Image above shamelessly stolen from Mark Lawrence’s Blog
History Repeating: A Return of Violent Machismo to Fantasy and Science Fiction
At the 35th Annual Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) in Orlando, March 2014, Stephen R. Donaldson, as a guest on a discussion panel, raised a concern about the apparent rise of violence, nihilism, cynicism, and darkness in modern genre fantasy writing. In particular he singled out what is most commonly referred to as ‘grimdark’, a sub-genre of fantasy popularised and exemplified by authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and George R.R. Martin. Although I should mention that he did not explicitly name those authors.
The common (mis)understanding of grimdark is that it is fantasy writing that eschews the tropes of hero, heroic quest and the simplistic morality of good winning out over evil, in favour of a much darker, more cynical fantasy world which is generally graphically and explicitly violent, morally bankrupt (or at the least deeply flawed), and celebrates the dirt, darkness and grittiness of the world. Heroic characters are replaced by violent, sociopathic, immoral or amoral protagonists, who are not so much anti-heroes as villains but on a side less villainous than the other. Good and evil have been replaced by evil and slightly less evil. In many ways a fairly accurate rendering of what the news presents us with on a daily basis, on the hour, every hour.
Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant (Tor, 2015) by Seth Dickinson [also known as The Traitor]
Bold, challenging, brutal, and demonstrates the author’s total commitment to telling an amazing story. It might have an accountant as a protagonist, but this is first rate fantasy. Few debut novels are as hard hitting and brilliant. One of the best novels of 2015.
Before I get started on this review I just wanted to say that you should read this book. Seriously. Just read it. Stick with it from beginning to end. Then, once you are done, take those few moments of quiet and think about what you just read. This is a stunning novel, brutal and beautiful in equal measure. Smart, intelligent and powerful. Thought provoking and entertaining. This will become known as one of the classics of fantasy literature, a feat made even more impressive because it is a début. So, read it all the way through to the end. Although, fair warning, you will probably love it and hate it in equal measure, but hate it in the way that means you were enthralled by it and it has gotten under your skin. Love it because it is unexpected, unconventional, and has an emotional resonance that goes to your very core. This isn’t a cosy fireside fantasy. This isn’t an easy ride of heroic quests. This is the type of fantasy that challenges you, changes you, and leaves you wrecked, shivering, and wanting more.