The most recommended grimdark books

Who picked these books? Meet our 24 experts.

24 authors created a book list connected to grimdark, and here are their favorite grimdark books.
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Book cover of Zucchini

KJ Kabza Author Of The Ramshead Algorithm: And Other Stories

From my list on starring sentient animals (that not enough people know).

Who am I?

Being a human is fraught, so I've always been fascinated by stories of sentient animals, long before I sold my first short story at age 19 (about a tiny dragon that lived in a bathtub drain) or my 48th story (which features talking sand cats and is reprinted in my collection The Ramshead Algorithm: And Other Stories). While most of my 90+ published stories star humans, talking animals are a reoccurring motif in my work and in the ????+ books I've read across 40+ years. If you're ready to branch out beyond Watership Down and Redwall, here are 5 books that more fans of sentient animals should know about.

KJ's book list on starring sentient animals (that not enough people know)

KJ Kabza Why did KJ love this book?

Zucchini the ferret, born in the Bronx Zoo, leads a bleak life.

When he learns about the outside world, he yearns to escape—but when he does, it's straight into chaos.

I read Zucchini many times as a child and last read it in my 30s, and it's wonderfully more grimdark than I remember. Published in 1982, the book is 1980's-New-York gritty, and so are the hard adult lessons: fighting for your needs is full of risk; betrayal is common; love, compassion, and understanding are scarce; and idealism has an unsustainable cost.

But this makes the bits of joy that Zucchini wrests from the world all the more vivid. The story, like the world, is hard; but the story, like the world, has hope.

By Barbara Dana, Eileen Christelow (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A painfully shy young boy befriends a homeless baby ferret and gets as much comfort as he gives.


Book cover of The Pariah

J.D.L. Rosell Author Of The Last Ranger: Ranger of the Titan Wilds, Book 1

From J.D.L.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Hiker Reader Gamer Cat dad

J.D.L.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

J.D.L. Rosell Why did J.D.L. love this book?

The Pariah features a protagonist, Alwyn Scribe, with such a distinct voice and motivations you cannot help being captivated by him. Ryan is also incredibly gifted at making the medieval fantasy setting feel grounded and real.

The plot is twisty, taking Alwyn through transformations that are incredible, yet believable every step of the way. And when we are swept into the greater plot and war, its version of the Joan of Arc story continues to captivate and awe.

By Anthony Ryan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Pariah as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A gritty, heart-pounding tale of betrayal and bloody vengeance' John Gwynne

When the task is a killing, be quick and make sure of it.

Torment is an indulgence.

Save it for only the most deserving.

Born in the troubled kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe is raised as an outlaw. Quick of wit and deft with a blade, Alwyn is content with the comradeship of his fellow thieves. Yet an act of betrayal sets him on a new path of blood and vengeance, which leads him to a soldier's life in the king's army.

Fighting under the command of Lady Evadine…


Book cover of Axiomatic: Short Stories of Science Fiction

Mario Barbatti Author Of One Billion Faces: Short Stories

From my list on where reality dissolves into strangeness and wonder.

Who am I?

I was ten. Every Sunday morning, I sat in front of the TV with a notepad to take notes while watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. As a teen, I devoured every of Kafka’s books. The wonder of science and the strangeness of our existence have co-habited within me since then. Today, I’m a professional physicist and theoretical chemist. But I’m also a fiction writer. My fiction allows me to spill my science background into topics that wouldn’t be welcome in technical writing. For instance, wondering how life could re-emerge in the far future after all stars burned.

Mario's book list on where reality dissolves into strangeness and wonder

Mario Barbatti Why did Mario love this book?

Your older self writes a diary and sends it back in time to you. It reveals that between two pathways, you will take a right. You arrive at that crossroads, and no matter how willing you are to defy your unveiled fate, you can’t avoid choosing right again. I often find this type of super-deterministic scenario in science fiction, invariably raising philosophical questions about free will. Nevertheless, Egan is the only author to offer a satisfactory psychological solution to why the protagonist can’t change their fate. And this is just the first of the short stories in this collection. Axiomatic is hard SciFi stretching scientific concepts into their ethical and human limits.

