Core Best Fantasy Lists
- Top 25 Fantasy Books
- Top 100 Fantasy Books
- Best Fantasy Series
- Best Stand Alone Fantasy
- Best Young Adult Fantasy
- Top 50 Coming-of-Age Fantasy
- Top 25 Best Indie Fantasy
- Best Fantasy Audiobooks
- Best Fantasy You've Never Read
- Most Influential Fantasy
- Best Non-English Fantasy
- Great Fantasy Books
- Good Fantasy Books
- Worst Fantasy Books Ever
Best Yearly Lists
- Best Fantasy of 2017 (SO FAR)
- Best Fantasy of 2016
- Best Fantasy Books of 2015
- Best Fantasy Books of 2014
Best Decade Lists
- Best Fantasy Since 2010
- Best Fantasy Books of the 90's
- Best Fantasy Best of the 80's
- Best Fantasy Books of the 70's
- Best Fantasy Books of the 60's
- Best Early Modern Fantasy (30's to 50's)
- Best Pre-Tolkien Fantasy
Best Thematic Lists
- Best Anti-Hero Fantasy
- Best Asian Fantasy
- Best Feel Good Fantasy
- Best of the Tolkien Clones
- Best of the Dresden Clones
- Fantasy That Will Blow Your Mind
- Best Fantasy Books for Women
- Best Strong Female Heroine Books
- Best Fantasy Books by Female Authors
- Best Fantasy Books for Children
- Best Vampire Books for YA
- Best Vampire Books for Adults
Best Subgenre Lists
- Top 50 EPIC Fantasy
- Best Heroic Fantasy
- Best Grimdark Fantasy
- Best Gritty Fantasy
- Best LitRPG Books
- Best Military Fantasy
- Best Vampire Fantasy
- Best Urban Fantasy
- Best Dark Fantasy
- Best Assassin Fantasy
- Best Steampunk Fantasy
- Best Literary Fantasy
- Best Sword and Sorcery
- Best Fantasy Mystery Books
- Best Romance Fantasy
- Best Paranormal Romance Fantasy
- Best Vampire Romance
- Best Dragon Fantasy
- Guide to Fantasy Genres
- How to Find Your Next Read Here
- Guide to Vampire Books
- Beginner's Fantasy Guide
- Best Science Fiction Books
- Epic Fantasy
- High Fantasy
- Low Fantasy
- Mundane Fantasy
- Hard Fantasy
- Young Adult Fantasy
- Juvenile Fantasy
- Quest Fantasy
- Coming-of-Age Fantasy
- Heroic Fantasy
- Sword and Sorcery Fantasy
- Swashbuckling Fantasy
- Wuxia Fantasy
- Gods & Demons / Shenmo Fantasy
- Grimdark Fantasy Books
- Colonial Fantasy Books
- Silk Road Fantasy Books
- Flintlock Fantasy Books
- Gunpowder Fantasy Books
- Military Fantasy
- Gritty Fantasy
- Dark Fantasy
- Vampire Fantasy
- Urban Fantasy
- Contemporary Fantasy
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- Fantastic Romance
- Romantic Fantasy
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- Classical Fantasy Books
- Medieval Fantasy
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- Science Fantasy
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- Gaslamp Fantasy
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- Political Fantasy
- Literary Fantasy
- Magic Realism
- New Weird Fantasy
- Weird Fiction
- Fantastic Poetry
- Comic/Humorous Fantasy
- Magical Girl Fantasy
- Series Fantasy
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- Media-tie-in Fantasy
- Prehistoric Fantasy Books
- Historical Fantasy
- High Historical Fantasy
- Alternate History Fantasy
- Alternate World Fantasy
- Crossworlds Fantasy
- Portal Fantasy
- Christian Fantasy
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- Mythic Fantasy
- Legend-Retelling Fantasy
- Allegorical Fantasy
- Fables/Fairy Tale Books
- Anthropomorphic Fantasy
- Dragon Fantasy Books
- Bangsian Fantasy Books
- Assassin Fantasy Books
- Arabian Fantasy Books
Abercrombie's work has become synonymous with the growing sub-genre of grimdark fantasy Naturally there's a lot of crossover between grimdark fantasy (which subverts the tropes of traditional heroic fantasy) and dark fantasy (which is more adult fantasy that takes elements from horror). The Blade Itself fits both categories, and the First Law trilogy that it belongs to is an amazing read.
