Blade & Rose by Miranda Honfleur (#SelfPubFantasyMonth)

Cover for Blade and Rose by Miranda Honfleur with female battle mage using fire magic in a forest


“A kingdom in turmoil or the love of her life. Which one will she save?

“Elementalist Rielle hasn’t heard from her best friend in far too long. Yet no one at the Tower of Magic seems to care about Olivia’s silence, or the curtain of secrecy surrounding the distant capital. Before Rielle can investigate, she’s assigned a strange new mission: escort a paladin named Jon across the kingdom.

“When whispers reveal mercenaries have killed the king, taken the capital, and that no one is coming to help, Rielle can’t leave Olivia in peril. But as infamous mages and deadly assassins hunt Jon, she can’t leave him unprotected either—especially as she finds herself falling for his strength, his passion, and his uncompromising goodness. Her past returns to haunt her, a werewolf stalks their steps, and an ancient evil is gathering, yet the restraints forbidding their love strain and snap one by one.

“Saving Olivia and the kingdom means defying orders and sacrificing her every ambition, and could mean losing the man who’s become so much more to her than a mission. Which will she choose: her best friend and the kingdom, or the love of her life?

“Dive into a medieval world sensual and dark, full of magic and greed, love and blades, where factions vie for influence and there are no easy choices.”


Blade and Rose is an epic fantasy romance that can’t be read in one sitting, but I wanted to.

I confess, I got about a quarter of the way through it and had to stop from sheer exhaustion. Honfleur packs a lot into the first quarter of this book, lots of action, lots of romance. I’m used to shorter books and thought for sure I’d already reached the midpoint of the romance way before the actual midpoint.

I’m glad I took a break and came back to this book. It has to be this long to give the characters and plot the depth they need.

Rielle looks like the typical spunky heroine at first. The book opens with her sneaking off into the night to find out why her best friend isn’t responding to her letters. It was nice to see her reasons for her spontaneous actions and the complicated web that is her past. I found myself liking her more and more as the book progressed, with one scene in particular cementing my good opinion of her. Everything she does is with others in mind and she really does try to think through the consequences of her actions. I respected that, and wanted the best for her by the end of the book.

Jon is a rarity in the books I read: a truly good paladin who does his best to keep his oaths in a way that helps others. Sometimes an author will write a character like that with a snide undertone, or make him a bit pompous or arrogant, or constantly point out the silliness of the oath.

Not here. The oaths Jon has sworn are treated as sacred, the men who make them are human but good at heart, and that makes the conflict in his heart all the more real when he finds his oath in conflict with the world around him.

I loved watching him work out his feelings regarding his oaths and duty. And the respectful resolution of that arc caught me by surprise and made me very pleased.

I have to add here that I completely want Rielle and Jon to end up together. They work well together, respect each other, and are willing to sacrifice greatly for the other.

Brennan was a pleasant surprise. Cast as The Bad Guy in the romance part of this book, he had reasons for his horrible actions, and the reasons actually captured my sympathy. Raised to think himself better than others, he’s arrogant and a more typical sexy than Jon. But this book, though it explains his behavior, never excuses it. However, in spite of all the awful things he did, I still hope he’ll redeem himself by the end of the series. I like him.

The plot is epic, complex, magical, and wonderful. Can’t say anything more without risking spoiling it.

For those looking for sweet romance, there are sex scenes, but the focus is on the emotions and the relationship.

If you liked the politics and realism of Game of Thrones but wished there was more magic and a romance that would get your heart thumping, this is that book. Highly recommended!

Goodreads | Amazon

Puck’s Call draft almost finished; #SelfPubFantasyMonth

Two things. First, I’m almost done with Puck’s Call’s rough draft. If I focus, I think I can finish by the end of this week.

Focus, in this case, means getting out my timer and doing sprints whenever I can. And doing occasional Pomodoros if I think it’ll work within my crazy schedule.

Second, it’s #SelfPubFantasyMonth on Twitter and Instagram. I’m going to try the challenge on Twitter. It’s my first time doing something like this, especially while I’m also trying to write. Not sure how it’ll turn out, but I’m having fun and learning about a lot more indie authors who write fantasy! I recommend taking a look if you get a chance.

Kick-off Post with info about this year’s offerings:

Official website:




Any projects coming to a close? Any self-published fantasy books you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments below?

