My fantasy books are often labeled as “epic fantasy,” but over the years, more than a few readers have complained that I don’t write epic fantasy. One even noted that the only thing epic about the Recluce Saga was the number of books and words. While I disagree somewhat with that description, that reader was on to something.
My fantasy books are largely about protagonists, as individuals, who are involved, or often caught, in epic events that go far beyond them. I write about their conflicts, beliefs, and struggles as they’re caught in times of great change.
Admittedly, in some cases, those individuals are in positions of power, or attempting to get into such positions, but even those who do gain power find that many of the events with which they must contend or endure are indeed beyond their powers. Creslin, in The Towers of the Sunset, discovers that he cannot change the mechanics of basic economics, and he doesn’t create a powerful land from scratch, but rather a small outpost of order that’s just strong enough and tough enough and worth little enough that the major powers don’t want to bother any longer. Cerryl, from Colors of Chaos, discovers that he can either have the woman he loves or children, but not both, and that even as High Wizard, he’s definitely constrained. Dorrin, The Magic Engineer, cannot change the culture of Recluce single-handedly, although what he begins will in fact do that. Even Lorn, who achieves great power, is limited in what changes he can make… and how long they will last.
Part of that is because, for better or worse, what I learned as a junior officer, a pilot, an economist, a political staffer in national politics, and as a consultant is that the sweeping changes and great battles that dominate much epic fantasy seldom happen that way in real life, not that there aren’t occasionally sweeping changes and great battles. Also, societies and their cultures are far more powerful than most people think, and what a single individual can accomplish is anything but unlimited, and that the greater the accomplishment, generally the higher the price.
That doesn’t mean I don’t write about protagonists that don’t accomplish a great deal, just that the focus is more on them, and what they do within the framework of the world in which they exist, whereas, so far as I can determine, “epic” fantasy revolves around great battles that determine the future of the world, or at least a significant part of it… and sometimes the universe. By that definition, I don’t write epic fantasy, and I have no desire to write that kind of novel or series.