The most recommended dark fantasy books

Who picked these books? Meet our 479 experts.

479 authors created a book list connected to dark fantasy, and here are their favorite dark fantasy books.
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Book cover of Half the World

RJ Hore Author Of The Dark Lady

From my list on fantasy with a touch of darkness in its soul.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

RJ's book list on fantasy with a touch of darkness in its soul

RJ Hore Why did RJ love 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.

By Joe Abercrombie,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Grabbed me and refused to let go' George R.R. Martin

Thorn Bathu was born to fight. But when she kills a boy in the training square she finds herself named a murderer.

Fate places her life in the hands of the deep-cunning Father Yarvi as he sets out to cross half the world in search of allies against the ruthless High King.

Beside her is Brand, a young warrior who hates to kill. A failure in her eyes and his own, the voyage is his last chance at redemption.

But warriors can be weapons, and weapons are made for one…


Book cover of The First Bright Thing

Maura Jortner Author Of 102 Days of Lying About Lauren

From Maura's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Professor Writer Reader Lover of all things having to do with cats Theater geek

Maura's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Plus, Maura's 12-year-old's favorite books.

Maura Jortner Why did Maura love this book?

I loved the heart of this book. It’s queer and Jewish and a historical fantasy—what’s not to love?

It has one of the best twists I’ve ever encountered. I still ask myself, “How did I not see that coming?” Of course the answer is that J. R. Dawson does such a good job with the plot that readers won’t see it before it smacks them in the face. (In the best way, of course.)

Dawson made me fall in love with her characters and the circus all over again. Plus, now I really want my own Spark.

By J.R. Dawson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When darkness descends, expect sparks. The First Bright Thing by J. R. Dawson is a spellbinding debut for fans of The Night Circus and The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue.

Welcome to the Circus of the Fantasticals . . .

After the First World War, a select few wake up with frightening magical abilities. Rin can jump through time. Her wife, Odette, can heal the unhealable. And their friend, Mauve, sees what others can't. Alone, afraid and exiled from regular society, the trio create a haven for Sparks - people like them - a circus housing those who are…


Book cover of Prince of Fools

Lee Hunt Author Of Last Worst Hopes

From my list on fantasy with unlikely heroes.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Lee's book list on fantasy with unlikely heroes

Lee Hunt Why did Lee love this book?

Was there ever a less heroic leading character than Prince Jalan? Apparently a vain, selfish coward, he would not even be likable if he was not also funny and honest. Well, he is honest some of the time, in his inside voice, even while being a liar to almost everyone else. So, when Jalan gets unwillingly and unwittingly caught up with an enormous Viking to go on a quest to save the world, I had to wonder how this one was going to work out. But it turns out that Jalan may have been lying to himself more than the reader, or himself, even realized, and he may not be quite the coward that he says he is.

By Mark Lawrence,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the critically acclaimed author of THE BROKEN EMPIRE series comes a brilliant new epic fantasy series, THE RED QUEEN'S WAR.

I'm a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play or bravery.

The Red Queen is dreaded by the kings of the Broken Empire as they dread no other.

Her grandson Jalan Kendeth - womaniser, gambler and all-out cad - is tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched…


Tidelands: Ghosts and Monsters

By Gareth J. Southwell,

Book cover of Tidelands: Ghosts and Monsters

Gareth J. Southwell

New book alert!

What is my book about?

In a flooded city on the brink of collapse, the arcology provides a high-tech haven – for those who can afford it. Here, safe in her pampered confinement, Eva longs for escape. But each day she is made to play The Game, a mysterious virtual environment that seems more designed to monitor and test than to entertain.

Outside, life is a different story, where unregulated tech spawns nightmares to rival those of fairtytale and folklore – ghosts and monsters, the no-longer-human and the never-should-have-been. Here, Squirrel is a memory thief, eking out a fraught existence in service to the criminal…

Tidelands: Ghosts and Monsters

By Gareth J. Southwell,

What is this book about?

Tidelands is an ongoing sci-fi and fantasy serial. Set some years in the future, it is a dystopian blend of cyberpunk, first contact, Lovecraftian horror and dark humour.

