I’ve been reading a lot of articles about gritty fantasy or grim dark fantasy, and I had the pleasure of talking a friend’s ear off about everything I knew on the subject. And, it struck me. Gritty fantasy, or books with anti-hero protagonists, have been around for a lot longer than I thought. Let me specify this. I mean, if we were to talk about strictly anti-hero protagonists, we would spend a very long time discussing whether or not mythological Greek heroes counted. (Achilles!)

I’m talking about Glen Cook Black Company style. Game of Thrones. Blade Itself. Those kinds of books. In Game of Thrones and Blade Itself, the magic is substantially underused. There isn’t a strict system like in modern high fantasy books (everything by Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks), for one. I think it’s an ironic thing. With a lot of gritty books that try to prove themselves to be every bit as dark as Game of Thrones, they try to be as different as possible from Lord of the Rings style novels. For the really good gritty books, they seem to use the same style of magic from Lord of the Rings style books. (Albeit without a whole new language. Who has the time for that nowadays?)

In my book, the Line of Corruption, my protagonists are all questionable in their morality. We have a former mass murderer, a mercenary with the potential to be the strongest in existence, a politician that controls everything in his city… It’s all very questionable. I like it that way. I like those types of protagonists. They’re very interesting to write, and I like to think that there’s a good market out there for them. However, I have to face the fact that everything has most likely been thought up. I didn’t create a mind-blowingly original magic system (I couldn’t access the mind of Brandon Sanderson. The guys from Being John Malkovich weren’t up for it).

So, if a kid like me is writing “gritty” heroes (although they’re in a world where a definite magic system is in place a la Brent Weeks ), it’s safe to say that the gritty genre isn’t really a subgenre anymore. At least, not what people might think. Right now, George R.R. Martin is considered to be one of the most popular writers alive, and a legend in fantasy literature. Moorcock and Cook started it, GRRM took it to the next level, and Joe Abercrombie’s now in the same level. The Knight in Shining Armor is a cliche. No doubt about it. But, I’m afraid that anti-heroes with questionable morals are quickly becoming cliches, if they’re not already.

Speaking as someone that likes gritty stories a lot, it’s hard to come to terms that it’s no longer as revolutionary or as edgy as it was in the 70’s-90’s. Winter has come and gone. Now it’s summer, and all our dark anti-heroes are baking in the sun with all the rest of the knights in shining armor.

I do think that the next “big thing” will be dark epic fantasy. The Way of Shadows (one of the most popular books of that particular genre) is already well known. But, it’s not yet at the same level of infamy as  Game of thrones. (Which is fair. That’s something that FEW writers will ever achieve.)

Or maybe Tolkien-style stories might make a comeback. Nothing wrong with Wheel of Time-like stories as long as they’re original enough. Maybe books like Mistborn may come into the limelight, too. A Mistborn Tv series. Or maybe Urban Fantasy gets a big shout out. I don’t know. Fantasy, as a whole, is changing practically daily. I still like gritty stories, but I am looking forward to reading stories that don’t try especially hard to have “unlikeable” characters. Filling your entire cast with Joffrey-wannabes doesn’t help, from what I hear.

So, what do you think? Any ideas as to what the next BIG THING will be? Leave a comment. Might be that you’re right. Do you disagree with me? Feel free to tell me why. Now, I’m going to go read a fantasy book. Care to guess what genre it belongs to?


  1. dotdotquote says:

    It’ll probably be Steampunk. Probably.

    I’m actually surprised (and relieved) that we have yet to be inundated with Steampunk novels. I mean, we have…but not overwhelmingly…yet.

    I don’t think about what the next trend will be. Although I agree that the genre has seen more than enough of “grimdark antiheroes “for the time being, I find the term “anti-hero” to be perplexing. I don’t write heroes and I don’t write anti-heroes. I write everyday people that maybe just happen to do heroic or unheroic things.

    • J.A. Romano says:

      Great way of putting it. I haven’t actually read a lot of steampunk, so it would be cool if it became the next big thing. I choose to call my protagonists anti-heroes because I can’t really think of anything else to call them. Thanks for commenting. 8D

  2. C.Hill says:

    I agree with Louise on the anti-hero bit. Steampunk has yet to see the attention it needs. But I would argue it’s more a setting than a big sub-genre. While the idea of technology moving forward is the most likely thing to happen, I don’t think we’ll see Steampunk per se as the major one. Probably mid to late 1700s.

    On anti-heroes, I would say it’s less a cliché than an overused trope. I *try* and write people who have less than desirable motivations and actions, but this whole reveling in blood and guts is going to go away soon, hopefully. I would rather see a comeback to psychological horror than this bloody horror we have now. Hopefully that is a good enough metaphor. Probably not.

    I’m now off to write my thoughts on the changing genre as a whole. Thanks for sparking the idea.

    • J.A. Romano says:

      Glad to hear that. I actually wrote a post (it’s still a draft) about whether you can separate the book from the writer because of your post on the OSC controversy, so thanks for that, too. B ]

      For some reason, overused trope sounds way worse than cliche to me. Psychological horror is terrifying, so it would be awesome to see more of that type of stuff. Steampunk is rather unjustly underestimated, and I think it’s because the more popular ones tend to be run of the mill, looking at things through rose colored glasses. There’s a bit of a stigma against it because of that, I think.

