Since I write a lot about religion
in fantasy settings, naturally I tend to enjoy reading about this subject, too.
Here are a few of my favorite "fantastic religion" stories, in no
C. S. Friedman's Coldfire Trilogy
Early in Black Sun Rising, the first book of this trilogy, we're introduced to
the Church of Human Unification, which looks superficially like early Roman
Catholicism: there's a pope-ish patriarch with both doctrinal and political
power; the protagonist, Damien Vryce, is something like a priest of the
Inquisition; and the Church has massive, beautiful houses of worship devoted to
the One God. Very quickly, however, we begin to realize there's something more
to this church--because this story is taking place on Erna, a planet settled
by colonists from Earth, where magic (for all intents and purposes) works. Here,
simply willing something into existence can have real, substantive--and often
deadly--effects. And the Church is working very hard at willing something
into being: God, or at least a force which will help to protect humankind from
the deadly magic of the world.
Then we meet the man who created the
Church, who turns out to be one of the most evil human beings on the planet. Excommunicated,
thankfully... but is that enough to remove evil's influence? The entire trilogy
is concerned with answering this question, and exploring religion for the
powerful world-shaping weapon that it can be.
Miyuki Miyabe's ICO: Castle in the
Mist I'm also a huge fan of created religions, or those which don't
resemble the real world in any way. I also love video games. Players were
introduced to a truly unique and artistic experience in the game Ico,
released in 2001 for the Playstation 2. In this game and its sequel (Shadow
of the Colossus), we're introduced to a tribal society that lives in terror
of devouring spirits and people born with horns. So terrified are they that at
the beginning of this book (which is based on the game, and a rare novel
adaptation that's actually good), they sacrifice a boy born with horns to the
queen of the Castle in the Mist. Why they have done this, and why their
religion compels them to commit human sacrifice, forms the plot of both games
and is explored in much greater depth in this novel. I recommend all three.
Jane Yolen's Cards of Grief One of
the earliest examples of a created religion that I came across was Jane Yolen's
1984 science fiction novel, Cards of Grief. In this poignant,
beautifully written story, explorers from Earth try to understand the complex
culture of the Grievers--a society which has built its entire social
structure around the artistic and religious (and real) expression of grief. The
book has a few issues that make me squinch when I re-read it now, and which I
can't discuss without spoiling, but for the most part the beauty of the story
makes up for some failures of basic science and sociology.
Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Sanderson's story is also set in a world with a (violently) created religion: hundreds
of years before the story starts, a hero gained incredible power and used it to
remake the world, setting himself in place as the literally divine "Lord
Ruler" of it. The story of The Final Empire (the first book) follows Vin,
a street urchin from one of the most oppressed groups in this society, as she
discovers her magic and joins an Ocean's Eleven-esque group of talented,
charismatic companions dedicated to overthrowing the Lord Ruler. Along the way,
however, she's confronted again and again with evidence that the Lord Ruler is
truly superhuman in his power; she really is going up against something divine.
The story's a lot more complex than this, and gets more so over the course of
the following three books; I'm oversimplifying it a lot in order to keep this
brief! But I love that this story is centered on a woman who is actually
determined to kill God.