Best Military Fantasy Books
If you like fantasy with plenty of epic battles where the battle scenes and strategies are well-defined (you are immersed in the happenings on the battlefield), then this list of the best military fantasy is for you. This subgenre has been receiving a lot of attention, in no small part to some of the great fantasy writers who have been writing some stellar military fantasy-esque books.
Military Fantasy vs Fantasy with Military Elements
Many fantasy books, especially epic fantasy, have detailed military elements. However, keep in mind that there IS a difference between straight Military Fantasy and Fantasy With Military Elements. What’s the major difference? Pure military fantasy has most of the characters in the military. Fantasy With Military Elements may include battle scenes and wars, but the focus is not only on the military or about military life.
Books in The Chronicles Of The Black Company Series (10)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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. 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.
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 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.
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.
Books in The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series (11)
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
Starts with The Red Knight. Plenty of medieval warfare here - tactics, sieges, and fierce battles against men and monsters.
Books in First Law World Series (6)
Books in The Macht Series (2)
Books in The Deed Of Paksenarrion Series (3)
Books in The Stormlight Archive Series (4)
Books in Drenai Tales Series (14)
Books in Codex Alera Series (5)
These recommendations are taking up the 'Roman themes' in fantasy. That is, fantasy set in a Roman-esque setting or fantasy about roman legions or influenced by Roman history/culture.
Oath of Empires. Fantasy set in an alternative Roman Empire with the whole East vs West mentality. Lots of magic, lots of powerful heroes, lots of action, lots of sword and sorcery battles, and quite dark overall. I'd say the closest thing to Codex Alera you'll find.
You might also want to check out The Videssos cycle by Harry Turtledove which is about a Roman legion who find themselves magically transported into another world in the middle of a pitched Roman battle. While this is not really about magic, there's lots of politics and battle strategy involved with a few vs. overwhelming odds theme -- so it shares that similarity with the battle tactics Butcher details in his Codex Books.
Ghost King by David Gemmell. Features a whole barbarian invading a roman-like empire theme here.
The Gates of Rome. Conn Iggulden's alternative historical fiction featuring some of the famous roman characters we've all studied in history class. You might like it if you are hungering for some Roman historical fiction.
Latro in the Mist by Gene Wolfe. Expect something remarkably well written, excellent plotting, but not as much action. For those who enjoy a well written tale set in a roman-like landscape.
Saling to Sarantium (and the sequel Lord of Emperors) written by Guy Gaverial Kay. Expect awesome plots, detailed world building, complex characters, but less so on action. The action often takes place on the political stage and between characters, but not via battles. No magic. Still, read it.
This book and the Prince of Nothing trilogy, as well as the other books that follow, are so dark that you'll need a shower after reading them. And therapy. This bad-boy was nominated for the Locus Award for Best First Novel. It's a deep, philosophical read that demands your full attention, rather than being a light, pacey read like, for example, some of the young adult entries on this list. The prose is deep and enthralling, thick as rich chocolate but with the mental nutritional value of, like, kale or something. , the content of the book is deeply philosophical and intellectual, not in an 'everyone sits around and discusses the meaning of life' way, but in that the underpinnings of the characters and plot draw from eastern and western philosophies. The plot is epic and with many threads that play out across the series. Both monstrous and human entities within the book are horrifying, and the way magic-users operate is particularly unsettling. Read this book if: you like more intellectual novels, but don't want to miss out on all the sex and violence either.
Books in The Prince Of Nothing Series (6)
The vast scope of The Darkness That Comes Before is very redolent of Steven Erickson's Malazan Book of the Fallen saga, though the characters are less gray, and the story more focused.
Also try George R.R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, which is very epic and very gritty but way less philosophical. I'd also say it's more "character driven" as a whole than is The Darkness that comes before.
Another series that does that is Abercrombie's First Law series (starts with The Blade Itself) and Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains.
I'd say you'll also probably find Acacia by David Anthony Durnham a good read too -- there are gray characters, an exotic landscape, and world-ending powers at play in the background.
For another fantasy about war, look at John Marco's Tyrants and Kings trilogy. It's a great read with a cast of grey characters.
Another gritty military fantasy you'll probably like (though it's less cerebral than The Prince of Nothing) is The Black Company by Cook.
The Godless World series by Brian Ruckley is dark, atmospheric and very gritty, though it lacks some of the polish of the other series. The series never full lives up to it's potential, however.
For a deep character-driven fantasy you might try Daniel Abraham's The Long Price Quartet.
For a gray fantasy with lots of politics, different kingdoms going to war, a cast of ambiguous characters, adventure and magic, check out Paul Kearney's Monarchies of God.
Like pointed philosophical bits about the state of mankind thrown out by the hero? Try Mark Lawrence's The Broken Empire trilogy. It has a gritty and dark world it's probably the closest in theme and style you'll find to Bakker's works.