Sweep in Peace by Ilona Andrews


Dina Demille agrees to host a peace conference between three warring factions, hoping it will help her find her parents. It isn’t long before she realizes she’s in way over her head. From trying to create rooms that make sure none of the guests murder each other to finding a highly-skilled chef who’s willing to cook fine cuisine with next to no money, she’s exhausted and the peace talks haven’t even started yet!

As the effects of the war that’s brought these factions here become clear, her reasons for helping turn from professional to personal. But is peace even possible after so much pain? And what is she willing to do to ensure it?


I love Dina’s focus. Her determination in this sequel is wonderful to see. Not only does she do everything she knows to keep her guests happy and relaxed, her creativity in solving the more mindane details inspired me. And when she finds peace must jappen, we get to see a side of being an innkeeper that I had no idea existed.

Caldenia returns, and ups her game (didn’t think that was possible). Beast has less chance to shine but is still Dina’s faithful, adorable companion. The melodramatic chef Dina hires for the conference made me smile each time he showed up. I loved just about every line he uttered. And I loved how he was just as dedicated to his craft as Dina is to her guests.

Arland makes another appearance, as does a minor character from the previous book, Nuan Cee.

Arland shows more depth in this book, having spent time in the war that’s brought everyone here. And he has some great moments in this. The scene where he gives another vampire coffee was just great. And his explanation of why this particular war is hell moved me.

Nuan Cee was both adorable and ruthless. And the reason he had, both to fight and to look for peace, broke my heart. I love his family now and look forward to seeing them more in future books.

The otrokars were a surprise, in many ways. I cried. I can’t say much more than that.

I loved every twist and turn in this twisty plot. But if I say mich more, I’m going to write spoilers, so I’ll just say that if you liked Clean Sweep, Sweep in Peace is not only worth your time but a must-read! Highly recommended! Gah!

Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

Please note, clicking on the image above will take you to the Amazon page for this item. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


Set in 1779, Carlo Morelli, a renowned castrato, has been invited to the Eszterháza Palace, to entertain the nobility . He arrives with an alchemist, who also happens to be a respected member of society, and a Prussian spy. Already at the palace, Charlotte von Steinbeck, sister of Prince Nikolai’s mistress, is trying to find her feet while mourning the loss of her husband, all within the bounds set for a a proper lady, such as herself. When two servants are found murdered by what appear to be supernatural forces, both Carlo and Charlotte must see themselves and others for who they are in order to stop a conspiracy to assassinate the Emperor and Empress themselves.


  • Publisher: Pyr
  • Publication Date: April 12, 2016
  • Language: English
  • Print Length: 319 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1633881326
  • ISBN-13: 978-1633881327
  • ASIN: B011G4E23E
  • File Size: 1026 KB


I put this book on hold through my local library’s ebook platform almost as soon as I finished Congress of Secrets, which, by the way, is the next book in the series, if this can be called a series. Masks and Shadows came first.

It didn’t disappoint.

Charlotte is the most dutiful widow I think I’ve ever read, and unlike some other dutiful women, she isn’t a hidden firebrand with a snarky tongue. She’s naturally quiet, naturally demure and docile. But there’s strength in her, even and especially in those quiet moments. She also has an enormous passion for music, and its in that passion that we see how deep her love can run for things and people outside herself. Of course, music is only what gives us the glimpse. The rest of the book provides numerous opportunities for Charlotte to shine.

Carlo is intelligent and very tuned to the world around him. He’s also bored by the courts that enticed him when he was younger. Perceptive and with a passion for music that just barely surpasses Charlotte’s, I loved the conflict he feels between the role he feels he must play in order to support himself and the desperate need he has for someone who truly understands him. Watching him and Charlotte slowly fall in love was inspiring.

Though this is a fantasy novel, and magic plays a central role in the story, that’s not the main focus of this book. Music, love, and sweeping emotions play out against the backdrop of dark alchemy and hidden knowledge.

I also have to say that I really enjoyed the setting. I don’t often read fantasy novels set in the 1700s, and I wish there were more of them. Prince Nikolai and his mistress (in reality she was unnamed, but here she’s Charlotte’s sister) come through very clearly, along with many other historical figures of the time.

