Introducing… ‘Realistic Fantasy’ (?!?)


Earlier this summer I read an AMAZING book, but I decided not to review it here because it’s been so long since I read it. But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking about it!


The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski was very original and had fantastic world-building. It centers around two different races: the Valorians and the Herrani. The Valorians are a war-minded society, and much of their culture centers around honor, strategy, and proving oneself. They conquer and enslave the Herrani; their culture revolves much more around the arts, and they are a much gentler people. As the Valorians occupy the Herrani’s homeland, the resulting mix and clash of cultures is astounding to behold.

What I just couldn’t seem to understand about Rutkoski’s book was what genre it fell under. I just couldn’t seem to place it under any genre. Under the influence of my Sci-fi preferences, I mistakenly thought that it took place on another planet with alien, humanoid races. I saw other bloggers classify it as Fantasy or Historical Fiction, which just didn’t seem right — there wasn’t really anything fantastical (magical) or historical (a.k.a. based off a true event) about The Winner’s Curse.

So when I stumbled across an interview (I can’t remember which, or I would have linked it here) in which Marie Rutkoski casually labelled her novel as ‘Realistic Fantasy,’ and then proceeded to talk about other things. ?!? What? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN.

So of course I took to Twitter, NEEDING to find out what was meant by ‘Realistic Fantasy’ as if it would be the next most monumental discovery in my life. Which it may just have been.

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 12.57.25 PMIn retrospect, maybe this should have been obvious. But honestly, I think this changed everything for me.

I do like traditional Fantasy, but it often just seems like every book involving spells, magic, and witches blurs together in my mind. I eventually tire of it. But “made-up world[s]” without “magical stuff in it”? Sign me up!

To me, this genre represents the best of books, reading…you name it. This why I read: to be spirited away to a rich, fictional world so different from my own, but still realistic enough that it feels like a place I could potentially visit. (You can read more about why I read here.) It’s breathtaking, and truly sparks my imagination like nothing else.

I may just have to look back at many of the books I’ve read and mentally re-label them as Realistic Fantasy. And what good does this do? It’ll really make me appreciate the originality of their worlds all over again!

On a related note, my internet perusing turned up another result for ‘Realistic Fantasy’ which really makes me want to whack myself for my own stupidity. ‘Magical Realism’ is a sort of Realistic Fantasy (though quite different) defined by Wikipedia to be “where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment.” So there is magic, but it isn’t thought of as ‘magical’.



Of course, I already knew about Magical Realism (I just never made the connection) because my absolute favorite class in all of high school taught by my favorite teacher ever was Spanish Literature! Magical realism is traditionally connected with Latin America and, of course, the most famous magical realist ever… Gabriel García Márquez!

I could go on and on about Gabo…how I love his short stories, how I wrote about him in my IB History IA (a.k.a. a really high-level paper), and how I still need to finish the English translation One Hundred Years of Solitude so that I can one day understand the original Spanish text…but I’ll just leave it at this. Oh, and also how he just passed away a few months ago, shattering any dreams of mine of ever meeting him. But at least I was reading his works while he was still alive. :))

So this has been a rather long post; I’m sorry. Kind of. Not really. I hope you learned just as much as me and are just as blown away by this new genre!

Yes, they're in Spanish and the image is flipped... but they're mine! ;)

Yes, they’re in Spanish and the image is flipped… but they’re mine! 😉

Have you ever heard of Realistic Fantasy? Have you read/enjoyed any books in the genre? What are your thoughts on Magical Realism?


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