By Greg Egan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Wonderful, mind-expanding stuff, and well written too."-The Guardian

Axiomatic is a wonderful collection of eighteen short stories by Hugo Award-winning author Greg Egan. The stories in this collection have appeared in such science fiction magazines as Interzone and Asimov's between 1989 and 1992.

From junkies who drink at the time-stream to love affairs in time-reversed galaxies; from gene-altered dolphins that converse only in limericks to the program that allows you to design your own child; from the brain implants called axiomatics to the strange attractors that spin off new religions; from bioengineering to the new physics; and from cyberpunk to…


Book cover of Diaspora

Eric Schwitzgebel Author Of The Weirdness of the World

From my list on blow your mind about the weirdness of the world.

Who am I?

What I love about philosophy (I’ve been a philosophy professor at the University of California, Riverside, since 1997) is not its ability to deliver the one correct answer to the nature of the world and how to live but rather its power to open our mind to new possibilities that we hadn’t previously considered; its power to blow apart our presuppositions, our culturally given “common sense” understandings, and our habitual patterns of thinking, casting us into doubt and wonder. The science writing, fiction, and personal essays I love best have that same power.

Eric's book list on blow your mind about the weirdness of the world

Eric Schwitzgebel Why did Eric love this book?

In the 1990s, I stopped reading science fiction to focus on more “serious” writing. In 2008, someone recommended this book to me, and my appreciation of science fiction changed forever.

In Diaspora, science fiction is an exploration of the deepest existential questions we can face: In a post-scarcity world, where people can duplicate themselves, back themselves up, and radically alter their personalities and values at will, what can and should we want?

Egan guides us through a diverse landscape of possibilities, from biologically enhanced apes to AI systems that derive immense joy from proving mathematical theorems to creators of multidimensional experimental art and beyond. 

By Greg Egan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A quantum Brave New World from the boldest and most wildly speculative writer of his generation. "Greg Egan is perhaps the most important SF writer in the world."-Science Fiction Weekly "One of the very best "-Locus. "Science fiction with an emphasis on science."-New York Times Book Review

Since the Introdus in the twenty-first century, humanity has reconfigured itself drastically. Most chose immortality, joining the polises to become conscious software. Others opted for gleisners: disposable, renewable robotic bodies that remain in contact with the physical world of force and friction. Many of these have left the solar system forever in fusion-drive…


Book cover of What Remains of Heroes

Jamie Edmundson Author Of An Inheritance of Ash and Blood

From my list on dark characters, dark sorcery, or dark age history.

Who am I?

I published my first book in 2017 and I’m currently working on book number 11. In that time, I’ve got to know some great indie authors and read some great indie fantasy. These five titles are a selection. I could easily have done this exercise ten times over with different authors and titles. But if you’re looking to see what indie fantasy has to offer, or simply searching for your next engrossing read, I think these will do the trick.

Jamie's book list on dark characters, dark sorcery, or dark age history

Jamie Edmundson Why did Jamie love this book?

Another book that leans into the grimdark genre but also with the ambitious scope of epic fantasy.

The world is human, but with some pretty terrifying creatures in it. The character work is excellent – each of the three POVs is a complex individual, an outsider, and none are heroes. But each is being pushed by a plot that suggests something terrible is going to happen if they don’t get their collective acts together. 

By David Benem,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Lannick deVeers used to be somebody. A hero, even. Then, he ran afoul of the kingdom’s most powerful general and the cost he paid was nearly too much to bear. In the years that followed, his grief turned him into a shadow of his former self, and he spent his days drowning his regrets in tankards of ale. But now an unexpected encounter casts Lannick upon an unlikely path to revenge. If he can just find the strength to overcome the many mistakes of his past, he can seize the chance to become a hero once more. And with an…


Book cover of Chasing Graves

David Estes Author Of Kingfall

From my list on epic fantasies to deprive you of sleep.

