Jo Talks Books: Are Fantasy Books Getting Too Long?

Hi everyone! I hope you’re all doing well since I last did one of these, once again, I’ve struggled to come up with topics for these posts since lockdown so it’s taken till the end of the month for me to get it up. I’m hoping that coming up with ideas for these for the rest of the year will be easier but they just don’t seem to be coming as easily as they did last year.

Fantasy has always been a genre with “chunky” books, it’s not a new thing that a fantasy book could be upwards of 800-900 pages, especially for adult fantasy books which do tend to be longer than YA. However, I have been noticing over the last few years, that more and more books seem to be trending towards the longer side and far fewer “shorter” fantasy books can be found and I have to admit, it’s not a trend I love.

I can totally understand why fantasy as a genre tends towards the longer side than contemporary. There’s a lot of world building to get in there, when you’re having to explain an entirely new world to readers, it’s going to take a lot more pages than a book set in our world and as a fantasy reader (and a writer as well), I do appreciate the attention to detail that authors give their worlds and characters.

So why then, do I feel like fantasy books are getting too long? Is it me being a slower reader and getting frustrated by the time longer books now take me? I mean perhaps. But I do also feel like there has become this trend for fantasy books to be as long as authors can make them whether or not the story actually needs to be that long.

Often, a 600 odd page fantasy book will be a good 200-300 odd pages of set up and you’ll only really get the payoff in the last 200 odd pages. Time and time again, I find that the longer a fantasy book is, the more filler it tends to have before it actually gets to the good stuff. This tends to get worse the longer the book is, so if you have an 800 odd page book then you might have a good 300-400 pages before anything exciting really happens. It’s asking a lot of your readers to wade through that much buildup before actually getting to any of the real action of the book.

This is not always true of course, you can have longer fantasy books that are brilliantly paced: the final book in VE Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy, A Conjuring of Light, is over 600 pages and yet I flew through that book because she had the perfect balance of action and quieter moments and it never felt like I was wading through pages of filler to get to the good stuff, I was engaged from the beginning.

You can also have fantasy books that are on the shorter side (for me a short fantasy book is anything that’s under 500 pages) that feel much longer because the set up takes far too long: Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House is a prime example of that for me, it’s around 460 pages which is pretty average for a fantasy (and probably on the shorter side for an adult fantasy) but because the mystery takes so long unspool, it feels far longer than it is.

But by and large, longer fantasy books tend to follow the same pattern for me, and that is this: they always feel like they are a good 200 pages longer than they actually need to be. Sarah J Maas’ books are a really prime example of books that are long for the sake of being long rather than actually needing that space to tell the story. Take Queen of Shadows, which is probably the most egregious example of this: the protagonists in that story have two goals, which take them OVER 640 pages to complete. A good portion of that is taken up by irrelevant side plots which seem designed to just fill out the page count. Even Kingdom of Ash which can be more justified as having a longer page count as a final book in a series, definitely stretched plots over longer than they needed to be in order to pad out the book.

I had this same problem with the Daevabad trilogy this year. The Daevabad books, like many fantasy series, get longer with each instalment. However, in every single books, the build-up is stretched over far more chapters than it needed to be (in my opinion) and then the climax felt incredibly rushed because all of the exciting stuff happened at once.

I feel like there is a balance to be drawn with fantasy books to have them long enough to include all the complex world-building that needs to be there but also not so long that they feel dragged out. But there is something to be said about being able to include those details and still have a fast paced, exciting read. I know I’ve already talked about the Shades of Magic books in this post, but A Darker Shade of Magic is a brilliant example of a book that both does detailed world-building but isn’t a massive behemoth of a book, in fact, it’s less than 400 pages!

There’s this weird assumption that in fantasy, length means that a book is super detailed and has massively complicated world-building that needed 10 million pages to make sense. I mean for one thing, I would argue that if you need that much space just to explain your world to a reader then perhaps you’re making things more complicated than they need to be but also that I don’t think length has any implication on how detailed an author’s world-building is? Sure, Samantha Shannon’s Priory of The Orange Tree is both a mountain of a book and has super detailed world building. And yes, it did need to be a large book, she had four narrators and quite a large world to contend with.

But I’ve read other books with complex worlds and large casts of characters that aren’t anywhere near as long: take The Gilded Wolves as a recent example, it has five narrators (four main, Hypnos is only really the last chapter) and it has a relatively complicated world. Now I will say that I did think the world building could have been better explained and I did find it a little slow in places, but I never felt like Chokshi had dragged out the story, it definitely felt like she knew how long the story needed to be and even when things weren’t moving as fast as I’d have liked, it never felt like filler.

