Discussion Post – The Benefit of Glossaries in Fantasy Novels!

There have been a few books recently that have overwhelmed me with the amount of information given about the magic system’s, different magical beings, history of the world, and when I’ve gone to try and find some kind of glossary to help get my head around it all there has been nothing. Don’t get me wrong, the more information the better as far as I’m concerned, but I do feel like sometimes it can all just get a bit too much and by the time I come round to writing my review I struggle to remember all the pieces. I’m sure this would be helped by me taking notes as I read, but I prefer an undisturbed reading experience, and find when I need to stop to make notes, highlight a quote etc that i struggle to get back into the story.

After running a poll on Twitter I could see that the majority of people preferred books that included a glossary, especially if the book was fantasy or science fiction, whether this is to help introduce us to a new world, language or race of people, it seems that they significantly help in keeping all the different and new things we are getting introduced to straight.

There are two books that really stand out to me as having a need for some kind of glossary, and I will be showing a few examples of books that have done it well.

First up is A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth. I LOVED this book, but I did feel like I was constantly a step behind everyone when reading. Just as I would get my head around a new magical creature, we would get introduced to something else, and similarly with the magic system. It was incredibly hard to remember who had what magic, who belonged to which court, and though I still enjoyed the book, having some place to refer back to when meeting new characters, or simply being re-introduced to some would have made my reading experience that much more enjoyable.

The second book that really stood out to me was The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter. I had an easy time keeping track of the characters in this book thanks to the 3 different POV’s, but the magic system and history of the world? That was another matter altogether. I really struggled to get my head around the magic system, and felt even after finishing the book that I couldn’t describe it to you properly (and reading some of the reviews I don’t think I’m alone in that.) There was also the introduction of a new kind of magical being and I really just didn’t see how they fit into the story. Again, though I did enjoy the book as a whole, I really felt like the author could have given us a little more history to the world, as well as a place to refer to for the different kinds of magic.

Now onto some books that do the Glossary well. I’ve read some reviews saying that Samantha Shannon’s ‘Bone Season’ series is hard to get into because of all the different types of Clairvoyants mentioned, as well as there being an ‘alien’ race and a significant amount of ‘slang’ style language used. Though I’ll admit that we are thrown a little in the deep end with the first book, having an in-depth glossary at the back made a huge difference in my reading experience, knowing that I could always refer to it if a phrase, or person popped up that I didn’t know. She includes one of the most extensive glossaries I’ve ever seen, and it does come in extremely handy when remembering terminology for reviews, as well as which characters are which kinds of clairvoyant.

A second series that graces us with an in depth glossary is the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty. Now I will admit to actually never using this myself, I never really found Chakraborty’s world building overwhelming in any way, and didn’t struggle with remembering all the characters we get introduced to, but I do know that’s not the case for everyone, and as well as including information about her world and characters, she gives us explanations for words that, not being familiar with the language, we may not know the meaning of.

Some books don’t even need a full and in depth glossary like the ones above. A great example of this is The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant. Though we still get introduced to a wide breadth of characters, Grant instead gives us a look into the different ‘guilds’ that make up her book, and the names of the people we meet that control that specific guild. Now, this I definitely used for reference because there are a whole bunch of characters, and being able to keep track of which guild they belonged to, who they answered to was incredibly helpful.

Throwing a bit of a spanner in the works, and for those who don’t enjoy flicking to and from a glossary, another way to do introduce your readers to more of your world, without it becoming an information overload, is the Kristoff style footnotes. Not many author try this for obvious reasons, it can make your reading experience feel a little disjointed, as well as adding in information that you don’t necessarily need to further the story, and I’ll admit it’s infinitely easier to read when using the physical editions over the e-books. But he used these to not only help build his world & give us little insights into characters, but also as a plot device that eventually got revealed in the final book & there’s no denying they were effective… have something you want to mention/ feel would be of value to the reader, but just don’t have room for it in the book? Stick it in a footnote.

There are countless other books that use Glossaries effectively & ensure the readers are never overwhelmed with the amount of information given, and there are some that simply don’t need one. But I do think if you’re going to try and introduce readers to a new world, with an intricate magic system, different factions/clans/groups of people, as well as a wealthy cast of side characters, then it would come in incredibly handy to have a place that we can refer to when we, inevitably, get a little lost in it all. And now I want to know what you think! Do you refer to glossaries when reading? Or are they something you just don’t find useful? Have you read any books that desperately needed one? And are there any you think use them well? Let me know in the comments.


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22 replies »

  1. I love a book with a glossary!!! I also feel like I get incredibly overwhelmed by the amount of magic, creatures, abilities, and families. I don’t even think this necessarily applies to just fantasy either!!

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  2. When I see a book with a list of characters at the beginning I worry about what I am letting myself in for 😂 I flick through it anyway and have occasionally needed to refer back. Whilst I would prefer a book to not need a glossary, I would vote to have a glossary in just in case!

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  3. Personally, I hate them and, even if a book includes them, I hardly ever read or flip through them. Usually, they end up confusing me more than I already am and don’t actually give me any more information to untangle the knots in my mind. I’m just glad I’m the kind of reader who usually remembers what she reads, so, when I finally figure it out halfway through, the first half makes more sense and then re-reading the book is a lot more fun.

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    • I tend to not use them unless I’m stuck on something, and though there a plenty of books that have had them in & I’ve not felt the need to even look, there have been some I’m incredibly glad included one 😂. You’re not the only one I know who doesn’t like them though, I have a few reading friends who think they’re pointless & like you, have an easy time remembering things so they don’t feel they need it 😊

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  4. They can definitely come in handy, but I need them to be either in the beginning of the book, or there needs to be a mention at the beginning about it being at the end of the book. Nothing as frustrating as struggling your way through a book to find out when you fininsh that there is a glossary at the end. There is one specific case that I found incredibly frustrating: Lore by Alexandra Bracken. There is an introduction of the different houses and their heroes at the beginning, so I was like “cool, good to know” but then throughout the book I was struggling with a lot of the names and then at the very end there is the actual character guide. Why?

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    • Yes! I totally agree with this. I’m terrible for just not checking and then being annoyed when I find one at the end. Good to know about Lore, it’s on my TBR, so I’ll be sure to flick to the back if I get stuck with anything.

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  5. Great discussion, I love the amount of thought you put into this post Becky ☺ I like glossaries and can completely relate to your thoughts, the magic systems are often complex and it can be hard to fully grasp them!

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  6. I love glossaries in fantasy books! They always help me so much, especially when I have to leave the book alone for a bit and come back having forgotten some of the fantasy words! I don’t always use the glossaries, but when I do, they’re super useful! I also like maps in fantasy books, because those are helpful as well!

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    • I’m completely the same, there are lots of books that have them, but I’ve never really needed to use it. But the main times I do are checking words/names when I’m writing my review because I have a terrible memory 😂

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  7. Great post! I do enjoy a glossary, but I tend to prefer them when they’re at the back of a book rather than right at the front – I like to try and work out as much as I can on my own, knowing the glossary’s there if I do find myself with some questions I need answers to. Plus, if the book’s the first in a series, I’m worried I might spoil a fun surprise part way through the book if I see something in the glossary that I never would have guessed was in the book from the blurb. They’re definitely useful, though!

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