The best books about mercenaries

3 authors have picked their favorite books about mercenaries and why they recommend each book.

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The Black Hawks

By David Wragg,

Book cover of The Black Hawks

Chel isn’t a man cut out to be a hard-nosed mercenary, but he falls in with a badass crew and the resulting exploits and squabbling prove highly entertaining for the rest of us even if he’s miserable throughout much of it! It’s a simple tale of being chased across the country by assassins, all told with foul-mouthed and engaging aplomb, so what’s not to love?


Who am I?

I’ve been writing fantasy for two decades now and still, I can’t resist a foul-mouthed rogue with a grubby soul. They’re usually the most entertaining characters to write and in the long days of plugging away at a book, they’re often the ones that remind you what’s so fun about the job. When I started Stranger of Tempest it was (pretty much solely) with that in mind – I wanted a disparate band of crazed, badass idiots to go on an adventure with and see where it took me. Of course, as I got to know them I found there was more to their tales than that, but it was fun right to the end!


I wrote...

Stranger of Tempest: Book One of the God Fragments

By Tom Lloyd,

Book cover of Stranger of Tempest: Book One of the God Fragments

What is my book about?

Lynx is a mercenary with a sense of honour - a dying breed in the Riven Kingdom. Failed by the nation he served and weary of the skirmishes that plague the continent's principalities, he walks the land in search of purpose. He wants for little, so bodyguard work keeps his belly full and his mage-gun loaded. 

Little could compel Lynx to join a mercenary company, but he won't turn his back on a kidnapped girl. At least the job seems simple enough: the mercenaries are less stupid and vicious than most he's met over the years. So long as there are no surprises or hidden agendas along the way, it should work out fine.

Overload Flux

By Carol Van Natta,

Book cover of Overload Flux

Mix a couple of strong, mysterious characters with a dangerous quest and you've got me. It's a plot where I had to pay attention as the danger ratchets up with betrayals and twists and turns that kept me guessing. There's enough detail in settings and tech to convince without any info dumps and the romance is an integral part of the story. Loved it.


Who am I?

For me, writing space opera was obvious because it's what I like to read. There's so much scope for human and non-human societies out there, complete with the history of how they were created, and the inevitable cut-and-thrust of politics. If the book also has a love story– where do I pay my money? I do like the science in my science fiction to be convincing, though. My background as a computer programmer helps with that and I'm often grateful for my history degree when coming up with convincing empires and events. 


I wrote...

The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy

By Greta van der Rol,

Book cover of The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy

What is my book about?

Brilliant systems engineer Allysha Marten takes a job on the mysterious planet Tisyphor, where a security guard wins her trust and her affection. Together, they uncover a plot that threatens to plunge the Galaxy into inter-species war. As they scramble to prevent the coming holocaust, Allysha is horrified to learn that her new lover is ex-Admiral Chaka Saahren, the man responsible for the death of her father, along with millions of other innocent civilians.

In a race against time, Saahren must convince Allysha to set aside her conflicted emotions about him to help him prevent the coming conflagration. And perhaps while he’s doing that, he’ll win back the only woman he’s ever loved.

The Ladies of Mandrigyn

By Barbara Hambly,

Book cover of The Ladies of Mandrigyn

Barbara Hambly brings us rousing adventures that unexpectedly go into dark places. I love how she sets up the premise of hapless females begging for help, and then shows us they aren't so helpless after all.  

The viewpoint character is a mercenary captain, coerced by poison into training a band of misfit females who are determined to save their families from an evil wizard. Unbeknownst even to him, Sunwolf is developing magic of his own. It's great fun to watch the partnership grow out of an adversarial relationship between the scrappy women and the mercenary who finds himself suddenly vulnerable.


Who am I?

The books I recommend here have inspired me and shaped my work. You see, I have always been a writer, but for a long time I viewed it as just a hobby. I did a lot of fan writing (Pern, especially) that allowed me to follow my heart and just have fun writing. My current work questions some of the underlying assumptions in fantasy. Must every problem be solved at the point of a sword? Does magical power always corrupt? And is it truly possible for evildoers to be redeemed? I hope you'll visit my land of Skaythe and find it as magical as Estcarp, Earthsea, and Eld Mountain!


