Dark Fantasy Series: Novels


Since high school I’ve been on the lookout for new novels to add to the list, for classics and brand new titles or any book in which fair is foul and foul is fair. Stories where the heroines walks the dark path, seeking to bring hope to her world no matter the price. They and their males are sensuous, adamant, dangerous. Their kingdoms drip with politics, intrigue, treachery, and swords and gods and sorcery mix to horrific–and deadly–effect. In honor of the Black Jewels hack I’m working on, here are some other dark fantasy novels to whet your appetite or round out your palate. And please, for the love of all that is dark, give me some new titles to look up.

Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

N. K. Jemisin

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.

Emphasis on the mythological and to a lesser effect, political intrigue. Yeine’s love interest is the epitome of darkness himself, and she is more than meets the eye herself. The stains of imperialism and militarism on their world is apparent, in addition to religious dogmatism and persecution.

The Broken Kingdoms

N. K. Jemisin

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree’s guest is at the heart of it all…

Takes the hints of cosmo/mythology of the first book in the series and fleshes them out, literally. Mortals and immortals love, hurt, die, and no heart remains innocent. There is no black and white morality here, but a delicious grayness that explores relationships, magic, and reality itself.

Kushiel’s Dart

Jacqueline Carey

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair…and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.

Political intrigue meets girl–masochistic, courtesan girl-turned spy. A love story for the ages and a luscious world of aristocratic France with simultaneous licentiousness and restraint: “Love as thou wilt,” and to contradict this motto is to blaspheme the angels who founded its line. The first in six novels, this one features alternate history France, Scandinavia, and Britain, dripping with eroticism and plotting.

Kushiel’s Chosen

Jacqueline Carey

The hands of the gods weigh heavily upon Phèdre’s brow, and they are not finished with her. While the young queen who sits upon the throne is well loved by the people, there are those who believe another should wear the crown… and those who escaped the wrath of the mighty are not yet done with their schemes for power and revenge.

A sequel that is actually better than the original. Emotional highs and lows, bitter betrayal and hopeful reunions. Alternate history France meets Italy meets Adriatic pirates and shipwrecks! in more diplomatic dueling and desperate plots and terrible twists and turns. Our heroine grows up, flowers fully into a deadly weapon of seduction and espionage, with no few flaws of her own.

Game of Tears

John Wick & Rachel Judd

Tomas and Ismene are playing a game. A game of seduction. A game of deception. A game of murder.

One of the most controversial pillowbooks in ven history, A Game of Tears is an epistolary novel of two siblings and their deadly little game. Now, fully translated from the original ven along with many bonus materials, A Game of Tears is available to the general public for the first time.

Yes, you can read the full text for free online, but I found it much easier (and worth the $5) to get the PDF instead of wading through out-of-order blog entries. When recommending the novel to my friend I explained that this book “was what Suncrown should have been.” Double and triple plot twists, irony like you wouldn’t believe, tragedy, political duels, the works. My only complaint was that by the end you felt like it was very much a redux of a certain classical play that pretty much defines tragedy, but it’s the journey that counts here, not necessarily the destination. Don’t blame me if you want to play the associated RPG afterwards, Houses of the Blooded.

Daughter of the Blood

Anne Bishop

Seven hundred years ago, a Black Widow witch saw an ancient prophecy come to life in her web of dreams and visions. Now the Dark Kingdom readies itself for the arrival of its Queen, a Witch who will wield more power than even the High Lord of Hell himself. But she is still young, still open to influence-and corruption.

Whoever controls the Queen controls the darkness. Three men-sworn enemies-know this. And they know the power that hides behind the blue eyes of an innocent young girl. And so begins a ruthless game of politics and intrigue, magic and betrayal, where the weapons are hate and love-and the prize could be terrible beyond imagining…

She is the darkest, most powerful, most dangerous creature to walk the realms, and she is its only hope. Surrounded by the High Lord of Hell, the Sadist, and a wise-ass winged warrior, this book takes fantasy cliches and turns them on their head. Deeply sensuous and disturbing, the author seems at times to have an axe to grind, but the nuances of the matriarchal system balance out the accusations of misandry. Anyone who likes their sorcery structured will love Bishop’s magical system of jewels and castes and witchcraft.


Anne Bishop

Long ago, Ephemera was split into a dizzying number of magical lands-connected only by bridges that may take you where you truly belong, rather than where you had intended to go. In one such land, where night reigns and demons dwell, the half-incubus Sebastian revels in dark delights. But in dreams she calls to him: a woman who wants only to be safe and loved-a woman he hungers for while knowing he may destroy her.And an even more devastating destiny awaits him, for an ancient evil is stirring-and Sebastian’s realm may be the first to fall.

The hero is an incubus, for crying out loud, who dwells in a Den of Iniquity. But he and his companions are up against a much darker force, including the “good guys.” The love story is not as compelling as the setting, which challenges ideas of belief and reality with its “points of light” realms in the darkness. Worth reading so that you might enjoy the sequel, Belladonna, which is a great book.


Garth Nix

Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.

Dark fantasy for young adults, but infinitely enjoyable nevertheless. The heroine is an (anti)necromancer-in-training who grew up in a mundane alternate universe 1910’s Britain. No sentimental coming-of-age story here, but a desperate, dark attempt for her to survive in a kingdom where the dead roam free, and only she can stop them. Detailed systems of magic and spirits and a subdued but deep love story.


Jacqueline Carey

If all that is good thinks you evil… are you?

Now there is a new prophecy that tells of Satoris’s destruction and the redemption of the world. To thwart it, Satoris sends Tanaros to capture the Lady of the Ellylon, the beautiful Cerelinde, to prevent her alliance with the last High King of Men.

But Tanaros discovers that not all of his heart has been lost–his feelings for Cerelinde could doom Satoris, but save the race of Men…

Famous for being Lord of the Rings from Sauron’s perspective, this book is for anyone who wants to root for the “bad guys,” who may just happen to be right. Very old-school fantasy-feeling, with characters that feel like they’re straight from a Dungeons & Dragons setting, but not in a bad way. Interesting mythological worldbuilding and explorations of means versus ends and personal versus cosmological agendas.

Game of Thrones

George R. R. Martin

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Yes, it’s absent most of the magic and melodrama that pervades the rest of the list, but as I was considering the definition of dark fantasy, I decided this one fits after all. Through the series you’ll love the twists and turns of the plot, but moreso the dynamic characters, who turn from hated enemy into final bastion of honor as things come undone. The magic is subdued yet terrifying, something to be dreaded and feared even as it is coveted for its power. There are no heroes; the ugliest characters earn our cheer as we stand, horrified at what the pretty ones can commit. If you’re looking for the book of fantasy trope reversals, here you have it. Dark and gritty, morose and riveting, not for the faint of heart or idealistic. And when you’re done with the book you can watch the HBO series it’s spawned.

Thumbnail art © Steph Fuller

One Response to “Dark Fantasy Series: Novels”

  1. Red Tash says:

    Really nice list. I loved your description of dark fantasy, too. It’s a little on the high fantasy side for me (I write urban/contemporary), but you make it sound so appealing, I’d be willing to give some of these a try. I started Game of Thrones. Love it, just got distracted by some others.

    Nice blog!

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