Ah, the comparison. Like its sibling, the quotation from the famous author, no book cover is complete without some variation upon the phrase, “For fans of”, invariably followed by the names of one or two bestsellers. It’s an obvious marketing tactic that’s probably very good at selling to people who read less often than they’d like to and know they enjoyed <insert popular novel here> but aren’t sure what to pick up next.
It drives me nuts. For one thing, it’s used so much as to become virtually meaningless. Find me an epic fantasy released in the last year that isn’t compared to Game of Thrones. Got yourself one with a female protagonist? It’s Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games! It reduces these works, often popular because of their depth and richness, to what’s basically a theme park version. It’s like the marketer’s saying, “Quick, what do you think of when you think of Game of Thrones?” And the book can never live up to the hype, because few books are as popular as the big names used for comparisons.
Moreover, what comes to mind for each person will vary. I have very mixed feelings about Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire. There are some things I think GRRM does very well – complex, flawed characters, colourful worldbuilding – as well as things I think he doesn’t do so well – chiefly, pacing. There are also aspects of the series that make me deeply uncomfortable; I find that a lot of the violence, particularly the sexual assault, worms its way into my head and demands more attention from me than the narrative gives it. For this reason, I actually find comparisons to GoT offputting. Does it mean the book has a rich fantasy world I’ll love? Or does it mean it’s too violent for me? Or did some intern grab the first title that showed up when they Googled “fantasy”?
That’s not to say I never find comparisons attractive. Susan Dennard’s Something Strange and Deadly was compared to Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices and Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty. While I love Clare’s novels, it was the second comparison that drew me in, because A Great and Terrible Beauty, published nearly a decade before Something Strange and Deadly, was never as phenomenally popular as Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter novels, and is certainly not as well-known now as they are. It makes it a more meaningful comparison, because it’s not simply the most popular book in the genre at the present time.
Do you ever pick up books based on the stories they’re compared to?