In Praise Of Adventure Stories

In Praise Of Adventure Stories

I read a lot of YA fiction. There are several reasons for this – I’m a young adult myself, so it’s aimed at people like me and generally appeals, too, and I write YA fiction, so I have to know what’s already out there.

Plus, a lot of it is pretty damn awesome.

Anyone who thinks that Young Adult books are just ‘watered down’ versions of adult books are completely and utterly wrong. Not only do they deal with different issues – for example, not many sixteen-year-olds have experienced redundancy and massive debt and mortgage problems, but they’re probably going to be struggling with school and relationships – but they also often tackle things that adult books shy away from, using young protagonists to expose aspects of society like racism, crime and the like, without being seen as trying to make a political point.

Personally, it’s usually the more fantastical side of the genre that I go for, the mythology and the fantasy and the science fiction, but even then there is often a lot about, well, relationships and school.

And YA books are often very, very dark. I’m not just talking about dystopia or books about drugs or hate crimes or things designed to shock. Ever read ‘Tithe’, by Holly Black? I first read that when I was about twelve, despite the ‘Warning: adult content’ on the back of my sister’s copy (she was at university, and didn’t know I’d borrowed it). And yes, I was probably too young, though it doesn’t seem to have done me any lasting damage. Or has it? Maybe that’s why I’m so evil to my characters…

Tithe is a book based on various aspects of Celtic mythology and the idea of the fairies or the sidhe. But as the title suggests, it deals with the idea of sacrifice, and these fairies aren’t the pretty music loving type that you’ll find in Kate Thompson’s “The New Policeman”, but the steal-your-children-and-eat-them-muah-ha-ha-evil-fey type.

In fact, along with Maggie Stiefvater’s ‘Lament’ and ‘Ballad’ (also about homicidal fairies), I think Tithe has been one of the biggest influences on my writing. Not that The New Policeman wasn’t. That got me into the fairies in the first place. It’s just mine aren’t nice.

Often, a book aimed at teenagers can be enough to reduce me to tears in the way that I’ve never experienced with adult books, though I’ve read plenty. Oh, wait, that’s not quite true – I cried at a part of ‘My Sister’s Keeper’, although it was a scene slap bang in the middle and not the ending as one might expect. Aside from that, I don’t tend to cry at adult books.

But with all the dark, twisted YA that there is out there – much of it insanely good – there is another side of the genre that many people sometimes forget exists.

Adventure stories.

I recently finished a trilogy by Scott Westerfeld that started with ‘Leviathan’, continued in ‘Behemoth’ and finished with ‘Goliath’, which my local library kindly bought at my request. I got to be the first person to read it. That always makes me happy… the books are just so clean. 

It’s a steampunk adventure story, to put it simply. Though there is the very beginning of romance in the first book, it builds up so gradually before finally reaching its climax in the third book that we don’t feel it’s imposed upon us. In fact, Scott Westerfeld has got to be one of the only authors that’s ever made me care about a love story as more than just a subplot, even though there was so much going on in the books besides it. I spent most of book two going, “Oh, just REALISE, for goodness sake!”, and much of book three thinking, “Come on, just make out, we’ve waited this long…”

And I was very pleased with how the books ended, though it was a far happier ending than the ones I’m known to enjoy.

Adventure stories are great, because you can sit down and really enjoy them. Really just lose yourself and get excited. There’s none of this ‘thinking’ business, nothing to make you sit back and look at the book, horrified, before deciding to read on. They don’t make you cry (well, not usually, though I’ll confess that I cried at A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve, as I’m a pathetic idiot). They’re there to enjoy.

I want to write one. I don’t think I’ll be very good at it. But I loved Scott Westerfeld’s trilogy so much – and they were books that I would happily give to my dad to read without worrying about what he’d think of ‘these books you’re reading, Miriam’. (Maybe not to my mum, they’d be too scary for her!) They were books I’d share with people of any age, because younger kids would look up to Deryn and Alek, teenagers would symapthise with their challenges, and parents would be impressed by the blending of historical fiction and steampunk fantasy, and also probably nostalgic for youth.

These are books that were fun to read. They didn’t patronise, they didn’t feel low-brow, they didn’t make me feel embarrassed about what I was reading in public (as so many light-hearted books do). But I had a good time romping through the 500-odd pages of that final volume.

And so I felt moved to say to you today – adventure stories are great. Write more of them. Sure, so a bit of dark, twisted YA will always go down well, but sometimes we needed something a bit more fun.

22 thoughts on “In Praise Of Adventure Stories

  1. …. And here I am, just finished a blog post about journeys, lol!