When perhaps the most sympathetic character of the trilogy is a horribly disfigured master-torturer, you know you've got something special. The books feature cannibal wizards, twisted monstrosities, demonic magic that acts like radiation in that it causes cancerous symptoms in those exposed to it, a barbarian with an Incredible Hulk-style split personality, and more. The series arguably began the current grimdark movement by systematically subverting every trope of fantasy, not the least of which is the tendancy of heroic fantasy to be light and innocent. It's positively dripping with darkness, horror and violence, and every now and then Abercrombie will catch you off-guard with things like half-eaten human skins left in bushes, or equally fucked-up things like that. Thanks Joe.
Read this book if:
you want to read a book that follows a similar structure to The Lord of the Rings, but written by the criminally insane.
Books in The First Law Series (3)
Prince of Thorns, the first of the Broken Empire trilogy, is as dark as a drowning at an ink factory. The world is slowly being consumed by hordes of ravenous undead, led by the 'Dead King', and our 'hero', Jorg, gallivants around causing even more destruction and misery.
While the medieval-style world is in the grips of a zombie apocalypse of sorts, the protagonist is the greatest monster of all, which is why this book could never be considered horror. Jorg is one of the best protagonists in fantasy. Ever. Prince of Thorns is a fantastically gruesome response to the shining, heroic fantasy of the eighties and nineties, and watching Jorg tear his way through this miserable world is, ironically, immensely enjoyable. Jorg's an utter bastard, but he knows it, and his dry wit and twisted sense of justice draw you in to siding with him whether you like it or not. The characterization across the trilogy is top-notch, and Lawrence's writing is as beautiful as the content is horrific.
Read this book if:
you're a sicko who likes reading from the viewpoint of an evil prick. I know I am.
Books in The Broken Empir... Series (3)
The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen's rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins.
For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.
However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand . . .
Conceived and written on a panoramic scale, Gardens of the Moon is epic fantasy of the highest order--an enthralling adventure by an outstanding new voice.
Books in The Malazan Book... Series (10)
With a Martin-esque plot and Jim Butcher pace, The Axe and the Throne is a definite "must read" for even the pickiest fantasy fans.
In his stunning debut, Ireman has built the type of world so vivid and engrossing that leaving it at the end is agony. In spite of leaning toward grimdark, where authors often enshroud every scene in depressing darkness, there is no lack of cheerful moments or brilliant scenery. Yet the pangs of near-instant nostalgia that come after you put down a book like this have less to do with the inspired setting, and far more to do with those who inhabit it.
From savage, unremorseful heroes, to deep, introspective villains, the cast of this story is comprised of believable characters capable of unthinkable actions. And it is these characters -- the ones you wish you could share a drink with or end up wanting to kill -- that forge the connection between fantasy and reality. Keethro, Titon, Ethel, Annora. These are names you will never forget, and each belongs to a man or woman as unique as they are memorable.
No book would be complete without a its fair share of intrigue, however, and there is no lack of it here. Each chapter leaves you wanting more, and Ireman's masterful use of misdirection leads to an abundance of "oh shit" moments. Do not be fooled (or do -- perhaps that's part of the fun) by storylines that may appear trope-ish at first. This is no fairytale.
The Acts of Caine series takes adventure fantasy and drags it sixteen miles through the mud, and then tortures what's left. In a dystopian future, humanity has discovered a way to travel to parallel dimensions. One of those worlds just happens to be a pretty close approximation of the stereotypical fantasy world, and our protagonist, Caine, is sent there to get into as many cool fights as possible, which is then all broadcast back to Earth as entertainment.
