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Best Grimdark Fantasy Books

A List of Gritty, Depressing Books You Just Can't Seem to Put Down
One of the more popular subgenres of Fantasy now (there’s debate as to whether it’s a legit subgenre or just an artistic category) but one can hardly argue its prevalence in the fantasy genre).

What is Grimdark? Take what is good about the world and humans, then grab a bucket of shit and dump it all over both. Toss in a horrific amount of blood, even more dry sarcasm, shove in a cast of morally ambiguous, emotionally tortured heroes that probably hate each other and the world at large, and you are aiming in the right direction.

This 'style' of fantasy has been around for more than a decade now with the grandfather of it all arguably Glen Cook's (fabulous) Black Company books which helped map out the edges of the current grimdark expression. Martin, too, helped define this genre. Perhaps the biggest influence to the current shape of grimdark (and arguably writer of the quintessential definition of it) is Joe Abercrombie who pretty much single-handedly shaped it to what it's become now with his First Law trilogy and on the vanguard of the movement with every book he releases (the man's twitter is "lordgrimdark).

Of course, there's more than a few writers who have since taken up the standards of grimdark and are marching with it such as Scott Lynch, Bakker, Mark Lawrence, Richard Morgan, and the most recent authors being Luke Sculls, Jeff Salyards, and Richard Ford.

The grimdark movement does NOT look like it's going anywhere any time soon folks, so learn to enjoy it because aspects of it have influenced most new fantasy books, which if are not strictly grimdark, are at least take elements from it.

If you are the type who can't stand all this darkness in your fantasy, then check out our Best Feel Good Fantasy list for books that will actually make you feel good about life after you finish reading them. For the rest, here's the best grimdark novels in the fantasy genre.
Grimdark existed before Abercrombie, but by golly, he's set the gold standard for how to do it that every other author has since imitated. Grimdark is pretty much synonymous with an Abercrombie novel now.All his novels are Grimdark, with the later ones more refined, but his original trilogy (First Law) helped establish the movement by pretty much subverting all the major fantasy tropes, as established by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.The books effortlessly mix relentless brutality, morally ambiguous characters, a gritty uncaring world with sharp sarcasm, subverted archetypes, and a plot that twists in unexpected ways. This is one of those books that helped redefined fantasy and along with Cook, Martin, and Erikson, helped set the current fantasy aesthetic. If you haven't read this genre redefining series, why are you even reading this list? Stop right now and fix your mistake.

Books in The First Law Series (3)

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If you like grimdark, you've probably read Prince of Thorns. If you haven't, then stop reading this and pick it up. Now.Prince of Thorns is an impressive novel that pushes the boundaries of the genre in new directions, specifically in the treatment of antiheroes. I've waxed on and on about Prince of Thorns in many other lists; in fact, Lawrence's Broken Empire Trilogy is on the Top 25 list and his newest work of 2014, Prince of Fools, made the Top 25 Best Fantasy Books of 2014 list.So, if you haven't read this work just yet, pick it up. It defines the modern definition of what real grimdark is.

Books in The Broken Empir... Series (3)

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Comments (10)
Award Nominations:2000 WFA
The grimdark aesthetic made into an epic fantasy; Malazan pushes into new frontiers with an absolute epic cast, a story-line that encompasses different dimensions / worlds, covers thousands of years, and follows different civilizations all of these which are central to the overarching plot, as slowly revealed over the course of ten gigantic books.Oh this one is grimdark  pretty much the quintessential idea of it. If your idea of a fantasy is a sunny landscape, goody heroes, and optimistic outlook, and sharply focused plot, Malazan is pretty much the subversion of every one of these ideas. It's a series that you love or hate but no matter what side of the fence you stand on, you can't help but give respect to the author tackling such an epic idea. The books are uneven in quality with the five book the strongest of the series and the concluding book generally considered a let-down, but taken as a whole Malazan Book of the Fallen is work of startling imagination, scope, and power. Read if you want epic battles of sorcery, heroes who are like gods among men, twisted and complicated plots, and a point of view that jumps across different nations and centuries before tying thing together for an epic battle royal.

Books in The Malazan Book... Series (10)

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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. 

Available on Amazon & Audible, Barns & Noble, iTunes, Google, and Kobo.

Comments (21)
Awards Won:1997 LocusF
Award Nominations:1997 NEBULA, 1997 WFA
A fantasy that, back in the 90's, broke all the traditional rules about what fantasy should be and instead of a classic tale of heroes versus evil wizards, gave a story about bad men who do good and good men who do bad, and every shade in-between. A story about power, corruption, familial love, honor, endless winter, and dead things coming back to life. Oh and dragons.It was a fantasy of the like the world had never seen a soap opera on a scale of kingdoms. And it changed the face of fantasy (and apparently, TV now) forever.Few authors have been able to take villains and transform them over a few thousand words into heroes the way Martin has. Song of Ice and Fire with the depressing world, gritty aesthetic, cast of morally ambiguous (which in the context of this novel, usually mean good guy usually end up doing bad things, often) characters, unpredictable plot (characters die, often) make this one of the best, most imaginative and startling series of the 21st century.If you somehow have not yet read this series yet, I both pity and envy you pity because you are missing out one of the best tales ever set to paper and I envy you because you have a buffet of sublime fantasy goodness yet ahead of you.

Books in A Song of Ice an... Series (7)

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Morgan brings a new level of grittiness to that epic fantasy genre with his extremely subversive A Land Fit for Heroes trilogy. The trilogy pretty much subverts every fantasy norm you've come to expect. The hero for one, is gay.This series is probably the darkest, most gritty grimdark reads in the entire genre. Seriously, you don't know dark and depressing till you start reading these books. Some readers may not be able to handle this, so be warned.

