Today, we have two very different dark fantasy stories to look at, and while we enjoyed both, we have decided to use this review to delve into what makes a good dark fantasy. With that, we hope you enjoy our dueling reviews.
If we could use one word to describe Valguard: Knight of Coins, it would be gritty. To paint a picture, we may say that Valguard contains the right mixture of stark realism and fantasy creativity to drive something home that we see so rarely. We often feel that dark fantasies are overdone, with expletives littering the lines like peanuts in our kung pao chicken. Sometimes it seems that dark fantasy stories seem less dark, and more like an adult fantasy because all that separates many dark fantasies from the works of Tolkien are the graphic descriptions of sex and violence. We at Fantasia Reviews believe that there is more to dark fantasy than that, and we believe Valguard hits the mark. Mister Humphrey understands the nuance that the dark in dark fantasy requires; he never hits us over the head with nonsense and keeps his story bleak and black but does not neglect vivid characterizations and a fascinating setting. If Valguard sets the bar for dark fantasy, Merlin takes it in a different direction.
It is hard to determine what exactly is dark about Merlin – The Legacy. It is definitely a fantasy, but the darkness isn’t quite there. Indeed, Merlin contains some mature themes, but it never seems to handle them with the directness expected of a dark fantasy, and instead, the adult portions are treated obliquely, with a thoughtful touch as to not offend the reader. Perhaps that is one of the traits of a dark fantasy, the author must not be afraid to offend the reader with the truth, realism is not offensive to those equipped to handle it. This does not mean that a dark fantasy must be an expletive-laden romp through a strange and frightful realm, but that the author must know what the genre allows for a directness that you may not be able to get away with in a high fantasy work.
Valguard impressed us from the moment we began reading it. Executed flawlessly, Mister Humphrey’s prose set the tone for an adventure with no lack of brevity or truth. The darkness of the tale is woven into the fabric of the words, with a near surgical precision he has us laughing at antics we have seen before, and yet, he has us, not a few pages later, worrying about what will come next. The work is maybe even laconic at times, describing acts the way they are, not skirting around the toughness (or grossness) of life. Unfortunately, Merlin does not quite meet this threshold in our eyes.
Merlin is, at its core, a coming of age story, and the work actually seems to suffer from the dark bits that are tacked onto what appears better suited for an epic or high fantasy tone. It is a fun story, and perhaps better than many dark fantasies we have read in the past, but that does not make it a dark fantasy. The author would be doing himself a favor by re-categorizing their work into a genre that fits it. As well, Merlin lacks the polished prose that Valguard possesses, containing errors that frustrated our inner (and outer) editors.
We almost skipped this section during this review, simply because dark fantasies tend to be only capable of touching a few subjects with any real efficacy, such as the brutality of life. Valguard shows us how cruel life can be, but at the same time, gives us hope. Dark fantasies remind us that there is no such thing as pure good and pure evil and that we are all in fact merely different shades of gray, some of us darker, some of us lighter, but a mixed bag nonetheless.
Merlin lacks that finesse, now we give it credit that is not necessarily a novella, but a serial, so it has the potential to improve in the future, but Valguard teaches us that a dark fantasy can hit the ground running and not look back, it can be unapologetic, gritty and still be a load of fun.
Valguard: Knight of Coins – Great
Valguard is an exemplar of what dark fantasy should be, we have grown sick of dribble that calls itself dark but still sleeps with the nightlight on. Valguard feels like a real story, with real people, set in a dark and foreboding world that makes us wonder, if Knight of Coins is merely a prologue, how good will Ten of Swords be?
If you want to read Valguard (and we recommend you do) it can be found on Amazon.
Merlin: The Legacy # 1 – Decent
Now, it should be noted, most of our criticisms toward Merlin were in its lack of darkness, it is still a darn decent story and well worth the read (#1 is free after all). We still encourage everyone to pick it up and take a look. Heck, let us know what you think.
If you want to read Merlin, you can find it on Amazon.