Discussion Time: The Pros and Cons of Magical Realism

A little while ago I posted a discussion about the pros and cons of fairytale retellings, because while I love the subgenre that doesn’t mean there aren’t some people who avoid those books, and it also doesn’t mean I’m blind to the cons. Someone mentioned in the comments that I could do a pros and cons post for all genres, after all there are certainly enough of them out there.

Rest assured I’m not going to do a pros and cons post for every genre. Some, like fantasy and contemporary, are too large and comprehensive to work in my mind; but after I posted my fairytale retelling post I got to think about another genre I love, another genre I want to see more of but one that does have some cons.

The Pros and Cons of Magical Realism

The Pros and Cons of Magical Realism

Magical realism is a relatively new genre, at least it is in my opinion. I discovered it a couple of years ago when I picked up Bone Gap and immediately fell in love, both with the story and the genre itself. Ever since then I have been picking up every magical realism book I can get my hands on and there’s yet to be one I’ve readΒ  haven’t loved.

Bone Gap


Pros

It’s Magic in the Real World

While I love reading fantasy books there’s something about the world and the magic there that feels untouchable. I’m never going to be able to go to Hogwarts or travel to Red London, but the magical realism books I’ve read make me believe it could be possible for me to encounter magic in real life; be it though a girl with flowers growing from her wrists, or a boy with feathers growing where his hair should be.

Anna Marie McLemore

They’re Primarily Standalones

There are a lot of benefits to books that are part of a series, but when it comes to magical realism I’ve found standalones work better. This also means there is never going to be an agonising wait for the next book to be released.

I’m not actually aware of any magical realism books that are part of a series, unless you count The Raven Cycle books as magical realism. I never used to, but the more I think on it the more I agree that Stiefvater’s series does fit within the genre.

The Raven Cycle

They’re Some of the Most Beautifully Written Books I’ve Read

All the magical realism books I’ve read have been written like poetry, they’re beautiful stories full of important messages that really do stay with you for a long time.


Cons

The Lack of World-Building

One thing I’ve noticed in all the magical realism books I’ve read is that there isn’t a lot of world building. It’s something that works well don’t get me wrong, nothing is fully explained which only adds to the magic in the story but it can make things really confusing. Vassa in the Night was a magical realism book I enjoyed for the most part, however for most of the story I had no clue what was happening, and the lack of world building only meant I never got any satisfactory answers as to what Vassa was going through.

Vassa in the Night

There’s Not a Lot of Choice

Like I said earlier magical realism is still a relatively new genre, and as such there aren’t that many books within it that you can read if you discover and fall in love with the genre the way I did.


Magical realism is a new genre, but it’s growing. There are two incredible books still to be released this year, by my favourite magical realism authors no less, I can’t wait to get my hands on. Also it seems like I’m also discovering old books I read and marked as ‘Contemporary’ or ‘Fantasy’ or ‘Paranormal’ actually fit better in the ‘Magical Realism’ genre than any of the others.

The Pros and Cons of Magical Realism (1)

However I’m aware that there are plenty of people who are not fans of the magical realism genre, and I can kind of understand that. After all if you’re used to fantasy books where the world building is expansive and comprehensive then magical realism books, where the magic is never fully explained, can be hard to wrap your head around. It’s hard for me at times.


Now Onto the Discussion Part of This Post:

Do you enjoy magical realism books, or do you find yourself avoiding them more often than not? Why?

What pros and cons do you think there are when it comes to the genre? Do you agree with the ones I’ve discovered or not?

What is the best magical realism book you’ve picked up, also what would you say was the worst?

Let me know in the comments below.

70 thoughts on “Discussion Time: The Pros and Cons of Magical Realism

  1. I’m pretty sure that A Fierce and Subtle Poison is the very first (and perhaps only??) magical realism book I’ve read. If the rest are like that one, I’ll definitely be reading more of this genre! It was such a spooky and also beautiful book. Plus, like you said, it stuck with me for awhile after reading. πŸ™‚

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    1. A Fierce and Subtle Poison was actually the second magical realism book I read. It’s really good, don’t get me wrong, but I think there are better ones out there so be prepared to love the genre Bridget! πŸ˜€
      That’s a great way to describe the magical realism genre, spooky but beautiful. πŸ™‚

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  2. Ohh lovely discussion Beth! Magical realism definitely seems like more of a new genre, I hadn’t even discovered the genre prior to last year, I believe. Now that I have I’m totally hooked! I definitely agree that the genre has weaker worldbuilding, especially compared to fantasy, but I love the realism aspect mixed in with magic, it just makes it so appealing! And the writing is often so beautiful as well. ❀ Loved this post!

