Core Best Fantasy Lists
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Best Subgenre Lists
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A rising fantasy star and a nomination for one of the best new fantasy series released in 2011. As of 2013, the trilogy was completed and was...spectacular. It's some of the best fantasy since Martin and Lawrence pushes the fantasy genre in a new direction with his unique take on an anti-hero story. There really is nothing else quite like The Broken Empire books just yet, even in 2015. There are a whole wack of new grimdark authors inspired by Lawrence, but so far, this author is leading the pack when it comes to grimdark antihero fantasy.
What's so awesome about Prince of Thorns? The hero is bad-ass prince who should be pretty much unlikable on paper, yet still has you rooting for him the whole way though, even those he's a sadistic bastard abut 95 percent of the time.
Books in The Broken Empir... Series (3)
(The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever)
This is the guy that everyone loves to hate. There’s quite a bit of reader invective towards this series, in no small part due to the hero, Thomas Covenant. Good old hero Thomas, in the first book, manages to rape the first girl who shows him any sort of kindness, then proceeds to treat the fantasy world he finds himself with disdain (he imagines the whole thing is part of some delusion he’s having). However, there is genius in the way Covenant is portrayed and you do see his growth from anti-hero to hero over the course of the series.
You might want to try Donaldson's Gap series, a science fiction space opera that's dark, gritty, and full of anti-hero characters all the way through.
Books in The Chronicles o... Series (3)
Another stellar fantasy tale, arguably one of the best fantasy book/series out there and certainly a contender for the top 10 best fantasy books. We’ll start with his original First Law trilogy. A number of Abercrombie’s ‘heroes’ in First Law could be deemed anti-heroes. Superior Glokta is a torturer who actually enjoys his work. You’ll read his chapters with a mixture of horror, sympathy, and laughter – definitely one of the best (and most complex) fantasy characters out there. Login Ninefingers, with his split personality, becomes a psychotic killer with his The Bloody Nine personality. Black Dow, another character, is a vicious killer who done wrong to do right. Abercrombie’s other standalone books, Best Served Cold and The Heroes, also feature a number of anti-hero protagonists. If I had to choose which book featured the strongest anti-hero theme, Heroes would take the cake. Joe Abercrombie's books are full of anti heroes, and I have a definite liking for Superior Glokta. Again, you’ll read his chapters with a mixture of horror and sympathy. The guy is a torturer and he actually seems to enjoy it. I couldn't help giggling at some of the things he did, and at the same time being disgusted with myself for finding it amusing in a macabre sort of way.
Books in The First Law Series (3)
This book made waves when it was first released. A philosophizing, epic fantasy – arguably the first of its kind. The story and landscape is one of desolation and darkness, the characters are either used or use others, and the heroes are broken individuals with plenty of flaws or straight-out manipulative bastards. One of the key characters that the story centers around, Kellus, becomes a sort of magical Jesus Christ of the series. However, unlike the Jesus of the Bible, his motives are definitely not altruistic: He uses his training to manipulate everyone around him in such a way as to angle himself into positions of power; you might say the whole trilogy centers around Kellus’ manipulation of the world. In one part of the story, Kellus even allows an innocent slave woman to continually be beaten and raped by her tormentor because it allows him to better manipulate both her and her tormentor (a travel companion), playing them off each other. If that’s not anti-hero behavior, I don’t know what is.
Books in The Prince of No... Series (3)
One of the darkest fantasy books (and series...it's a trilogy which was completed at the end of 2014) you'll ever read. It's pretty much the 'anti-fantasy' of every fantasy book you've read, a complete subversion of the fantasy tropes. It's also darkly gripping, insanely violent, well written, with some of the best action scenes you'll read in the genre. If you can get past the depressed heroes and the dreadful world portrayed, there's some real good stuff to be found in this series. The concluding novel in the series was remarkable and a fitting ending to the series (it's the best of the the three books).
If you want antihero, well, Morgan delivers a story with about as antihero as you are going to get, poking holes into the fantasy genre the whole way through with his subversion.
