Here is a long post by Paul Weimer at Supernatural Underground, about the way epic fantasy has changed as a subgenre.
The First Era of Epic Fantasy
The pre-geologic era, our first era, is the period before there was a defined class of literature called epic fantasy. That is to say that there was no defined subgenre of fantasy and science fiction that one could point to, or ask for, that was called epic fantasy. A time traveler to that era, going to the bookstore or a library or even a SF convention would just confuse people by asking for “epic fantasy.
Paul delineates four eras following the period referenced above, in which the foundation for epic fantasy was laid by Tolkien and a few others. Then:
The First Era — Stephen Donaldson and Terry Brooks
The Second Era — D & D; also many female authors; also the period when the SFF scales started to lean toward fantasy rather than SF.
The Third Era — The Grimdark era, in which Paul references Kate Elliot’s King’s Dragon series, thus instantly making me shuffle that downward in my TBR pile, so I would like to know: those of you who have read that series, do you agree that it is grimdark? I don’t agree that grimdark is characterized primarily by moral ambiguity; as far as I’m concerned it is defined by the world and more than likely the protagonists being worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.
The Fourth Era — Paul says:
…the Cenozoic of my epic fantasy geologic timeline – the era we are currently in – is the era in which The Wall of Night series is a leading light….The basic epic fantasy chassis developed over the previous eras is here: A young protagonist, a woman, the heir to power, but with real doubts and real growing up to do. A quest to stop a previously thought-to-be-contained evil from overwhelming the world – and the “thin red line” of the people known as the Derai. A complicated, complex and richly drawn fantasy world that rewards a deep dive….And with all that, Lowe brings forward the concerns and richness of this new era…reaching out beyond The Great Wall of Europe for ideas and models for cultures, characters and worlds.
The Wall of Night is another one that’s on my TBR list. This kind of description moves it up toward the top. Again, comment, please, if you’ve read it. What did you think?
The whole post is well worth a look, if you’ve got a moment.