5 Fantasy Thriller Books That Will Make Your Pulse Race

Sometimes you’re just in the mood for a relaxing fantasy book that takes its time building its world, character and story.

And other times, you’re hunting for an electrifying, fast-paced fantasy novel that keeps you breathless and racing through its pages.

If that’s what you’re searching for right now, fantasy thriller books are your friend.

Here are five fantasy thriller books to catch your eye:

Most of them deal with espionage, conspiracies and crime. And while fantasy books are known to for their titanic page lengths, readers said that these books kept them turning the pages so quickly that they barely noticed.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence


I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth.

Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out.

Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive… 

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.26

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

First on our list of fantasy thriller books is Red Sister. This novel’s fans raved about the fascinating concept of warrior nuns and the story’s immersive school setting.

They mentioned that all the familiar adolescent coming of age elements they loved featured in the story. The girls experience friendship, betrayal, bitter competition and more. Moreover, despite a large cast of characters, they said that the girls and women that made it up felt three-dimensional.

Readers also praised Mark Lawrence’s evocative prose. The story features the author’s trademark grit and violence – one that pulls no punches toward its child-aged characters – but readers said they were impressed by its dramatic and lyrical writing style.

Negative Comments

So if readers didn’t enjoy Red Sister, what did they say? Well, these readers remarked that Red Sister was a coming of age story set in a training and school setting.

It was precisely this that bothered them: these readers generally didn’t enjoy stories centered around that particular subject matter. For them, reading about the girls training, studying and having classes wasn’t interesting.

But if a mismatch between reader expectations and the book’s subject matter wasn’t at play, readers occasionally commented that they didn’t feel invested in Nona, the main character. These readers found that other characters in the cast more interesting and said that she would have made a better supporting character.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch


An orphan’s life is harsh — and often short — in the mysterious island city of Camorr. But young Locke Lamora dodges death and slavery, becoming a thief under the tutelage of a gifted con artist.

As leader of the band of light-fingered brothers known as the Gentleman Bastards, Locke is soon infamous, fooling even the underworld’s most feared ruler.

But in the shadows lurks someone still more ambitious and deadly. Faced with a bloody coup that threatens to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the enemy at his own brutal game — or die trying.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.30

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Second on our list of fantasy thriller books is The Lies of Locke Lamora. Readers who rated this novel highly praised its amazing dark humor. They also delighted in reading about each scheme and the gang’s fun camaraderie.

Others mentioned that they liked that the author didn’t shy away from making the world-building violent or dark; it gave a sense of realism and depth.

Negative Comments

Readers who didn’t enjoy book often thought it lingered too long on descriptions. To them, these explanations felt like digressions rather than world-building.

The story is also told from both the present and the past. Readers either loved this or hated it: some said it increased the tension immensely, but critics said it interrupted the story’s fast-pace.

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan


They killed the king. They pinned it on two men. They chose poorly.

There’s no ancient evil to defeat or orphan destined for greatness, just unlikely heroes and classic adventure.

Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, are two enterprising rogues who end up running for their lives when they’re framed for the murder of the king.

Trapped in a conspiracy that goes beyond the overthrow of a tiny kingdom, their only hope is unraveling an ancient mystery before it’s too late.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.23

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Next on our list of fantasy thriller books is Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan. Readers describes this as a lighthearted, exciting and rapid-paced story that kept them on the seat-of-their-pants.

Not only that, but they utterly enjoyed the Royce and Hadrian ‘odd couple’. They enthused that the pair’s jibes, sarcasm and banter was hilarious. These two characters and their adventures hooked them from page one and kept them riveted to the very last page.

Negative Comments

While fans of Theft of Swords considered its lighthearted take on fantasy a highlight, other readers cited this as a drawback. Compared to more serious takes on the fantasy genre, the world-building and the supporting character cast struck these readers as underdeveloped. Because of this, they said they were less invested in what happened.

Other readers said that they enjoyed Royce and Hadrian’s banter, but they ultimately didn’t feel as if they knew them. Because of that, these readers found it difficult to connect with the pair.

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie


Betrayed by his family and left for dead, Prince Yarvi, reluctant heir to a divided kingdom, has vowed to reclaim a throne he never wanted.

But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself – all with only one good hand.

Born a weakling in the eyes of a hard, cold world, he cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he has sharpened his mind to a deadly edge.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast, he finds they can help him more than any noble could. Even so, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, traps and tragedy…

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.98

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Next on our list of fantasy thriller books is Half a King. Readers who praised this novel reported enthusiastically that it had Joe Abercrombie’s penchant for gritty, dark and even grim settings.

While Half a King targets young adults, these readers had read Abercrombie’s adult-targeted fantasy books. They were pleased that this book still had what they enjoyed about his world-building. They also mentioned that while the story is a grim and fast-paced survival tale, it never made them feel bleak or overwhelmed.

Another highlight they mentioned was the characters. From the main character, Yarvi, to the rest of the cast, each added to the story in their own way. Several fans mentioned that the genuine friendship between the characters was particularly moving for them.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t connect with the story, they often said it was because they found it overly familiar. While a thriller, Half a King struck these readers as a standard revenge story in both plot and character cast.

They appreciated that Yarvi was an intelligent and cunning version of the avenging hero rather than the typical warrior archetype. However, they mentioned that they’d seen this particular twist used in previous stories as well.

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks


For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art-and he is the city’s most accomplished artist.

For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned to judge people quickly – and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics – and cultivate a flair for death

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.16

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Last on our list of fantasy thriller books is The Way of Shadows. Readers who enjoyed this story often enthused that it was fast-paced, gritty and brutal. Yet at the same time, it didn’t glamorize the violence and cruelty of Azoth’s world.

Readers also commented that Weeks took character types that were familiar to them and gave the characters nuance. This came out particularly in their personal and moral struggles, where the characters accept the reality of their cruel world while also trying to rise above it.

Negative Comments 

Readers who didn’t rate The Way of Shadows highly commented that they thought Weeks’ use of familiar character types made the characters seem cliche.

On the other hand, other readers weren’t bothered by this and instead mentioned that Weeks’ plain writing style made it difficult for them to get drawn into the story.

Fantasy Thriller Books That Will Make Your Pulse Race

How Do These Fantasy Novels Compare?

A comparison chart of the average rating, most common rating and price of these five fantasy thrillers

5 Fantasy Thriller Books That Will Make Your Pulse Race

N.S. Mirage

I'm Natalie, an avid fantasy reader here to help readers find exciting, otherworldly books.

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