Who am I?

Growing up and still today, I read a lot of fantasy, including reading the covers right off my copy of The Lord of the Rings boxed set. I’ve also written two major epic fantasy series each more than a million words in length. So I know a thing or two about what makes compelling epic fantasy stories. And these five books (and the series that follow) go above and beyond any measure. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed, but your REM cycle might suffer!

David's book list on epic fantasies to deprive you of sleep

David Estes Why did David love this book?

If you’re in the mood for a darker story to fill the moonlit hours between dusk and dawn, Chasing Graves is what you’ve been searching for. Galley’s writing is nothing short of magnificent, his creativity almost alien in its imagination. Not a second went by while reading this book that I wasn’t utterly lost between its pages, living in the world of the author’s creation, immersed in a story with one of the best twists I’ve ever read. When you begin this book, you might as well forget about sleep altogether, it’s that good. 

By Ben Galley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Meet Caltro Basalt. He’s a master thief, a selfish bastard, and as of his first night in Araxes, stone cold dead.

They call it the City of Countless Souls, the colossal jewel of the Arctian Empire, and all it takes to be its ruler is to own more ghosts than any other. For in Araxes, the dead do not rest in peace in the afterlife, but live on as slaves for the rich.

While Caltro struggles to survive and tries to reclaim his freedom, those around him strive for the emperor’s throne in Araxes’ cutthroat game of power. The dead…


Book cover of The Heresy Within

Jamie Edmundson Author Of An Inheritance of Ash and Blood

From my list on dark characters, dark sorcery, or dark age history.

Who am I?

I published my first book in 2017 and I’m currently working on book number 11. In that time, I’ve got to know some great indie authors and read some great indie fantasy. These five titles are a selection. I could easily have done this exercise ten times over with different authors and titles. But if you’re looking to see what indie fantasy has to offer, or simply searching for your next engrossing read, I think these will do the trick.

Jamie's book list on dark characters, dark sorcery, or dark age history

Jamie Edmundson Why did Jamie love this book?

Grimdark fantasy is a favourite of mine, full of morally ambiguous, vivid characters. The Heresy Within is a great example of this.

Yes, there is a fascinating world and enticing plot. But these are characters who are just fun to spend time with. The author pulls no punches in this series, so if dark storylines are not your thing, pick a different recommendation.

By Rob J Hayes,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As any warrior will tell you; even the best swordsman is one bad day away from a corpse. It's a lesson Blademaster Jezzet Vel'urn isn't keen to learn. Chased into the Wilds by a vengeful warlord, Jezzet makes it to the free city of Chade. But instead of sanctuary all she finds is more enemies from her past.Arbiter Thanquil Darkheart is a witch hunter for the Inquisition on a holy crusade to rid the world of heresy. He's also something else; expendable. When the God Emperor himself gives Thanquil an impossible task, he knows he has no choice but to…


Book cover of The Weight of Blood

Aiden L. Turner Author Of The Banner of the Broken Orc: The Call of the Darkness Saga Book One

From my list on featuring orcs.

Who am I?

I’ve loved the fantasy genre for as long as I can remember. From playing Warhammer with my father as a child to first reading The Lord of the Rings, The Magician, and countless other unforgettable novels, I was hooked. The Orc was always my favorite bad guy, with their incredible strength and bloodlust. I have spent many a long hour trying to put myself in the mindset of a being so dark, so brutal, and so lovable. Reading the books on this list, and many more, have helped me develop a foundation in the Orc race that almost makes them real.

Aiden's book list on featuring orcs

Aiden L. Turner Why did Aiden love this book?

This book really introduced me to the darker side of fantasy, and in fact, this is more grimdark. While most fantasy books have a good versus evil theme, a lot tend to water down the actions of the evil characters to make them more palatable or more accessible to a wider range of readers. This really describes the evil actions in detail so be warned it is not Harry Potter! I realized when reading this that you can bring horror aspects into fantasy, which makes sense as it’s a genre that’s full of evil, monsters, and people armed with all kinds of brutal weaponry. 

