The best fantasy book with a touch of darkness in its soul

Who am I?

An avid reader, and a spec-fiction/fantasy reviewer for CM Canada online, I’ve wanted to tell stories for as long as I can remember. I write “pantser-style” and let the characters run loose, looking at their motivation to steer the tale, often starting with little more than an idea and, if lucky, a character or two. My love of history led me to writing mediaeval or historical fantasy, as my first group of published novels attest, but to avoid stagnation added science fiction and a fantasy detective series of novellas. To date have fourteen novels and three anthologies of my novellas published and have appeared on panels at several cons.


I wrote...

The Dark Lady

By RJ Hore,

Book cover of The Dark Lady

What is my book about?

Young Princess Nefasti wakes one morning to discover her father, the king, poisoned and her mother near death. She is about to become the sole heiress to the High Kingdom of Vadio. The deceased king’s three brothers soon begin to plot and quarrel over who will become Regent and control the kingdom until she becomes of age or dies. They squabble over their main solutions, marry her off under their control, or kill her.

If this were not enough of a problem, the greedy and much larger kingdoms surrounding them all desire to gobble Vadio up, and their ambassadors scurry through the castle, plotting and scheming.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

By Force Alone

By Lavie Tidhar,

Book cover of By Force Alone

Why this book?

A brutal re-telling of the King Arthur legend, this novel reimagines the familiar story, retaining the feeling of weird magic, while pulling no punches about the characters. Arthur is a thug, Guinevere is no better, Merlin is a frustrated sprite beset by his female counterparts, and Britain is best described as a “clogged sewer that Rome abandoned just as soon as it could.”

The first of a five-book planned series to tell the story of the Matter of Britain, this is a ruthless and dark take that grabbed me from the beginning. I’ve always loved history, even a warped version like this. It left me eager for more and set me tracking down what else this author had written. I was not disappointed.


A Game of Thrones

By George R.R. Martin,

Book cover of A Game of Thrones

Why this book?

I discovered this volume quite by accident years ago while searching in a used bookstore for something to read on a sailing trip. I ended up devouring it twice while at anchor in a remote bay during bad weather. The opening salvo in a series about a dark and brutal world, overflowing with interesting players and complicated plots.

The characters cover the full spectrum of the good, the bad, and the very ugly. You may have watched the TV series, but have you read the books they were based on? I highly recommend them. This is a good place to start.


Thunder Road

By Chadwick Ginther,

Book cover of Thunder Road

Why this book?

The first volume of a series that eventually ran to three books. It opens with the main character, Ted, caught in an explosion out among the prairie oil rigs and badly shaken up when he faces a Norse fire god who announces he is about to burn the world. Ted wants his old life back, but now the creatures of Norse myology stalk among us.

If you think you might enjoy the characters from Norse mythology in a gritty modern mid-Canada setting, this one is for you. Described as a serious fantasy for grownups. I have to admit I ended up buying all three books as they became available.


Half the World

By Joe Abercrombie,

Book cover of Half the World

Why this book?

Ever read a book you kept putting aside because you wanted to extend the pleasure a bit longer? I didn’t want to set this down. Ready to submit my five picks when I came across this tale. Delicious! By the time I’d finished it replaced one of my choices. Treachery, deceit, blood, with vivid characters you might wish to meet, at a safe distance.

A fantasy world obviously based on the Norse and Byzantium; you are swept away on an adventure. Do you like vivid duel and battle scenes where you can feel every blow? How about devious work behind the scenes? Whom do you trust? Yes, there is even a tinge of romance, and the ladies get more than their equal share of top billing.


Black Leopard, Red Wolf

By Marlon James,

Book cover of Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Why this book?

Maddening, annoying, confusing, and I couldn’t stop reading this thing. A wild tale of a fantasy version of a medieval or earlier mythological Africa, and its strange kingdoms. A character known by such descriptive names as Tracker, Wolf, and Nose, tangles with shape-shifting leopards, vampires, witches, giants, wily buffaloes, and worse creatures, as he searches for a missing child.

A great read if you don’t mind oodles of violence and same-sex carryings-on. Hated and loved it at the same time, partially because the author gets away with things that come together and are phrased in ways my editors would never permit me. In his acknowledgements, the author admits, “My mother is allowed to read all but two pages of this book.”


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Norse mythology, teenage girls, and World War 2?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Norse mythology, teenage girls, and World War 2.

Norse Mythology Explore 53 books about Norse mythology
Teenage Girls Explore 89 books about teenage girls
World War 2 Explore 971 books about World War 2

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Winter King, The Lord of the Rings, and Bloody Jack if you like this list.