The subplot with Anna and Hadyn’s troupe caught my attention almost as much as the main plot. I loved the back and forth within the group, the advice Anna gets, the friends she makes. And the way it tied into the main plot was just fantastic.

Though the ending is thrilling and worth every moment spent building up to it, my favorite part was the masked ball. Carlo and Charlotte’s dance, not to mention the costumes they chose, had me squealing with joy.

Overall, a great read. Well worth the time.

Trick, by Natalia Jaster

Please note: clicking the image above will take you to the Amazon sales page for this item. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Also, Trick is currently on sale for $0.99 cents for the next 18 hours. If you love excellent romance in a low-magic fantasy setting, I strongly recommend buying now! Either click the picture above or the link at the end of the review.



First, a warning for those who love clean romance and read YA because it doesn’t usually have bedroom scenes. This is not a clean romance. However, it is an extremely good one and more than worth reading.

On to the story.


Briar is a princess of the kingdom of Autumn, a land of perpetual harvest and stability. Poet is the court jester of the kingdom of Spring, a land bursting with life in all its forms. Both hold a secret that drives them. Both wear masks that hide what they truly feel. But Poet’s secret will destroy him and all he loves if it comes out. Briar, driven by the ghosts of her past to be a dutiful princess, tries to find the reason Poet sneaks out of the castle with a dagger in his hand. What she discovers binds her to Poet and his secret, and creates a passsionate forbidden romance.

  • File Size: 4148 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Publication Date: November 8, 2015
  • ASIN: B0175PMU8W


Briar is very believable in her grief and her need to be something she’s really not (i.e. the perfect princess). She’s strong and intelligent, daring in just the right way, and with a wonderful heart that only becomes more wonderful as the story progresses.


Poet is amazing.

Court jester for the Spring court, to say he’s unconventional is a bit of an understatement. Reading his performances captivated me, which is a very big deal in my mind because a performance is a difficult thing to capture in words. Due to the difference in their stations, there’s a bit of a build up to their meeting, but the attraction is made clear from the start when they see each other, her from her window, him from the courtyard below.

Each interaction afterward is a gradual building of tension until their first dialogue, when he catches her walking the corridors after the welcoming feast and it becomes clear how close and far apart they are.

I fell in love with them as a couple in that moment and devoured the book from that point on.

Their romance is amazing. Full of real issues that aren’t easily solved, these two not only come to understand each other, they work well together. Poet’s description of their lives if they were to be together broke my heart because it was so very true and he saw what was going to destroy them so clearly. Briar’s determination in spite of those odds amazed me. This is one of those rare romances where I love the heroine as much as the hero.

For those who care, there is a love triangle in this story. It’s a believable one and, for me, the first where the rival isn’t another woman. Not only that, the rival was incredibly sweet and kind and I ached for the pain he went through. Very well done.

Poet’s secret was as real and raw as I’d hoped. Like many things in this novel, Jaster doesn’t hold back when it comes to reality. The mental illness referenced is based on real symptoms and she doesn’t keep Poet, as the hero, distant from any of it, in any way. Reading it, my heart swelled with even greater admiration for these two characters. It’s difficult to handle such sensitive topics well, but Jaster did.

The ending is very good and satisfying. Unlike some romances where everyone gets everything they want by the end this book does not make things so easy. This book does have a Happily Ever After, but it’s real, if that makes any sense. More pain than usual is involved. There were characters who deserved to get all they wanted who didn’t. But, for me, that made Poet and Briar’s ending all the more satisfying. For a story called Trick, this book was a heart-warming examination of truth in relationships and ourselves.

It rocked my world and showed me what fantasy romance could be. Highly recommended.


A Noble’s Path by I.L. Cruz

Blog Tour Banner

Hello, everyone. Welcome to my review of A Noble’s Path by I.L. Cruz, my contribution to the blog tour. I hope you’re having fun so far and that my review turns out to be useful.

Let’s start with what this book is about. And to do that, I’ll insert the book blurb right…here.

About A Noble’s Path

Divided loyalties test Inez Garza.

The infamous incident at the Academy of Natural Studies has forced her to work for the King’s Men while continuing to serve the hidden market.

Supporting Birthright furthers the cause of Magical Return, but the cost may be the fall of the royal house and losing Zavier forever.

