What do you read when you’re tired of all the bright, happy stuff? When you’re tired of everything going as it should for the chosen one, the hero saving the day, and everything rainbows and butterflies and unicorns? What do you read when it’s all just too bright and happy all day, every day? And really nothing at all like real life, not even a little?
That, my friends, is when you turn your gaze to Dark Fantasy.
Now, Fantasy can still be Fantasy when it has dark themes. Dark Fantasy is different. It’s an entire subgenre of Fantasy, with its own themes and tropes to be explored and manipulated. Dark Fantasy plunges the reader into a world of darkness, and they sometimes wonder if they’ll ever be able to come back up for breath. (Hint: Of course the reader will. No good author would leave their readers to drown!)
But when you’ve had so much brightness and color in your reading that you feel like your eyes could burst, Dark Fantasy leaves room for all the gray you could ever want. Gray morals, gray characters, even gray endings. And there are many more than fifty shades.
The thing about Dark Fantasy is that everything has to make sense. It’s not a feel-good story by any means. And there’s certainly magic and unusual creatures and all that, depending on how low or high fantasy the book is. But besides its dark, “evil” themes, Dark Fantasy tends to be more realistic. At best, people in real life are generally selfish, greedy, and easy to corrupt. Multiply this trait by about two or three, and you have Dark Fantasy.
Governments are corrupt. Monarchies are absolute. Democracies are overridden by Capitalist ideals. Dictatorships are, well, Dictatorships. Most people don’t have the greater good or even anyone else’s interests at heart. Slavery, rape, pillaging, exploitation, terror, torture, and many more gruesome topics are up for grabs in this subgenre. And that’s just the beginning of this dark adventure.
When you’re tired of characters using magic to just solve their problems and make everyone happy, Dark Fantasy changes that narrative for you.
Dark Fantasy magic is usually either corrupt or useless. All magic is generally considered “evil.” Typically in the wrong hands, it’ll come at a high price. As high as one’s own humanity. Wizards will often go mad with power—or even with just the very thought of it. It can be used for any nefarious purpose one can think of. Torture, control, etc. If it is not corruptive or expensive, it is virtually useless. Perhaps used for small tasks like tying a simple knot or picking up a five-pound object. Or maybe just a talking sword that chats your ear off until you go mad and slit your own throat.
And don’t forget about sentient magic items. Those that will only hate and probably want to destroy their own creators and/or wielders.
Tired of religion always being the great, wonderful beacon of hope and wonder? In Dark Fantasy, religion doesn’t bring much hope to the characters or story in general. If the overruling religion is not already corrupt, those they worship certainly are. Gods are usually self-absorbed, lazy, and stuck-up. They see the others that worship them as pawns, toys, or less. Disposable. If one is active, it’s usually some sort of evil god.
Other religious groups could be terrorizing with a great tendency to convert and purge. Think Isabella of Castile and her armies. There is no “nice” religion. No “God is good” religion in Dark Fantasy.
The undead will sometimes play a part in the story. It is fantasy, after all. And it gets boring sleeping in that coffin for eternity. Often, they’ll rise from their graves and terrorize the living. They can go so far as to create their own communities, governments, lifestyles, etc.
Are you sick of all the other races of creatures being portrayed as so much better than you? In Dark Fantasy, all races are portrayed as equally debase. Elves are aloof, snobby, and uncaring of other races. Dark Elves are, as expected, cruel. Dwarves stick to their mines and don’t trouble themselves with the struggles of others. Humans are corrupt and terrorizing. Halflings and other weak-willed races are enslaved.
There are also monstrous animals and creatures. From Dire Wolves to Dragons (that don’t want to be your friend). Aboleths, Basilisks, Gargoyles, and Krakens, to name a few. And they all want to kill everyone they come across. Especially the main character.
What about the main character? Do you get tired of the perfect hero that always makes the right choices and saves the day at the end? In Dark Fantasy, you can get a break from all that and get a little taste of a more realistic and relatable main character. There are several different tropes to choose from. Some have confused or mixed-up morals. They might not even care about the people they’re saving. Some are not adequately equipped or skilled enough to save the world. Some might not even be the right choice at all. And sometimes, they even fail.
Endings are sometimes happy. If it works with the story. And even then, the happy endings are not overwhelmingly joyful. A Dark Fantasy ending could be miserable. Awful. Terrible. But it’s an ending.
An ending could be gray. It could be, well, an ending. Not too good. But not too bad. Just an ending. A closure, at best.
In general, the mood of Dark Fantasy is, well, dark. It will have its ups and downs. But there will be a steady grayness to help cleanse your palette of all that color.
Dark Fantasy isn’t just to take a break from all the bright and happiness, though. It’s a chance to spread your imagination and challenge it. Authors will use this genre to retell existing stories. What if Gaston and The Beast actually had a plan together, but went awry when Belle charmed both of them? What if The Wolf and The Witch were trying to out-do each other, getting more and more corrupted by their own magic? The possibilities are endless!
The focus of Dark Fantasy is directed away from the frills and lace, and towards the actual point of the story. Which is often refreshing to readers and writers alike. The fun is in the different perspective. A shift from the main thoroughfare. A closer look at the actual topics being brought up by the author.
Dark Fantasy often deals with realistic issues. The nitty-gritty. It goes deeper than the more light-hearted Fantasy. It shows readers the true darkness that resides in us all.
So take a seat and buckle up, because Dark Fantasy is becoming the more popular book genre of 2022.
If you’re interested in reading Dark Fantasy works, check out my books Raven Queen, Arise—free on Kindle Unlimited, and available in audiobook, paperback and hardcover—and its prequel, Death Descends, which is free! Both are my first dark high fantasy books in the Temple of Vengeance series, a quadrilogy of epic releases featuring the assertive anti-heroine Illyria and containing more swords, sorcery, and sex than the law allows.
Rising from a mass grave with scars from her brutal murder, crossing back into the living world with her trusted raven guide, oh and a partnership with Death himself. You don’t want to miss this exciting, ultra-dark fantasy – available now!