After an exhaustive survey of fantasy subgenres in my past articles, I wanted to make one other comparison of the categories, arranged as a type of quiz. This fun activity was to satisfy my own curiosity. I wondered if fantasy subgenres were recognizable by their first lines.

Below is a matching exercise. Here’s how it works. The subgenres are listed in the top column and lettered from A – P. Under the subgenres are the first lines from representative books numbered 1 -18. If you’ve been following my articles over the past months, you know the basic characteristics of each subgenre. Match a first line of the story to one of the categories. Answers and discussion are below.


A. Epic fantasy
B. Comic fantasy
C. Dark fantasy
D. Historical fantasy
E. Urban fantasy
F. Paranormal romance
G. Fantasy romance
H. Cyberpunk
I. Steampunk
J. Clock punk
K. Mannerspunk
L. Dieselpunk
M. Elfpunk
N. Magical realism
O. Mythic fiction
P. Mythpunk

First Lines

1. A small lizard perched on a brown stone.

2. The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer.

3. Darius looked around the club, taking in the teeming, half naked bodies on the dance floor.

4. The most nerve-racking commissions, Madeline thought, were the ones that required going in through the front door.

5. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

6. “Hoooaggh! Huunngh!” Val’s voice echoed inside the toilet bowl.

7. Lucivar Yaslana, the Eyrien half-breed, watched the guards drag the sobbing man to the boat.

8. The angel gleamed in the light of Hethor’s reading candle bright as any brasswork automation.

9. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember the distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

10. Once there was a child whose face was like the new moon shining on cypress trees and the feathers of waterbirds.

11. I’ve always kidded myself, and until recently had convinced myself, that names were of no importance and that what really mattered was the Thing Concerned, not the tag which was put on said Thing.

12. “I said no such thing,” grumbled Lord Maccon, allowing himself, begrudgingly, to be trussed in a new evening jacket.

13. Kaye took another drag on her cigarette and dropped it into her mother’s beer bottle.

14. “Lor’ love you, sir!” Fevvers sang out in a voice that clanged like dustbin lids.

15. I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual.

16. The refining complex at Ploiesti has relatively good protection to the north.

17. In a distant and secondhand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part…

18. Picture a summer evening somber and sweet over Spain, the glittering sheen of leaves fading to soberer colors, the sky in the west all soft, and mysterious as low music, and in the east like a frown.

Answers Below (No Cheating!)

Owl by LANDofLIV


A. Epic fantasy 2. George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire)

B. Comic fantasy 1. Piers Anthony’s A Spell for Chameleon (Xanth) + 6. Robert Asprin’s Dragons Deal

C. Dark fantasy 11. Michael Moorcock’s Elric: The Stealer of Souls

D. Historical fantasy 18. Lord Dunsany’s The Charwoman’s Shadow

E. Urban fantasy 15. Jim Butcher’s Storm Front (Dresden Files)

F. Paranormal romance 3. J. R. Ward’s Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood)

G. Fantasy romance 7. Anne Bishop’s Daughter of the Blood (Black Jewels Trilogy)

H. Cyberpunk 5. William Gibson’s Neuromancer

I. Steampunk 12. Gail Carriger’s Timeless (The Parasol Protectorate)

J. Clockpunk 17. Terry Pratchett’s The Color of Magic (Discworld) + 8. Jay Lake’s Mainspring

K. Mannerspunk 4. Martha Wells’s The Death of the Necromancer

L. Dieselpunk 16. F. Paul Wilson’s The Keep

M. Elfpunk 13. Holly Black’s Tithe

N. Magical realism 9. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude

O. Mythic fiction 14. Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus

P. Mythpunk 10. Catherynne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden


I found some of these easy to identify:

  • Robert Asprin’s comic fantasy first line was clearly up to some fun with: “‘Hoooaggh! Huunngh!’ Val’s voice echoed inside the toilet bowl.”
  • The brooding introspection of Michael Moorcock’s beginning felt dark.
  • The picturesque landscape of old Spain in Lord Dunsany’s The Charwoman’s Shadow gave away an historical fantasy.
  • Butcher’s first line mentioned an office and a mailman, who normally followed a rigid schedule—clues to an urban environment.
  • The television screen comparison, tech talk, clearly told me cyberpunk with William Gibson’s beginning line of Neuromancer.
  • Gail Carriger’s Timeless steampunk was clearly Victorian from the start.
  • The phrases “secondhand set of dimensions” and “brasswork automation” tipped me off to the clockpunk themes intended by Terry Pratchett and Jay Lake, respectively.
  • I got a chuckle how fast Martha Wells complained about etiquette—in the opening sentence of her mannerspunk novel.
  • F. Paul Wilson’s The Keep shows concern about a refining complex from the get-go, setting the focus on fuels which is expected with a dieselpunk book.
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, the benchmark magical realism work, opened with a political issue when a colonel faces a firing squad, a common theme in that subgenre. Additionally, we have a window opening to the man’s past, a tale within a tale—the beginning of the textualization technique that magical realism typically employs.
  • Catherynne M. Valente’s first line had the soft feel of a myth or fairytale, beginning: “Once there was a child whose face was like the new moon…”
  • Even the opening of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones had the sweeping grandeur of an epic tale.

Ones that I felt were less obviously tied to subgenre included J. R. Ward’s paranormal romance, Anne Bishop’s fantasy romance, Holly Black’s elfpunk, and Angela Carter’s mythic fiction.

Fourteen of eighteen benchmark examples of subgenres included easy clues about their unique fantasy themes from the first lines. That is many more than I expected when I conceived of trying this comparison.

How well were you able to match first lines to subgenres? Were you also surprised so many contained clear indicators of their types of fantasy?

Title image by CarlChristensen.


By Marsha A. Moore

Marsha A. Moore is a writer of fantasy romance. The magic of art and nature spark life into her writing. Her creativity also spills into watercolor painting and drawing. After a move from Toledo to Tampa in 2008, she’s happily transforming into a Floridian, in love with the outdoors. Crazy about cycling, she usually passes the 1,000-mile mark yearly. She is learning kayaking and already addicted. She’s been a yoga enthusiast for over a decade and that spiritual quest helps her explore the mystical side of fantasy. She never has enough days spent at the beach, usually scribbling away at new stories with toes wiggling in the sand. Every day at the beach is magical! She is the author of the novel, TEARS ON A TRANQUIL LAKE, the first in a trilogy available through MuseItUp Publishing. Part two, TORTUGA TREASURE is scheduled for release in January 2012. Look for her first Indie publication of an epic fantasy romance series, SEEKING A SCRIBE: ENCHANTED BOOKSTORE LEGENDS ONE, to be available late 2011. Learn more about Marsha at her website: and chat with her on Twitter @MarshaAMoore.

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