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    1. Thanks so much Analee! πŸ™‚ It’s definitely a genre that’s growing in popularity, and yeah I only recently discovered it as well but I was very quickly hooked.
      I think sometimes that’s one of the draws of the magical realism genre, the lighter world building. In a way you can sit back and fall into a world where the only world building is ‘magic’. There something special about that I think. πŸ™‚
      Thanks so much! πŸ™‚ ❀️

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  3. Really interesting post, Beth. I would’ve thought you’d only have good things to say about this genre since your love for it was sooo huge hahah I can’t say too many things about the genre itself since I haven’t read that many books that could fit in this genre, but it generally does sound magical and amazing.

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    1. Thanks so much Lashaan. πŸ™‚ I could have written this post with all pros for the genre, but I like looking at the other side of things as well, because as much as I love magical realism I’m not blind to the flaws the genre has as a whole.
      Definitely magical and definitely amazing. Hopefully if you do decide to pick up a magical realism book one day you’ll really enjoy it, πŸ™‚

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  4. I really do need to try out magical realism one day. I’ve only read a few, but most of them have been short stories, my favorite being “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” Another pro I can think of for magical realism books is the covers. Most MR books I’ve seen have stunning covers. I think I’d buy them just to have them grace my shelves with their beauty haha. I think it wouldn’t bother me too much that the world-building isn’t there, as long as I keep reminding myself that it’s not a fantasy book complete with all the fantasy fixings. It’s a completely different genre so I shouldn’t try to compare them too often. I love the concept of magical realism because it feels more grounded and a bit more possible. I also love that most of them are standalones, which are really hard to find nowadays. It’s a shame there’s not that many options, but I think that if you and many others who enjoy this genre keep highlighting these types of books, the trend will pick up the pace and continue growing! Definitely gotta pick up one of these books one day πŸ˜€ Great topic and post, as usual, Beth! ❀

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    1. I’d definitely say to give this genre a go Azia, it’s a favourite of mine after fantasy and I’ve yet to pick up a magical realism book that I haven’t enjoyed. I haven’t heard of A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings but I haven’t read that many magical realism short stories. I do agree with you on the covers though, they’re simply stunning.
      If the lack of world building wouldn’t bother you then I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t love the magical realism genre. I think the lack of world building is what puts most people off. Yeah the standalones aspect is a positive thing indeed. I think we need more standalone books.
      I am seeing more magical realism books actually being published and it’s great to see. Hopefully this is a trend that will continue.
      Thanks so much Azia! πŸ˜€ ❀

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      1. Oh you should definitely try reading A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings. It’s pretty dark, but it’s a very insightful look into human nature and our perception/treatment of “other.”
        I sure hope so! I’ll start off with When the Moon Was Ours πŸ˜‰
        No worries! ❀

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      2. It sounds really good, and like I said I’m always looking for more magical realism to pick up so I’ll have to check it out. πŸ™‚
        Great, I’ll be looking forwards to hearing what you think of that one, it’s a favourite of mine. πŸ™‚ ❀️

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh! I never realized that magical realism wasn’t popular as a genre outside of South America! It is one of my favorite genres and I love how sometimes the stories just have this ‘dream-like’ feeling to them. For what I know the difference between fantasy and magical realism has a lot of discussion going on, since some people say it is all the same and some say there are very specific changes.
    Welp, who knows, just keep giving me those wonderful books!

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    1. It does seem to be getting more popular outside of South America, but I guess not as popular as in the country where it originated you know? Yes I love that about the genre as well. πŸ™‚
      There are definitely differences between fantasy and magical realism, but I think it’s more subjective in a way. While there are differences everyone will agree on there are probably differences that are unique to certain people.
      Ha, same here. As long as they continue to release magical realism books I’m happy! πŸ˜€

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  6. I really really want to get into reading magical realism. Once I heard a few people describe one of my all time favorite books The Night Circus as magical realism I was sold. Although I don’t know too much about the genre I feel like it is one i would easily fall in love with. I’m going to be reading The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender very soon so I’m hoping to get my first true taste of it.

