Dark fantasy recommendations, please

A friend just asked me to recommend some dark fantasy, and I realized that, with the exception of anything by Tim Powers, I don’t know much about it.  You can argue about what “Dark Fantasy” means, if you wish*, but also throw in some reading suggestions.  Thanks!

*One friend recently explained, “If I like it, it’s dark fantasy, if I don’t like it, it’s horror.”

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0 thoughts on “Dark fantasy recommendations, please”

  1. Nina Kiriki Hoffman. If they want some sex in it, Jacqueline Carey or Tanith Lee. Also the Sundered series by Michelle Sagara West.

  2. Sarah Monette’s Labyrinths series (Melusine, The Virtu, and The Mirador) are the best dark fantasy I’ve read in a long time.

    Corambis just came out and is the last in the series, but I haven’t read it yet. The first three are very good.

  3. C.L. Moore. Her “Jirel of Joiry” series is classic dark fantasy, and though her Northwest Smith stories were probably SF when she wrote them, seventy years of space exploration and technological advancement have pushed them firmly into the realm of fantasy.

    John Bellairs, if you don’t mind your dark fantasy skewing young–no sex for Johnny Dixon!

  4. Oh, the Bellairs recommendation is for books actually *by* John Bellairs. I have not read any of the books that have come out under his name after his death, so I do not know if they live up to the originals.

  5. I have no clear idea what “dark fantasy” is, but your mention of Tim Powers did make me think of some authors who have written books that might qualify: China Miéville and Scott Lynch.

  6. I assume other people will find the easy stuff (China Mieville), so I’m just going to throw out my idiosyncratic ones.

    Technically they’re science fiction, but Elizabeth Hand’s first three books (Winterlong, Aestival Tide and Icarus Descending) read — to me — squarely in the middle of science fiction and fantasy, and they’re good and dark.

    Sandman definitely qualifies.

    Datlow/Windling year’s best’ll have a good deal of stuff that nicely fits.

    Agyar counts.

    I could make a case for Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel. It’s dark as hell, and though it’s ostensibly set in the real world, it’s a very fantastic real world.

    I’m guessing most anything by Thomas Ligotti counts.

    And now I’m having that thing where my brain is refusing to do what I ask it to do, and I can’t think of any more despite knowing there’s a lot in there.

  7. +1 For Black Jewels by Anne Bishop – pretty dark by any standard.
    As much as I love Jacqueline Carey and Scott Lynch, neither qualifies for me, although both are in my top 10 favorite series.

  8. I love Sarah Monette & John Bellairs. The stuff written by Brad Strickland to continue the Bellairs series isn’t as good. Anne Bishop is also good.

    Neil Gaiman probably qualifies as dark fantasy too.

  9. Glen Cook’s Black Company and Dread Empire series, Lafferty’s “The Devil Is Dead”.

  10. I don’t read much horror, so I expect there’s a lot (maybe even most) that’s been marketed as such.

    Heros Die by Matthew Woodring Stover and Song of Kali by Dan Simmons for sure. Some Sean Stewart, like Perfect Circle and Resurrection Man.

    In the water margin between “dark fantasy” and “adventure fantasy”, Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen and some of Glen Cook’s stuff, like The Tyranny of Night.

    I’m going to disagree about Scott Lynch’s books — they’re excellent, but too much of a caper and a romp for me to think of them as “dark fantasy” (even though the protagonists end up in failure all the time.) Maybe it’s fairer to say that both Lynch and Carey are very much in the shallows of whatever dark fantasy is. Something without hard boundaries, rather an overlapping group of continuums and spectrums.

    Outside the realm of fantasy and into modern day crime/mystery, Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus books are pretty dark.

  11. How about Caitlin Kiernan? She’s probably coming from the other side of the horror/fantasy border, but I think she fits the description.

  12. Simon Green’s Blue Moon series, to include the Haven stuff. Also, his John Taylor stuff. It’s not dark as in gothic, but dark as in gritty crime drama.

    Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone stuff. I didn’t like any of his other Eternal Champions, but Elric grabbed.

    How does the person in question classify your Vlad stories?

  13. Looks like someone already beat me to Heroes Die, which has long been one of my favorite “dark fantasy” books. Steven Erikson’s Malazan books are stellar, and I would agree with the assessment of a mix of “dark” and “adventure” fantasy. Also, China Mieville’s work bears mentioning again.