I wrote...

Minstrels of Skaythe: A Three Novella Collection

By Deby Fredericks, Tithi Luadthong (illustrator),

Book cover of Minstrels of Skaythe: A Three Novella Collection

What is my book about?

Mages vs. Amazons vs. Giant Badgers vs. Tyranny! 

Zathi's job is to capture renegade mages, but Keilos isn't like any other mage she's dealt with. Her drive to bring him in only leads them deeper into a cursed forest. Together, warrior and mage will face deadly beasts and grapple with decisions that compromise every principle. Until they stumble upon a place of ancient, forgotten magic. Zathi must choose—allow Keilos to claim it, or kill him once and for all.

Chronicles of the Black Company

By Glen Cook,

Book cover of Chronicles of the Black Company

The oldest book on the list and easily the most influential I’d suggest, the Black Company’s effect on fantasy goes way beyond books about mercenaries. The prose style isn’t for everyone (including me, I do find his style off-putting at times) but this is fantasy without dreamy illusions written by a man who knew first-hand what soldiers were really like. It’s grim and it’s dark, but he’s not playing for cheap or lurid shocks any more than he’s idealising anything.


Who am I?

I’ve been writing fantasy for two decades now and still, I can’t resist a foul-mouthed rogue with a grubby soul. They’re usually the most entertaining characters to write and in the long days of plugging away at a book, they’re often the ones that remind you what’s so fun about the job. When I started Stranger of Tempest it was (pretty much solely) with that in mind – I wanted a disparate band of crazed, badass idiots to go on an adventure with and see where it took me. Of course, as I got to know them I found there was more to their tales than that, but it was fun right to the end!


I wrote...

Stranger of Tempest: Book One of the God Fragments

By Tom Lloyd,

Book cover of Stranger of Tempest: Book One of the God Fragments

What is my book about?

Lynx is a mercenary with a sense of honour - a dying breed in the Riven Kingdom. Failed by the nation he served and weary of the skirmishes that plague the continent's principalities, he walks the land in search of purpose. He wants for little, so bodyguard work keeps his belly full and his mage-gun loaded. 

Little could compel Lynx to join a mercenary company, but he won't turn his back on a kidnapped girl. At least the job seems simple enough: the mercenaries are less stupid and vicious than most he's met over the years. So long as there are no surprises or hidden agendas along the way, it should work out fine.

The Black Company

By Glen Cook,

Book cover of The Black Company

Upon discovering Cook’s worlds, the dreamer in me fell in love with the idea that the antagonists do not always need to be good people. The Black Company are a band of mercenaries working for the worst villains yet theirs is a gripping tale with surprises aplenty. Knowing where Croaker ends up makes one want to go back and start over, just because.

This novel sparked for me a way of writing villainous heroes such as those in my Ghosts series. Unique and interesting.


Who am I?

As a decades-long collector of fossils & student of undiscovered and/or extinct creatures, I’ve gained traction in both fields on a professional level, which is what my spark ignited into. My choice for the final position could’ve been a tie between The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien, Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny, Farseer by Robert J. Sawyer, but since I could only choose 5 which sparked the dreamer.


I wrote...

Murder Red Ink

By Mord McGhee,

Book cover of Murder Red Ink

What is my book about?

In Murder Red Ink, Mord McGhee imaginatively explores the incomprehensible depths of horror, human nature, and captures the brutal reality of the monster behind the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888 in a science fiction whirlwind of the darkest sort. 

Memory

By Lois McMaster Bujold,

Book cover of Memory: Volume 11

This is probably my favorite book of all time, from my favorite series of all time, The Vorkosigan Saga. Miles Vorkosigan, spy and accidental leader of a mercenary fleet, comes face to face with his mortality when he’s injured during a mission. As he recovers, he has to rebuild his life and his identity and find a new purpose in an empire that prizes warriors—a long-running challenge for this diminutive disabled hero. Meanwhile, one of his mentors, spymaster Simon Illyan, is dealing with a threat that could not only unravel his own life but decades’ worth of the Empire’s secrets. It’s funny, tense, and touching all at turns; I can’t think of that many sci-fi adventures that will have you laughing and crying. 


