Tough Traveling is a fun meme that aims to tour all the tropes big and small, abhorred and loved that are littered across the fantasy landscape. It was conceived of and is hosted by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn and here's how it's explained on the blog:
Each Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.
This week's trope is Orphans:
No one in Fantasyland amounts to anything if they still have both parents. Rule number one. Thanks to Stephanie for the suggestion (and let us all be surprised together that it isn’t in the Tough Guide).
So I expected to be drowning in orphans when making this list, and I was able to come up with several pretty quickly but it wasn't quite as all encompassing a trope as I was imagining. It goes without saying that the first orphan on the list has to be a very famous wizard named Harry who fights dark forces....
What? Were you expecting another Harry perhaps? Harry's mother was genuinely magical while his father was a performing magician. By the age of 6 though, Harry loses both parents and guardianship is given to his very shady uncle. As a teenager, Harry actually kills his uncle with magic (in self defense) thus earning him the eternal mistrust of the White Council and making him an outsider. For his part, Harry unsurprisingly displays quite a profound amount of disrespect for authority.
- Lirael from the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix
Lirael doesn't know who her father is but her mother was a daughter of the Clayr, a magical race of women who have the ability of foresight. Except Lirael. Despite living amongst the Clayr she can not see the future and that lack of ability and the fact that she was abandoned and then orphaned by her mother gives her quite the complex and makes her very lonely. Thankfully she is able to construct a best friend, in the form of a dog, using her powerful magic. As one does. She is of course sent on a quest and as part of that quest learns more about her parentage and family.
- Alina and Mal from the Grisha series by Leigh Bardugo
Alina and Mal grow up as orphans and become best friends. In fact, their connection turns out to be much deeper and their parentage is a major plot point of the last book in the series. Their status as orphans really shape Mal and Alina and their experiences and ultimately their future.
- Kvothe from The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss
Kvothe is another obvious choice for this list because we actually "meet" his parents before they are killed and their death is a major motivator in Kvothe's life and quest.
- Rossamund from the Monster Blood Tattoo Series by D.M. Cornish
Rossamund is delivered anonymously as a baby to a nautically themed orphanage. At the tender age of twelve the orphans are sent out to earn their way and learn a trade. Rossamund is recruited to become part of the Lamplighter corps but many adventures and mishaps and strange happenings get in the way. His parentage is a major plot point for this series.
- Emily Edwards from the Veneficas Americana series by M.K. Hobson
Emily's mother dies shortly after giving birth to her daughter in a lonely town in pioneer era California. Emily is raised by the old man healer for the small community and is an accomplished hedge witch when a magical stone becomes embedded in her hand. She must travel cross country to New York with a snotty professionally trained wizard to see if the stone can be removed and her parentage ends up becoming a very important issue. Well actually the mystery of her parentage may become more of an issue in book two but it plays a major role in the story somewhere along the line.
- The whole Gentleman Bastards gang in the Gentleman Bastards series by Scott Lynch
It's a whole glorious gang of devious, thieving orphans. They become each other's family and it's pretty awesome. Not at all like the gang of thieving orphans working for Fagan in Oliver Twist. Of course a bunch of the Gentleman Bastards do die horrible deaths.....
- Diana Bishop from The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness
So up to this point I've listed books I love and this last one I'm afraid is a good example of how I hate when the character's status as an orphan is used. I really didn't like this book, so sorry to those of you who did, but I found Diana to be a too perfect character who was given a "tragic" childhood in order to make her "relatable". The problem is, though losing her parents is very tragic, she is taken in by her loving aunts and raised in a magical house in a charming small town in New England. Basically I didn't find her status as an orphan really provided any layers to Diana's character but I know I'm in the minority on this one:).
These are all books I've read in the last 8-10 years or so and I probably could have included a few more like that other famous wizard named Harry but I thought this was a good representative sample. See who everybody else include over at the Fantasy Review Barn.