Grimdark Fantasy books are known for their dark characters, merciless worlds, and storylines that will keep you hooked from start to finish. In recent years, grimdark fantasy has become one of the most popular sub-genres due to its refreshing shift away from traditional tropes.
But with so many phenomenal books to choose from, how do you know what to read next? Don’t worry! I’ve got you covered! Keep reading to discover the 20 best grimdark fantasy books–and your next breathtaking read!
About Grimdark Fantasy Books
Grimdark fantasy books are known for their morally gray characters, intense conflicts, and usually dystopian settings.
They aren’t for the faint of heart, but for those looking for some sort of escapism or a glimpse inside a world you’ll be thanking your lucky stars doesn’t actually exist, grimdark books are exactly what you need!
Although grimdark is growing in popularity, and plenty of books out there fit the sub-genres description, it can be hard to find the one that’s right for you. But no worries, that’s what this list is for!
Here are the 20 best grimdark fantasy books specially picked just for you!
The 20 Best Grimdark Fantasy Books – Ultimate Guide
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Starting with one of the most infamous Grimdark fantasies of all time, A Game of Thrones was published in 1996 and is the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The first season of the beloved television series is based on the successful novel!
Several plot lines are introduced in A Game of Thrones, from the Westeros to the Targaryens. If you’re a fan of the show and haven’t yet read the books, I highly recommend it!
The Black Company by Glen Cook
The Black Company is the start of another highly successful series under the same title. First published in 1984, the first book explores the last days of the Black Company’s service to the Syndic of Beryl and their new arrangement with their next employer, Soulcatcher.
The Black Company is a brotherhood of highly skilled mercenaries, and Beryl is an ancient maritime city. Soulcatcher was a distinguished member of the Ten Who Were Taken–the ten most powerful servants of the Dominator.
So, what is the Dominator, and why is The Black Company working with Soulcatcher now? You’ll have to read to find out!
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
If you’re a fan of vampires, you’ll love this slightly more recent novel!
In Mexico City, Domingo is just trying to survive the heavily policed streets when suddenly, Atl–a stunning yet dangerous descendant of Aztecs–enters his life.
Atl needs to escape the city asap to get away from a rival clan, and Domingo is swept up in the chaos as crime bosses and cops begin to close in on them. Will they make it out of the city alive?
Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is struck by lightning and transported back into the past. Dying in the past is super easy, but living? Not so much.
However, Sam is determined to survive because he has a suspect to track down and the outcome of a rebellion to change. Even if it means he’ll have to give up his family and future in the process.
The Thousand Names by Django Wexler
In the mood for magic and the supernatural? The Thousand Names takes place in a desert colony called Khandar and follows Marcus d’Ivoire, senior captain of the Vordanai Colonials.
A mysterious and ghastly magic that has been hidden away for centuries is about to reveal itself, and Marcus–who thought he’d live out the rest of his days in a dreary, uneventful, remote outpost–is left in charge of a force in a broken down fortress when a rebellion starts.
Red Tide by Marc Turner
In the third and arguably best volume in Marc Turner’s The Chronicles of the Exile series, Red Tide, The Augerans are coming, and their ships are sailing in on a red tide.
But they’re sailing into troubled waters. They’ll have to battle their enemies, the agents that their enemies have sent to destroy them, and a bunch of meddling Gods whose wrath may be inescapable.
If you’re looking for a novel with plenty of twists and turns, strong female characters, and new forms of magic, this is the one!
A Gathering of Ravens by Scott Oden
A Gathering of Ravens is a mythical story about vengeance. It’s an unsettling tale with a fast-paced, action-packed plot, and its summary speaks for itself.
“To the Danes, he is skraelingr; to the English, he is orcnéas; to the Irish, he is fomoraig.
He is Life-quencher, the Bringer of Night, the Son of the Wolf, and Brother of the Serpent. He is Grimnir, and he is the last of his kind—the last in a long line of monsters who have plagued humanity since the Elder Days.
Drawn from his lair by a thirst for vengeance against the Dane who slew his brother, Grimnir emerges into a world that’s changed. A new faith has arisen. The Old Ways are disappearing, and their followers retreating into the shadows; even still, Grimnir’s vengeance cannot be denied.”
Never Knew Another by J. M. McDermott
Rachel Nolander is the child of a Demon, and she constantly lives in fear because of it. She’s terrified that someone will discover her secret and prefers to hide out rather than try to tango with a society that wouldn’t accept her.
Jona Lord Joni is a demon’s child too, but he doesn’t live in fear. He presents himself as a cocky, self-assured man of the law, and it’s working well enough for him so far.
When the two’s paths cross, their lives are changed forever.
This novel is great for those who love high tension, murder mysteries, and (of course) demons!
Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levine
Smiler’s Fair: the great moving carnival where any pleasure can be had if you’re willing to pay the price. It’s also the place where inconceivable terror is hidden in the shadows.
In the land of the Smiler’s Fair, the sun and moon are at war.
Five people–Nethmi, the orphaned daughter of a murdered nobleman; Dae Hyo, the skilled warrior; Eric, who finds that love exacts a terrible price; Marvan, who takes more pleasure from dark deeds than he should; and Krish, who has a destiny he hardly understands and can never accept–are about to find out just how much Smiler’s Fair can change everything.
Sons of Darkness by Gourav Mohanty
Sons of Darkness is a mesmerizing mix of Indian Mythology and Grimdark fantasy!
The Mathuran Republic is on the brink of oblivion after withstanding years of a brutal war, but a year-long truce has been declared, and Senator Krishna has a chance to save the republic he created.
