I am a big fan of fantasy books, and I am a big fan of logically analyzing the strengths and flaws of various aspects of things to see what works and what doesn’t. That combo of fantasy fandom and having the desire to rank everything in its proper hierarchical order gave birth to this:
I would like to introduce the Fantasy Book Ranking System. With this system, we will rank fantasy book based on 15 qualities and characteristics. I will list what I believe are some strengths of the book, as well as what I perceived to be flaws, and then I will give my overall opinion of the book. I will try not to provide any major spoilers, but I might use a few examples or discuss basic plot lines. If the book is new or more rare, I will be more vague. If the book is very popular I might give more specifics. At the end of the review I will provide the book (or series) with its own unique FABR Score, which is a 1-100 score the book will receive which will help rank it in comparison to other fantasy books.
First, I want to be clear on my reason for setting up this rating system. I am NOT claiming this is a perfect system to rank books on, nor do I claim to be an expert reviewer of literature. My goal in setting this system up was two-fold. First, I wanted to help you – the reader. Often when you read a review on Amazon or Good Reads you find yourself wondering what are the other books this person did or didn’t like that? It is very difficult to take in a review without any context or relevance to anything else. My goal here is to relate the books I am reading to other reasonably popular books and stories. My guess is if you enjoy the same types of stories I do, then if I review something and I like it, you probably will too. If you have a totally different taste from me then these reviews may be less helpful. There may also be things you are looking for in a story (lots of magic, clear good and evil viewpoints, a real and gritty feel) and one paragraph reviews online may well not tell you those things.
The second reason I set this up was to help myself. I am an aspiring fantasy writer, so I wanted to break down what I felt were the key elements in fantasy to make my own writing better. Basically if I could figure out the central notes the masters were hitting, it is my hope I can at least attempt to touch on those same notes myself.
Listed below are the key elements I will rank the fantasy book on:
How Epic is the Story?
Epic to me means how sweeping and broad the story is. For example if a knight saved one small village from bandits, that could be an awesome story overall but it would not be very epic. Epic usually involves broad story lines, covering significant geographical areas, and the characters have a sweeping impact on the world around them.
Examples of a 10 rated Epic story would be Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones
How Well Written is it?
A well written story involves beautiful use of language, excellent word choice, ideal grammar and prose. Metaphors are poignant and appropriate and all the senses are utilized. The dialogue is realistic and the act of reading it is a pleasure. The work reads almost like poetry.
Examples of a 10 rated Well Written story would be Name of the Wind or Game of Thrones
Reviewer’s Opinion: While well written stories are what many authors most aspire to create, it is this reviewer’s opinion that this is not the most important category to focus on. For example Star Wars isn’t necessarily the most “well written” piece of science fiction (if you were to look at the dialogue or plot lines simply laid out), but it is still the most popular piece of all time and many would consider it the ‘best’.
How Real did it Feel?
Realness to me means that you could feel yourself drawn into the story and it feels as though it could actually happen. Many fantasy stories have a very farfetched feel, others stretch the rules just a bit, and others – despite delving into some supernatural aspects – still want to have a real feel as though this could really be happening right now at some point in time.
Examples of a 10 for a story feeling real would be the First Law Series or Game of Thrones
Reviewer’s Note: It is up the reader to decide how important this is to them. Not all stories strive to feel real, for example Harry Potter or Star Wars to me doesn’t feel particularly real but they are still great stories.
What Life Lessons are Taught?
Lessons taught to me focuses on the moral principles the author was trying to get across. One can tell an excellent story and not impart any lasting lessons. The lessons taught however, tends to affect how memorable and worthwhile the story is over the long term.
Examples of a 10 for lessons taught would be Lord of the Rings or Star Wars
Is the book a Page Turner?
Is the book a page turner, meaning how hard is it to put the book down? Mystery and suspense novels tend to be the best page turners but it is important for a fantasy author to create the need and the desire within the reader to make them want to keep reading.
Examples of a 10 for being a page turner would be the DaVinci Code or the Maltese Falcon
How Memorable is the Story?
When you think back on the book 6 or 12 months later, how memorable is the story? Do the details run together, it is just a blur, or does the story stand out? It is worth mentioning that the more you read something (or hear or see it if it is a movie) it becomes more memorable. This tends to be a self-perpetuating feedback loop. For example you see something you really like, it is memorable, you want to go see it again, which in turn makes it more memorable, etc. Star Wars is very memorable but the fact that I have watched that movie 50 times makes it even more memorable. To me this is a pretty important variable.
An example of a 10 for memorable stories is Star Wars
How Memorable are the Main Characters?
When you think back 6-12 months how well do you remember the main character(s)? What he/she looks like, their actions, their personality, what they would do in certain situations? Memorable characters aren’t always likeable, for example Darth Vader is very memorable but isn’t necessarily likeable.
Examples of a 10 for a memorable main character would be Conan or Star Wars
How Memorable are the Secondary Characters?
Some books have very strong protagonists but not very memorable secondary characters. Others have secondary characters that you could remember for years. As with the main characters memorable doesn’t always mean likeable.
Examples of a 10 for memorable secondary characters would be Star Wars (almost everyone remembers Jabba the Hut, or Chewbacca or the Ewoks for example) or Lord of the Rings (Gandalf and Gollum)
How Much do you want to read the Next Book?
