Tag Archives: dark fantasy

Embracing the Darkness: 3 Reasons Why Dark Fantasy Matters

by E.A. Copen

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by stories others might describe as scary or dark. Mostly, I like any genre of fiction that has the potential to make me a little uncomfortable or to challenge a commonly held belief. I’m in love with the darker side of fiction.

In recent years, that darkness has expanded beyond horror and mixed with science fiction and fantasy. One of the reasons I fell in love with urban fantasy is the potential for darkness to co-exist with humor, creating a dichotomy that just isn’t found in other genres. One minute, your wizard hero is cracking jokes, and the next he’s plunging a knife into the heart of the woman he loves to save his only child. That mix has bled into fantasy as well, creating subgenres like Grim/Dark fantasy, which is quickly becoming another of my favorite genres. We need humor in fantasy so we can make it through the more difficult parts of a book, but we need the darkness too.

1. Bravery is born of fear.

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”

— George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

In dark fantasy, characters often face impossible odds and horrifying creatures straight of out nightmares. There are plenty of chances for them to give up, more so than in stories where the main character might easily use a spell or shapeshift to get away. Their fears become literal demons that must be confronted or else the entire world could come crashing down. These stories teach us bravery in the face of impossible odds. They show us that, while being afraid is a perfectly valid reaction to facing down monsters, it’s no excuse to back down and let the bad guys win. The familiarity of the setting in urban fantasy makes the situation that more relatable.

2. Darkness starts conversations.

“When kind men grow angry, things are about to change.”

— Jim Butcher, Blood Rites

Fantasy has long been a safe place to talk about and encourage social change or to criticize some aspect of society without making a direct political statement. In a day and age when we’re being bombarded on television and social media concerning politically charged topics, it’s easy to feel overloaded. We’re so saturated in these topics that they wash over us unnoticed all the time. Dark fantasy is a place where those same topics can be approached from a new angle. While some fiction chooses to serve simply as a distraction from the rat race of politics, crime, and social or racial inequality, darker fiction often addresses these topics head-on, creating a medium where fans can debate and discuss in forums and Facebook groups, sometimes with more civility than the same people can talk about their preferred political candidate.

3. It reminds us humans are complex, not black and white.

“I try to be a good cop. I try to be a good little soldier and follow orders up to a point. But in the end I’m not really a cop, or a soldier. I am a legally sanctioned murderer. I am the Executioner.”

— Laurell K. Hamilton, Skin Trade

Not everyone can stake vampires or sit in the Iron Throne, but everyone has a monster to slay. Dark fantasy gives these monsters faces and names, and their victims a medium to talk about them. Many adults I know have lived through something traumatic they don’t like to talk about. When they do, they often describe a feeling of helplessness in the moment. The heroes of dark fantasy are very often helpless, too. They get their spines broken. They’re drugged and forced to perform sick fantasies. They have literal body parts cut away and their identities destroyed. Even if we start out disliking something about these characters, even if they start out as the villains of the story, the potential is still there for us to become sympathetic to their situation, and for them to rise up and do good. A queen who commits infanticide may become someone we cheer for if we’re somehow presented with someone worse like a religious fanatic. No matter how evil someone is, there’s always someone out there a little worse. It’s easy to shoehorn people into little boxes of good and evil, but life just isn’t like that. When we remember that even the worst humans were, in fact, human, they become a little less frightening.

It’s a misconception that dark fantasy is depressing and full of meaningless death and scares. If anything, dark fiction provides more of an opportunity for positive messages like hope and bravery to shine through.

What’s your favorite dark fantasy read?

The Tools of the Hawk Trade

by Andy Peloquin

I’ve always been fascinated by the art of picking pockets, lockpicking, and thievery. On more times than I’m willing to admit, I’ve wanted to try lifting someone’s wallet to see if I could. I’ve actually studied how to pick locks (though who among us hasn’t?).

This interest is definitely one of the reasons that my latest novel—Child of the Night Guild—explores the skills and tools needed to survive as a thief.

My main character, Ilanna, belongs to House Hawk, which are third-story thieves (also known as cat burglars). However, she also spends time learning to pick pockets on the streets of the fictional city where she lives. Through her training, she acquires a number of tools that make it possible for her to steal—both from homes and people on the street.

