Best Grimdark Fantasy Books

A List of Gritty, Depressing Books You Just Can't Seem to Put Down
Dark Horizons: The Best Grimdark Fantasy Books for a Gritty Read

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.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood. Unpredictable, compelling, wickedly funny, and packed with unforgettable characters, The Blade Itself is noir fantasy with a real cutting edge.  This series throws epic fantasy on its head. On the surface we have all the conceits present in standard epic fantasy: a band of heroes, a Gandalf-like wizard, a dark lord who must be defeated, etc. However, Abercrombie doesn't just twist these cliche fantasy conventions, he completely shatters them. If you're jaded from all the hackneyed epic fantasy crap out there, I highly suggest this incredible series. The writing's witty, the plot is original, and the characters are absolutely fascinating. Read it!What's even better is that every single one of Abercrombie's books are great reads. His best is The Heroes, but even his newest 2015 YA series, The Shattered Sea, is a fine read indeed. You won't do any bad by picking up his first book in The First Law series, The Blade Itself.

Books in The First Law Universe Series (3)

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The Blade Itself is a new style of Fantasy that's gaining swift momentum. The quality level demanded of a good Fantasy novel is now very high. Readers are no longer satisfied with the dark lords versus farm boy conceit. This new style of Fantasy takes the old staples of Fantasy and remakes them into something more sophisticated. Strong, witty writing, dry humor, twisted plotting, and full of contrasting elements, this new style makes for some intelligent reading. In this new world of noir Fantasy, shades of grey are the new black and white. 

If you like this 21st century upgrade to the Fantasy genre in the gritty style of Abercrombie, check out books by R. Scott Bakker, Mark Lawrence, Luke Sculls, Jeff Salyards, Scott Lynch , Joe AbercrombieGeorge R.R. Martin, and Steven Erikson.

Steven Eriksen has been both lauded and criticized for his extreme detail, and that extends to his magic system. In Malazan, magic comes from warrens, a realm from which mages and shamans can draw their power. Some are associated with the world’s various races, locked behind rituals and blood bonds. Humans can draw from those known as paths, as a source of power, opening them to healing, sea, fire, land, light, and mind magic. From them, they can place protective wards, weave the spells of multiple users together, and travel. Though the system doesn’t sound entirely new or complex, the detail the author imbues makes it interesting. Through the course of his ten-book epic, Eriksen dives into far more than can be held in this small description, regaling histories and gods, exceptions and drawbacks. If you can get past his thick pockets of information, he will take you on a journey of magic unlike any you’ve seen.

Books in The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series (11)

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A Song of Ice and Fire

George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga also features an epic scope and the grey characterization that Erikson so loves. Martin's work is smaller in scale though and tends to be more focused, plot wise. 

The Darkness That Comes Before

You can also try Scott R. Baker's The Darkness That Comes Before saga, which is an alternative history saga, where the Roman Empire has never fallen and magic works. Oath of Empires is epic, featuring massive magical battles and huge opposing armies (Persian and Roman) clashing so hard you can hear the horses scream. 

The Cry of the Newborn

Also give James Barclay's The Cry of the Newborn a whirl which is similar in style and content (though less epic) to Erikson. It's an example of a Fantasy military fiction done right. Barclay also knows how to write damn good battle scenes, giving even Erikson a run for his money. Also give David Anthony Durham a try. 


His recent novel, Acacia, is a fantastic read -- big on the epic battles and gritty dark realism of Erikson and Martin. At it's core, 

The Black Company

The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a military fantasy; you might want to read Glen Cook's classic Black Company series. It's dark, gritty, and has a hell of a lot of battles. It's the book that has forever defined military fantasy.

The Broken Empire

Mark Lawrence's delicious gritty anti-hero military fantasy. If you like large battles, underdog heroes, and a full scale invasion of the dead into the land of the living, well, The Broken Empire is what you need to read. One of the more interesting heroes in the genre and featuring superbly written prose.

The Bloodsounder's Arc

Starts with Scourge of the Betrayer. Some new 2014 military fantasy in a good grimdark tradition. Reminds me of Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence mixed with The Black Company by Glenn Cook.

The Thousand Names

The Thousand Names came out 2013 with a serious bang. Detailed military campaign and squad tactics/warfare as several companies of foreign colonial soldiers must make their way through an inhospitable desert to escape hostile locals trying to kill them.

The Traitor's Son Cycle

Starts with The Red Knight. Plenty of medieval warfare here - tactics, sieges, and fierce battles against men and monsters.

While Martin's epic contains a lot of brutality towards women, it also shows how women, surviving in a man's world, can use their cunning, charm, and looks to run the show. There are few fantasy fans who have not read the books by now and a significant number the of the general public has followed along with this series through the TV series.Now the TV series puts more emphasis on female heroines than do the books, but this does not take away the cast of strong heroines present in the series who, over the five books, carve out positions of strength and power.Martin can be brutal in his treatment of women but given the realities of the era (a fantasy version of the War of Roses period in English history) it's a true take on the role and treatment of women. But it's also fair in that women, often, indirectly can garner power.

Books in A Song Of Ice And Fire Series (7)

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The First Law trilogy

First Law by Joe Abercrombie. It's witty, intelligently plotted, the characters are all grey, and there's a ton of brutal action in the books. Abercrombie writes some of the best fight scenes in the genre, and his portrayal of war and battle is spot on (especially in his later books like The Heroes) and will make you really think about the ultimate cost of war. One of the best series that's come out in a few years -- one that actually tries to do something new in the genre. Even better, with every new book added to the series (or universe), Abercrombie gets better and better. It's similar to Martin's work in the sense that there is really a moral compass -- good and evil are just both sides of the same coin. Heroes are not made out to be noble paragons: they are just straight out meaner, stronger or more conniving than the rest.

Prince of Thorns

If you like the grittiness of Martin where the boundary between heroes and villains is thin, Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns is an interesting take on the Anti Hero. This is the singular tale of a hero on a quest for revenge and glory (which eventually involves saving the whole world) but the flawed humanity present in Prince of Thorns channel the shades of Martin's brutal take on a fallen and immoral knighthood.


Try David Anthony Durham's Acacia . It's has a somewhat similar feel to A Song of Ice and Fire. The series wasn't as good as it initially promised to be by the end of it, but it's still good enough to read; the author pulls some interesting plot threads out of the blue by the end of book 2. My major complaint about the series was that I never really found the characters all that interesting.


Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock. Elements are similar. You have incest, kingdoms on the cusp of decline and ruin, pacts made with monstrous powers. The landscape is dour and the heroes are partly villains.

The Godless Word Trilogy

Another series that had a somewhat similar feeling to Martin's work is The Godless World trilogy -- there are some shared elements between the works or at least the gritty, dirty feel of A Song of Ice and Fire is shared by both works. The Godless World is actually more like a cross between Martin and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I did find the quality of the series dipped by the end of the trilogy, but it's still a good enough read.

The Dagger and the Coin

Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series. Rich characterization with characters you dislike who eventual grow on you as the story progresses; oh my god -- plot twists and turns, and magic that's not at all present until the story progresses. Not as much action and drama, but a more character driven saga.

Sword of Shadows Saga

Sword of Shadows is pretty close to Martin in terms of the setting and the portrayal of gruesomeness. The setting is a cold, brutal, Arctic-ice world. It's not as "grand" or "epic" as Martin and the cast of characters is not as morally ambiguous. Still a pretty damn good read, though the author is taking her sweet time finishing the damn series already.

