I Am Over Grimdark

It’s Official. I’ve picked up three straight “Grimdark” books in a row. Two of them highly acclaimed, near-5 star books on Amazon, and failed to finish ANY of them. I just can’t take the unrelentingly unsympathetic characters, the idea that somehow modern profanity in a Renaissance context makes for ‘deeper’ writing, and how no one is capable of doing the right thing for the right reason. EVER. Unless they are there to die like the rube they are.

Look, I get it. Grimdark started as a subversion of traditional fantasy. And the Heroic Journey NEEDED subverting. I’m not saying we need to go back to two-dimensional heroes that don’t face doubts or have flaws. I *like* flawed heroes. But there’s a distinction between flawed hero and slightly-off-black anti-hero. Sure, I have Baron Camuel in my Aurori series. And everyone loves the badass vampire who has no problem leaving a trail of blood in his path to accomplishing his ends. But the guy gets his fair share of thumpings too. Of course, I torture my heroes as well. So *everyone* gets it.

I believe in Earning Your Happy Ending. That’s a GOOD thing. But frankly, Grimdark has become the Dark Age Comics of Fantasy. An annoying cliche that is nothing more than glorying in the inverse of the heroic journey. It’s boring. And the practitioners have every bit as much an obligation to liven up the subversion as the traditionalists did to twist their own stories.

Even Steven Erikson, who frequently gets lumped into the Grimdark writers, saw this. The Parans and Fiddler represented tortured heroes, with real flaws. But they were legitimate heroes, and they represented–with Itkovian and Whiskeyjack–the moral center of the series. For all the glory of Rake, Karsa, Apsalar/Sorry, and yes, Quick Ben and Kalem, the world may have been Grimdark, but it was shot through with hope. It wasn’t gleefully crushing every moment of joy the reader could find.

I’m tired of the soul-sucking, darkness where the only difference between any of the characters is who the protagonist is and perhaps some hint of modern sensibilities that’s supposed to ‘tell’ us who the ‘good guy’ is, even when in the context of the story, they’re all bastards of the 1st rank.

Really, it’s over. Start subverting what you created with the abandon you took to hacheting traditional fantasy.

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6 thoughts on “I Am Over Grimdark

  1. Ugh, I hear ya. Sounds like they’re just flat trying too hard to be edgy. Edge has its place, of course, but I’ve always found aggressive cynicism to be laughably childish and not particularly entertaining or enlightening.

    • Abercrombie and Scott Lynch are two big names in fantasy these days. And I know they’re good writers. But still…ugh. Maybe I’m old enough now that my cynicism comes so naturally I don’t need to read and reinforce it. šŸ˜›

    • Grimdark is a subgenre of fantasy. You may not have heard the term, but you would recognize the practitioners: Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, George Martin is a forerunner and establishes many of the tropes. The Witcher series could be considered right next door to it. But given its smaller scope, I’m more inclined to classify it as classic ‘Sword & Sorcery’ of the Conan or Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser type.

      It’s not horrible. Just overdone.

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