Whenever I️ read a reference to “clean” fantasy books, I️ cannot help but think of my kitchen.
Yes, my kitchen.
It seems the precise definition of “clean” when it comes to the kitchen is somewhat murky. One family member might put all (or most) of the dishes in the dishwasher, but leave a pot in the sink. Another will make sure all the dishes (including pots) are cleaned, but not put away. And then someone else will clean and put away all dishes but not wipe the counters or sweep the floor.
Each family member will leave the kitchen with a satisfied sense that it is “clean.” Inevitably, someone else will come to the kitchen, wondering why it’s not clean.
This subjective definition of the clean kitchen is what I️ think of when I️ read about “clean” fantasy. One reader’s definition of clean often differs from another’s.
What is Clean Fantasy?
There is general agreement that “clean fantasy” refers to novels without gratuitous or overly descriptive sex scenes, excessive violence and gore, and profanity.
Now, what you might consider an offensive sexual reference, another reader might not even notice. But that same reader might be sickened by the detailed description of a bloody battle scene that you consider completely appropriate.
Personally, I’m content to let readers and reviewers express their preferences when it comes to what they consider “clean” and what they deem “gritty” or grimdark. I️ think we need to recognize that defining sub genres is often not as clean as some might hope. And I️ accept that some readers feel that clean fantasy novels are often too simplistic in their depiction of things like war, evil, and flawed characters.
Instead of “clean fantasy” I️ wonder if it might be more helpful to refer to specific books in terms of “explicit” content. To me, “clean” connotes a certain moral standard that books will either pass or fail. If a book is not clean, it’s dirty, soiled, or imperfect. Because being physically clean is usually understood as something good and healthy, fantasy books that are not deemed “clean” may be thought of by some readers as bad or unhealthy. However, many fans of gritty and grimdark fantasy would disagree.
We’re not going to resolve this here, and I️ doubt we’ll all come to full agreement. That’s not the point.
I️ simply want to provide a list of so-called “clean fantasy” books for readers who are uncomfortable reading fantasy novels with sexually explicit content, too much blood and guts, and one too many f-bombs.
The following list of “clean fantasy” books has been collected from a number of recent reviews, forum discussions and other lists. They are all novels that have been published in the past ten years (approximately).
The reason for choosing recent books is that fantasy (especially high or epic fantasy) is traditionally lacking in explicit content. Recent fantasy novels (e.g. Game of Thrones) have intentionally moved away from this tradition. And many readers seem to appreciate this.
However, this list demonstrates that there is still an appetite for fantasy novels that do not contain explicit or gratuitous sex, violence, or profanity.
The Maze Runner
by James Dashner
by John A. Flanagan
by W. R. Gingell
by Shannon Hale
by Robin McKinley
by Garth Nix
Dawn of Wonder
by Jonathan Renshaw
by Brandon Sanderson
The Way of Kings
by Brandon Sanderson
by Michael J. Sullivan
by Jeff Wheeler
We consider Across the Fourwinds “clean” but another new classification might be “noblebright.” Read more about noblebright here.
Across the Fourwinds
by Shane Trusz and Darryl Frayne
Please add your favourite clean fantasy novels in the comments below. Try to keep your suggestions to recently published novels. For example, most readers would consider The Chronicles of Narnia “clean fantasy.” 😉