And the strongest pull of all is her growing and erratic magic, which demands everything and offers only destruction in return.

Inez must decide where her loyalties lie—saving Canto or saving herself.

My review

First off, I need to state that I was given a free copy of this book for review purposes. However, my thoughts are my own.

This second book in the series moves along faster than the first book. And I enjoyed seeing the fallout from the “incident” that ended a lot of the mysteries in A Smuggler’s Path.

Inez managed to hold my interest and frustrate me all at once. She struck me as childish in thinking no one else needs to be hurt, but refusing to see just how many people she’s not only already hurting, but will hurt in the future. Her final choice in the end made me want to bang my head against a wall, though I understood her reasons for choosing it.

Talking of which…Zavier. I loved him in this book! True to the end, he is a lot braver than Inez, taking risks that made Inez’s indirect methods look pathetic in comparison. Zavier is the biggest reason to read this book, in my opinion. He’s thoughtful, honest, courageous, and willing to follow his heart, even if it means Mythos (the kingdom that makes sure the others don’t have any true magical power) may come in and replace the whole royal family. Stupidly wonderful and wonderfully stupid but somehow I loved every second I spent reading his involvement in the story, probably because he’s so incredibly lovestruck.

Toman and Meiri play a bigger part in this story, and it improves every event as a result. I especially loved Toman’s obsession with Inez’s love life. It smoothed over what could have been a book-throwing bit of irritation on my part during one particular event.

Oh, and there’s developments in the Jacque/Meiri pairing, developments I adored! I love how Meiri starts coming into her own in this book, and I love how completely Jacque loves her, to the point where he’s thinking more of her future than his own.

Arch is a new character. Even though he’s a bit too smooth, I liked the glimmers of depth he got and hope he shows up more in book three.

I loved the sheep! In fact, I really like how Cruz writes magical animals, making their natures blend seamlessly with their sentience. Rowley makes more of an appearance as well, and we get to learn a little more about Birthright, the resistance movement he leads.

We also get to see some depth in the characters that make up the King’s Men, which I deeply appreciated. Cleph’s situation was especially moving.

Though there were still moments of confusion (an issue I had with the first book), they were less and the book reads fast. The one sticking point I had trouble swallowing in the previous book is at least questioned in this one.

I did not appreciate one particular loose end that was brought up in the next-to-last scene and then ignored in the final scene. If that last scene hadn’t been there, I could have forgiven the loose thread as a cliffhanger. But with that final scene—which does, I admit, bring the plot full-circle both event- and image-wise with a hint at the difficulties to come—I ended up wondering if Inez had already learned the truth or if she was still waiting.

Still, it was an enjoyable read. Well worth the time. I look forward to book three!

About the Author

I.L. Cruz decided to make writing her full-time career during the economic downturn in 2008. Since then she’s used her BA in International Relations to sow political intrigue in her fantasy worlds and her MA in history to strive for the perfect prologue. When she’s not engaged in this mad profession she indulges her wanderlust as often as possible, watches too much sci-fi and reads until her eyes cross. She lives in Maryland with her husband, daughter and a sun-seeking supermutt named Dipper.

Her Twitter: @ILCruzWrites 

Her blog: Fairytale Feminista at

Her website:

Want to keep following the tour? Schedule is below.

Tour Schedule

Kissed by Fire by Katharina Gerlach: a review

Kissed by Fire (High School Dragons Book 1)Kissed by Fire by Katharina Gerlach

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

A terrible accident leaves Lydia with no memories of her past. Thrown into a system that frightens her at every turn, she begins to realize, slowly, that she isn’t like the humans around her. In fact, she might not even be human at all. Through the love of a young man and his sister, and the questionable help of a new student who seems very intent on being more than friends, Lydia finds out not only what she once was but who she’s meant to be.

I liked this story. It has a love triangle and a lot of fantasy YA tropes but I like how it played with them instead of letting them take over the story.

Lydia, for example, starts out weak and frightened, but becomes strong without becoming snarky or annoying. Those who want a spunky, smart-mouthed heroine need to look elsewhere.

Colin is the sweet young man who assigned to help Lydia through her first day of school. He was a joy to watch through the whole book and I very quickly began cheering for him and Lydia to get together.

