It has been such an encouragement to me how many of you have really gotten some nugget of useful wisdom out of the One-Star Review series I've been posting here--I really appreciate the feedback and encouragement. As I troll more one-star diatribes for cohesive nuggets to post about, I thought I'd take a little detour to talk about what those who posted positive reviews state they want, at least in general terms, from their fantasy reading. After all, of the "big titles" I've been studying, the boo-hiss reviews represent less than 5% of the feedback on any of these books, so it seems prudent to at least touch on what most people are saying.
So here we go. If reviews are to be believed, fantasy readers want...
To visit your world
To have a sense of a deeper history
Note that I said "a sense," which does not mean a huge dissertation, or heavens no, a ginormous prologue that dumps all that info into our unwilling laps. One of the major elements of The Lord of the Rings that helps it ensare readers generation after generation is the way Tolkien includes references to Middle Earth's history that are just that, references. None of his characters feel it necessary to explain what they're hinting at, just like if you were writing a contemporary earth-setting novel, you wouldn't feel compelled to explain what you meant if you referred to World War II or the Beatles. Your characters would talk about such things and they would know the cultural context. In the same way, Tolkien's characters talked about goblin wars or the lay of Beren and Luthien and at most, hinted at the full tales. And it works. (It helps for us uber-geeks that there are commentaries, notes, and appendices for us to go find out the full sweep of what these things are all about if we want to.) But for those who don't, the cultural references work to create a sense of water that runs deep with history and lore.
To feel smarter than your average bear
Whether we admit it or not, we spec-fic readers are a strange breed, generally more willing to figure something out we don't get on the first pass, and even more willing than average to accept things that we won't understand because the author made it up and no amount of Googling will offer more information.
I could continue to add bullet points to this list, but that may have to wait for another day. To conclude, however, I am deeply grateful for the people who take the time to post detailed reviews of books on-line. If we can't talk to readers one-on-one about our own work, it seems to me there's still a trove of information out there to tap for wisdom.