Fantasy Genre Primer

By Joshua Soule, Spuyten Duyvil
November 3, 2017

The Fantasy Genre

Fantasy fiction is a genre of writing in which the plot could not happen in real life. Often, the plot involves magic or witchcraft and takes place in another, or an undiscovered dimension of this world. Many times, the plot also involves mythical creatures, witches, and sorcerers. Often, writers of fantasy fiction devote a series of books to the same world or characters.



Epic Fantasy

Epic fantasy is heroic in nature and it has magic. It is generally very long. The word ‘epic’ suggests a certain weight, a significance to the work that raises the stake of the drama. Epic fantasy is sweeping in scope and involves large casts of characters usually divided into warring factions. Formative epic fantasy includes the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and The Chronicles of Narniaby C.S. Lewis.

Grimdark Fantasy

Grimdark is the inverse of Epic Fantasy. It is dark and gritty, amoral and violent.  Like Epic fantasy, however, it is sweeping in scope and involves a large cast of characters. Pioneering grimdark series include A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin and The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie, beginning with The Blade Itself.

Historical Fantasy

Historical fantasy has both historical and fantasy elements. Popular examples include: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke and the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik beginning with His Majesty's Dragon. Contemporary / Urban Fantasy

In contemporary or urban fantasy, the reader will find magic and weirdness creeping in at the edges of a world in which magic is not the norm. Groundbreaking series in contemporary or urban fantasy include The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne.

Sword and Sorcery

Sword and Sorcery tends to confine itself to one or two characters with strong allegiance to a King. There is often a romantic subplot. This is one of the oldest subgenres and reader beware - there is latent racism and sexism in many of these older works. Author Fritz Leiber was influential in the sword and sorcery genre as well as the Conan the Barbarian books.

If I had to choose 3 books to introduce a reader to the fantasy genre ...