Lockpicks Every burglar needs a set of lockpicks to help them get through exterior and interior door locks, as well as locked cases and shelves. Medieval-era lockpicks were far less durable than modern lockpicks. There are dozens of different types of rakes, picks, and tension tools, each designed for a different type of lock as well as a style of lock-picking.

Leather gloves – The leather gloves used by the thieves aren’t the delicate sort used by Victorian-era women, nor the heavy-duty gloves used by modern construction workers. They were a cross of sorts—the flexibility and versatility of thin leather, but with thicker material used for the palms so thieves could slide down ropes without burning their hands.

Soft-soled boots – When slipping through the bedroom of a sleeping nobleman or walking down a guarded hallway, a thief CANNOT have boot soles that make noise. Soft-soled boots (which are closer to moccasins than proper boots) allow them to move in near-absolute silence. They’re durable and watertight (medieval cities had terrible drainage and sewage disposal systems), but they allow the same flexibility as rock climbing shoes.

Hooded cloak – Contrary to popular opinion, assassins and thieves didn’t wear black to hide in the darkness. Black is a shade darker than “night”, so a person in a black cloak will stand out. Instead, dark or mottled grey was the color of choice. A hood was used to conceal the thief’s features, and to cover the eyes (which reflect light).

Super-light rope – Modern cat burglars use an assortment of climbing equipment and gear to break into homes, but nothing beats good old-fashioned rope. The rope used by House Hawk was alchemically created to be extra-light but as strong as a very thick rope.

Finger-knifeThe finger-knife was worn by pickpockets and used to slice the drawstrings of a purse. In medieval times, pockets were uncommon, and leather purses (moneybags) were attached to the belt by the drawstrings. The finger-knife is an easily concealed weapon that comes in handy when performing the “bump” (bumping against a mark and using the body contact to steal their belongings) or “snatch” (stealing without making contact).

Dagger – Every thief needs a dagger for protection. Plus, in medieval times, daggers were the all-purpose tools used for eating and working. Everyone owned belt daggers—many crude, but all functional.

To read more about Ilanna and her fellow thieves, check out Child of the Night Guild.

A World of Lawlessness Breeds Crime

by Andy Peloquin

As a fantasy author, I have the joy of being able to create my own worlds, societies, and environments for the characters and stories I write. As a DARK fantasy author, it’s a thrill to delve into the underside of human nature and see just how low people can stoop—as well as how high they can rise.

My latest novel, Child of the Night Guild, follows a girl sold to and raised by a Thieves’ Guild. In researching the novel, I spent hours poring over criminology, the art of thieving, burglary, and more. One fascinating article I came across in Psychology Today looked at the environment that led to crime.

In the article, it talked about a Caribbean island that had a very high crime rate. Not only were there unsanitary and unsafe environments, but the police paid little attention to reports. Some tourists and locals even said that “calling the police is usually a waste of time”. Despite all the “unsavory” elements, the police did little to prevent or deal with the problems.

It seems odd that such a potentially idyllic, “perfect” place could have such a high crime rate. And yet it all comes down to a simple formula: “It is the criminal who commits the crime. It is the responsibility of public officials to deter criminals. Crime flourishes in areas that tolerate it!”

Modern law enforcement organizations have established not only ways to deal with criminals, but even ways to DETER crimes from occurring in the first place. The modern judicial systems are equally equipped to deal with lawbreakers. But the laws that govern a fantasy world are often lacking. Not only are the laws less comprehensive than modern laws, but the organizations that enforce the laws are often less vigilant than modern law enforcement.

A common fantasy trope is a “crooked guard or soldier”, someone who could be easily bribed to look the other way. In a society like that, it’s no surprise that crime flourishes.

But even in fantasy worlds where there are strict laws and law enforcement agencies (city guard, Palace Guard, etc.) to enforce it, the lack of modern technology often makes finding perpetrators more challenging. Crime is able to flourish even in these lawful environments because law enforcement is unable to deter it.

In a fantasy world where law enforcement is too lazy or unethical to prevent crime, it’s to be understood that crime will flourish. But even if the law enforcement bodies are willing to stop crime, the lack of resources (manpower and technology) is often the main thing that prevents them from being truly efficient. This is the main reason that crime is such a common element in fantasy worlds—for better and for worse.

Check out Andy’s books here.