    I LOVE adventure stories , as if you didn’t already know that. I’ll still read the occaional YA, though I’m more into adult stuff now. “Tithe” is an awesome book – I liked it and “Ironside”, “Valiant” seemed a bit pointless. It is very dark, but I really respect the author for putting a gay character in there. He was actually one of my favourites, lol! Some authors shy away from it because they’re worried it’ll limit the readership if the parents don’t approve … stuff it I say! xD

    Awesome post! I agree with almost all you said there … and I cried during “A Darkling Plain” too. Don’t worry ;)

    1. Some weeks I will read nothing but adult books, and some weeks nothing but YA. Often it’s more half and half.
      Adult books that I read tend to be Classics or Sci-Fi/Fantasy, simply because I never know what to look for in the ‘Fiction’ section as I don’t know any of the authors. Also, they all seem to be about sex. But if anyone’s got any recommendations for ordinary fiction for adults, I’d be happy to check it out. (At least with sci-fi you know where you are.)
      I say, “Write the book you want to write and don’t worry about ‘the readership’ … they’ll find you!”

      1. Zigactleh!
        With adult books, I stick to the fantasy / sci-fi sections, mebbe some fiction here and there. I avoid the romances though – tharr be dodgy sex scenes e’rrywhere! Just hunting about will bring up good and dross, just like YA.

      2. I’ll just poke my head in here and recommend the books I recommended to Charley – Anne McCaffery’s Pern – Harper Hall trilogy (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums) and the Dragon Riders of Pern trilogy (Dragonflight, Dragonquest, The White Dragon) start it all off. She blends Science fiction with Fantasy so well… She’s the author who got me though my teens, and I can tell you while there might be some sex, it’s not much at all and it’s much more adventure and problem solving driven than romance driven… in fact it’s sort of light on the romance from what I remember. :}

        Oh you can find Anne McCaffery in both Science Fiction and Fantasy sections, best to ask the book store when you go look. Her stories have not yet been digitalized. *pout*. :}

        I’m hoping my Phoenixes ends up being equal parts adventure and romance, with perhaps a bit more emphasis on the adventure – stop the baddy part. *grins*

        Oh and if you want to read Romance with out the dogginess – find the Christian Romance, it exists and you can bet it will be nice and wholesome. :}

        1. Bookstore? As if I had the money to buy books…. *lives in the public library*
          Not a big fan of romance generally. It’s the sex that randomly turns up in otherwise perfectly interesting books that’s particularly annoying, but as a general rule love stories where no one dies aren’t my thing. Hence why I’m not a big fan of Pride and Prejudice.

      3. they’ve got those same sections in Libraries don’t they? (my local library doesn’t have a lot on it’s shelves and I”m often in the Kids section with my kids so I haven’t been parusing the shelves the way I used to.) :}

        1. Sections I visit – ‘Teens’; ‘Stories’ (that’s children’s); ‘Sci-Fi/Fantasy’; ‘Fiction’; ‘Classics’. Occasionally Horror, but that’s pretty rare ;D

      4. Oh Oh I know a romance that deosn’t necessarily have a hapily ever after – The Notebook. :} *giggles*

        Yeah I’m like you I’d rather visit the sections you mentioned as well… I should post some pictures of my local library – some of the shelves are barren and it looks pathetic… At least in the Adult section – the Kids section is still packed. Haven’t looked for the YA section yet though.

  2. I’ve actually been thinking about reading the Westerfield trilogy myself….I shall put it on my ever-lengthening list of “books I’m going to read at some point”. :P

  3. I’ve been eying Behemoth for a while now, but the library hasn’t had the first book for about two years now. I might request it from another library, but don’t mind. That is, unless someone really endorses it…
    By the way, I’ve been rereading the Bartimaeus trilogy and was having a spot of bother pinpointing the time period. I’d like to ask your opinion. At first it seems Victorian– with sailing ships and the type of clothes they describe– but then there’s a mention of computers, cars, and modern fixtures. Along comes a mention of a campaign in America, and I’m back to the 1770s. Next paragraph is a mention of a steamship, which didn’t come along until about 1850. I’m getting a bit disoriented. By now I’ve realized that it’s a sort of alternate world they’re living in– different history and all that– but it’s difficult. Thoughts?

    1. It’s present day, but alternate world – that’s how it was explained to me. Present day because there are computers and electricity, but alternate because, well, magicians are in charge and so the whole of society is ordered in a totally different way and countries interact differently. I think.
      I would strongly recommend requesting that book. It’s awesome.

      1. Thank you exceedingly. I ought to have picked up on that a bit sooner after swallowing Fire World whole. It’s a bit hard when you’re trying to reconcile historic events with the book’s claims.
        I’ll check it out.

        1. It does sound like you put far too much thought into the whole time period thing *grin* I just kind of went, “Oh, there are computers, so it must be modern. But there are magicians, so society is different, so obviously events are going to happen differently. Right, moving on… ooh, Bartimaeus!”

  4. If you liked the Leviathan books, you should read All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen. It has many of the same elements – steampunk, girl disguised as boy, romance, etc. :D

  5. Haha, me either. I’m very picky about romance in books, but this one wasn’t bad.

    Oh oh! It slipped my mind… but my favorite character in that book is also named Miriam. :D She’s stupendous.

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