In a flooded city on the brink of collapse, the arcology provides a high-tech haven – for those who can afford it. Here, safe in her pampered confinement, Eva longs for escape. But each day she is made to play The Game, a mysterious virtual environment that seems more designed to monitor and test than to entertain.

Outside, life is a different story, where unregulated tech spawns nightmares to rival those of…


Book cover of The Book That Wouldn't Burn

Kian N. Ardalan Author Of Eleventh Cycle

From my list on think about humanity's legacy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Something that annoys me to no end is when people avoid reading fantasy or sci-fi because it isn’t realistic. I argue that realism isn’t about the veracity of flying dragons or building a fusion reactor that can fit in our hands; it’s about the human elements in between. Sci-fi can be a reminder of the dangerous trajectory we are heading in. Fantasy can reflect inequality by condensing resources to one mystical gem. To this end, any book that ends with me understanding the danger of language by describing it as a virus or showing me how books can bridge the gap between past and present makes me grow as a person.

Kian's book list on think about humanity's legacy

Kian N. Ardalan Why did Kian love this book?

Books are what connect us to the past and remind us of the present.

My love for Mark Lawrence’s work began when I saw the cover for King of Thorns at a bookstore. I went ahead and ordered Prince of Thorns the same day and never looked back. So it comes with a heavy heart when I say that this has taken the spot as my favorite book by Mark.

What a beautiful, simple idea to base a story around the library of Babel. Pop culture still invokes imagery regarding the library of Alexandria. Books, and by extension, libraries, connect us to our past. They are the legacy that we leave behind, and they are vessels for the zeitgeist that different points of existence embody.

By Mark Lawrence,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Book That Wouldn't Burn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

All books, no matter their binding, will fall to dust. The stories they carry may last longer. They might outlive the paper, the library, even the language in which they were first written.

The greatest story can reach the stars . . .

This is the start of an incredible new journey from the internationally bestselling author of Prince of Thorns, in which, though the pen may be mightier than the sword, blood will be spilled and cities burned...

Evar has lived his whole life trapped within a vast library, older than empires and larger than cities.

Livira has spent…


Book cover of Abomination

Ricardo Victoria Author Of The Withered King

From my list on throwing genre into the blender.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up watching 80s Saturday morning cartoons, playing RPGs such as Final Fantasy. Those cartoons and games didn’t care about genre, they cared about telling a story, about making you care about the characters. Hence you could have wizards driving space cars, or knights battling giant robots and so on. They were proof of how wonderfully crazy our imagination can go when we threw labels away and just create stories. The books in this list allow themselves to do that and go bigger, go bolder, showing us the readers what’s possible if we let loose. I hope this list takes others on such wonderful rides, like they did with me.

Ricardo's book list on throwing genre into the blender

Ricardo Victoria Why did Ricardo love this book?

Cosmic horror and fantasy have shared a close relationship since the times of Robert E. Howard. But historical fantasy and cosmic horror? Now that’s different.

If you are a fan of series such as The Last Kingdom, or enjoy a bit of cosmic horror in the vein of the Cthulhu Mythos, this is for you. Written by Gary Whitta, who also wrote the script for Rogue One. Set during Alfred the Great’s rule, this is a story about a knight that saves his kingdom at great personal cost thanks to the dabbling in dark magic from a deranged monk.

The tension and trepidation grow with every page. And that’s just half the story. Don’t let the body horror distract you, this is at its core a story about family love.

By Gary Whitta,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


"Whitta is a master of suspense. Abomination grabs you and doesn't let go." ―Hugh Howey, New York Times-Bestselling Author of Wool

He is England's greatest knight, the man who saved the life of Alfred the Great and an entire kingdom from a Viking invasion. But when he is called back into service to combat a plague of monstrous beasts known as abominations, he meets a fate worse than death and is condemned to a life of anguish, solitude, and remorse.

She is a fierce young warrior, raised among an elite order of knights. Driven by a dark secret from her…


Book cover of A Little Hatred

James Dwyer Author Of The Memory of Blades

From my list on fantasy with dark humour and light entertainment.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a writer by day and martial arts instructor by night, so when not spending time with my wife and kids, I love nothing more than to read, write, and fight. My favourite books are the ones filled with irreverent characters, who can smirk and joke at any grim situation, laughing the light of entertainment through the darkest of ordeals. These are the type of books I’m always drawn to, both in writing and in reading, where I can imagine taking any standout character and dropping them into a completely different book, then sitting back to watch the chaos they could make.