Harm, a typical bad boy hottie trying to get Lydia’s attention, turns out to be far more than his role in the story suggested, and I have to admit I loved his arc and his relationship with Lydia the further I got into the story.

There were a number of other fantastic characters in this. The women, I think, were especially portrayed well. And there was a nice little twist with a human girl who might be able to wield magic.

There were, however, a few issues that made the book difficult to read.

First, and most importantly, though it’s supposedly set in America, everyone speaks as if they were British. This is actually a symptom of a larger issue: though the main characters are solid, the setting is not. I mean, there’s a Council and relationships between the various members of the story, but it isn’t clear where they are inside this world or how that plays into their culture and individual choices.

This weakness also led to some confusion regarding the role Native Americans play in the story. They are the only minority represented in this world in this book, and I have to admit those characters confused me more than once They were, in my opinion, the only characters that were not as well developed as they could have been.

One final, minor quibble. At times, the writing felt more middle-grade than YA.

Other than that, the romance is very sweet and, I think, worth the time. Which says something given the enormity of the issues I’ve mentioned. I’ll be reading the next book in the series.

View all my reviews

magical open book with fantasy background

5 Fantasy Romance/Romantic Fantasy Book Blogs/Sites

magical open book with fantasy background
Image by pixel2013 from Pixabay

It can be hard to find books that have both fantasy and romance in them, no matter which is the main focus. So, I thought it might be nice to share some sites that have either lists of books on them, reviews of fantasy romance/romantic fantasy books on them, or some combination of the two.

(Note: Please be aware that, because there aren’t a whole lot of blogs dedicated to these subgenres [at least, based on my searches] most, if not all, of these blogs are run by those who write in this genre. Inclusion does not imply endorsement of their books. Also, I get nothing from mentioning them.)

Hope you enjoy.

Here Be Magic – This is the first one I found when I started searching for fantasy books with romance in them. Created by a group of authors, the blog covers fantasy, sf, and paranormal romance, as well as more general posts related to the aforementioned subgenres and posts about writing. They also have a page with links to free reads, written by said authors and meant as a way of sampling their work, for those who might be interested.

Epic Fantasy | Epic Romance – A blog by author Jayne Castel. Covers reviews of other books in the genre as well as updates on her own. And for writers, she has posts dedicated to combining fantasy and romance.

Epic Fantasy Romance – Like Here Be Magic, this blog is maintained by a group of authors. Also has lists dedicated to epic fantasy romance books and epic fantasy books with romance in them.

ensworldofwords – a book reviewer whose preference leans toward fantasy romance.

Heroes and Heartbreakers – Combines fantasy romance with paranormal. They don’t have a lot of the former, but it’s well organized and also contains urban fantasy, for those who are looking for that as well.

Do you know of any others? I’d be glad to add them. Just let me know in the comments below. Thanks!



Is there a difference between fantasy romance and romantic fantasy?

vintage romantic fantasy lake with swan and magical fairy dust
Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

My latest project, Puck’s Call, is (near as I can tell) a fantasy romance. I’m basing this on the fact that the plot is really fitting nicely into a typical romance plot, and I can even identify the tropes inside it.

In honor of actually, kind of, sort of, knowing what genre my book fits within—which, as you can see from this post, hasn’t always been the case—I’m going to take a little bit of time comparing fantasy romance with romantic fantasy.

Why? Because I like definitions, especially when it comes to finding new things to read.

So here we go.

First off, genres change all the time. A genre will be happily minding its own business and then, bam! A book grabs the imagination of the wider public and soon everyone is talking about this book, especially publishers, who want to repeat that success. Writers come in who either already had books like the one that took off, but couldn’t sell them because “no one reads those kind of books.” Other writers dash off a manuscript that’s a lot like the Big Hit and start shopping it around, thus leading to books that readers kind of enjoy but that, ultimately, make them shrug. And before you know it, bookstores and libraries add a new physical or digital shelf to the marketplace and voila! A genre is born.

Same with subgenres. Originally, there was only fantasy. Then what’s commonly known as “sword and sorcery.” And things kind of blossomed from there.

One of the beauties of writing fantasy is that, as long as there’s magic as a key component, you can do just about anything. And that even means including romance. And now there’s been enough fantasy novels with strong enough elements of romance for it to get its own subgenres.

