Over at The Booksmugglers, a guest post by Sarah Monette / Katherine Addison about THE GOBLIN EMPEROR and grimdark.
Sarah Monette likes way darker fantasy than me, but about her recent title, she says: “I wanted to write a story (reflecting my own ethical beliefs, which I get more fierce about as I grow older) in which compassion was a strength instead of a weakness. Grimdark is, in some ways, another iteration of Byronism, and it has the same potential flaw of becoming self-congratulatory about its darkness, pessimism, and cynicism.”
I would say, by the way, that her MELUSINE is not grimdark. Dark, yes. But, though Monette herself thinks the Doctrine of Labyrinths may count as grimdark, for me to count a work as grimdark, it must have at least one of the following characteristics:
a) Important characters, perhaps even the protagonists, who start off as decent people or who are striving to become decent people, but who become corrupted during the course of the book and wind up being worse human beings at the end than they were at the beginning.
b) The world is objectively worse off at the end of the book than it was at the beginning.
c) The bad guy wins, good guys either lose or die or become corrupted.
I am going to hate a book if it possesses any of these characteristics, even if it is not the self-parodying exaggerated how-much-awful-can-one-book-contain thing that some writers are apparently striving for today.
At least some of Joe Abercrombe’s books have all three characteristics. They are grimdark.
While Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths quadrilogy was awfully dark for me and I didn’t read past the first book, I will say that MELUSINE definitely did not suffer from these issues. At the end of MELUSINE, both protagonists had become better people than they were to start with — they had met and overcome huge obstacles, and were still engaged in striving to defeat the bad guys and make the world a better place. Dark, yes. Grimdark, no.