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Colonial Fantasy

What is Colonial Fantasy?

A small sub-genre that is not hugely popular and not widely advertised—Colonial Fantasy is a fantasy in which colonialism is a theme and a part of the world-building. So, let's get academic for a moment—what is colonialism? From the Oxford Dictionary: "colonialism: the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically." Any Fantasy story that incorporates colonialism into its world-building will be political, it will be complex, it will have different sides, and it will have plenty of conflict.

There are many ways to take a fantasy story from here. The story can be told from the POV of the colonizers, from the POV of the indigenous peoples, the story can find fault in a specific side, or both sides. The story may be based in history, or it may be completely imagined. The story may choose to focus on a specific result of colonization, rather than tackling the enormity of the issue in its entirety. For example, the conflict may center on slavery. There is also the possible theme of colonialism's legacy—what happens when the colonizers leave?

Other Features of Colonial Fantasy

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  • Level of Magic

    Variable. Magic does not define this sub-genre of Fantasy. Stories may tell an alternate history with the inclusion of magic, at which point magic is very important to the story—but this is not always the case.

  • Level of Grand Ideas and Social Implications

    High. Colonial stories necessarily deal with big questions and ideas. The clashing of cultures; the struggle for power; the relationships between those in power and those who are subjugated; the effects of colonization on a society; racial and ethnic divides and/or similarities; diversity; slavery; civil rights; political upheaval; the struggles of immigration; imperialism. These are all very grand ideas with very real social implications, which makes Colonial fiction a rich area to tap into thematically. These ideas also shape the world, can provide motivation and backstory for characters, and influence the plot—thus, the ideas are central to the development of a Colonial Fantasy story.

  • Level of Characterization

    Variable. This characteristic is a bit harder to define in Colonial Fantasy because the sub-genre is defined more by its ideas and world-building than the characters that live in the world. In the interest of developing the thematic ideas of the story, characters can sometimes be a bit more flat or symbols. On the other hand, colonialism can provide depth to the character's development—enrich the psychological makeup of characters. Colonialism, whichever side of it the character is on, will affect the character in potentially life-changing ways—and that can be a significant character arc.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    High. Complex relationships, revolutions, trauma, political maneuvering, and more make for great struggles and intense plots.

  • Level of Violence

    Moderate-High. The colonization of a nation is rarely done without force. Even in stories where there are not battles and the action is focused more on political maneuvers, the sense of oppression and the threat of violence loom.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

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  • Historical Fantasy. Colonial Fantasy can draw on real historical places and events.
  • Military Fantasy. Colonial Fantasy that focuses on the military that occupies and colonizes another nation, or the military that fends off a colonizing force.
  • Epic Fantasy. Epic Fantasy with its wide and complex setting and plots can accommodate the intricacies of colonialism well.

  • Steampunk. This may be a controversial sub-genre to include here because in some circles the political characteristics of Steampunk are hotly debated. Some say Steampunk is pro-colonial and some say its anticolonial and some say it doesn't take a stance on colonialism. Whichever way a story may lean, colonialism was certainly a part of Victorian England and so is fair territory for a Steampunk story. A Steampunk writer who chooses to engage with this part of history is also writing Colonial Fantasy. Indeed, the themes of revolution and duality complement both sub-genres.
Colonial Fantasy Isn’t For You If...

If you don't want to read a story heavy with politics—if you find this boring you may want to read something else. Colonial fiction, and Fantasy is no exception, can run the risk of cultural appropriation and exoticism, which can make the story seem insincere. There is also a risk of romanticizing colonialism and not paying enough attention to the unfortunate effects of it, and thereby offending some people.

Popular Colonial Fantasy Books
  • 1  J. Gregory Keyes, The Age of Unreason

    Alternate history story of America with magic. This series takes a "what if?" approach to retelling history, with a big of magic blended in.

  • 2 Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword.


    Takes place in two countries, one the colonizer and one the colonized, one magical and one non-magical. It features an ass-kicking heroine.  

  • 3 Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs

    This novel is full of intrigue: spies, gods, politics, colonial powers, buried history. The world is wondrous, weird, and surprising.

  • 4 D.B. Jackson, Theiftaker.


    Colonial Boston politics take center stage in this novel, the first in its series, and revolution is brewing.

  • 5 Eric Brown, Jani and the Greater Game.


    A young woman journey's home to India to visit her father on his deathbed. But, she is thrown into a dangerous game with perilous players.

  • 6 Django Wexler, The Thousand Names


    This is OUR favorite colonial fantasy so far. Everyone has secrets in the story that takes place at the edge of an empire. An epic story with epic consequences. This is one of the best recent colonial military fantasy series to come out. The Thousand Names (along with the two sequels) has, with Brian McClellan's A Promise of Blood, helped rejuvinate the Flintlock fantasy genre -- a subgenre where guns and magic co-exist.

  • 7 Myke Cole, Shadow Ops.


    Colonialism as a theme, as well as war, xenophobia, and the role of bureaucracy.

  • 8 Terry Pratchett, Nation.


    A boy, his gods, and the colonial power of England.

  • 9 Robin Hobb, Solider Son.


    By Naomi Novik. This series explores a post-colonial world and both sides have their faults.

  • 10 Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

    This award winning magical realism novel creates a complex world that is literal and magical, that has a history of unrest, and chronicles human experience.

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