Who am I?

Growing up I devoured science-fiction and spy stories by the boatload—the only person I wanted to be more than James Bond was probably Han Solo. Of course, I couldn’t really become either of them, but I always knew the next best thing would be telling stories about those kinds of characters. Ultimately, I couldn’t decide whether to focus on space adventures or spies, so the only real answer was to smash those two genres together. Five years and four novels later, the world of the Galactic Cold War is humming along quite nicely. But I’m still always on the lookout for the next great sci-fi spy novel.


I wrote...

The Nova Incident: The Galactic Cold War Book III

By Dan Moren,

Book cover of The Nova Incident: The Galactic Cold War Book III

What is my book about?

When a bomb explodes in the bustling Commonwealth capital city of Salaam, responsibility is quickly claimed by an extremist independence movement. But after a former comrade, an ex-spy with his own agenda, is implicated in the attack, Simon Kovalic and his team of covert operatives are tasked with untangling the threads of a dangerous plot that could have implications on a galactic scale. And the deeper Kovalic digs, the more he'll uncover a maze of secrets, lies, and deception that may force even the most seasoned spy to question his own loyalties.

Incursion

By Aleksandr Voinov,

Book cover of Incursion

A classical space romp with a twist. World-building is a must for any sci-fi, and this doesn’t disappoint.  You’re sucked into this world and its people, carried by an interesting cast of characters. It’s a short read, filled with a big heart, and a world just dying to be explored further in future installments.


Who am I?

A member of the LGBTQ community, I set out to write books about people that looked like me, that were under-represented in the media. I’m disabled, living with multiple medical conditions and mental health issues, which also inform my writing. I self-identify as a “full-time geek” – I have a passion for history and science, as well as being an avid gamer. My reading (and writing) time is spent wandering through fantasy realms, traveling the outer reaches of space, or delving into historical time periods.


I wrote...

A Mage's Power (Inquisition Trilogy)

By Casey Wolfe,

Book cover of A Mage's Power (Inquisition Trilogy)

What is my book about?

A Mage’s Power is the first book in a contemporary fantasy trilogy.  Step into an alternate modern world, where humans live alongside all manner of magical beings – mages, werecreatures, vampires, elves, and more.  Meet a large cast of diverse characters as war looms on the horizon.

Young master mage, Rowan, is just trying to make a name for himself, when he’s blindsided by someone who should be an enemy – an Inquisitor named Shaw.  Friendship, love, and magic abound when two lives collide, and conspiracy looms in the shadows.

Kings of the Wyld

By Nicholas Eames,

Book cover of Kings of the Wyld

Kings of the Wyld is an exciting, humor-drenched adventure fantasy with heart. Imagine monster-slaying adventurer groups treated like 80’s rock stars with fans hanging on their every adventure. Now imagine a washed-out, retired old group of has-beens who learn their former lead monster slayer’s daughter has been kidnapped by monsters and has to get the band back together for one last epic adventure. That’s Kings of the Wyld, equal parts magic, humor, heart, and near-death experiences packed into every page.


Who am I?

Fantasy hooked me as a child with tales of Narnia and Harry Potter, transporting me to wondrous new worlds and possibilities. That sense of adventure got into my blood and I’ve traveled the world from the eastern edges of Afghanistan to wandering Caribbean haunts, exploring cathedrals of Europe, and hiking the jungles of Southeast Asia. Through it all, I’ve never stopped reading, chasing after the next adventure. Quite simply: I love the sense of discovery and pure wonder fantasy novels can offer. This list has some of my favorites and I hope you’ll take the journey there and back again. If you do, I bet you’ll find yourself transformed on the other side. 


I wrote...

The Sin in the Steel

By Ryan Van Loan,

Book cover of The Sin in the Steel

What is my book about?