Books in A Land Fit for H... Series (3)

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Alex Marshall (actually a pen-name for Jesse Bullington) begins the first book in the Crimson Empire trilogy with a massacre, and things only get bloodier from there. It follows the exploits of retired adventurer, Zosia, rounding back up her Five Villains to wreak gory vengeance upon those who dared slight her. Pretty grimdark stuff.

The premise of a past-their-prime hero on one last job is like music to the ears of a grimdark lover, and A Crown for Cold Silver executes it beautifully. Zosia is one of the most kick-ass protagonists to emerge recently, and yet she still gets her head kicked in on a regular basis and has moments of heart-wrenching vulnerability. The wider struggle sets the stage for the arcs of a small group of POV characters, many of whom are at odds with one-another. The characterization is pretty damn great, and the morally ambiguous dilemmas are compelling as hell. The world is one filled with demons and arabid, Spanish Inquisition-style church, so scenes of torture are among the most mellow in the novel, and its sequel A Blade for Black Steel. The third book will be out late 2017.

Read this book if

you want some of the best morally ambiguous characters since Joe Abercrombie. And if you want to see a kick-ass old woman kill a whole bunch of people.

Books in The Crimson Empi... Series (3)

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Wherever the word grimdark is mentioned, R Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing trilogy is mentioned shortly after. Take epic fantasy about the return of an evil god ushering in the end of ages, toss in a depressed sorcerer, a manipulative monk, and an ex-whore, throw into the setting a fantasy version of the crusades you know where western powers embark on a holy war against a vaguely Middle Eastern culture then soak it in philosophy. The result is this wonderful, intoxicating, and sometimes confusing series.This is one of those series you either completely get and become a rabid fan or you detest with almost religious zeal.

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A series of stories about a drug-addicted albino who's traded his soul for power, Elric makes powerful reading. These are stories rich in themes  stories that take the sword and sorcery genre in a new direction, giving added depth to it. While Elric is not specifically written with the modern grimdark aesthetic as popularized by Abercrombie and the modern crop of fantasy writers, there are definite grimdark elements to be found in Elric. This is no surprise as Moorcock's Elric novels have been highly influential on the fantasy genre as a whole and many of the modern writers have been inspired by his works.

Books in The Elric Saga Series (9)

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Solidly in the category of 'noir fantasy.' It's a different sort of work, but a refresh taking on the fantasy genre...and it's definitely gritty with a streak of darkness running through the story. But if you are expecting grimdark in the vein of an Abercrombie novel -- a grand company of subverted heroes on an epic quest, move along -- this is not that sort of book.The setting of Low Town reeks with noir elements; Low Town is full of poverty, crime, drugs, ghettos, and all those delightfully atmospheric things that you love reading about but would definitely not want to live in the mist of. The hero is a hardened man, one who grew up hard on the streets. He sells and uses drugs and has done more than a few nasty things in his time, but he's not all bad as you find out and as the story progresses, you really begin to root for him.For a fascinating setting, and a crime story that's ultimately about redemption in the end, pick this one up. It's one of the more unappreciated novels in the genre.

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Bloody, violent, and brutal with a completely unique premise Heroes Die is some of the best fantasy in the genre. Michael Stover was writing grimdark before it became a thing and as such his aesthetic, his plot, his worlds, and his characters is not exactly the same as the more modern grimdark tales. Think of it as a separate evolution of grimdark that happened on its own. But many of the grimdark elements are found in the Caine novels antiheroes, gritty setting, a world where people do more bad then good, morally ambiguous characters, twisted plot lines, main character deaths, and of course, rampant brutality. This is fantasy without a conscience, and I love it! One of the more entertaining and action-orientated grimdark fantasy in the genre.

Books in The Acts of Cain... Series (4)

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Comments (0)
Award Nominations:1997 BFS

How could a story about the apprentice of an assassin not be grimdark? It couldn't, that's how. This first entry sparked off three trilogies about the one protagonist, which contain some of the best characterization ever.

The story is about FitzChivalry, the bastard son of a prince, who, an outcast from the court, decides that the best option for him is to sneak around killing people for a living. The book actually never strays into the 'edgy', and is a dark, morally complex tale about a boy whose very existence causes embarrassment for half the court, and as such they hate the poor kid. We're given Fitz's tight point of view from childhood to adulthood, and his complex relationships with those around him, and his growth as a character, lend this book a depth that few have. It's not a book about epic battles, but the growth of an unwanted boy into a man. This extends into eight more books about Fitz, and reading them is like making a life-long friend. One of the best aspects of grimdark fantasy is the morally ambiguous, complex characters, and this is one of the best examples, released before 'grimdark' was even a thing, but possessing all of the required qualities.

Read this book if

you want to get to know one of the deepest characters in fantasy. Or if you think assassins are cool (which they are).

Books in The Farseer Series (3)

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This series is the perfect blend of epic fantasy, comedy and grimdark. And who doesn't like a good story about heists? The book is, overall, pretty dark, but there are plenty of lighter moments to liven things up. Three books in and the series is only getting more interesting. So far, book one was the best, book two was slightly worse (but still good) and book three was a bit of a disappointment but by the end of it, some interesting things were set in motion for the next book.Lynch is one of the best writers in the genre -- is prose is funny, powerful, and quite well written. So if you are looking for a good grimdark that's superbly written with a caste of complex characters, an interesting and unique plot (the series is about a band of thieves), and plenty of comedy amist the darkness, you can't do better then one of the Gentleman Bastard books. I'd say Lynch is right up there with Abercrombie and Martin in terms of writing the best stuff (and certainly the best Grimdark) in the genre.

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Marc Turner stepped into the fantasy genre in 2015 with his first book, When the Heavens Fall, which was a good combination of high fantasy and grimdark. His second release, Dragon Hunters was set in the same world, but with a standalone story and new cast of characters. Red Tide, the third book in The Chronicle of the Exile, brings both strands together in a fantastically grimdark story that easily tops both preceding books. It could be read as a standalone, but you'd get a lot more out of it having read the first two.