Caine is essentially a gladiator, and the book, beyond being a pulse-pounding, adrenaline-fueled adventure filled with violence and testosterone, questions why we are so entertained by depictions of violence. Somehow, the book manages to be both pulpy entertainment and a crash-course in philosophy at the same time. It's insanely dark, and Caine, a bare-knuckles brawler, comes up against armoured, sword-wielding opponents and dismantles them by breaking their bones, tearing their tendons, or just popping a handy knife through an eyeball.
He's a fantastic anti-hero, and will discuss the moral implications of violence even as he tears through a contingent of guards. The 'heroes' of the story, on the whole, totally fuck up in their seemingly selfless endeavours to play hero. The fantasy world is completely lacking in any of the idealism or wonder that makes lighter fantasy books so wondrous, and the dystopian sci-fi world Caine comes from is far, far worse.
Read this book if:
you want your 'elves' running brothels, your 'orcs' figuring out how guns work, and your hero with his hands inch-deep in some poor bastard's chest cavity.
Books in The Acts of Cain... Series (4)
This book and the Prince of Nothing trilogy, as well as the other books that follow, are so dark that you'll need a shower after reading them. And therapy. This bad-boy was nominated for the Locus Award for Best First Novel. It's a deep, philosophical read that demands your full attention, rather than being a light, pacey read like, for example, some of the young adult entries on this list.
The prose is deep and enthralling, thick as rich chocolate but with the mental nutritional value of, like, kale or something. , the content of the book is deeply philosophical and intellectual, not in an 'everyone sits around and discusses the meaning of life' way, but in that the underpinnings of the characters and plot draw from eastern and western philosophies. The plot is epic and with many threads that play out across the series. Both monstrous and human entities within the book are horrifying, and the way magic-users operate is particularly unsettling.
Read this book if:
you like more intellectual novels, but don't want to miss out on all the sex and violence either.
Books in The Prince of No... Series (3)
Necromancers are evil. Everyone who's read fantasy knows that to be true. Well, Garth Nix said 'screw that' and decided to write the Old Kingdom series, where the protagonists are necromancers called 'Abhorsen', who hold the evil undead in check with magical bells. It won the Aurealis Award for best young adult novel and best fantasy novel in 1995, so despite the fact that it's billed as YA, it's freaking good.
Sabriel, the titular necromancer, is a young woman who must take up the profession in order to save the Old Kingdom, a magical country that neighbours Ancelstierre, the country in which she lives in to avoid notice from the evil entities of the Old Kingdom. Ancelstierre is inspired by early 20th century Australia, and the Old Kingdom is a more traditional fantasy setting, and the juxtaposition of these two drastically different nations is interesting. The book is jam-packed with undead monstrosities, and death is even given a capital 'D'. Magic is dark and fills one's mouth with the taste of metal, and generally causes a lot more suffering than it saves. When the good buys are the ones binding corpses and monsters to their will, you know the book is going to be a damn dark one.
Read this book if:
you think necromancers are given a bad rap, and want to see from their perspective for a change.
Books in Abhorsen Series (5)
Elric is the famed albino sorcerer and wielder of Stormbringer, a sentient sword that confers power upon its wielder. All for the totally-reasonable price of being fed souls. Needless to say, the saga of Elric is a fantasy classic, and it's dark as hell.
Anyone well-versed in fantasy lore will know of Elric, since he's one of the most famous characters of the swords and sorcery era. He first appeared in short stories in the sixties, but this is his appearance in a full-length novel, in which his origins are detailed. Moorcock is staunchly anti-Tolkien, and this book is about as far from The Lord of the Rings as fantasy can get. It's all darkness, pacts with old gods, drug use and death. As the Emperor of Melnibon, Elric is, oddly, one of the least 'evil' of the Melnibonans, who serve the forces of chaos. He's a great anti-hero, filled with warring darkness and light, sacrificing all that he cares about for power that ultimately brings him ruin. Elric's saga, and sword and sorcery in general for that matter, is a must-read for any fan of dark fantasy.
