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Fanfic Fantastic: Five Amazing Novels that Started Out as Fanfiction

Fanfiction enjoys a questionable reputation at the best of times, but for all the disparaging comments there’s a sizeable audience for whom fanfiction is absolutely everything. Moreover, fanfiction remains an excellent way for young and aspiring authors to try their hand at writing, with the knowledge that their work will find a broad enough audience to at least provide some criticism. It’s hardly surprising that these authors often go on to write their own novels, but a precious few manage to write a fanfiction so tempting that, after a few tweaks, it can make it as its own novel altogether.

Of course, the one example of this “ascended fanfiction” that almost everyone knows is E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, which started life as a fanfic based on Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. While Fifty Shades sheds the vampirism, there are enough familiar elements and characters that most Twilight fans can probably piece things together for themselves.

Despite the many criticisms of it, Fifty Shades continues to be remarkably successful, so today we’re looking at some of the other novels that have grown out of the rich soil of fanfiction. 

His Majesty's Dragon

Naomi Novik’s nine-book Temeraire series is a thrilling combination of fantasy and historical fiction, combining the events of the Napoleonic Wars with the all-important fantasy-military element of a draconic air corps. His Majesty’s Dragon is the first book of the series.

What many don’t realise is that Novik had, in a previous life, worked as a game designer by day, writing fanfiction by night. Speaking in an interview, she commented, 

“...I'd seen the movie Master and Commander and read all the books. I thought, now how can I add to it? Zombies or dragons or magic? I wanted an element of wonder and fantasy is really good at bringing that to the table.”

It should come as no surprise then that Temeraire maintains something of the feel of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series, with their close attention to historical detail and the vagaries of naval combat. Just as O’Brian goes to great difficulty to communicate the scale of different ships involved, Novik ensures her dragons are well catgorised.  

Moreover, those elements of the text that overlap with historical events do so without feeling forced. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, and one that’s made all the stranger by the inclusion of dragons, but Novik manages it with grace.

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The Mortal Instruments 1: City of Bones

City of Bones is the first book of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series of urban fantasy novels. City of Bones tells the story of Clarissa (or Clary) and how she comes to be introduced to a shadow world of magic and demons that runs parallel to our own. When she is suddenly confronted by a magical event, her mother spirits her away to the countryside. There, she learns that she is sensitive to magic, separating her from the world of ordinary humans (or “mundanes” as they are referred to in the book).

While Clare’s novel is an original work, there are those who have noticed that it cannibalises elements of her existing fanfiction. Though it has since been taken down, there was a time when Clare was better known for her series of stories centred around the adventures of Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy. There are also a number of noticeable similarities between characters across the two books, and the treatment of “muggles” and “mundanes” in particular lends the book a familiar feel.

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Shards of Honor

Lois McMaster Bujold is a science fiction and fantasy writer probably best known for her Vorkosigan Sagas. The first book of the series is Shards of Honor, which describes the meeting between Beta Colony captain Cordelia Naismith and Lord Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar. Though the latter has a vicious reputation, the two fall in together and their relationship blossoms over the course of their adventures. Later books in the series follow the exploits of their son, Miles Vorkosigan.

Astute readers may notice some similarities between the peoples described in Shards of Honor and other well-established alien races. It has been suggested that, in its infancy, Shards of Honor was once the story of a Federation captain falling for a Klingon warrior. Indeed, once you start looking for them there are plenty of near-Star Trek themes present.

Bujold would go on to win both a Hugo and a Locus award for the sequel, Barrayar, along with a host of awards for other books in the series. 

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Misplaced Legions

Harry Turtledove’s Videssos series begins with The Misplaced Legion, which tells the story of a Roman legion that finds itself suddenly flung to a parallel world by the chance crossing of two druid-blessed blades. Far from the Roman empire, they find themselves thrown in with the fantastic imperium of Videssos, where they are employed as mercenaries to fight the nation of Yezd. As with Rome itself, “Videssos” is the name of both the empire and its capital city, where much of the series’ politics unfold.

What is perhaps most refreshing is that Turtledove is so open about the genesis of the Videssos series. In an open letter to his readers written when the Videssos books were first compiled into an omnibus edition, he wrote that,

“... after I’d flunked out of Caltech, I wrote a novel to back up my claim. dropped Romans into the world of The Lord of the Rings, setting my book about a thousand years after the One Ring went into the fire."

Years later, with the benefit of a doctorate in Byzantine history, he returned to the core idea of Videssos, moving it out of Tolkien’s Middle Earth and into his own imagined space.

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Anna Todd’s After began life as a series of posts on Wattpad. Todd initially published chapters directly from her phone, keeping readers hooked in a style that’s charmingly reminiscent of the serialised novels of the 19th century. After tells the story of Tessa, a young woman who’s just moved away to college. She has a boyfriend back home, but that doesn’t stop her falling for Hardin, a cocksure rake with a devil-may-care attitude. You can probably imagine where things go from there…

That Todd’s novel began life on Wattpad remains one of its most talked about features, but part of what lent the book its overwhelming popularity is the fact that it’s also One Direction fanfiction. In that, at least, it has the honour of being the only book on our list that’s a fanfic of a musical act, rather than a book or TV show. In terms of content, it’s not a million miles away from Fifty Shades of Grey, complete with a brooding male lead whose behaviour often seems controlling and over-the-top. For all that, it’s still an oddly compelling read, as its billion-plus Wattpad readers attest. 

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While there's an ocean of fanfiction out there, the number of fanfics that are elevated to live a second life as books is still relatively small. That said, we're open to any we can find. If there's a dazzling fanfic-turned-novel out there that we've missed, please drop us a line below and tell us about it.

Alternatively, if there's a must-read fanfic that you think we might enjoy based on the list above, don't hesitate to add that too. We're also interested in alternate histories, dinosaurs, Spider-man, Spider-men, and Spiders, man.


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