Fantasy: A Plethora of Choices

Every now and again, I’ll hear someone say “I don’t like fantasy,” even though they’ve never read any. Of course, everyone has their own preferences in literature, which is totally fine, but I sometimes think that what people mean is that they don’t like a certain type of fantasy. There’s much more than just swords and magic when it comes to fantasy (although I happen to love books that have swords and magic).

Here are a few sub-genres, with explanations, as well as examples of books that fit into each category. Of course, I’m in no way an expert, and some of these books can fit quite comfortably in multiple sub-genres. Talk to me! Tell me what I got right, what I messed up, and what I missed completely. Here goes nothing!

High Fantasy: High fantasy is probably what comes to mind first when people hear “fantasy.” There are some characteristics that separate high fantasy from other kinds of fantasy. First of all, it’s very character-focused. The choices made by a single character, or a few, are most important. High fantasy is set in its own world with its own defined rules of magic. A common theme is good vs. evil.

Examples: The Swans’ War trilogy by Sean Russell; The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman; The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Epic Fantasy: Epic fantasy is, well…epic. It usually consists of a threat to the entire world and has a large cast of characters, as opposed to the few that characterize high fantasy. While The Hobbit, for example, is high fantasy, The Lord of the Rings is what I would classify as epic fantasy. There’s a larger cast of characters, and a danger to the entire world.
Examples: Game of Thrones; Wheel of Time; Lord of the Rings

Low Fantasy: Low fantasy is characterized by magical events that intrude on daily life in a normal world.
Examples: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett; American Gods by Neil Gaiman; Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Sword and Sorcery: Well, aside from the obvious (swords and magic), think romance, and adventure. Sword and Sorcery is a bit on the pulpy side (nothing wrong with that). I always picture 80’s era Sylvester Stallone as the movie equivalent of a Sword and Sorcery hero.
Examples: Conan the Barbarian; Legend by David Gemmell. Honestly, I’m on the fence about including Legend here, as it doesn’t seem as pulpy as other Sword and Sorcery books, but I’m drawing a blank on other examples. What would you add to this category?

Military Fantasy: This is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s basically military life in a fantasy setting, often following one solider, or a small company.
Examples: The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher; The Black Company by Glen Cook

Grimdark Fantasy: Don’t expect happily ever after’s or the archetypal heroes. Grimdark is marked with violence, morally gray as well as completely amoral characters. It also doesn’t shy away from violence.
Examples: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff; The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Dark Fantasy/ Gothic Fantasy: This sub-genre incorporates themes of death, fear, and romance. It has a darker tone, and elements of horror. Think Edgar Allen Poe- goes fantasy, and you’ve got the general idea.
Examples: Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman; Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Urban Fantasy: This is interesting in that there are a few different routes urban fantasy is known to take: either a separate fantasy world with rules that are similar to ours or, conversely, our world with fantasy elements mixed in. Go figure.
Examples: Jackaby by William Ritter; City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Arthurian Fantasy: This is fantasy based directly on the myths and legends of King Arthur.
Examples: The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart; The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Superhero Fantasy: This is fantasy based on the character of a superhero. Easily defined.
Examples: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson; Vicious by V.E. Schwab

RPG Lit: Combining fantasy with role playing games, the main character is generally aware that they are in a game-type world. Stats. are very much a part of the book, and the characters interact and progress through the book as they would an rpg.
Examples: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini; Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (at least part of the book follows the rules of rpglit.)

Fairy Tales: Starting as children’s stories, lately there have been many re-imaginings of these books that are marked by fantastical elements and magic.
Examples of fairy tale retellings: Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer; Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik; House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Portal Fantasy: I argue that this is a sub-genre in its own right! This would be books in which the characters leave their own world through a portal/door/etc, and travel to a world with different rules than their own. Often, fantasy elements such as magic are present.
Examples: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

Well, there you have it. There are so many different types of fantasy that I beg readers to at least give some a go before writing off the entire genre. However, to each their own. This list is in no way comprehensive. I’ll be adding to it over time, and possibly editing based on comments made by you all. So…what do you think? Did I get it right? Or completely mess it up?

