Best grimdark fantasy books

Fantasy Book Review presents a collection of its most recommended grimdark novels. Grimdark is a genre fantasy fiction characterized by disturbing, violent, or bleak subject matter and a dystopian setting.

The Wheel of Osheim

1. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence
Red Queen's War #3
Score: 100
Our rating: 9.9 | 1 positive reader reviews
All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan Kendeth getting back out alive and with Loki's Key is all that matters. Loki's creation can open any lock, any door, and it may also be the key to Jal's [...]

Half the World

2. Half the World by Joe Abercrombie
Shattered Sea #2
Score: 99
Our rating: 9.8 | 1 positive reader reviews
Sometimes a girl is touched by mother war. Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. But she has been named murderer by the very man who trained her to kill. Sometimes a woman becomes a warrior. Fate traps her in the schemes - and on the ship - of the deep-cun [...]

King of Thorns

3. King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Broken Empire: Book 2
Score: 98
Our rating: 9.7 | 1 positive reader reviews
To reach greatness you must step on bodies, and many brothers lie trodden in my wake. I’ve walked from pawn to player and I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood... The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight [...]

Emperor of Thorns

4. Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Broken Empire: Book 3
Score: 98
Our rating: 9.8 | 0 positive reader reviews
The path to the throne is broken – only the broken can walk it. The world is cracked and time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take [...]

The Republic of Thieves

5. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
The Gentleman Bastard Sequence: Book 3
Score: 95
Our rating: 9.3 | 2 positive reader reviews
After their adventures on the high seas, Locke and Jean are brought back to earth with a thump. Jean is mourning the loss of his lover and Locke must live with the fallout of crossing the all-powerful magical assassins, the Bonds Magi. It is a fallout that will pit both men against Locke's ow [...]

The Liar\'s Key

6. The Liar's Key by Mark Lawrence
Red Queen's War #2
Score: 95
Our rating: 9.5 | 0 positive reader reviews
The Red Queen has set her players on the board… Winter is keeping Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxuries of his southern palace. And although the North may be home to his companion, the warrior Snorri ver Snagason, he is just as eager to leave. For the Viking is ready to challenge all [...]

Before They Are Hanged

7. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
The First Law: Book 2
Score: 94
Our rating: 8.9 | 5 positive reader reviews
Bitter and merciless war is coming to the frozen north. It's bloody and dangerous and the Union army, split by politics and hamstrung by incompetence, is utterly unprepared for the slaughter that's coming. Lacking experience, training, and in some cases even weapons the army is scarcely e [...]

Acacia

8. Acacia by David Anthony Durham
War with the Mein: Book 1
Score: 94
Our rating: 9.3 | 1 positive reader reviews
Ruling from the island of Acacia, the emperor of the Known World has inherited an apparent peace and prosperity won by his ancestors generations ago. He's an intelligent man, a widower who dotes on his four children and it is this devotion that obliges him to hide a terrible secret from them: [...]

The Other Lands

9. The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham
War with the Mein: Book 2
Score: 94
Our rating: 9.4 | 0 positive reader reviews
The apocalyptic struggle against the conquering Mein has ended and a victorious Corinn Akaran reigns over the Acacian Empire of the known world. Bolstered by her growing mastery of the forbidding, sorcerous powers contained in the BOOK OF ELENET, she rules with an iron hand. [...]

Prince of Fools

10. Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
Red Queen's War #1
Score: 94
Our rating: 9.4 | 0 positive reader reviews
The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire fear her as they fear no other. Her grandson Jalan Kendeth is a coward, a cheat and a womaniser; and tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures. Until he ge [...]

The Blinding Knife

11. The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks
Lightbringer: Book 2
Score: 93
Our rating: 9.1 | 2 positive reader reviews
GAVIN GUILE IS DYING. He'd thought he had five years left - now he's got less than one. With fifty thousand refugees, a bastard son and an ex-fiancée who may have learned his darkest secret, Gavin's got problems on every side. As he loses control, the world's magic runs wil [...]

