High Fantasy vs. Low Fantasy

Good morning bookworms! Have you ever wondered what the difference is between high fantasy and low fantasy? Well me too, so I did some digging. The basics are this. High fantasy books are a completely new world, there may be humans but whatever is going on, it isn’t happening on Earth. It’s somewhere completely new and there are most likely a lot of other species besides humans. Low fantasy is happening in the world as we know it, it’s planet earth, there’s lots of normal everyday humans, but there’s also some magic, or other species hiding in plain sight.

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High fantasy:

There are many examples of high fantasy novels, most people think of Lord of the Rings. It is a high fantasy because it is not set in our world and there are orcs, elves, hobbits, dwarves, wizards and more. But Lord of the Rings is also an epic fantasy! An epic fantasy is a story where epic events, potentially world destroying events are happening. So Frodo has to get the ring into the fires of Mordor before Sauron destroys the world. High fantasy tends to focus more on the characters. Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas is a good example of a high fantasy. There are many species and it’s not set on Earth but the problems and events center around one city and one set of characters for the most part. Crescent city can also be classified as urban fantasy, meaning it’s set in a city of some sort and not in a forest. Another high fantasy is A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne Brown, the main characters are being threatened by the demons from another realm and they use magic to stop them. There’s also mythic fantasy like Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, or Lore by Alexandra Bracken. Both of these are set is a fantasy world centered around Greek mythology. You’ve also got Dystopian fantasy, think The Hunger Games or The Gilded Ones, these are different worlds and they are a mess. The Gilded Ones I would also consider an epic fantasy since Deka has to save the entire continent from the monsters.

Low fantasy:

There are a lot of books that fit this genre and there are a lot of subgenres here. I’m going to talk about two of them. First magical realism, this is a book set in our world with a bit of magic, my favourite from this genre is The Bear and the Nightingale series. Everything is happening to humans in the human world, but there is a God just popping in with some magic once in a while. And the magic is believable. Another example is The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab. Addie is a human girl cursed by the devil, the humans can’t do any magic, they can only be manipulated by the gods. So everything is happening in our world as we see it, but there’s an extra element of fantasy.

Another example is Crossworld or Portal fantasy. Think Alice in Wonderland or The Chronicles of Narnia. The main characters travel to another world that is entirely different from their own, but they can go back to the normal human world. Another more modern example is A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, Harper is kidnapped from her world and taken to another realm. The human world is still there, but the book is set mostly in another fantasy world.

Fantasy Book recommendations in no particular order:

High Fantasy:

  1. Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
  2. Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood ( and all of Maas’ other work)
  3. The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
  4. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne Brown
  5. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  6. Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein
  7. The Fifth Season by N K Jemison
  8. From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Low Fantasy:

  1. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
  2. A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
  3. Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callendar
  4. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab
  5. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
  6. Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
  7. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

I hope you found this interesting and helpful! Fantasy is a genre I’ve gotten more and more into over the past year. Pandemic life has me wanting to escape into entirely new worlds. Tell me some of your favourite fantasies!

Happy Reading!


2 thoughts on “High Fantasy vs. Low Fantasy

  1. I freaking loved reading this post. Trying to explain genres and sub-genres to my non-reader friends can get tricky, so next time one of them asks about fantasy, I may just send them this haha!


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