Read this book if:
you want to get to know the grand-daddy of all brooding, tragic anti-heroes.
Books in Elric Series (10)
Kane is the original anti-hero, both a bloodthirsty warrior and a cunning intellectual, and in his stories he's more often than not one of the bad guys, but with a little spark of goodness within him. He's one of the big badasses of sword and sworcery fantasy, to be considered alongside Elric and Conan. An immortal cast out of paradise, Kane is doomed to wander from misadventure to misadventure. Gods in Darkness is actually a collection of three novels about Kane, titled Bloodstone, Dark Crusade and Darkness Weaves originally published' in '75, '76 and '78 respectively.
The reason that the Kane stories are so dark is because Kane is basically a super-villain, and he wades into poetically-written action scenes with as much fervor as a rabid bear that hasn't eaten for six weeks, and yet possesses a cold, calculating side that's far more chilling to behold. The nihilism and despair of the stories are great, and the world is bleak. At times there are even elements of Lovecraftian-style horror, and the gothic feel of the setting will immediately appeal to any fans of dark fantasy.
Read this book if:
you want to read some retro dark fantasy featuring an ultimate badass.
Books in Kane Series (7)
In an era when fantasy was about honorable farm boys with magic swords and a noble destiny, Glen Cook said 'fuck that mess; let's have some amoral pricks doing bad deeds in a dark world, that's way cooler'. And you know what? I believe he may just have been right.
The Black Company is about the titular band of mercenaries simply doing their jobs and, well, killing people for coin. It just so happens that the person supplying said coin is the sort of dark lord that, in any other story, would be the arch-villain. But why should the Black Company give a shit?
They get paid either way. The writing is unremarkable and to the point, which reflects the points of view of the grunts whose stories we follow. None of the characters are nice, and the combat is never glorified. It's all in a day's work for these sorry bastards, and the epic conflicts of the god-like figures they fight for and against are far above their pay-grades. Gritty humour also abounds, and reading the book is entertaining, and fun, even if the characters are having the most miserable times of their lives. The world is dark as hell, and made darker by the exploits of the Black Company and their masters.
Read this book if:
you're pissed about fantasy heroes always taking down the dark lord and leaving thousands of good, hard-working grunts unemployed.
Books in The Chronicles o... Series (9)
This first instalment in the Demon Cycle is about people barricaded in their homes, shitting themselves with fear, as every night horrific demons appear and eat anyone unfortunate enough to be caught outside. It's like a zombie apocalypse story, except with medieval technology and an enemy far more deadly than shambling corpses.
The protagonist is Arlen, a young man from a small village decimated by demons, who attempts to learn the secrets of 'wards', magical symbols that protect people's homes. The only problem is that the wards will just fail for like, no reason at all, so basically everyone is fucked. The sense of despair and imminent doom persists throughout the novel, and while it decreases in subsequent books when the protagonists become so powerful that the demons no longer pose as much of a threat, this first book is a fantastic work of dark fantasy in its own right. The line-up of demons is great, with flying horrors snatching people from dark night skies, hulking monstrosities emerging to gobble up loves ones, or impish fire-demons setting light to barns filled with horses.
Read this book if:
you think zombie apocalypses aren't quite dark enough, and you need something a bit more intense to sate your depraved appetites.
Books in The Demon Cycle Series (5)
The Crimson Empire trilogy, of which there are two instalments published at the time of writing, is one of the best additions to darker fantasy in recent years. It's the story of a pissed-off old biddy who comes out of adventurer-retirement to beat the absolute shit out of those who wronged her. The magic of the world comes about by binding demonic spirits in the flesh of living creatures and then forcing them to do your bidding for the vague promise of freedom, and this lends itself to some pretty horrific body-horror.
The first book is a fantastic deconstruction of traditional fantasy, with noble heroes replaced by drug-addled brawlers, mean old scrappers past their prime, and the aforementioned old biddy, who's named Zosia. Zosia is a fantastically witty, hardboiled protagonist, who somehow elicits pity and humor at once. The characterization is absolutely top-notch, and the book is impossible to put down, and its sequel is even better. The world is held in the grip of a Spanish Inquisition style religious fervor, and many of the characters are caught between demonic monstrosities and an arguably more monstrous Church.
