Cozy Fantasy

Here’s a Book Riot post: WHAT COUNTS AS COZY FANTASY?

I’m sorry, but as this is a Book Riot post, I’m unable to resist the immediate guess that the best single example, the Ur-Cozy-Fantasy, as it were, might be Watership Down. I realize I link to that post probably twice a year, but what can I say? That particular Book Riot post was one of the weirdest posts I have ever seen anywhere. You might say it’s the single best example, the Ur-Example, of a post that defines a subgenre in a crazy way. I just cannot get tired of mentioning that post.

But! This post caught my eye because of the new Elemental Blessings book we’re going to see in a few months. To me, this series practically defines Cozy Fantasy as a genre.

Defining Cozy Fantasy by Example

There is basically nothing I like better than Cozy Fantasy, which I will define as, oh, how about like this:

  1. Non-gritty; looks away from the grime of normal life
  2. On the high fantasy end of the spectrum
  3. Need not be a romance, but does need a HEA ending
  4. Relatively low stress throughout; even if you haven’t read twenty books by the author, you can tell your favorite characters are not going to meet horrific ends.

I think that last point has to do with overall tone. I honestly think you don’t have to have read anything else by Sharon Shinn to know that Troubled Waters is going to have a nice ending. For this book, and this series, it’s because the stories follow romance beats and romances have HEA endings, QED. But I don’t think all Cozy Fantasy is necessarily romance, although … I don’t know, because I *DO* think all Cozy Mysteries are romances. I think that’s a defining criterion for that subgenre. What is a Cozy Fantasy that is not a romance?

Well, would SUELEN count?

Cozy Fantasy: let’s be nice to each other

I guess that’s a fifth criterion:

5. People are nice to each other.

Maybe that’s a subset of “relatively low stress.” It’s definitely less stressful when people are nice to each other.

But let’s get back to this Book Riot post, which I still haven’t actually looked at. Book Riot posts tend to emphasize recent fantasy that I haven’t read. Their writers also tend to define categories in ways I don’t agree with, even aside from the Ur-Example of defining Watership Down as a classic of, heaven help us, Urban Fantasy. I fear that this Book Riot list may say, essentially, “Want a comfort read? Here, have a book about someone recovering from dire trauma!” and I’ll be left gazing at their list in bewilderment, baffled that anyone could find dire trauma, recovery or not, comforting to read about.

Let’s take a look at how this post begins:

I define the cozy fantasy genre as a fantasy book with slice-of-life scenes that center on community or familial relationships. “Cozy” is an emotive modifier like “horror” or “thriller,” where the category informs readers what emotional effect the book builds. 

You know what, I agree with that. I think I may possibly agree with every part of that! How unexpected! I didn’t start off by saying “Cozy = slice-of-life,” but I think it probably does usually involve that. And a focus on community or family, could be! SUELEN doesn’t exactly do that, although it does if you define “community” fairly broadly. It’s definitely true that “Cozy” is a signal of tone more than of content.

The post continues:

I think we can apply the same approach to conflict in cozy fantasy. We can look at the range of the cozy fantasy genre with an understanding that some stories have less conflict than others. Although this is a large spectrum, I am going to assign three conflict categories to cozy fantasy books: Small Conflict, Medium Conflict, and Large Conflict. These categories have the caveat that because these books are cozy fantasy, they all have a cozy atmosphere and slice-of-life scenes, even though some books may contain more epic battles than others.

I would say, “Large conflict FOR A COZY,” because if you get too into the epic world-destroying battles, I think you necessarily lose the cozy tone. But let’s see what specific books this post pulls out.

The cozy fantasy romance Witchful Thinking by Celestine Martin also fits into this category. Lucinda Caraway is a local high school teacher and a witch who has a second chance at her first love in a magical small town. The love in question is a mermaid who has to decide if he finally wants to stay in one place as he renovates his house.

There we go, a Cozy Fantasy that is indeed a romance. I do think that’s the easiest way to get a Cozy anything: make it a romance and follow romance beats, including the HEA, and that is low-stress and soothing.

