Saturday, 19 August 2017

Grimdark. We're nailing it down!

 Image result for beyond redemption

Over on the Grimdark Facebook group we're compiling a list of books which we're going to rate for grimdarkiness.

It seems to be not a war of words but a war for a word. There are those who use 'grimdark' as a pejorative for a vague group of things they dislike, there are grimdark aficionados who see the term as descriptor for an aesthetic that requires the presence of a number of distinct elements which may include moral greyness, bleakness, and nihilism, and there are an (apparent majority) who just see it as the setting on a control knob relating to general levels of violence and ickyness... Here all are free to battle it out and define this word through usage and example. Let your voice be heard!

Note, this isn't something you "win" at. Nobody is saying a high grimdark score means a good book, or vice versa.

One thing to note is that if you look at the individual polls it's hard to find any single book that doesn't have at least one vote in every category. This wide spread of opinions on every book shows that the voters' opinions on what grimdark is must be quite diverse. The elements one reader considers grimdark can be quite different from those of the next reader.

New for voting:

Traitor's Blade - by Sebastian de Castell
Ember In The Ashes - by Sabaa Tahir
Devices and Desires - by K.J Parker
Scourge of the Betrayer - by Jeff Salyards

This is the list of titles, ranked by average grimdark content:
(this list says nothing about quality, many excellent books at all levels)
Please only vote on a book IF YOU HAVE READ IT, not based on other's opinions.

Beyond Redemption - by Michael R Fletcher, Grimdark Rating 4.72
The Darkness That Comes Before - by R. Scott Bakker, Grimdark Rating 4.44
Prince of Thorns - by Mark Lawrence, Grimdark Rating 4.40
Heroes Die - by Matthew Woodring StoverGrimdark Rating 4.15 (*)
Godblind - by Anna Stephens, Grimdark Rating 4.12 (*)
The Steel Remains - by Richard K. Morgan, Grimdark Rating 4.11
The Blade Itself - by Joe Abercrombie, Grimdark Rating 4.11
The Court of Broken Knives - by Anna Spark Smith, Grimdark Rating 4.06 (*)
The Black Company - by Glen Cook, Grimdark Rating 3.81
Low Town - by Daniel Polansky, Grimdark Rating 3.72 (*)
The Left Hand of God - by Paul HoffmanGrimdark Rating 3.69 (*)
Blackwing - by Ed McDonald, Grimdark Rating 3.68
Horus Rising - by Dan Abnet, Grimdark Rating 3.60 (*)
The Grim Company - by Luke Scull, Grimdark Rating 3.55
Gardens of the Moon - by Steven Erikson, Grimdark Rating 3.52
The Mirror Empire - by Kameron Hurley, Grimdark Rating 3.49 (*)
Elric of Melnibone - by Michael Moorcock, Grimdark Rating 3.48
The Poppy War - by R.F. Kuang, Grimdark Rating 3.48 (*)
Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes,  Grimdark Rating 3.45 (*)
A Game of Thrones - by George RR Martin, Grimdark Rating 3.44
Priest of Bones - by Peter McLean, Grimdark Rating 3.37 (*)
Prince of Fools - by Mark Lawrence, Grimdark Rating 3.27
The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Grimdark Rating 3.20 (*)
Lord Foul's Bane - by Stephen R Donaldson, Grimdark Rating 3.18
The Vagrant - by Peter Newman, Grimdark Rating 3.11
Red Sister - by Mark Lawrence, Grimdark Rating 3.08
The Grey Bastards - by Jonathan French, Grimdark Rating 3.00 (*)
Shadow of the Torturer - by Gene Wolfe, Grimdark Rating 2.96 (*)
The Library at Mount Char - by Scott HawkinsGrimdark Rating 2.89 (*)
Bloodsong - by Anthony RyanGrimdark Rating 2.88 (*)
The Last Wish - by Andrzej Sapkowski, Grimdark Rating 2.82
The Way of Shadows - by Brent Weeks, Grimdark Rating 2.78
Conan - by Howard, Sprague de Camp & Lin CarterGrimdark Rating 2.68
The Gunslinger - by Stephen King, Grimdark Rating 2.66
The Red Knight - by Miles Cameron, Grimdark Rating 2.66 (*)
Half a King - by Joe Abercrombie, Grimdark Rating 2.64 (*)
The Traitor Baru Cormorant - by Seth DickinsonGrimdark Rating 2.62 (*)
The Warded Man by Peter V. BrettGrimdark Rating 2.56
Legend - by David Gemmell, Grimdark Rating 2.27
The Lies of Locke Lamora - by Scott Lynch, Grimdark Rating 2.26
The Fifth Season - by N.K. Jemisin, Grimdark Rating 2.26 (*)
Malice - by John Gwynne, Grimdark Rating 2.23
The Final Empire - by Brandon Sanderson, Grimdark Rating 1.97
Assassin's Apprentice - by Robin Hobb, Grimdark Rating 1.96
Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames, Grimdark Rating 1.79 (*)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - by N.K. Jemisin, Grimdark Rating 1.75 (*)
The Innocent Mage - by Karen MillerGrimdark Rating 1.54 (*)
The Sword of Truth - by Terry Goodkind, Grimdark Rating 1.51
One Word Kill  - by Mark Lawrence,  Grimdark rating 1.50
Magician - by Raymond E Feist, Grimdark Rating 1.46
The Pawn of Prophecy - by David Eddings, Grimdark Rating 1.26
The Sword of Shannara - by Terry Brooks, Grimdark Rating 1.16