The Sacred Band

12. The Sacred Band by David Anthony Durham
War with the Mein: Book 3
Score: 92
Our rating: 9.2 | 0 positive reader reviews
With the first two books in the Acacia Trilogy, Acacia and The Other Lands, David Anthony Durham has created a vast and engrossing canvas of a world in turmoil, where the surviving children of a royal dynasty are on a quest to realize their fates—and perhaps right ancient wrongs once and fo [...]

Last Argument Of Kings

13. Last Argument Of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
The First Law: Book 3
Score: 91
Our rating: 9.0 | 1 positive reader reviews
The King of the Union lies on his deathbed, the peasants revolt, and the nobles scramble to steal his crown. No one believes that the shadow of war is about to fall across the heart of the Union. Only the First of the Magi can save the world, but there are risks. [...]

Tomorrow the Killing

14. Tomorrow the Killing by Daniel Polansky
Low Town: Book 2
Score: 90
Our rating: 9.0 | 0 positive reader reviews
Once he was a hero of the Great War, and then a member of the dreaded Black House. Now he is the criminal linchpin of Low Town. His name is Warden. He thought he had left the war behind him, but a summons from up above brings the past sharply, uncomfortably, back into focus. General Montgomery [...]

The Fell Sword

15. The Fell Sword by Miles Cameron
The Traitor Son Cycle #2
Score: 90
Our rating: 9.0 | 0 positive reader reviews
Loyalty costs money. Betrayal, on the other hand, is free. When the Emperor is taken hostage, the Red Knight and his men find their services in high demand - and themselves surrounded by enemies. The country is in revolt, the capital city is besieged and any victory will be hard won. But The Red [...]

Scourge of the Betrayer

16. Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards
Score: 88
Our rating: 8.8 | 0 positive reader reviews
Many tales are told of the Syldoon Empire and its fearsome soldiers, who are known throughout the world for their treachery and atrocities. Some say that the Syldoon eat virgins and babies - or perhaps their own mothers. Arkamondos, a bookish young scribe, suspects that the Syldoon’s dire r [...]

A Crown for Cold Silver

17. A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall
Score: 85
Our rating: 8.5 | 0 positive reader reviews
Twenty years ago, feared general Cobalt Zosia led her five villainous captains and mercenary army into battle, wrestling monsters and toppling an empire. When there were no more titles to win and no more worlds to conquer, she retired and gave up her legend to history. Now the peace she carved fo [...]

The Incorruptibles

18. The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs
Score: 85
Our rating: 8.5 | 0 positive reader reviews
In the contested and unexplored territories at the edge of the Empire, a boat is making its laborious way up stream. Riding along the banks are the mercenaries hired to protect it - from raiders, bandits and, most of all, the stretchers, elf-like natives who kill any intruders into their territor [...]

Where Loyalties Lie

19. Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J Hayes
The Best Laid Plans #1
Score: 85
Our rating: 8.5 | 0 positive reader reviews
Everybody knows Captain Drake Morass is only out for himself. As the fires of a dying city burn on a distant shore, Drake sees an opportunity to unite the other pirate Captains under his flag and claim a crown for himself. If he is to succeed, he will need allies and the Oracle named Keelin Still [...]

Straight Razor Cure

20. Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky
Low Town: Book 1
Score: 83
Our rating: 8.3 | 0 positive reader reviews
Welcome to Low Town. Here, the criminal is king. The streets are filled with the screeching of fish hags, the cries of swindled merchants, the inviting murmurs of working girls. Here, people can disappear, and the lacklustre efforts of the guard ensure they are never found. Warden is an ex-soldie [...]

Promise of Blood

21. Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan
The Powder Mage Trilogy #1
Score: 83
Our rating: 8.3 | 0 positive reader reviews
The alchemy of gunpowder fused with the magic of sorcery. In a time of upheaval, resurgence and corrupted Royalty Privileged, one-man’s love for his lost wife and his country burns and fuels a new order where all can be treated equally. Sometimes to build new you must burn the old. Legends [...]

