If you’re like me, you enjoy a little drama and murder mixed into your fantasy novels. Fortunately for us, many authors share the same thirst for fantasy stories that aren’t just dungeons, dragons, and happily-ever-after. Nope. We like our fantasies with some real dark consequences and reminders of the shadier parts of society, and the world at large, even in a fictitious setting.
Dark fantasy is not like other fantasy subgenres. These books tackle the darker side of the fantastical while also pointing out problems of the human condition or society. Sometimes there isn’t a horrific monster or antagonist, but an inherent evil of people or aspect of humanity that becomes the primary adversary.
If you have yet to embark on the fascinatingly sinister and downright dastardly side in this significant portion of fantasy literature, I would like to give you some recent grimdark exhibits from the last decade that readers rave about.
Here are some of the top dark fantasy novels of the past decade that may pique your interest.
1. Free the Darkness by Kel Kade
When it comes to learning about the darkness of humankind, the young warrior named Rezkin may be a great character for reflection. He is a primary outlier of civilization after being brought up in seclusion within the northern wilds of the Kingdom of Ashai. After his world is destroyed, Rezuki must venture out alone to follow the last survivor of a battle that took his home. This remaining warrior might not only know of Rezkin’s identity but also who is responsible for the destruction of everything he knows.
Traveling across Ashai, Renzkin remembers his master’s last dying words to “kill with a conscience” and “protect and honor your friends.” Having been isolated all his life, the young warrior doesn’t know much about friendship or conscience. But driven to obey his last orders, Rezkin extends his protection over a motley crew he meets along his journey.
Strange things happen in the kingdom as dangers find their way through the world and begin to not only threaten Rezkin and his friends, but perhaps all of Ashai.
2. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
The world is ending again.
In one day, three terrible things come to pass. Essun, an extraordinary woman in a small mundane town, who comes home to find her son killed and her daughter kidnapped by her husband. Meanwhile, the innovative civilization of Sanze collapses, leaving its citizens to be murdered by the order of a madman. But worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a red rift manifests over the earth, creating darkness and an unlivable wilderness.
Now Essun must pursue what is left of her family across a dying world without common comforts like clean water, sunlight, and limited stockpiles while war rages over the Stillness. But fighting doesn’t deter Essun. She will stop at nothing to rescue her daughter, even if that means casting the world into further darkness.
3. Kill the Queen (Crown of Shards #1) by Jennifer Estep
Usually, it is your wealth or bloodlines that determine your station in life in most general societies, but in Bellona, magical powers determine your worth. That said, Lady Everleigh’s lack of magic condemns her to a life in the shadows of the royal court within the kingdom steeped in gladiator tradition. Seventeenth in line for the crown, Evie is mostly forgotten on the court.
Everything seems bearable until her cousin Vasilia, the crown princess, assassinates her mother the queen and takes the throne by force, then she attacks Evie along with the rest of her family. By a stroke of luck, Evie’s immunity to magic keeps her out of death’s clutches and she escapes the massacre.
Now destitute, Evie goes into hiding within the ranks of a troupe of gladiators. Though this group uses their magic and skills to entertain more than protect, they are actually trained warriors skilled in the art of war. But one sticks out of the pack more than the others–Lucas Sullivan, a powerful magier with secrets of his own. Uncertain where her destiny will guide her- Evie begins training with them until she can decide what to do.
But as Vasilia forces her will over the kingdom, conflict begins to stir bringing the possibility for a war dangerously close to reality. Faced with such turmoil and suffering, Evie sees that her fate is now obvious: she must become a gladiator and kill the queen.
4. Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan
Xylara is the Daughter of the Warrior King, Xyron. With her father dead and her incompetent half-brother on the throne, the kingdom is in danger of falling to the warring Firelanders.
Unable to take over the throne herself, Xylara is trained to be a healer. But her conscience will not let Firelander warriors die. She delves into learning their language and customs and tries to be a presence of comfort despite them being her enemies.
Xyara never expects her acts of kindness would lead to the mysterious Firelander Warlord calling for her in exchange for peace.
5. A Throne for Sisters (A Throne for Sisters #1) by Morgan Rice
Sophia is desperate to leave a horrific orphanage with her sister Kate. They dream of a better life, even if that means moving onto the streets of the ruthless city of Ashton.
Though the two girls are best friends, their life goals couldn’t be more different. Sophia longs to be courted and fall in love with a romantic noble. While Kate likes to fight, dreaming of one day becoming a master of the sword and longs for adventure.
Though they are opposites, both girls share a binding secret—they can read minds, which proves to draw in more danger than luck.
On their quest, they struggle to survive while they search for a new home. Tough choices lay ahead, some of which can bring them the greatest prosperity or deliver them into the lowest depths of despair.
My final thoughts?
Fantasy may be a great way to pass the time, but learning more about darkness, both within and outside of ourselves, brings an interesting new flavor to the storytelling mixture. This keeps dark fantasy fans coming back for more every time.
If you love these books or plan to add them to your Amazon wish list, then you may also enjoy a brand new grimdark, high fantasy about brutal vengeance, necromancy, and a touch of magic. Check out my new book: Raven Queen, Arise (Book one of the Temple of Vengeance series). Pre-order your copy HERE!