Tough Traveling — Orphans


tough guideEvery Thursday, Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn leads a group of fellow bloggers on “Tough Travels”, a trip through the tropes that populate the fantasy and sci-fi world, using Diane Wynne Jones’ hilarious The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as a guide.

This week’s subject is “Orphans”:
What a (not-so) tough trope to return to the travels with! Orphans are the cornerstone of Fantasy. You can’t shake a stick without hitting some foundling destined to save the world. I’m actually having trouble thinking of a fantasy hero who ISN’T an orphan. So I’m gonna cast a little farther afield here and avoid the Kvothes and Vins and Harrys and Lockes and Rand Al’Thors and Frodos and Lukes when looking for orphans who made good. But let’s get started as always with…

Garion— Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

pawn of prophecyI wanted to avoid the obvious this week, but I have to start with my personal Tough Guide, David Eddings. Garion is the archetypal fantasy orphan, perhaps more so than Rand Al’Thor. Destined to wield the sword of the Rivan King and bear the Orb of Aldur in a battle against the dread god Torak, Garion started as a humble farmboy, raised by his Aunt Pol, the immortal sorceress Polgara, after his parents were burned alive by the evil Grolim Chamdar.

Octavia Leander — The Clockwork Crown by Beth Cato

clockwork crown finalThe healing heroine of Cato’s “Clockwork Duology” lost her parents during the war between the Caskentians and the Wasters when an aerial battle over her village ended with a Waster airship crashing in a fiery conflagration, a ‘la the Hindenberg. The crash was the result of a daring attack by General Solomon Garret (the father of Octavia’s future husband Alonzo) which sadly killed hundred, but likely spared thousands in the endless war. It also led Octavia to a life as a medician at Miss Percival’s school, where she discovered her knack for healing.

Daniel Blackland — California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

9780765376916It’s got to suck becoming an orphan by watching your father get eaten. But that’s the way things end for upstart osteomancers in Los Angeles. Blackland’s father crossed the Heirarch, an ancient wizard who gained his powers by eating the bones of magical creatures, and on occasion, other osteomancers. Actually, Blackland’s mother is still alive, having fled north to San Francisco, leaving young Daniel to grow up on the street as a petty thief. His father left him a gift, however, powerful osteomancy that would allow him to gather his own gang of thieves and eventually face the Hierarch above the Hollywood Hills.

Zamia — Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

throne of the crescent moonAs Elizabeth Bear described her, “the kick-ass tiger (sic) girl.” Actually she’s a lion girl, but Zamia’s thirst for vengeance over the massacre of her tribe and family by ghuls drove her to team up with ghul hunter Dr. Adoulla and his dervish bodyguard Raseed to defeat the source of the ghuls. Her wildness is out of place in the sprawling city of Dhamsawaat but she is still a brave and occasionally impulsive part of Adoulla’s cadre. One of the coolest parts of Throne is how Saladin subverts the orphan trope, Zamia is a powerful heir seeking vengeance, but she really is secondary to Adoulla and his elderly partners in the final battle.

Veranix Calbert— The Thorn of Dentonhill
by Marshall Ryan Maresca

thorn of dentonhillVeranix is fantasy’s Bruce Wayne. His father was a mobster and archery expert, his mother an acrobat, and he was raised in a circus. Until his father ran afoul of the local mob boss and was killed, while Veranix’s mother was driven mad with drugs. So Veranix begged his way into magic college and adopted the secret identity of “The Thorn”, using his acrobatic and archery skills to disrupt the drug trade and seek vengeance against Fenmere, the mob boss responsible for his parents’ deaths.

—Michael Senft

About Michael Senft

I am a freelance writer and critic from Phoenix Arizona. I spent 10 years covering music, the arts and pop culture for the “Arizona Republic” before life circumstances took me away from newspaper. But I never lost my joy at writing. Or reading.
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17 Responses to Tough Traveling — Orphans

  1. Bookwraiths says:

    Glad someone else remebered old Garion. Thumbs up on the rest of the list; some great calls there.


  2. Nathan says:

    I bought the Clockwork Dagger and lost it. Finally found it in my kindle cloud but it wasn’t showing on one of my devices. How weird is that?

    Also, wonder if we will ever see a sequel to Crescent Throne.


  3. Jenn says:

    Haven’t read any of these picks yet, but several of them are very high on the TBR list! So, so many orphans.


  4. Wendy B says:

    Poor Zamia 😦


  5. digitaltempest says:

    Many I haven’t read, but I are on my TBR pile. California Bones is one that everyone says that I’ll love. Garion sounds like something I should look into, as well.


  6. I’ve been meaning to read Beth Cato’s work for ages! Octavia sounds like an awesome character.


  7. Interesting choices. I haven’t read any of these but they sound good. I have perhaps gone for some more obvious choices, my post will be up on Friday 🙂


  8. lynnsbooks says:

    Nope – not read any of these so 5/5 for this list 😀
    At least three of them are on my wishlist though so I’ll get there eventually.
    Good going.
    Lynn 😀


  9. Love the Thorn of Dentonhill choice! Even though I focused on girls, this one didn’t even cross my mind (despite the fact I’m reading another book from the parallel series)


  10. I need to continue the California Bones series, the story of Daniel’s father was pretty disturbing, and the one with his mother is pretty close behind – though I have a feeling there’s more to that. I’ve only read the first book.


  11. Kaja says:

    Well, you certainly went off the beaten track with these picks! 🙂 I don’t know why so many authors include this trope – I guess we’re meant to sympathise with the character and love him/her more? In any case, I’m usually a huge fan of such characters 🙂


  12. I’m reading “California Bones” these days, so it was a very welcome surprise to see it quoted here 🙂


  13. rudejasper says:

    I have been wanting to read Throne of the Crescent Moon and your description intrigues me more. I like the sound of Zamia and the subversion of the orphan trope.


    • It has some “first novel” pacing problems, but by in large it’s good. The setting is gorgeous, the characters are great, and Ahmed really subverts the heroic tropes in it. Now if he can get the next one out, it sounds like he has some personal issues that are slowing him down, but the potential is enormous.


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