The best books about barbarians

8 authors have picked their favorite books about barbarians and why they recommend each book.

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The Blade Itself

By Joe Abercrombie,

Book cover of The Blade Itself

Not many writers pick a crippled torturer for a protagonist, let alone a privileged, cowardly, and selfish minor noble. Abercrombie doesn’t just start with these two, he also adds a sometimes psychopathic barbarian and a misanthropic, racist woman as his characters. Don’t even get me started on the old wizard. He’s the worst of all. Not only do these characters seem unheroic, but they also act as if they might just kill each other rather than move the plot of the novel along. Never a burden, always delightful, The Blade Itself will mesmerize you as these murderers and narcissists try to do just one thing right. Whether they do or not, I won’t say, but they definitely tell a fantastic tale.

The Blade Itself

By Joe Abercrombie,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Blade Itself as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inquisitor Glokta, a crippled and increasingly bitter relic of the last war, former fencing champion turned torturer extraordinaire, is trapped in a twisted and broken body - not that he allows it to distract him from his daily routine of torturing smugglers.

Nobleman, dashing officer and would-be fencing champion Captain Jezal dan Luthar is living a life of ease by cheating his friends at cards. Vain, shallow, selfish and self-obsessed, the biggest blot on his horizon is having to get out of bed in the morning to train with obsessive and boring old men.

And Logen Ninefingers, an infamous warrior…


Who am I?

Sometimes I don’t feel very heroic. Octogenarian old women have been known to pass me going upstairs because I have only one working lung (I was born without a right pulmonary artery). I’m also skinny and a touch under-tall. I work in a profession (geophysicist) few understand, and there just don’t seem to be a lot of tv shows about—unlike all the doctors, lawyers, and police dramas. I think it resonates with a great many people when an unlikely person makes a difference. Each and every one of us can make the world a little bit better. Sometimes, we need to believe in ourselves…and try. Besides, who doesn’t like an underdog? Or stories about them.


I wrote...

Last Worst Hopes

By Lee Hunt,

Book cover of Last Worst Hopes

What is my book about?

Nehring Ardgour has summoned Skoll and Hati from hell and they have torn the world apart. To make matters worse, Farrah Harbinger has predicted a new and worse adversary: the One, True Devil. But all the great are gone. The knights are dead. The master wizards have been spent. Only the dregs remain: a soldier with an evil left hand, an arrogant wizard, an uncertain squire, and an old man with dementia. They are the last worst hopes.

Ronan the Librarian

By Tara Luebbe, Becky Cattie, Victoria Maderna (illustrator)

Book cover of Ronan the Librarian

The first thing that attracted me to this book is the terrific title – and the cover illustration. My kids and I enjoyed the humor, adventure, and unexpected twists in this entertaining tale about a barbarian clan that finds a treasure box of books. I’m not sure what made the kids giggle more – the fact that barbarians make terribly odd library patrons, or the little flyers and other details in the illustrations. (Definitely don’t miss reading the little flyers in the illustrations!)

Ronan the Librarian

By Tara Luebbe, Becky Cattie, Victoria Maderna (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ronan the Librarian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This humorous picture book from sister duo Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie and illustrator Victoria Maderna follows Ronan the Barbarian as he he grows from being just a rough-and-tumble warrior to Ronan the Librarian--a rough-and-tumble warrior who loves books.

Ronan was a mighty barbarian.
He invaded. He raided. And back home, he traded.
He always found the greatest treasures.
Until one day, Ronan found something no barbarian wants:
A BOOK.

At first, his fellow barbarians are skeptical of his newfound passion for reading, but in the end, even they aren't immune to the charms of a good book.


Who am I?

I've loved books and reading from an early age. My family and I go to the library nearly every week to check out books, do research, or attend library programs like storytime. My interest in libraries led me to read books about libraries and write one of my own. I’m a children’s book author living in North Carolina with my husband and two book-devouring kids. I Want My Book Back is my second book, following my debut, Teach Your Giraffe to Ski. When I’m not reading or writing, I like hanging out with my family, being outdoors, and going on everyday adventures.


I wrote...