    R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing books might be considered dark fantasy, and they’re some of the best fantasy books I’ve read in years. (Vying with Erikson’s Malazan books for the top spot.)

    I would consider some of Gene Wolfe’s books to be dark fantasy, particularly the Book of the New Sun. Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu books are good, depending on taste. Though I like Sarah Monette’s books, I wouldn’t consider them dark fantasy in the least.

    Moorcock’s Elric books are classic dark fantasy, of course.

  14. In my experience, the phrase “dark fantasy” is almost exclusively used by publishers (usually to indicate non-Romance Urban Fantasy), not readers.

    And yes, Lynch and Carey are more edgy high fantasy than dark. Robin Hobb, Daniel Abraham, and Monette have moments of darkness. GRRM and Erikson are tragic military fantasy.

    Stuff I’d call dark fantasy: your Agyar and Gypsy, John Meaney’s Tristopolis books, and maybe F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series.

  15. Depending on what they mean . . .

    Traditional fantasy but very, very dark — Maledicte, by Lane Robbins

    Urban fantasy but very dark — Even though it’s marketed to young adults, I think Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange fall squarely into the adult “dark fantasy” category.

    And if they mean something more akin to horror, I’ll second Caitln Kiernan.

  16. Both of my suggestions are already listed – Glenn Cook and R. Scott Bakker. Most of my preferences are for high fantasy, though.

  17. I would second Papadiabolous @12. Glen Cook is the first thing that jumps to mind with “dark fantasy.” His Black Company and Dread Empire series are gritty and bleak, with no real heroes in shining armor. Those works are full of flawed characters in tough situations trying to do what is right, what will help them survive, and what might get them paid – and not necessarily in that order. There is a very distinctive military note in most of it as well, which may be a positive or a negative for any given reader. He also writes in a way that may leave some readers bored and confused within the first 50 pages, but those who persevere are in for a treat.

    Simon Green’s Blue Moon stuff is good, in a tongue-in-cheek dark/gritty take on some classic high fantasy concepts. His Night Side books have a more horror spin.

  18. “Captive Girl” by Jennifier Pelland. She hasn’t sold a novel yet but several of her shorter works have been published in Apex.

  19. All good recommendations so far, especially Mieville. The Scar is probably his best written, although his phantasmagorical work of Un Lun Dun is terrific, even if it’s not “dark fantasy.”

    However, a recent find that really fits the bill in a terrific way (dovetailing with steampunk) is Whitechapel Gods, by SM Peters.

  20. I will second Glen Cook, Erikson, and Robert K. Bakker. Cook is a bad-arse medieval adventure story with magic where the good guys can be the bad guys, the bad guys can be the good guys, and everyone’s just looking out for themselves in general.

    Erikson has the coolest slickest wizards I’ve ever read and some of the most tragic situations in the middle of a gigantic epic of nations and races and more personalities than your brain has room for which somehow finds room for a book which is at heart about the manipulation of an empire’s currency.

    Bakker perhaps deserves the label of dark fantasy the most. It has your magic, and your demonic entities; but Bakker is the true wizard as he screws with your head around filling it with bile you yearn to spew onto the protagonist, who you hate with the hate of a million suns. It rocks and infuriates at the same time.

  21. Edit to my previous post: That should be Richard Scott Bakker, not Robert Kay. I believe I confused his name with another author.

  22. I would consider Bradbury’s THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, in particular the stories of THE SMALL ASSASSIN, THE DWARF and UNCLE EINAR.

    And my other, GEEK LOVE by Katherine Dunn.

    Not to mention BONE DANCE and WAR FOR THE OAKS, by Bull.

    (I should stop now.)

  23. Earliest proper dark fantasy may be Lovecraft’s Dream Quest For Unknown Kadath which has a completely different feel from most of his horror. His horror has inescapable incomprehensible doom overtaking the hapless victims, but the Dream Quest has a much more capable protagonist who can deal with the dangers of the dream world. It’s also some of Lovecraft’s best writing.

    Also, perhaps some Clark Ashton Smith would count as early dark fantasy.

    I would also nominate many of Fritz Leiber’s stories.

  24. I like Glen Cook a lot, but I have to say his writing is just awful in terms of literary quality. Broken and run-on sentences in narration. And like that.

    But there is something about his sensibility and attitude which makes his writing appealing despite the sort of anti-literary quality it has.

  25. Oh and I define “dark fantasy” as “like horror, but the protagonist can at least reasonably attempt to cope with the horrible stuff”.