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    1. Magical realism is one of my all-time favourite genres, and The Night Circus is one of my all-time favourite books so I’m definitely one of the people describing it as a magical realism read. πŸ™‚
      There are some brilliant books out there. If you enjoy The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender I’d recommend Bone Gap, anything by Anna-Marie McLemore but especially When the Moon Was Ours, and anything by Emily Henry but definitely The Love That Split the World. πŸ™‚

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      1. I really wish that there was more magical realism books out there, but I definitely wish to read all the books you have mentioned. Another magical realism book that I really want to read that has just recently come out is The art of Starving. It sounds like it is going to be amazing!

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      2. Same here, there are a couple more being released this year which I can get around to in the meantime though. Oh definitely do, I hope you enjoy them.
        I haven’t heard of The Art of Starving but I’ll have to check it out. I need more magical realism in my life. πŸ™‚

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  7. YESSSSSI LOVE THIS POST!! I absolutely adore magical realism now, having read lots of books in the genre. I’ll have to say, Bone Gap will forever be one of my favorite magical realism books ever! WILD BEAUTY OMGGGGGG I am so so excited for it (and would you look at that COVER???). I do agree that not a lot of magical realism has worldbuilding??? The genre has a mysterious vibe to it and I think that’s why the authors don’t have as extensive worldbuilding. But YES definitely one of my favorite things is that it’s magic in the real world! And when you’re writing it, you don’t have to come up with a WHOLE new world (like fantasy), but you don’t have to stick SOLEY to realistic elements (like contemporary). Great post, Beth!! ❀

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    1. Thanks so much May! πŸ˜€ ❀ Yes magical realism is an incredible genre, one I am so so glad I discovered. Same here, but When the Moon Was Ours is a close second because it's incredible as well. Wild Beauty is one of my most anticipated releases on the second half of this year (definitely one of the most gorgeous covers I've ever seen! <3)
      That's a good way to describe it actually. Yeah I think magical realism must be hard to write because it's got to be difficult to get the mix of mysterious but still informative right when it comes to the world building. Yeah not having to create a whole new world must come in handy. πŸ™‚
      Thanks so much May! πŸ™‚ ❀

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  8. I’m never sure what counts as magical realism to be honest but I love what I have read. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender and The Night Circus were both beautiful! Definitely something I need to explore more. Thanks for the recs!

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    1. Magical realism can be hard to define. I guess for me it’s whatever I think fits, a book I can’t class as straight up contemporary or fantasy. I haven’t read The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender but I have read and loved The Night Circus and for me that’s definitely magical realism.
      That’s all right, I hope you enjoy all these books. πŸ™‚ ❀

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  9. I like them and I don’t. For the same reasons you mentioned – it’s usually the world building in have a problem with. Magical realism usually involves a magic that never has a full explanation. It’s always just there and you have to follow along and deal with it. When it’s done properly and there’s some explaination to the Magic itself, then it can be really enjoyable! The Raven Cycle series and Night Circus were wonderful. There was so much world building to those two!

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    1. Yeah the world building seems to be the point a lot of people have mentioned in the comments, and the one most people seem to get stuck on so to speak. It’s like magical realism relies on faith, the blind believe in magic, whereas fantasy books will set it out for you to see for yourself. I definitely agree with you there, magical realism has to be hard to write because I reckon it’s hard to get the balance of explaining things without revealing too much just right.
      They’re both favourite books/series of mine, incredible in every single way! πŸ˜€

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  10. I honestly can’t say I’ve read a lot of magical realism. I read the shades of magic books, and TRC but I usually prefer high fantasy, I’m not sure why. Part of my problem with magical realism is that it can get very complicated to the point where I often feel confused. This happened a lot while I was reading TRC, and it bothered me quite a bit.

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    1. At least you can say you’ve read one or two books from the genre though. πŸ˜€
      Yeah I get what you mean, magical realism isn’t for everyone and as much as I love the genre I’m always going to prefer fantasy. It sounds like the thing you struggle with is the lack of world building, which has been mentioned a lot in the comments. I guess it’s hard to go from fantasy where the world building is really well developed to magical realism where it isn’t as much. πŸ™‚

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      1. Yeah but also for me a lot of the reading experience is…visual. I don’t know how to explain it but I’ve always had an EXTREMELY VIVID imagination. When I’m reading I sometimes feel like I’m watching a movie instead of reading a book. And then most of the time I can’t remember actually seeing the words on the page, I remember scenes and actions. So without that fullness it just doesn’t work for me!

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      2. Oh that’s an interesting way to read (although I guess for you it’s just how you normally read, and it’s interesting for me because I read differently) and yeah I can see how that would make magical realism a hard genre to get into. With the lack of world building it must be difficult, maybe even impossible, to fully imagine the world and the story you’re reading.

