One of the critters at Unicorn Bell asked what Hard Fantasy is. Fair enough -- it's not a well defined genre. Once could argue it hasn't been defined at all. I'm going to refer you to this article at Tor again because I think it's a good place to start.
We all agree on what Hard Science Fiction is, yes? Hard SF adheres to known laws of physics (and solid theories) as much as possible. It accepts those limitations and works with them -- no convenient "artificial gravity" and no "inertia dampeners" to let people accelerate at bone-crushing speeds. The genre has a history of spending more time on the gadgets than the characters (which is unfortunate.) Exceptions are sometimes made for alien technology or harnessing wormholes. The line between Hard SF and other science fiction genres is blurry -- all genre lines are.
|Realism doesn't have to be a liability.|
Courtesy of the SCA. Photo by Ron Lutz.
Hard Fantasy is also aware of economics, anthropology, sociology, and psychology, and is built accordingly. These are, admittedly, far more flexible than the laws of physics. Geology, climatology, and ecology should come into play too.
When I was thinking about this post, I went and looked up Poul Anderson's "On Thud and Blunder" (which everyone should read.) It was written a long time ago and I think that in general writers have gotten better about doing their homework -- with the internet at everyone's fingers there is little excuse anymore. But it's still an excellent evisceration of tropes and an argument in favor of Hard Fantasy, I think.
Examples of Hard Fantasy: like all genres, it's going to blend into other genres around the edges and there's nothing wrong with that. A fantasy novel could be "fairly hard" except for those fire-breathing dragons or whatever major exception the writer made. (A hard-science fire-breathing dragon is tough to build. I've only seen a few attempts.)
George R.R. Martin' Song of Fire and Ice comes to mind, of course -- dragon exception and all. Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series comes to mind. L.E. Modesitt's The Magic of Recluse has been mentioned, but I don't think I've read that.
Brent Weeks' Night Angel trilogy is on the hard side, though magic does come into play.
What comes to mind for you?