  26. I would suggest Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files….while they might fall under urban fantasy, i consider them to be a little on the dark side simply because he doesn’t hold anything back.

    And Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty and the Midnight Hour books are heading towards the dark side of fantasy. If you don’t mind werewolves in your fantasy that’s another good one.

  27. Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series is definitively “dark fantasy”. He may be known mainstream as a “horror” writer, but he has his roots in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and it comes out in many of his books.

  28. Barb and J.C. Hendee. Start with ‘Dhampir’ and work your way through.

  29. I went through my library and here are my recommendations:

    Andrews, Illona – Kate Daniels series
    Asprin, Robert and others – Thieves’ World series
    Arthur, Keri – Riley Jenson Guardian Series
    Battis, Jes – Night Child and A Flash of Hex
    Bishop, Anne – Black Jewels
    Black, Jenna – Morgan Kingsley Series
    Braden, Ischade – Hive
    Briggs, Patricia – Mercedes Thompson Series
    Butcher, Jim – The Dresden Files
    Caine, Rachel – The Morganville Vampires
    Chance, Karen – Dorina Basarab Series
    Clayton, Jo – The Duel of Sorcery Series
    Collins, Nancy – Sonja Blue series
    Del Franco, Mark – Connor Grey series
    Farmer, Philip José – Image of the Beast
    Frost, Jeaniene – Night Huntress series
    Galenorn, Yasmin – Otherworld Series
    Green, Simon – most of his work
    Hambly, Barbara – The Darwath Trilogy
    Hamilton, Laurrell K – Anita Blake and Meredith Gentry series
    Harrison, Kim – Rachel Morgan Series
    Hendee, Barb and J.C. – Saga of the Noble Dead series and Eleisha Clevon series
    Hodgell, P.C. – God Stalker series
    Huff, Tanya – The Blood series
    Lee, Tanith – Most of her works
    Monk, Devon – The Blood series
    Nix, Garth – Old Kingdom series
    Pratt, T.A. (Tim) – Marla Mason series
    Richardson, Kat – Greywalker series
    Saintcrow, Lillith – Dante Valentine, Jill Kismet series
    Shea, Michael – The Nifft stories
    Shadowrun series
    Shetterly, Will and Windling, Teri and others – Borderland Series
    Stein, Jeanne – Anna Strong series
    Strout, Anton – Simon Canderous series
    Swann, S. Andrew – Dragons of the Cuyahoga and Dwarves of Whiskey Island
    Tepper, Sheri S. – The True Game (a trilogy of trilogies)
    Thurman, Rob – Cal Leandros Series
    Weldon, Phaedra – Zoë Martinique Investigation series
    Willey, Elizabeth – Kingdom of Argylle series
    Zelazny, Roger – Amber series

    Not sure if HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith fit in Dark Fantasy or just Horror
    Not sure about Michael Moorcock and other writers in the darker S&S literature

  30. I’ll definitely second the Black Company recommendations.

    Also, the Kane novels & short stories by Karl Edward Wagner always come to mind when dark fantasy is mentioned.

    The two Wraeththu trilogies by Storm Constantine are also very dark/angsty, but with more sex and pretty boys.

  31. Joe Abercrombie’s ‘The First Law’ series is pretty dark, I’d add Steph Swainston’s Fourlands series as well.

  32. “The Unpleasant Profession of Johnathan Hoag” by Heinlein springs to mind.
    “Liar’s Oath” and “Surrender None” by Moon.
    Tepper’s “The Riddlemaster of Hed” tends in that direction.

    Basically, when you can count of one or more of the major female characters getting raped, it’s likely to be “dark” fantasy. If one or more of the male characters gets raped, then it is absolutly going to be “dark” fantasy.

  33. Wow, that could mean almost anything. Off the top of my head, I’d say that some of Jonathan Carroll’s work probably qualifies, and Graham Joyce almost certainly, at least if the speculative fiction angle is acceptable.

    I don’t read much high fantasy anymore, but I stumbled across The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling, which has a very dark tone to it. Sabriel by Garth Nix (the first book in the Old Kingdom series) is also dark in a very unique way. I would also say that these two books are much darker than the rest of the books in both series. I also think George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones was pretty dark in feel but definitely falls more solidly in the high fantasy category than either the Flewelling or the Nix.