The Black Company

I would be doing you a disservice if I did not recommend Glenn Cook's The Black Company series. It's gritty military fiction with a cast of grey characters, and great battle scenes -- something that Martin focuses on in his books. The focus of the series centers on a company of soldiers.

The Farseer Trilogy

If you like reading about Jon Snow, you might give The Farseer trilogy a read. There are some shared story elements (though the plot and world is NOTHING at all alike mind you). Farseer is pretty much the story of a young king's bastard who grows up in a castle full of intrigue. He doesn't have a lot of options and struggles to survive, and in the process gets tangled up in a series of political schemes. The main character also has a special relationship with wolves (he can speak to them mind-to-mind via a magical skill called the 'Wit') so you might read this one if you like the whole Stark and Direwolf thing. Some of the best characterization in the fantasy genre. Be warned: Jon Snow is a lot more bad-ass of a hero though.

Malazan Book of the Fallen

Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is a must-read, and it's a finished 10 books long. There are some elements that are similar to Martin's work: it's got gritty and intense battle scenes, a cast of ambiguously grey characters, main character deaths, plenty of brutality that characters inflict on each other, and unpredictable (and utterly massive) plots. It's quite similar to Martin in the way that the line between villain and hero is quite blurred. You often end up rooting for characters on both sides of the war. No one is really "the hero" and every character is either trying to maintain their power status quo, or steal it from someone else. However, the work, as a whole, is a LOT MORE disjointed than Martin's work (even counting for the fact that Martin has lost his way a bit)

The Darkness That Comes Before

Try R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before, which features superlative prose, a unique, but fascinating storyline, and the gritty realism that Martin exhibits. It's got that world is ending element to it as well. It's also a heck of a lot more philosophical too, which may or may not be something you like. On a whole Bakker's work is sort of like Tolkien's Mordor invades Martin' Kingdoms and stirs up a lot of shit. Throw a fantasy wizard Jesus with kung fu abilities and stuff the prose subtext full of philosophy. On the surface it's a head-case trippy mix, but there is a certain power to this series.

The Grim Company

The Grim Company by Luke Scull. There are elements of Martin in this work, which I was very impressed with as debut novels go. It's very much so a dark fantasy, with brutal violence, death, magic, and some compelling characters who are all flawed. You'll feel right at home if you are a Martin lover.

Monarchies of God

Monarchies of God -- a vastly under-appreciated series. If you like the epic struggle between kingdoms, fierce battles, strange unexplored lands across the sea, and life aboard a ship. Paul Kearny writes a compelling tale here. Elements of grim dark too.


You might also like Tad Williams newest fantasy saga: Shadowmarch which has some similar plot elements (strange fey creatures coming down from the north behind a wall of magic mist, trying to take over the world). There's a rich cast of characters scattered across the world in completely different lands (much in the way that Martin features characters living in the frozen north, characters living in exotic deserts, and so on). The creatures the north, the Quar, are similar to the Others, but more developed as mysterious, yet somewhat sympathetic entities, rather than the zombie-making horrors that Martin makes the Others to be. You might say this is the story of "The Others" and how they came to be so damn pissed off at the world of men.

A Land Fit for Heroes Trilogy

The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan, of Science Fiction fame. Marin can write villains as heroes and heroes as villains, but if you want to read about a dour world without a shred of goodness, check out Morgan's foray into the fantasyscape. Its a dark and blood and cold as ice, but there's a shit load of brutal action.

Coming of Conan the Cimmerian Martin himself recommends Howard's masterpiece. What more could you say to that?

Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Elements of ASoIaF's gritty and dark but at times hilarious. Well written. Think a book made up of the Tyrion chapters, centering around a band of thieving scoundrels in an Ocean 11 fantasy plot.

The Amber Chronicles

The Amber Chronicles by David Zelazny. Take a royal family who can walk into different realities. Gray characters, squabbling siblings, alternate realities, a prince in exile.

The Gap Cycle

The Gap Cycle by Donaldson. This is science fiction NOT fantasy and in no way is there any similar plot elements or themes, but Gap Cycle is darker than dark and features heroes who have more in common with villains. If you like the bleak outlook on flawed humanity taken up by Martin, Gap Cycle won't disappoint your disappointment in the human race.

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 Of The Black Company Series (10)

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Instrumentalities of the Night

If you like Black Company, you should definitely read his other fantasy series, The Instrumentalities of the Night. It combines an ancient evil coming-back-into-the-world plot, a military genius hero, plenty of conflicts between worldly powers, political scheming, all filtered through Cook's military narrative. The closest you'll find to The Black Company in style and form. And duh, it's by the same freaking author. How much closer CAN you get?

Bloodsounder's Arc

Starts with Scourge of the Betrayers. About as close as you are going to get to Cook -- the narrator is even an archivist and the tale is told in first person. There's a LOT of similarities and the Bloodsounder books are gritty gritty grimdark dark. Delicious and some of the best fantasy to come out the past couple years. Do NOT pass this series by if you want something similar to The Black Company. It's the best of the similar recommendations I can give.

Malazan Book of the Fallen

For another "dark" military fantasy, you should read Malazan Book of the Fallen. It's more epic in scope than The Black Company, but there are enough similarities that you'll find yourself right at home. Steven Erikson has even stated that Glen Cook's books were an influence on his own writing, so there you have it.

The Dagger and the Coin

You may want to give Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series a good go at it. Books one and two are out and they are seriously good -- some of the best epic fantasy that's come out. Abraham's work is a good mix of epic and military fantasy with some smart writing and a cast of compelling characters (some which are anti-heroes). Both are character driven, though Black Company has a hell of a lot more action and angst while The Dagger and the Coin is far more about the characters. It can be somewhat plodding and slow at times. However, if you like Black Company, and military fantasy with strong characters, you may just like this series. 

The Ten Thousand

Paul Kearney's The Ten Thousand is a superb military fantasy by a much underrated author. If you like Black Company, you'll dig this one hard. 

The Way of Kings

Sanderson's awesome The Way of Kings is also another book you might want to read (it's first in the Stormlight Archive series). The main character (Kaladin) has a few basic similarities to The Black Company main character (Croaker). Both are retired physicians who've given up their profession to become soldiers. Both lead a squad of men (and there is the squad dynamics). Cook's work is more gray and his style more dry, however. The narrator (Croaker), is not a crazy badass super hero, while Sanderson's work is more heroic in nature as is the character. So don't get the idea that The Way of Kings is anything like The Black Company as a whole, but as stated there are some similarities.

Heroes Die

Heroes Die by Mathew Woodring Stoover. Dark and gritty world. Check. An anti-hero character who ends up working for the bad guys most of the time? Check. Explosive and brutal action? Check. Strong characterization. Check and Check. Heroes die is MORE about a singular hero than a company of characters, as is The Black Company, but there's enough that you'll probably love it if you like Glenn Cook's work.

The Darkness That Comes Before

The Darkness that Comes Before. Ah, grimdark epic fantasy at it's best, but not your standard epic fantasy: this shit is deep and philosophical. Lots of wars and grand military battles and dark gods taking over the world. There's nothing else quite like it to be honest, but ignoring all the philosophy sprinkled between the chapters, there's a hell of a lot of bloody action, gratuitous sex, character development, and political intrigue to keep you turning the pages. Oh and there's a world-ending apocalypse coming. 

