I gather it’s quite a new thing to divide fiction up into genres. Relatively speaking. But fiction is such an enormously variable thing that it’s impossible to create a few different boxes and then stop. We had romance and mystery and fantasy and science fiction and historical fiction and so on. We kept going and added thriller and chick lit and steampunk and westerns. We created sub-categories and sub-sub-categories and some of those grew until they became Genres with a capital “G” and developed their own armies of sub-and-sub-sub-genres. Did you know there’s a sub-genre (or perhaps it’s a sub-sub-genre) called Fantasy of Manners? I didn’t either until a few weeks ago.
What sub-genres are usually about is mixing all the genres up into increasingly complicated combinations. Fantasy of Manners, for example, is fantasy frequently mixed with (or at least drawing on) historical fiction of specific periods (Regency England) with a strong element of comedy-of-manners mixed in and probably some romance layered on top. What happens when you write a book that hasn’t yet got its own super-fashionable sub-sub-sub-category? If we’re talking publishers, the answer is to cram it into whichever genre is more or less loosely related and most popular, which is partly why so very many “paranormal romance” books are turning up lately, even if the story is more about a mystery than a romance and the “paranormal” element is actually more just straight fantasy.
Categorising books into so many ever-narrowing boxes is meant to help the reader, of course, so I dislike the above approach: it’s misleading. But in spite of the proliferation of sub-genres it’s still possible to find books that are just hard to categorise, and end up in an ill-fitting box due to lack of alternatives.
In my case, my favourite genres as a child and a teenager were fantasy and mystery. That’s still largely true, though I’ve added historical fiction and the classics to my preferred lists. When I write, it shows. I veer instinctively in the direction of fantasy, but if the story-in-progress doesn’t have some element of mystery to it then I hardly know what to do with it. I also draw on history a lot – mostly social history – when building societies. And I often add romance, but not that much. What should I call this? There’s a genre for fantasy romance but I don’t hear about a genre called fantasy mystery. I could shelve my Draykon series under fantasy romance, but that would be misleading because there isn’t enough romance for it to qualify. And what about the elements of thriller and the vaguely Regency air to some of my societies? I couldn’t reasonably call it fantasy of manners either. It’s something of a dilemma.
This is inconvenient as a reader too. I’d love it if I could wander over to Amazon and select a Fantasy Mystery category stuffed full of books that mix just the selection of genre elements that I like. Instead the search is considerably harder as so many books get shoved into epic fantasy due to lack of other, more suitable options (mine included).
I’ve found a list someone’s obligingly created on Goodreads, containing 84 books that (at least supposedly) mix up these two genres. But that’s about all I could find. So, I plead for recommendations. Do you know any good mysteries set in fantasy (or science fiction) worlds? Tell me about them.
And what about the problem of mixing genres? Is it a good thing to include many different elements in the same book, or is it messy? Writers, do you write to a particular genre or work back to a category afterwards?