I Want My Book Back

By Viviane Elbee, Nicole Miles (illustrator),

Book cover of I Want My Book Back

What is my book about?

Daryl loves one book – it takes him on roaring, stomping dinosaur adventures! So, when someone else puts it on hold and he’s forced to return it to the library, he’ll do anything to get his book back.

Eagles at War

By Ben Kane,

Book cover of Eagles at War

This takes us into the Teutoberg Forest ambush, where three legions were massacred by a German prince called Arminius. Hero Lucius Tullus tries to prevent the tragedy—and then tries to drag his men out of the mire. It’s tough, gritty, and you will feel as exhausted as Tullus when he finally makes it out. It’s so realistic you can smell the mud and blood. 

Eagles at War

By Ben Kane,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eagles at War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

BASED ON REAL HISTORICAL EVENTS

A TIME FOR VENGEANCE
AD 9, German frontier: Close to the Rhine, a Roman centurion, Lucius Tullus, prepares to take his soldiers on patrol. On the opposite side of the river, German tribes are resentful of the harsh taxes about to be imposed upon them. Suspicious that there might be unrest, Tullus knows that his men's survival will be determined not just by their training and discipline, but by his leadership.

A TIME FOR WAR
What neither Tullus nor his commander, Governor Varus, realise is that ranged against them is the charismatic chieftain and trusted…


Who am I?

I have a fascination for Roman history, having been born in the UK, and visiting Hadrian’s Wall. I have read many, many works of both history and historical fiction about Rome. To me, these five are the most memorable. Obviously the story has to be fantastic but it's important to be accurate. The opening battle in Gladiator annoyed me because the Romans never broke lines to fight man to man with barbarians. The concept of the Celts living among the rubble of the Empire, of being surrounded by things they cannot understand helped inspire my Empire Of Bones series. I even have a gladius sword and use it to inspire my own battle scenes. 


I wrote...

Bridge of Swords

By Duncan Lay,

Book cover of Bridge of Swords

What is my book about?

Sendatsu is a warrior on the run, hunted by his own people. All he wants to do is get back to his children but, to do that, he’s going to have to wade through a river of gore and maybe save a country from a war-crazed king who wants to write his legacy in blood.

Wounds of Honour

By Anthony Riches,

Book cover of Wounds of Honour: Empire 1

High-born Marcus Aquila finds himself on Hadrian’s Wall in a lowly auxiliary cohort after his family angers the mad Emperor Commodus. He arrives just in time for a tribal rebellion and finds himself up to his neck in crazed berserkers. The action is fast, the battles incredible. Be careful as you turn the page, because you might just slip in all the entrails. The series loses steam around book 7 but the first three are stunning.

Wounds of Honour

By Anthony Riches,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wounds of Honour as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marcus Valerius Aquila has scarcely landed in Britannia when he has to run for his life - condemned to dishonorable death by power-crazed Emperor Commodus. The plan is to take a new name, serve in an obscure regiment on Hadrian's Wall and lie low until he can hope for justice. Then a rebel army sweeps down from the wastes north of the Wall, and Marcus has to prove he's hard enough to lead a century in the front line of a brutal, violent war.


Who am I?

I have a fascination for Roman history, having been born in the UK, and visiting Hadrian’s Wall. I have read many, many works of both history and historical fiction about Rome. To me, these five are the most memorable. Obviously the story has to be fantastic but it's important to be accurate. The opening battle in Gladiator annoyed me because the Romans never broke lines to fight man to man with barbarians. The concept of the Celts living among the rubble of the Empire, of being surrounded by things they cannot understand helped inspire my Empire Of Bones series. I even have a gladius sword and use it to inspire my own battle scenes. 


I wrote...

Bridge of Swords

By Duncan Lay,

Book cover of Bridge of Swords

What is my book about?

Sendatsu is a warrior on the run, hunted by his own people. All he wants to do is get back to his children but, to do that, he’s going to have to wade through a river of gore and maybe save a country from a war-crazed king who wants to write his legacy in blood.