James' book list on fantasy with dark humour and light entertainment

James Dwyer Why did James love this book?

Joe Abercrombie is the king of writing casual comic conversations in dire situations. His seventh book in this world, A Little Hatred is the first in a new trilogy, the freshest from a seven-year gap in the series, and one of the best for the sheer quality of standout characters. Savine dan Glokta is my favourite – “What an honour to see you, my lady.” “Isn’t it though!” – followed closely by Teufel, the brass-knuckled spy; Gunnar Broad, the man or bull (if he wears his spectacles); and Bremer dan Gorst, the deadliest man in the union who can only speak in a high-pitched squeak.

Not only is this a book you can read without prior knowledge of the previous six, this book will also convince you to go back and read all those other books, then re-read this again for it to take on an entirely different light, become…

By Joe Abercrombie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Little Hatred as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WAR. POLITICS. REVOLUTION.
THE AGE OF MADNESS HAS ARRIVED . . .

'Funny and sardonic, violent and compelling' Guardian

'A tale of brute force and subtle magic on the cusp of an industrial revolution ... Buckle your seat belts for this one' Robin Hobb

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On the battlefields of the North, the next generation of would-be heroes rushes to make the same bloody mistakes as the last.

While the age of the machine dawns, the age of magic refuses to die. One might glimpse the future,…


Book cover of Gifts

Fiona J. R. Titchenell Author Of Pinnacle City: A Superhero Noir

From my list on superhero comic book fans.

Why am I passionate about this?

Novels are my medium and my first love, but I’m a huge fan of comic books too. Even though visual arts have never been my strength, I adore how many different things are possible in superhero stories. Sci-fi and epic fantasy and all different kinds of horror coexist in these enormous fictional universes. You’ve got comedic, child-friendly mysteries and pitch-black serial killer thrillers and deep meditations on love and family all going on at once. Comic book tropes and general disregard for genre boundaries definitely inform my writing style, and I love when I discover other novelists who incorporate comic book inspiration in various ways.

Fiona's book list on superhero comic book fans

Fiona J. R. Titchenell Why did Fiona love this book?

Superpowers are a classic allegory for coming of age, and Gifts uses them as such in an especially timeless and effective way. When the children of the Uplands reach adolescence, they develop powerful gifts that can be equal parts useful and dangerous. Most of them start off applying these gifts exactly according to their parents’ instructions. But ultimately, their gifts are their own, and part of accepting them is accepting the responsibility of choosing how to use them. It’s a wonderfully moody, atmospheric exploration of uses and abuses of power.

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gifts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

'She's showing no signs of losing her brilliance. She is unparalleled in creating fantasy peopled by finely drawn and complex characters... GIFTS has the simplicity of fairy tale and the power of myth' GUARDIAN

'Le Guin is a writer of phenomenal power' OBSERVER

Orrec, the son of the Brantor of Caspromant, and Gry, daughter of the Brantors of Barre and Rodd, have grown up together, running half-wild across the Uplands. The people there are like their land: harsh and fierce and prideful; ever at war with each other.

Only the gifts keep the fragile peace. The Barre gift is calling…


Book cover of At the Mountains of Madness

Alex Bernstein Author Of Plrknib

From Alex's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Leader of men Armchair comedian Ideas person Not so great dresser Expert in all things meaningless

Alex's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Alex Bernstein Why did Alex love this book?

I took a deep dive into Lovecraft’s oeuvre this year in an effort to make my way through Alan Moore’s fantastic “Providence” (which constantly references HPL).

At the Mountains of Madness clearly stands out as his magnum opus. After a long, suspenseful trip to Antarctic wastelands, we discover an origin story for much of Lovecraft’s entire mythos, in the form of the “Elder Gods”, who despite their utter otherness still invoke our sympathies.

The love and detail which Lovecraft puts into describing these creatures and what they were attempting to do is mesmerizing, and I’m surprised how often I’ve returned to this singular piece. If you only read one HPL story, this vision of alien gods and lost civilizations will stay with you long after you've turned the last page.