Read this book if:
you want to read the most disgusting demon-dog to grace the printed page.
Books in The Crimson Empi... Series (3)
Surely this needs no introduction. Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the last five years knows what A Game of Thrones is, and is at least vaguely familiar with the fantastic television adaptation. The first book turned fantasy on its head when it was first released in 1996, and was an important precursor to the new wave of grimdark fantasy. All of that aside, however, it's still an incredibly dark work filled with ice-zombies, undead, malicious witches and more.
The horror elements of A Game of Thrones are more psychological than anything. There's the immense, unshakeable knowledge that while the petty kings and queens squabble over the Iron Throne, the white walkers march ever closer, and everyone is doomed unless they sort their shit out and work together. Which, of course, they won't, because they're all a bunch of bastards. Magic is so elusive and unknowable in the Martin's series, and when Melisandre gives birth to a demon shadow baby it's fucking horrifying.
There are no established rules of magic, and as such there's no way of knowing what will be thrown at you next, and that's one of the things, beyond the sublime characterization and world building, that makes A Game of Thrones, and the whole Song of Ice and Fire (or at the portion of the series that is finished, George) so compelling.
Read this book if:
you haven't already. Can you really call yourself a fantasy fan if you haven't? (Hint: no, no you can't)
Books in A Song of Ice an... Series (7)
Kan Savasci: a legend, a warrior, a mage… hero and villain. Tears of a Heart marks the tale of a young man, Aeden, who unwittingly shapes the world. It is a coming-of-age tale, that fills the void of waiting for Rothfuss’ next book.
It is a coming-of-age tale, that fills the void of waiting for Rothfuss’ next book. The writing is beautiful, layered, and timely. Chase Blackwood weaves an intricate tale that hints at so much more. This is no simple story, it’s a grand epic that has only begun to show itself. And that may be its greatest challenge. Tears of a Heart, the first book in the series, was beautifully written, and interesting. It shows us an amazing world filled with detail and depth, but for a portion of it, just a touch slow. The writing, such beautiful writing, overshadows this, as does the ending. It’s a difficult world to leave.
Tower of the Arkein, the next book in the series, is where the story truly begins to unfold, and where Chase Blackwood shines as an author. It is fast paced, full of action, adventure, and love. A very strong entry in the fantasy genre, and if the next book is equally as good, expect it to make quite a splash.
You can buy on Amazon now.
This first entry into the Red Queen's War trilogy is about a layabout, womanizing, alcoholic prince. He's also just funny enough not to think he's an utter bastard. Okay, he's quite funny. He's torn away from his life of being thrown from women's windows by their enraged and surprised husbands when he's magically bound to an honourable Viking warrior on a quest to save his family from the undead. So, so many undead.
While this trilogy and the Broken Empire trilogy are set concurrently in the same world, the protagonist of this book, Prince Jalan, lacks the ruthless competence of the Broken Empire's Jorg, and as such, the true horror of the undead that run rampant in the world are revealed. Beyond ravenous zombies and recently reanimated corpses, far more personal and monstrous creatures appear to plague Jalan, and it becomes genuinely upsetting and emotional for reasons deeper than mere horror.
Mark Lawrence is a master at drawing you inside the heads of his characters, and at times, Jalan's mind is a genuinely unsettling place to be. The prose is superb, and Lawrence has no equal when it comes to intimately personal, first-person fantasy.
Read this book if:
you want to see a pampered prince get chased halfway up a continent by zombies, and think you might enjoy the quips he makes along the way.
Books in The Red Queen's ... Series (3)
The Night Angel trilogy is the story of a young, abused street-thief's transformation into a badass, magically-enhanced assassin. As one might expect from a story about learning to kill people for a living, it's more than a little dark.
