Tribal Fantasy: A Guide to the Genre (2024 Edition)

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When you think of “fantasy,” it is likely that you think of medieval Europe or stories in settings somewhat like medieval Europe. There is nothing wrong with that. Medieval Europe is the setting of some of the most amazing fantasies in the world. But fantasy is so much more than medieval Europe. There are other settings, other ethnic groups, and other time periods that make up the fantasy genre. Sometimes these stories are even more appealing than the more “traditional” fantasies. Stone Age fantasy, Aztec fantasy, and tribal fantasy are just a few of the subgenres of fantasy that give a different feel to the genre. Keep reading to learn more about tribal fantasy and why it may be a genre you want to try. 

Tribal Fantasy 

tribal fantasy fanart

Tribal fantasy is a broad term. There are countless numbers of “tribes” that have existed throughout the course of history, in addition to all of the fictional tribes that have also been created. Tribal fantasy can take many forms and these tribes can be from anywhere, even fictional locations of course. 

In tribal fantasy, we often see tribes of Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, African tribes, and South American tribes. Historical elements are common in tribal fantasies, but it is not a requirement. It is common for authors to take elements of history as inspiration for their novels without copying them exactly. 

Fictional tribes are also common in tribal fantasy. As we will see below, fictional tribes can help fill out a fictional world. Whether or not they are the main focus of the story, they can add depth and variety to any story. 

Wars are also common in tribal fantasies. Sometimes these wars occur between two tribes, and sometimes between a tribe and a more “civilized” group of people. Whatever the case may be, you can expect some kind of tension in a tribal fantasy. Tribal fantasies also contain an abundance of magic and supernatural occurrences. It is common to see tribal rituals that result in a variety of outcomes, such as speaking with the dead or summoning demons. Of course, magic can be used for good or evil in a tribal fantasy. 

One of the ways tribal fantasy can be interesting is that you can get a look at people you may not have seen in a fantasy novel before. You’ll get a sense of this in some of the examples below.

Examples of Tribal Fantasy 

As we know, tribal fantasy can take a variety of forms. It is up to the author to decide how they want to incorporate tribal elements into their novel. The examples of novels below all take tribal fantasy and make it their own. You will see a wide array of tribes and their characteristics throughout these novels. Tribal fantasy is a great genre because there is such a range of stories to tell. Not only do we get to see a variety of historical tribes, but we also get to see fictional tribes. Both have their merits and both can be worth reading. If you find that tribal fantasy is something that might be up your alley, check out the novels and series below to get you started. 

Where the Waters Turn Black 

Where the Waters Turn Black is a 2016 novel by Benedict Patrick. This novel is a great entrance into tribal fantasy as it also has features of many other genres as well. It takes inspiration from various tribes of Pacific Islanders and includes many of their myths and legends. 

This novel follows Kaimana, a young girl who discovers the lair of a legendary monster and composes a song about their interaction. Unfortunately, the god of war gets involved and Kaimana must try to put an end to the war. There are epic battles in this novel as well as supernatural events and tribal magic and rituals. It will likely appeal to readers who enjoy many different types of fantasy. 

The characters in this novel are unforgettable. They will entice you and leave you wishing that this novel was actually a series. The setting of this novel is very unique for a fantasy, and it offers something new and unknown. Readers who enjoy mythology and legends will likely enjoy this novel and the tales told within its pages. 

Malazan Book of the Fallen

Malazan Book of the Fallen is a series of fantasy novels by Steven Erikson. There are ten novels in this series with publication dates ranging from 1999 to 2011. This is a true high fantasy. This series is intense and full of dramatic and in-depth world-building. There are many characters and tribes to remember, so it is definitely a series that requires some commitment. Not only is the world full of details, but with so many novels in the series, there is a vast array of settings that exist throughout the series. 

This series is simply too large and extensive to summarize in a single paragraph. Wars, epic battles, and betrayal cover the pages of this series, as do magic, sorcery, and supernatural beings. Readers will find intrigue on every page. 

The world in which this series takes place is home to numerous tribes. Many of these tribes reflect real tribes, but the majority of them are completely fictional. Though there is no actual history in this series, there are many customs and elements of real tribes that can be seen throughout. If you are looking for a series to commit many hours to, this is a great one to look into. Tribal fantasy and high fantasy come together in this series, and it will not disappoint. 

The Chronicles of the Cheysuli 

The Chronicles of the Cheysuli is a tribal fantasy series by Jennifer Roberson. There are eight novels in this series, with publication dates ranging from 1984-1992. Though it is a large series, it does not require as much memorization and commitment as the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. 

This series follows the Cheysuli people who are a group of magical warriors. They have the ability to shapeshift, and they are allies with the king. A war breaks out between the kingdom and the Cheysuli tribe and they are hunted on their own land. Though the Cheysuli is a fictional tribe, they have many similarities to historical tribes. 

This series takes place across more than 100 years and offers the reader interesting storylines, compelling and lovable characters, and epic battles. There is much to enjoy for any reader in this series. Though this series is a tribal fantasy, it also fits into the high fantasy genre as well. 


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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