Grimdark has become a very popular sub-genre of fantasy fiction.
The term got its start out of the tagline for the game Warhammer 40K. “In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war.”
Given that, grimdark fiction tends to be well, dark and grim.
To me it is highlighted by a bleak worldview in which there are no good guys and bad guys. One does what one must to survive or to advance one’s causes. There’s not a lot of hope nor is there much real honor in grimdark. Again, just my opinion.
Grimdark, the anti-Tolkien
According to award-winning British writer Adam Roberts, grimdark is a sort of antithesis of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy fiction.
It makes sense. In The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as all the novels that followed Tolkien, shared some similar traits.
The good guys are good. The bad guys are bad. Elves are the noblest. Orcs are evil. Within the characters is no ambiguity and no gray area.
The morally flat characters in grimdark can certainly at times be more interesting characters than Legolas, though – personally – I get tired of the fact that people aren’t good for the sake of being good.
There is no denying the popularity of the subgenre. It even has a magazine: Grimdark Magazine.
And most importantly, there are some darned fine books within the subgenre.
If you are interested in grimdark. there’s a great list of books posted here on the Fantasy subreddit.
I’ve read The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombe and The Gentlemen Bastards by Scott Lynch. Both were amazing, and that is coming from someone who prefers a little light in his fiction!
Some of it – Malazan for instance – is awfully long and while I may not be able to last that long with that much darkness, Malazan has a crazy huge – and loyal – fan base.
My recommendation is to check it out. You never know what’s going to appeal to you and if nothing else, you’ll get a little break from Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs.