Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The existence of gritty dark fantasy?

I wanted to write today’s post about my experience of reading dark fantasy and the number of female authors.

Dark fantasy is defined as fantasy with a horror/supernatural element.  So your vampire and werewolf books can be classed as dark fantasy.  My Emily May series is dark fantasy.
When I go into our local bookshop and head straight to the sci-fi/fantasy/horror corner, I will eventually drift into the realms of the dark fantasy shelves.  I used to head straight to them but I quickly tired of the novels found there.  The majority seem to be all about the female protagonist who is vampire/werewolf/demon/human, possibly runs her own business, usually as a detective, or is a ‘chosen one’, who will then meet and fall in love with the sexy, dark, tall and handsome antagonist.  In fact, in most of the books I’ve read the strong, independent protagonists will lose all of their faculties and dryness between their legs just at the mere sight of this man/vampire/demon/angel.  All of these books are notably written by women.
I don’t read these books anymore.

What I have started to love over the last six or seven years is what can be defined as gritty.  My favourites include Joe Abercombie – I will never forget the first time I picked up The Blade Itself and read the first page and George R R Martin – yes, I am loving Game of Thrones even though I’m late to the game.  My taste in films is the same.   I define this grittiness as dark realism.  These books are all true of life but coated with violence and darkness.  Not necessarily dark fantasy, but with characters disturbingly real, horrific, intelligent and wonderful.

I feel I should add, the only male dark fantasy novelist I can think of is Paul Magrs with his Brenda and Effie series.  Thing is, while this series includes vampires, among other things dark and supernatural, it doesn’t have the same feel as the dark fantasy novels mentioned previously (not necessarily a bad thing) but neither is it gritty.

At first I wanted to know whether men can write good dark fantasy (where the female protangonist doesn’t go weak at the first sight of an attractive man)?  I did an internet search of this and found very little.  The ‘dark fantasy’ books I did find that were penned by men included Alice in Wonderland and The Picture of Dorian Grey, which I don’t necessarily class as dark fantasy.  Have I got the definition wrong?  Has the definition changed with the rise of the teenage vampire/werewolf obsession?  

So my second , or perhaps third or fourth, question is, can dark fantasy (vampires, werewolves, etc) be gritty, dark and wonderful (books, not film)?  Is it possible to have a First Law version of the supernatural?  If you know of a book like this in existence please let me know as I'm having trouble finding any! 

Do you know of any male dark fantasy writers?  I would love to read some – maybe I already have without knowing!


  1. Interesting topic. I don't usually label the type of books you mentioned as Dark Fantasy. I see them as more Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance. Some good Dark Fantasy books I've read are The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, The Way of Shadows by Brent Week and The Warded Man by Peter Brett.

  2. Thanks for commenting :)

    A couple of people have said something similar since I posted this...I'm beginning to get the feeling I've got the definition wrong. I did another search today and the internet seems a bit confused too! Think I will have to look into it a bit more.

    Thanks for the recommendations! Will check them out.