Marc Turner handles a large cast of characters with skill that makes me green with envy. His multiple POV characters are a rotten collection of assassins, pirates, broken warriors, and cursed nobles, and each of them feels as fleshed-out as if they had a whole novel dedicated to them. The characterization is as morally gray as you could want, and there are plenty of shocking subversions of fantasy tropes. His world is filled with magic and mystery, with gods playing around with the lives of mortals. It's pretty much just a flawless book, and the series, if it gets big enough, could genuinely begin to rival Malazan, and at the intense rate Turner is churning these bad-boys out, it might not take long. The man is a machine.

Read this book if 

you like sweeping high-fantasy with a very grimdark twist, or want to read a book that's almost perfect (and if you don't, what's wrong with you?).

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Mark Lawrence is a master of grimdark, and while Prince of Thorns explores the life of a character that would be the dark lord of a heroic fantasy, Prince of Fools stars a useless, amoral, drunk, womanizing well, fool.

Prince of Fools is such an endearing grimdark story because it subverts the notion of a hero by replacing the protagonist with someone utterly unsuited for action, no matter the morality behind it. We see through the eyes of the protagonist, Jalan, and his world-view is pretty unique in fantasy. He's generally more concerned with chasing women, or fleeing from debtors, than the fate of the world or anything so grandiose, and yet when he's magically bound to a brutal Viking, things get particularly interesting. Jalan is a selfish character, unconcerned with the epic struggles unfolding around him, and the interplay between him and the serious, determined Viking is gold. It has all of the classic Mark Lawrence violence, moral ambiguity and grit, with a healthy dose of undead horrors just to really make sure there's no question that this is grimdark.

Read this book if

you want an endearing, funny protagonist who's also just a complete dick.

Books in The Red Queen's ... Series (3)

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If you like your fantasy gritty and set in the underworld of bustling city with the characters as pimps, assassins, swordsmen, and sorcerers all fighting for a piece of the pie, then you'll love this book.It reads a bit like Brent Week's Night Angel series, though far less action and set in a city. It's a well told story with some surprisingly deep protagonist who grows on you as the story progresses. I wasn't expecting much from this book, but was pleasantly surprised when it grabbed my attention.If you like Brent Weeks and Micheal Sullivan and Scott Lynch, you'll probably enjoy this tale -- the story feels like it's borrowed elements from works written by all three of these authors.

Books in Tales of the Kin Series (2)

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KJ Parker is a highly underrated author. His (or her...the author writes under a pseudonym) books are not the normal fantasy fare. Expect complicated characters, moral ambiguity, deep themes, and sharp dialogue. This is not a book full of action, but rather of plotting. IThis book can be brilliant, but it can also be incredibly frustrating.The author puts an incredible amount of detail into her world -- medieval engineering is the central theme running through this trilogy, the power of technology to overthrow the social order -- and this is one of the few fantasy books you will actually learn how to operate medieval machinery.The characters are an interesting bunch -- human, flesh and bone, with motives you can identify with. All of Parker's works are fundamentally human stories at their core and there's a lot of attention focused on the humanity of the characters and human relationships -- the good and the bad.This is low fantasy -- the world is not infused with magic; there are no dark lords to default, no sorcerers to save the day. And the story is better off from it; the problems are human made and ultimately must be solved by human minds.A dark, grim, and fascinating tale that must be read. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It's not your typical grimdark fantasy, but there are certainly elements of it in the story. Don't expect an Abercrombie style narrative and plot; Parker truly writes some of the more unique fantasy in the genre, but in its own way just as good as anything produced by Martin, Lynch, and Abercrombie.

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The Grim Company is about as close to an Abercrombie's The Blade Itself as you can find -- there's a cast of troubled characters, each with some grim history they are fleeing from, forced together on an epic quest to save the world, of sorts. The world is gritty and brutal and the heroes must be even more brutal to survive. There's quite a bit of comedy tossed in as well with the character interactions.The cast of heroes, indeed, could come straight out of Abercrombie's Fist Law. You have the grim northern barbarian, a young cocky swordsman who thinks he's an invisible hero (but is the butt of the joke for everyone around him), a girl with a troubled past, and a tortured magician -- all bound together on a quest to save a city...and make money. Of course plans go awry and things go to hell and expectations are completely subverted. But that's grimdark fantasy for you -- expect it.Make no bones about it, The Grim Company is, like the title suggests, a pretty damn grim book indeed. There's plenty of foul language, shitty things happen to people over and over, and the world is about as friendly as a starving lion. Scull goes hard on the descriptions as well and some of what he describes will make you wince (points given for the part where one of the characters pisses out bloody gallstones). But hey, this is about as clinical a definition of grimdark you can find in the genre, so you can't complain if you start reading the book.And I enjoyed every second of it. Every year there's some blog announcing that the grimdark aesthetic is banal and as cliche as the old farm-boy fantasy of the 80's and 90's, but if there's more grimdark on the horizon like Luke Scull's awesome debut, then I hope grimdark is here to stay for a long time.Definitely read if you like Martin, Abercrombie, Lawrence or Lynch -- there's a lot of similarities found in Scull's work. This one one of the best fantasy debuts of 2013 and I eagerly await the sequel in 2015.

