Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #3: Fantasy Sub-Genres

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, posted every other Friday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!

Today I want to talk about: sub-genres of fantasy.

I did mean to post this one last week, but as I have proven in the past couple of weeks, I’m really good at double-booking myself and actually posted my Spooky Songs playlist for Horror October instead.

Fantasy isn’t all just witches and wizards. There are many different types of fantasy, for all different kinds of people. I’ve tried to sort them into sub-genres but some cross over into other genres, and you’re more than welcome to debate with me about it!

High or epic fantasy

e.g. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, The Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett

High or epic fantasy typically takes place in a completely different world from our own, and the author has often created new languages, a new religion and a whole new completely different way of life for the characters. Different races are often present, as well as monsters, e.g. hobbits in Tolkien’s work, or dragons in George R.R. Martin’s work.

Contemporary & urban fantasy

e.g. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan, The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Contemporary and urban fantasy tend to be set in our own world, but with added fantastical elements – the most popular example is probably Harry Potter. The books are set in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s, but there is another side to our own world within the books. As with Percy Jackson, where the Olympian gods are real and ancient places are connected to modern day landmarks in the USA. Urban fantasy often includes more paranormal elements, such as vampires and werewolves.

Science fiction fantasy

e.g. John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe, The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, The Queen of Air and Darkness by Poul Anderson

Science fantasy is typically fiction that is a bit of a mix of the science fiction and fantasy genres. It often gives ‘realism’ (in a sense) to things that could not really happen in our world, through sense. It is sometimes used to describe post-apocalyptic fiction.

Mythology based fantasy

e.g. The Dragon Queen by Alice Borchardt, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Helen of Troy by Margaret George, Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Mythology based fantasy is pretty much as it sounds – fantasy novels based on myths and legends. Some books stick to the legends, whereas others play off of the well-known stories. Common stories covered by these sorts of books are the legends of King Arthur, and the Trojan War – as both are possible historical fact, but there is no definite proof.

Historical fantasy

e.g. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn, Lion of Macedon by David Gemmell and The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Again, just as it sounds, historical fantasy is fantasy based on real historical periods, with a twist. Often elements such as magic are added to the story, or the world that the story is based in is clearly our own with some differences. Popular periods of history are the Viking age or feudal Japan, as well as Victorian England.

Dark fantasy

e.g. The Gunslinger by Stephen King, The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks, Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Dark fantasy can be interpreted in a couple of ways. It can be used to describe fantasy novels where the main characters are anti-heroes or have questionable morals, such as Jorg in Prince of Thorns. He is part of a group of thieves and bandits, who rape and pillage others. It has also been used to describe horror fantasy, for example Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

Of course, there are so many different sub-genres, some books fit into several – there are lots of different ways of looking at it! Are there any books that you would define as a definite genre? What do you think about the way I have categorised these examples?


11 thoughts on “Fantasy Friday #3: Fantasy Sub-Genres”

  1. Where I get confused is with epic and high fantasy I must admit, but it’s because people seem to differentiate between them! I get the sense that high fantasy is more traditional kings and queens GRRM style, and that epic fantasy is used to describe fantasy set in another world and pre-industrial times, but without all the nobility focus? I think of a lot of Sanderson’s books as epic fantasy but not high fantasy I guess…. Also I love the term contemporary fantasy! That is exactly what I need sometimes and I’ve never heard that before. Whenever I read an urban fantasy type book that isn’t actually in a city or doesn’t have the gritty and adult themes that UF is known for, I will now use contemporary fantasy 😀

    1. Yeah, I think it’s very much open to interpretation! Plus I suppose depending on what you read, other books might look more like one sub-genre than another. And some are just a total mix!Urban fantasy always makes me think of vamps… I definitely think contemporary sounds better for books like Harry Potter =D

  2. I enjoy reading all types of books. My problem is when it comes to classifying then via genre I get very confused, for instance. I have read Starship Trooper, Fahrenheit 451, numerous Terry Brooks books. As I am 57 I have read numerous types of books over the years the two types that I am sure of are the numerous military history books and medieval history books. But I find comparing the different fantasy books to our own real history very entertaining.

    1. There are certainly some series that make interesting comparisons! For example, George R. R. Martin’s series ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ is supposedly based on the Wars of the Roses. In the end, I don’t think genre really matters, especially when you read so many different kinds of books. You don’t want to exclude something that you might really love, just because it’s not your usual genre. Whilst I won’t go hunting for books in a genre I don’t normally read, if one really stands out I won’t say no! =)

  3. I think some fairytales and retellings can put under the fantasy genre, with all the different magical elements 🙂 Fantasy is such an awesome genre, because they are so many subgenres. It means there is a book for everyone. I enjoy everything, so that’s why I always say that “fantasy” is one of my favorite genres. It can be very confusing thoughl, because Epic/High fantasy is so different from.. lets’s say Urban, so labeling on your blog can be tricky.

    1. Yes! And sometimes some people LOVE one sub-genre and hate another, which can make things tricky when they say they like fantasy!As a genre it has so many connotations though. Mention it to someone who doesn’t read it too often and they’ll typically think of high fantasy, with magic and dragons and everything, when it’s so much more than that.

  4. I like the fantasy sub-genres you mentioned, Rinn – I find myself reading more books from the first three sub-genres, and less from historical fantasy and dark fantasy. I think there’s more emphasis on contemporary / urban fantasy books nowadays, as well as historical fantasy (which would include steampunk, right?)… but a lot of new sub-genres are popping up (ex. I see “Fantasy of Manners” as a fantasy sub-genre on Goodreads, and I go “what??”), and I like your broader way of categorizing fantasy books sooo much more. 🙂

    1. There is definitely a big emphasis on contemporary fantasy these days, I agree – especially with the boom that Harry Potter created. And I think you could include steampunk in historical fantasy, yeah, cos it’s generally set in the Victorian period – although sometimes it’s seen as sci-fi or a genre of its own. So many possiblities!Fantasy of Manners?? What is that?

    2. Goodreads (and Wikipedia) describes it as books that “[partake] of the nature of a comedy of manners (though it is not necessarily humorous). Such works generally take place in an urban setting and within the confines of a fairly elaborate, and almost always hierarchical, social structure.” I have no clue what that means, but apparently the Parasol Protectorate series fits into this category, so it might be similar to steampunk. It’s just so confusing!

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