    Emma Bull’s Bone Dance seems to me to be the darkest of her novels and might qualify. Of the current crop of “urban fantasy,” the only series that has what I would consider a true dark feel (and that I would feel comfortable recommending to strangers) is the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. In terms of more classic urban fantasy, some of de Lint’s work (like The Onion Girl) includes some fairly dark themes.

    Also, perhaps Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

    On the more horror side, Caitlin Kiernan and Poppy Z. Brite’s early works (especially Drawing Blood) might work. Also, maybe Clive Barker? (I haven’t actually read any, but from what I’ve heard about some of his books it seems plausible.)

  34. Seconding the P.C. Hodgell mention buried in a long list up above. If that isn’t dark fantasy, I don’t know what is.

    Riddlemaster of Hed is McKillip, not Tepper, and isn’t (IMHO) dark fantasy. Nor particularly recommended.

    Charles Stross’s “Laundry” series would probably scratch a dark fantasy itch.

  35. For gritty, grungy fantasy, I also say Glen Cook’s Black Company .
    The Vlad books, of course.
    Conan seems to fit, as does Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

    I’ll second John Bellairs. My favorite books of his are The Ghost in the Mirror, and The Face in the Frost.

    Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom books are really enjoyable. His characters are great.

  36. I second the recommendations for Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and anything by Glen Cook.

  37. Some of this stuff seems very dubious to me. If by “dark fantasy” you mean anything that is not merely comedic, that’s a pretty pointless definition. Yet some of these lists seem to be pretty much that. So for example, I can’t imagine how for example Zelazny’s Amber series could possibly be characterized as “dark fantasy” when this term is typically used to relate a fantasy story to straight horror ficton.

    Merely treating a story seriously or having characters bleed blood instead of ketchup doesn’t seem to me to be much of qualification, either. Subjecting a character to rape is more likely a sign of an author’s personal erotic fixation than any indication of genre, IMO.

    I do agree, though, P. C. Hodgell writes dark fantasy, whatever that is. Her stuff can be a little self-indulgent, but then, that is really a concession on her part to begin with, and she certainly knows how to write, anyway. I gather she is not so much writing to please others as to please herself, and to satisfy her own fascination with her Jamethiel character.

    I’d also agree with Tanith Lee and Michael Shea, for the most part, but not with Michael Moorcock or Gene Wolfe, both of whom seem to me to be far far far from any inchoate conception of dark fantasy that I can construe.

  38. Gah, any attempt on my part to write a serious post above now has to be completely disregarded due to a sentence with two “for examples” in it. Sigh.

  39. I would add the Joe Pitt casebooks by Charlie Huston to this list. It’s definitely dark and noir, and it’s modern fantasy.

  40. Catherynne M Valente’s Palimpsest, as well as her “Orphan Tales” duology. “Orphan Tales” has a more mythical feeling while Palimpsest has a strong urban fantasy/surrealism combo.

  41. I see most of my suggestions have already been aired. I’m taking “dark fantasy” to occupy some border region between what’s usually called “urban fantasy” and horror, so I don’t think I’d count Cook or Erikson, whom I think of as writing heroic fantasy with a decidedly noirish cast. (Cook calls it “creeping realism.”).


    Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy (Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows, Queen of the Darkness) — very well done on the whole, tremendously erotic (in a wide sense), tremendously human characters, but the villains are a little cartoony (OK, a lot). There’s a pendant volume of short stories about the characters from the series (Dreams Made Flesh). Brilliant universe creation.

    Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files — Chicago’s only wizard for hire has regular run-ins with all sorts of supernatural nasties — including the ones on his side. It’s an ongoing series, and has developed very well.

    Tanya Huff: the Keeper Chronicles, the Blood Series, and the Smoke Series can all count as dark fantasy in my book. Supernatural this, that, and the other, and her characters are fairly attitudinous. They’re also pretty funny.

    Mike Resnick wrote a couple that fall into this category, I think, Stalking the Unicorn and Stalking the Vampire. A blend of fantasy, horror, and noir detective fiction. Takes place in an alternate Manhattan populated by the usual suspects — elves, gnomes, vampires, and the like.

    C. E. Murphy has a good series that starts with Urban Shaman — good blend of Celtic and Native folklore in modern Seattle.

    And I second the recommendation for the “Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror” anthologies — there are about 20 of them at this point, so that should keep your friend occupied for a while.

  42. Forgive me, but I’m not sure what “urban” or “noir” have to do with it, despite the meaning in French of the latter term.