The Coldfire Trilogy

Black Sun Rising is a different sort of work. But it's a very dark and grim world featuring an anti-hero character and side kick heroes that are all flawed individuals. One of the best fantasy books in the genre. You'll probably like it, even if it's about a couple characters solving a quest rather than a military band caught up in incessant warfare.

The Thousand Names

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler. This is a new series that came out in 2013 with two books out so far (the last one was out a few months ago, mid 2014). If you like large scale battles and the story of a squad/company facing extreme survival odds in a foreign country, you'll love this series. It's one of the better fantasy books to come out the past few years. And it's certainly one of the best military fantasy series since Erikson's Mazalan. If you like Black Company, you'll love this series.


Legend by David Gemmell. A classic, but one all about a hero fighting an endless war against endless odds. There's something of beauty in this heroic treatment of an old washed up hero who's pressured by the need of his people to come back from retirement to kick some ass.

The Red Knight

For a very medieval fantasy with magic and monsters and knights, Miles Cameron's The Red Knight. This was one of my favorite reads of 2013. There's a lot of military battles and squad/company warfare against foes with superior numbers. It's not as dark, on a whole, as The Black Company, but it's a stellar read. If you like might and magic and battles and warfare, this is one for your.

In a world saturated by religious fanaticism, Maithanet, enigmatic spiritual leader of the Thousand Temples, declares a Holy War against the infidels. Ikurei Conphas, military genius and nephew to the Nansur Emperor, embarks on a war to conquer the known world in the name of his emperor...and himself. Drusas Achamian, spy and sorcerer of the mysterious northern sorceries, tormented by visions of the great apocalypse, seeks the promised one, the savior of mankind. Anasurimbor Kellhus, heir to the shattered northern kingdom, whose ruins now lay hidden in the deepest north, a place now desolate, home to only the No-Men. Gifted with extraordinary martial skills of hand and foot, and steering souls through the subtleties of word and expression, he slowly binds all - man and woman, emperor and slave - to his own mysterious ends. But the fate of men--even great men--may be cast into ruin. For in the deep north, the hand of the forgotten No-God stirs once more, and his servants tread the lands of men...This is one of the more interesting modern fantasy series out there. It's epic fantasy, but not in the way you're used to. This fantasy is for those who want a combination of raw action and sharp philosophical insights. It's gritty, dark, bloody, and pretty damn smart.

Books in The Prince Of Nothing Series (6)

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The vast scope of The Darkness That Comes Before is very redolent of Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen saga, though the characters are less grey, and the story more focused. 

Also try George R.R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga, which is very epic and very gritty.

Elric is the prince of a dying race, a pale, morose champion of right, despite the cards stacked against him. He's a physical weakling who needs to take drugs and relies on evil magic to survive. This puts him at odds with just about every other standard fantasy hero in the genre. In any other book, Elric would be closer to a villain than a hero. Elric may not be that "popular" these days (as evinced by the limited comments these books get on this website), but Elric has had a lasting influence on the entire fantasy genre.

Books in Elric Series (24)

Low Town (titled the Straight-Razor Cure in the UK), is the first instalment in the Low Town series, and is a noir detective mystery transplanted to a fantasy setting. The story is set amidst puke, piss, drugs and dead children, and follows a drug-dealer called 'the Warden', who samples from his own stash. Upon discovering a murdered child, with no-one else bothered to investigate, the Warden sets out to solve it himself, and is dragged through the trash of Low Town. The Warden is a typically gritty hard-boiled, disgraced lawman character, and would be just at home in Detroit, dealing heroin, as in Low Town, with pixie's breath. The setting is another grim highlight, so vile that you'll want a shower after reading. Polansky has nailed gritty realism with this one, and the characters aren't the over-powered heroes found in some fantasy novels, but shitty people doing their best. Or worst, in some cases. The pacing of Low Town is excellent, and it's as addictive as the drugs found within its pages.Read this book if:you want to read a noir thriller, but are bored by the stupid real world.

Books in Low Town Series (2)

This book is a thoroughly grimdark adventure, following a world-weary PTSD sufferer on his quest to save the world he doesn't much care for. It's messy, gross, intense, brooding and also fucking awesome. Richard K. Morgan has written some kick-ass sci-fi like Altered Carbon, and his fantasy also rocks.This book is a great example of fantasy caked in mud and blood rather than shining armour and codes of chivalry. Ringil, the protagonist, is a guilt-ridden, broken psyche wrapped in battle-scarred skin. If there's even a shred of hope or goodness in my protagonists, I'm disappointed, and Ringil suits me just fine. The book is super-violent and super-sexual, and it's all about as gritty as contact lenses coated in dirt. It's quite gritty, is the point I'm trying to convey here, and there are plenty of moment where you'll feel mighty uncomfortable. But that's what you're here looking for, isn't it, you sick bastard? Ringil isn't the only viewpoint character, and the others are also well-characterized and interesting. Morgan certainly has a way with words, and the prose is a delight to read, just as the world-building is intruiging, with hints of more beyond the standard fantasy-land.Read this if: you like swearing, violence and angry sex. Or all three at once.

Books in A Land Fit For Heroes Series (3)

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 Caine Series (4)

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For similar recommendations, I'm give books that fuse action, blood, grittiness, flawed humanity, and anti-heroes. Some books may also feature assassins. All these books also explore the idea of 'the hero.'

Caine Sequels

The sequels of course! There are 3 of them as of 2014 and it's more of the same with Caine's story fleshed out more and more. Each book does something new though. The books are all good, but the first books is the best and the second book nearly as good. There rest may be a dissapointment though, depending. The direct sequel to Heroe's Die is The Blade of Tyshalle.

The Steel Remains

The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan. Some elements of Heroes Die here: you have a dark and unforgiving world with a misunderstood hero who's not afraid of being a serious bad ass to those who fuck him over. This is one of the darkest fantasy books you'll read. But oh so good and something unique in the grim dark genre. It's a trilogy with the final book released by the end of 2014 making this trilogy a complete one.

The Heroes

The Heroes. When all villains are really just misunderstood heroes and heroes turn out to be villains. Abercrombie's best book so far, which is saying a lot since every book he's written is some of the best works in the genre. Tons of action, awesome and compelling characters, and vicious battles. Abercrombie is one of the best writers of violent scenes that just pop out of nowhere. If you love the action and blood of Heroes Die and you like the character of Caine, I think you'll like The Heroes. Note Heroes is more of a subversion of the idea of heroes, politics, and war. Heroes Die is more of a straight bad-ass anti-hero guy murdering everything around him rather than a sly statement about the state of humanity.

The Night Angel Trilogy

If you like the Assassin factor of Heroes Die, read Brent Weeks' The Night Angel Trilogy. It's a good read and Weeks is a rising star in the Fantasy world. The series is much, much lighter reading than the Acts of Caine, and the prose is not half as good. Good for light reading though.

Prince of Thorns

For some compelling anti-hero reading about an assassin king, you should read Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. Right up your alley if you like the violence and amorality of Stover's Caine character. Honorable Jorg Ancraft, the hero villain of Prince of Thorns, is an immoral and vicious bastard. Even so, you can't stop rooting for him to win.

The Farseer Trilogy

Also read Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy -- an epic tale about an assassin-in-training in a fantasy landscape, but with one of the best drawn characters ever to grace the Fantasy scene. As for being bad-ass, Fitz has nothing on Caine though and if you are expecting a heroic amount of violence and kickass-ness on the part of Fitz, expect to be disappointed. The whole kick ass that happens is to Fitz who gets ass whooped over and over. Really, he's kind of a bitch. But fabulous read, nevertheless.

