Fantasy books do not have a good track record with blood parents. As I was trying to think of moms and dads of protagonists in fantasy for this piece, I was astounded by the number of orphans with adoptive mentors. Parents are hard to come by, and often they are either dead, shunted off stage, missing, antagonistic, or even not mentioned at all. Usually this is done to provide narrative structure for classic fantasy stories, but it doesn’t leave readers with a lot of options when it comes to memorable parents. So, in honor of Father’s Day, I thought I would make a list of some of the lesser known, yet memorable, fathers in fantasy. I am skipping Harry Potter and Song of Ice and Fire as I am sure you have probably heard about these small niche series and their many father figures.
1) Ke’heops – Spellslinger: Let’s start off with just an absolutely terrible father who puts in the legwork to be a great antagonist – Ke’heops from Sebastian de Castell’s Spellslinger series. Ke’heops is the father of Kellen, the series’ protagonist, and is the recurring antagonist for the entire series. But, just being the bad guy isn’t why I put him on this list.
Ke’heops and Kellen’s relationship is fraught with friction and disagreement, but their conflict comes from a place of differing ideals and worldview. The Spellslinger series spends a lot of time digging into the reasons that the ideals of father and son diverge and how their worldviews were created. It is an excellent exploration of how children and parents can grow distant while trying to maintain the bonds of family.
Ke’heops is definitely a dad, and he spends a lot of time considering and appreciating his children. But he is also a tyrant, and when his desire for control and familial love come into opposition it creates a wonderful canvas for conflict and character exploration. Although Ke’heops isn’t a good father, I appreciate that he represents a detailed look at what a father-son bond is, and that he is extremely present in Kellen’s life at all times.
2) Tamas – Promise of Blood: If you are looking for someone a little more positive, look no further than High Marshal Tamas in Brian McClellen’s Promise of Blood. Tamas is one of my favorite characters in fantasy, and easily one of my top dads because he is an older protagonist with a long history behind him that informs his actions in the present. We don’t get a lot of protagonists in his age range, and it’s a really nice change of pace and perspective.
In addition, we have Tamas’ son, Taniel, as a second perspective in the book. This means that the father/son bond is explored from multiple angles and that each of them exists as an individual and as a family member at the same time. Promise of Blood does a good job of this, giving us a complex, familial relationship that is understandably strained by the obligations and desires of the individual. Reading about these two soldiers making their way in the world will make you want to call your dad.
On a different note, Promise of Blood is also home to one of my least favorite examples of dads in fantasy – Adamat. Adamat is the third POV of the story, and he is a detective who is investigating a secondary mystery that sits around the main storyline. His primary motivation in the story is that some of his kids have been kidnapped and Adamat is being blackmailed into being a spy for mysterious individuals to prevent their harm. Adamat spends a lot of time in the book talking about the importance of his kids and how much he loves them, but his relationship to his children (and he has a ton) only exists as leverage to get him blackmailed – they have no identity outside of that. The entire family feels fake and irrelevant and despite him proclaiming to be a loving father it just doesn’t feel believable. This execution demonstrates what is lacking from a lot of father relationships in fantasy books, substance.
3) Andross and Gavin Guile – Lightbringer: I have issues with Lightbringer as a series that I won’t get into here, but one thing I do think it does very well is its exploration of a multigenerational set of fathers – the Guiles. Andross Guile is the grandfather of the family who spends his days trying to manipulate his relatives in a huge game of chess. Gavin is the middle generation who wants to control his own life and exist outside his father’s machinations, and Kip is the youngest generation who just wants a place to belong. Their relationships are terrible, but they are interesting to read about and give a lot of food for thought.
Throughout this five-book series, the subject of “is Andross a good father?” is a constant topic of conversation with readers. The books thrive on twists and keeping the reader in the dark, so there are always new nuggets of context coming to the surface as the books push forward. You will find yourself viewing these characters from new angles every few chapters and it does a great job of getting the reader to reassess their assumptions about what it means to be a father or son. Do parents and children deserve unconditional love? What does it mean to do the best for your children? What is your responsibility to your family? What is the meaning of duty? All of these questions get explored in Lightbringer and it is one of the strongest parts of the series.
4) Duncan Michaelson – Acts of Caine: This is a weird one, as the father/son relationship goes from a background detail to the center of the plot as the series progresses. Hari, from the Acts of Caine by Matthew Stover, has a complicated relationship with his father. The story is about an entertainer named Hari who travels to an alternate dimension called Overworld where he assumes the identity of Caine, and goes on televised adventures as a job.
His father is a disgraced and disheveled academic who beat Hari’s mother to death, as well as repeatedly beat Hari when he didn’t live up to his expectations. Despite his clearly negative traits, Duncan is also portrayed as being incredibly intelligent. He writes numerous authoritative anthropological texts about Overworld, and is shown to be the clear force that shaped the man who Hari becomes, both on Earth and as the persona of Caine. What’s interesting about this father/son relationship is how Hari, despite all of the clear negatives that Stover shows the reader, still respects and admires his father. It’s a complicated and toxic relationship that dives into the power that a parent has on the worldview of their child.
As the books progress, the relationship between Hari and Duncan moves from background context about Hari to a central plot point in the story. The relationship gets explored in excruciating detail, so if you are looking for a narrative that thrives in a grey space and that has no right answers, this is for you.
5) Gabriel – Kings of the Wyld: While it is extremely hard to find dads in fantasy stories, father/daughter relationships are even rarer. If you know of any additional fantasy stories that have a good look at a father/daughter bond, please leave it in the comments, because the only one I really have up my sleeve is Kings of the Wyld and Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames. In the first two books of The Band series, Eames’ novels take the very fun position of telling the story of fantasy adventuring groups as if they were rock bands on tour. There is a lot of great humor, characters, and rich worldbuilding in these books – but they also have a great look at a relationship between father and daughter.
Gabriel is the frontman of the adventuring group in book one, Kings of the Wyld. The main POV is a different party member, but the story is about a group of retired fighters coming out of retirement to launch a rescue mission for Gabriel’s daughter, Rose. Gabriel spends a lot of time in Kings of the Wyld talking about what his daughter means to him, how she shaped his life, and how much he loves her. It’s very heartwarming, and an absolute joy to read – but it’s only half the story as we only get his side of the story.
Which is why it’s so cool that Bloody Rose, the sequel, is about Rose and her relationship with her father. Once again, the main perspective is a new member to Rose’s warband, but a large part of the book is about how Rose struggles to step out of her dad’s shadow as a famous warrior and how it complicates her relationship with him. All of this paints a wonderful story over two books about a relationship between father and daughter that will tug at your heartstrings and get you thinking.
Happy Father’s Day everyone!