Thoughtful Thursday: Blurbtastic

Our long time friend and former reviewer Tia wrote a post on her blog a week ago about what blurb elements inspire her to pick up a book.  Warrior Women, ancient historical settings, secrets, the word “epic” and clash of culture stories all do it for her.

For me, there’s a few things that will usually cause me to pick up a book I haven’t heard of. Nature-based magic systems, strong religious or political themes, any retold fairy tale, and Victorian or Ancient Greek and Roman settings all seem to make it into my shopping cart. Egyptian settings will kill it for me usually, as  will vampires (though I love Gail Carriger’s vampires – I just didn’t know they were going to be in the book when I started reading it.)fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

So, dear readers, what blurbs entice you or dismay you? Let me know in the comments and I’ll enter you in a drawing to win a book of your choice from our stacks!

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  1. Ancient historical settings, secrets, retold fairy tales or ancient myths, homicidal faeries, a supernatural murder mystery, hellhounds, and references to classic literature will all draw me in. That, and names I can pronounce! :D

    I’m dismayed by unpronounceable names (like the ones Kat made up once, which I think were Shre’nen and Y’grth); if I trip over 3 in the first paragraph of the blurb, I’m probably going to just put it back on the shelf. Also hackneyed plot summaries. It takes a lot of the items from the first paragraph to make me buy a book that also has “Shren’en, a naive young farm-boy, is the only one who can destroy the dark lord Y’grth’s magic bracelet!”

  2. Oh, and I’m such a sucker for what your sister called “Grandma disappeared and left you a mess” books. Grandma/big sis/dad/husband gets into a boatload of trouble and then vanishes, protagonist discovers things she never knew existed while trying to figure out what happened. I’ll also extend this to tangled family trees and family secrets.

    Anything involving a bookstore.

    Magic tied in with the arts. Magic paintings, magic music, magic storytelling, etc.

    ETA: Protagonist goes to Remote Spooky Location to get away from it all after some trauma. Supernatural mayhem ensues.

  3. Magic, wizards, mages, dragons. Yeah I’m sure I’ll get tired of some of those soon, but I really have a weakness for them! Anything that sounds epic. Anything a bit different. Anything that sounds pretty hard-hitting, emotionally. Anything that has been heavily recommended to me.

    What might put me off? Lots n lots of politics. Anything that sounds too clichéd and imitation-y. If it’s compared to Dan Brown, or is Dan Brown. And if it involves a vampire/werewolf/faerie falling in love with a human and the entire premise of the story being about them overcoming the hardships that come with their relationship.. yeah, not for me.

  4. Biggest turn off: Farm boy/girl must seize destiny and save world. Please…no more…make it stop…

    I’m all about mind-blowing, imaginative settings. Originality is a huge win for me. Even if the plot stinks, just being in a new and wild world is sometimes worth it.

    Then again, I’m a huge GRRM fan, and resisted him for a LONG time by assuming he was just a rip-off artist.

  5. I did too, Andrew! I thought it was another Tolkien rip-off. At this point I’m frustrated by the wait for book five, but I certainly can’t say the series is ripping off Tolkien. I finally got talked into it by two friends who pointed out parallels with the Wars of the Roses.

  6. Kelly, have you tried Tanya Huff’s The Enchantment Emporium? Great Auntie disappeared and left you a mess and you have to figure out what it is in this magical thrift store? Lots of tangled family tree stuff in that one.

  7. I haven’t yet–I’ll make sure to check it out! :)

  8. Kelly, Try Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff if you haven’t.

    Psychic powers always get me. Dragons, magic, paranormal mystery, bonded animals will make me look at it – I am wary, but I will look. Retold fairy tales are always worth a look as well.

    Things that don’t work – Epic is usually a turn-off. To me it means mega volume stuff. Lots of battles don’t usually work for me either. Zombies, love triangles, Vampire hunters, anything that hints of too much blood and gore. I’m sure I’ll think of more. Oh yeah, I’ll second the unpronounceable names.

  9. Zombies and vampires end interest for me. I also don’t care for heroines who are prostitutes or involved in some exploitation of their sex.

  10. More good:
    Humor is a good thing. Different types of magic. Michael Whelen or Jody Lee covers.

    Quests that sound like someone was playing RPG and decided it would make a great book go back on the shelf.