By David Dalglish,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Fantasy author David Dalglish begins his series of the half-orc brothers, whose struggles will soon bathe the land of Dezrel in demon fire...Five hundred years ago, brother gods devastated their world with civil war. When they were imprisoned, their conflict ended without a victor. Centuries passed while their followers secretly continued the war, a war that will soon have an end. The gods have found their paragons.

When half-bloods Harruq and Qurrah Tun pledged their lives to the death prophet Velixar, they sought only escape from their squalid beginnings. Instead, they become his greatest disciples, charged with leading his army…


Book cover of Black Stone Heart

Troy Church Author Of The Severing

From my list on fantasy trilogies that will keep you up all night.

Who am I?

I have a great passion for fantasy books and from a very early age spent any time I could with my nose in a fantasy book traveling to fantastical worlds. In my teens, I got into dungeons and dragons and began creating my own worlds and stories until I took the next step and decided to write my own stories. I work as a prison guard and while too busy during the day to write or read much I have many nightshifts that allow me ample reading and writing time. I still run role-playing games once a week and am always searching for that next great book to read.

Troy's book list on fantasy trilogies that will keep you up all night

Troy Church Why did Troy love this book?

I chose this book because it is simply one of the best Fantasy books I've read so far and literally kept me up reading all night. The world building is highly immersive, and the prose is beautiful and dark in this grimdark tale told in the first person POV, which adds great self-reflection of the protagonist as an anti-hero who is trying to discover who he once was and whom he is becoming. I really loved this gripping tale that has a solid magic system and many twists and turns throughout. I must include a trigger warning because the book does have elements that some readers may find upsetting. This book literally kept me up reading all night.

By Michael R. Fletcher,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE FIRST STEP ON THE OBSIDIAN PATH

A broken man, Khraen awakens alone and lost. His stone heart has been shattered, littered across the world. With each piece, he regains some small shard of the man he once was. He follows the trail, fragment by fragment, remembering his terrible past.

There was a woman.

There was a sword.

There was an end to sorrow.

Khraen walks the obsidian path.

REVIEWS:
"Honestly, this is my favourite book. Best one I've read in my life, alongside (and on a par with) Prince of Thorns." — booknest.eu

"Insanely brilliant. Fletcher did it again."…


Book cover of Occultation and Other Stories

Tamel Wino Author Of Ékleipsis: the Abyss

From my list on story collections that gnaw at your subconscious.

Who am I?

Tamel Wino is a Canadian fiction writer from resplendent British Columbia whose works focus largely on the degeneration of sanity and morality. He studied Health Sciences and Psychology, which only furthered his interest in human nature. With inspirations including Shirley Jackson, Cormac McCarthy, Clive Barker, Margaret Atwood, and Edgar Allan Poe; Tamel’s expositions are strongly grounded in traditions of dark fiction. Yet, with his bold narrative voice and incisive plot construction, Wino is paving a new movement within the space.

Tamel's book list on story collections that gnaw at your subconscious

Tamel Wino Why did Tamel love this book?

Barron is undeniably a genius and proficient. Pick whichever book of his and it’ll blow you away. With a superior command of language and an impressive understanding of what frightens us, the author pulls no punches and peels back the layers to reveal the vileness that prowls in the dark.

By Laird Barron,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Shirley Jackson Award, nine stories of cosmic horror from the heir apparent to Lovecraft's throne.

Laird Barron has emerged as one of the strongest voices in modern horror and dark fantasy fiction, building on the eldritch tradition pioneered by writers such as H. P. Lovecraft, Peter Straub, and Thomas Ligotti. His stories have garnered critical acclaim and have been reprinted in numerous year's best anthologies and nominated for multiple awards, including the Crawford, International Horror Guild, Shirley Jackson, Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy awards. His debut collection, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, was the inaugural winner…