(*) Average based on fewer than 100 votes

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  1. There are a few on the list that are definitely dark and a few that are a little grey. This poll should provide a grand list that will help those who like Grimdark find books in this sub genre much easier. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

  2. You should add Ericsson's, "Malazan, Books of the Fallen" to your poll. I am curious as to what folks think of the set of novels overall.

    1. Yes I was surprised to see him not there. I think of Ericsson and Cook in the same general bracket. Also surprised not to see KJ Parker. The finale of The Belly of the Bow counts amoung the most shocking things I have ever read.

  3. The Night Angel Trilogy is "Grimdark” fantasy? nah?

  4. Bakker's Prince of Nothing and Aspect Emperor series is order of magnitude grimdarker than any of these. Almost as if he wrote them specifically to win this poll ;).

    1. The only poll an author wants to win is "best book", leading to "most sales". This isn't a contest, just an effort to determine what people mean when they say 'grimdark'.

    2. As Diefenbaker (Canadian politician) used to say "I’ve always been fond of dogs, and they are the one animal that knows the proper treatment to give to poles".

    3. The election that gave him his job was a poll.

    4. If elections were mandatory in Canada you'd be correct.

    5. TDTCB itself isn't super "grimdarky" if you ask me (I voted, so you were, right? ;) ). But apparently I'm in the minority as most of the votes are 5/5. I'm curious, then, what the rest of the series would be on that scale ...
      Anyway, I'm impressed that so far it seems to not be a popularity contest - must be a bunch of cool folks around here, maybe I'll stick around and hope some of it rubs off on me. A good place to share a beverage at any rate, now to find the bar.

    6. I think they are voting based on the series as a whole.

    7. 100%, if you read The Unholy Consult and still say there's a single book that's grimmer or darker, I'll eat my goddamn chapeau.

  5. Cool! I'm really looking forward to seeing the results. There was a great panel about Grimdark at Worldcon this year, and it's watchable on YT:
    I'm really curious to see what is going to be the result for The Last Wish.

  6. I'm curious where the Witcher books would fall on this poll.

  7. THis is going to be fun.
    I've always wondered how others see the role humour plays in the grimdark setting? Does it make it less grimdark or more? In my experience, people will make some pretty bleak jokes just to make the situation bearable when put in horrifyings situations, so for me it's a neccessary part of the experience.

    1. I think humor makes things less grimdark (at least up to a point).
      I wouldn't consider Scott Lynch's "The Lies of Locke Lamora" or Sebastien de Castell's "Traitor's Blade" particularly grimdark. Both are dark, and feature some very violent + brutal scenes but the humor and banter between characters distracts from the dark setting so they don't FEEL dark. That said, if a book/setting was dark enough, the humor might highlight the darkness rather than hiding it?

    2. It can disrupt the connection if handled wrong, true, but for me the kind of humour used can indicate how dark things are getting. I saw it a lot when I worked at a hospital. The humour was there, but the flavour of it would change with the severity of the situation

  8. Intrigued to see where this goes - kind of agreeing with most of the votes so far so I am either as right or as wrong as the average person here.

    The only ones so far I'd drop by 1 point or more would be Gardens, Legend and maybe Magician - all of which certainly have dark moments in them but many of the protagonists are good and noble which, for me, pushes them out of grimdark and into other sub classifications.

    1. If you dropped Magician by 1 point it would be at 0.46 ... which is impossible in a vote where 1 is the least a book can score.

    2. Well, yes, fair point - then I would drop it to 1. Or maybe a 1.1.

      But it is interesting to see some of these scores going higher than I would have expected for the more traditional fantasy. Would love to see what LoTR would score or Narnia almost as a baseline.

