Unexpected Tropes

Posted: August 12, 2012 in Genre
Tags: , , ,

Ever have a trope, convention, whatever you want to call it… ever have one that you didn’t even realize was there until something broke it?

I’ve mentioned a couple times since I’ve started talking about this blog that I’m always trying to find something new. I’ve been reading SF-F since I was a kid… I’ve seen a whole lot in twenty years. Finding something new (and conversely, writing something new) can be a real pain in the ass at times. Relating to what I’m talking about now, I’ve been drifting away from straight up fantasy books for a while. The Tolkien, the Goodkind, the Lackley… I’ve seen it in countless novels. I’ve tried writing it in a whole mess of things in varying stages of completion. And I’ve played it in many late nights of DnD.

But I’ve found some fantasy books that have grabbed me because they’re doing something different. Myke Cole has managed to do something completely new with his magic-modern military mash up. I enjoyed the hell out of Sam Sykes. Kelly McCullough and Ben Tate are adding aspects of thrillers to the mix. So fantasy has caught my eye again after a long drought and I think because I haven’t been seeing it so much in the last couple years, that’s why I think these tropes caught my eye.


The tropes are about food, a largely insignificant detail in most books of any genre that’s just thrown in as set dressing. The menus of most fantasy novels read like the Goods and Services Table in Dungeons and Dragons. “Eeeew. DnD, I don’t wanna read that.” Fine. I’ll talk about it some more than. Bread. Onions. A fish. Stew. Chunk of meat. Hunk of cheese. Rations. Ale. More ale. And then wash it down with some ale.

Seriously. Food is very mundane in fantasy books for the most part. You’ll get the highborn set in fantasy. Their hunks of meat are roasted swan instead of miscellaneous bird. It’s dressed up but the same stuff.

Let’s break tropes! (still one of my new favorite words)

First time I saw it was with Ben Tate’s Leaves of FlameSome of the main characters are on a speed run towards a major confrontation and they’re getting ready to move out. The Alvritshai character is making breakfast for Colin, the main character, and the other Alvritshai in the party traveling with a massive dwarren war party. He makes scrambled eggs.

Seriously. Scrambled eggs. Completely threw me for a loop that they ate the same thing for breakfast that I did.

Example two came up in Kelly McCullough’s Broken Blade. Aral is on the run at the end of Act Two. He had his ass kicked and was recovering with his allies. It was breakfast time again. They had bacon. That falls under Chunk of Meat. And they had bread. That falls under Bread. Put them together. Huh? Bwuuuuuh? Sandwiches. They made bacon sandwiches.

I eat bacon sammiches! Hell, I want one right now just thinking about them!

I finished Broken Blade a couple weeks ago and Leaves a couple weeks before that. It’s still rolling around in my head how such a little thing can stand out with such a weird impact. If those books had stayed with the common tropes about food in fantasy books, I would never have seen them as tropes and kept right on reading. I wonder how many other genre conventions are sitting in our pages without even being noticed.

  1. Ha! I always try to do something different with food in the books. Sure, I use the “wine and cheese platter” once in a while, especially at highborn meetings and such, but I figure touches of the usual–such as scrambled eggs–or touches of the unique, such as the corn-wrapped gaezel roasted and eaten in WELL OF SORROWS, or the snake I have in BREATH OF HEAVEN, add a little bit of flavor (if you will) to the whole book. Glad that little bit made LEAVES OF FLAME less tropy. *grin*

  2. Paula says:

    You should read the goblin books by Jim C. Hines, then ;D Guaranteed to blow your gastronomic expectations away! Goblin Quest is the first, I think. Mmm, lizard-egg soup…

  3. Alan Kellogg says:

    Don’t forget leftovers from last night.

    “That’s why you don’t want too much swan for dinner; by breakfast it’s all dried out.”

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