Let’s see if there’s a book on here that isn’t a romance … No. Nope, every single book on this list is a romance. I’m surprised the person who put this list together didn’t notice that and either specifically add “it’s a romance” as a criterion OR come up with an example of a fantasy novel that is NOT a romance but that IS a Cozy.

I hadn’t really thought of contemporary romances here, but now I think plainly I should have. That takes out “on the high fantasy end of the spectrum” from the list of criteria. Having considered this Book Riot post, here are my suggested criteria for Cozy Fantasy:

  1. Non-gritty.
  2. Focuses on daily life more than epic adventure.
  3. Focuses on family and community.
  4. People are, as a rule, nice to each other.
  5. Need not be a romance, but does need a HEA ending.
  6. The tone reduces the stress level of the story.

What do you think?

What are some novels that fit these criteria? I bet a lot of MG fantasy would fit, such as The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, for example:

But what else? YA or adult fantasy that fit the Cozy category and are also romances are probably fairly easy to think of. Novels that are Cozy but are not romances may be harder to find.

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29 thoughts on “Cozy Fantasy”

  1. Tried to comment on the other post but the system thought I was a robot (probably because the post is 5 years old). What I said was: why the bleep can’t urban fantasy be set in an entirely fictitious world? And why should everything set in a completely fictitious world be high fantasy or epic fantasy?

  2. I think the A Coup of Tea series meets all your criteria for cozy fantasy. Anne Mccaffrey’s Dragonsinger, the second in that children’s series, is one of my favorites (anything about music pulls me in) and also meets your criteria, but of course there’s no romance, as it’s a children’s book. Savannah Kade does a really nice job of cozy contemporary magic romance in her A Touch of Magic series, I like her Wilder series too, no magic, just music there. Getting off topic, Frank Conroy’s Body and Soul is a great novel about the development of a classical musician, if anyone is interested in that. GGK’s A Song for Argonne is a real comfort read for me, but probably is too high fantasy to be classified as cozy.

  3. Legends & Lattes is a cozy fantasy. And that mystery series where dragons are the detectives (okay it’s cozy mystery, but the dragons make it fantasy).

  4. There was an argument online a few weeks ago over whether Ursula Vernon’s horror novels could be categorized as “cozy horror”, because the people are always nice, and you always know the main characters will be ok.

  5. @SarahZ that’s hilarious, and probably exactly right! (I don’t read horror, and Ursula Vernon personally warned me off hers, but from what I’ve heard it’s indeed the case)

  6. Oh, definitely plenty of books set in secondary worlds are neither high or epic fantasy! That’s not a requirement at all! I think that graphic is declaring that high fantasy = epic fantasy, which I completely disagree with; and a lot of people define high fantasy as anything at all set in a secondary world, which I COMPLETELY disagree with in every possible way. But I was just reaching for anything that would take a stab at defining Urban Fantasy so I could contrast that with Watership Down.

    When you set a fantasy in an urban setting in a secondary world, evidently a lot of readers consider that something other than urban fantasy. That’s fine if urban fantasy is being treated as a subset of contemporary fantasy and a sister of paranormal romance, so that Martha Wells’ City of Bones doesn’t land on lists of urban fantasy. If you define urban fantasy as “fantasy with an urban setting” full stop, then City of Bones and the Thieves’ World shared world and great heaping oodles of other fantasy would immediately land on that list. But no matter what, Watership Down definitely would not.

  7. I think The Wizard’s Butler absolutely does qualify and there you go, we have now definitely defined Cozy Fantasy in a way that does not require romance.

    SarahZ, that’s funny and a good question, and I think of that as “Horror Lite.” For me, Dean Koontz is the basic exemplar of Horror Lite. That’s the exact reason I used to read his books: because no matter what else might happen, all the characters you like will be fine. T Kingfisher probably is a great example and if I were defining Cozy Horror, I would probably agree that it makes sense to start with her books and define the category around that type of story.

