"You are in a tavern."
"You are walking down a heavily wooded road."
No, wait. Those are Dungeons & Dragons clichés.
The elf is ethereal. For some reason, elves hate dwarves, who are good warriors and like stone.
Shit. Now we're in Tolkien.
He bared his mouth to show off sexy fans--
And, hell. We're everywhere now.
No. Here's the real trick for avoiding clichéd fantasy when looking at your local (I stress, local) bookstore shelves: It's all been done before. Despite the fact the "what if?" format giving fantasy almost limitless possibilities, there are standard ploys, quests, questions, and worlds. Often, a single concept, say. . . .vampires. . . .will glut the market for a while. Somethings, like Tolkien traditions, have been handed down for generations. So flipping over that book and reading the back cover, how do you know that book is any good.
First of all, stop looking at the cover (the poor author probably didn't even have any say unless you are looking indie), quit reading that back cover and open the book. Because that cliché is true: Don't read a book by the cover.
We are all moving around the same little chess pieces of fantasy. Some of us stray farther from the pack (fusion fantasy involves blending more than one genre, so it tends to have more options). But for you, the reader, the question is, how well do we put those elements together? Does the writer rearrange pieces so that the world has a new quirk? Do they go off the reservation on who they want as their protagonist? The most important thing: Can they write?
Sure, we all have things we have pet peeves about having to read again, but often what the writer brings that is new and special is their voice. They can write. They can describe and you see it. Their characters jump off the page and put you in a stranglehold and you can't set them down. The writer can take something old, and make something new and beautiful by sheer force of having their own unique voice.
Voice is a bit like tone. Voice is the way an author chooses to turn a phrase. Voice lights up a novel with it's own, unique accent lights. Listen to the reader. Say a sentence out loud and relish the way the author put it together. Good authors sweat blood to put themselves, their voices between each line. If an author hasn't, you will feel the cliché.