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      3. Yeah, it’s probably the biggest reason why my favorite genre of ever is high fantasy! Although I do have to say that the Shades of Magic books are some of my favorites! Schwab does a really good job of worldbuilding in all of her books I have to say, because the Monsters of Verity duology is amazing as well and it’s urban!

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      4. Oh I don’t read much high fantasy but I can see why that genre would fit your reading style more. From what I have read the world building in those books is beyond compare.
        V.E. Schwab is just an incredible author. In my opinion everything about her books is fantastic! πŸ˜€

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  11. I actually never thought of magical realism as a separate sub genre but now I definitely have to re read some books that I am pretty sure fall under this category! I would agree that The Raven Cycle (which I love) is magical realism to an extent. And in that series you can definitely see the poetry aspect you were talking about. One I would love to read is American Gods, though that may fall under regular fantasy, I’m really not sure.

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    1. Yeah I mean I don’t think it can be classed as fantasy though in a way it does fit into the genre. It’s like a light version of fantasy you know? The Raven Cycle is amazing, and it was a book I actually mislabeled for ages. I always thought it was paranormal but when someone linked it to the magical realism genre I realised that was a much better for for it.
      Oh I haven’t read American Gods, it’s one of the only Neil Gaiman books I still have on my to-read list but I want to try and get around to it soon. πŸ™‚

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  12. Great discussion! I haven’t read much magical realism yet. I think the only one I’ve read is Wing Jones, which I enjoyed, but thought was a bit strange (I’d never read magical realism yet so it was a new experience) so I didn’t end up loving it. However, I’m willing to give magical realism a second chance to see if I enjoy it better once I get used to reading it.

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    1. Thanks so much Lauren. πŸ™‚ Oh I read Wing Jones recently, I really enjoyed it but I think it was a lighter magical realism read than some of the others I’ve picked up. If you’re willing to give the genre a second chance I’d recommend either Bone Gap or anything by Anna-Marie McLemore. If you’re going to fall in love with the genre I reckon it will be one of those books that does it for you. πŸ™‚

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  13. Great discussion, Beth! Just like you, I discovered magical realism only a little while ago, but really loved it. I have so many books to read in the genre to make it one of my favorites, but MoΓ―ra Fowley-Doyle writes such fantastic books in the genre -The accident season, the spellbook of the lost and found-, I love it. I agree though about the lack of world-building. Magic in the real world is fabulous and always makes me dreamy, but it can be a bit frustrating, not to have such a great world building.
    Great post! πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks so much Marie. πŸ™‚ Yeah magical realism is a new and growing genre and I can’t wait to see what else I can discover in it. I have heard of MoΓ―ra Fowley-Doyle, and I have The Spellbook of the Lost and Found on my to-read list as well so I can’t wait to get around to that one, especially after hearing what you’ve said about the author! πŸ˜€
      Yeah I definitely understand the frustration, world-building is such an important aspect for me in fantasy books, there’s something about magical realism and the lack of world building that works for me more often than not you know?
      Thanks Marie! πŸ˜€ ❀

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      1. I understand – given the genre, a lack of world-building is somehow more…well, I can forget about it for a while and just immerse myself into the weirdness of it all πŸ™‚

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  14. I haven’t come across any magical realism books yet, but I have a few of the books you’ve mentioned on my TBR! I definitely understand the lack of world building in magical realism though, which is one of my favourite parts of reading fantasy!

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    1. There aren’t many popular ones out there, like I mentioned in the post it’s definitely a growing genre. Yeah I’m the same, my favourite part of fantasy books is the world building and it needs to be well developed for me to rate it highly, but I don’t mind the lack of it as much in magical realism books. For some reason it just works.

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  15. Hmm, I can’t say I’ve read enough magical realism books to formulate a concrete opinion about that genre. But the books I HAVE read were definitely super fascinating and super unique. In fact, the first real “magical realism” book I read was Chronicles of a Death Foretold, and I absolutely LOVED Marquez’s atmospheric, almost fantastical writing.