Dawn of Empire

By Sam Barone,

Book cover of Dawn of Empire

I read it some 15 years ago… yet when I close my eyes I can still see Eskkar and Trella and their small band, smell the heat and dust of Mesopotamia. Surrounded by marauding raiders, they must use their wits and will to survive in order to build the earliest of walled cities. Tense and beautifully immersive, Barone’s ‘Dawn of Empire’ is unique and memorable – perfect escapism!

Dawn of Empire

By Sam Barone,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dawn of Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Three thousand years before the birth of Christ. An epic conflict is about to begin. The price of victory? Civilization. The price of defeat, a return to the dark ages.

The hopes of civilization rest on one man's shoulders: Eskkar, once a barbarian, nowa warrior in charge of defending a small town which lies in the path of a vastbarbarian war party. The last time the invaders came to Orak, they spared no one and the tiny candle of trade and agriculture that had begun there, the first in all of human history, was extinguished.

But Eskkar and Trella, the…


Who am I?

I'm a Scottish writer, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction. My love of history was first kindled by visits to the misty Roman ruins of Britain and the sun-baked antiquities of Turkey and Greece. My expeditions since have taken me all over the world and back and forth through time (metaphorically, at least), allowing me to write tales of the later Roman Empire, Byzantium, Classical Greece and even the distant Bronze Age.


I wrote...

Empires of Bronze: Son of Ishtar

By Gordon Doherty,

Book cover of Empires of Bronze: Son of Ishtar

What is my book about?

Four sons. One throne. A world on the precipice. Set in 1315 BC, and with tensions soaring between the great powers of the Late Bronze Age. The Hittites stand toe-to-toe with Egypt, Assyria and Mycenaean Ahhiyawa, and war seems inevitable. More, the fierce Kaskan tribes – age-old enemies of the Hittites – amass at the northern borders.

When Prince Hattu is born, it should be a rare joyous moment for all the Hittite people. But when the Goddess Ishtar comes to King Mursili in a dream, she warns that the boy is no blessing, telling of a dark future where he will stain Mursili’s throne with blood and bring destruction upon the world. Thus, Hattu endures a solitary boyhood in the shadow of his siblings, spurned by his father and shunned by the Hittite people. But when the Kaskans invade, Hattu is drawn into the fray. It is a savage journey in which he strives to show his worth and valour. Yet with his every step, the shadow of Ishtar’s prophecy darkens…

Lover Awakened

By J. R. Ward,

Book cover of Lover Awakened

For the brotherhood, the angriest, scariest, and one of wicked deeds title belongs to Zsadist and he has no regrets. He is the brother who the brothers are weary of. And with good reason. He lives in breathes in his own private hell of his past that haunts him. And what can bring him out…yup, you’ve guessed it, love. And when he meets Bella, his heart softens but only for her. Bad until the end…

Lover Awakened

By J. R. Ward,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Lover Awakened as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the shadows of the night in Caldwell, New York, there's a deadly war raging between vampires and their slayers. And there exists a secret band of brothers like no other - six vampire warriors, defenders of their race. Of these, Zsadist is the most terrifying member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. A former blood slave, the vampire Zsadist still bears the scars from a past filled with suffering and humiliation. Renowned for his unquenchable fury and sinister deeds, he is a savage feared by humans and vampires alike. Anger is his only companion, and terror is his only passion…


Who am I?

As a lover of all things love and being a published author who has read and watched countless romance books and movies, I wanted to recommend bad/gray characters who have stolen my heart because it’s not easy writing a bad guy who deserves your undying love. Most think a bad guy should redeem himself. I believe some should but I also believed some should remain as they are, bad and proud. If I can write a dark character who can steal your heart, then I’ve won a fan for life. Even through bad guys, we can learn life lessons. So, embrace the dark souls in my recs and the ones I’ve written. 


I wrote...

Heaven on Hell Island

By Shea Swain,

Book cover of Heaven on Hell Island

What is my book about?

If Bleu relied on her first impression of Chris, she might have let him drown. But something about him draws her in. Was it something she saw on his calm face as the plane they were on fell from the sky? Now stranded on a mysterious deserted island, Bleu must not only contend with the elements, she must depend on a survivalist who is a hate-filled extremist. 

