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Military Fantasy

What is Military Fantasy?

The Military Fantasy sub-genre has a descriptive name, but that does not mean all Fantasy stories with military elements are part of this sub-genre. Military Fantasy is specifically about military life and may focus on a solider or a group who is part of a military.

Military Fantasy can get a bit of a bad rap because there are so many books within the sub-genre, that plots and characters seem to repeat. However, in more recent years, Military Fantasy has seen a reboot of sorts—bringing in more realistic elements and pulling itself out of the rut—it's not all knights in armor, wizards with fireballs, and dragons anymore. Military Fantasy has been pulled into the contemporary age of Fantasy literature.



Some of the more popular fantasy subgenres (epic fantasy, high fantasy, etc) often include strong "military elements", though might not be categorized specifically as "military fantasy" because they don't focus only about military life, a company of soldiers, or war.

 

Military Fantasy Characteristics

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  • Level of Magic

    Moderate. Magic is used in place of weapons and armor, specifically artillery and air power.

  • Level of Grand Ideas and Social Implications

    Variable. The exploration of ideas in Military Fantasy can take a back seat to battle descriptions, but not always. In fact, there are several common ideas that writers of Military Fantasy explore: group dynamics, good versus evil, and the morality of war.

  • Level of Characterization

    Variable. Military Fantasy presents situations that change characters—characters will learn something, good or bad, from warfare. However, as a cautionary note, Military Fantasy does run the risk of using stock characters, the good guys who are good and have some special ability and the bad guys who are evil—not too much complexity here.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    High. Military Fantasy stories are very plot driven. Detailed plots focusing on the nitty gritty of battle are the norm.

  • Level of Violence

    High. Here comes the calvary! It's the military so there will be plenty of of violence, battles, fighting, and the descriptions of these maneuvers will be detailed.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

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    Epic Fantasy. Most Military Fantasy will have an epic battle. In actuality, both of these sub-genres blend well together. Epic battles for good and evil—what could be more entertaining? Series Fantasy. Military Fantasy often spends a great deal of time world-building, which makes it a breeding ground for series development. For example, the Malazan world was co-created by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont for a roleplaying campaign; both authors have written novels set in the Malazan world.

     

  • Gritty Fantasy. This style of fantasy (it's more a style than a distinct subgenre we feel) often incorporates a heavy dose of military life or might feature specifically about a company of soldiers in a morally ambiguous world where right and wrong are hard to define. "Gritty" is a style that's often combined with a specific fantasy subgenre to produce an overall tone, feeling, or setting that the action, characters, and world takes place in. Martin's A Game of Thrones would be considered a gritty epic fantasy and Glen Cook's The Black Company would be considered the quintessential gritty Military Fantasy.

Military Fantasy Isn’t For You If...

If battle sequences don't entertain you or you don't like reading highly detailed minutia about military life or soldiers.

Popular Military Fantasy
  • 1 Chronicles of the Black Company


    By Glen Cook. Cook has real-life naval experience and this series benefits from that experience—realistic, gritty, amoral harsh, from battle sequences to characterizations.

  • 2 The First Law


    By Joe Abercrombie. This series takes place in an epic fantasy world at war and contains gritty violence and realistic characters.

  • 3 Mazalan Book of the Fallen


    By Steven Erikson. A grand and epic series with a huge cast of characters with epic battles, sieges, mages, and carnage.

  • 4 The Ascendants of Estorea


    By James Barclay. Barclay's series presents large scale, detailed battles in setting that is more realistic. This series begins as an empire gears up for war and magic is just being discovered.

  • 5 Shadow Ops


    By Myke Cole. This novel is praised for its accurate portrayal of military life. The story is a mix of realistic military life and fantasy elements. Magic is new to this world, and those whose magical powers have awakened are ill-trained to manage their powers.

  • 6 Deed of Paksenarrion


    By Elizabeth Moon. A significant series because the protagonist is a woman—not exactly common in Military Fantasy. Battles are plenty, but characterization is really the focus.

  • 7 The Company


    By KJ Parker. What happens to soldiers after the war is fought? This book tells the story of five veterans and some secrets too.

  • 8 Codex Alera


    By KJ Parker. What happens to soldiers after the war is fought? This book tells the story of five veterans and some secrets too.

  • 9 Darkness Saga


    By Harry Turtleove. A six volume series that is more or less WWII with dragons and other fantastical monsters.

  • 10 The Darkness That Comes Before


    By R. Scott Bakker. The first novel in the Prince of Nothing series, this is a philosophical book that takes place well after one apocalypse with another looming, and brings religion into the fold.

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