This only applies to a series, but when one book is finished, what is the desire to read the next one?
An example of a 10 is Game of Thrones
How Re-readable is it?
Some stories are great the first time around but lose their luster after multiple reads. Others stories grow the more you read them. This is a measure of what the desire and benefit would be to read the story again.
Reviewer’s Note: It is worth noting that while I value this trait significantly, I often don’t have time to reread the books, so I am judging this based on my impression after the first reading unless otherwise noted.
Most works by Shakespeare would be examples of a 10 for being re-readable
Is there Clear Good and Evil?
Some books and stories have very clear views on what is good and what is evil. Others like to take a more “real” approach in which they often show multiple sides of the story and the motives for characters are blended, there may not be a clear hero and a clear villain in a story.
For this category I am using four rankings:
- No Difference – the reader can’t tell what is good or evil in the story
- Murky – there is significant muddying of the waters so to speak, a good character might do lots of evil things or an evil character might do good things
- Reasonably Clear – there will be some crossover or tough moral challenges but the reader has a pretty good idea of what or who the author thinks is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the story
- Very Clear – it is very clear who the author wants you to root for and who the heroes and the villains are in the story
This isn’t necessarily good or bad, but often readers will prefer one kind of story over the other.
An example of a Very Clear rating would be Star Wars (IV-VI) and Lord of the Rings
What is the Prevalence of Magic?
In fantasy stories there is often some form of magic or supernatural power present, but how frequently magic is used in the story can vary greatly. In addition I have further broken this down into 2 subcategories
Prevalence of magic in the world means how common does magic happen overall? For example in a town or a city if just one person could use magic and everyone else could not, then magic is not very prevalent. If a majority or a significant minority of people could use magic, then it is more prevalent.
- An example of a low magic world is Game of Thrones
- An example of a moderate magic world is Lord of the Rings
- An example of a high magic world is Harry Potter
Prevalence of magic among the characters means how common does magic occur in the book? For example there could only be one person who uses magic in the world, making magic very rare in the world, but if that one person was the main character and used magic regularly, then magic would be very prevalent in the story itself. We will use the same categories here: low, moderate, or high.
Is the Series Finished?
By this I mean if the book is a series, it is finished. I will let you decide how important this is to you? I will say this is an important aspect for me. First, I see the telling of a story as similar to painting a picture, you can’t really judge a picture until it is complete, nor can one judge a story properly until it is fully told. Second, I am a person that likes closure so if I get hooked on a story I find it annoying/frustrating to have to wait until another book comes out. Third, it seems that in past times a book would be released every 2 years or so, thus with a normal trilogy by the time you read the first one you would have all of them in just a few years. Currently some of the most popular series have 5-8 year waiting periods between books. I find this in particular very frustrating because with that period of time one tends to forget almost all of the details of the story, thus requiring a reread or the reader just plowing into the next book unrefreshed. And if a series has 5 books in it with a 5-year waiting period, you are looking at 2 decades of release time. One can be a very different person when one is 20 vs 40 vs 60 years old. I don’t think that kind of wait time is good for anyone in this situation. I like to know when I start a series if it is finished or if I will have a to wait an extended period of time for more books to come out?
If a series isn’t a finished I will give the series a temporary score but ultimately it will receive an Incomplete ranking until all the books are complete and we can tally up the entire work.
What are some Strengths and Flaws of the Book?
Near of the end of the review I will list what I perceive to be some strengths of the book, particularly if it is something not already mentioned. I will also go over what I believe to be some flaws in the book or some things that detracted from my enjoyment of it. I will do this without trying to give away massive spoilers.
What is the Book’s Overall FABR Score?
Ultimately this review is to serve 2 purposes – to better explain the book to see if you want to read it, and to provide the book with its own unique FABR Score – The Fantasy Book Ranking Score. This is a score of 0-100 that the book will receive. This will better help us compare it to other books of a similar genre. This is not an aggregate of the previous scores although they are taken into consideration. The FABR score for the book is its own individual score based on the overall work and impression the book or series makes.
In general the scores go like this:
Fantasy Book Ranking Score (FABR Score)
|95+||Unbelievably awesome, one a kind type of book|
|90 – 94||Truly a great book, rare, a must read in this category|
|85 – 89||Very solid book, no major flaws, highly recommended, worth your time|
|80 – 84||A good book, likely a wise choice if you like the elements, some minor negatives|
|75 – 79||Notable flaws, may not be worth your time, check the specific details, but still may have some good spots hidden in the rough|
|70 – 74||Flawed, might be a one-time read, only read if you already like the author or really like the specific topic/themes covered|
|60 – 69||Consider reading something, significant flaws that detract from the experience, non-discerning readers or kids might enjoy it|
|0 – 59||Should not have been published publicly; the work of a young or unskilled author; a nonsensical plot line|
The vast majority of books I spend the time to read and rank will be 70+ because A) they are published so they have already been vetted to some extent and B) I only have so much time so I tend to read some reviews of the books before I begin them and I tend to choose books that have already been rated somewhat highly.
I hope you find the Fantasy Book Ranking System useful, feel free to apply this setup to your own favorite novels and see how they stack up. See if the way you would rank your favorite books matches up with how I do it or not? If you have any comments or suggestions or if there are books you want me to rank, you are welcome to post that below.