    I know a bunch of new magical realism books– most notably, Maggie Stiefvater’s All The Crooked Saints, which I’m SUPERRR excited for– are coming out this year!! so yay to that!! XD

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    1. Ahh, see that just means you have an opportunity to read more magical realism books. You can never read too many magical realism books in my opinion. πŸ™‚
      I’m glad the books you have read you’ve enjoyed, and I’ll have to check out Chronicles of a Death Foretold, just the title has me intrigued and partially hooked on the story. πŸ™‚
      Yes there are so many amazing ones being released soon. I’m definitely excited for All the Crooked Saints and also Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore. πŸ˜€

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  16. Magical realism is great! It’s not that new actually, maybe in English- but if you wanted to look into the origins of it, they lie in South America with books like ‘como agua para chocolate’ (like water for chocolate) by Laura Esquivel. The translation is quite good! But yeah I believe it’s roots are in South America ☺️ great piece!

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    1. Oh I definitely didn’t realise that. Personally I only noticed the magical realism genre after reading and falling in love with Bone Gap and I know that was released pretty recently. It seems like it’s a growing genre in the UK/US at the moment but I’ll definitely check out some of the origin books, so to say. If the translation is good I’ll certainly look into Like Water for Chocolate. πŸ˜€
      Thanks Eva. πŸ™‚

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  17. Magical realism is my second favorite genre. I consider myself a contemporary reader, and magical realism is like contemporary with a a touch of fantasy. I have read some books where the use of magical elements is wonderful: Wicked Like a Wildfire, Wild Beauty, any AS King book, The Accident Season, Spellbook Lost and Found. I have also read some books, where the magical elements seemed like after thoughts. They didn’t ruin the story, but they didn’t elevate it either.

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    1. Yeah I get what you mean, I feel like magical realism is a genre that fits comfortably between fantasy and contemporary.
      Oh I haven’t read any of those myself, but I have Wicked Like a Wildfire, Wild Beauty, and Spellbook Lost and Found on my to-read list, they all sound amazing and hearing you say that just makes me want to get around to them even sooner. πŸ™‚
      Yeah I’ve read books where the magical elements seemed like after thoughts. They’re still good but nothing amazing like some magical realism books can be. πŸ™‚

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  18. For some reason I was intimidated by magical realism for a while, but I’m really loving the genre now! I definitely need to read some more. I’m really attracted to the idea of magic in “the real world” because it’s something I thought about a lot when I was a kid. I do agree that the lack of worldbuilding can be frustrating at times, though.

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    1. Oh I hadn’t thought about it like that. For me there was a magical realism book I thought sounded interesting so I just started reading it. But yeah I can see why the genre may be a little intimidating for people picking it up for the first time. I’m glad you got through that, and glad you love it now.
      The idea of magic in the real world makes up for the lack of world building for me. I don’t really mind or notice it when reading you know? πŸ™‚

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    1. It’s possible, there are a couple of books I realised I’ve mislabeled. Sometimes there are just so many genres books can fit in.
      I’m the same I love fantasy, but I’d definitely recommend checking out magical realism if it sounds like something you’d be interested in. I’d highly recommend Bone Gap, anything by Anna-Marie McLemore and anything by Emily Henry. Those are all-time favourites of mine. πŸ™‚

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  19. Ooh I love Magical Realism! Especially for the reason that it’s magic in the real world. It makes it seem like anything can happen and maybe I can experience some small magic too. I’m not sure if you’d count I’ll Give You The Sun as magical realism or maybe just very artistic and figurative writing, but I love that style. Same with The Raven Cycle. I’m never sure what genre it falls under, not quite contemporary and not quite fantasy or paranormal, so magical realism fits it pretty well.

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    1. Yes same here, it makes me believes I could come across magic in my real life more so than fantasy books do and I love that aspect of reading books from the genre. Oh I hadn’t thought that about I’ll Give You the Sun but yes it does have a very artistic and beautiful writing style so it could count.
      The Raven Cycle series could fit in so many different genres. I think things like this come down to personal preference. πŸ™‚

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  20. I love magical realism, one of my favorite books ever is of this genre (One hundred years of solitude). But it’s hard to pull it off, I think. Ask you said, the lack of world building can definitely be a problem, and to me it should have a more beautiful & lyrical writing, which is a hit or miss… also find it always interesting to see magical realism out of South America. I’m glad the genre is popularizing!

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    1. I’ll definitely have to check out One Hundred Years of Solitude, I’m constantly looking for new magical realism books I can add to my to-read list. πŸ™‚ Yes beautiful and lyrical writing is definitely something I’ve seen in all the magical realism books I’ve read so far. I think it tends to add to the magic of the story and makes it easier to look past the light world building.
      Same here, it makes me think there will be more and more books in the genre being released! πŸ˜€

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