Chris can’t keep his eyes off of the woman even though he was taught her kind is beneath him. Yet, Bleu saved his life. That means doing his damnedest to keep her alive. Only, Chris can’t deny how alluring Bleu is. He wants her to see him. Not the man he no longer wants to be.

The Inheritance Trilogy

By N.K. Jemisin,

Book cover of The Inheritance Trilogy

Not only is Essun a woman, which, unfortunately, is not common when it comes to the history of badass sci-fi protagonists (thankfully this is becoming less true because of writers like N.K. Jemisin), but she’s a middle-aged mother of two living, or I should say, hiding, out in the cut. When her daughter goes missing, Essun hits the road to find her and reveals her, literally, Earth-shaking abilities. If we threw the badasses on this list into a single universe and had them duel, ten-ringer Essun would clean the clocks of every other protagonist. Or more accurately, turn them to ice. I absolutely loved this series, and Essun is the main reason why. 

The Inheritance Trilogy

By N.K. Jemisin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Inheritance Trilogy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After her mother's death, a young woman is summoned to the floating city of Sky to claim a royal inheritance she never knew existed in this epic fantasy trilogy from the NYT bestselling author of The Fifth Season.

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.

The Inheritance Trilogy…


Who am I?

I’m a Korean, Japanese, Scottish American writer born and raised in Hawaii who likes to create badass sci-fi characters of mixed backgrounds while blending cultures and genres as well. I also lean on tropes like sniper, detective, scientist, and genetically modified or cybernetically enhanced individuals, but I try to build symbolism or meaning into each archetype—for example, a sniper who is myopic in general, or a scientist whose life work is creating a new religion. I suppose I enjoy characters full of contradictions. When it comes to the badasses I like, it’s practically a requirement. 


I wrote...

Midnight, Water City

By Chris Mckinney,

Book cover of Midnight, Water City

What is my book about?

Year 2142: Earth is forty years past a near-collision with the asteroid Sessho-seki. Akira Kimura, the scientist responsible for eliminating the threat, has reached heights of celebrity approaching deification. But now, Akira feels her safety is under threat, so she reaches out to her former head of security, now a police detective.

When he arrives at her deep-sea home and finds Akira methodically dismembered, this detective will risk everything and delve back into his shared past with Akira to find her killer. With a rich, cinematic voice and burning cynicism, Midnight, Water City is both a thrilling neo-noir procedural and a stunning exploration of research, class, climate change, the cult of personality, and the dark sacrifices we are willing to make in the name of progress.

The Goblin’s Bride

By Leigh Kelsey, Lysandra Glass,

Book cover of The Goblin’s Bride

I loved this book because it is both captivating and well written with different worlds and forbidden romance. This story is based not only on enemies who become lovers but also has sizzling tension and an epic dark mystery element, all beautifully written and combined. 

This book immediately pulled me into the author's world. The tension inside was just as unique as the storyline itself. There is nothing quite like reading a book that has you on the edge of your seat but melting your heart at the same time; definitely, a surprising and unique twist combining many elements.

The Goblin’s Bride

By Leigh Kelsey, Lysandra Glass,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Goblin’s Bride as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marry him. Kiss him. Kill him. But never love him.

The goblin prince killed my sister. For years, I've waited for justice, and I've finally found the perfect opportunity: Kier Kollastus, the prince himself, will agree to peace with his human enemies if a sacrifice is given. A human bride.

With my face veiled and my knives hidden, I offer myself as the prince’s sacrifice, wearing a liar’s smile as I wait to cut his throat when he sleeps.

But Kier is indestructible except for one night every year. And worse—he’s not the barbarian goblins are supposed to be. He's…


Who am I?

I especially love reading fantasy stories and stories based on actual historical events. I've been an avid reader since I was a little girl; while my siblings were playing outside or inside with toys I was the one sat curled up in the corner reading. I've also worked hard and gained qualifications in creative writing. I've also had a passion for writing and have written my own fantasy novels; being an author is simply amazing because you can create characters that are unique and special as well as true to life, plus you get to create worlds that are entirely different to our own. 


I wrote...

The Realm of Witches

By Laurie Bowler,

Book cover of The Realm of Witches

What is my book about?

