Books may be categorised by genre in the bookshop and library, but I think we can all agree that within a genre, there’s usually a wealth of different types of books. Take fantasy for example: there’s a huge difference between a book by Terry Pratchett, and a book by George R.R. Martin.
For me, that difference is the book’s atmosphere. Different books give you a very different feeling, and as with genres, I think we all have different bookish atmospheres that we prefer, even if we’ve never really thought about it.
I had never really thought about it much myself until recently, when I started reading Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (which was an incredible book by the way!). The book is loosely based on the fairytale Rumpelstiltskin, and as I was reading the beautiful descriptions of the snowy landscape and getting used to the fairytale world of the story, I realised that I loved the atmosphere that was being created. It was a lush, dangerous, magical fairytale atmosphere that reminded me of books like Wintersong by S Jae-Jones, or pretty much anything by Juliet Marillier.
This got me thinking about other bookish atmospheres that I love, and I came up with a few favourites (although be warned, I found it really difficult to sum up a lot of my favourite atmospheres in words, hence some vague titles!):
As I mentioned above, I love the magical fairytale worlds found in books like Spinning Silver, Wintersong and books like Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier and even The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. Often these worlds are very dark and twisted as well as magical, and nothing is ever as it seems…and I absolutely love it! You get a sense that anything could happen, which I find thrilling.
Yes, this is technically a subgenre, but I think it’s also an atmosphere that can be found in a lot of fantasy books like Joe Abercrombie’s First Law books and Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor series.
The dark, gritty atmospheres of these messed up fantasy worlds may be a weird thing to say you ‘like’, but in a way there’s a certain honesty to a world that is blatantly corrupt, unfair and cruel. I also love resourceful and badass characters, and grimdark worlds are generally full of them. I mean, how else are you going to survive, other than being a badass?
This may seem a bit vague, but don’t certain books just make you feel all upbeat and summery? For me it’s always Sarah Dessen’s books that make me feel all warm and fuzzy and nostalgic inside, and for me, that’s what summer feels like!
Another book I read recently that also gave me that summery feeling was Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett, so maybe this is just what a lot of contemporary books feel like to me? They just make me feel good!
I also really love books that have a really quirky and whimsical feeling to them. I’m thinking Roald Dahl, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
I also feel like Harry Potter could even come under this umbrella. I mean, think about what half of the things in the books are called: Hogwarts, Fizzing Whizzbees, Platform 9 and 3/4, Nifflers etc. Plus the portraits talk, the staircases move and owls deliver the post… Everything just sounds so fun and cute and weird, and it’s wonderful!
I didn’t really know how to title this particular atmosphere, but I’m talking about books whether historical or fantasy where everyone is standing on a political knife edge, and danger abounds!
Generally books set in the Tudor Court or during the Wars of the Roses have this kind of dangerous atmosphere (so a lot of Philippa Gregory’s books, the Six Tudor Queens series by Alison Weir, and Conn Iggulden’s War of the Roses series). But you also often find this in fantasy books set in royal courts, for example the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin, and The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.
To say a lot of standing around talking tends to go on in these books, there’s certainly some high stakes, and I find it really exciting!
So what bookish atmospheres do you love? Is there any that you hate, even within a genre you love?