I found this out when another blog (by a famous writer, yet!) wanted dark fantasy recommendations. I took a couple of things away from reading the responses. One of the more interesting things about the different recs was the very, very different ideas of what constitutes dark fantasy. Someone recommended Zelazney's Chronicles of Amber, which is a truly great series that I truly love (and goes without saying the rec again), but except for a couple of scattered segments, not remotely something I would label "Dark Fantasy".
Someone else recommended Patricia McKillup's "The Riddlemaster of Hed." Okay, I love this book. The trilogy it starts is one of my most beloved books of all time. But if this is dark fantasy, so are Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and Crown Duel. I love all of these books, and all of them have *some* darkness (damn, Charlotte's Web has some darkness) but they are NOT DARK FANTASY. I just . . . no. Amber and the Riddle of Stars trilogy are not dark fantasy. Period.
So what is dark fantasy? Several people suggested Tanith Lee, and I agree. Others mentioned Michael Moorcock, and logically, I gotta say "yes", but I still don't internally classify him that way (maybe only because it's been too long and memory has warped things since high school, because from what I remember, he certainly should count). Others suggested George RR Martin, Robin Hobb and Sarah Monette. I can't tell you why, as all are plenty dark, but I wouldn't classify any of these things that way. (which is weird, because I can think of things by Tanith Lee that I would call dark fantasy which work out happier than stuff by Hobb that I wouldn't, for example)
A lot of people (me included) were not at all sure what the person requesting dark fantasy recs (not the author, but a friend of his) wanted. And people tried to come up with a defintion. I don't think anyone managed it. Someone said "horror, but where the protagonist(s) at least have some hope of coping". I initially liked this defnition, then realized that over 90% of actual horror would fit this definition. So unless we're gonna make "Salem's Lot" a subset of "dark fantasy", it doesn't quite work. (and a lot of people did give mutliple recs, based on whether "horror" was included; so did I).
I personally thought of including Kari Sperring's Living with Ghosts, which I'd recently read, because in a lot of ways it would fit, but as with Hobb/Martin/Monette, something just wasn't properly "dark" enough . . . the whole perspective just seems too non-doomed. (again, given the bleakness of martin's latest and the way Hobb's Assassin trilogy wound up, I can't quite say why I would say this . . .)
So I'm going for a sort of sustained tone . . . Maledicte, for example, immerses you in the lead character's perspective and the overall dark-god-haunted atmophere so that reading it is sort like mainlining something sensual but bad for you in some icy fluttering sink into something caressing even while people are cutting each other up with both words and swords sort of way . . .
Maybe that is it-- whether one gets the sense that there's something really attractive in the darkness in the novel (or short story, or whatever)(and in which case I'd have to ditch my horror rec from that thread)? Or maybe this is just such an ill-defined term that no one is ever going to agree (except that Riddlemaster of Hed, for all that some of the bad guys who admit to lacking in compassion nonetheless seem full of interesting passion, when we get a proper glimpse of them, is NOT DARK FANTASY, good grief! I think we can all agree on that. No offense to the person who said this, who hopefully is none of you reading me.)