Genre 101: Specialty Fantasy Sub-genres, Part 1

As promised several weeks ago, today I’m here to talk about two of the smaller, sub-genres of fantasy.  These are particular favorites of mine.

Wait, if you’re only here to talk about two, just how many specialty sub-genres of fantasy are there? you ask.  Believe me, more than you think.

#34 Specialty fantasy 1

The thing to remember about specialty genres is that while it can help you precisely define your story to help people understand, it can also confuse the average reader if they know nothing about that sub-genre.  So, unless it’s a well-known genre, you’ll probably have to explain it a little more than just the title.



Pretty self explanatory.  Re-tellings and re-imaginings of Arthurian myths and legends.

One of its charms is that the possibility for POVs is almost endless.  You can make a knight, the king, a sorceress, or a servant (or even all of the above) your MC and each POV can radically change the story.

Common elements:
Druids, coming of age, Old Religion (usually magic or Druidic) vs. New Religion (usually Catholicism), love triangles, knight bromance, prophecies, quests.  Themes of chivalry, honor, duty to king and church.

The Once and Future King – T. H. White, The Pendragon Cycle – Stephen R. Lawhead, Down the Long Wind trilogy – Gillian Bradshaw, The Crystal Cave – Mary Stewart

Common crossover genres:
Celtic Fantasy, Medieval Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Court Intrigue Fantasy

NOTE: some Arthurian re-tellings are actually historical fiction instead of historical fantasy, so pay attention to the magic and historical details to distinguish between them.



Concerned with political maneuvering and machinations as statesmen, diplomats, and royals match wits in courts of palaces and castles.

Often simply grouped under ‘political fantasy’– I’ll elucidate the differences between the two at a later date.

Since the division into this sub-genre is fairly new in the literary world, there is sometimes confusion over whether this is an actual sub-genre or not.  I’ve included it because it’s gaining popularity, chiefly thanks to the TV show Game of Thrones.

Common elements:
Intensive worldbuilding– especially of fictional history and government, power plays, moral and ethical gray areas, war or the possibility of war, overt or veiled social commentary

The King of Attolia and Conspiracy of Kings – Megan Whalen Turner, the Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley, A Song of Ice and Fire series – George R. R. Martin, TV show Game of Thrones (based on A Song of Ice and Fire), Turkish TV show Magnificent Century

Common crossover genres:
Political Thriller, Political Fantasy, Medieval Fantasy, Fantasy of Manners, Historical Fantasy

So there you have it, a breakdown of two specialty sub-genres.  Still have questions?  Want one part explained further?  Have requests for which ones I cover next?  ASK AWAY in the comments below!

Have you read books/watched movies in either of these genres?  Did you like them?  Have you written any stories that fit into these genres?

Come back next Friday for a discussion of the Weird West genre… and until then, Merry Writing!


14 thoughts on “Genre 101: Specialty Fantasy Sub-genres, Part 1

  1. Tracey Dyck says:

    I love how one can go pretty much ANY direction with fantasy!

    I’ve read some Arthurian fantasy… The earliest I remember is a MG series by Sigmund Brouwer–I think it was called Wings of Light?? Can’t say I’ve read any court intrigue fantasy, though if I found one that didn’t drown the characters beneath all the political plotting, I might enjoy it. 🙂

    On another note, would you say fairytale retellings count as a subgenre? Hmmm, they can be written as any genre, though, so they’re kind of a chameleon shapeshifter thing. 😛 What do you think?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. intuitivewritingguide says:

      Right? It’s a beautiful thing.

      Yes, indeed, I agree. It’s important to maintain the interest in a CHARACTER above and beyond political wrangling. Which is one thing Game of Thrones did often do correctly. (We won’t talk about what it got wrong right now. 😉 )

      Yes, and no. Fairy tale retellings can be grouped under the major genre ‘Fairy Tales’, which covers them whether they’re fantasy or some other genre. Those retellings that are fantasy though (because let’s face it, something like 90-94% of all fairy tale retellings ARE fantasy) are sometimes grouped under a subgenre called ‘fairy tale fantasy’.

      So that’s what I think. 🙂 I’ll be doing at least one post on fairy tales and the Fairy Tale Genre in this series… and I’m super excited for it.


      1. Tracey Dyck says:

        Yes x100 to focusing on character! I’ve never read/watched GoT, and don’t really have a desire to, but looking at the number of fans, it must be doing SOMETHING right.

        Yay! Can’t wait for that post!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A.L. Nguyen says:

    I’m not completely sure if this would classify as a Court Intrigue Fantasy, but I believe Curse of Chalion comes close to it. It delves into the politics and religion of a fantasy world and focuses on courtly matters throughout the novel. It’s a good read. I highly recommend it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Christine says:

    ARTHURIAN LEGEND!!! I have been obsessed with Arthurian legend since I was tiny child. Stories about King Arthur just FASCINATE me. In fact, I wrote an Arthurian legend/Robin Hood crossover novel at one point (because I love Robin Hood legends almost as much as Arthurian legend), buuuut I was way younger then and the story is a wreck. xD One day I’d like to rewrite it and make is something readable though, because it’s close to my heart, illogical disaster though it may be.

    (Also, I’m totally with Tracey and would LOVE to hear any thoughts you have on fairytale retellings!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. intuitivewritingguide says:

      SO HAVE I. It was one of my very earliest obsessions and one that has never left me through the years. At last count, I had five Arthurian retellings of various sorts in the plotting and WIP stages.

      Arthurian Legend/Robin Hood Crossover is brilliant! The best mixed with the best. I hope you do rewrite it some day. I’d love to see it.


  4. Brie Donning says:

    I have read very little, if any, Arthurian fantasy. I’ve read a little Arthurian Historical fiction though and there is a lot of room for stories though. I just realized that I really prefer my historical fiction to not have fantasy in it. I think it’s because I really love history and prefer to keep my facts straight.

    Court Intrigue on the other hand fascinates me. One of my stories is heading into court intrigue or political, but my writing skills aren’t up to it. There’s so many threads to keep up with. I probably need to do a detailed outline before I try rewriting it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. intuitivewritingguide says:

      The sky is literally the limit with Arthurian fiction, whether historical fiction or fantasy of some kind. It’s wonderfully freeing, in my opinion. 🙂 That’s a reason I hadn’t heard before for preferring HiFi to HiFy. Thank you for sharing it!

      Right? It’s massively fascinating. It’s one of my favorite genres in which to write. Ooh, yes, outlines can be SUPER helpful. Even if you’re a pantster writer, having at least a loose outline for your rewrite/revision can help you know/remember what you want to include this time around.


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