But the relief he feels dissipates in an instant due to the impending conflicts with sinister queens and long-forgotten gods who intend to make their presence known soon.
The Forgetting Moon by Brian Lee Durfee
The Forgetting Moon provides a mix of thrillingly suspenseful, well-structured plot lines and immersive world-building elements.
In this novel, magic is believed in but never seen, and a massive army is fighting in a major war as the eldest son of the fallen king of Gul Kana and his two sisters fight their own battles.
Jondralyn, the older sister, is trying desperately to prove her worth as a warrior, and Hawkwood–the assassin who’s been sent to kill Jondralyn–has fallen in love with her and decided to train her in his deadly art.
Meanwhile, Tala, the younger sister, has uncovered a secret that may destroy her family–and the entire kingdom–forever.
Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
For all her reign, the Red Queen has fought the long war, and her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all. The Red Queen’s arrogant and selfish grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth, can see The Silent Sister, but he chooses to ignore her.
Until she sets up a death trap for him, and he just barely manages to escape. Afterward, Jal discovers that his fate is magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior.
The two go on a dangerous journey to undo the spell placed on them, and Jal soon finds that he–and everyone else–are all but pawns in the game that the Red Queen created.
Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
Want to read a Grimdark fantasy with plenty of female empowerment? Remote Control is the book for you!
This thrilling and thought-provoking novel follows the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death, Fatima–now known as Sankofa. After an alien artifact fell from the sky, Death became her constant companion.
Now, she can make a whole town crumble just by sparing it a glance, and her touch results in immediate death. Aside from the fox that acts as her companion as she searches for the foreign object that gave itself to her when she needed it the most, she is completely alone.
But does this newfound gift–curse?–mean there’s a greater purpose for her?
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
In the mood for an epic historical military fantasy? The Poppy War takes place in mid-twentieth century China and is filled with magical elements, Gods, mythology, and plenty of deception.
This brutally disastrous novel has been described as brilliant, striking, and not for the faint of heart.
“When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone.
To the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating. To Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise.
And to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism.
Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.”
Babel, or the Necessity of Violence by R.F. Kuang
In 1828, orphaned by cholera in Canton, Robin Swift was brought to London. There, he trains in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese in hopes of one day enrolling in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel.
Babel is the world’s center for translation and magic. The art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—also known as ‘Silvering’–has made the British immensely powerful.
Robin loves Oxford and the knowledge he’s able to obtain there, but as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his home country. When Britain pursues a war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide with whom his loyalty lies.
Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen
In this exhilarating, unique, and gritty story, Jenna and Skada are the sisters of light and dark. Jenna has learned the arts of the warrior and the magic of ancient lore, but the most impressive and perhaps most important magic she’s learned thus far?
How to call forth her dark sister from the depths of the mirror of the land of light and shadow.
Skada is only able to exist in darkness–when there’s just a gleam of light to highlight her existence.
This is the story of the otherworldly sisters.
Priest of Crowns by Peter McLean
This captivating 2022 novel follows Tomas Piety, who once looked after his men as best he could until those who ran his country decided that his dark talents would be better used for power.
Tomas is forced to enlist the help of old friends and deceitful alliances after feeling crushed by his own power while battling gangsters and soldiers alike.
Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J Hayes
Who doesn’t love pirates? Those that do will enjoy this novel!
Drake Morrass is only out for himself, and when he sees an opportunity to unite the other pirate Captains under his flag and turn himself into royalty, he takes it, but the sinister Tanner Black threatens to steal his throne before he’s even sat in it.
If Drake has any shot at being a ruler, he’ll have to convince the other pirate Captains that his best interests are also theirs before it’s too late.
Those above by Daniel Polansky
Three thousand years ago, those above–the perfect and nearly immortal superhumans–enslaved humanity. Twenty-five years ago, mankind gathered an army and rose up against them, only to be annihilated in a horrendous battle.
But whispers of another revolt are starting up again inside the hearts of the oppressed: a woman who lost her spouse in the war and who has dedicated her life to revenge; the only man to ever defeat one of Those Above in single combat; and a boy killer who will lead an uprising in the capital.
Black Sun Rising by Celia S. Friedman
Erna is a seismically active yet beautiful world. Fae are known as a natural force with the power to prey upon the human mind itself, taking a person’s worst nightmare images or most treasured dreams and giving them life.
The lives of four people—Priest, Adept, Apprentice, and Sorcerer—and the fate of humankind are at stake when twelve centuries after fate first stranded the colonists on Erna, human sorcerers manipulate the fae for their own personal gain, not realizing that demonic forces which feed upon such efforts are rapidly gaining in strength.
Whether you’re new to the genre or an avid reader, I hope you were able to find your next favorite grimdark novel with enough intensity to keep you invested from page one until the end!
What is the difference between Grim Dark and dark fantasy?
Dark fantasy incorporates elements of horror fiction. Grimdark fantasy is much grimmer and usually has a dystopian setting. Grimdark fantasies also often focus on themes of war and include more blood and death.
Is Game of Thrones a grimdark?
Yes. It is actually one of the first grimdark fantasies to be written!
What is the criticism of grimdark?
Grimdark novels are–well, dark. They often have brutal storylines and explore extremely dark themes. Constant war, murder, graphic descriptions of violence, rape, racism, and sexism are often written in great detail in grimdark novels. Naturally, they receive a lot of criticism for their violent and uncomfortable nature.
What is the point of grimdark?
Grimdark novels show what the world would be like if it was completely devoid of all peace. They tell the story of people living a dark life without rest.
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