Grimdark Fantasy Novels


#1

Who doesn’t love a good novel about an amoral character stabbing stuff in a fantasy world? Characters like Arya, Locke Lamora, Jorg Ancrath, and Logen the Bloody Nine?

ITT we discuss the finest of fantasy literature. Also we can talk about the name Grimdark, which I only found out about like 3 weeks ago and I am still unsure of.

Good books:

  • Game of Thrones (obviously :smiley:)
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora
  • The Blade Itself
  • Prince of Thorns
  • The Black Company

AND MANY MORE. In fact, it would be great if you would be so kind as to name more.


#2

I loved the first three Song of Ice and Fire books so much I gave up on most other fantasy.

And then the next two books were okay.

And I’ve pretty much given up any hope of book six.

I’d love something as intelligent as early SoIaF, doesn’t have to be as grimdark, and definitely something where the story doesn’t get padded out to infinity just to make for thicker volumes in a 12 part series.


#3

The Elric books by Michael Moorcock are worth looking at. They’re kind of like traditional sword and sorcery with a tinge of weird moodiness.

If you haven’t read any of the old Robert E. Howard Conan stories, then you should check them out! He was a contemporary of Lovecraft and other Weird Tales writers so some of those stories have some weird dark bits that are very anti-Tolkien.

I grew up with the Lord of the Rings books and movies, so I tend to avoid fantasy that is derivative of that style. A lot of early fantasy like Howard has some great dark bits, since fantasy at that time didn’t have a strong genre-defining work like LOTR.


#4

I guess I don’t consider Gentleman Bastards grim dark? It’s definitely not on the level of Prince of Thorns, which I barely finished and have never felt like reading the sequel. Sure it can be dark but it’s about rogues doing crimes.


#5

I know that the investment and relative impenetrability are valid turn-offs, but the gears within clocks of slow-motion incomprehensible tragedy of Malazan: Book of the Fallen has ruined me on a lot of this particular subgenre.

An exception I’ll make is that the original Witcher books (particularly the two short story collections) are so good??!! Such rich characterization and really empathetic discussions of humanity and responsibility and the like. I think the whole sequence has been translated into English officially as of last month.


#6

I definitely went through a Phase of reading a whole lot of grimdark–being up to my neck in Warhammer will do that, as grimdark battleporn is just about all that Black Library’s tie-in novels do, in both sci fi and fantasy. A solid starting point in terms of Warhammer Fantasy books would be the Gotrek and Felix series (starts with Trollslayer or the First Omnibus). Though to be honest I was always a fan of the books that explored the weirder and more mundane elements of the setting, like the rather old and hard-to-find Wine of Dreams. If you don’t mind grimdark sci fi, well, there are quite a few more recommendations in the 40k setting that I’m holding off on here and now.

The standout grimdark series I’ve found has got to be the Malazan Book of the Fallen, as @Weeplord attests. And even if it is grim and books 2-4 especially lean on the gritty nihlistic angst, the arc of the series is long enough to bend back around to a really redemptive place that–while retaining much of the grittiness–draws more on hope than despair, to say nothing of conveying a much sharper, more personal sort of ragged empathy for the characters and the circumstances they are put in. It’s a densely knotted sink-or-swim series, but once I got into the third book, I could feel my mind being blown as the pieces all started fitting into place. Steven Erikson has talked about how the Black Company served as a key inspiration for the series, with the sort of weary “Vietnam veteran attitude meets Roman legionnaire discipline” depiction of the Malazan soldiery.

Another series rather farther down the “ooh, I’m so edgy and dark but look how dispassionately I the author present all of this sexual violence and brutal massacres” chain of grimdark has got to be the Prince of Nothing trilogy by R Scott Bakker, which had… something of an unfortunately large formative impact on me, I feel, now that my taste has moved past that sort of book. It has a darkly compelling look at its ubermensch hyper-logical main character who is able to read and manipulate any other human’s deepest desires and secrets from their everyday actions and expressions, so he essentially plays all things to all people and warps the world around him like a puppeteer. Plus cool names. Like, how that character’s name is Anasurimbor Kellhus, son of Anasurimbor Moenghus?