The Folding Knife 

The Folding Knife by KJ Parker's might just be up your alley. Dark, gritty, filled with flawed heroes with realistic motivations. Not everyone appreciate's Parker, but if you want a slower-paced 'rich' fantasy that's all about the characters, man Parker knows how to do it right.

The Red Knight

The Red Knight. Knight heroes, monstrous elves, and damsels in distress all clash in this remarkable book released in 2013. The tale is a different one than your normal fantasy with a highly detailed and realistic medievil world built by the author who is a legit medievil historian. There's a huge cast of characters (though the focus remains on The Red Knight, the titular hero of the story and series) rather than a single one. However, like Heroes Die there's a lot of sizzling energy to this series, with brutal action, action, and lots of war. You'll probably like it if you like gritty violence and lots of fighting.

Talion: Revenant

Talion: Revenant is the best work by prolific fantasy author Michael A Stackpole. Heroic fantasy with a lot of energy. One of the best 'boy becomes a man and then a hero' tales I've read and certainly Stackpool's best work.


Legend, the book that made Gemmell's career and certainly his career defining work about what it means to be a hero. He also explores the same idea in many works -- including a couple books about a bad-ass assassin turned hero (Waylander).

The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss -- just about one of the best fantasy books in the genre. Another sort of heroic fantasy, but a tale that focuses on a character-driven narrative about the life of a hero. This is not a subversion of the heroic tale, but an expansion of it. It's frame story that's told after-the-fact, and we are never sure if the tale of Kvothe, a larger than life hero, is truth or exagerration. The writing is lyrical and gorgeous -- showing itself to be a perfect intersection between a powerful narrative and strong writing.

There's so much about this wonderful series that's right. From a thrilling Robin Hood caper story (think a magical Oceans 11), compelling and complex characters, deep and expansive world-building, fascinating mythology and lore, and a gripping tale. This is epic fantasy meets underworld fantasy, with the stakes the fate of the world and the heroes a band of brilliant thieves.With four books out now and some of the books uneven (the first couple books are the best), Lynch has managed to weave together a compelling tale that starts off rather straightforward with a  band of thieves in a single city with a single, yete simple goal, but becomes complex and empire spanning a few books in.The strength though is in the brilliant prose, the strong characters, and compelling characterization. And of course, the over-the-top robberies the characters inflict upon those who deserve it.Look, if you haven't read this series yet, do it. It's not only one of the best assassin/rogue / thieve tales in the genre, it's one of the best fantasy stories/books in the entire genre. We are all still waiting for the release of the 4th book in the series, which has been delayed for at least a year and a half.

Books in Gentleman Bastards Series (10)

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The Sequel Books

Of course, it's a given that you should read the sequel books to Lies of Locke Lamora. The third book Republic of Thieves was released in the later part of 2014 and book four is due sometime this year (2015).

The Name of the Wind

Give The Name of the Wind a try for another book with a very strongly characterized protagonist. The protagonist is not a scoundrel type, however.

The First Law Trilogy

If you like the dry, sarcastic tone of the narration and dark humor of the Locke books, you should give Joe Abercrombie's novels (starting with The Blade Itself) a read -- both the trilogy and the stand alone books. Probably the closest you'll find that matches the style and pacing found in Lynch's books, though Abercrombie is darker.

The Crown Conspiracy

You might enjoy Michael Sullivan's The Crown Conspiracy which is the story of a falsely accused criminal trying to set his name right. It's a light-hearted, over-the-top fantasy tale about a pair of roughish thieves; not as dark as Scott's books and Sullivan is not as talented a wordsmith as Lynch. A fun romp though and Sullivan is one of the more active authors on forums, reddit, and social media platforms.

Vlad Taltos

You might give Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series a read. Like Locke, the main character is a criminal, and the setting the action takes place is an urban one. All the supporting characters are well developed -- something that Lynch does well when writing about Locke's sidekicks.

Retribution Falls

Give Chris Wooding's Retribution Falls (Book 1 of the Tales of the Ketty Jay) a read; it's got some of similar elements: a motley crew of somewhat unsuccessful sky pirates, interesting characters, adventure fantasy on the high seas (or shall I say, high skies), and wise-cracking characters. Similar in a lot of ways to Scott Lynch's work, though not as dark. The plot follows the crew of the Ketty Jay, a down-and-out sky ship to which fate has not been kind -- both the captain and the crew are running from past demons of some sort. When the captain schemes to commit a robbery that will make them all rich, things take a turn for the worse when it all goes horribly wrong; the crew and captain find themselves running for their lives with only once chance only: to find the pirate city of Retribution Falls.

The Farseer

Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy is also coming-of-age story which features some of the same conventions used by Lynch, such as a strong protagonist, flashbacks to younger years, a troubled childhood, the journey from nothing to something, etc. The plot is completely different, however.


If you like the whole "band of merry adventurers against the world" sort of thing, then you might give Tigana a try; it's the story of a band of musicians who double as revolutionaries seeking to overthrow and evil sorcerer.

Nights of Vilijamur

You might also like the Mark Charan Newton's Nights of Villjamur for a similar style of fantasy (in tone, not plot).

Tome of the Undergates

Along the lines of gritty fantasy made into a non-epic fantasy, read Sam Sykes' Tome of the Undergates.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

Another recommendation you might find interesting is Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser if you are a fan of the Gentlemen Bastards books. Jean is a much less raunchy version of Fafhrd and Locke is a far more risk taking and reckless version of Gray Mouser.

Among Thieves

If you like Lies of Locke Lamora, you are almost sure to like Among Thieves (Hulick's work is first person while Lynch does 3rd person). It features that sort of roguish misunderstood man with a chip on his shoulder vs the greater world theme of Lynche's books.  The protagonist, Drothe, is a low level criminal in a sort of thieves guild. His best bud is a master swordsman. You should start to see some parallels here. The city setting itself mixes the baroque with the filthy, with the city sort of a Ventian reflection of Lynch's Camorr.

Prince of Thorns

The Broken Empire series by Mark Lawrence. A broken world with remnants of a more advanced civilization scattered about. An anti-hero character who ends up on the wrong side of justice. Witty and sarcastic dialogue. You may just like reading about Honorable Jorg Ancraft if you are a fan of Locke.

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber -- a book that's as shocking as it is true. Sometimes art imitates life and life imitates art. I'm not sure which is the case here, but this is a TRUE story about a gentleman rogue, a real life version of Locke.

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is an absolute classic of literature, but if we are going to talk about rouges becoming gentlemen for a mission of revenge, this book has to be mentioned. And hey, if you have never read this book, then shame on you. Start. The count is the original Locke.

It's not often you get a likable murderer, but in his Tales of the Kin series Douglas Hulick manages to do just that. Drothe lives in a world of snitches, killers, and thieves, and he's perfectly suited to that world. He's not an incredibly powerful magician, instead relying on supernatural night vision and good fighting skills to keep him alive. Drothe's forte is information brokering, not killing, but he doesn't shy away from murder if will get him what he wants. When his line of work leads him to a valuable artefact, he becomes the target of entire empires and has to fight tooth and nail to stay alive. Other than the incredible character building, Hulick brings years of expertise to the sub-genre. The man has an MA in medieval history and is a martial arts and 17th-century rapier expert. That shines through heavily in this book, with a Byzantine-inspired setting and incredible action scenes. If you're tired of drawn-out, unrealistic swordfights, it's safe to say this book is for you. Drothe is not immune to injury and often survives through dumb luck. This combines with some truly satisfying moments as the puzzle pieces form a cohesive bigger picture. The result is a gritty, fast-paced series that keeps you entertained the whole way through. Read if you like: The Lies of Locke Lamora, dark fantasy, first-person perspective.