The Sin in the Steel is the story of Sambuciña ‘Buc’ Alhurra, an autodidact street rat who is part Sherlock Holmes, part young Indiana Jones, and all herself. Buc’s too smart for her own good with a razor-sharp blade hidden up her sleeve and an even sharper tongue. She and her swordsman partner-in-crime-solving, Eld, are the first private investigators in a world controlled by trading companies and empires and Gods caught in an endless war. Determined to upend their corrupt society, Buc and Eld take on a mission that has them facing off against pirate queens, mages, and uncharted seas to solve a mystery empires have failed to uncover.

Unfortunately for Buc, the Gods have other plans. Unfortunately for the Gods, so does Buc.

The War for Africa

By Eeben Barlow,

Book cover of The War for Africa: Conflict, Crime, Corruption and Foreign Interests

A difficult book to find, but worth it. Barlow was the founder of Executive Outcomes or “EO,” the (in)famous mercenary corporation based out of South Africa in the 1990s. Now decommissioned, no other private military company has since rivaled EO’s power. When I worked in Africa, I would look to the EO alumnae network for talent. That and former French Foreign Legionnaires. In this memoir, Barlow reflects on his time as a private military commander, his missions, what he’s learned. It’s not prose but it is honest, and the best window into today’s market for force.


This book is currently not available on Bookshop.org or Amazon.


Who am I?

Dr. Sean McFate is an expert on international relations and a former military contractor. He is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington DC think tank, and a professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, Syracuse University's Maxwell School, and the National Defense University. He began his career as a paratrooper and officer in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division. 


I wrote...

The New Rules of War: How America Can Win--Against Russia, China, and Other Threats

By Sean McFate,

Book cover of The New Rules of War: How America Can Win--Against Russia, China, and Other Threats

What is my book about?

The New Rules of War has been called the “The Freakonomics of modern warfare”. It was named a “Book of the Year” by The Economist, The Times [UK], and Evening Standard. Additionally, it is an Amazon bestseller and Editor's Pick, and is included on West Point’s “Commandant’s Reading List”. 

The book provides ten new rules of modern warfare and explains how to win. China, Russia, and Iran understand these new principles but the “West” doesn't and struggles against weak foes like terrorists and the Taliban. But we can win, if we update our strategic IQ. Admiral Jim Stavridis, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, said: “Sean McFate is a new Sun Tzu.” In the U.K it is titled: Goliath: Why the West Doesn't Win Wars. And What We Need to Do About It

The Dark of the Sun

By Wilbur Smith,

Book cover of The Dark of the Sun

I'm sometimes compared to the late, great, Wilbur Smith, who wrote dozens of books set in Africa. I think that if there is a similarity, then my books are probably most like Wilbur's earlier novels, where he tended to write about contemporary southern Africa (as I do now). My favourites were his stand-alone novels, including The Dark of the Sun about a group of mercenaries who have to rescue a train load of civilians during the fighting in the former Belgian Congo in the 1960s. It was made into a movie back in the day (The Mercenaries), and later provided the inspiration for the Bruce Willis film, Tears of the Sun.


Who am I?

I'm an Australian who fell in love with Africa in my 30s. I've now written 20 thrillers set in Africa and several non-fiction biographies. My wife and I have travelled extensively on the continent and now spend at least half our lives in Africa, and the remainder in Australia. I'm passionate about Africa's people, wildlife, and fragile natural environment. While my books focus on some of the continent's problems – especially the illegal trade in wildlife – I'm a sucker for a happy ending and find no shortage of positive, inspirational people on my travels who serve as the inspiration for the good guys and girls in my stories. 


I wrote...

Blood Trail

By Tony Park,

Book cover of Blood Trail

What is my book about?

Evil is at play in a South African game reserve. A rhino poacher vanishes into thin air, defying logic, and baffling ace tracker Mia Greenaway. Meanwhile, Captain Sannie van Rensburg is investigating the disappearance of two young girls who locals fear have been abducted for use in sinister traditional medicine practices.

But poachers are also employing witchcraft, paying healers for potions they believe will make them invisible. When a tourist goes missing, Mia and Sannie must work together to confront their own demons - which challenges everything they believe in - while following a bloody trail that seems to vanish at every turn.

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