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Polish fantasy has come to North America and, judging from how awesome it is, here to stay.If you've played the fabulous 'Witcher' video games, you'll have some idea what this series is about. But the video game merely scratches the surface of the large body of excellent stories by Andrzej Sapkowski. The world of the Witcher is a morally ambiguous place -- a landscape infested and haunted with monsters and creatures of the night. And Gerald of Rivera is a Witcher, a monster hunter who's job is to deal with it. While this may sound like yet another sword and sorcery tale about a monster slaying hero with as word, The Witcher is actually a very deep and complex story when you get into it.It's not what you initially think it's about. I can guarantee you that once you start getting into the meat of the story, you won't be able to put it down. Sapkowski takes a lot of the old fary tales and integrates them into The Witcher stories --- with a twist.If you like your fantasy grim, The Witcher beckons.

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The Forgetting Moon is the first book in The Five Warrior Angels by newcomer Brian Lee Durfee, and boy is it a fun ride.

We all know the classic fantasy hero's journey, where a young farmboy is chosen by a magical prophecy to wield a magical weapon and save the land. At first glance The Forgetting Moon appears to be just another iteration of this tale, which experienced fantasy readers would have come across time and time again before the glorious rise of grimdark. However, Durfee proceedes to systematically subvert just about every trope found in these stories, and The Forgetting Moon turns into a fantastically executed grimdark tale that leaves you questioning whether the prophecy is actually just a crock of shit. The violence is extra-bloody, the 'heroes' are questionable at best, and the villains just might have a point. The gallows humor in this one is top-notch, and you'll be laugh, then be horrified at the violence Durfee somehow made you find funny.

Read this book if

you want to see the prophesized hero get the shit kicked out of him and the prophecy turned on its head.

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Very much an intriguing mix of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, driven by a compelling cast of complex characters and with some taut prose. This book has been heralded as a classic in the genre for many years now and if you pick it up, you'll see exactly why this is the case. If there is a complaint to be had, it's with the pacing of the story, which can often slow down to a crawl. But the sheer originality of the whole story, the amazing magic system, and the troubled characters who all under personal evolution of belief and actions as the story progresses.It's a dark, dark series -- the world itself is darkness, a place that manifests your nightmares into reality. This is not a series for the faint of heart (at times, there's strong elements of horror), but if you like your books dark and gritty with troubled, complex heroes then The Coldfire Trilogy is one of the better reads in the genre.

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This book is the grimmest, darkest novel you'll ever read, with the possible exception of Fletcher's other works. Seriously, it's not for the faint-hearted. This thing will have you holding back vomit regardless of how many scented candles are burning beside the bubble-bath you're reading in.

It's the first novel in Fletcher's Manifest Delusions world, a vaguely Germanic collection of city states, where belief defines reality. Of course, since this is grimdark, this means that the bat-shit insane are the most powerful in their ability to alter reality, and the book is about crazy people manipulating the absolute shit out of even crazier people. There are no heroes, nothing even close, and it's so gritty that, for example, about (admittedly this is an estimate) half the word-count of the novel is dedicated to describing one of the POV character's sinus infection.

Read this book if

you like your grimdark turned up to eleven, with as much festering darkness between the pages as anyone could ever ask for.

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A series that's, on the surface, very similar to Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. There's the royal siblings, separated at childhood. There's ancient magic on the edges of civilization, seeping back into the lands of men. There's morally ambiguous characters, there's fantastical lands across the ocean with strange magic, there's war, love, politics, and betrayal. The series proved to be disappointed when it was all said and done, but you can't argue against the very grim world the events are cast in; the characters (some of them) are villainous heroes; and the plot twists in very unexpected ways.A good enough read if you want a dark epic fantasy tale that's somewhat like A Song of Ice and Fire.

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Skullsworn is about a young woman trying to find love. But wait! That doesn't sound grimdark. Oh, did I forget to mention that the reason she must find love is so that she can kill someone she loves as part of her initiation into a sect of death-worshipers? Skullsworn is Brian Staveley's new standalone novel set in the world of his Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, and it's great.

The aforementioned young woman, Pyrre, is attempting to complete her Trial to become a priestess of the death god Ananshael, and to do so she must kill a whole bunch of people, one of whom, she must love. The issue is that she's a cold-hearted murderer who has never felt love, so she goes on a mission to find the last person she at least lusted after to make a fair crack of it. It is in no way a cute romance book, and is as gritty, morally ambiguous and dark as you could hope for. The themes of death and love play against one another well, and the whole story is told in the first-person by Pyrre, so gives a deep insight into an interesting and completely messed up person.

Read this book if

ou want a heart-warming, personal tale about how best to accomplish murder.

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A recent release (end of 2014) seeped in the grimdark aesthetic. One of the grimiest books I've actually read in a long while. If you like your books depressing, characters selfish, and the setting full of death, mayhem, chaos, and grit youll like this one.

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Mark Lawrence. Here he is again. As this point his name is essentially synonymous with grimdark. Red Sister is his new book set in a completely new world, with a focus on a school of ass-kicking nuns. For this one, Mark has switched to a third-person style of narration, but his superb prose still shines through. The book is about Nona, a child about to be hanged for murder, and how she is instead sent to a nunnery and trained to be a badass fightin' nun. Cool.

The world-building is superb, and, as in his other works, Nona is focus on as an almost exclusive point-of-view character, which gives a deep insight into her complex character development. Where other authors might produce novels with lots of protagonist, Mark Lawrence likes to commit wholeheartedly to one, and boy does he make it work. It's like the difference between a bunch of flings and one committed relationship. Red Sister is filled with poetically written action, blood, and brutal magic.

Read this book if

you love delving deeply into one character's head. And you don't mind that character being pretty damn fucked up.