Beyond the grit, moral ambiguity and violence, the Night Angel books have gut-wrenchingly horrifying sections, such as a gigantic magical monstrosity that incorporates the flesh of its victims into itself, or a cannibal with a noose made from the tendons of his victims who drags people into a stinking pit. These things aren't the exception in these books.
They're the norm. Somehow, Weeks also manages to make the books fun and action-packed, and some of the scenes feel like they would belong in a Hollywood action movie. The action is exquisitely written, and the stealth scenes are particularly tense. The book opens on the protagonist rooting around through mud, afraid from his ife and well, somehow, things manage to go downhill.
Read this book if:
you want to hold back vomit with one hand while turning the page with the other. Or if you like reading sweet action scenes, I guess.
Books in Night Angel Series (3)
In a world where belief defines reality, the world could be a paradise, right? Not in Fletcher's world of Manifest Delusions, where corpses line the streets and narcissists spawn false gods from the beliefs of the gullible masses.
Beyond Redemption is dripping with filthy darkness, as evidenced by the fact that its main protagonists are a brutally violent warrior with a killer sinus infection, a horribly ugly kleptomaniac, and a self-absorbed swordsman. And those are the 'good guys', if such a term even means anything in this context. In Fletcher's world, where belief defines reality, the insane are the magic-users, since they believe falsehoods so strongly that they become true. If someone genuinely believes that that everyone loves them, those around them have no choice but to do so.
The monsters between these pages are all human, or at least they once were, and they include walking corpses, a dude who turns into a swarm of scorpions, a morbidly obese mind-controller, and more. The violence is constant and unrelenting, and I think that technically reading this book counts as a war-crime. The despair and cynical attitude towards humanity are almost too much to bear. But you're not here to find light and fluffy books, are you?
Read this book if:
you hate happiness.
Books in Manifest Delusio... Series (2)
This one is an odd, deeply philosophical tale about gods who walk among normal Americans, stripped of most of their powers because of their lack of worship, and their conflict with the new avatars of idolization, like technology and television. It's a weird concept, but oh man does Gaiman make it work.
There's plenty of darkness, violence and sex in this novel, but it never feels as if it's placed there for shock value, or to make the book edgy. Rather, these things are inextricable aspects of humankind and the gods they worship. The writing is beautiful and complex, weaving in age-old tales of myth into a modern narrative about an ex-con being swept into this world of blood and worship. The characters of the gods are decidedly human, and when the supernatural occurs, Gaiman makes it feel natural. The darkness is less pronounced than in something like Prince of Thorns, but the content and tone still firmly places it within the dark fantasy genre. American Gods is currently being made into a TV show on Starz, and the adaptation is great.
Read this book if:
you want to delve into the deep, dark corners of humanity's myths.
Books in American Gods Series (3)
They are the "Others," an ancient race of supernatural beingsmagicians, shape-shifters, vampires, and healerswho live among us. Human born, they must choose a side to swear allegiance tothe Dark or the Lightwhen they come of age.
For a millennium, these opponents have coexisted in an uneasy peace, enforced by defenders like the Night Watch, forces of the Light who guard against the Dark. But prophecy decrees that one supreme "Other" will arise to spark a cataclysmic war.
Anton Gorodetsky, an untested mid-level Light magician with the Night Watch, discovers a cursed young womanan Other of tremendous potential unallied with either sidewho can shift the balance of power. With the battle lines between Light and Dark drawn, the magician must move carefully, for one wrong step could mean the beginning of annihilation.
Books in Watch Series (5)
Lord Foul's Bane begins the epic Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, a series in which a leprosy-stricken man in the real world is transported to a stereotypical fantasy world. However, what ensues isn't a cutesy Narnia-like adventure, but something far less cutesy. To say the least.
The darkness in this book isn't primarily in the world, or the action, but in what an utter son of a bitch the protagonist it. Thomas Covenant isn't like other anti-heroes in that he's a bastard with a heart of gold. He's a bastard through and through, and utterly unlikeable. Despite this, he's a well-drawn character grappling with the crippling disease of leprosy, refusing to believe that the fantasy world he's found himself in is even real.
