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Books in The First Law Series (3)
Books in The Broken Empir... Series (3)
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.
Books in A Song of Ice an... Series (7)
Books in A Land Fit for H... Series (3)
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)
Books in The Prince of No... Series (3)
Books in The Elric Saga Series (9)
Books in Low Town Series (3)
Books in The Acts of Cain... Series (4)
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)
Books in Gentleman Bastar... Series (7)
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?).
Books in The Chronicle of... Series (3)
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)
Books in Tales of the Kin Series (2)
Books in Engineer Series (3)
Books in The Grim Company Series (2)
Books in The Witcher Series (7)
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.
Books in The Five Warrior... Series (1)
Books in The Coldfire Series (3)
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.
Books in Manifest Delusio... Series (2)
Books in Acacia Series (3)
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.
Books in Chronicle of the... Series (3)
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.
Books in Book of the Ance... Series (1)
Books in Watch Series (4)
Books in Sword of Shadows Series (4)
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)
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)
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.
Books in Night Angel Series (3)
Books in The Powder Mage Series (3)
Books in Instrumentalitie... Series (4)
Books in Shattered Sea Series (3)
Books in The Godless Worl... Series (3)
Books in Steelhaven Series (2)
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)
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)
Books in The Chronicles o... Series (3)
Books in The Traitor Son Series (3)
Books in Bloodsounder's A... Series (3)
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.
Books in Drenai Series (9)
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)
Books in Aeons' Gate Series (3)
Books in Demon Cycle Series (3)
Books in The Left Hand Of... Series (3)
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 A Game Of Thrones (George R.R. Martin)
- 5 The Steel Remains (Richard K. Morgan)
- 6 A Crown for Cold Silver (Alex Marshall)
- 7 The Prince Of Nothing (R. Scott Bakker)
- 8 Elric Of Melnibone (Michael Moorcock)
- 9 Low Town (Daniel Polansky)
- 10 Heroes Die (Matthew Woodring Stover)
- 11 Assassin's Apprentice (Robin Hobb)
- 12 Lies Of Locke Lamora (Scott Lynch)
- 13 Red Tide (Marc Turner)
- 14 Prince of Fools (Mark Lawrence)
- 15 Among Thieves (Douglas Hulick)
- 16 Devices And Desires (K. J. Parker)
- 17 The Grim Company (Luke Scull)
- 18 The Witcher (Andrzej Sapkowski)
- 19 The Forgetting Moon (Brian Lee Durfee)
- 20 Black Sun Rising (C.S. Friedman)
- 21 Beyond Redemption (Michael R. Fletcher)
- 22 Acacia: The War with the Mein (David Anthony ...
- 23 Skullsworn (Brian Staveley)
- 24 The Barrow (Mark Smylie)
- 25 Red Sister (Mark Lawrence)
- 26 Night Watch (Sergei Lukyanenko)
- 27 A Cavern of Black Ice (J. V. Jones)
- 28 The Incorruptibles (John Horner Jacobs)
- 29 Conan The Barbarian (Robert E. Howard)
- 30 The Black Prism (Brent Weeks)
- 31 Snakewood (Adrian Selby)
- 32 The Way Of Shadows (Brent Weeks)
- 33 Promise Of Blood (Brian McClellan)
- 34 The Tyranny Of The Night (Glen Cook)
- 35 Half A King (Joe Abercrombie)
- 36 Winterbirth (Brian Ruckley)
- 37 Herald Of The Storm (Richard Ford)
- 38 Midnight Sun (Karl Edward Wagner)
- 39 The Vagrant (Peter Newman)
- 40 Lord Foul's Bane (Stephen R. Donaldson)
- 41 The Red Knight (Miles Cameron)
- 42 Scourge Of The Betrayer (Jeff Salyards)
- 43 The Dragon's Legacy (Deborah A. Wolf)
- 44 Legend (David Gemmell)
- 45 Blood For The Blood God (C. L. Werner)
- 46 Blood Song (Anthony Ryan)
- 47 Tome Of The Undergates (Sam Sykes)
- 48 Son Of The Morning (Mark Alder)
- 49 The Warded Man (Peter V. Brett)
- 50 The Left Hand Of God (Paul Hoffman)
Publicly Ranked Version of the List50 items >>
- The Heresy Within (Rob J Hayes)
- The Barrow (Mark Smylie)
- The Grim Company (Luke Scull)
- Seven Princes (John R. Fultz)
- Low Town (Daniel Polansky)
- Legend (Marie Lu)
- Noreela (Tim Lebbon)
- Winterbirth (Brian Ruckley)
- The Vagrant (Peter Newman)
- Son Of Morning (Mark Alder)
- Midnight Sun (E. Cullen)
- Lord Foul's Bane ()
- Black Sun Rising ()