Black Humor Dark Fantasy

There is a particular style of fantasy that I have a special weakness for. It isn't quite an official subgenre, but it's something like dark fantasy with a heavy dose of black humor. These books frequently feature assassins or other would-be unsavory characters, but with enough witty dialogue to prevent them from being maudlin or classed as anything close to horror.

Shadowing falls under this category, and you might like it if you have read and liked any of the following. And if you haven't read them, you should try at least one.

Kat Zantow - Shadowing - To be released June 4, for Kindle.

All too often in fantasy books, the servants of Dark Overlords are dispatched with a lazy flick of the hero's sword. But in Shadowing, the job benefits of fire, mayhem, and flight almost make up for it. In between burning down villages, the primary directive for minions is taking out heroes. When a man in golden armor and his faithful companions sneak across the border on a quest to assassinate the Dark Lord Magna, long live the Magna, it's up to the Shadows to cut his quest short. As always, things do not go quite according to plan, and one henchman ends up lone-wolfing it across the permafrost lands, following the stench of valor.

The Anvil of the WorldKage Baker - The Anvil of the World
A light picaresque involving a retired assassin, demons, demigods, and glass butterflies. The assassin inherits his cousin's caravan, and makes a dangerous journey to a city by the sea. Assassination attempts at every turn. Witty dialogue and other good things. I have fond memories of a very unconventional wizardly battle involving name calling and talking smack. 

Villains by NecessityEve Forward - Villains by Necessity
This is out of print, so good luck getting your hands on a copy. I hope one day it will be ebooked, because it was one of the more amusing fantasy books I've read. Samalander, the last assassin in the world, joins a neutral druid, a black knight, an elf sorceress, a centaur, and a thief. Together, these cooperation-haters make up the last gasp of Evil in this Good-conquered land, and only they can restore balance to the world. 

Dragon (Vlad Taltos)Steven Brust  - Taltos, Dragon
There are few books that manage to find just the right blend of humor and badassery, but Brust's Vlad series often hits it well. Vlad the assassin is an underdog in a criminal underworld. I hesitate to class it as fantasy, because there is little if any walking in real time across a field, but there are other species and magic. Early books in the series make good use of organized crime, and have something in common with classic noir as well as sword and sorcery. Taltos and Dragon were my favorites.

The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles, 1-10 (Chronicles of Amber)Roger Zelazny - Nine Princes in Amber
Tarot cards, amnesia, patterns, and court intrigue delivered through a sarcastic narrator. Perhaps this doesn't quite fit the list with a prince as main character, but the whole family is immoral enough that I think it counts. And besides, everyone ever is out to kill Corwin. But if you want Zelazny and distinctly not high fantasy, try A Night in the Lonesome October, which is told from Jack The Ripper's dog-familiar's perspective.


Elves: size matters

Elves have a long history in folklore and fantasy novels. They have their roots in a shoe-mending tricky/mischievous/annoying/Norse mythos. Over time elves have grown considerably taller and considerably more badass. When they grow to be over four feet tall, they shuck their shoe-mending ways and around six feet, they become ethereal and perfect beings. The image of tall elves, distant and cold, is pushed most strongly by old and new success of the Lord of the Rings. But there is an upper limit of acceptability for these tall elves. If they are more than seven feet tall, you may be stepping into a weird alien race or lanky giant territory, and things go downhill quickly if they get any taller still. Imagine if the fifty foot woman claimed to be an elf? Yeah, it's kind of like that.

But there are still many elves who start stick to the short end. If they are too short, they tend to be a little silly. They can pass for tricksy or servile, but they may also confuse the reader into thinking they are very large fairies. One of the main problems is that an elf who is too short eliminates all chances of a satisfying interspecies romance with a human character.

Around five feet and you start getting some potential. If they are just a little short they are fighting from a height disadvantage, and have more to overcome. They can be more badass than tall elves, because their success in battle in a tall world displays character strength. This height may be optimal.