45 thoughts on “Fantasy: A Plethora of Choices

      1. There are so many subgenres now. I love Fantasy of Manners and Romantic Fantasy myself. Then there are things like Steampunk that are technically scifi, but modern steampunk also usually features a lot of magic so….could talk about this all day lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I thought about what kind of fantasy that I would enjoy. I absolutely loved all of the Harry Potter books. Ready Player One is one of my remaining books I hope to get to before the end of 2019. I read all sorts of different genres. It’s fun to discover a new genre that I enjoy that I never thought I would ever read. My best example of this is Game Of Thrones which I also loved.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t read many but I wouldn’t have touched it before. I loved After the Green Withered although I think that’s more dystopian.
        Heavenward and Hallow by Olga Gibs are great YA fantasy. She moves between high fantasy and urban although I’m not great at labelling them

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hallo, Hallo,

    When I spied today’s #TheWriteReads featured post was discussing #Fantasy, I knew I had to swing by! Not just because I co-host the annual Fantasy event @WyrdAndWonder but because I am an appreciator of the genre! Plus, I love seeing what people are saying about the individual sub-niches and also the ones I personally love soaking inside!! (big smiles)

    Off your list – my top favourites are:

    * Urban Fantasy (ie. E. Chris Garrison, Jennifer Silverwood, Seanan McGuire)
    * Epic Fantasy
    * Dragon Fiction (ie. Jackie Gamber)
    * High Fantasy
    * Dark / Gothic Fantasy (er, wells, in small amounts w/o graphic violence)
    * Arthurian Fantasy (ie. Nicole Evelina, Chris Thorndycroft)
    * Superhero Fantasy (ie. AshleyRose Sullivan)
    * Fairy Tales (ie. E. Chris Garrison, Jennifer Silverwood – they write genre-bent SpecFic which brokers between UF & FT)
    * Portal Fantasy // still sorting my favourites

    The Urban Fantasy worlds I regularly reside inside are a mixture of Contemporary “our world” with fantastical elements mixed into them although, technically Silverwood’s Borderlands Saga is a genre-bent mix of that kind of UF with a healthy dose of Fairy Tales crossed with Portal Fantasy!

    I just love what Fantasy offers us… I’ve loved it since the original “Pete’s Dragon” in the ’80s and “The Neverending Story” as I saw the Fantasy films first before at seventeen I picked up my first Kate Elliott novel “King’s Dragon”. Nowadays, I love being able to read and review Fantasy novels intermixed with the other genres I regularly visit. For instance, I have an audiobook series I’m listening to right now which is wicked bent Regency (a la Pride and Prejudice) world within #dragonfiction wherein Darcy & Lizzie are meant to be caretakers of #dragons! Eek. I’m beyond *thrilled!* to dive into it… those reviews are forthcoming on my blog this February!

    I think you did a wicked job describing these… if you want to participate in May 2020 – follow us @ Wyrd and Wonder via Twitter and you can be part of the fantastical adventure this year!! I’m going to be focusing on #dragonfiction… lol All the authors I’ve mentioned in this comment are up on my blog… swing by sometime and let’s chat Fantasy!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I *knew!* I had forgotten to follow you — took care of that! 🙂 A bubbly DM will be appreciated! You never have to worry about that – I nearly spilt the beans once on a forthcoming release without even realising the plot because I was a bit too connected to the authors who penned it and *guessed!* the subject! Plus… I’m bookisly geeky and dearly chatty myself.. anchours away, I say!

        Ooh a fellow dragon appreciator… I cannot wait! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. fantasy of manners??? sounds intriguing!!!! i never knew that it existed, let alone was a sub-genre of fantasy….so then, i would think that Gormenghast would fall under that category, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. it was one of those books that are best enjoyed being read as oppossed to being adapted for tv or film…very atmospheric…and quite unique.

    Like

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