Magic, Mystery, a little Whisky, and a Cat

Enchanting Escapes: Spellbinding Subgenres of Fantasy Fiction

In a previous blog, my guest, Leslie D. Soule, discusses why she chooses to write in the Fantasy genre. Fantasy subgenres narrow down the particular flavor of fantasy you are looking for but this got me thinking about the inadequacies of genres in general and the problems of pigeonholing books into one or the other.

Mind you, I don’t have an alternative system in mind; I’m just griping about how we do it now without any suggestions. This is what I do 😊

When I started writing, I knew I had to write about magic. My first publisher labeled my books as fantasy which kind of surprised me. Fantasy sounded sort of childish and unimportant. I didn’t think my book was either of those things, but on further research—yep, Fantasy was what the publisher had to go with.

More research, however, told me something I already knew. Fantasy isn’t just fantasy.

Like good science fiction, good fantasy takes human problems and personalities, cultural issues, political situations, and existential questions and gives them voices, shows them in action, and makes them real. Somehow, reading about an elf who has daddy issues and is fighting against prejudice and injustice gives enough safe distance from those real-life issues to allow understanding.

We already know that reading anything helps improve a kid’s ability to empathize and subsequently helps them become kinder, gentler, and generally not assholes. This is what we want for our kids, right? The same goes for adults. Fantasy, in particular, stimulates creativity and problem-solving skills and provides escapism, which releases stress.

While I love reading nearly any kind of fantasy, my favorite subgenres to write in are urban fantasy and magic realism. I like taking fairly ordinary people and adding a paranormal or supernatural element to see what they do. I also like the idea that magic is actually all around. Maybe magic is just science we haven’t discovered yet. Maybe we make our own magic. (Note to self: blog about what magic is and where to find it.)

Of course, some books genre-hop, incorporating elements from more than one sub-genre. Knowing that, let’s take a look at ten popular Fantasy sub-genres.

1. High Fantasy:

     – The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

     – A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin

High fantasy, also known as epic fantasy, typically takes place in a fictional world with its own set of rules and magic systems and often involves a grand struggle between good and evil. The stakes are usually high, concerning the fate of entire kingdoms or worlds.

2. Urban Fantasy:

     – Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

     – Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Urban fantasy is set primarily in contemporary urban settings and often incorporates elements of magic, supernatural creatures, and mythology into the modern world. These stories frequently feature protagonists who are ordinary people encountering extraordinary circumstances.

3. Paranormal Fantasy:

     – Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer

     – The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare

Paranormal fantasy revolves around supernatural beings such as vampires, werewolves, witches, and demons. These stories often involve romantic elements and focus on the interactions between humans and paranormal creatures.

4. Sword and Sorcery:

     – Conan the Barbarian series by Robert E. Howard

     – The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski

Sword and sorcery fantasy typically features action-packed plots, often with a lone hero or a small group embarking on adventurous quests filled with battles, magic, and exploration. The emphasis is on fast-paced adventure and often features morally ambiguous characters.

5. Steampunk Fantasy:

     – Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

     – The Infernal Devices trilogy by Cassandra Clare

Steampunk fantasy is characterized by its setting in an alternate version of the 19th century, often with steam-powered technology, Victorian aesthetics, and elements of science fiction. These stories blend historical settings with fantastical elements and often explore themes of industrialization, class struggle, and adventure.

6. Historical Fantasy:

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Historical fantasy combines elements of fantasy with historical settings, events, or characters. It often reimagines historical periods with magical or supernatural elements woven into the fabric of the narrative.

7. Mythic Fantasy:

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Circe by Madeline Miller

Mythic fantasy draws heavily from mythological and folklore traditions, weaving together elements of ancient myths, legends, and fairy tales to create original stories or reinterpret classic tales.

8. Dark Fantasy:

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Dark fantasy, also known as grimdark fantasy, explores themes of violence and moral ambiguity and often features bleak or gritty settings. It may incorporate horror elements and protagonists who are morally complex or antiheroes.

9. Portal Fantasy:

The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Portal fantasy involves characters traveling from the mundane world into a fantastical realm through a magical portal or doorway. These stories often explore themes of self-discovery, adventure, and the clash between worlds.

10. Magical Realism:

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Magical realism blends magical or fantastical elements with realistic settings and events, creating a sense of wonder and enchantment within the ordinary. It often explores themes of cultural identity, folklore, and the interplay between the mundane and the magical.

Are you a Fantasy Freak? Tell Auntie Sorchia all about it in Comments!

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