Seraphina is a low-level worker for The Agency, an organisation of witches that controls the world of the supernatural. Growing up an orphan with normal human parents, she knows she is different and is drawn to the Realm of Witches Agency. As the dangers deepen and the truth behind Seraphina's past is revealed, it becomes clear that the world's fate is at stake and that Seraphina may be the only one to prevent the world's destruction. But at what cost?

An epic novel by Laurie Bowler of betrayal, romance and worlds that will make you forget reality.

Book cover of War at the Edge of the World

This starts the Twilight Of The Empire series as Aurelius Castus—known as Knucklehead to his troopsslaughters his way across the Roman Empire. It’s gritty and believable and starts with an absolutely eye-popping fight. And then it just gets better from there.  

We meet Castus as a simple soldier but he becomes a Centurion and then a senior officer as the series develops and his concern changes from just staying alive and slaughtering his enemies to complex moral and political issues. But don't worry, no matter what uniform he wears, he still swings a sword with the best of them.

War at the Edge of the World

By Ian Ross,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked War at the Edge of the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Once a soldier in an elite legion from the Danube, newly promoted centurion Aurelius Castus now finds himself stuck in Britain's provincial backwater. But when the king of the Picts, the savages beyond Hadrian's Wall, dies under mysterious circumstances, Castus is selected to command the bodyguard of a Roman envoy sent to negotiate with the barbarians. What starts as a simple diplomatic mission ends in bloody tragedy, and soon Castus and his men are fighting for their lives-and it isn't long before the legionnaire discovers that nothing about his doomed mission was ever what it seemed. The first book in…


Who am I?

I have a fascination for Roman history, having been born in the UK, and visiting Hadrian’s Wall. I have read many, many works of both history and historical fiction about Rome. To me, these five are the most memorable. Obviously the story has to be fantastic but it's important to be accurate. The opening battle in Gladiator annoyed me because the Romans never broke lines to fight man to man with barbarians. The concept of the Celts living among the rubble of the Empire, of being surrounded by things they cannot understand helped inspire my Empire Of Bones series. I even have a gladius sword and use it to inspire my own battle scenes. 


I wrote...

Bridge of Swords

By Duncan Lay,

Book cover of Bridge of Swords

What is my book about?

Sendatsu is a warrior on the run, hunted by his own people. All he wants to do is get back to his children but, to do that, he’s going to have to wade through a river of gore and maybe save a country from a war-crazed king who wants to write his legacy in blood.

Best Served Cold

By Joe Abercrombie,

Book cover of Best Served Cold

Who doesn’t want to right the wrongs committed against them? I try to be a grown up and move on with my life when someone antagonizes me, but sometimes I wish there was justice in the world. Who doesn’t, even if sometimes we know we are not being mature? Revenge is the ultimate ending, and Abercrombie’s clever stand-alone novel examines just how cold it really can be. It turns out, not at all. Monza has been screwed over bad. She has every reason to want to get even—which means everyone who tried to kill her needs to end up dead. The bodies certainly pile up but when she reaches victory, Monza finds it more absurd than cold. Entertaining, thought-provoking, and more than a little darkly humorous. Take it with a shadowy laugh.

Best Served Cold

By Joe Abercrombie,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Best Served Cold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Springtime in Styria. And that means war.

There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers, priests and older, darker powers play a deadly game to choose who will be king.

War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso's employ, it's a damn good way of making money too. Her victories…


Who am I?

My first two lessons as a geophysicist were confusing opposites. My supervisor told me that I must carry my investigations to professional conclusions, while the very best physicists showed me that good scientists are the most parsimonious about what they conclude. It's a battle between humility and the need to tell a story. We human beings crave a nice, neat ending, and we often only get one in fantasy, for the real world is complex. It was this insight that led me to start every story I ever wrote with at least a concept for the ending. If we are going to go anywhere with our narratives, we better first consider where that is.


I wrote...

Book cover of Bed of Rose and Thorns

What is my book about?

Sir Ezra wears plate armor to hide his true nature. He is an Elysian Bell, a being of pure and powerful emotions. His secret love for the Queen ended in a night of passion, blood, and her promise to kill him. When the Queen disappears, Ezra must find her.

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