Books in A Land Fit for H... Series (3)
A military fantasy where there is no real definition of good and bad. These books center on the exploits and struggles of The Black Company, a famous badass mercenary company that gets stuck on the wrong side of a war, working for what you might typically call “the bad guys.” What’s the anti-hero aspect found in these books? The so-called “heroes” of the Black Company are sometimes downright villainous, committing some pretty heinous acts – murder, rape, robbery, torture -- in the name of war and profit. By far, one of the more interesting characters is The Lady – a female version of Sauron (or more accurately, Sauron’s wife). She’s a well-developed character in her own right, though with some complex motivations. Croaker, the protagonist-narrator of the story (at least for the first few books), is also an anti-hero, quite often doing bad things just for the sake of survival.
Books in The Chronicles o... Series (11)
Mark Lawrence's newest 2014 release in his new The Red Queen's War trilogy, set in the same world as his Broken Empire trilogy. This time around he focuses his efforts on a different sort of anti-hero, a prince who is a cowardly fool. For the most part, Lawrence's effort works. The anti-hero is interesting and empathetic and funny to read about. This is no comedy though -- it's grimdark in the style of Lawrence's Broken Empires, though with more humor.
Absolute a must read if you want some awesome antihero stuff.
Books in The Red Queen's ... Series (2)
This, as some people have put it, is fantasy pretending to be science fiction and science fiction pretending to be fantasy. And the star of the show, Caine, is the high priest of violence a broken, brutal assassin who kills for the entertainment of millions. Why does this qualify as an anti-hero fantasy? Simple: Caine is a homicidal anti-hero whos not afraid to get his hands dirty to solve a problem. In fact, Caines attempts at solving political problems usually end up with everyone dead and the world worse off than before his meddling. Violence aside, theres some seriously strong writing going on in the Caine series with a twisted story, non-stop action, and top-notch narration. Stovers works are vastly under-appreciated for the gems that they are and Caine, the storys brutal badass that always seems to get the short end of the stick, a fascinating portrait of a broken hero. The actual premise of the Caine novels is quite interesting (and unique): Caine is a mega superstar who gets transported to an alternate reality to unleash his butchery on the local residence all for the entertainment of millions who watch his violence via live feeds on earth. Three words to describe Caine: badass, brutal, and utterly brilliant.
Books in The Acts of Cain... Series (4)
For a truly evil anti-hero, read the Cold Fire trilogy. Tarrant is a human whos literally traded his soul for eternal unlife, yet still has a twisted sense of honor that somehow makes sense. There are a couple of other main characters, but Tarrant is by far the most interesting of the bunch and perhaps one of the most interesting characters I've yet read. Tarrant is not just some straight evil bad guy whos going to destroy everything but hes not a misguided fool that needs to be helped to see the right path; he knows right from wrong, good from bad, but is not sure he wants to seek the right path. Never do you label him as some dark lord and forget about him; hes a real, breathing character with a bent towards cruelty and his motivations are complex, and in some twisted way, sympathetic.
This book is good, damn good. Good character development, compelling story wrapped in a dark fantasy/horror universe. One of the best characters would be the world itself its a twisted world, literally powered by the imagination. Magic itself comes from the fae, which is pure thought; dark emotions such as pain, anger, suffering, rape, and death feed the Fae and literally bring to life these imaginings, which take the form of monsters. Death, tragedy, and suffering are scattered throughout the novel; this world is a dark place and the story never lets you forget it.
Books in The Coldfire Series (3)
A new author, but one who is writing some powerful grimdark with some real zest. Scourge of the Betrayers is sort of a combination of Black Company, The Blade Itself, and Prince of Thorns, all wrapped up in one. And it's delicious indeed. A must read for any fans of some serious hardcore, bloody grimdark.
It's gritty gritty good.
Books in Bloodsounder's A... Series (2)
Classic sword-and-sorcery fantasy with a badass anti-hero. In any other series, Elric would qualify as the villain and not the hero of the story. After totally destroying his home and his family, he manages to kill off his friends for good measure and finds his own death at the hands of his sentient and murderous sword. He has a strict code of honor and does try to follow the right path when he can, and would be considered a lawful individual, but at the same time is aligned with demons of Chaos (from which his sorcerous power is derived) and so brings the world to a fiery ending. You quite feel for him, as life has dealt the poor guy a pretty crappy set of cards.
