Top Ten Dark Fantasy Books

by G.D. Penman

Dark Fantasy is having a bit of trouble distinguishing itself as a genre nowadays. There has been a gradual trend in regular fantasy towards the grim, and towards deconstructing the happy clichés that once defined the genre, so the distinction between Dark Fantasy and just Fantasy has pretty much vanished. Regardless, it is still one of the genres that I gobble up like candy, so here is my top 10 Dark Fantasy Books.

Naiomi Novik

I first came across Novik’s writing in her truly excellent Napoleonic war with dragons series Temeraire. I was excited to see her starting fresh with this fairy-tale deconstruction and completely blown away by the quality of the writing and the depth of the setting. This story still holds a special place in my shrivelled black heart.

The Blade Itself
Joe Abercrombie

This book is actually here as a stand in for the entire “First Law” series of grimdark fantasy novels that Abercrombie has created. A series that has actually gotten progressively better the further along it goes. Despite their ultimately grand scale, the plot of these books is always driven by the character’s motivations rather than any external force. They are grounded, clever and funny in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

The Last Wish
Andrzej Sapkowski
The Witcher stories have gotten a little attention in the west thanks to the success of the video games based on them, but if I could just sit everyone down and force them to read this first short story collection where the mercenary mutant monster hunter is forced to deal with the darkest interpretations of famous fairy tales I am convinced we would have many converts.

The Builders
Daniel Polansky
Combining the best parts of a heist, western and fantasy novel, the Builders ranks as one of my favourite books in the last few years. I was a big Redwall fan as a kid, so making all of your characters into small furry animals is a good way to get my attention, but the way that those animal’s natural traits blend into their characterisation is fantastic to see in action.

The Name of the Wind
Patrick Rothfuss

Forget dark fantasy, this is one of the best books ever written. Using the combination of an unreliable narrator and a plot that has already become mythological in the setting was clever, but making us relate to and love a character who is the best at everything and never fails is a technical feat in writing skill that boggles the mind.

The Steel Remains
Richard Morgan
I was more familiar with Morgan from his work in science fiction, particularly the near-future misery of Market Forces and the slightly more distant cyberpunk misery of Altered Carbon, but when he brought that misery into a fantasy setting, the whole thing really clicked for me.

A Game of Thrones
George RR Martin

Have you been living under a rock? A Game of Thrones has been kicking around for a very long time, but even after all these decades the twists and turns of the court intrigue still manage to be as sharp and fresh as ever.

Perdido Street Station
China Mieville

This is another story that might be edging slightly outside of the Dark Fantasy genre, since it is also hailed as one of the cornerstones of the New Weird genre, but at the end of the day, there are wizrds, an urban setting, and bad things happen to absolutely everybody. Sounds like Dark Fantasy to me.

Blood Song
Anthony Ryan
The scrappy underdog contender on this list of giants of the genre, Blood Song won me over with its simple coming of age arc and the unexpected moves that it made to focus on friendship over self-aggrandisement. The fact that intersection of religion and magic is brought front and centre in the fairly grim setting just highlighted how smart this book really was.

Michael Moorcock
Elric is the OG dark fantasy anti-hero, with his giant evil sentient sword, magical powers and accidental incest murders he was pretty much the seed from which this whole mess of a genre grew.

Thanks a lot for sharing, G.D. We’ve heard a lot about some of the books you’ve mentioned above and there’s no better time to read them than now. And of course, we won’t ever forget about your new release, Call Your Steel! We expect to be vastly entertained.

A new dark fantasy novel by G.D. Penman
Call Your Steel
G.D. Penman
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Azure Spider Publications
Publication Date: October 15, 2017
In the sky above there was no sun.
For millennia beyond reckoning the Eaters of the Gods ruled over this sunless world, waging their secret war on each other through their Chosen, mortals granted a fraction of the Eaters in human powers in exchange for a life of servitude. Kaius counts himself among their hallowed ranks, devoted entirely to his brutal duties. Lucia is no more than a travelling minstrel, albeit one who found herself in the very worst place at the very worst time. How could mere mortals like them stand up against the vast alien power of the Eaters of the Gods?

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About G.D. Penman

G.D. Penman

G D Penman writes fantasy fiction. He lives in Scotland with his partner and children, some of whom are human. He is a firm believer in the axiom that any story is made better by dragons. His beard has won an award. If you have ever read a story with monster and queer people, it was probably one of his. In those few precious moments that he isn’t parenting or writing he continues his quest to eat the flesh of every living species.
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