Last year we saw a big increase in what many where hailing as the next new sub-genre, Flintlock Fantasy. Big name authors like Brian McClellan and Django Wexler were churning out fantasy novels set in-between the Renaissance and Industrial Eras. They were stories focused on militaries and gunpowder. Hell, McClellan has a magic system devoted almost solely to gunpowder.
But while these kind of novels exploded onto the shelves, I haven’t heard much more from this sub-genre besides these two authors. Which makes me believe Flintlock Fantasy wasn’t the new Grimdark. No, I think the next big thing has been creeping up on us for a while.
I think it’s novels set outside of the quasi-Medieval setting. I think it’s Silk Road Fantasy.
I believe fantasy readers are becoming a little bored of the usual Western European stories, and I can get a little weary of them from time to time. Thus, we have more authors pushing the boundaries of world-building because, hey, that’s the big draw for Speculative Fiction. You can create whatever you want.
But we more times than not base our worlds in reality, and the biggest untapped mysteries aren’t in Aztec jungles or frozen tundras, but in the plains and deserts and heaven-shattering heights of the East.
As I said, it’s been a gradual move to outside what the genre first set up by Tolkein, but I think in a few years, we’ll see a majority of debuts set in these exotic locales. Because who doesn’t want to try someplace new?
There is a world outside of Europe, remember. There are more people besides the English, French, German or Italians. We have the Mongols, Cossacks, Indians, and Chinese to name a few. More importantly, we have an untapped well of potential.
Publishers may not jump on it right away, but I’ve seen a few smaller ones do. Pyr and 47North have Chris Willrich and Mark T. Barnes respectively. But then you have big names like Mazarkis Williams, Elizabeth Bear, and Saladin Ahmed holding flags on the front line. They’re all doing the hardest to explore new worlds. I know some authors dabble in short instances set in heat blistering deserts (Mark Lawrence) or tea sipping monks (Daniel Polansky), but I feel there needs to be more. Maybe I’m just a glutton for Eastern Fantasy.
Some authors try and step out into these fascinating worlds, but sometime fall to clichés (Peter V. Brett) or stumble as a debut (Brian Staveley). This shouldn’t make us step back and hide under our comfortable woodland elves. We need to keep looking past these stone walls and delve into the mud or hut ones (or even teepees!).
While I’m not yelling at the people who do a damn good job of writing Western Fantasy, I’m saying that I believe we’re melding into a new time. We should be done rehashing the same hobbits and orcs and knights and archers. This is called Speculative Fiction for a reason.
The Golden Age of cinematic Fantasy is on our doorsteps, and what better way to attract more people than to craft exotic lands? Experiment with culture and themes that spring from these experiences. Paint giant brushstrokes other than moorlands and grim battlefields. Have paper palaces instead of castles thrown together for protection. Have samurais and ninjas instead of knights and rogues. Have apples traded as your alien fruit instead of spiced lentils.
Let’s race across the steppes for a lover’s heart. Let’s bargain with a Chinese Dragon or a djinn. Let’s fight with curved swords and poison instead of knives. Let’s go on a magic carpet ride.
Let’s look over this Great Wall of the North and expand our horizons a little farther. Let’s don a robe instead of a cloak or suit of armor. Let’s take a walk down this strange Silk Road.