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Comments (0)
Award Nominations:2003 LocusF
A highly intricate novel about a race of supernatural humans called 'The Others' -- magicians and magic users who are immortal. These immortals are divided into two groups: the light side and the dark side. The story takes place from the perspective of Anton, who's a member of 'The Night Watch' a magical police from the Light Side  that keeps watch on activities of The Dark Side to ensure the rules (how humans are treated) are followed. What's interesting about this Urban fantasy is the unique perspective on good and evil. Both are merely constructs and as you find out, far more difficult to pin down than as simply black and white.This is a powerful novel with a strong sense of noir pervading it. Written by a Russian author (and translated into English), there's a different perspective soaked into the narrative than you find in fantasy coming from the west. It's refreshing and quite fascinating to be honest. Certainly the perspective, atmosphere and ideas present in this novel can only have come from a country with the sort of history Russia has had.It's a stunning novel and you'll be drawn into this strange world, entertained as you navigate the complexities between the Light Side and the Dark Side, trying to figure out what the real rules behind 'the rules' are.Full of complex characters, a gritty, melancholic atmosphere, and explored the lines between the cracks separating what it means to be 'good' and what it means to be 'evil', this novel is a must read. 

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The first in the Sword of Shadows series (which is still not yet complete with over 5 years since Jones published the last book) and a gritty, epic fantasy. Jones started writing her brand of grittiness before the arrival of the new wave of gritty with the likes of Abercrombie, Lynch, Bakker, and the likes. At this time there was only Martin and Cook who were writing with a  gritty style.As such, Jones' work doesn't exhibit the typical 'grimdark' style that you may be used to with say an Abercrombie-influenced novel, but the world is still harsh and the characters suffer,though horror after horror. However, it's still a work where the heroes are good and the villains are bad -- this is not a work of morally ambiguous characters.But it's a great epic epic fantasy set in a dark cold world (literally -- the landscape is ice) where bad things happen and happen) with a clear quest goal in mind. It brings to mind a more gritty version of the classic Wheel of Time style questing adventure. Plenty of stuff that makes a gritty quest fantasy worth reading: action, loss, love, and death.It's thoroughly a great read, though with the author showing no new signs of finishing off the series, it's hard to really care anymore..

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This book is an odd mix of Western, Ancient Roman, steampunk, demons, elves and dwarves. It's a one of a kind book primarily just about the fates of a small group of characters with no heroic quest in sight. Just the sort of thing to satisfy a grimdark fan looking to branch out into something a bit different.

One of the best things about this book is how small-scale and personal it is. It's told through the first-person eyes of one of the group journeying through the dangerous wilderness as they deal with their own issues and the fact that the woods are filled with dangerous elf-like natives called 'stretchers'. The POV character is interesting in that he's a secondary character, and watches events without the attachment of a 'hero' or 'villain', and Jacobs utilises this to brilliant effect. The writing is concise yet poetic, and it's a pleasure to read. The weird as shit, mash-up world building somehow just works, and is one of the best parts of the novel. This is no classic 'totally not medieval Europe' world. At all.

Read this book if

you want weird world-building, good writing and demon-powered machines.

Books in The Incorruptibl... Series (3)

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Highly influential works that predated yet helped define the grimdark genre. These are widely regarded as classics of fantasy and if you want to be well read in the genre, these books are a must. However, the Conan books exhibit an earlier form of what the genre was like, many many years ago. If you are used to modern fantasy, then the style, wording, and narrative of the Conan books will be quite different than you are used to. You may not enjoy it. But, these works helped influence countless writers and the dark, gritty settings and troubled often complex characters present in the works are very much present in the modern style of grimdark fantasy. These books are very much worth reading, even now, decades and decades after they've were first published, before 'fantasy' was even a section at a bookstore. They are very much the prototype of what fantasy was many years ago, and the hero Conan has transcended his own stories to become a character out of myth, a legendary figure of pop culture, and a hero that's been reborn endless times in hundreds and thousands of other stories. Like the Greek heroes of old, Conan is more than a hero from a story, but now a concept, a force, a personality that's firmly fixed in the human psychic. Wherever there is fantasy, wherever there are stories, there will be a Conan character somewhere, always alive, always questing, always journeying to a new frontier to seek worthy challenges, raw humanity that's  brutal and savage, the untamed man ready to explode, but also with quite rare moments of intense humanity.Should you read these books? Hell yes you should.

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The Lightbringer trilogy, of which The Black Prism is the first entry, is Weeks's second series after the Night Angel trilogy, and it shows his development as a writer. There are less POV characters, the magic system (based on light, which is pretty cool) is well thought out, and it's more epic in scope.

The primary protagonist, Gavin, is the most powerful magic user in the world, and he's pretty damn cool. He's given a lot of page-time to have his complex characterization unfold for the reader, and between him and the other POV characters, the pace of the book remains right up there. While this books strays more towards epic fantasy than the Night Angel trilogy, it's still Brent Weeks, so contains all that grimdarky goodness like moral ambiguity, grit and darkness. There are fewer assassinations, sure, but the well-developed magic system makes up for it, and there are some great twists that really pack a punch.

Read this book if

you liked the Night Angel trilogy, but want a more mature, epic version. There are cool battles and stuff.

Books in Lightbringer Series (4)

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This book is about the retired members of a legendary band of mercenaries called 'Kailen's Twenty' being hunted down and murdered for reasons unknown. As such, the surviving members must figure out who the hell is killing them all.

It's a grimdark premise, and its delivered in grimdark fashion, with the characters being flawed, broken down, realistically battered ex-warriors. The story is told in first person from the perspective of these people, and their voices are all clearly distinct. It's interesting in that the main character confesses early on that he isn't good with words, and this lends his narration a genuine, raw flavor. The setting is low-magic, but the combat is livened up by the presence of 'fight-brews', drugs made from plants that imbue combatants with supernatural abilities, but then leave them debilitated with all the drawbacks of real drugs. The POV of the antagonist is give, and she's great fun to read about. Grimdark books either need an antagonist so appalling that they're monstrous, or one that makes you wonder if the protagonist/s you're following are actually the 'good guys', and in this case it's the latter.

Read this book if

you want to read about a hardened band of drug-using mercenaries well past their prime. And how they get murdered.

