Welcome to the Subgenres – ‘What is Grimdark? A subgenre or an accusation?’
Let me start off by definitively outlining what Grimdark isn’t. Grimdark is not fluffy heroes and right choices (for the most part). Grimdark is not brimming with handsome/beautiful characters moseying their way through their journey with a fanciful twirl of the sword here and a perfectly executed backflip-into-thrust there. And Grimdark is definitely not for those who want their characters in black and white. This is more gristle and bone than noble romance.
It is agreed that the term ‘Grimdark’ derives from the tagline of Warhammer 4000, "In the [grim dark]ness of the far future, there is only war."
In recent years there has been an emergence of Grimdark writers. To name a few we have George R R Martin, Joe Abercrombie, and Mark Lawrence. But this list is not exhaustive, and there are more and more Grimdark writers emerging. The strangest thing about this subgenre is the absolute split of opinion between those who have (or have tried to) read it. Some laud it for its sheer bleak reality and exploration of man’s true nature, while others have brushed it off as being too violent and including gore for gore’s sake.
There have been a few attempts at defining this genre, some of which are included below;
"shorthand for a subgenre of fantasy fiction that claims to trade on the psychology of those sword-toting heroes, and the dark realism behind all those kingdom politics” – Genevieve Valentine
"a retreat into the valorisation of darkness for darkness's sake, into a kind of nihilism that portrays right action (...) as either impossible or futile" – Liz Bourke
I will admit that I am a Grimdark advocate. I am yet to read a novel labelled as Grimdark that I have not enjoyed or that I have found to be overly graphic and/or unnecessarily gratuitous in nature. That isn’t to say that I won’t come across one such novel in the future, but for now, I am firmly in the ‘for’ corner.
I like Grimdark because I have found that there is more emphasis on the characters, there is a real exploration of their history, their mind set and the reasons behind the decisions that they make. They do not always take the easy route, and more often than not, it’s because there is no easy rout. I think we can all identify with that, another reason I love Grimdark; it’s more real. This might sound a little counterproductive, reading a fantasy novel and requiring some reality to it but I do need the characters to have an essence of reality in them.
I remember reading Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns for the first time and absolutely loving it. I promptly left my review and started reading the opinions of other readers. More often than not, I read how people could not read past the first four or five chapters because the protagonist was leading a band of thieves and rapists. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was a little different from the usual anti-hero, but to not be able to read it? That seems a little strange to me. It was not overly graphic or revelling in its nature, it was stark, brutal and descriptive. Maybe it was a little too descriptive for some.
Arthur B over at ferretbrain.com described the current trend of Grimdark writings as a “grittiness arms race which is plaguing fantasy at the moment”. And he isn’t alone in his view. Others are also questioning the level of violence and gore depicted in these works. Wherever you read an opinion on Grimdark, you will find somebody who finds it too graphic or too brutal but you should really see for yourself. Pick up a Grimdark novel and give it a read, only then can you truly get a feel for whether it is right for you.
One thing is for sure, the Grimdark wave has not crested yet and it shows no signs of doing so. I for one, am happy at that, it others I feel, may be less so.
Have you read any Grimdark novels? If so, please weigh in on the conversation. Do you like it? If so, why? Similarly, do you dislike it? If so, why?
Arthur B,. ‘In the Grim Darkness of Fantasy's Future There is Only Grittiness’ http://ferretbrain.com/articles/article-679
Genevieve Valentine., ‘For a Taste of Grimdark, Visit the ‘Land Fit For Heroes’ http://www.npr.org/2015/01/25/378611261/for-a-taste-of-grimdark-visit-the-land-fit-for-heroes
Grimdark Fantasy Reader., ‘Grimdark Defined’
Joe Abercrombie., ‘The Value of Grit’ http://www.joeabercrombie.com/2013/02/25/the-value-of-grit/
Liz Bourke., ‘The Dark Defiles by Richard Morgan’ http://www.strangehorizons.com/reviews/2015/04/the_dark_defile.shtml
Published by Daniel Cross