Taran Matharu teaches us the subgenres of the Fantasy World

We are honoured to have Taran Matharu here to give us a masterclass on the subgenres of the Fantasy World.


Taran Matharu wrote the best-selling YA fantasy series Summoner back in 2015, and now he’s back with his adult debut – Dragon Rider. And today, we are honoured to have him here to give us a masterclass on the subgenres of the Fantasy World.

Dragons have long been a staple of Fantasy literature, holding a revered place in the hearts of the genre’s readers. Majestic, powerful and ancient, their very nature evokes a primordial awe. From the treasure-hoarding Smaug of Tolkien’s The Hobbit to the fearsome allegory for nuclear weapons in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire they never seem to fall out of fashion — indeed if one were to choose a symbol to represent the Fantasy genre, one would be hard pressed to find one more apt than a dragon.

It’s little surprise that these beasts of myth and legend continue to captivate, with their appeal surging in the current literary landscape – particularly in the indie-publishing space, where authors like Michael R. Miller, Ryan Cahill and Philip C. Quaintrell are leading the charge. But traditional publishing has also seen a new rise in demand for dragon-related Fantasy, no doubt buoyed by Christopher Paolini’s return to his Eragon series, stirring nostalgia in those that grew up reading the books that paved the way for writers such as myself.

But in recent years, a new wave of dragon-based Fantasy has emerged, propelled by the rise of a subgenre known as Romantasy, and it’s attracting an ever-growing fanbase. Indeed, TikTok is awash with rave reviews of the genre, blowing up “Booktok” like never before.

If not obvious from the portmanteau coined by Bloomsbury, “Romantasy” can be defined as a genre where Romance shares equal importance as Fantasy. Even in its infancy, the genre also features emerging tropes that its audience clamour for. Not least of these is the erotic content that sizzles on the page. Other Romance tropes, long-adored in the burgeoning Romance genre, have made their way in too – with enemies to lovers, forbidden love and the tried and tested love triangle, to name but a few. In much the same vein, protagonists are often female, featuring heroines with agency, nuance and ambition.

Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses was perhaps the watershed for the genre, spurring a frenzy of book deals that get the Romance and Fantasy mix just right. And now, with dragon novels seeing a simultaneous resurgence, novels like Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros that combine the two, are seeing an unprecedented response. Indeed, its sequel, Iron Flame, recently broke Waterstones’ record for the highest-selling pre-orders in a single day, months before its release.

Along with dragon Fantasy, and Romantasy, a third category has arisen. Cosy Fantasy – a subgenre where the stakes are low, the conflict non-violent and it offers a slice-of-life view of the day to day lives of the people that inhabit its world. It too has its tropes, often featuring a tight-knit village community, families and a charismatic leader. Readers are often left with a feeling of belonging, warmth and welcome, as the genre’s name implies.

Cosy Fantasy is no longer the domain of self-published authors hanging out on the bestseller lists of Amazon’s eBook store. Traditional publishers have finally seen its merits (and demand) and more and more are finding their way into bookstores. It is Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree that put it on the map. Travis, already the most in-demand narrator in the Fantasy space, voiced the audiobook himself. Such was the book’s success, traditional publisher Pan Macmillan picked it up.

Moreover, Cosy Fantasy has become a haven for LGBTQ+ representation and marginalised voices, a trend that one might hope the other genres might follow. Also of interest – Cosy Fantasy’s rise coincides with the fall in popularity of the gritty, dark and violent genre of Grimdark Fantasy — a sign of the times perhaps, given the state of the world.

So, too, have other subgenres begun to emerge, though traditional publishers have yet to pick up their mantles. Progression Fantasy, a genre featuring magic systems structured around increasing levels of power, continues to be popular in both traditional and indie spaces, with Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive being the best example of the former. But two subgenres within the Progression Fantasy genre remain in the realm of indie publishing alone.

LitRPG, a genre focusing on Fantasy and Sci-Fi worlds with video game rules, continues to dominate in indie publishing, but is yet to find a true home in traditional publishing. And its close cousin, the subgenre of Cultivation Fantasy, is much the same. Cultivation is Progression Fantasy with a magic system inspired by Wuxia and Xianxia novels. It first blew up the charts with Will Wight’s Cradle series, whose books regularly hit #1 on the whole Amazon store. I am fortunate that my own novel, Dragon Rider, is perhaps the first traditionally published Cultivation novel, and Will was kind enough to blurb it.

With new sub-genres emerging in the indie space, traditional publishers dipping their toe in them, and authors mixing and matching at will, it will be interesting to see how the landscape changes over the coming years. Even in genres as old as Fantasy, the state of literature is ever-evolving, finding new ways to enchant and surprise its audience.

Taran Matharu’s first adult fantasy novel, DRAGON RIDER, is published by Harper Voyager on 25th April 2024.
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