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:
- Non-gritty; looks away from the grime of normal life
- On the high fantasy end of the spectrum
- Need not be a romance, but does need a HEA ending
- 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:
- Focuses on daily life more than epic adventure.
- Focuses on family and community.
- People are, as a rule, nice to each other.
- Need not be a romance, but does need a HEA ending.
- 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.