    Urban fantasy just means putting fantasy elements in modern day cities. Could be comical, could be “lite”, could just be bad, as so much of it is. But what does this have to do with “dark” in the sense of horror?

    Noir is either (my definitions):

    a) a general abstract sensibility associated with existentialism and apparent lack of meaning and moral compass in the world (meaing derived from early 20th century film), or else

    b) it’s associated with private detectives and similar solitary white knights who maintain a private amd lonely moral code despite the decay, crime, chaos, and temptation that surround them (meaning derived from early 20th century literature, specifically Chandler).

    Neither of those concepts seems to me offhand to have much to do with the admittedly vague term “dark fantasy”, which to my mind is just fantasy with horror elements, but which doesn’t focus primarily on the sense of horror and revulsion that “mainstream” horror tries to evoke.

  43. Try “Yarrow” and “Moonheart” by Charles de Lint. Both take place in Canada’s capital and quite creepy.

  44. Wow. I love Jacqueline Carey, but I’d never have thought of it as dark fantasy.

    Heh. Me too. And, me neither.

    MarkW @ #38: If one or more of the male characters gets raped, then it is absolutely going to be “dark” fantasy.

    Heh. Well, Carey’s back in, then, huh? Also Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. But no, I’d never call that dark fantasy, either.

    My first thought on recommendations was Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Then people mentioned Agyar and I’d go for that, too, if you’d not feel like a turd recommending your own book. Apparently, I only like vampire stories by authors who don’t write vampire stories. Then I love them.

    Then someone mentioned King’s The Dark Tower series, too. And, sure, but damn. Talk about needing to love the first few books just to get through the last few. I realize he had a panic attack when he got run over, and pushed them out—and it shows in the writing.

    But I did love the way the series ends.

    And to end in a question: Is War for the Oaks “dark fantasy”? I’d say uban fantasy, for sure, yeah. And it’s got its dark parts. But…

    I dunno. I think I misunderstand the concept. And I’m okay with that. Picking what to read by relying on genre has never worked out well for me, anyway.

  45. The Dark Shore by Adam Lee (aka A.A. Attanasio), just as dark of fantasy as you’ll ever find. Clever and fascinating, a very original world, but dark, dark, dark. And thus, appropriately named!

  46. I like Glen Cook’s Black Company books as dark fantasy. Also Moorcock’s Elric books. I think to be dark fantasy a book requires three things.

    First, a bleak setting, but not a hopeless or overly disturbing one. I wouldn’t put Butcher or Carey in the dark fantasy subgenre because the settings are just not all that dark. I wouldn’t put Mieville in the category (based on reading Perdido St. Station) because he intentionally tries to make you squirm in disgust throughout the book. That moves him into the horror category.

    Second some sort of moral ambiguity. If everything is black and white it’s more likely tragedy or horror.

    Finally, there must be magic or it isn’t fantasy.

  47. I have got to admit that the term was not clear to me, so I checked in the _Encyclopedia of Fantasy_ (Clute & Grant). They name Clark Ashton Smith (for his Zothique stories), Sean Stewart (Resurrection Man) and add Stephen Marley’s _Mortal Mask_ All are works that I’d describe as fantasy with strong horror elements.
    They also name Stephen Donaldson’s Thomans Covenant books which I can see (and I think that the horror element tends to grow in the second and third series),

    Sticking to that, the Malazan books look marginal, but the related “Korbal Broach and Bauchelain” stories might qualify.
    For more modern settings, I’d find Charles Stross’ Laundry books too light in tone overall. Some of Jonathan Carroll’s works ought to qualify (I think of _The Marriage of Sticks_ – and it it isn’t it’s still good). Christopher Priest’s _The Prestige_ ought to fit (the book more than the film) and Graham Joyce works, too. Maybe some of Kim Newman’s books, too – I’m thinking of _The Quorum_ and possibly the closely related “adult choose-your-own adventure” _Life’s Lottery_

  48. I dont know if I have the genre correct, but, from what I understand I’d recommend the following:

    Zorachus, by Mark E. Rogers
    Much of Dan Simmons earliest stuff (e.g. his Kali books and Carrion Comfort)
    Everything by Scott Bakker

  49. Had to throw in a title that I am surprised hasnt come up yet.

    Song of Ice and Fire

    by George R.R. Martin

    Cant think of a darker writer in the modern stable of fantasy. I love the way he is willing to kill off his favorite characters if the story requires.

