Noir Fantasy with a Cutting Edge


Is it just me or are fantasy novels getting grittier? Looking over several lists, I notice that fantasy dominates popular reading and selections for 2013, but ever since Game of Thrones, the stories I’m reading seem harsher, gorier, gritty. Does this reflect our society? And in what way? Are current writers being influenced to write coarser protagonist with more violent plot lines?51LqynbphlL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

In George R.R. Martin’s last book, Dance with Dragons, the hero still standing  was a one-eyed dwarf with a torn off half face who suffers from dysentery. You end up with him at the close of the story on a gory battlefield knee deep in mud.

No swashbuckling hero him.

Skin GameAnother current favorite is the urban fantasy series by Jim Butcher. Harry Dresden fights to protect the city of Chicago against vampires, goblins and evil enemies, but he is usually tattered, aching, bruised  and needs a bath when dealing with “the dark side.” It is only after he dies and becomes a ghost that all the aches and pains go away. Yet his frustrations continue with the limitations imposed on his ghostly self. Can’t even twist a doorknob open.

Now, the next book coming out in May is titled Skin Game…and dare we hope he returns to his battered human self? And what mayhem and grotesque ghouls and evil doers will he confront to cause this transformation?

What sparked this introspection is that I’m currently reading Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself and while the writing is vivid, every character seems damaged in some way. One of the main characters is Glokta, an Inquisitor, who performs particularly violent procedures to wring confessions out of his victims.

I couldn’t get to sleep last night for images of fingertips flying through the air as he hacks a confession from a prisoner, or teeth breaking under pliers as he wrenches information out for his master all the while groaning in his own pain and agony. Even the king is a fat gross fool who is manipulated by greedy and power hungry ministers. The supposed brave knight/soldier is such a self centered fool that you want to strangle him yourself the moment you meet him. Still, the story is engrossing and I do keep going back for more. This seems to be the popular offering nowadays.The Blade Itself2

Whatever happened to unicorns and strong jawed heroes that save fair damsel?

Fantasy is not reality…it’s fantasy.

Reality is for tv shows.

Interesting that two of the Oscar nominations were in the science fiction genre. “Gravity” dealt with outer space and “Her” with a man following in love with a computer.

No wonder I want to jump back into the science fiction genre where I only have to deal with space battles and the occasional deadly aliens.



Filed under dragons, fantasy, fantasy series, Noir Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Wizards and magic

4 responses to “Noir Fantasy with a Cutting Edge

  1. claytonjcallahan

    My daughter, Meredith, introduced me to Harry Dresden a few years ago. It’s extremely well written. They even made a pretty good TV series about it (Until Scify turned LAME!). However, the longer the series goes on the more it’s relying on tropes I consider worn out; the chosen one, the prophecy, the fate of the world hanging on one ritual, bla, bla, bla. I recommend the earlier books, but the author should have quit while he was ahead.


    • I do agree, although I thought it interesting to kill Harry and still have him fighting the good fight with all the problems of being a ghost. The new title makes me curious enough to read the book when I have time to see if they bring him back.


  2. Your question, “Whatever happened to unicorns and strong jawed heroes that save the fair damsel?” brought to mind this quote from an audio engineer I know: “After four months of editing fantasy fiction audiobooks, I’ve learned there are always a virgin, a prisoner and just the right man to help them both. Also, there’s a wizard with unclear intentions.”


    • “There’s always a virgin, a prisoner and just the right man to help them both. Also, there’s a wizard with unclear intentions.”

      A virgin? What fantasyland are you in? What I’m seeing is the tough female who takes charge, sword in hand. Now the wizard with unclear intentions I agree with. Ambiguity seems in style. The flawed hero…the villain who does something good.


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