One of my writing mentors asked me to pick my favorite genre (fantasy), and having done that, pick my favorite sub-genre (fantasy of manners) and concentrate on writing that. (One of my other writing mentors thinks I should concentrate on self-publishing romance e-books.)
Fantasy of manners stories are set in a Sword & Sorcery, semi-Ruritarian, or High Fantasy world, but not S&S themselves, even if the heroine is a sorceress or takes hiring a swordsman for granted as a normal business expense. They owe as much to Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen as they do to Professor Tolkien or Greek mythology, and have more than a slight reliance on old costume drama movies like The Black Shield of Falworth, Quentin Durward, etc.
My mentor asked me to name ten fantasy of manners books, and explain why they fell into that category. Here is my homework assignment.
Curse of Chalion, 2001
Paladin of Souls, 2003
The Hallowed Hunt, 2005
Semi-medieval, court and nobility, deities interactive with humans.
The Seven Towers, 1984
Semi-medieval setting, kings, wizards, knights, political intrigue, fantastic non sequiturs, noble savage nomads.
The Grand Tour (with C.S.), 2004
The Mislaid Magician (with C. S.), 2006
Fantasy a la Georgette Heyer, a wizard is assumed to be a gentleman unless he proves himself otherwise by his actions.
Mairelon the Magician, 1991
Magician’s Ward, 1997
Fantasy a la Charles Dickens, magic exists, everyone knows that magic is real. (Same universe as above, but with a different slant.)
The Marriage Spell, 2006
Fantasy a la Georgette Heyer, magic is real, but not entirely respectable. (Honestly more fantasy romance than fantasy of manners.)
Haven’t read this one myself. Swashbuckling. Aristocracy.
Stephen Brust The Phoenix Guards, 1991
Dumas-esque. Royal court, vendettas, duels, political intrigue. Non-humans.
is supposed to be Fantasy of Manners, and there are certainly elements of it in her work, but every single one of her books also fits into other categories. Those Who Hunt the Night
is horror, the Darwath trilogy and the Silicon Mage series are portal fantasies, Bride of the Rat God
is urban fantasy/historical fantasy, and The Ladies of Mandrigyn
I’d call more heroic fantasy or given Sun Wolf’s character, maybe anti-heroic fantasy. I’m not sure how to classify Dragonsbane
Fantasy of Manners
A Fantasy of Manners
book is heir to Jane Austen
, Georgette Heyer
, P. G. Wodehouse
, Walter Scott
, and Anthony Hope
as much (or more) as J. R. R. Tolkien
and Robert E. Howard
. Magic and magical creatures have a smaller role. The story takes place in society, often High Society, where duels of wits with a boorish baron are more likely than a fight to the death with an axe-wielding dwarf or hungry dragon. Events are small in scale: if the protagonist fails, it may be a tragedy to her personally, but the world will not end. It may not even change enough for anyone else to notice (or it may mean the wrong rump sits upon the throne). It is always witty, and set in a low-tech, hierarchical society.