  50. I’ve got to say, I’m usually rather surprised at how, um, un-dark most books categorized as dark fantasy really are. I know I, for one, was expecting Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books to be a whole lot more graphic than they were. That goes for most of the “dark fantasy” out there.

    That said, most of my suggestions have already been mentioned above, but I figured a little reinforcement couldn’t hurt. :) I absolutely second the recommendations for Jacqueline Carey, Anne Bishop and Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN series, and I particularly recommend Sarah Monette’s work. She’s the best new author I’ve discovered in the past couple of years.

  51. If there is one series of books that completely defines dark fantasy it is the “Kane” series by Karl Edward Wagner. The only problem is you probably have to look in a used book store to find them.

  52. Two newer series, both genre-busters–but so are a lot of the others listed above: 1) the Felix Castor books by Mike Carey (author of DC Comics Lucifer series) are about a modern-day freelance exorcist; the 1st–The Devil You Know–was a bit mild for my taste, but promising enough that I’ve got the 2nd on my to-buy list. 2) the Donal Riordan books by John Meaney, about a sort-of-modern-day metropolitan–except it’s more like necropolitan–cop in a universe that–cripes, read Bone Song & Black Blood and find out; again, maybe a little on the mild side, but with a fascinating perspective. And how is it possible that no one has yet mentioned Simon R. Green’s hilariously macabre John Taylor series?

  53. @knob_e – First mention of Green’s John Taylor series was July 3 by @Mo.

  54. I am going to reiterate what many here have already said:

    Moorcock’s Elric series is the epitomy of dark fantasy.

    Cook’s Black Company series is a more modern dark fantasy.

    C.L. Moore’s “Jirel of Joiry” series is another good example.

    @Rathgar #55.

    I would add a fourth requirement: the protagonist of the story should be an anti-hero. Which is why I wouldn’t agree with most Conan, Fafhard and the Grey Mouser, or Simon R Green’s books and stories count… their characters are usually heroes.

  55. I think “dark fantasy” as a concept is too vague, even with several of the above posters definitions.

    As the posters #55 Rathgar and #64 Prezimonto define it:

    Robert Jordans Wheel of Time series has lots of “dark fantasy” scenes.

    Death Note (Manga) is very dark.

    When they Cry – Higurashi (manga) is almost better described as horror, but it can fit.

    the Slayers novel Series, it fits #55 & #64’s categories (yet most people wouldn’t think of it as “dark fantasy”. (It’s a shame that only the first 8 novels have been translated and released in America (there are online fan-translation projects)).

  56. @KZK#65

    The difference with the Wheel of Time is that it’s so bloated and lacking focus that any number of sub-genres of fantasy could be used to describe different parts of it. At least with the Eternal Champion Moorcock keeps to a tone with each character set. WoT is almost 3 or 4 separate series that inter-connect.

    Manga, while interesting, also isn’t a traditional novel. And so for the purposes presented here I don’t think would count.

  57. Re: #66

    The whole point about these so-called sub-gengres is that they are so vague and etc. that almost anything could be made to fit. Certainly with your definition.

    “Manga, while interesting, also isn’t a traditional novel. And so for the purposes presented here I don’t think would count.”

    A story is a story. Period. While Higurashi may be an adaptation of a very dark and twisted game, Death Note is a story of the highest caliber of whatever medium it is presented in (soon to be a major motion picture from this place called “Hollywood”).

  58. Sure they’re vague, but the 4 criteria we suggest certainly is specific enough to narrow down to a defined set of books. There will be books that are borderline, but then there will be books that exactly fit the description.

    To reiterate:
    1)A bleak setting, but not a hopeless or overly disturbing one.

    2) Some sort of moral ambiguity to the plot line.

    3) An antihero for a main protagonist(s).

    4) Magic

    A story is a story, whether told verbally, through graphics or solely through written text. Each one can convey the story in an effective manner and yet each one is different. And that is my point. I’m not saying manga is bad, or that it can’t be “dark fantasy”, but rather that I interpreted the point here to be asking after traditional novels and short story collections.

  59. Hmm, Elantris by Brandon Sanderson wasn’t mentioned yet, this is a good book, with a darker setting and feeling.

    Shinigami by Django Wexler is also an interesting book with some dark elements.

    Blood Magic by Matthew Cook is dark (with a GuidlWars style female Necromancer main character in a gritty Guerrilla war) but not that good and with some slightly disturbing necro-erotic elements.