  8. I still haven’t even looked at Legends & Lattes, even though people keep mentioning it. One of these days. I totally agree: you put dragons in the book and boom, that is a fantasy. What’s the name of a book in that series?

  9. The Bookshop and the Barbarian by Morgan Stang is quite cozy and also hilarious. The heroine buys a surprisingly cheap bookshop which turns out to be infested by goblins. To make matters more complicated goblins are a protected species and the only person willing to help with the problem is a foreign giant mercenary. But of course then they actually need some goblins…

    Most books by Amy Crook. Some are cozy mysteries with magic, but for example To Hive and to Hold is slice of life with romance. The MC is building a new hive for his fae bees, and falling in love with his new neighbor and nothing else really happens. Well, they also eat a lot.

  10. Considering that you could probably have a cozy high fantasy. . . .

    Come to think of it, A Diabolical Bargain, Madeleine and the Mists, and The Princess Seeks Her Fortune all have a number of slice-of-life scenes, but I don’t know if the tension level is low enough. . . .

  11. A Book Dragon by Donn Kushner is exactly, squarely in the non-romantic Cozy Fantasy genre. I would also say that Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles fit the bill, as do a bunch of Robin McKinley’s short stories.

    Perhaps Gerald Morris’s Arthurian retellings might be considered cozy fantasy? The cover of the first one, The Squire’s Tale, gives you a pretty good indication of what the series is like – light-hearted and often devolving from the ‘high fantasy’ tone into poking affectionate fun at the silly things that people do when they’re trying to be too serious about life.

    There are so many manga/light novels from Japan from this genre as well, usually ‘cooking in another world’ or ‘slice-of-life in another world’ or ‘slow life in another world’. I don’t know why that genre is so popular in Japan specifically, but I like them. For example, ‘A Gentle Noble’s Vacation Recommendation’, which is set in another world where the protagonist was transported from his own, entirely different, secondary world, and he goes touring around this new world because what else is one to do? May as well enjoy your vacation, go tour the dungeons, find all the good bookshops, etc. Another good one is Housekeeping Mage from Another World.

  12. Thanks for all the recommendations!
    I can’t think of any more that haven’t been mentioned yet, but have added 4 new ones to my TBR pile to try. Lovely!

  13. Legends and Lattes is not that good. It’s main claim to fame it is it’s way, way better than what usually comes out of D&D based fantasy. (Which is to say, it isn’t dreadful.)

  14. I think the original blog post on book riot is misguided. “Cozy” originally came from “cozy crime novel” or “cozy mystery”, as per Agatha Christie. In those novels there was always at least one, and usually more, murders, which were quite often, gruesome. The books would often start with one dead person being discovered, and then more people would die. The nature of all these novels, of course, is then the detective character unearthing and untangling all the conflicts which led to the murders.

    My point here is that other then outright war, murders, and the events leading to them, are the ultimate conflicts. In archetypal cozy mysteries, the attempt to untangle the cause of the first murder often led to subsequent murders. The stakes are always high. The conflict is always high.

    The coziness, in my view, of those novels comes from the coziness of the environment. It was usually comfortable middle-class people/upper-class people (but not too upper-class) in small English villages who all knew each other and led cozy lives in with nice drawing rooms with a warm fire, cushiony lounge chairs (or chesterfields) and heavy curtains. When reading these books, the reader is immersed in a community who are all strongly connected to each other in their daily lives and their at-home lives in a comfortable way.

    Then we come to Legends & Lattes. I decided to read it when I saw it described as a “warm hug of a book”. Excellent decision on my part. I have already reread it, and plan to reread it again soon. This book feels cozy to me (putting genre names aside) because the main character is setting up a cozy life for herself. She is moving to a new place to set up a coffee shop, which she aims to have as a cozy community space (like the drawing rooms in Agatha Christie books) and then she builds a found family and found community. This does include negotiating local elements/institutions, some of which are unsavoury. Yes there is a large fireplace. Heating and cooling the space to be comfortable is a thing in the story.