  9. Already some good examples already of what "isn't" grimdark (according to voters). Not a lot up at the top yet. This should be interesting to gauge what people mean when they say 'grimdark'. I wonder if most books will be between 2 and 3.5ish, which I'd interpret as meaning there's little agreement on what grimdark even is.

    Great idea :) , should be enlightening.

  10. I was trying to figure out how you came up with the titles on this list, I use these types of lists to find books that I haven't read yet for further reading. The link from the FB post leads here to this blog post looking for the master list. This looks to be a partial offering, so I looked a little more and then found your post from August 17 and it seems as if the list was to be from opening sales for books in the last decade but there's books on the list that are closer to 40 years since published.The "epicish" moniker to avoid YA, urban, paranormal and others would make the list huge. But there's a few of that class on your list that belong as well as beyond the past decade since published by Hobb, Eddings, King and Donaldson for example. I seen a mention of a Reddit thread where you crowd sourced the titles for this list. So if you could send me the link to it, I should be set for a long while for books to read. I usually give a book up to the first 50- 75 pages to decide if it's for me before giving up on it and opening up the cover on a different one. I'm at present reading the Unhewn Throne trilogy by Staveley and have book 3 of The Grim Company up next. I've gotten a lot of great leads from this poll to last until your Grey Sister comes out. You write the type of books I love to hate because they hook me and before I know notice, i've finshed it in a few days and then having to wait for the next one to release. Thanks a bunch

    1. There you go

  11. If we are nominating books to go on the "titles waiting for a vote" list, I'm really curious to know what the response to Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover is.

  12. I notice Abnett's Horus Rising is being voted on - I have read it, but feel his Eisenhorn trilogy (an onmibus volume now for a long time) is much darker overall in tone and more appropriate for this list if SF is ok for it. The Horus Heresy in general resembles a variant more of the arthurian-type setup, with camelot falling etc.

    with SF being included, I feel the Gap Series (stephen r donaldon) is an excellent candidate. The first book is The Real Story.

    Also, has A Shadow of all Night Falling (Glen Cook, first dread empire book, predates Black Company) been considered?

  13. I think you missing the grimmest of all grimdarks! The barrow by Mark Smylie. Granted its not as known as most of these but that's because a lot of people draw the line at that book and won't read it if they hear about it prior. I've read 75% of the books up there and only a couple could stand up to it in terms of the proto typical qualities most people associate with grimdark! You can say all you want that its such a vague term but every one I know and talk to on the internet consider grimdark as books like The first Law, Prince of thorns, etc. The realistic hopelessness, the no pulling punches kind of world! Oh yeah your missing Scourge of the betrayer by Jeff Salyards too!

  14. When are you going to draw a map for Book of the ancestors series? I'm dying to read Red Sister but can't bring myself to do it without a map.

    1. I'm not going to. If you can't read a book without a map I guess it's not a book for you.

    2. A thousand other authors make reference material let alone a map for their fictional creations. Why would I bother to read one where the author can't be bothered? If people don't like it they don't have to look at it. I hear this talked about all the time, its good to have it for people who want it. It seems your alienating a bunch of people from reading your book especially with an attitude like that!

    3. Like I say: it sounds as if the book isn't for you. I'm sure you can find something else to read.

  15. I wonder if there was a way to parse out these results by with some sort of Natural Language processing, trying to find what specifically the computer seems to stick to as a common theme. Obviously, it would be much more complicated than that, but I wonder how far you could pare it down. You don't need to get the exact pragmatic analysis, you might just need to have it recognize "this sentence has hero being bad" or "hero do good" or something....

  16. I understand that this is a fantasy-based poll, but I would throw in two series in the Science Fiction vein that meet every criteria of Grimdark -- Susan R. Matthews' Jurisdiction cycle, with the first volume entitled "An Exchange of Hostages" and Stephen R. Donaldson's Gap series with the first volume entitled "The Real Story".

  17. I'd add A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall, it's pretty grimdark!

  18. What about Hunger Games? I'd argue it's at least partly GD...very bleak world, and I'd say Peeta and Prim are the only main characters that aren't morally ambiguous

  19. I think the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne (Emperor's Blades is first book) and the Crimson Empire trilogy (A Crown for Cold Silver) belong on this list

  20. I believe I missed the vote, and I was going to name a different novel/series, but "The Poppy War" and "The Dragon Republic" by R.F. Kuang is as grim as grimdark is, for me anyway.

    1. No you haven't. Just click on the title of any of the books to vote. The Poppy War is on there.