  60. Re: #68 To be clear SKZB only asked for “Dark Fantasy”, he didn’t say anything about Novels or even books. I am agnostic about medium for that which is Excellent. Movies, TV, Novels, Manga, Games, Anime, it’s all good. Heh, some of the most distubing “Dark Fantasy” stories I have seen have been from games.

  61. I just checked back in on a whim since I had used this thread to start a discussion on my blog a week or so ago, thought I’d link in case any of the thoughts or works mentioned there but not here interested you.

    Also, I like the definition in 68. That is almost what I had come to think, or rather, a differently stated version of where I and two of my readers wound up.


  62. +1 for Dark Jewels and +2 for Joe Abercrombie’s ‘The First Law’.

    Dark Jewels is nice enough, but the first law is a must read. Awesome and different.

  63. I think condition #4 is off. Agyar wouldn’t fit in that definition. It needs to be instead: Mythology (magic being a subset of that).

  64. Based on the definition in #68, I can definitely recommend the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. Brilliant series, and about as dark as I want my fantasy books to get.

  65. Another crucial question is- how dark does something have to be? Death and sorrow everywhere? Bloody and gore-tastic? As for a bleak setting- one wonders why a bright setting wouldn’t work, if the actual occurrences are dark natured. Sorry if this doesn’t fit the thread, but I have been reading the comments and just couldn’t help but wonder. Most of my favorite authors have been listed here by someone, at some point, but I have to admit other than Moorcock’s unforgettable Elric, and the fantastic Anne Bishop, few of them seemed all that dark to me. Loved Anita Blake and Meredith, but they just seemed more realistic to me than dark. Same with Vlad and Loiosh, yes I give him his own mention because I love Loiosh *s*

  66. Not a discussion that might lead to enlightenment, but provocative.

    Seems to me that something like “dark fantasy” has to be relative, with life experience of the reader counting for a lot. Those who have not had much horror or tragedy in their own lives, and those who have plenty of both, would likely classify different things as dark fantasy. For the former, something like Zelazny’s _Jack of Shadows_ might qualify, while for the latter the book might be a bit a existentialist musing.

    More simply put, if a fantasy book takes you to a dark place in your own mind, it’s dark fantasy. The mind’s reaction might be verbalized as “oh/eww, you did not just go there, oh man, no I don’t wanna go there but can’t look away.”

    Dark fantasy is not merely grim, but evocative of the grim. Or at least, that’s my working understanding.

  67. The first 5 Anita Blake books by Laurel K. Hamilton seem to fit. Stories include murder details that don’t pull any punches, moral ambiguity, the struggle to define ‘person’ in a world of monsters.

  68. Don’t miss this!!!

    Night angel trilogy – Brent Weeks

    “Assassin has no friends, just targets”
    See the life of assassin (“wetboy”) from childhood to adult age, magic, prophecy, brutality, conspiracy, sex, love, revenge, life/love-philosophizing. Awesome, except the “too-powerfull-main-character” issue.

  69. I found this page while “googl-ing” for good dark fantasy books. The definition of the term is very vague and there don’t seem t be many authors that write dark fantasy.

    What dark fantasy would mean to me would be an anti-hero, magical elements, a dark medieval setting, no heroes in shining armor, really human characters with flaws but a good heart.

    The first author that sprang to my mind was Glen Cook. His Black Company is definitely dark fantasy. As someone pointed out, good guys could be bad guys and the bad guys could be good. Another would be First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, the ending was ….unexpected because I hadn’t thought of it as dark fantasy.But it is somewhat dark. Then the Night Angel trilogy would be quite dark too.

    Another strong recommendation would be Berserk(manga). I’ve seen recommendations for Death Note, its twisted yes but no match for Berserk when it comes to dark fantasy. It is very graphic,violent, an interesting protagonist and the villain more so and the bond between them even more. Its licensed so most sites have stopped displaying it. You can get a torrent though. It is actually these manga which motivated me to read dark fantasy novels.

  70. I’d have to go with Glen Cook, Dark Company. However, I actually think his Tyranny of the Night is more representative of this, and better too.

    I also give a solid vote to Brent Weeks Night Angel trilogy, though the hero always seemed pretty solidly decent… but he is an assassin, so there is that.

  71. Most definitely Clive Barker. If you haven’t read “Books of Blood” and “Imajica”, you are missing the ultimate thing in dark fantasy.

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