I have kicked this topic around with a few people for a while, and I don’t think I’m any closer to having an answer.
Fantasy has many, many subgenres. My favorites are of the dark and urban variety.
The question is what type of fantasy do I write? How is it different from paranormal, which is my all-around favorite genre?
Let’s use Everlong (my March release from Samhain) as an example.
The book opens in the realm in Askara, in the kingdom of Rihos. Askara is its own world, with its own matriarchal society, and is populated by two breeds of demons.
Askaran natives have interbred with humans to the point they are little more than human. (Theirs is the twisted and cancerous ruling class. There are Evanti, a black-skinned, winged demon breed. (They are the servant class.) Then there are humans, imported mostly as bed toys or as servants.
So, that would seem to constitute high fantasy, which is by Wiki definition, fantasy fiction set in an alternative, entirely fictional (“Secondary”) world, rather than the real (“Primary”) world.
Okay, so up until the fourth chapter, I have written high fantasy. Then, the story moves to modern Earth (chapters five through twelve).
I looked back to my friend Wiki, who said, low fantasy is characterized by being set in the primary world, or a rational and familiar fictional world, with the inclusion of magical elements.
Hmm, so I have a half and half, a mixture of high and low fantasy? Okay, I guess.
When my beta readers read Everlong, they called it dark fantasy. I hadn’t thought much about it. I don’t think much about anything beyond writing the book in my head. I don’t write to market. Whatever is bumping around in my skull is what gets written.
I returned to Wiki and asked what elements created a dark fantasy. Dark fantasy is a subgenre that combines elements of fantasy, including marvelous abilities, with those of horror.
I have to say that answer surprised me. Horror? Me?
Yes, there are slaves in Everlong. They are abused. The court and royalty are rabid and stoked to a fever pitch by their queen. The heroine, Madelyn, is left deformed because her mother (the queen) tells her consort to perform a most heinous act on the day of Madelyn’s birth.
If someone asked me to describe Madelyn’s early years, the first phrase to pop into mind is “horrific.” I guess that explains that.
So, if the beginning is high fantasy, the ending low fantasy, is the end a specific type of low fantasy?
Urban fantasy is one of my favorite reads these days, so I considered that possibility. (In my mind, I consider urban as an umbrella for “modern” fantasy.) Fantasy –yes. Urban? Not so much. Back to Wiki I went.
Urban fantasy is a subset of fantasy defined by place; the fantasic narrative has an urban setting. Many Urban fantasies are set in contemporary times or contain supernatural elements. However, this is not the primary definition of Urban fantasy. Urban fantasy can be set in historical times, Modern times, or futuristic times. The prerequisite is that it must be set in a city, primarily rather than in a suburban or country setting, which have their own genre subsets.
The bulk of Everlong takes place in a small town at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. Nothing urban there.
It actually reminded me of an interview I watched featuring Jim Butcher and Shannon Butcher. Shannon made a reference to her work being “rural fantasy.” I found that amusing.
Then you have the final thought to plague me. My first two novellas were published as paranormal romance. That is what I had labeled them at the time, and my publisher didn’t disagree with me.
The two phoenix novellas are very similar to Everlong’s formula in the way all involved a darker tone and mixed worlds –modern earth and Faerie in the case of the novellas versus modern earth and Askara in Everlong.
All three pieces involve demons as well.
It made me wonder whether I’d written paranormals at all. Had I been writing dark/high/low/rural fantasy all along and just not known it?
I asked Wiki, who said that paranormal romance is a type of speculative fiction. Paranormal romance focuses on romance and included elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from the genres of traditional fantasy, science fiction, or horror.
Interesting stuff that. I suppose since my works involves fantasy and a light horror element, they could also be considered paranormal.
At the end of all this, I still have no sub-genre shingle to hang outside my door and point towards the madness that lies within. I’m a little dark, have my high and low points, enjoy writing rural settings similar to the one I hail from, and love a good romance, even if it the catalysts are horrific.
I’ve asked Jodi Henley for her two cents. Hers is a voice of reason I respect. If she has time to debate the layers of genre distinction, I’ll be sure to add the link in this topic.
Edit: Here is Jodie’s blog post on the topic.