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Dark, gritty urban fantasy mixed in with pure action, and heroes who are gain almost super hero level of powers by the end of the trilogy. The Night Angel books are what made Weeks into a household name of fantasy, a writer who has pretty much inherited the mantle cast off by RA Salvatore, but a much more talented writer not just limited to the same type of stories. Week's newest series, The Lightbringer, is a far far better than his early books (The Night Angel books), but his Night Angel book are more gritty in tone and setting, especially the first book. 

Books in Night Angel Series (3)

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With a dark and gritty world, a cast of very troubled characters, a world on the bring of divine destruction and an extremely cool magic system (gunpoweder mages can sniff gunpowder to 'power up') , Promise of Blood delivers on it's promise.Promise of Blood has become the poster boy for a new fantasy subgenre called 'Flintlock' fantasy which merges elements of steampunk with a sharp emphasis on gunpowder and guns. There's a strong pervasive grittiness to the whole story, the characters, and the world, as if it's coated in a layer of grime. It's not a clean world and the this is manifested directly in the cast of unhappy heroes who all struggle with personal issues that actively sabotage their relationships.And yes, there's a shit load of action, magical battles, and violent death to be found here. The pacing is fast as well -- rarely does the novel not jump from one explosive set of events to another. So if you pick this one up, strap yourself firmly to your chair -- you're going on a real ride here.The sequel, The Crimson Campaign, is even better than the first book, so you have a lot to look forward to.

Books in The Powder Mage Series (3)

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Another entry from the always awesome Glen Cook, a new almost mystical figure in the fantasy world with his genre defining work The Black Company which pretty much helped birth the entire grimdark movement and inspired a generation of the best authors in the genre.His newer work The Tyranny of the Night is a lot more 'epic' in scope than The Black Company and I would say quit a bit darker. It's through and through grimdark and even merges strong elements of horror. The story is basically about a world infested by 'The Dark' creatures and monsters of myth that haunt the shadowy places of the world. One man, a soldier, proves these immortal creatures can be killed and this sets off a chain of events that has the kingdom's of the world uniting to fight The Dark.As a whole, this tale reminds me quite a bit of Scott R Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before. If you like dark, gritty military fantasy, you'll very much enjoy The Tyranny of the Night series. My major complaint with this series is the weakness of the characters -- there are for the most part not very complex and you never really get to know them or relate to them, only 'read about' their exploits, almost from a third person narrative. It's not a character-driven fantasy but more of an event-driven one. And the series has gotten confusing as hell with all the different kingdoms, empires, jaw-breaking names, and obtuse plots within plots; if you can understand where it's all going, you are a smarter man then me.Still, if you want some serious military fantasy soaked in grimdark, this is a series to read.

Books in Instrumentalitie... Series (4)

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This is Abercrombie's newest book and his first foray into actual YA fiction. Overall it's a fantastic read, a sort of First Law lite, but with enough differences to make it absolutely worth reading. The setting is highly influences from the Viking/Norse cultures. The story is dark and as cold as the actual setting. Unlike First Law, there is a lot less humor between each line.As a big bonus, book two and book three will BOTH be released in 2015 -- which is a big deal for Abercrombie, who usually takes a year or two between novel releases.So for some of the best YA fiction in the genre that pays homage to the grimdark aesthetic (but with a satisfying ending), pick this one up.

Books in Shattered Sea Series (3)

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A series that channels a lot of the elements of Martins Song of Ice and Fire series meets Lord of the Rings. It's a gritty, windswept world full of darkness and blood, infused with an ancient mythology in pretty much every aspect of it.When I first read this series years ago, I thought  it was the start of something great. However, the series goes downhill after the first book, and ended on quite a disappointing note. Still, it has SOME of the feel of the Martin books with the world building and gritty feeling so if you want an epic fantasy with some of those elements, then give it a read.

Books in The Godless Worl... Series (3)

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A new voice in the gritty sphere, one that delivers a big dose of grim. It's a world that's choked with decay with both unchecked decadence and grinding poverty. There's drama, there's adventure, there's a moody, dark atmosphere, there's the typical cast of grimdark characters all from completely different walks of life you've come to expect from a book such as this.It's also a book the suffers under the weight of too many point of views, with seven of them going on in the book. It can be a bit jarring, especially when you start to particularly enjoy one of the stories then it suddenly jumps to another story. Some authors can handle this sort of thing (Martin for one), but Ford stumbles here. The redeeming value here is that each of these characters are very much different from the other, so you are getting a pretty good view of the day to day from all walks of life in this dreadful city.There's a lot of action and fight scenes present in the novel; however, I wasn't impressed with the lack of detail and attention given to the details. The author doesn't hold realism in high regard when it comes to action -- something that you sort of expect more of when reading a grim dark. The action scenes sometimes feel like one of those Chinese Kung Fu flicks where two characters can go at it for infinity without suffering too much. While we are talking about 'fantasy' here, it's true the grimdark stories tend to infuse far more realism to their world in the characters and the action -- but Ford picks and chooses here. This may or may not be an issue for you, but it was for me.Overall, it's a good read with some good characters, and interesting world, and pretty fast paced. It's not anything close to some of the better authors in the genre (Abercrombie, Lynch, Lawrence, etc) but it's still a good gritty read.

Books in Steelhaven Series (2)

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Awards Won:1991 BFS

Welcome to the world of Kane, perhaps the most complex characters in early Sword and Sorcery pulp. Wagner with his Kane stores together with Howard's Conan helped shaped the Sword and Sorcery, giving new form to the nascent genre. The influence of the Kane books can be felt even in today's modern fantasy.

Kane is, perhaps, the original fantasy antihero character, an utterly amoral immortal who wanders the earth delivering both justice and destruction at his whim and level of boredom.