I do realise the incredible irony of me writing a super long post about how I think fantasy books are too long, especially when I have a tendency to be quite a rambling writer in the first place! But I think one of the benefits of coming from a journalism background is that we always have to tell a story in the most concise way possible, so if anything doesn’t serve the article, if any detail feels extraneous, it gets cut. I do feel like that’s something that can be missing from fantasy books nowadays, both adult and YA, in what sometimes seems to me at least the race to create the largest books possible. As a reader, I want to get to the good stuff. I don’t want to have to wade through 200 pages of set up before I get to it, ideally, I want to be hooked from the moment I open the book.

This was not intended to be a tirade against long books, I swear! I have loved many a book that’s been 600 pages or over, in fact some of my favourites are. If I’m going to commit to a book that long though, I want to know that the length is justified. I want to know that I’m going to feel excited and engaged all the way through. I don’t want to have to wade through 200 pages till I get to the good stuff. If your good stuff starts on page 200, then for the love of everything, just START THERE. I want to feel that every page in a book serves a purpose, that if it wasn’t there the story wouldn’t work. What this really long ramble comes down to is: I feel like in the trend toward longer and longer fantasy books has in some cases been a disservice towards storytelling because it feels from a reader perspective that length is more important than anything else.

What do you think? Are you a fan of longer books? Do you think there has been a trend towards fantasy books being too long? Let me know in the comments!

Surprise, surprise, I’m not sure what my next Jo Talks post will be about, I do have a list of ideas, but I’m going to wait and see what jumps out at me closer to the time! In the meantime, I will have my latest Top Ten Tuesday post up tomorrow.

10 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: Are Fantasy Books Getting Too Long?

  1. vee_bookish 01/09/2020 / 12:47 am

    I wish I could get into fantasy, I primarily read YA. I just have no attention span whatsoever and will end up DNFing. These days, if a YA book is over 400 pages I will seriously consider not reading it. 😅

    • iloveheartlandx 03/09/2020 / 1:44 pm

      That’s fair enough, it’s definitely a massive commitment to read a 600+ page book.

  2. cryptomathecian 01/09/2020 / 8:57 am

    Can you imagine that Tolkien conceived the Lord of the Rings as one behemoth of 600,000 words? He only reluctantly ceded to publishers requests to split it up in three parts. It’s nevertheless one of the best epic fantasies that has ever been written, although for Tolkien it was mainly a vehicle to find a practical use for the artificial languages he invented.

    • iloveheartlandx 03/09/2020 / 1:43 pm

      Ha ha honestly from what I know about Tolkein, yes, I can definitely imagine that he originally thought Lord of The Rings would be one gigantic book. I actually have never read it though, never really felt drawn to it and the length is kind of offputting!

      • cryptomathecian 04/09/2020 / 9:26 am

        Lots of good books are a little voluminous.

  3. Time for tales and tea 01/09/2020 / 6:01 pm

    Interesting discussion! I love big books if they are well-written. I think there have mainly been a trend in sequels getting longer. Fantasy stand-alones and first parts in series need more pages so the reader gets to know the world and the characters. But in sequels we already know the world and the build-up is sometimes longer than needed.

    • iloveheartlandx 03/09/2020 / 1:39 pm

      Thanks! I do agree that it tends to be sequels that are the larger books but I don’t really understand why, like you said, we’ve already got to know the world and characters by that point.

  4. Davida Chazan 02/09/2020 / 12:22 pm

    It isn’t just fantasy books, but books by well known authors as well. It is like the editors have given up trying to make the book the best it can be, because all they want to do is get it on the shelves and sell it. Very frustrating when you read a book that could have been really marvelous which ends up being bloated.

    • iloveheartlandx 03/09/2020 / 1:36 pm

      I went with fantasy books because they are what I mainly read, but I have no doubt that this trend of super long books can be seen in other genres as well. I would like to hope that’s not the case, but it definitely does seem like some of these overly long books could have been trimmed down more than they were.

      • Davida Chazan 03/09/2020 / 3:31 pm

        I can assure you that this is not just a problem with fantasy books, which I don’t read at all, actually. OMG some of the bloated historical fiction books I’ve seen… insane. Plus my husband likes crime drama and PI books and once an author makes a name for themselves, their books get fatter and fatter!

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