Dark High Fantasy: A Guide to the Genre (2024 Edition) 

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Dark fantasy and high fantasy are two awesome sub-genres of fantasy literature that make for some gloomy adventures. If you enjoy reading either dark fantasy or high fantasy, you may want to look into the genre of dark high fantasy. This genre will be sure to frighten you and leave you on the edge of your seat. Keep reading to find out more about this unique and special genre. 

Dark Fantasy 

Dark fantasy is a small subgenre of fantasy that may not be as popular as other genres, but it definitely has a strong following. In this genre, you will see the typical elements of a fantasy novel, as well as elements of horror and fear. These novels are frightening and gloomy in tone, but it differs from the horror genre in that it still relies on magic or other supernatural elements. 

Dark fantasies often have an unhappy ending. Good does not always triumph over evil. It is also common to have a main character who makes bad choices. They may even be evil. The typical “hero” trope is not common in dark fantasy, though it does exist occasionally. The main characters in a dark fantasy are more average than typical fantasy characters. Often they are less intelligent and less skilled than traditional fantasy heroes (who can be unrealistically intelligent and skilled). These characters also tend to be more nuanced than traditional fantasy characters. They often fall into a grey area morally and ethically, so the reader may not be as inclined to root for them. 

The main thing that sets dark fantasy novels apart from the rest of the fantasy genre is a sense of fear. 

High Fantasy 

High fantasy is a much more broad subgenre of fantasy than dark fantasy. In high fantasy, magic and the supernatural are at the forefront of the story. The characters in a high fantasy tend to matter less than the magic system that exists in the world. 

High fantasy is also sometimes called “epic fantasy.” Characters setting out on an epic quest, venturing into battle, or coming of age are very common in high fantasy. In fact, it is almost impossible to find a high fantasy that does not contain one or more of these tropes. High fantasy almost exclusively takes place in fictional worlds, but there are novels out there that take place a world similar to our own. With magic being such an important part of high fantasy, it makes sense for them to exist in fictional lands. 

The authors of high fantasies create their own set of rules. These rules do not have to exist in the real world, but they do have to remain consistent throughout the novel. The most exciting part of high fantasy for many readers is finding out what rules are true to the world they are entering into.

Dark High Fantasy

dark high fantasy fanart

Now that we have an understanding of both dark fantasy and high fantasy, we can begin to understand dark high fantasy. Dark high fantasy is a genre that takes elements from both genres of high fantasy and dark fantasy. We will see plenty of magic in dark high fantasy, that is a given. The rest, generally, is up to the author. Some authors rely more heavily on one genre or the other to write their stories. 

Of course, dark high fantasy has a darker tone. There is always an element of fear, horror, or darkness that exists in the world. Often, authors will send their characters on a high fantasy-esque quest, but their mission is much darker than in traditional high fantasy. Demons, ghosts, monsters, and other paranormal entities are common in dark high fantasy. No matter what book you pick up from the genre, you will be sure to experience darkness, hopelessness, and despair. But you will also meet compelling characters, experience amazing magic, and get to go on incredible adventures. 

Examples of Dark High Fantasy 

Due to the nature of dark fantasy, many books in the genre are for adult readers. They often deal with mature themes and ideas, so it is best to screen a dark fantasy before letting a child or young adult dive into it. The same is true for dark high fantasy. The elements of fear and horror can be quite dark. Many of the examples below are no different. 

Dark high fantasy is such an interesting and complex genre. The genre itself is fairly broad, so you will never see two dark high fantasies with the same story. The authors below have created their own systems of magic and paranormal events that will entice any fantasy readers. 


The Coldfire trilogy is a series of novels by Celia S. Friedman. The novels in the series include Black Sun Rising, When True Night Falls, and Crown of Shadows. The series takes place on a planet called Erna which is home to an energy field called the Fae. This energy field comes to the surface of the planet via volcanoes and earthquakes. The Fae also reacts to humans in that it brings dreams to life and manifests fears. Throughout the trilogy, the humans who live on the planet of Erna are forced to find a balance with the Fae and figure out how to live in harmony with it. 

This series has a plethora of magic and supernatural occurrences throughout, and the system of magic and the powers of the Fae are unique and intriguing. Readers will be left on the edge of their seat page after page. There are battles, religious themes, natural disasters, and terrifying events that make this trilogy an excellent example of dark high fantasy. 

The Witcher 

The Witcher is a series of novels by Andrzej Sapkowski. The main series has five novels, but there are three short stories and one standalone novel that also occur within the universe. This series is intended for mature readers; it is not a good choice for children or even young adults. “Witchers” are people who have supernatural abilities to hunt beasts and monsters. The humans rule the continent where the story takes place, and all of the other races including dwarves, elves, dryads, and vampires, are second-class citizens. 

This series is incredibly dark. There are many wars, an abundance of violence, and plenty of magic. If you are looking for something with a strong story and some themes of hopelessness, this is the series for you. Alongside the darkness of this series, there is also a superb world that the author has built, as well as an excellent magic system. It is easy to get lost in this dark world. Just be sure you know how to get out. 


Imajica is a 1997 standalone novel by Clive Barker. This novel is absolutely massive at over 800 pages. It deals with many different adult themes such as sex, God, and death, so it is another one for mature readers. Though it deals with difficult and adult subjects, it is much less dark than The Witcher series. 

The basic premise of this novel is that Earth is one part of five connected worlds, but somehow the Earth was separated from the other four worlds. The characters in the book attempt to reconcile the five worlds, but are met with many challenges. There is an abundance of magic, quests, and wars, that make this a great example of high fantasy. Though it is not as dark as some of the other novels on this list, it definitely has its moments of darkness. Because of the size of the novel, there are plenty of times in which the world seems hopeless and depressing, but there are also moments of hope and lightness. 

This novel is a great choice for someone looking for dark high fantasy with a touch of hope sprinkled in. There are moments of horror and fear, but there are also things to celebrate and look forward to. 


I hope this article has helped clarify what this genre is all about and given you some ideas of books to read in this subgenre.

And if you want to read more about unique fantasy subgenres on this blog, check out:

Lastly, feel free to leave a message in the comments below if you have questions about this or another fiction-literature-related topic!

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