Fantasy’s Many Faces: Sub Genres of Fantasy

When browsing Amazon for fantasy, I get served with a list of sub-genres. Here’s to name a few: alternate history, epic, historical, paranormal, urban. Browsing other sites and shops, I’ve stumbled on lots more variety. Apparently, fantasy is a wide patchwork, with most fantasy books offering servings from several subgenres.

Feeling a little lost in all these different takes on fantasy, I’ve decided to do some more research on a few of them.

The mother of all fantasy: Epic Fantasy

LOTR_book_CoversWhen I started reading fantasy, all those years ago, I read epic fantasy. Tolkien, Brooks, Eddings, Jordan. They were my authors of choice and fantasy books always came with a next volume and a sprawling world full of elves, wizards, thieves and magic. To me, fantasy was epic fantasy, and I rarely stirred away from it. I am not going to define epic fantasy, since it’s been here for so long and a lot of readers and writers have slighly different takes on what epic fantasy is all about. If you want to read different writers’ points of view then go and read Clarksworld Magazine’s ‘Epic Interview’. An excellent article.

For few years, books and reading, shockingly, disappeared from my life. I’ve read the occasional book but they haven’t made a lasting impression. Fortunately, a few years ago, I rediscovered reading and with it, fantasy. A great many new writers of fantasy had come on to the scene that I never heard, much less read about. I discovered that there was more to fantasy than just the epic stories.

The ugly rebel brother: Gritty Fantasy

blade_itself_UK_144x225I started reading Joe Abercrombie and fell in and out of love with his brutal, character-driven gritty fantasy. So fantasy was no longer the fairy-tale spin off without sex or swearwords. Fantasy has grown up. It shows violence in all its ugly horror and issues of morality that are no longer black or white, but often simply different shades of grey (I hate my association with this phrase now: thanks, E.L. James 😦 ) . I appreciate this addition to the family. As you live your life, you find that not all is sweet smells and roses. To see this reflected in fantasy writing was liberating to me and my own writing. I’ve Glen Cook’s Black Company still on my to-be-read list.

However, when there’s nothing but horror to read, all sex becomes rapescenes and the unavoidable outcome is despair, gritty fantasy becomes too much of a good (or is that bad) thing. It tries to be realistic, but when it lapses into cynicism, it abandons realism for misogyny and predictability.

Fantasy around the corner: Urban Fantasy

stormfrontcoverWhere gritty fantasy differs in tone and outlook from epic fantasy, urban fantasy differs mostly in setting. Instead of the medieval-styled worlds of Tolkien, it is set in an urban society and not uncommonly into a city that is recognisable as, or even is styled after one in our real world. Often, urban fantasies take place right here on earth. Moreover, urban fantasy comes in many shapes and sizes: mysteries, thrillers, paranormal, romance, you name it. One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read lately, was written by Jim Butcher. His Dresden Files are wonderfully amusing, exceedingly urban, very wizardy and fortunately he wrote (and still writes) a lot of them.

For 2014 I intend to explore some other subgenres of fantasy. If you have any recommendations, either in the subgenres discussed above, or for exploring new ones, do let know in the comments.

Happy fantasy reading!
Emmy

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About Emmy

"The urge to write is like a feverdream. And I have been dreaming for most of my life."

2 responses to “Fantasy’s Many Faces: Sub Genres of Fantasy”

  1. jeffcolemanwrites says :

    I love fantasy of all stripes. Like you, I got my start in epic fantasy. Slowly, gradually, I’ve spread my feelers out into other genres, even literary fiction.

    Fantasy is a hard thing to categorize, even when you allow it to be broken up into sub genres.

    For example, take the work of Neil Gaiman (two examples that immediately jump to my mind are “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” and “Coraline.”) They do take place in modern settings, but they don’t really conform to what you would normally think of as “urban fantasy” (vampires, werewolves, etc., all in a modern city environment.) They have elements of horror, but are not the same as something that tows that line more strictly like Stephen King (even a lot of his work is more fantasy than what you might think of as simple horror.)

    • Emmy says :

      You are absolutely right. I don’t care for pigeon-holing any book and love to find different elements in their stories. It is the bane of any bookseller 🙂 and the joy of every lover of fantasy. Thanks for your comment!

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