By H. P. Lovecraft,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked At the Mountains of Madness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the Mountains of Madness is a science fiction-horror novella by American author H. P. Lovecraft.

An expedition to Antarctica goes horribly wrong as a group of explorers stumbles upon some mysterious ancient ruins, with devastating consequences. At the Mountains of Madness ranks among Lovecraft's most terrifying novellas, and is a firm favourite among fans of classic horror.


Book cover of Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel

G. Samantha Rosenthal Author Of Living Queer History: Remembrance and Belonging in a Southern City

From my list on genre-bending books on queer pasts and futures.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a queer transgender woman living in the Appalachian South. When I moved here in 2015 I threw myself into doing community-based LGBTQ history. I co-founded the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, an ongoing queer public history initiative based in Roanoke, Virginia. As a historian and an avid reader, I am fascinated by how queer and trans people think about the past, how we remember and misremember things, and what role historical consciousness plays in informing the present and future. 

Samantha's book list on genre-bending books on queer pasts and futures

G. Samantha Rosenthal Why did Samantha love this book?

Trans sci-fi? Yes, please. This delightful collection of short stories—which I have read twice now—consistently wows with its relatable queer and trans body-suffering, body-shifting protagonists. It is not so much a book about queer futures as it is a futurist rendering of the past twenty years, including climate disaster, endless wars, gentrification, digital subcultures, and a bit of high school nostalgia. A trans gay boy enters a portal in the woods; a young menstruating person pulls a screwdriver from their vagina; job opportunities on the moon entice anti-capitalist, ennui-filled teenagers. If Muñoz imagined queerness as a utopian space-time rupture, Jarboe reminds us that our queer dystopia is inescapably here. We wrestle now in our flesh in this fucked-up world. 

By Julian K. Jarboe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2021 Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror, this collection of body-horror fairy tales and mid-apocalyptic Catholic cyberpunk, memory and myth, loss and age, these are the tools of storyteller Jarboe, a talent in the field of queer fabulism. Bodily autonomy and transformation, the importance of negative emotions, unhealthy relationships, and bad situations amidst the staggering and urgent question of how build and nurture meaning, love, and safety in a larger world/society that might not be "fixable."


Book cover of A Book of Tongues

Errick Nunnally Author Of All The Dead Men: Alexander Smith #2

From my list on history to thrill, disturb, and intrigue.

Why am I passionate about this?

Errick Nunnally was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and served one tour in the Marine Corps before deciding art school was a safer pursuit. He enjoys art, comics, and genre novels. A graphic designer, he has trained in Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing. His work has appeared in several anthologies of speculative fiction. His work can be found in Apex Magazine, Fiyah Magazine, Galaxy’s Edge, Lamplight, Nightlight Podcast, and the novels, Lightning Wears a Red Cape, Blood for the Sun, and All the Dead Men.

Errick's book list on history to thrill, disturb, and intrigue

Errick Nunnally Why did Errick love this book?

This book falls under the category “urban fiction” or “magical realism” or “western” or…something. At least, that’s what drew me to it in the first place. It takes place in America’s old west, features magic-using criminals leading a gang and draws on some Native American lore. The magic is terrifying, it’s a mix of environmental and mind-altering hoodoo. The most powerful antagonist is rugged, homosexual, unashamed, and a conflicted terror of a person. His partner in crime is simply terrifying. Together, they drive a trilogy that’s so well threaded through the old west you can taste the grit as you turn the page. Though the emphasis is on the pursuit of magic and the machinations it drives, the settings are a delight to experience. Files weaves a world in these novels that is equally fascinating and terrifying. Her prose and daring are an inspiration.

By Gemma Files,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Book of Tongues as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Gemma Files has one of the great dark imaginations in fiction visionary, transgressive, and totally original." -Jeff VanderMeer

In Gemma Files's "boundary-busting horror-fantasy debut," former Confederate chaplain Asher Rook has cheated death and now possesses a dark magic (Publishers Weekly). He uses his power to terrorize the Wild West, leading a gang of outlaws, thieves, and killers, with his cruel lieutenant and lover, Chess Pargeter, by his side.

Pinkerton agent Ed Morrow is going undercover to infiltrate the gang, armed with a shotgun and a device that measures sorcerous energy. His job is to gain knowledge of Rook's power and…