Some thoughts on debut novels, mine 14 years ago, and others today.

This morning I am particularly taken with this review of The Thief’s Gamble over at Fantasy Review Barn. Not because it’s a gushing outpouring of praise – it gives the book three and a half stars. Fair enough, everyone’s entitled to their opinion and the reviewer here has read the book thoroughly and thoughtfully.

What really makes me smile is reading “I was fine with the generic feel of it, but be aware that no new ground was broken here.” and ” It hits all the nice fantasy tropes, and doesn’t see any reason to bend them, break them, or subvert them.”

Okay, that’s the view of this book by a new reader in 2013. Back in 1999, the reviews said things like “pleasing to find a female lead who’s properly representative rather than the usual tepid mix of heroine and victim.” and ” a beautifully drawn world with a rich history, interesting and realistic characters and a plot that drags you along at breakneck speed.”, “What’s different and interesting about this book is what Ms McKenna does with it.” And more besides.

So why am I smiling? Because this shows just how far the epic fantasy genre has grown and developed in this past decade and more. Readers are used to so much more in terms of realism and depth of plot and characterisation, more complex themes and subtext.

Not that this should come as any particular surprise to fans of our genre. I’m currently assessing four debut novels for my next Albedo One review column. To be specific, I’m reading The Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe, Earth Girl by Janet Edwards and Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett. Time and again, while reading, I have noted down some instance of an interesting new take on what have become standard, even over-worn plot or character elements since I started writing myself.

I think this is really great.

Right, I had better get on with some writing on my current projects.

(Meantime of course, if you’re curious to read The Thief’s Gamble for yourself, you can now get it in your preferred ebook format from your ebook retailer of choice. This message brought to you by the Jules Convention Travel Fund)

Author: Juliet

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds, UK. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels so far. Her debut, The Thief’s Gamble, began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. The Green Man’s Heir was her first modern fantasy inspired by British folklore in 2018, and The Green Man’s Quarry in 2023 is the sixth title in this ongoing series. Her 2023 novel The Cleaving is a female-centred retelling of the story of King Arthur, while her shorter stories include forays into dark fantasy, steampunk and science fiction. She promotes SF&Fantasy by reviewing, by blogging on book trade issues, attending conventions and teaching creative writing. She has served as a judge for major genre awards. As J M Alvey, she has written historical murder mysteries set in ancient Greece.

10 thoughts on “Some thoughts on debut novels, mine 14 years ago, and others today.

  1. I read The Thief’s Gamble way back when and I agree. It was fresh then and still good now. One of my most favorite thief characters.

    1. And another thing to bear in mind is what the writer will likely have read. I was reading something recently and thought, ooh, is that -ahem- an homage to put it nicely, to a particular book I remember fondly. Then I remembered that original book was published 30+ years ago, I read it as a teen, and this more youthful writer of the book in hand, may never have even seen a copy…

      All part of our genre’s rich tapestry.

  2. Heh. I am reminded of the Eddings’ Belgariad. According to what David wrote in “The Rivan Codex”, he felt it was quite risqué in how it handled sex.

    Now we have Game of Thrones… Game of Thrones on HBO, no less…

  3. You make great points! I wasn’t reading the genre when this book was published, or many of the other ‘older’ titles I have reviewed. I never really thought about the progression of when something goes from ‘new and unique’ to ‘trope.’ So you have definitely given me one more thing to think about.

    Oh, then or now, Livak is a great example of how to craft a quality character. I am a new fan, and will be reading more.

    Thank you for the smart response, it made my day!

  4. I discovered your work last year through Elizabeth Campbell of Antimatter ePress. I’m in my 30s and have been reading Fantasy….well, since I could physically pick up a book. So, I remember the good old days where nearly all the lead characters were men and women, at best, got to wield some sorcery in the middle of being rescued. So when I read Thief’s Gamble, I was very pleased to see a lead female who was self-sufficient, with an interesting past, and definite ideas of what she wanted for her future and how she planned to go about it. Yes, these things are more common today in recent works, but many lack your polish. I’m looking forward to reading more of your works in the coming years.

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