David Chandler is the author of the Ancient Blades Trilogy, comprising Den of Thieves, A Thief in the Night, and Honor Among Thieves, all of which are available now from Harper Voyager. There are elves and magic swords in his books, but he promises they’re especially gritty, and not what you’d expect.


The rise of “Low Fantasy” has surprised many of the genre’s traditional pundits. The books of George R. R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie, for instance, have captured enormous audiences even though they don’t look much like what fantasy used to be. There is very little magic in these books. There are no grand quests, no singing swords, and definitely no elves.

The “High Fantasies” which dominated the market for so long-most of them imitators, to one degree or another, of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien-seem to be receding from view. At a panel at New York Comic Con recently the question came up as to why this is happening. Why do people want gritty fantasy now? Why are they turning up their noses at the elves they used to love?

Pondering the question I remembered something a former professor told me once, back in the early 90s. He and I were discussing horror movies, and how they seemed to have gone through a sea change in the early 80s. Before you’d had men in rubber suits menacing the teeny-boppers, and if anyone actually got bloody it looked like they were slathered in ketchup. By the mid-80s, horror movies were all about lovingly rendered viscera, gleaming with body fluids. The victims were savaged and grotesquely distorted, while the monsters went from lumbering beasts to twisted psychopaths who seemed a little too happy in their work.

The change, this professor told me, had to have come about because of the Vietnam war. In the 70s we all got to see what real carnage looked like-it was splattered all over the evening news. After that the rubber monsters and the ketchup dripping from their claws could never be scary again.

The change in fantasy, I think, comes from a similar origin. The first decade of the Twenty-First Century was a time of warfare and national destinies being played out on the small screen as much as on the world stage. It was a time when villains attacked us without warning and our revenge was, if perhaps not as swift as we would have liked, certainly devastating. This was the decade of shock and awe.

Lagging only a little behind, I think fantasy is responding to the horrors of the War on Terror, just as horror responded to Vietnam. Suddenly we are all caught up in a High Fantasy of national proportions. The surge of patriotism and fear in the early 2000s birthed a sense of American (and Western) peril and we stayed glued to our TV sets for nearly a decade, desperate to know what was happening and how it would end.

And what we saw was pretty damned gritty.

Our stories must always reflect our real lives. Elves with magic bows and children born under prophecies to save the world just don’t fit with the new realities of war and politics. Instead we get constant, grueling warfare (Joe Abercrombie does a great job with this). We get the people in charge making secret deals and engaging in vicious reprisals (George R. R. Martin is the undisputed master here). We get sudden acts of terrifying carnage, and we get the desperate hopes of the people huddling in their mud hovels, hoping this time, just maybe, the war of good versus evil won’t be played out on their fields and in their homes this time.

Low Fantasy is ascendant, because we’re living it.

No one can say what the next great movement in fantasy will be, of course. Now that Osama Bin Laden is dead, the world may not seem quite as gritty to the next generation. But if the past is any help in determining the future, it’s likely we’ve seen the last of High Fantasy as a popular genre-that particular strain of innocence is lost.

I feel sorry for the poor elves. They were kind of annoying with their superiority complexes and their silly clothes. But the world they lived in seems like an awfully nice place now that it’s gone.

GIVEAWAY! Win The First Two Books in the Ancient Blades Trilogy!

Courtesy of Harper Voyager, SF Signal has multiple copies of the first two books in David Chandler’s Ancient Blades Trilogy to give away to 3 lucky readers. Each winner will receive a copy of both Den of Thieves and A Thief in the Night!

Here’s how you can enter for a chance to win:

  1. Send an email to contest at sfsignal dot com. (That’s us).
  2. In the subject line, enter ‘Ancient Blades‘.
  3. In the email, include your mailing address so the book may be shipped as soon as possible. (Sorry, this is only open to residents of the U.S.)
  4. Only one entry per person allowed. Duplicate entries will go the way of high fantasy.
  5. The giveaway will end Monday, December 15th, 2011 (10:00 PM U.S Central time). The winners will be selected at random, notified, and announced shortly thereafter. Winners will receive the books directly from the publisher.

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