Half a War

22. Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
Shattered Sea #3
Score: 82
Our rating: 8.2 | 0 positive reader reviews
WORDS ARE WEAPONS. Princess Skara has seen all she loved made blood and ashes. She is left with only words. But the right words can be as deadly as any blade. She must conquer her fears and sharpen her wits to a lethal edge if she is to reclaim her birthright. ONLY HALF A WAR IS FOUGHT WITH SWORD [...]

The Thousand Scars

23. The Thousand Scars by Michael R Baker
Counterbalance #1
Score: 82
Our rating: 8.2 | 0 positive reader reviews
The greatest war since the time of ancient Chaos has reached the Balian Empire. Within the Balian council, a rogue faction unleashes an unthinkable dark magic to defeat its enemies. As the Empire loses ground, disgraced scholar and exile Tyrone Cessil is forced to go on the run. [...]

Red Seas Under Red Skies

24. Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
The Gentleman Bastard Sequence: Book 2
Score: 80
Our rating: 8.0 | 0 positive reader reviews
Escaping from the attentions of the Bondsmagi Locke Lamora, the estwhile Thorn of Camorr and Jean Tannen have fled their home city. Taking ship they arrive in the city state of Tal Varrar where they are soon planning their most spectacular heist yet; they will take the luxurious gaming house, The [...]

The Grim Company

25. The Grim Company by Luke Scull
Score: 80
Our rating: 8.0 | 0 positive reader reviews
Set years after mages stormed the heavens and brought down the gods, casting their bodies to the world below where the corpses now leak wild, unpredictable and extremely dangerous magic, The Grim Company focuses on the aftermath of this feat, where three cities ruled by three immortal mages strug [...]

The Crimson Campaign

26. The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan
The Powder Mage Trilogy #2
Score: 80
Our rating: 8.0 | 0 positive reader reviews
When Gods walk the earth and war rages, Tamas suffers his greatest defeat at the hands of Kez. Beaten, but not broken Tamas must fight his way back to Adro and his son. Taniel awakens from his coma only to hear of his fathers presumed death, traveling to the war front, many things are not as they [...]

The Last Mortal Bond

27. The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley
Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne #3
Score: 80
Our rating: 8.0 | 0 positive reader reviews
The Annurian Empire is losing a war on two fronts - and it's unclear who is in command. Adare is stationed in the thick of battle and now calls herself Emperor. However, she can't hold back the nomadic Urgul forces for much longer. She needs her brilliant general, Ran il Tornja, but will [...]

Jade City

28. Jade City by Fonda Lee
The Green Bone Saga #1
Score: 80
Our rating: 8.0 | 0 positive reader reviews
Jade is the lifeblood of the city of Janloon - a stone that enhances a warrior's natural strength and speed. Jade is mined, traded, stolen and killed for, controlled by the ruthless No Peak and Mountain families. When a modern drug emerges that allows anyone - even foreigners - to wield jade, [...]

A Ritual of Bone

29. A Ritual of Bone by Lee C Conley
Score: 77
Our rating: 7.7 | 0 positive reader reviews
'Only valour and steel can stand against the rising dead'Arnar is a land of warriors, its people as stalwart as the stones themselves. In a land of dark forests and ancient hill forts, a forgotten evil is awoken by curious minds.The Great Histories and the Sagas say nothing [...]

The Providence of Fire

30. The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley
Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne #2
Score: 70
Our rating: 7.0 | 0 positive reader reviews
War is coming, secrets multiply and betrayal waits in the wings... The Annurian Empire's ruling family must be vigilant, as the conspiracy against them deepens. Having discovered her father's assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies. But few trust her, until she seems mar [...]

The Dread Wyrm

31. The Dread Wyrm by Miles Cameron
The Traitor Son Cycle #3
Score: 70
Our rating: 7.0 | 0 positive reader reviews
The Red Knight has stood against soldiers, against armies and against the might of an empire without flinching. He's fought on real and on magical battlefields alike, and now he's facing one of the greatest challenges yet. A tournament. A joyous spring event, the flower of the nobility wi [...]

The Emperor\'s Blades

32. The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley
Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne #1
Score: 63
Our rating: 6.0 | 3 positive reader reviews
The emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life path on which their father set them, their destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and in [...]