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
When 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
I 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
Where 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!