5 Dark Fantasy Books You Should Read
I love dark fantasy. That's probably no surprise since I'm a dark fantasy author. For me it's a genre that provides a wonderful sense of escapism, combined with the thrill of exploring the shadowed corners of the human psyche. If you're wondering what dark fantasy actually is, it's essentially regular fantasy with some edgier, horror elements to it. That makes things fairly broad, so hopefully my recommendations below (including why I chose them) will bring more clarity.
Here are my picks for the best dark fantasy books getting around...
1. The Painted Man by Peter V Brett
Also known as The Warded Man, depending on which market you're in, this is the first in Peter V Brett's Demon Cycle series. The Painted Man portrays a post-apocalyptic world where demons have risen from the core of the earth, reaping death and violence upon humanity. We follow the life of a young boy, Arlan Bales, as he grows up to become a demon fighter and possibly 'The Deliverer' - a messiah-like figure who will lead the world in a battle against all demon kind.
The in-depth storytelling involved in this book is extraordinary. You get an amazing sense of the characters, even delving into the minds of 'villains' to change perspective and see their side of things. I would absolutely recommend getting into this sooner rather than later. The fifth and final book in the series, The Core, is due to drop in August next year. So, it's a perfect time to get swept up in the excitement and be transported to a dark, yet wonderful world.
2. The Way of the Shadows by Brent Weeks
The Way of the Shadows follows young orphan Azoth's path to becoming the deadliest assassin the world has ever seen. Set in a medieval-style fantasy world with kings, queens, guilds, apprentices and of course magic, this book is the first in a trilogy and has all of the elements of a great anti-hero's journey. There's sex, political intrigue, violence, and a love story woven into the mix. Queue them up on your Kindle and rip through the whole lot in a holiday break. Just don't start if you don't have much time to spare because you'll neglect your job, friends, partner and children in favour of diving into the story.
3. Imajica by Clive Barker
When it comes to classic dark fantasy look no further than Clive Barker. While he's better known for his horror titles (like Hellraiser/The Hellbound Heart), for my money Barker's best work comes when he delves even deeper into his twisted imagination to create entire universes.
Imajica is a monster of a book at 824 pages. It chronicles the events surrounding the reconciliation of Earth with four other parallel worlds unknown to all but a select few of Earth's inhabitants. Woven into the tale are interesting ideas on sex, religion, god, love and death. It's part fantasy, part philosophy, part fast-paced thriller. To give you an indication of how ahead of his time Clive Barker was on a lot of this stuff, he was exploring gender fluidity in Imajica way back in 1991. Pretty crazy considering that topic is really only becoming a major discussion point in the world now.
If you like this book, another great dark fantasy title by Clive Barker is Weave World. Get both on your reading list.
4. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
When American Gods came out it won the Hugo, Locus, Nebula and Bram Stoker awards all in the same year. Think about that for a second. It won ALL the major awards for scifi, horror and fantasy. That means it somewhat defies genre, yet is so amazing it has critics raving about how good it is. If that isn't enough to interest you in reading it, here's a little teaser of the story line.... Shadow has just been released from jail, only to find that his wife was killed in a car accident while giving a blowjob to one of his best friends. On the plane ride home for the funeral, Shadow encounters a strange man called Mr Wednesday, who wants to hire Shadow as a bodyguard. With nothing to lose, Shadow accepts and is thrown into a world that blends myth and reality.
American Gods has also just been released as a new Amazon TV series. You can either watch that, or read the book first to prime your imagination for a war between deities.
5. Bound by Alan Baxter
Bound is a major wildcard in this list. Being a new(ish) title from Australian dark fiction maestro Alan Baxter, it won't be on as many radars as the above books. It has been described as "Lee Child's Jack Reacher with a spell book", which partly does the book justice, but partly sells it short. For me, the main character Alex Caine is a lot more interesting than Jack Reacher. He has the same tough exterior, but there's a lot more wit and charm in there, along with some extraordinary magical prowess to boot. This book barrels along a-mile-a-minute and will leave you panting for air once you finally come up at the end. A really great read from a really great talent in the genre.
If you want a free copy of the first book in my own dark fantasy trilogy, Hellbound, simply sign up to the newsletter form above. Happy reading.
For even more dark fantasy options, you can also check out the Goodreads Top 50 list.