Books in Tale Of The Kin Series (0)

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.
With 'grim' in the title, it's not hard to guess that this book is clearly camped in the grimdark sub-genre, and it hits all the right beats for gritty, amoral fantasy. The Grim Company begins with a city being destroyed. Just to, y'know, make sure you get what you're in for. From there, a cast of gritty characters romps around the world, with the interesting inclusion of a legless mage. The world finds itself in the 'Age of Ruin', jumped-up wizards killed the gods, leaving their corpses scattered around the world, leaking wild magic. Scull's imagination is great, and he manages to make his book fun without sacrificing any of the hard-fightin', hard-drinkin', sweary goodness of grimdark fantasy. It's also fun to have a setting with plenty of magic, which is relatively rare in the muddy worlds of gritty fantasy. Scull's pacing is impeccable, and after an explosive beginning, he chugs along nicely, and it's easy to find yourself up at four in the morning cursing what a bloody idiot you are for not going to sleep at a normal human time.Read this book if you like fantasy with a healthy portion of fun mixed in with the broken bones and rusted steel.

Books in Grim Company Series (2)

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I recommend you take a good look at our Best Grimdark Fantasy list -- you'll find a bucket load of gritty, grimdark book recommendations there.
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.

Books in The Witcher Series (8)

There are few things harder to control than emotion and this makes magic in The Cold Firetrilogy immensely difficult. The planet Erna is controlled by a force known as the fae, which makes humans subconscious emotions and fears real. Often, it’s as much a fight against magic as it is with it. After centuries, people’s thoughts have manifested strongly enough to create the planet’s own gods, but also to create demons and faulty technology. The fear that tech won’t function correctly has knocked its inhabitants back to the medieval days, but there are also some who can control the fae. Fae manifests in four ways. Earthcomes from the planet’s seismic activity, Solar from the sun’s light, Tidal from its moons, and Dark from those places devoid of light. By using symbolism and sacrifice, sorcerers have learned to manipulate these forces, with some able to see and shape it instinctively. The intelligent way C.S. Friedman has built the world means magic is prevalent in every aspect of the story. It blends fantasy, sci-fi, and horror,while suggesting thatlimitless imagination isn’talways a good thing.

Books in The Coldfire Trilogy Series (3)

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Magister Trilogy

You might like Friedman's newer series (Magister Trilogy) which has some darker elements to it (one must suck the life out of a person to use magic). It's not nearly as dark as The Coldfire trilogy though and there is no anti-hero.

The Crooked Letter

Read The Crooked Letter (Book One of the Cataclysism) by Sean Williams for a story set in a horror tinged world with a magic system that's sort of similar to that of The Coldfire Trilogy. It's not the same plot or anything, but it's one of those books that introduces deeper human issues into the fabric of the story and the setting is somewhat reminiscent of the weird world of The Coldfire Trilogy -- a place where monsters and creatures of the dark just lurk around the corner.

The Warded Man

If you like the horror aspect of The Coldfire Trilogy where creatures of the dark wait just around the corner out of sight, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting humans, give Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man a read. Not the same style plot and the writing is not as good, but the world portrayed is quite interesting with demons coming out at night prowling the landscape and killing any humans not behind special wards. Only the first book is good, however; the other 2 books were absolute disappointments.

The Abhorsen Trilogy

Look at The Abhorsen Trilogy; the world portrayed is one with dark creatures lurking in practically every nook and cranny of the landscape. 

Spook's Apprentice

Also read Joseph's Delany's Spook's Apprentice series which is a YA story about a young apprentice who works as a sort of exorcist in a landscape filled with creatures of the night.

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

The Coldfire Trilogy has a very strong anti-hero. For epic fantasy with a strong anti-hero, you probably can't more anti hero than The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

The Prince of Thorns

For a strong anti-hero tale about a prince who decides to take back his throne by fair means or foul (and mostly foul), read The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. Nothing is similar about the plot, but there may be some overlap between one of the anti-hero characters' in both novels, willing to do anything at all to achieve their goal of power. 

The Black Company

You should also read Glenn Cook's The Black Company books -- I would count these books as dark fantasy. The characters are morally ambiguous and in fact fighting for a side that many would consider "evil" or the "dark lord" (in this case, a "dark lady"). His new series, The Tyranny of the Night, also has some of those dark fantasy elements too -- like the ColdFire world, dark spirits come out at night to attack humans. 

The Warded Man

For one more recommendation that features a world somewhat like the Coldfire one (in that monsters come creeping out of the shadows at night), read The Warded Man.

The First Law trilogy

For another epic fantasy series that's character- and plot-driven with some anti-hero elements and morally ambiguous characters, Abercrombie's The First Law series comes to mind. 

A Song of Ice and Fire

The same goes for Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire -- a huge cast of completely amoral "hero" characters. Good and evil are not clearly delineated.

The Talisman

I would also suggest Steven King's The Talisman, which is about a young boy who must enter into a dark fantasy world to save his mother. There is a strong delineation between good and evil, but the world itself is pretty dark. Of course, if you like the Talisman, then King's The Dark Tower (which has some dark fantasy elements to it) is a given read too.

The Scar

If you don't mind novels that are not your standard heroic fantasy, but have a strong element of "Gothic" to them and a cast of bizarre characters you might find in any horror novel, you can check out some of China Mieville's works (The Scar).

Fevre Dream

Finally, if you like the whole partial "vampire" aspect of the main hero, you might want to read George Martin's stunning Fevre Dream.'


Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. For a read about a place where people have their desires and whims fulfilled, read the classic Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. It's the same sort of premise (different setting and story of course) as the Cold Fire, just the science fiction version of it on a spacecraft.

If you're looking to scratch the itch for an epic after finishing Game of Thrones, this series is a great place to start. It details the growth of the king's four children through to adulthood, jumping across a multitude of perspectives, political maneuvering, and battles.It's huge in scope and slow in its pacing, but Acaia has that rare ability to make you think deeply. Durham, seamlessly integrates important philosophies into the story through his characters and their actions. None of the four protagonists are outright 'heroes'. In fact, the book takes a close look at the monstrosities dynasties get away with in the name of good. You quickly learn that the kingdom isn't all it's cracked up to be, and when the threat of invasion looms, it's not always easy to pick the right side. It's not an easy read. There isn't a constant or flashy use of magic to catch your eye, and the sheer detail means it can be overwhelming. But if you can push past that, you'll find real value in this story of betrayal, war, and relatable villains. Read if you like: Game of Thrones, multiple perspectives, gray areas.

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Acacia is written in the epic Fantasy tradition that Tolkien pioneered. Epic Fantasy is probably the most popular type of Fantasy and the real "poster boy" for the Fantasy genre (something that I personally believe should not be the case). 

If you like Acacia, then it's a sure bet that you will love these other series. 

A Song of Ice and Fire

You should definitely read George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, which is the best epic fantasy series currently out there (and my top pick). 

