Fantasy Noir

Noir, when translated from French, means ‘night.’ Noir, when translated from English, means ‘rain.’ A whole lot of rain.

As I stated in my first post, and my bio, and my twitter account, (@Texan_Chill) I’m a fantasy noir writer. The only problem with this is that very few even know what the hell I even mean. (Excuse the language and many parentheses. I’m ticked off.) Because of this, I decided to remedy your ignorance on the matter. Yes, I’m being condescending and an arrogant ass, but it just surprises me at the lack of knowledge on the newest genre in fantasy. Hell, even a respected author doesn’t even know the exact definition on “fantasy noir.” Now, I realize her source was bad as well, so once again, let’s remedy that. Let’s show the populace what “fantasy noir” truly means.

But you say, how am I sure that I even know what it means? Because I did my research.

See, fantasy noir isn’t a genre that just sprung up overnight. (Pun) It had to come from somewhere. And where would that be? I don’t know, maybe the genre it gets its name from? But that would make waaay too much sense.

The certain source the respected author read over said that, “Fantasy noir is a genre of decaying cities and morally gray characters.” I’m paraphrasing, but that in no way defines the genre to a T. That could define a whole host of stories, say The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Lies is not a fantasy noir story. Yes, it has a decaying city and morally gray characters, but once again, the source is wrong.

Enough ranting, time for me to tell you what the genre is exactly. It’s important to know that noir is a time of film, not a book. Because of this, one thing defines the genre: TONE. And rain. But that’s not very important. (Hah, sarcasm.) Film Noir stems from the genre of literature known as hardboiled. The cynic is the most common MC, as is 1st person being the preferred style. But not all adhere to this rule, take for instance The Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton. Another thing to add is that Noir, being in 1st person, has a tendency to have a very introspective protagonist.  Very much into wool-gathering and an internal monologue. Along with this is the trait of a loner. Not always so, but very common.

One other thing that the noir genre takes criticism for is its nonlinear plotline. Yes, it’s confusing, but most of the time necessary. Flashbacks help the story, right? But you say, does that make any story that has flashbacks a noir story? No, it has to have most of the attributes along with a penchant for the criminal side of life. Yes, Lies has this and a nonlinear plotline, but not an introspective character. He’s very much an extrovert. And definitely not a cynic. At least not shown, unless when it comes to dating.

But remember, tone is the important thing about noir. Cities are important as well, but can’t you have a hardboiled cynic who introspects a lot walk into the raining countryside and still consider it a noir story? Yes. There are exceptions to the rules, but you have to have a majority of them to be a part of them. I realize some people will still be arguing with me, saying that Lies is a noir story and I shouldn’t be bashing this respectable author. I say that if you think that, then this post has failed to reach its purpose. Go watch a noir movie. Go watch Blade Runner or the Big Sleep. Go read Low Town by Daniel Polansky or Fade to Black by Francis Knight. Those are fantasy noir stories. Lies is its abbreviated namesake, a lie to be considered part of this growing genre I hope to become a part of.

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11 thoughts on “Fantasy Noir

  1. I’ll admit to being surprised at anyone calling The Lies of Locke Lamora fantasy noir. Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold I could certainly get behind, including the multiple 3rd person POVs, but not Lies. To me, Lies falls into the tradition of American pulp adventure rather than Hardboiled; it has far more in common with Leiber or Burroughs than it does with Stark (Who is actually the Westlake mentioned below) or MacDonald, for example, even when you set aside the fantastical trimmings. Those origins become still more apparent when you read Lynch’s Queen of the Iron Sands, a flat out Planetary Romance in the Burroughs or early Moorcock tradition. The crime elements seem influenced more by light hearted caper stories like Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr novels or Donald E. Westlake’s Dortmunder series.

    I love The Lies of Locke Lamora, it’s a fine, fine adventure story, but I agree with you that it most certainly isn’t a noir.

  2. I would recommend The Lies of Locke Lamora to anyone who enjoyed the previous noir books I listed, but I would classify it in the genre. I believe that it might be the idea that fantasy noir is just emerging, being only about three or four years old, sprouting up with Douglas Hulick and Daniel Polansky as frontrunners. But people wish to classify it, sticking it with Urban Fantasy most of the time. This was why I am a little apprehensive about the current book I’m reading, Storm Front. So many people list it as fantasy noir, but it is definitely not. Urban Fantasy, sure, but not noir.

  3. I think a game you might enjoy is L.A. Noire.

    I haven’t really read a lot of fantasy noir, nor any noir for that matter. Any recommendations? And I’ve already got Polansky and Hulick on a list, but I’m looking for some more detective type things. And not the “Oh, do I have to save the world again?” type of detective like Harry Dresden, etc.

    Anyways, thanks for explaining. Looking forward to more posts.

  4. Polansky is your big hit for a kind of “detective” genre mixed with a hint of fantasy. Hardboiled books like Chandler’s Marlowe work might be the closest you’re looking for, though they’re not noir. The game (not a book or movie actually) that got me into the genre of noir was Heavy Rain. Amazing thing, kind of like a movie. Highly recommended.

    My next “informative” post will deal with the noir tone, the defining factor of the genre. But first we must delve into Harry Dresden. Sigh.

  5. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I had no idea what fantasy noir is. But doesn’t noir mean black/dark/dirty gray though? I mean, in French? 😮 not that it’s all that relevant. Thanks for explaining what this genre is about though 🙂 -K. Trian

  6. There are people who write about fantasy noir and aren’t familiar with film noir?

    I agree with you that what makes noir is the tone, and the cynical character(s). When I wrote my short fantasy noir story, that was what I focused on the most. Of course I also set it in the 1940s because that was something that felt appropriate for my piece, but I wouldn’t say that’s something that’s necessary for all noir.

    I think it’s interesting that you brought in the flashback aspect to the story as that’s not something I’d considered before. But it makes sense.

  7. If you’re interested in reading some fantasy noir, I’d suggest “The Troubleshooter” by Bard Constantine and “A Fistful of Nothing” by Dan Glaser. Might even want to try “Gods of Chicago” by A.J. Sikes. Actually, we call these dieselpunk, but it’s nearly the same as fantasy noir 😉

  8. If you are at all interested in “getting” the noir/ hard-boiled thing, you have got to read Chandler. In fact, if you are at all interested in great prose stylists of the twentieth century, you have got to read Chandler. Often imitated, never equaled.

    • I really need to write a follow-up to this out-dated piece of crap. Noir means “black” in French, not “night.” But details. . .

      I’ve actually read Chandler. Found his jargon and dialogue to be harder than Shakespeare. But he’s brilliant, especially at turns of phrase.

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