  11. @Sarah: YES! If the cover sounds like D&D, I don’t want to read it. I’d rather play an RPG than read about it, and even then, D&D is not my game of choice.

    As for covers, my eye has been caught many a time by a tempting, lovely cover by Tom Canty, John Jude Palencar, or Kinuko Craft. Sometimes their cover art graces books that live up to the awesome covers–but sometimes it leads me astray…

  12. Melanie Goldmund /

    I think I’ve seen a few too many books featuring vampires lately, so that particular word will definitely turn me off. Werewolves, too, probably. And paranormal romance, definitely. Actually, I like the paranormal, it’s the romance part that bores me. Anything paranormal that does NOT scream “romance” would make me take a second look.

    Too many battles and politics will also be a turn-off for me, and books that are too epic. I want a main character, or two, but not more than three, that I can root for and identify with. More than that, and I personally run the risk of getting lost and overwhelmed. Fairy tales? Meh … not quite my thing. But historical settings, or an alternate world would definitely catch my attention. Urban fantasy, though, not so much.

  13. YES:
    real historical ancient setting, alternate world, retold fairy tale, mind-blowing ideas (though this isn’t usually detectable in a blurb), magic system based on consistent logical rules, focus on science, academic setting, alchemy, big cats (e.g. panthers), Unseelie Fae, houses/ buildings that ramble.

    swords of truth (or destiny or whatever), vampires, zombies, focus on romance. If it says “When Rio unleashes the secret animal instincts that course through his blood, Rachel must decide if he is something to be feared — or desired.” it’s automatically out. I got that from a Feehan blurb. To me, that means “hot sex, no plot.” Hot sex is fine, but I really must insist on an equally compelling plot. Those types of blurbs tell me that the plot is not the point of the book.

  14. Does cover art factor into “blurb”-ness? The cover is essentially a blurb in itself, and even a low-grade spoiler sometimes. Does anyone else think GRRM made his mass-market covers completely plain on purpose to completely lower/confuse expectations?

  15. SandyG265 /

    I like anything that sounds a little different. I read a lot of different types of books so the blurb really has to catch my attention. Also paranormal mysteries, rural or unusual settings and, books with more than one tye of supernatural creature.

    If I read a blurb that makes me feel like I’ve already read the book before (formula plot) then it turns me off.

  16. Interesting question, Andrew! The old GRRM covers did have more “stuff” on them, but those new ones definitely leave a lot to the imagination. Plus they resemble coats of arms from the books.

  17. I’m instantly attracted to a first-person narrative, such as Robin Hobb’s Assassin series or Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles.

    I also like a good mystery (murder or otherwise), epic quests with big maps to explore or multiple worlds, instant transportation (like the Ways in WoT series), and characters that are dark & mysterious.

    Oh yeah, and anything with griffons or dogs!


  18. @ Brian – I like 1st person as long as it isn’t present tense. And I like griffons as long as they are done well. I am coming up blank on books with dogs. Lots of cats, but I can only think of a couple of UF books with hellhounds. Do you have any suggestions?

  19. @ Sarah – Now that you mention it, it’s not that common. Of course, Hobb’s Assassin Apprentice had the wolf Nighteyes. Erikson’s Deadhouse Gates had deadly cattle dogs, and included a lapdog that wouldn’t die. The only other one I can think of is John Flanagan’s Sorcerer of the North & The Siege of Macindaw, a young adult series that featured a shepherd dog in those books, which is a breed I own myself. I’ve heard the dog is not in subsequent books, though.


  20. Deadly cattle dogs! I need to read that book.

    (I freely admit that I started several urban fantasy books simply because they promised to have hellhounds in them.)

  21. Mercedes Lackey’s Tarma and Kethry books have a magical wolf/dog creature called a kyree.

    That’s the only doggish creature I can think of, though.

  22. Do most fantasy characters just not have pets? Trying to think of some.
    Dane from the Tamora Pierce books maybe?

  23. Ruth Arnell /

    Tris has a bird in the Circle of Magic books.

  24. Brian T. — If you live in the U.S., you win a book from our stacks! Please contact me (Kat) with your choice.
    Contact page:

    If you don’t live in the US, let me know so I can pick someone else. Thanks!

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