One of the accusations lodged against much fantasy is that it is all derivative of Tolkien. Especially when dealing with epic or high fantasy, you have your ethereal elves, grouchy dwarves, carefree hobbits, evil orcs, heroic humans, wise wizards… Well, just about any stock character in fantasy can be traced back to Tolkien’s works. And while there is a reason for this — these archetypes draw on mythic traditions far older than Tolkien — it can get repetitive and make it difficult to do something entirely new.
Our intrepid reviewer Justin was discussing a book that he had just finished reading, Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and commented that one of the things that impressed him the most was all the different races of humans that the author had created, known as the insect-kinden. So you have the ant-kinden who share a mind and work together, wasp-kinden who fly, and mantis-kinden with amazing martial skills. Another one of our reviewers, Robert T. was equally taken by this aspect of the book, and said:
Personally, I love the concept of insect-kinden. It immediately gives the book a unique flavor and the potential of this setup is just endless. I mean how many different kinds of insects are there in the world? Just in this book alone, we get to meet Beetles, Spiders, Mantids, Wasps, Dragonflies, Ants, Flies, Scorpions, Butterflies, Grasshoppers, and Thorn Bugs. And who knows how many others Tchaikovsky has waiting to be revealed in the sequels. Centipedes perhaps? Mosquito Lords? Regardless, there’s much more to the insect-kinden than just a cool concept. Tchaikovsky has really fleshed out the insect-kinden to the point where each kinden not only has their own distinctive physical traits, but also personality characteristics, history, beliefs, prejudices, etc. Even better, he’s created a whole word of insect dynamics like the contempt they feel for halfbreeds, the hate shared between Spiders and Mantids, the disparity between the forward-thinking, technologically-driven Beetles and the mystical Moths, and so on. Of course, for all that insect-kinden might be different from you and I physically and in other areas, they are still human and act accordingly. So expect insect-kinden to fall in love, to feel jealousy, anger, grief, to sacrifice themselves, betray one another, and to indulge in all sorts of other compelling human drama, which is just accentuated by their kinden backgrounds. (Read the rest of his review here.)
Hearing something like that made me think back over all the books that I’ve read, and try and identify the most unique races that I’ve read in fantasy. Sadly, the list is really short. There have been really interesting and unique human cultures and religions, like the Tayledras in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books, or the Kuakgan in The Deed of Paksennarion by Elizabeth Moon, but no really new original races in and of themselves come to mind.
So, dear readers, the question turns to you. What are some of the original races you’ve read in fantasy? Leave a comment and we’ll enter you in a drawing to win a copy of Empire of Black and Gold, which has gotten great reviews from two of our reviewers. Thanks to Pyr, we’ve got five copies to give away, so we’re going to pick five winners!