The Wheel of Time

Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time is also another excellent epic Fantasy in the tradition. The Greg Keyes' Kingdom of Thorn and Bone is also another spectacular epic fantasy series that's several notches above most other series -- at least for the first couple books. The series fails after the third book and the last book is dreadfully disappointing.

The Lord of the Rings

And of course the daddy of epic Fantasy, The Lord of the Rings

The Malazan Book of the Fallen

For a more anti-hero protagonist, Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is another great series to read. You want epic Fantasy that brings new meaning to the word "epic," then read Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen

The Blade Itself

And if you want some epic Fantasy that really breaks or twists in some way most of the standard conventions of epic Fantasy, read Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself.

The Barrow was a 2014 release of pure, unadulterated grimdark with a cast of antiheroes. Vicious, action-packed, brutal with more bad language throne in than Eminem song. And did I mention there's almost a porn-level of graphic sex tossed in as well.But there's some real thrills in this book about a group of characters from different walks of life who band together out of necessity and embark on a quest to rob an evil wizards grave. Of course, shit goes awesomely wrong for all involved.Some good stuff found in this book. Read if you want over the top...everything.

Books in The Barrow Series (1)

The unusual Moscow setting of Night Watch is echoed by its magic system. Lukyanenko’s contemporary world is inhabited by both humans and ‘Others’, supernatural beings who can attune to Dark or Light. These beings keep watch, one group during the day, the other at night, using their powers to maintain the balance. They exist in a magical realm known as the Twilight and began long ago as shamans and wisemen. Their attuenment depends on their emotional state when they entered it, and this also determines which powers they can access. Thus, Lukyanenko creates a world filled with sorcerers and vampires, healers and magicians. Each side recharges its powers through human emotion; dark through the negative ones, and light through the positive. Feeding on bad emotions heightens them, while positive emotions are dulled, creating a system where light is forever overshadowed by darkness. Lukyanenko’s strength is in the detail he renders each power, but he also uses it as a tool. His magic system exists not just for excitement, but to explore concepts of good and evil, and that makes it one of the best around.

Books in Watch Series (5)

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..
When someone mentions Sword and Sorcery, what comes to mind is Conan the Barbarian, arguably the greatest representation of the genre. It’s true that the story of Conan has been more influential than any other genre work. Its been imitated time and time again, but never duplicated. Conan is a figure from pulp fiction that’s transcended into myth, impacting an entire generation of writers and even making a dent in Hollywood as well. Many know Conan from the films and movies, but if you haven’t actually read the source of Conan, Robert Howard's pulp fiction stories, than you’ve never encountered the real Conan. Conan, Howard’s hero, dominates the landscape much in the way the ancient heroes of the Iliad and Odyssey were masters of the Greek domain. Like the primal Greek heroes and gods, Conan is an indestructible force of nature, a pure hurricane gale that obliterates all obstacles. The raw Conan is a character shaped from myth, a figure who’s both a force of nature and a human being. The world of Conan is a landscape not unlike our own past, but it’s a world woven from a patchwork of imagination, history, and legend. Conan is the archetype for an enduring human myth, a raw, primal force of humanity and instant. Conan defines the essence of true Sword and Sorcery. Don't just limit yourself to the stories of Conan -- Howard wrote other non-Conan tales which are also considered Sword and Sorcery classics. Try Kull: Exile of Atlantis and The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane .
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 (2)

I would categorize this as the bastard child of Tolkien and Martin: it has some of the ancient lore and world-building mythos present in Tolkien crossed with the dark grittiness of Martin. I don’t feel it completely lived up the initial expectations shown in the first book of the trilogy, but overall it was a good read and certainly better than the usual Tolkien clone series. Think of this as a way less complex version of A Game of Thrones. George R.R. Martin Extra Lite without the complex characters though some of the characters are somewhat morally ambiguous in a gritty setting.

Books in The Godless World Series (2)

A new author who pays some serious tribute to Abercrombie with his style of grimdark. Do read if you like depressing, action ridden fantasy with a cast of troubled heroes. Some say this author is the best new and upcoming 'grimdark' author. I agree -- between Luke Sculls and Jeff Salyards, Richard Ford is an author to keep your eye on.
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.
Mark Lawrence doesn’t use an abundance of technical explanations and diagrams, but that doesn’t make his magic system any less interesting. In fact, it lets him focus on his astonishing world-building and its unusual elements. The world in this series is, in essence, a never-ending cycle. Reality is created by what citizens believe in. Their beliefs create gods, and those gods influence their beliefs, altering them once more. This hole, in reality, lets humans influence the world and use magic. Traditional magic users appear. Those who can control fire, necromancers and seers; but all have a price. Each time magic is used the barrier between life and death gets weaker, potentially opening the floodgates. However, despite these elements, there are hints of a relatively normal past. Lawrence’s world is just as compelling in its discovery as it is its execution, and his magic system is a huge part of that.

Books in The Broken Empire Series (2)

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The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

We can't talk about antiheroes in a fantasy world without mentioning The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. The series is older (a few decades) but a fantasy classic, with one of the original fantasy antiheroes who just does bad shit part of the time and is a general dick. Then he gets better with time.

The Black Company

A similar kind of vibe: a dark and gritty dilapidated world that feels like it's dying; a cast of morally gray characters (though on the darker shade of gray) who do bad shit over and over because 'they like it'; and a company of mercenaries. See some of the similarities? I would hazard a guess here and say Lawrence was heavily inspired by Cook. It's a guess that was wrong. Mark Lawrence recently tweeted us saying he's not yet read Cook. Either way, if you like The Black Company, you'll find yourself at home with Lawrence's The Broken Empire books. 

Scourge of the Betrayer 

This one by Jeff Salyards takes a lot of the same gritty tendencies of Lawrence's work. There's a company of amoral solders on a quest to just fuck shit up in other kingdoms on orders from their emperor. This book is the closest I've come so far to Lawrence's style of story telling. Salyards is one of my new favorite authors and a rising star in the genre. Absolutely read him if you love Lawrence's Broken Empires.

First Law

Joe Abercrombie's books, oh yes very similar. Start with First Law trilogy. Gritty world, sharp, witty, and sarcastic prose with the same type of characters. Abercrombie's protagonists are more heroes though than villains, for the most part, though you can find a few that fit the role of an antihero. Best Served Cold and Heroes are books that feel the closest in style and tone, with Best Served Cold featuring a band of mercenaries seeking to overthrow a government -- somewhat similar of a plot to Prince of Thrones.

Elric of Melinbone

Give Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock a read. A classic that's criminally ignored. One of the original fantasy antiheroes, way back decades ago. Dark fantasy, lyrical prose, and a bad ass hero who's partly a villain.

Among Thieves

Among Thieves (Tales of the Kin, #1) . One of the best assassin/thief/spy fantasy books right now. It's got the ghettos and grittiness of Prince of Thorns, though the hero is not an antihero. I suspect you will like this series if you like Prince of Thorns.

A Promise of Blood

Flintlock fantasy with a bang. Not the same style story, but full of violence, blood, and grit. You'll probably like A Promise of Blood. I do.

Heroes Die

Caine, a bad-ass antihero assassin. Dirty world without hope. Lots of death and violence. Great writing. Read it and be wowed. Heroes Dieis some of the best fantasy you'll read.