But this leads me back to my question. Is there a difference between fantasy romance and romantic fantasy?

Given my experiences search? Kind of, but not really. For readers who are looking for more romance in their fantasy, either search term should get you where you want to go, eventually.

From a literary standpoint, I say yes, there is a subtle difference. Here are my definitions, based on what I’ve read so far.

Fantasy romance is romance with a fantasy setting and some fantasy tropes. Romantic fantasy is fantasy with an emphasis on relationships, especially romantic ones.

Sometimes those lines are blurred. The Fire Lord’s Lover by Kathryne Kennedy, though clearly fantasy romance, has such a strong fantasy plot within it that I think it straddles the two genres perfectly.

So, the next question to ask is, what makes a romance. After all I’ve read, both romance novels and books on how to write a romance novel, I say romance is variations on a single theme: Romantic Love Conquers All. If the book in your hands has that as its overarching theme, then it’s a romance.

By that definition, The Fire Lord’s Lover is definitely fantasy romance, because love does truly conquer all, both in the book and in the books that come after it in that series.

Other books to look at, if that’s what you’re looking for, are Master of Crows by Grace Draven, Twelve Days of Faery by W.R. Gingell, and just about anything written by Kristine Grayson.

Romantic fantasy, on the other hand, has fantasy’s themes as its main focus. And since fantasy is all about power, it’s about a character, typically female, coming to grips with her own power, both personally and as a member of the wider community. Romance is definitely part of that, and can be a very strong part of it, but unlike fantasy romance, it’s not the main focus.

An example is Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series. The first half of each book I’ve read in that series has nothing to do with romance. Instead, it’s about a woman finding her feet and coming to terms with who she is and what she wants to be. Once she’s done that, then romance enters her life. The first book in the series, The Fairy Godmother, was especially good at that. Other examples include Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals series (Middle Grade, but still good), Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books, and I would even include, if you’re into something darker, Anne Bisop’s Black Jewels series. (Hesitant to add that because I’ve only read the first two books in the series. But it seems to fit the definitions I’ve given for romantic fantasy, so far.)

What about you? Does this sound right, or are my definitions off? What other books would you add to these lists? Let me know in the comments!

*An exception appears to be Selene Quarterly, a magazine devoted to spec fic romance. (WARNING: as of my linking today, the cover art on the page is NSFW [Not Safe For Work]. Click at your own risk!)

Woman gothic dark fantasy

Dark fantasy vs. epic fantasy

Woman gothic dark fantasy
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

When The Dark Crystal’s spin-off series came out, someone described the initial movie as “dark fantasy.” I’d seen this term on (a great site for those who want to submit short stories to spec fic markets) but hadn’t thought much of it. It’s like horror with fantasy elements, right? I’d think and move on to the more mainstream subgenres.

But I love The Dark Crystal. I loved it as a kid and got irritated when the grown-ups around me talked during any portion of it. I love it so much now that I got a copy and have, whenever I get the chance,  played it for my kids who now tell me they were freaked out by the Skeksies and other creatures and that my love of that movie convinced them that their mom definitely loved dark things.

But to me, that movie is anything but dark.

However, now that I’m aware of my darkish tendencies, I’ve decided to look deeper into this subject.

The verdict? No one really seems to have a firm grip on what it is. But even though it seems to be a personal judgment call, there also seem to be some basic principles. Maybe.

(Please be aware that some of what’s written below is based on what I found and some of it is based on my own analysis.)

1. Dark fantasy is dark. As in, it has a dark atmosphere. Brooding protagonists. Evil all around. Maybe evil within. One person on the SFFWorld forum put The Dark Elf trilogy in that category and another put Moorcock’s Elric in there, too. Given that definition, Tanith Lee’s The Lords of Darkness would also count as dark fantasy, as would The Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop. I would also put George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire in that as well.

Epic fantasy and heroic fantasy, on the other hand, tends to be lighter in tone.

2. Dark fantasy has a quest, just not, perhaps, an external one. For example, The Lords of Darkness starts out with a love story between a young man and the Lord of Darkness himself, and it appears, on the surface, that the quest is external. But over the course of the many stories, all of which read like short stories or novellas but are all tied together into one overarching plot, it become clear that the Lord of Darkness is the main protagonist and that’s he’s trying to find a way to keep humanity and their worship of him alive.