The stories are dark, despairing, and the character of Kane, an ever melancholy character -- a man cursed to wander the world forever; a man who has seen all and done all under the sun, now forced to endure both friend and enemy wither away and die while he remains, over and over, year after year, millennium after millennium.

Books in Kane Series (6)

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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.

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. It's certainly grimdark, with grit and darkness abounding, and traditional fantasy tropes are subverted with the obviously weird nature of the story.

Read this book if

you like badass, strong-and-silent types. Or goats, I guess.

Books in The Vagrant Series (3)

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Awards Won:1979 BFS
Award Nominations:1978 WFA
These books are classics (published in the mid 80's) and perhaps have the most complexly developed antihero in the genre. Modern fantasy seems to be taking the idea of the anti-hero in new directions now, thanks to works like Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, Abercrombie's First Law, and Lawrences's Trilogies The Broken Empire and The Red Queens War. However, Donaldson through his richly complex antihero, Thomas Covenant helped paved the way for these modern authors to write complex heroes. His influence in the genre has been enormous over the decades the first Covenant books were published. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant trilogy, along with Tad William's Memory Sorrow and Thorn helped prove to the world (and the marketplace) that fantasy books could be complex, character driven works. Up until the point Tad Williams and Stephen R. Donaldson published their (at the time) novel fantasy fiction ion the mid 80's, the fantasy marketplace mostly consisted of thin Lord of the Rings rippoffs (Shannara books for example) or highly sexualized sword and sorcery versions of Conan (Gor books for example). But these new authors showed that fantasy could be taken seriously, that fantasy could sublimate from the pulp that hitherto had dominated the marketplace, fantasy that could be taken seriously as real literature WHILE also being successful in the marketplace. These works pushed the boundaries of what fantasy was and also proved that new types of serious fantasy could be commercially successful. And for this alone, Donaldson's work is deserving. You may not like his work or his characters, you criticize his style, you may even detest everything about the covenant books, but Donaldson's influence though his Covenant books has been wide and surely deserves to be read. And you may just find you actually love his work, as so many people actually do.

Books in The Chronicles o... Series (3)

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This was one of my favorite reads of 2013. It's a heady mix of historical medieval fiction, epic fantasy, and horror. There's violence, dark magic, kick-ass heroic knights, beautiful ladies of the court in need of saving, powerfully evil monsters, and battles galore. There's nothing quite like it in the fantasy genre. Miles Cameron has somehow combined a number of very different elements into a working whole; and the result, while sometimes uneven, is one hell of a ride from start to finish.The world does have that gritty feel -- filthy inns, cold stone fortresses, pungent forests, sweaty-grim streaked knights, and a cast if troubled characters with a shady history of pain. It's not at all a squeaky clean world; it's dirty and full of pain. While I wouldn't classify this as pure grimdark like an Abercrombie novel (who writes the clinical definition of grimdark), there's definitely a thick coating of grittiness on the characters and the story.I love how you get drawn into this fascinating world with all the details laid out for you to bring it to life. You feel the pain of the characters after a long day of killing monsters, their blisters from riding a horse for hours on end, see the dirt and grim on their armor from all the blood smearing it. Cameron does a great job really bringing you fully into the world, spending a great deal of energy on the small details of this medieval world; you can tell Cameron knows his shit when it comes to Medieval history and culture. This is knightly sword and sorcery that packs a serious punch. If you have read it, stop reading this and start reading it.

Books in The Traitor Son Series (3)

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Grimdark in the vein of an Abercrombie novel. It burst on the scene with the force of a tornado, and for many people, is considered one of the best grimdark books in the genre, and an outstanding read on it's own.If you want a complex fantasy with unhappy heroes and a dark world populated with a lot of bad people and a book with some fierce action and unhinged violence, Scourge of the Betrayer will deliver exactly what you want.It's really some pure all out awesomeness of gritty military fantasy with a vividly realized world, plenty of dark magic, and a cast of intriguing, complex heroes.And know that good only gets better: the sequel that came out in 2014, Veil of the Deserters actually outdoes the first book in every way.  

Books in Bloodsounder's A... Series (3)

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This is a brand-new novel from a debut author, and is a great addition to the grimdark roster. The world is slowly dying, with fewer babies born every year, and great swaths of the world lost to magical storms. Amidst this, a rich cast of complex characters vie for power and safety amidst shifting battle-lines where it's impossible to tell friend from foe, let alone good from evil.

This book is very focused on character, but the seeds of a larger, epic plot are sown throughout, and will bear fruit in later books. The world is one in which traditional gender roles are reversed, which is interesting, for example, a young man wishes that he could grow up to become a warrior rather than staying home to care for the children, which is an interesting subversion of a standard fantasy trope. There are a few genuine 'holy shit, that actually just happened' moments, and it's nice to be surprised when you think you've figured things out.

Read this book if

you want a desolate world filled with complex characters, and a plot that you won't be able to predict, no matter how clever you think you are.

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There's something powerful reading about heroes who stand up against injustice and who always, always do the right thing, even when the world is full of ruthless and violent men who prey upon the weaker. Gemmell writes about these types of heroes, exploring through grand deeds and great sacrifice, what makes a true hero a hero. And there's pretty much non stop action from start to finish.Legend is the first of his Drenai books and the book that's made Gemmell's name. Even though in his later years he's written better works, Legend still remains the book that he's most remembered for. It's a story about an aging hero who takes a heroic stand against ruthless invaders and by doing so, inspired everyone around them to become better. It's one of those stories that will always touch that part of you that longs to be a hero, a story that inspires as much as it entertains. There's a lot of grittiness found in this book -- the world is a savage place, the heroes all bruised individuals, haunted by their rough past. Bad things happen, horrors are common, but at the end, there's always hope. Read if you want to lose yourself in a gritty book about horrible people and even better people who overcome them.

