With its vast landscapes of magical creatures, powerful people, and extraordinary plots, fantasy has proven to be a popular genre when looking for a new world to jump into.


However, any fantasy lover will tell you there are a lot of subgenres within it – historical, magical realism, romantic, etc. – and that can make it hard to decide what book to pick up next.

We don’t have time to break down every subgenre here. Instead, let’s get into two of the most well-known and often confused subs:

While both sword & sorcery and high fantasy focus on character-driven stories set in worlds where magic exists, these are their only similarities.


A great comparison is the types of campaigns you can play in Dungeons & Dragons. We’ll use this exciting tabletop game to explain these similarities and differences.

Let’s start with sword & sorcery!


Sword & sorcery stories tend to be more action-oriented and faster-paced than high fantasy. They’re violent, gritty, and dark. Magic does exist here, but there’s less emphasis on how it works within the world. Monsters are also less common than in high fantasy – if they exist at all!

Sword & sorcery characters tend to be more morally gray.

Put simply, the stakes are lower and the scope smaller. That’s due, in part, to our main character’s motivations and goals. While high fantasy has clear-cut good and evil characters, sword & sorcery characters tend to be more morally gray. Saving the world (or anyone else, for that matter) might be nice, but it’s more of a by-product of our hero’s personal goal than the goal itself.

In Dungeons & Dragons, sword & sorcery is comparable to a one shot.

one shot: a self-contained adventure with characters who have personal reasons for being involved and a single goal to achieve

If high-octane adventures sound like your kind of party, check out The Starlight Sword, written by Roman Prokofiev and narrated by David Bendena and Pete Cross.


sword & sorcery and high fantasy starlight sword cover image

Cat is a wannabe merchant who specializes in procuring in-game valuables to sell for real money. He’s a cunning trickster who wriggles his way out of trouble thanks to his quick wit and his trading talents, and his credo is “Anyone can be bought provided the price is right.” He starts from scratch, using every opportunity to advance his plans.

The first book in the Rogue Merchant series, The Starlight Sword is the story of this common trader’s rise to becoming the world’s newest legend, the most famous merchant in the entire Sphere of the Worlds.

Learn more about this title >


Next up, high fantasy!


In a high fantasy story, there are clearly defined cultures, customs, religions, and creatures within an unfamiliar world. Magic is common, but there are rules and limitations for how it can be used. For readers who like getting lost in expansive, new worlds, this is the genre for you as there’s a lot to sink your teeth into.

A high fantasy plot is generally focused on a good vs. evil arc.

High fantasy stories have a larger scope and higher stakes than sword & sorcery. There’s still plenty of adventure to be had, but the plot is generally focused on a good vs. evil arc with a world-threatening problem to overcome. Moral issues and power struggles are the main concerns of characters in this world.

In Dungeons & Dragons, high fantasy is your classic campaign with an overarching plot to get caught up in.

If you’re looking to get swept up in a high fantasy tale, listen to The Unseen, written by Lilla Gass and narrated by Patricia Santomasso.


sword & sorcery and high fantasy the unseen cover image

Elwyn is an unremarkable thief just trying to live an uneventful life. Then she finds herself in the company of a cutthroat assassin, a wayward prince, and a little girl with a chilling secret.

In this first instalment of The Reel of Rhysia series, this ragtag group of ruffians just might manage to save multiple worlds…provided they don’t kill each other first.

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That wraps up those two subgenres pretty nicely! No matter if you like sweeping, good vs. evil sagas or exciting, high-octane adventure, these subgenres have something for any fantasy lover.

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