Covenant is so despicable at times, that on my first read of the book, I found myself doing something that I haven't done before or since; putting the book down because I was too appalled to continue. Offsetting this is the flowery, poetic, old-fashioned way in which the book is written. Lord Foul's Bane isn't fun to read, nor will it probably be your favourite book, but it's an experience important to fantasy as a genre.
Read this book if:
you like classic fantasy but hate goody-two-shoes protagonists. Or even protagonists that aren't complete assholes.
Books in The Chronicles o... Series (3)
This book is about the titular vagrant, who is a mute, and his journey across a desolate, demon-ravaged world with a baby and a goat. It sounds pretty weird and it is, but in a good way. As you might imagine, a world overrun by demons is more than a little dark.
Demons have swept into the world and are basically fucking everything up, and seeing the journey of such interesting, yet opaque protagonist play out is interesting. We're not given access to the Vagrant's direct point of view, so it's a slow reveal of character, backstory and purpose.
The Vagrant literally never speaks, which gives him a 'Man With No Name' cool-factor, and while this would be annoying if every book did it, it works as something different. The book is certainly unique, and odd, but it's actually quite a quick read, and the weird elements all come together well to create something greater than the sum of its parts. The setting is very unique and compellingly dark, and beyond the monstrous creatures, even normal people are generally corrupted.
Read this book if:
you like badass, strong-and-silent types. Or goats, I guess.
Books in The Vagrant Series (3)
Low Town (titled the Straight-Razor Cure in the UK), is the first instalment in the Low Town series, and is a gritty noir crime story that just happens to be set in a fantasy world. The fact that the word 'noir' is French for 'dark' is, alone, a compelling argument for Low Town's place on this list.
It's the tale of a drug-dealer in the slums of a fantasy city, and his journey to solve a murder that the police can't be bothered with. The darkness of Low Town is integral in the setting, the characters, and the underlying nihilistic view of humanity. The horrors and monsters here are the people, and Polansky proves that people can be far more terrifying than any zombie, werewolf or vampire. The characterization of 'the Warden', the drug-addicted, world-weary investigator protagonist is one of the highlights of the book, and is enhanced by the close first-person narration. You can almost taste the puke, drugs and shit on the streets of Low Town, yet somehow Polansky turns that into a pleasurable experience.
Read this book if:
you want a hardboiled detective story but prefer your junkies addicted to pixie's breath, rather than something so mundane as heroin.
Books in Low Town Series (3)
Anyone who plays fantasy video games will be familiar with Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher books, and the RPGs developer CD Projekt Red based on them. The titular 'witcher' (mutated, sorcerously-powered professional monster hunter cool, I know) is Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf, lover of women, slayer of monsters, and kicker of asses. He's just about the coolest protagonist a reader could ask for, and the stories he finds himself in are as horrifying as you'd expect from books based on eastern European fairytales and monster legends.
The monsters Geralt hunts are the real deal. These are the sorts of nightmare-fuel that could only be generated from hundreds of years of stories told by the fire in Sapkowski's native Eastern Europe. Forget Sleeping Beauty, the princess Geralt encounters turns into a flesh-eating horror every night. Despite this, the true monsters Geralt encounters are always human ones, and he considers his mission of 'killing monsters' to include the all-too human variation. He fights with a combination of swords, potions and sorcery, and he's just plain cool. I feel like I'm gushing, am I gushing? I'll stop now.
Read this book if:
you want to join to throngs of fantasy fans who idolize Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf.
Books in Saga o Wied?mini... Series (7)
This book (and the rest of the Wardstone Chronicles) genuinely scared the absolute shit out of me when I first read it. It's the story of a young boy being apprenticed to a 'Spook', or exorcist/witch-hunter, and how he is utterly, pants-shittingly unprepared for what he encounters. It's a YA book, but still worth reading for anyone older.