The Last Unicorn, which I’m starting to think is dark fantasy, starts out as an external quest (to find the other unicorns) but turns into a deeper quest of what it means to be ageless and magical and what it means to be mortal and not-so-magical and how to reconcile the two when both seem at odds and yet both can be strong.

Epic fantasy, on the other hand, has a clear quest that’s external to the main character. The evil guy must be defeated by doing x which will lead to y result. There may be introspection, but it isn’t necessary to the story itself and may, at times, get in the way. (Wonderful as it is, and I really do love it, how much introspection does Aragorn or Frodo go through in Tolkien’s series?)

3. There isn’t necessarily a happy ending. I take issue with this somewhat. Horror is, at the core, a morality tale. Have sex instead of watching the kid, and you might get slaughtered by a monster or end up in some kind of supernatural hell, damned forever. Think you’re innocent? Oh, no, not really. Horror tends to show people as they “really” are and, at the same time, make the innocents prove that they really are better than most of humanity. As a result, there are definite tragedies in the horror genre. (I still haven’t gotten over the ending of The Shining, which really broke my heart.)

But the dark fantasy I’ve read and enjoyed, like The Dark Elf trilogy, does have a happy ending. It may not be the ending you thought was coming. It may not be the kind where all the good people get everything they ever wanted (that includes staying alive). But it’s satisfying and leaves me happy with where the characters are.

In that sense, I would say dark fantasy has a realistic element to it, even in a fantastical setting.

And, by the way, this doesn’t mean there needs to be a lot of profanity or sex. Realism means not everything turns out the way you thought it would. Not everything broken in the course of the story gets fixed.

Contrast this to epic or heroic fantasy, where good always vanquishes evil and there’s a sense that the world has been set to rights. Lord of the Rings is a great example of that, though I’ll admit Frodo’s end makes my point debatable.

4. Dark fantasy either subverts or at least questions what’s good and what’s evil. In The Dark Elf trilogy, it’s very clear to Drizzt what’s good and what’s evil and nothing really varies from that. However, The Lords of Darkness most certainly plays with notions of good and evil, and Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series has people worshiping The Darkness which isn’t actually dark in the typical sense. As mentioned in my review of the first book, Daughter of the Blood, it’s more like a primal beginning. Those who reject the Darkness are the ones who are horrifying in their evil. And, as a side note, Anne Bishops’ book Sebastian, has as one of its primary settings The Den of Iniquity, which turns out to be different than what it initially appears.

Epic fantasy, however, tends to make it clear from the beginning what’s good and what’s evil. The Sword of Shannara is a good example of that, as is The Eye of the World. And, of course, Lord of the Rings. A person can be tempted by evil, but the evil guy is clearly evil and someone to be defeated.

This would put The Dark Crystal more into the dark fantasy subgenre, since the Skeksies, evil as they are, are actually the evil side of another set of creatures, split off as part of their battle amongst themselves. Once they’re joined with the good Mystics, they become whole. And the lesson is that we carry dark and light within us. We cannot truly be split.

5. Dark fantasy doesn’t hold back when it comes to pain. Here’s where I definitely agree with putting The Dark Crystal in the dark fantasy camp. Dark fantasy has pain galore within its pages. Like, horrifying, I don’t know if I can watch this, make have nightmares pain. The use of the dark crystal to drain life, the casual way living creatures are eaten while still alive, the slavery of the podlings, the genocide, the abandonment of a child, and the death of one of the main characters, all of it was pain.

Pan’s Labyrinth was the same. Truly horrifying stuff and the pain so many characters go through made the ending only somewhat worth it. I really wish there had been a stronger joy to that ending because holy crap was there a lot of agony in that movie.

I think I’ve covered most of it. I’ve linked a few sites below if you want to take a closer look, but really, this is a subgenre that’s not clearly defined.

However, in looking at it, I can see that yes, it is a genre I’ve already loved. I just didn’t have a name for it until now.

What about you? Do you think I’m right or wrong? And do you love this subgenre, too? Let me know in the comments!

More About Dark Fantasy:

TV Tropes: Dark Fantasy

Discussion on Reddit of Dark Fantasy and Other Subgenres

Wikipedia: Dark Fantasy

14 Dark Fantasy Books to Read and Explore on Long, Cold Nights