A Song of Ice and Fire series

Starts with A Game of Thrones. Yea, I had to drop this in. The gritty setting, the troubled characters, the struggle for power among kingdoms. The undead coming back to haunt the living. See some of the similarities here? Word is though, book 6 is coming out 2016 NOT 2015.

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 Of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever Series (9)

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The Sequel Books

If you like his Donaldson's first trilogy, then you should read his Covenant trilogies listed above. His new trilogy (Last Chronicles ) is a riveting read that will please both old and new fans. Thomas' old lover, Linden, returns to The Land, only to find it changed beyond recognition... And Thomas the Unbeliever? Read the books to find out! 

Mordant's Need
Starts with Mirror of Her Dreams. Oh yes, read this. Not as anti-heroish as the Thomas Covenant, but some strong characterization and a well developed world. I'd say it's arguably his funnest read without all the sorrow and misery of his Covenant books. 

Gap Series

Donaldson also has a very interesting (and dark dark) Science Fiction saga (Gap) that you will like if you liked the anti-hero aspect of Covenant.

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

If you like the characterization of Thomas Covenant, you may like Tad William's epic fantasy Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn saga which really follows the transformation of the protagonist over the course of the series. 

The Farseer

Read Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy for another story with magnificent characterization set in a fantasy landscape (though Farseer is not exactly epic fantasy). Donaldson is unique in fantasy because his character is whole an whole an anti-hero instead of a hero. You may like 

A Song of Ice and Fire

George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga; there are some detestable main characters (anti-hero types) that become more agreeable as the series progresses; You see a slow evolution of these characters. 

If You Like the Anti-Hero Aspect of this book, check out our Best Anti-Hero Fantasy Books list.

The Red Knight and the Traitor Son Cycle it begins are the most historically-accurate depictions of medieval-era warfare that I've ever read. In fact, if you want to continue enjoying military fantasy as a whole, don't read this book, since it will make everything else seem silly (Where is that knight's squire and retinue of retainers? How the hell did that guy get into his plate armour so fast? Why does that army have no camp followers? What about their supply lines?). Miles Cameron is actually a pen-name for Christian Cameron, a man almost ridiculously qualified to write military fantasy. He has a BA in Medieval History with honors and served in the United States Navy. As if that wasn't enough, he is an experienced re-enactor of medieval and classical battles. This is a man who knows what it feels like to cop a sword-blow to the helmet, and his writing shows it. Even the depiction of magic is based upon how people once thought magic might actually work. The novel follows the titular Red Knight, the leader of a mercenary company that is hired to defend an Abbey from the monstrous forces of 'the Wild'. Cameron is dedicated to depicting warfare realistically (even if it is against monsters), and when you hit someone with a mace, he demonstrates that the results are not exactly pretty. There are plenty of splintered bones, snapped tendons and torn-out throats.Read this book if:you like historical fiction, or want a story about how a medieval army would actually work. Also, cool monsters.

Books in The Traitor Son Cycle Series (6)

A new author, but one who is writing some powerful grimdark with some real zest. Scourge of the Betrayers is sort of a combination of Black Company, The Blade Itself, and Prince of Thorns, all wrapped up in one. And it's delicious indeed. A must read for any fans of some serious hardcore, bloody grimdark.It's gritty gritty good.
One of the more interesting series. The author takes the classic young prodigy destined to change the world conceit and plays around with it in some new ways. For one, he makes the world a pretty dark and brutal place with the early parts of the story detailing the hell on earth that is the protagonist's life. The characters are interesting as are some of the relationships. Some good potential with this series. One of the more interesting pseudo alternate history fantasy books. Definitely worth reading if you like your fantasy dark and you enjoy reading about the boy with a destiny type of fantasy, but one that's been remade into something new.

Similar Recommendations

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 Instrumentalities Of The Night Series (3)

Similar Recommendations

The Warded Man -- a world haunted by creatures of the night, until one man proves you can fight back. Awesome, dark, and violent. Defiently some similar elements to The Tyranny of the Night

The Black Company -- by the same author; also grimdark military fantasy

The Red Knight -- gritty medieval fantasy where human's fight against 'The Wild', monsters and inhuman creatures that live in wide swaths of un-tamable forests on the borders of human kingdoms.

The Darkness That Comes Before -- absolute dark epic fantasy that is pretty much the current definition of what grimdark is.

The Coldfire Trilogy -- a world where you imagination manifests into actual reality. It's a dark place where nightmares roam the landscape, preying on humans. Similar elements but much more character-driven than Cook's work.


A Land Fit for Heroes -- one of the darkest fantasy series I've read. This is anti-fantasy -- a complete subversion of the epic fantasy tropes. But it's exciting as hell to read.

Drawing heavily on the culture of the ancient Norsemen, Gemmell takes familiar archetypes and crafts them into a well-told tale of sacrifice and dying well. Druss and his once-possessed axe Snaga come out of retirement to shape the men of Drenai into an army that can do the impossible, affirming he really is a legend. While pretty straightforward, Gemmell's prose manages to inspire despite making no effort to downplay the grim tragedies of war. Legend has become a classic standard of the heroic fantasy genre.Gemmell has written an extensive body of work in his lifetime and all of it pretty much classified as 'heroic' fantasy in the truest sense. Legend is perhaps his most well-known book and his breakout read and many would argue some of his other works are superior (my top pick would be his Troy trilogy). However, as Legend is his first and most well-known, we've chosen this book to represent his body of work.But don't think of this as the first and only book, but merely the place you should start when reading his fantasy.
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.
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 (2)

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.
Like many books on this list, The Powder Mage Cycle doesn’t contain just one magic system. However, the one synonymous with its name stands out the most, and it’s easy to see why. Powder Mages get their magical ability from snorting gunpowder, allowing them to heighten their senses, grow stronger, become faster, and manipulate explosions. These users are excellent marksmen, able to propel bullets faster and with more accuracy. Using powder too much can cause blindness, but mages are often pushed to such extremes when fighting traditional magic users known as ‘The Privileged’. While The Privileged are similar to mages found in traditional high fantasy, McClellan throws in some interesting aspects. Rather than just flexing their magical muscles, The Privileged must use their fingers. Their right hand is used to draw power from the ‘Else’, and their left to manipulate it using special gloves. This war between two different types of magic works as a focal point for the plot and the series, naturally weaving great detail and intense action into its already strong narrative.

Books in The Powder Mage Series (3)