    Genres are evolving in wonderful ways, (thanks to self-publishing, God bless it) and obviously we are all needing to come up with ways to categorise these stories.

    In my view a romance/relationship arc has nothing to do with coziness/coziness. Much traditional fantasy/SF contains relationship/romance arcs. Also crime novels, thrillers…

    Part of what is going on is that domestic/daily life/interior lives is moving into the science fiction/fantasy space. We (readers) are now able to access stories in fantasy/SF worlds about a mercenary who wants to retire and set up a coffee shop, or a guy who at 18 needs a job and gets a bottom-level job on a space ship and we follow him as he learns to work as a ships steward and then start to learn how to trade in small goods with his small disposable income. Then there are about 4 or so books about how he progresses from there, learning different jobs on a spaceship from the bottom up. And how to make more money on the side. (Quarter Share, Nathan Lowell by the way).

    In my book reviews, I’m referring to this sort of thing as “slice of life” fantasy/SF. I love it. I want more. Another way to look at it, I suppose, is there is a change of focus from the movers and shakers in those worlds, you know, Aragorn, Honor Harrington, Kings, Paksenarrion, to those who work for them. The built world is moving to the forefront. It’s not just the hobbits’ points of view as they go on their quest (which is already a bit of a subversion of a genre which didn’t then really exist), but the people who run the ins that they visit on the way, or the doctors and surgeons who are treating them during and after the Great Battle.

    This brings me to Suelen. Suelen is not in any way a cozy fantasy. It’s a great book, (as I am writing this, I’m realising that I need to rush off and reread it after I finish typing this). It would never occur to me to describe it as such. The problem is not the book, it’s the failure in current genre labels to describe it. I’d call it a “slice of life”/”everyone else” fantasy. For one thing, when I think of the story, I think of the cold (I feel the cold as I think about it!). It’s a really cold environment. Suelen is really cold all the time. I think we can adjust the meaning of “cozy” to mean physically and mentally comfortable (can we have “cozy” stories in the tropics?). Suelen is terrified of going into this barbarous environment which he finds physically and mentally very foreign and difficult. That’s part of his conflict/challenges that he overcomes.

    There is no doubt in my mind that a high-stakes fantasy with lots of acute conflict could be cozy. You just need the MCs operating in a physically comfortable /connected community/while all the murdering/politicking is going on.

    I am adoring and rereading slice-of-life sf/fantasy as I find them. I hope more good ones are written.

    Now I’m going to rush off and reread Legends and Lattes and Suelen. Such good books.

  15. Maria, I was thinking of To Hive and to Hold by Amy Crook also. Besides the slow-burn romance and the new hive for the fae bees, it’s really strong on community as the MC goes around trading with all kinds of different groups to get the materials he needs for the hive.

    I would not call Suelen cozy. Very good. but I think it’s too high tension for cozy.

    Jo Walton’s Lifelode might count. There’s some defense of the village and some people being unkind, but by far the majority is about extended families, finding what you want to make your life’s work, and supporting your family and neighbors.

  16. Nanette, I have seen that definition used — that “cozy” is all about setting and that’s it. But I don’t think that is AT ALL how the term is actually used today, no matter whether it might have been applied to Agatha Christie’s books or whatever else.

    Today, and for years now, just about all the books described as Cozies are gentle mysteries set in a small town, with a female protagonist who owns a quirky business and stumbles over a non-gruesome murder, which she solves, often with the help of a small-town cop, with whom she falls in love. If the romance isn’t between the female business owner and the cop, it’s between the female business owner and somebody else. A whole lot of Cozies then segue into the realm of the Cutsie, which are deliberately rather silly and impossible to take seriously. And … that is imo what Cozy Mysteries actually are, what almost all readers mean by the term, and also what marketing departments mean by the term.

    Of course lots of non-cozy books also include romances. But they often don’t actually follow romance beats. They are mysteries WITH romance or fantasies WITH romance, not cozy mysteries or fantasy romances.

    Happy to argue! But this is the category I think most readers and all marketing departments really do identify as Cozy Mysteries.