      I’m looking forward to your post on the genre as a whole, and I’ll keep my eyes peeled for that.

  3. I think less-inspired writers tend to jump on bandwagons that appeal to them, and thus turn something initially interesting — something that perhaps wasn’t trying to start a subgenre but just be itself — into a progressive cliche. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about patterning your writing after a work you like/admire, but there’s a difference between innovating from its concept and simply mimicking it. After a certain amount of time, it seems like any good concept gets a glut of mimicry.

    I know that Michael Moorcock wrote the Elric stuff as a reaction to the Conan-style hyper-macho action heroes, and I like that kind of work — one that tries to comment on or critique stories and genres that have come before. I think, for gritty fantasy, the time has come for that critique, and a sideways leap into another idea. I don’t know what that idea will be, but it’s the same experience the darker-and-grittier comics industry had to go through, and probably what the TV industry will be dealing with soon, as it has its own glut of antiheroes that have started to go stale.

    • J.A. Romano says:

      I think gritty heroes will eventually go out of style, but I don’t think we’ll stop seeing books about them. The comments made by Louise and Caleb have me thinking that the next big thing will be books about characters that aren’t heroes or anti-heroes. They’re just people in an extraordinary situation. (Like the Twilight Zone.)

      Although, with the popularity of Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind, those old school style protagonists may make a huge comeback. I hear they’re making a Tv series out of it, so it’s actually pretty likely.

  4. […] A writer bud of mine made a post on his musings about Gritty Fantasy and the future of the genre. Being a guy swamped with random thoughts at all hours of the day, this didn’t help my predicament. He suggested that Fantasy will see a swing away from the Grimdark movement toward a more Dark Epic feel. You may ask, what difference is there in the two? I’m not here to answer that. Go research for yourself, because the meaning is a little thin and ambiguous. […]

  5. tktrian says:

    No idea what could be the next big mainstream thing. Dystopic medieval sword and sorcery? Aliens and wizards? Feminist/LGBT sword and sorcery? Heroines will probably become more popular and more accepted in the previously male-dominated genre.

    The trend from Tolkien to GRRM reflects the overall trend of how the Western society has become desensitized to sex, violence, and profanity. Tolkien is too tame, too naive. We need GRRM and his incest, hookers, and gruesomely dying anti-heroes to satisfy our entertainment appetites.

    We, T & K, just try to write realistically, not gritty for the sake of gritty because that can come off forced. Agreeing with H. Anthe Davis above, no sense jumping in the band wagon of what’s pop. Let writers write what interests and inspires them, screw the trends 🙂

    • J.A. Romano says:

      Agreed! At the end of the day, I still like my characters, and even when the trend of gritty heroes goes out of style, I’ll still like them. It is a wonder, though, how we prefer stories with incestuous queens and backstabbing characters over the saving the world type stories now.

      Hehe, comments sections always make me want to write another followup post. xD

      • tktrian says:

        Why don’t you write a follow-up post then? 🙂 or an addendum to this one?

        Why we prefer backstabbers, man-sluts, incest, ultraviolence etc. is probably because grit is relatable? We all recognize liars in ourselves, failures, cowards, etc. while virtues like honor and bravery are not all that hip. In a way it’s saddening. Have we really become that cynical? And why wouldn’t your regular joe want to identify with a gritty letch who lives in the simpler times, where the wife couldn’t complain about them visiting whores, where they can dash into battle with swords drawn, shed some blood, and then go back to their tents to get really drunk with a bottle in one hand, a boob in the other? There’s certain appeal in grit, it feels honest, unabashed. That appeals to people too. And the more we have it, the grittier it must get to have any impact on us.

        Or something. Editorializing a bit there, but there’s some thoughts on grit anyway 😀

    • J.A. Romano says:

      I’ll probably do that later. : ) I think we should be careful with gritty from time to time. Because there’s gritty realism and then trying too hard. So, I’ve been changing a lot about LoC so there aren’t as much predictable scenes. I do think that the whole grim dark/gritty rise was for the best. It did have a positive effect on the genre because people suddenly realized that it wasn’t all about elves after all. (Not that there’s anything wrong with ’em, but most people generally have a problem with them.)

      So, I’m glad that ASoIaF really changed the genre, but it’d be nice to see it evolve a bit more from it soon. And maybe, we might just get another fantasy Tv series on HBO or Showtime. (We can never have enough of those. xD )

  6. Derek Tyce says:

    Nice posting… It seems to me that the next big thing coming to the genre may be “Flintlock Fantasy”. I’m not talking about Historical Fantasy like Naomi Novik’s Temeraire novels or Pirates of the Caribbean-like books; but books that take place in an alternate world set in more like a 18TH and 19TH century-type setting (instead of the usual Medieval European setting). There’s been some authors dabbling in it over the years, but, lately, with the success of Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer series and Chris Evans’ Iron Elves series, it seems to be rising up. Even Brandon Sanderson did something like it with his most recent Mistborn novel, The Alloy of Law. Brian McClellan and Django Wexler are two highly anticipated debut authors that released the first books in their Flintlock Fantasy series this year.

    So there may not be a change in the story or characters, per se (whether dark and gritty or not), but just a change in the setting—similar to what Urban Fantasy did. If done well, Flintlock Fantasy may become popular. I guess we’ll see.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s