Similar Recommendations

Alloy of Law 
Allow of Law is a very similar setup in writing style, in character, and in the non-stop action as A Promise of Blood. Considering Brandon Sanderson was McClellan's teacher, the similarities between the two works and writing styles between authors should be no surprise.
The Thousand Names
The Thousand Names. Another Flintlock Fantasy with a Colonial bent, but this one more military fantasy. Tons of explosive action, good characterization, plot twists, and an all out exciting read. Feels similar.
The Lightbringer
Brent Weeks' The Lightbringer series is very much similar to The Powder Mage trilogy. Not in plot, but in the same action-heavy writing style, the explosive and well written action scenes, and unique magic system. Both series also have a so so first book but an explosive improvement by book two.
Blood Song
Ryan's Blood Song is one non-stop action ride from start to finish. Yes, the plot is not the same, nor the writing style, but it's an enthralling read about violence and a book you just can't put down. Blood Song is a coming of age while The Powder Mage trilogy is not so much.
The Emperor's Blades
Another book from the new wave of fantasy writers that have been putting out startling debuts the past two years. The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne is more typical 'epic fantasy' in the vein of a reworked Tolkien, yet I do feel if you'll probably enjoy it greatly if you like Blood Song. Don't expect the same sort of read -- they are completely different works, but I think if you enjoy one, you'll enjoy the other.
The Warded Man
All raw action, a unique magic system, and a darker themed world. These are some the same themes and ideas explored with McClellan's Powder Mage books. I suspect you'll enjoy The Warded Man if you like A Promise of Blood. Note that The Warded Man is part of a series that falls the pieces after the second book, but the first book is magnificent.
The Red Knight
The Red Knight. First book in Miles Cameron's awesome new series (Traitors Son Cycle). It takes some of the Arthurian knightly traditions and mixes in some good old epic fantasy into it. Tons of action, lots of fighting, lots of magic, a unique magic system, a powerful hero, a huge cast, military strategy, and an almost insane attention to real historical medieval minutia about items, living, and settings.
First Law
Joe Abercrombie's works are not the same, but they do embody the quintessential definition of gritty fantasy -- and you do find a good deal of grittiness in Brian McCellan's Powder Mage trilogy. So if you like the gritty aspect of The Promise of Blood, do check out Abercrombie's First Law books for a real good dose of it.
At night, Peter V. Brett’s world changes. Demons rise from the planet’s core, infused with supernatural powers and with a hunger for human flesh.Constant bombardment has knocked humans back into a technological dark age, and their only protection isthe wards that form barriers around settlements. It’s these fragile wards that make the base of The Demon Cycle’s magic system, and they aren’t powered conventionally. In most fantasy, the source of magic comes from either the caster or physical materials. Wards, on the other hand, draw power from the demons themselves, reflecting their energy back at them. As a result, it doesn’t merely let the user wave a hand and solve problems. It requires intense preparation, fail-safes, and means that humans can’t use it to exploit one another. Thanks to the ward system, there’s also an incredible amount of complexity. Wards of fire, confusion, heat, and more can be etched into the ground, added to weapons, or even branded ontothe user’s skin. Thanks to the protagonistsrevolutionary thinking, the magic never gets old. Arlen, as well as being a compelling character, continuouslyfinds ways to innovate and bring value to the story. Throwing two additional POV’s into the mix, Brett caries the reader effortlessly through his five titles.

Books in The Demon Cycle Series (5)

Reading a new Abercrombie book is just like going to a fancy restaurant, it doesn't happen very often, but when it does, you relish every moment of the experience. Half a King is the author's first YA effort, and for the most part, it works. He takes his now-patented take on the fantasy genre (I call his version of grimdark 'aberdark') and trims it down a bit for a younger audience. There's less savagery, less sarcasm, less violence, but the feeling you come to expect from his writing is still there, strong as ever. The setting, loosely influenced by Scandinavian / Norse culture, is an interesting one and a good choice for a new world to start a new tale in.Overall, well worth reading. I don't feel it stands over the other great works that have come out this year by other authors AND it's a lesser work to his more adult storytelling (his best of which is The Heroes), but it's a book that's true to his form and an outstanding read.

Books in Shattered Sea Series (5)

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?).
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 Delusions Series (1)

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 Angels Series (0)

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 War Series (4)

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 Empire Series (3)

Often, novels focus on the evolution of characters from total nobodies into well-respected and lauded magicians. They shed their peasant heritage and earn a place among the elite. With Red Sister, Mark Lawrence refuses that trope. Like many characters, Nona has had a tough life. She’s been passed around slave-owners, been beaten, and cast out. But rather than turning it around, she channels it. Adopted into the Sweet Mercy Covenant, she is taught not to do good, but instead to kill. You would expect this to breed distrust and violence between students, and it does, for a time. But Lawrence shows his hand as a master storyteller, weaving rivalries into friendships and characters into complex beings. Nona is the shining example of this, fiery yet unsure, a killer, yet intensely loyal. When her past begins to catch up, those friends come into play, and they do so with substance. Lawrence doesn't just throw in the stereotypes used by some writers; he imagines each one as complexly as the protagonist, and this gives the world an uncanny real-ness. Telling an uphill battle to assassin-hood against the rich and powerful, Red Sister conveys a story few will want to miss.

Books in Book Of The Ancestor Series (1)

One of the best fantasy novels in recent times, Blood Song also happens to have many school-like elements. Left as a child at the gates of the Sixth Order, Vaelin Al Sorna joins a secular group of holy warriors and forfeits his right to the throne. Furious, he throws himself into his training, earning respect from his peers and struggling to overcome dangerous trials. This, combined with a flashback-like narration, has led to many comparisons with The Name of the Wind, and in some ways, it's apt. Like Rothfuss, Anthony Ryan weaves a story with beautiful prose, but he also avoids some of the book’s criticisms. Vaelin is never close to a Mary Sue character, able to do everything well and avoid real danger. He’s specialized and focused, and his trials at the order cement that. Many school fantasy books present a straightforward story, but Blood Song’sis far more complex. The book presents dozens of plot threads, but not in a messy, incomprehensible way. Ryan shows his gift as a storyteller by tying them neatly together as Vaelin comes of age in the rigid school atmosphere.

Books in Raven's Shadow Series (2)

Most magic systems have a single source. In Earthsea, it’s words, Mistborn has metals, and so on. With his worldseries, Stavely does things a little differently. Magic users, known as leeches, pull from their well, warping reality. However, the well of each leech is exclusive. For one it could be a boot, for another, the wind, metal, or even emotions. Though this makes it less regimented than some, it works heavily to the book’s advantage. Stavely is often secretive about character’s wells, making for a consistent guessing game. Depending on the scenario, allies of enemies could be powerful or useless. It also makes them an unknown, and this means they’re feared. Leeches are treated like freaks and persecuted, often having to hide their abilities. Together, these elements create a natural tension, but there are also hints of other, more accepted oddities. As well as deities, there are huge birds, riddenby elite soldiers known as the Kettral. With an elegant hand, Stavely weaves all of this into the epic story, crafting a cohesive whole with plenty of magical sub-plots.

Books in Chronicle Of The Unhewn Throne Series (5)

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.
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 (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.
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 Farseer Series (2)

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.
The Lightbringer series holds one of the best magic systems in fantasy, straight from the mind of Brent Weeks. It manages to be simple in concept, yet holds tons of extra depth for those looking for it. Essentially, it works through colors. Chromaturgy allows its users (Drafters) to turn light into a physical substance named Luxin. However, to form Luxin, drafters must stare at the light, absorb it through their eyes, and tear it out through the skin. As a result, the strength of the user is dependent on their eyesight. The ability to differentiate colors is key, and only the Lord Prism can use all of them without consequences. Each color has different properties and categories, with some more powerful than others. Red Luxin, for example, is flammable and often used in warfare. Blue is great for weaponry, while superviolet, which sits outside the visible spectrum, can be used for invisible manipulation. Sadly, like all good magic systems, it has a cost. The whites of drafter’s eyes begin to color, signalinga reduced lifespan. Use too much, and they will go crazy, red drafters becoming rage-filled, while blues will become hard and logical. As you can tell already, Weeks has put incredible thought into this system, and it echoes throughout all aspects of society. As well as regular power dynamics, there are gender ones, with women far more likely to see colors accurately. On top of this is an expertly crafted, tense plot, life-like characters, and sprinkles of humor. It’s a must-read for any magic lover, and that’s why it tops our list.

Books in Lightbringer Series (6)