's considered noble. He tries to stay as common as possible and revels in upsetting the aristocracy.
re: Grunts--be prepared for severe uncouthness and possibly a level of violence you may not enjoy. There are bits that are funny but which I tend to read through quickly. Poor halflings.
>21 Thanks for the Le Guin recommend. I hadn't heard of this one! (And I call myself an Oregonian?)
>6 Sakerfalcon Thanks for the Joe Abercrombie recommendation - I've started The Blade Itself and after a couple of chapters I must say I'm impressed. Not necessarily because it fits my requirements in this topic but overall it is a nice change after reading A Game Of Thrones and A Clash Of Kings recently and now A Storm Of Swords. I feel Abercrombie's writing is much more... dynamic, especially I'm glad for the lack of lengthy descriptions of what is everyone wearing and what do they look like. Instead there is nice action and intrigue - cool. Thanks again!
>24: Cool, so glad you are enjoying it! I love Abercrombie's sense of humour - he has a great blog at www.joeabercrombie.com
I just checked this thread to add another recommendation, totally different to Joe's books, but definitely about ordinary folk. It's an older book, only 186p long, called At Amberleaf Fair, about a group of craftsmen, magicians, and a judge, who encounter each other over a couple of days at the autumn fair. Very gently and low-key; people's happiness hangs in the balance rather than the ultimate future of mankind, which is a nice change from the usual epics. There's a good review of it here on LT.
#25 And I'd just cleared out my folder of "Books to add to wishlists"... It sounds lovely, though. ^-^
#1 ppawel, if you don't mind steampunk, you could also look at Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century series. I've just finished Dreadnought, the basic plot of which is "Woman tries to travel to the other side of war-torn America to see her estranged and dying father".
I don't think I've seen anyone mention Firethorn by Sarah Micklem or most books by Guy Gavriel Kay yet. They might fail you on the world/kingdom conquering front, but they should both have a decent focus on commonfolk in them as well. Certainly enough for me to suggest looking up their work and seeing if they sound like books you'd be interested in. ^-^
Edgewood, cool! I'd rather read something with a Greek-like setting any day. We had our summer in Oregon yesterday. It lasted one day.
For a very different take on the Arthurian romances, there's Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve. Arthur is a brutal bandit chief, and Myrddin (Merlin) is a wandering bard with a talent for sleight of hand magic. The story is told from the perspective of a young girl, Gwyna, whose village is destroyed and family murdered by Arthur's bandits. It shows how the founding myths of a society are created and also includes a couple interesting transgender twists along the way.
The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart would work if hating the main characters is your cup of tea. It's a rough book though.
>1 & 13 I've torn through all the GRRM books as well. From a sociological and economic point of view Westeros seems unsustainable. The warrior class is much too large and the lower classes too small to support them.
I got the feeling you're looking for a particular type of fantasy. Otherwise I'm sure there is loads of contemporary urban-like books out there about common people. One of my favourites is Jane Lindskold's Child of a rainless year.
Other than that, Harry Potter springs to mind. Let's see, the Ender series by Orson Scott Card fits the bill, as well as Pathfinder. Although now that I'm thinking about it, I suppose the Ender series is SF.
I recently read Theft of swords by Michael J. Sullivan. There are some princes and the like in that, but the main characters are a thief and a swordsman.
Another one: Cast in shadow by Michelle Sagara, the main character works for the police (it's not called that and she works together with a type of elves and has a lion-man as her sergeant, but you get the idea...)
>34: Child of a rainless year is my current read, and I love it so far.
Would you consider 11/22/63 a fantasy? I do, because it involves time travel and other phenomena outside the normal realm. But its everyday setting is a recognizable U.S.A. now and at a past time, and the characters are ordinary people.
>36 A bit off topic, perhaps, but I would normally consider time travel to be SF, unless it is done by sorcerous means... What's the deal on this book? Technology or magic?
Not technology - a discovered portal. Implication is it's a really rare physical phenomenon. So, one could consider it magic, I suppose.
I was thinking about that, I guess it's sort of a tricky one, right? Like Diana Gabaldon's books. If no-one uses any magic, is it fantasy? I mean, a natural phenomenon is a natural phenomenon, that could be like a wormhole or something. But if there's no advanced technology, then I guess it's not really SF either. So what is it? I guess I'd go with fantasy, unless the natural phenomenon were really wormholey...
It's kind of wormholey, but it's not technology, and the "how" doesn't warrant much attention at all--it's just a device. To me this is fantasy because it is a work of the imagination creating an alternate reality that's not possible within the bounds of our normal understanding. It projects a real past scenario into an alternate future. In that aspect it involves an alternate history; but the alternate history is not the main portion of the book--rather, it's the "fish out of water" man from 2011 visiting 1958-1963 on a mission. How do we classify alternate histories?
I'm wondering if this series would be an appropriate read for my 10 year old son. He reads at a higher level, but I'm mostly concerned about content. Can anyone assist me on this ? Thank you!
No trolls or dragons, but Nina Kiriki Hoffman's contemporary fantasies are about common people and are highly original and out of the ordinary. No vampires or werewolves either, which is a big plus in my book.
Also support recommendations for McKillip, Bujold and Pratchett. Guards! Guards! is the first of the City Watch books.
Have you read any Steven Brust? Jhereg starts the series, about a regular human assassin just trying to manage his territory...elves galore.
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