Book review – The Sub-Genres of British Fantasy Literature

The Sub-Genres of British Fantasy Literature by A.J. DaltonAdam (AJ) Dalton’s slender exegesis is part of his PhD work, serving to help position his own fiction at the forefront of the subgenre of metaphysical fantasy that he coined back in 2008. That subgenre, Dalton claims, is a darker evolution and extension of traditional epic fantasy, reflecting the cynicism and anxieties of the modern world yet still maintaining many of the traditional tropes and never turning as nihilistic as Grimdark. While the heroes and Chosen Ones of metaphysical fantasy may go on quests to save the world, and to discover themselves, they may break both in the process. Unlike traditional epic fantasies, there may not be happy endings, but unlike Grimdark, there is always hope.

The evidence Dalton gathers to support this argument relies on examination of his own books (notably Necromancer’s Gambit and Empire of the Saviours) and contrasts against other leading fantasy literature, as well as the social and historical context of previous subgenres of fantasy. I can’t help feeling that a greater examination of the development and differences between metaphysical fantasy and Grimdark might have been beneficial, given Grimdark’s continued dominance in the field – though as it stands I firmly support Dalton’s assertion that metaphysical fantasy ploughs a more hopeful and optimistic field, since despite the bleakness of the times we still need heroes, even if they are broken ones.

I’m also slightly surprised that Dalton doesn’t focus more on the work of Michael Moorcock, whose conflicted Eternal Champion surely has to be the Golden Age progenitor of metaphysical fantasy, but that is probably an argument for somebody far more scholarly than myself. In effect Dalton has laid the groundwork for a robust discussion of the history and context of British fantasy literature, that I can happily recommend both to fans of the fantastic and to folk who have less familiarity with the genre.

Luna Press Publishing, 2017. ISBN: 9781911143161
Buy it here.

As an endnote, I’m musing as to whether Heir to the North and The High King’s Vengeance would fit into the sub-genre of metaphysical fantasy. Obviously I prefer to describe myself as an Epic Fantasist, but HTTN and HKV certainly fit a few of the definitions of the sub-genre. There is hope, and faith despite all that happens, everything that breaks or is destroyed, and though the end is not happy, it’s definitely not grim. Dalton notes that metaphysical fantasy looks at epic fantasy through a prism of the modern day yet still “tolerates challenge and difference, celebrating subversive humour and the courage to act.”

I prefer that worldview than that of Grimdark, which appears to be the only other available side of the coin as far as fantasy is concerned these days. It’s probably interesting to note too, that I approached Grimbold Books with Heir to the North as a result of finding them recommended on Dalton’s website. There’s a bit of a meta link there, isn’t there?

Let me know: am I metaphysical, or just plain Epic?

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Cassia hits the long lists!

It’s Friday the 13th, a good day for burying your head in the cushions, locking the doors, and generally avoiding the world altogether. But if you did that today, you’d have missed the announcements coming from the David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy – the long lists are up, and open for voting!

A slice of the long list!
A slice of the long list!

For the last eight years the Gemmell Awards – there are three in total, the Legend Award itself, the Morningstar (best debut), and the Ravenheart (best cover art) – have looked to honour the very best in fantasy fiction, especially those works that chime with some of the themes in heroic and epic fantasy that David Gemmell himself wrote about. Nominated authors in the past have included Kameron Hurley, Patrick Rothfuss, Brian Staveley, Brandon Sanderson, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Helen Lowe, Kristen Britain, Saladin Ahmed, Juliet Marillier… the list goes on, it really does.

This year’s long lists look strong. And this year, I have a very personal interest in them. No, the screen shot does not lie – Heir to the North is there in the main Legend Award long list. You could, if you feel strongly enough that Cassia’s quest to overturn the centuries-old curse on the lands of Caenthell was one of the best books you read last year, vote to put Heir to the North through to the whittled-down shortlist. Of course in doing so you’d be ignoring the frankly brilliant Guns of the Dawn (Adrian Tchaikovsky), the riproaring, levelled-up The Iron Ghost (Jen Williams), Edward Cox, Kate Elliott, Joanne Hall, Robin Hobb…

but, well, I wouldn’t stop you.

Whichever way you want to vote, you can do so here, until Friday 24th June: http://www.gemmellawards.com/award-voting-2016/

And those lists should sort your reading out for the rest of this year too. 🙂