  17. What about A J Demas? I don’t think I’d count Sword Dance and its sequels as cozy, but I might count One Night in Boukos, and I’m not sure why the distinction. Maybe it’s the “hijinks ensue” nature of One Night?

  18. It’s so fast paced — One Night in Boukos, I mean — not sure it works as Cozy for me. But it’s true that Demas reduces tension by setting up the situation so you don’t care about the guy who’s missing, while arranging everyone else’s lives so they’ll be happy. Maybe that does count as Cozy for me!

  19. I’ve just come across Celia Lake’s books this weekend. She writes cozy historical fantasy romances about the hidden magical community of Britain from the 1880s through WW2. In the books I’ve read so far the writing is lovely, the main characters genuinely nice and the magic system is interesting.

    Also many of the main characters live with disabilities and chronic health conditions that don’t prevent them from finding love and having a succesful carrer. I’m currently reading Wards of the Roses, where the male MC is a cryptographer magician who lost his eyesight in WW1.

  20. I hadn’t thought of Celia Lake, but I agree she does fit the wider definition of cosy fantasy with romances being important parts of the story.
    I had them so firmly mentally pigeonholed under “historical fantasy” I didn’t look beyond the not cosy at all background settings to see that, even though I knew I liked them because they somehow exude low-stress, calming, things will turn out allright for our protagonists; even when the events themselves, and the background circumstances, are quite tense.

    The protagonists often have war trauma or illnesses, and their circumstances definitely aren’t all that cosy in all her stories – spying in the run-up to WW2, or treating badly wounded soldiers in a hospital shortly after WW1; some of them are aristocrats but quite a few of them are relatively ordinary people even though they’re from the magical part of England called Albion ( e.g. a butler/valet and a dressmaker in On the bias). Most of them are M/F but some same-sex couples too (e.g. F/F novella Complementary), not steamy or head-over-heels but generally nice people taking good and often competent, practical care of each other.

    Totally not the contemporary small-town owner of a quaint shop falling in love with the investigator trope I’d fixed in my mind as “cosy fantasy”, but definitely a relaxing read.

    A few are set up more like a classical mystery, where the first chapter introduces the victim who gets murdered, and the rest of the book is the real protagonists figuring things out (e.g.Sailor’s jewel, set in 1901) – I remember you disliked that unless you knew what you’re getting into. Keeping an eye to the sub-series as well as the back cover copy can give a hint if you’ve picked one of these.

    She has them all divided into several sub-series, depending on the era and the kind of stories, but with a lot of familial, social and working ties between the different protagonists of each book – that might help you figure out which series you might prefer to start with.
    The older Charms of Albion series is set befor WW1, around 1901-1906 (e.g.Pastiche, featuring the parents of a protagonist from a book in a later series), the original Mysterious charm series (Goblin fruit e.a.) are set in the 1920s, the new Land mysteries series (Best foot forward, with less of romance as one of the protagonists is nearly asexual, and a bit more spying) is set in 1935, and the run- up to WW2.

    I agree with Maria, I can recommend them if you want some relatively low-stress recent-historical fantasy and don’t mind reading a bit about dealing with trauma or illness. To my eye, the way she deals with her differently-abled protagonists looks respectfully and realistically done – no miracle cures, but creating a good life.

  21. Thanks for your comments, Hanneke! I’ll add a couple of hers to my massive TBR pile.

  22. I just today found Celia Lake’s website, and see she has done some interesting things to give people a good handle on which of each of her books they might like; different ways of sorting them or tagging them.
    I think you might find it interesting to take a look at what she’s doing there and at some of the linked pages. Not a World Companion, but another kind of compendium, facilitating access.

    Sorry for repeat posting on an older blogpost, but I got on a Celia Lake reading binge after Maria reminded me of her, and I found there were a lot of her books I hadn’t read yet. I’ll stop posting about her books now!

  23. Happy to be reminded of authors you like, Hanneke, and really interested in seeing what Celia Lake has done to straighten out her books and provide guidance to readers — thanks for the link!

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