The Broken Empire trilogy by Mark Lawrence (which you must go read NOW).
The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie.
A Land Fit For Heroes by Richard K. Morgan.
These pivotal series and the luminaries who wrote them are those that I have deemed to myself to be The Four Fathers of Grimdark, a set of Fantasy fiction works and authors that swept the world over the last two decades with roots in Glen Cook, Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner, David Gemmell, and the dark fantasy of the 1980s and 1990s, though their ancestors can easily be traced to Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard as well. To express what Grimdark is to those who are not great readers of it can best be found in the words of Richard K. Morgan himself:
"Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an elite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a willful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the very majority whom the system oppresses." - Richard K. MorganWith the recent ascendance to Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States of America, the vote to leave the European Union via "Brexit" in the United Kingdom (where grimdark and fantasy both find native soil), and the uprising of many nationalist/hate groups throughout the world, it is hard to disagree with Morgan's view on both the worlds he creates for his fantasy and the world readers like me now experience. We live in a time where the majority of our fellow human beings and alike are oppressed by religious, political, and financial elites, of whom staff and maintain a force of thugs, and through use of their media engender a willful cognitive dissonance that the majority themselves accept because of a fear, greed, or hatred that allows them to sustain their lifestyles, even bitterly, in a society that was made comfortable by its own lack of personal and social responsibility.
WAR PIGS is my first rebuttal to Grimdark Fantasy. A second one is coming in Hold Back The Day, but that will come when it comes. A third one comes in the collected Saga of The Panther. And then there will be more, and more, and more, until my dying day.
I worship the works of Martin and Lawrence, read deeply into Morgan, and truly appreciate Abercrombie on a basis of what they have done in terms of what was needed to be done for the health of Fantasy fiction--they infused it with things that were happening now, inhabited it with characters that could live and breath in our real world, and drove a real sense of consequence that many Fantasy and genre authors today still fail to embrace to their detriment. Personally speaking, Grimdark caused me to take on a meaningful view of world-building, a constant reminder that there had to be real risk for my characters, and in general made me realize that it is more important to write about what is going on, not about "the story only you can write", which is often horribly simplistic advice.
Fantasy, to me, is the journalism of the soul, the exploration of the what our world is like now, and a rebellion against the powers that would tell us not to imagine something otherwise.
While I'll never be done being in love with Grimdark, I've wanted to be done writing it for a long time. The successful nomination and victory of Donald Trump drove it home for me--there was once a time to examine all the dark corners of the earth, to explore characters who are analogous to the worst we allow to rule today. That time is over because now we have actually let one of them into the halls of power in all his unbridled awfulness with the expectation this awfulness will flourish.
I choose to write of heroes, of people that stand up against their own society and its unworthy rulers for the sake of others instead of themselves--and not in a self-serving manner like Daenerys Targaryen. I choose to write of places and times that are broken but can be healed with when humanity raises the cause of goodness as we have before.
I refuse Morgan's authorial view of the world.
And so does Lut. Lut is a Wag (see "orc") who starts evil, that kills for the powers-that-be and revels in his oppression of others. But he also changes, learns the value of his people and the others he once oppressed, the wonders of his land, and the importance of his time. He is simply not Lawful Evil and "that is that."
He chooses to walk out of the grim darkness of the soul and into the Cold Light of better days. It is bright out in this new wilderness, and the world will always be harsh, but there is a way forward for you, me, and everyone else. We must simply go and find it.
I hope you'll choose to walk out there with me.