What is dark fantasy?

If you'd asked me on Monday, 'What is dark fantasy?' I would have said, 'Easy, it's the borderland between fantasy and horror.' Asking myself the same question today, however, I have been forced to consider that it really isn't that.

I had a good look round some major bookshops in central London yesterday and what I found was that the shelves marked 'Dark Fantasy' all held paranormal romance. Admittedly I didn't go through all of the books, but it seemed every cover held a pair of werewolves, embracing bodies or sultry youths with oddly-coloured eyes, leather coats and the classic getup.

Intrigued, I asked the staff. They told me that, yes, for them it's all connected to the young adult/teen section. These are the books for newly minted Adults, those who've only just shed the Young prefix and are in search of something a bit meatier, if you catch my meaning.

This is all well and good, and only an idiot would ignore the huge influence of Twilight et al on the market, but part of me couldn't help but be a bit rankled. Here was an entire section - quite a sizeable one too - given over to a sub-genre like dark fantasy. This was amazing. Surely shelves separating space fantasy, space opera and hard sci-fi would await me just round the corner? Maybe, just maybe, they'd even separate sci-fi and fantasy?

Alas, the prescient amongst you will have already guessed that this bonanza of SFF classification remains hypothetical. But it does raise a very interesting question: What does it mean for sub-genres if market mechanics like this take away their label? I mean if the bookshop is to be believed, dark fantasy will now be slightly racier genre-horror novels for late teenagers.

But what if we publish a real dark fantasy novel, shot through with blood, guts and distinctly adult themes? What if Unsung puts a book on that shelf that makes you turn the light on even though it's midday? What if you're checking under the bed before you finish the chapter? And what if you were expecting it to be a book about the complexities of long-distance relationships when you're half-demon?