The best scifi/fantasy books with action sequences that will stick with you

Nathan Makaryk Author Of Nottingham
By Nathan Makaryk

Who am I?

As a stage combat choreographer myself, fight sequences are always important to me: they have to be believable but exciting, they have to keep up the pace so the reader is experiencing the action at the same speed as the characters—but most importantly, they have to tell a story. Action just for the sake of action always feels empty, but great fight scenes that are both exhilarating and bound to the forward momentum of the plot and emotion will stay with me for a long time. Here’s some that I still remember long after I finished the book.

I wrote...


By Nathan Makaryk,

Book cover of Nottingham

What is my book about?

Sure, the story of Robin Hood has been done over and over again, but somehow I’ve never seen the version I really wanted. I’ve always hated “good guys” vs moustache-twirling “bad guys.” I wanted a Robin Hood with questionable motives, and a relatable Sheriff of Nottingham with good intentions.

Nottingham is my answer to a more complex look at Robin Hood lore, in which we see the world from multiple points of view on both sides of the conflict. There are still plenty of famous tentpole Robin Hood moments that will keep the story familiar to a reader’s expectations, but there are just as many Robin Hood tropes dismantled along the way, in favor of something more realistic and morally ambiguous.

The books I picked & why

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A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

By Alex White,

Book cover of A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

Why this book?

Sci-fi is full of plucky bands of found family misfits going up against impossible odds, but the Salvagers series is one of its finest examples. Alex White blends sci-fi tech with a magic system that really works, and leads to some truly memorable action sequences. The final act of this book has stuck with me as one of those big fights where it seems like escape is impossible, but the danger is palpable and you honestly think the entire cast is going to be wiped out. And of course, once you finish Big Ship, continue on to the next two installments—each of which has their own harrowing moments filled with snarky characters, fresh ideas, and genuine character connection.

Shrouded Loyalties

By Reese Hogan,

Book cover of Shrouded Loyalties

Why this book?

This lesser-known gem was my favorite book of 2019. You take a World War II-style submarine war but throw in horrifying new supernatural powers, and then pitch it against Cthulu-style interdimensional monsters and you start to have an idea of the gloriously-insane trajectory of this book. That may sound over-the-top at a glance, but I promise this is a grounded read that’s flush with complex interweaving relationships, and an unrelenting pace that constantly throws new, bigger dangers at the characters before they’ve had a chance to catch their breath. This book is far better than it has any right to be.


By Dan Stout,

Book cover of Titanshade

Why this book?

Take one look at the cover and you’ll know if this book is for you. Somewhere between fantasy and retro 70s sci-fi is this incredible detective-noir following a prickly disco-hating antihero and his mandible-faced new rookie. Full of all the dredge-scouring and socialite-snobbery of any good homicide whodunnit, Titanshade also features dangerous magic that is pivotal in a major action sequence that has stuck with me since I first read it. And yes, this one has a couple of follow-up books if you want to revisit the world (which you will).

Saint's Blood

By Sebastien De Castell,

Book cover of Saint's Blood

Why this book?

I picked the third book in the Greatcoats series as it contains the fight sequence I remember the most, but every entry in this series has some incredible swordplay and memorable action. The Greatcoats take all the swashbuckling bravado of the Three Musketeers but thrown into a far more dangerous world with black magic and angry deities. There’s a cavalier joy to every sword fight, which often details the specific strategies to the point where you feel like you’re learning how to fight for yourself. There’s tons of honor and bravery in the face of a brutal, bleak world, and worth every page.

The Impossible Contract: Book 2 in the Chronicles of Ghadid

By K.A. Doore,

Book cover of The Impossible Contract: Book 2 in the Chronicles of Ghadid

Why this book?

The Chronicles of Ghadid follows a family of assassins in a fantastical desert world—but rather than play it safe by following stealthy assassination quests, Doore throws her assassins into the fray against undead armies and unkillable spirits. The result is a truly unique setting with haunting action sequences, bound together by the close ties of family and budding romances. Also, necromancers and undead camels, how could you go wrong?

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