Grimdark is “a subgenre or a way to describe the tone, style or setting of speculative fiction that is particularly dystopian, amoral, or violent,” according to popular sources.
It has spread thanks to the success of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Walking Dead, Dark Souls, and similar emotionally mutilating franchises. We are seeing new Grimdark pop up everyday in video games, film, TV, and books, even self-proclaimed Young Adult titles.
But I’m not convinced something can be YA and Grimdark.
To begin with, Grimdark is by definition excessively violent and lacking in moral standards. Young Adult books are definitely allowed to explore heavier themes. However, there are much stronger boundaries. What’s acceptable for Mark Lawrence isn’t necessarily acceptable for Morgan Rhodes.
Having a book belong in the YA section is about more than having characters under 18. (Just like Game of Thrones isn’t Middle Grade despite having a seven-year-old as the first POV main character.)
Young Adult as a genre centers around growth, hopefulness, and coming-of-age.
There should be an underlying sense of optimism, even if there aren’t your usual “happily ever afters.” (This is why Romeo and Juliet is not YA.) Even The Fault in Our Stars ends with the promise of a future for Hazel. Regardless of how dark a YA book gets, it must always end on an encouraging note.
Endings can be bittersweet, but they cannot be Tragedies.
Young Adult is a popular genre and many people have tried to combine “on trend” genres to appeal to a wider readership. You see this in Romance, Sci-Fi, and ever other thing that has been popular or ever will be popular.
By definition, YA and Grimdark are two totally separate things.
You can have Grimdark. You can have YA. You cannot have a Grimdark YA. Those writers who attempt to mash Grimdark and YA are trying to mix oil and water.
I think Grimdark became popular because people were disillusioned with the “perfect hero” archetype. They wanted something more “realistic,” and now I see Sci-Fi/Fantasy writers going off the deep end the other way.
I support books with tough topics and difficult themes 100%. All the same, the world is not pure doom and gloom any more than it is all white knights and faultless heroes.
Having gruesome scenes and themes does not make a story “deep” or “sophisticated.”
Readers aren’t stupid. We know when writers do things for shock value. It’s not hard to tell that’s the purpose of the violence and amorality the vast majority of the time.
I mean, why have a storyline when you can just murder everyone? There are stories where it’s called for, but we’ve all read that book where it totally wasn’t.
It’s okay to have Grimdark. It’s okay to have YA. It’s just plain wrong to try mixing them to be “edgy.”
About the Author
Elisabeth Wheatley began what would be her first novel at eleven and hasn’t stopped writing since. When she’s not daydreaming of elves, vampires, and/or princes in need of rescuing, she can be found wasting time on the internet, fangirling over her latest obsession, and pretending to be a functional citizen.