Perilous. Brutal. Deadly.
It is said that if a man journeys in alone, he’ll never return and there will be no corpse to bury.
Thousands of lives hang in the balance. Braving the Path is the key to saving them, but their survival is not guaranteed. For the Path is brimming with flesh ravenous monsters and the threat of a sinister presence known only as “the Lady”, an eerie entity dwelling deep within the confines of the black forest.
Escorted by a chosen few, the Chaperon is prepared to move forward to preserve the lives of a mountain town planted deep within the forest. But even in the dead of winter, the dark creatures prowling the surrounding forest remain unsettled and are bent on decimating any who encroach upon their territory.
Katell Maeva, one of those assigned to escort the Chaperon, will have to prove herself on this journey if she wants to be deemed a full-fledged shieldmaiden. But even her unique abilities may not be strong enough to withstand the brutal attacks they’ll face. Can this young woman, desperate to save her own family, complete her mission to escort the Chaperon and lead the convoy to safety?
For her, this journey is more than just a challenge; it’s the key to her future.
A world frozen within the cusp of winter, teetering upon an age that promises the evolution of mortals into gods, WINTERSKIN weaves the consequences of brutal ambition into the personal tale of shieldmaiden Katell Maeva’s growth into a woman bound in a darkening world gone feral.
Dark. Dark Fantasy
What Does “Dark” Fantasy Mean Anyway?
In dark fantasy, the world is evil. Aggressive. Black and brutish. Sometimes it can be described as “grimdark”, but I prefer to refer to it as a story set in a crapsack world. Magic corrupts. Mages scheme. Innocents are often caught in the middle and die.
Our heroes have a gray morality, and in well written works--George R.R. Martin comes to mind--it’s often hard to distinguish the heroes from the villains. Good and evil may not even exist in this world.
In short, dark fantasy is the edgier cousin of fantasy who is always wearing black and shows up to family reunions late.
Dark Fantasy brings a hint of realism to the Fantasy genre.
Dark Fantasy casts war as hell, while Fantasy may cast it as a way to curry favor with a kingdom. Dark Fantasy makes us realize that--while knights may be symbols of bravery and chivalry, a knight is simply a man who may have a raging drinking problem that pushed him to murder a street urchin while off duty.
Nothing is strictly good and nothing is strictly evil, and Dark Fantasy helps us remember that--even in fantastical worlds--there are moral gray areas just like in our own.
What Tropes are a Must for Dark Fantasy?
1. It must have a sort of fantasy setting--urban fantasy, epic fantasy--and, of course, it must be dark.
2. Build your world from the ground up (if you have to). Just like in any fantasy writing, world building is a must. Treat it like a character. Learn about the religion of the people, the culture and history. What makes the world a crapsack one? What makes it contrast with our world? Middle Earth? Any other world you’ve written about? Be concise--you might never show your world building efforts to anyone else--but you want to know your world better than your own home.
3. Moral ambiguity is another must have of any dark fantasy story. This goes from how morally ambiguous your protagonist will be, to how gray the people of your world are.
Do include standard fantasy races, or put your own spin on them. Include racism if it’s a part of your world’s culture.
Don’t overly exaggerate the “darkness” of your world. If you go over the top, you may earn a few sniggers from your beta reader (my first draft sure did).
Do consider making your hero an anti-hero. Maybe even consider if they’ll join the antagonist for a time in his/her quest.
Don’t make your hero too unlikable. She may be a bad-ass vampire hunter, but even vampire hunters have flaws. Make them small and soft--maybe she has a thing for cats.
Do use your world’s religion to your advantage. How do the gods affect the hero’s quest? Are they out to harm him too? Perhaps there aren’t even any gods left and they are all monsters--demons--take your pick.
Don’t induce apathy upon your audience for your hero. Make sure you include some little glimmers of hope in your story--maybe even a part in the plot where she wins once or twice (only to have it reversed).
That’s my take on the Dark Fantasy genre. Nothing here is written in stone, and never forget to put your own spin on everything. One good resource I’d recommend for anyone wanting to start writing fantasy is SFWA’s worldbuilding questions. But above all, read as much as you can as often as you can!
About the author:
C.M. Estopare is a full-time author, avid yoga enthusiast, and veteran of the United States military. She is the author of HEARTFELT SOUNDS, a young adult coming of age fantasy about the enthralling power of one young woman's voice.
KINDRED SOULS is a five part epic and dark fantasy series hitting Amazon and Kindle Unlimited beginning in February 2017. Look out for the first book, WINTERSKIN, debuting February 9th, 2017.
When not writing, C.M. Estopare enjoys reading about the fantastical worlds in the minds of others. She also enjoys playing around with her puppy,Duke, and adventuring with her husband.