It's such a small-scale, folksy story. There's no 'fate of the kingdom' battle, and the protagonist remains a young, terrified boy, and that's the charm of the book. It's like a fairy tale gone wrong, and a single witch provides enough scares to keep a dozen kids under their covers for a year. Rather than relying on violence and gore, Delaney succeeds in getting inside your head and reminding you why you were once afraid of the dark.
I think that letting younger teenagers read this technically qualifies as child abuse in seven states. Spooks Apprentice leans more towards horror than a lot of other entries on this list, and it features staples of that genre like a haunted house. Nevertheless, it's still definitely a coming of age fantasy tale.
Read this book to your kids if:
you want them to be severely traumatised. Or read it yourself if you like fast-paced YA dark fantasy. Either way.
Books in The Last Apprent... Series (14)
Gaiman's work is perfect for anyone who's after stories with 'mundane' protagonists from the real world who are pulled into worlds of unsettling dark fantasy. His stories have worth not only as entertainment, but as deeply contemplative and philosophical works.
Neverwhere is about a Londoner who finds himself, due to an act of kindness, drawn into an unsettling magical world beneath London. It's like Alice in Wonderland ramped up for adults, but still with all the charm. Somehow Gaiman manages to blend the darkness of adult urban fantasy with the charm and whimsy of an old-fashioned fairytale, and his villains dress like gentlemen, his protagonist is bumbling and well-meaning and the denizens of his magical world are ancient and dark.
His writing is an absolute pleasure to read, and things are described in such clever and witty ways that it's easy to imagine Gaiman sipping on some piping hot tea in his office and chortling as he clacks away on his keyboard. That doesn't mean, however, that nobody ever says fuck and that sex is never mentioned. This is dark fantasy, after all.
Read this book if:
you like fairy-tale style urban fantasy, but lean more towards the Brothers Grimm than Disney.
Books in The Dark Tower Series (7)
This is the opening to a 10-book series for young adults, and holy shit is it heavy for something supposedly aimed at young people. It's urban dark fantasy rather than being set in a secondary world, but there's plenty of portal-hopping, and not every book is set primarily in the world we know.
In Lord Loss, a teenager finds himself confronted with the existence of horrifying, blood-soaked demonic monstrosities from another world, and their age-old battle with humanity. The violence is shocking, and I suspect that any school librarians who have it in their collection haven't actually read it. When reading, there were a few moments that I genuinely uttered 'what the fuck?' out loud from pure shock. Cosmic horror, body horror, werewolves, and a particularly mean demon with snakes where his heart should be all make an appearance. While the protagonists are teenaged, the thematic depth, darkness and levels of cynicism mean that adult readers could enjoy it too, and its pace is super-fast.
Read this book if:
you want to lose a week turning blood-soaked page after page without being able to stop.
Books in The Demonata Series (10)
Our Version of the List
At a Glance
- 1 The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie)
- 2 Prince of Thorns (Mark Lawrence)
- 3 Gardens of the Moon (Steven Erikson)
- 4 Heroes Die (Matthew Woodring Stover)
- 5 The Darkness that Comes Before (R. Scott Bakk...
- 6 Sabriel (Garth Nix)
- 7 Elric of Melniboné (Michael Moorcock)
- 8 Gods in Darkness: The Complete Novels of Kane...
- 9 The Black Company (Glen Cook)
- 10 The Warded Man (Peter V. Brett)
- 11 A Crown for Cold Silver (Alex Marshall)
- 12 A Game of Thrones (George R. R. Martin)
- 13 Prince of Fools (Mark Lawrence)
- 14 The Way of Shadows (Brent Weeks)
- 15 Beyond Redemption (Michael R. Fletcher)
- 16 American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
- 17 Night Watch (Sergei Lukyanenko)
- 18 Lord Foul's Bane (Stephen R. Donaldson)
- 19 The Vagrant (Peter Newman)
- 20 Low Town (Daniel Polansky)
- 21 The Last Wish (Andrzej Sapkowski)
- 22 The Spook's Apprentice (Joseph Delaney)
- 23 Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)
- 24 The Gunslinger (Stephen King)
- 25 Lord Loss (Darren Shan)