I’m not 100% sure that I exactly mean portal fantasies. What I really mean is that these books look at the structure of classic fantasy and play with it. By classic fantasy, in this case, I mean things like Harry Potter and Narnia, which of course are both portal fantasies, so maybe that’s what I mean after all.
At any rate, recently there’s been a little spurt of these books and I thought it’d be interesting to highlight a few.
Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is possibly the best known. I have to admit that while I’ve appreciated his writing about fantasy, I really really really disliked this book. I don’t think I even finished it. For me it was simply too anti, too negatively set against things I might critique but also love.
Second is one that I read as it was coming out, with both great delight and great nail-biting: Sarah Rees Brennan’s Turn of the Story. I loved the characters, and SRB’s thoughtful interrogation of fantasy tropes worked really well for me. (There’s also a follow up short story in the Monstrous Affections anthology.)
Of course Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On was one of last year’s big releases. While Simon Snow might seem like a simple Harry Potter analogue, I did appreciate that Rowell both critiqued and honored her inspiration.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness, is an interesting example in that the main story is all about the kids who live just outside the usual portal fantasy. The chapter descriptions tell us the Chosen One story, but the rest of the book is concerned with, well—the rest of us.
Finally Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway is a new book that I haven’t yet read but have heard good things about (and have on my library book bookshelf).
Are there other recentish books that fit this list? It’s an interesting mini-trend to me.