Tough Traveling is a weekly feature, created and hosted by Nathan at the Fantasy Review Barn, in which participants come up with a list of books that follow the fantasy tropes that can be found in Diana Wynne Jones’ The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Each week, Nathan picks a new subject. This week, I was pleased that Nathan selected a topic that I suggested, drugs:
DRUGS- Driver of all the underground economies. At times glorified, at times responsible for all the world’s evil, but just as common in Fantasyland as our own.
I don’t know why drugs are one of my favorite tropes in books (really, any genre will do), because I’m all about “Don’t do drugs!” I have kids, so my husband and I are always lecturing them about the dangers of doing drugs. But drugs can be used in fiction to great effect, and some of my favorite books use drugs prominently, and dare I say, would not be nearly as good without them. I know I’ve left off lots of great examples, but here are six books that come to mind when I think of using drugs in stories:
“Blue” from The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig. Still one of my favorite books from last year, Wendig’s drug-fueled story about a hidden underground world in New York City features a powder that is mined from a mineral called Cerulean. When someone takes Blue, the veil is pulled back from their eyes, and they can see the underground “monsters” who are not visible to the human eye unless you take the drug. And yes, there are Blue addicts in the story.
“Quint” from Three by Jay Posey. One of the main characters, Cas, is a “chemic,” someone who is addicted to quint. Cas started using the drug when she worked for a group called RushRuin, but now she’s addicted and in a world of hurt, because she’s on the run, and her supply of quint is gone. I loved the idea that Cas is a victim of the drug, and she only started taking it to perform her job for RushRuin. Her traveling companion Three knows the withdrawal effects of quint aren’t fun, so he goes out of his way to find some for her.
“Chi” from Stormdancer (and Kinslayer & Endsinger) by Jay Kristoff. Chi is derived from a flower called the blood lotus. It is used primarily as a fuel to run the complex steam engines of Kristoff’s world, but it can also be smoked. People addicted to chi live aimless lives, as chi seems to have the same effects as marijuana. Unfortunately for the citizens of Kigen City, you’re going to be breathing in chi whether you like it or not, as the air is forever ruined by the smoke from the chi factories.
“Blind” from Premonitions by Jamie Schultz. Here’s another story where a character takes drugs in order to avoid physical suffering. Without a constant supply of blind, Karyn can see slices of the future by hallucinating, and blind helps keep the hallucinations at bay. Unfortunately (isn’t there always an “unfortunately” when we’re talking about drugs?), blind is extremely rare (we’re talking black market, folks) and expensive, and she’s forced into heist jobs in order to pay for it.
Vampire bites from Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. One of my favorite characters in one of my favorite books is Cat, a woman who has become addicted to the bite of a vampire, which gives her a high that she can’t find anywhere else. Ok, so technically vampire bites aren’t a drug, but in this case the bite releases a chemical that acts as a drug. This idea isn’t new, since many vampire stories use the vampire’s bite as a pleasure device, but Gladstone takes the idea further when Cat starts to fall in love with one of the vamps who is biting her.
“Curious Yellow” from Vurt by Jeff Noon. This is the first book that comes to mind when I think about drugs in books. Noon’s writing feels as if he were on LSD while he was writing it (and who knows, maybe he was!). In any case, it worked, and this story still lingers with me, even though I read it nearly twenty years ago. In Vurt, the drugs are vurt feathers, which the user places on his tongue for a highly potent narcotic effect. Curious Yellow is rumored to be the most potent form of the drug, but it might not even exist.
Let me know if you have any good examples!