Books in Drenai Series (9)

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If you are looking for a long fantasy series that's built on gritty and dark, look no further than the Warhammer books. While they (usually) don't exhibit the high literary qualities of some of the other authors in the genre and perhaps have a pulp stigma attached, there are actually some pretty compelling books in the series that do indeed explore some dark themes. There's a few books that do stand out as better than others and a few of those can be tossed on this list are grimdark works. Blood for the Blood God is my pick for the best and perhaps darkest of the bunch.The Warhammer books, for the most part, lack the subtler, stronger writing, plot, and characterization of other grimdark authors. But what they do lack in deeper characterization and strong writing, they do sort of make up in atmosphere and the dark setting.Read if you want to dwell a bit in a dark, hopeless world with some imaginatively horrific settings. But don't expect deep characterization and strong narratives.

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Blood Song is about a young man growing up in a battle school, and becoming a living legend. A young man joins a school of combat and, well, he takes to it like a fish to water.

While Vaelin, the protagonist, isn't as morally ambiguous as many grimdark protagonists, and the tale of his progression into a legendary warrior isn't anything particularly earth-shattering, it's simply so well executed and so much fun to read. Blood Song qualifies as grimdark, with darkness and gritty combat, and, as one might expect from a book about a battle-school, the action is pretty awesome.

The world is on the brink of catastrophe and mired in numerous conflicts, the people are backstabbing and manipulative, and the various side-characters are cool, yet flawed. The story is primarily told in flashbacks from the 'present' adult Vaelin, looking back on his training, and this framing works well, as you always know that thinks are hurtling towards a kick-ass crescendo.

Read this book if

you enjoy well written combat, school settings, and people getting their heads kicked in.

Books in Raven's Shadow Series (3)

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Another one of those grimdarks that borrows heavily from the Joe Abercrombie style of it. But, perhaps a bit much of it. If you like your world bleak and dirty and  your heroes complex and violent, you'll enjoy this tale.The problem is that it's a world that's all to dark and the characters all to gray. It's a world without any sort of redemption at all. The characters are all unhappy and completely dislike each other which is not necessary a rare thing in a grimdark book, but there's very little to empathize with as a reader. While it's fine and dandy to create a dark world with dark characters, there needs to be something for the reader to emphasis with. Other books that feature bleak unhappy heroes -- such as Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire trilogy or Richard Morgan's A Land Fit for Heroes, are also books with a lot of darkness and unhappiness -- but there's still something to root for in their heroes or quest. With Sam Sykes work, there is almost nothing to like with his characters. Still, if you are on the prowl for subversive grimdark gone too far, with decent writing, and a world ending plot to thwart, with grim heroes thrown together out of necessity, this book does deliver on that premise.

Books in Aeons' Gate Series (3)

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Wow, what a ride this novel was. Highly ambitious and imaginative, Son of Morning proves itself a player in the genre. The book is a blend of alternative history blended with fantasy. It's a long novel at 700 pages, but it doesn't feel that way when you start reading it. The historical period re-imagined is The Hundred Year war (1337 to 1453) which was a brutal period of warefare between England and France.What Mark Alder does is take this famous war, re-imagine the historical events that occurred, then pack in the fantasy elements. In addition to troops mustered to fight the war, minions from hell (demons, monsters, and devils) and the hordes of heaven (angels and saints) are unleashed into the conflict, sublimating the conflict to a world war of between heaven, hell, and earth and every sphere between.Awesomeness. But it's not a book that gets lost in vast concept and huge battles (of which there are both), but also one that's driven by a cast of complex characters. And did I mention it's drimdark as they come? The real historical period was a dark time in the histories of both France and England, and this is fully reflected here in the narrative and the setting. But add the hordes of hell to the mix and a troubled bunch of characters who are flawed and neither good nor evil, and you have the underpinnings of something grand.If you love the Mazalan books, if you love Glen Cook's Black Company and Scott R. Bakker, if you love war, and dirt, grim, and shit, and violence, then you're going to love this book.

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Very much epic fantasy set in a dark and gritty setting. This one started out as one of the most exciting new fantasy debuts a few years ago. The author managed to take an awesomely dark first book and muck things up over the last couple books. However, the magic system is interesting, the world fascinating (it's a landscape haunted by demons who come out from the ground at night and prey on humans who are not hiding behind magical wards), and the action thrilling. The problem is the characters who (after the first book) are not very well developed and do not act consistently. The author has also lost control of the plot threads which seems to be almost random, jumbling around all over the place.Still, you can't take away the majesty of the first book which was one of the most exciting, thrilling, and straight out awesome fantasy reads the past decade.

Books in Demon Cycle Series (3)

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This is one of those books you read and for a short while you think you've sighted perhaps a new rising star in the genre. Then you realize after the sequel books come out, that star led you false.I was impressed with the first book, which was very much a unique take on the fantasy genre (in fact, it was more low fantasy meets an alternative history). The character was a bit of a moody anti-hero and kick ass, the world was unique, and there was an interesting take on religion and history. I particularly enjoyed the first book because the protagonist was a boy living as part of a depraved religious military monastic order that believed in torturing it's devotees and subjecting it's subjects to various forms of torturing punishments. It was an interesting and compelling setting -- and watching the protagonist and his friends trying to navigate the dangerous waters of it was thrilling.Then book two came out, which was a pretty big fail and a strange, strange read indeed. The author lost control of the plot completely, the characters ending up doing things that didn't make sense and...it was just a bad book. And the third book absolutely completed the destruction of the series.However, if you want something pretty awesome, with some serious darkness, depravity, and a setting you really wouldn't want to vacation in with plenty action, intrigue, and trills from start to finish, read the first book.Just realize the sequel books are going to really fucking disappoint you.

Books in The Left Hand Of... Series (3)

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