#7

I will also through my weight behind Malazan Books of the Fallen. It’s a fantastic, mind-blowing book and I love it. I am pretty much over traditional fantasy stories now, I just can’t read them. I tried reading the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson and I got halfway through the second book and put it down with no intention of picking it back up. Even though I love the world that they inhabit, I just can’t care about the story or the characters. This is something I love about Malazan, it takes the gritty political backstabbing you get with grimdark and combines it with the fantastical and high concept that you usually don’t. I think more grimdark books should embrace a weirder and fantastical world, I would like to see books like Morrowind.

I also love the Prince of Nothing series beacuse of how much of a debt it owes to Dune. It’s a series that plays with philosophical concepts as schools of magic and combines Mesopotamian culture with the Crusades. Also, a few more intresting ideas that I won’t mention beacuse of spoilers.


#8

I don’t know if they’re “grimdark” but the Traitor Son Cycle series of books by Miles Cameron are definitely a touch darker in bent than most fantasy I’ve run across. They’re high fantasy, with magic and fantastic creatures and everything, but the level of world building, logic and how well the author sticks to his world’s logic is really outstanding. Bonus points for having some neat attention paid to the minutiae of medieval warfare. Extra bonus points for managing to have a pretty good cast of female characters assembled by the latest book.


#9

On some reflection, two more franchises that bear mentioning. Let’s get some female authors takes on grimdark settings!

Kameron Hurley has come out with the first two books in the unremittingly brutal Worldbreaker Saga, starting with Mirror Empire. Much like Game of Thrones, it’s a series built around main characters making earnest, honorable, heartfelt decisions in an incredibly unforgiving setting that punishes, mains, cripples, and outright kills those main characters for their failure to sink to the level of their opposition. It’s… something of a hard read, honestly, but one thing it does better than anything else I’ve read, I daresay, is portray starkly unromanticized violence and how it inflicts trauma on both the person inflicting it as well as the person it is being inflicted on: it’s a reminder of violence as a destructive force, one that changes all participants, and the way it breaks us. Plus the setting damned cool: based on a convergence of several planes of reality, where a person cannot move from one plane to a mirror plane so long as their doppelganger mirror image is still alive in the new world, prompting the army invading from a dying plane to commit genocide in order to be able to bring through their own people through.

The other is N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, also on book 2 in its series, which presents a very engaging post-apocalyptic world that has been riven by regular intense periods of earthquakes and corresponding smog clouds, or The Fifth Season (aka the name of the first book in the series). It’s a world in which earthquake mages provide some level of stability to the struggling human population, seen from the point of view of one of those shackled, shunned, incredibly dangerous earthquake mages, and dwells on the ethics of the rest of society being allowed to exist on the backs of the suffering of those individuals. The series begins with one particularly powerful such mage deciding that the society enslaving him should categorically not be allowed to exist, so he breaks the empire’s continent in half and plunges the planet into a new thousand-year apocalypse.


#10

Prince of Thorns super good, though. i think you can genuinely learn something about goodness while reflecting on how horrible Jorg is in a lot of ways.

Plus, it sets up the second trilogy (Prince of Fools) which is much more palatable to most folks. Jalan isn’t a rogue so much as he is lazy and afraid of things. He doesn’t have an ounce of murder in him.


#11

the character names in Malazan are fantastic. My wife constantly names her RPG characters Tattersail because it’s so awesome.


#12

I tore through the Gentleman Bastards. So engaging, some of my favorite dialogue. Malzahan is so dense and interesting, but only 2 books in a had to put it on the back burner to parse some and get to some more easily conquered reads.

One of my favorite series I never see people talk about is Johanes Cabal The Necromancer. The first book involves a satanic traveling circus, vampires, a zombie army headed by a fumbling warlock and navigating the bureaucracy of Hell. They’re quick fun reads with some interesting characters running around a pre-during industrial revolution Europe filled with all sorts of fantasy dark creatures and tropes.

Also if you haven’t read them I recommend The Magicians, the book and the TV show. Good little blender of Harry Potter, Narnia, and hormone and drug fueled teens.