Hi! Welcome to another my ranting post under [Do The Talking] segment.
Today’s topic is – TADAAAM! – Russian fantasy, and everything around this genre. At the end of this post, most noticeable fantasy authors will be listed, and, if they have books already translated into English, I will also provide related links for your information.
So let’s hop on!
First, it should be of no surprise to anyone that fantasy as a genre was never limited by US-UK authors only: in every single country there is at least one writer who provides an eager reader more or less magic. It just happened to be that US-UK fantasy fiction got much more public recognition than any other. Nevertheless, there are definitely a lot more books worth being noticed by literally everyone, but to make them actually noticeable, it is our, book bloggers, responsibility. Without even smallest promotion, nothing will go viral no matter how much you wanted it.
Russian fantasy is relatively popular, but there are very few works that got released in any other languages than Russian. As for selling statistics, in Russia, fantasy in common stays in Top 3 best selling genres, alongside detectives and romance novels, with Russian fantasy probably (not accurate) taking up to 30% of overall fantasy books sales. Which, I should say, is not that bad. Lots of fantasy sub genres can be found in Russian ordinary bookstore, but the most common one would be urban fantasy, probably due to being the simplest of sub genres to carry out.
Russian urban fantasy has three most used background settings:
1) Harry Potter type of settings, when there’s an actual city/country/location in common, with magicians/witches/wizards/other supernatural creatures living among the ordinary people. The concept may vary, but the point is pretty much the same. Most notable Russian fantasy works happen to have exactly this kind of set.
2) Magical academies settings, I use this term to describe all Russian fantasy fiction where the action takes place withing magical schools/academies, and does not expand to a location further than the adjacent forest. This set is very popular among young indie authors, and usually they don’t get huge recognition due to an enormous amount of similar styled books. Even I usually avoid these books because they have that one big flaw I will talk about a bit later here.
3) Dystopia settings, usually being mixed with dystopia sub genre elements themselves. Set in the far future, the real existing location is changed dramatically due to global catastrophic risks, and may contain anything your imagination can possibly produce.
I should also point out a recent trend in Russian urban fantasy called Accidental travel, a plot device used when a protagonist or a group of protagonists accidentally find themselves elsewhere, mostly in magical academies sets. These books are usually classified as comic fantasy, as they have similar plots of a typical loser getting a chance for self-fulfillment, usually accompanied by Mary-Sue elements (if you don’t know what that is, here’s an article to read).
As I mentioned earlier, I tend to avoid fantasy books set in magical academies/schools because of one big flaw that I hardly accept when seeking magic. That is those massive love lines for protagonists. It’s as if the writer wanted a sentimental novel, but realised that it won’t sell with the real world setting, so he/she better use magic as a background for that romance going on between characters. Those kind of books are mainly written by women, and I can’t blame them for their writing desires, but I find using magic as an excuse to sell their books very disturbing, and they never do justice for the whole fantasy genre! Can’t you just do your homework on building a more believeable plot, and use other devices to develop that relationship of your characters’?
Magical realism is recently expanding in Russian fantasy fiction, because there will always be a reader that dislike all typical fantasy and will rather seek for something special within ordinary. And, so you know, magical realism is not easy to write, just as much as building a whole high fantasy world is complicated. There’s a risk of going too much on adding elements, that it might turn out to be a regular fantasy. I personally like magical realism much more than any other types of fantasy, because I like small details usually unnoticeable to others.
Now that I’ve ranted more than enough on the topic of this post, let’s jump into some names and works that represent Russian fantasy sub genre. I must warn first, that I’m personally not really familiar with Russian authors aside couple of them, and I have reasons for that. Nonetheless, I will try to list you the best writers, so that no Russian book blogger or reader would kill me for misleading you lol
Sub genre: Magical realism
Where: The Master and Margarita
Mikhail Bulgakov wasn’t the one who started the Russian fantasy, but he’s undoubtedly one of those with significant works totally worth reading. His The Master and Margarita is always listed as one of books you have to read before you die.