Books in Elric Series (9)
A fantastic fantasy series that’s funny and dark – right up there with the best the whole fantasy genre has to offer. So why does this qualify as an anti-hero fantasy? Locke is a thief, but he’s no Robin Hood. Rather, he robs from the rich and gives the proceeds…to himself. Unlike some of the other anti-heroes, he’s a likeable character, robbery-antics aside and generally tries to do the right thing, aside from the whole stealing from the rich thing. At what first seems a light frolic through Locke’s world turns pretty dark, however.
Books in Gentleman Bastar... Series (7)
More science fantasy than actual fantasy, but features one of the most complex and well-drawn anti-heroes in the genre. This is a literary masterpiece and Gene Wolf’s magnum opus. This book has often been compared to Lord of the Rings in terms of its visionary reach. It’s poetic, deep, and so visionary, you’ll be left stunned. But it’s not necessarily an easy read. If you have been weaned on fast-paced epic fantasy that’s thin on symbology and subtext, this is probably not the book for you. It’s a story that’s more than a story. The language is often poetic, the images, strange and haunting but indefatigably beautiful at the same time. The narrator gifts us with his thoughts, leading us into a new world that he, like the readers, experiences. Readers who love Jack Vance’s Dying Earth and Peake’s Gormenghast will find themselves quite at home in The Book of the New Sun.
Books in The Book Of The ... Series (5)
A recent Grimdark release (it came out 2013), but a remarkable one. If you like Joe Abercrombie's style of grimdark, then you are absolutely going to love The Grim Company (and the sequel which comes out early 2015) which pays some serious tribute to Abercrombie. This book was one of my favorite reads of 2013 and if you love grimdark and anti-heroes, you absolutely must read it.
Books in The Grim Company Series (2)
A new author who pays some serious tribute to Abercrombie with his style of grimdark. Do read if you like depressing, action ridden fantasy with a cast of troubled heroes. Some say this author is the best new and upcoming 'grimdark' author. I agree -- between Luke Sculls and Jeff Salyards, Richard Ford is an author to keep your eye on.
Books in Steelhaven Series (2)
The Barrow was a 2014 release of pure, unadulterated grimdark with a cast of antiheroes. Vicious, action-packed, brutal with more bad language throne in than Eminem song. And did I mention there's almost a porn-level of graphic sex tossed in as well.
But there's some real thrills in this book about a group of characters from different walks of life who band together out of necessity and embark on a quest to rob an evil wizards grave. Of course, shit goes awesomely wrong for all involved.
Some good stuff found in this book. Read if you want over the top...everything.
Books in The Barrow Series (2)
Books in The Witcher Series (1)
One of the original anti-heroes in the fantasy genre; together with the Conan stories by Howard, Wagner's Kane helped shape (even start) the Sword and Sorcery genre.
Kane is arguably one of the deepest, darkest antihero's in the genre. Don't let these books pass you by -- they may be classics but there are relevant even by 2014 writing standards.
Our Version of the List
At a Glance
- 1 Prince Of Thorns (Mark Lawrence)
- 2 Lord Foul's Bane (Stephen R. Donaldson)
- 3 The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie)
- 4 The Darkness That Comes Before (R. Scott Bakk...
- 5 The Steel Remains (Richard K. Morgan)
- 6 The Black Company (Glen Cook)
- 7 Prince Of Fools (Mark Lawrence)
- 8 Heroes Die (Matthew Woodring Stover)
- 9 Black Sun Rising (C.S. Friedman)
- 10 Scourge Of The Betrayer (Jeff Salyards)
- 11 Elric Of Melnibone (Michael Moorcock)
- 12 The Lies Of Locke Lamora (Scott Lynch)
- 13 The Book of the New Sun (Gene Wolfe)
- 14 The Grim Company (Luke Scull)
- 15 Herald Of The Storm (Richard Ford)
- 16 The Barrow (Mark Smylie)
- 17 The Witcher (Andrzej Sapkowski)
- 18 Kane (Karl Edward Wagner)