Find The Master and Margarita on Goodreads
Sub genre: Urban fantasy
Where: Watch series
Sergey Lukyanenko is considered as the best selling Russian fantasy author, with massive success of Watch series, two of them (Night Watch and Day Watch) being turned into major motion pictures that collected in total $73 MILLION in box office! These books are totally captivating, and the whole Watch universe is already expanded by works from other authors that are fans of these series!
Find Watch series (Night Watch, Day Watch, Twilight Watch, The Last Watch, The New Watch, The Sixth Watch, and other books of the Watch universe) on Goodreads
Sub genre: Accidental travel, Magical realism
Where: Chronicles of Echo, Labyrinths of Echo, Dreams of Echo, Old Vilnius’ Tales series, etc.
Max Frei is a pen name for Svetlana Martynchik and Igor Styopin, but recently is it Svetlana who writes all books. Max Frei is loved by many fantasy lovers, for its sense of humor, and that delicate magical realism Svetlana manages to give in her books. Also, Max Frei is the main character of Echo universe, but it’s not like Svetlana uses this device to write about herself or whatsoever, it’s more like her immersing in the world of Echo, and recording everything she sees with her imagination. My personally most favorite Russian fantasy author, and I will never stop talking about how magical her books are.
Unfortunately, only two books can be found in English.
Find The Stranger, and The Stranger’s Woes on Goodreads
Sub genre: High fantasy
Where: The Consistent series
Nick Perumov started his writing career with books set in J.R.R.Tolkien’s Middle-earth, and after that came up with The Consistent universe. His works are of heavy influence from Norse Mythology
(that’s a shady PR for Neil Gaiman’s recent book hahaha). Unfortunately, there are no translations into English, although currently Nick lives in the States.
Sub genre: Children and YA fantasy
Where: Tanya Grotter series, Methodius Buslaev series
Despite being heavily criticized for plagiarizing Harry Potter series in his Tanya Grotter series, Dmitry still found commercial success in a short amount of time; and after releasing the first three books of the series that were stated as a parody to Harry Potter, the writer changed the direction and came up with new plots for his characters.
No books are officially translated into English, however, you can read some translations made by Dmitry himself in his blog.
Sub genre: High fantasy, Urban fantasy
Where: Chronicles of Siala, Chasers of the Wind
Alexey Pehov is another well loved Russian fantasy author, with lots of awards, and books translated into many languages, including English. Alexey is also a screenwriter for some videogames like King’s Bounty: The Legend, and Heroes of Might and Magic V. Pehov frequently does collaborative writing with his spouse, Elena Bychkova, and Natalya Turchaninova.
Find Chronicles of Siala, and Chasers of the Wind on Goodreads
Sub genre: High fantasy
Where: Gleams of Aeterna series
Vera is one of few female fantasy writers working with high fantasy, and having a commercial success. Her Gleams of Aeterna series are heavily influenced by both George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and works of Alexandre Dumas.
Unfortunately, her books are also not yet translated into English.
So that’s it! What do you think of this post? Was it interesting? Did you find your never ending TBR pile growing up with more books? Any other topics on Russian books you are interested in reading? Let me know here in the comments!
Thanks for reading, folks! See you next time!
9 thoughts on “Do The Talking: Russian Fantasy + Recommendations”
This is such a fascinating look into Russian fantasy, thanks for the informative post! I have loved all the fantasy set in Russia I’ve ever read, but I’ve yet to delve into Russian fantasy, so I will definitely start – probably with The Master and Margarita!
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Thank you so much for dropping by this post! I’ve yet to read any international fantasy set in Russia (btw, can you recommend me something to start with?), and yeah – Russian fantasy is not that bad at all! And moreover – The Master and Margarita is the classics of Russian and world literature that is totally worth reading AND REreading! Drop me a link to your review when you finish the book any time!
My favourite is Deathless by Catherynne Valente. It’s a retelling of Koschei the Deathless and also talks about Leningrad during the war. Would love to hear what you think of it! Penguin just rereleased a gorgeous edition of The Master and Margarita so I will check it out this year!
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Oh, so Deathless is also a retelling of Russian fairytales! That’s so cool! Gonna check it out, thanks for recommendation!