Top 20 Dark Fantasy Books to Read Right Now


Dark fantasy books introduce a streak of horror into the fantasy genre. Often riddled with anti-heroes, eerie settings and dark tones, these shadowy stories have plenty of fans.

If you’re on the lookout for such tales, this post has something for you.

Here are 20 dark fantasy books to read right now:

I’ve included book descriptions, readers’ ratings and summaries of positive and negative comments for each one of these fantasy novels. On the other hand, here’s a comparison chart if you’d prefer a quick summary.


Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Description

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

Book cover of Theft of Swords

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

First on our list of dark fantasy 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.


The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Description

Book cover of "The Gunslinger"

In the first book of this brilliant series, Stephen King introduces readers to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil.

In his desolate world, which frighteningly mirrors our own, Roland pursues The Man in Black, encounters an alluring woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the Kid from Earth called Jake.

Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, The Gunslinger leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.96

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Another story on our list of dark fantasy books is The Gunslinger by Stephen King. Readers who raved about this novel frequently mentioned the beautiful, poetic prose.

They also enthused over how intriguing Roland was as a character. While Roland starts off as the classic ‘strong and silent type’ so common in Westerns, he’s reveals a unique and multifaceted character.

Other readers mentioned how much they appreciated the distinctiveness of the world itself: it’s part Western, fantasy and post-apocalyptic.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t enjoy The Gunslinger, they often said that there wasn’t much background information in the beginning of the book. Because of this, the story confused them until they progressed through a good portion of the novel.


The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

Description

Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild.

Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern’s jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders.

But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men – or worse, a company of mercenaries – against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder.

It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it.

The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he’s determined to turn a profit.

So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery, it’s just another job. The abby is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can’t deal with.

Only it’s not just a job. It’s going to be a war…

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.11

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Next on our list of dark fantasy books is The Red Knight. What did fans say about this novel?

Firstly, they praised the story’s living-and-breathing world-building. The author, Christian Cameron, also writes historical fiction focused around the medieval era. As such, readers praised the story’s details around medieval living, weapons and warfare, which they said was uniquely immersive and refreshing.

Fans also enjoyed the protagonist, who entertained them with both his humor and his impressive martial exploits. Especially when paired with a character cast including mercenaries, knights, nuns and more, seeing him interact with other characters was a delight.

Negative Comments

So what did critics of The Red Knight say? For the most part, the main reasons readers didn’t enjoy the book had to do how it portrayed romance or religion.

In terms of the former, critics said that the Red Knight’s interest in Amicia came across as too sudden. After that, it struck them as a situation where he followed her around to wear down her resistance to his advances. Readers described this as anything from irritating to disturbing.

In terms of the book’s world-building, The Red Knight outright includes Christianity rather than takes inspiration from it. Whether readers shared the Christian faith, had a different one or none at all, they tended to find this jarring or even offensive. On one hand, the story mentioned real religious concepts and people. But on the other, it also had characters throwing fireballs and turning invisible.

While readers’ feelings were mixed, at the very least they tended to say this confused them and broke their immersion in the story.


The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Description

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

Next on our list of dark fantasy books is The Lies of Locke Lamora. Fans praised its amazing dark humor, exciting schemes 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 the 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.


Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Description

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

Book cover of Red Sister

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

Another story on our list of dark fantasy 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.


Fatemarked by David Estes

Description

They are the fatemarked.

Misunderstood. Worshiped. Hated. Murdered at birth.

Their time to step into the light has come.

An ancient prophecy foretold their coming, the chosen few who will bring peace to a land embroiled in a century of mistrust and war. When kings start dying, that hope and belief swiftly turns to fear.

Roan Loren is one of the fatemarked, but has hidden his mark of power his entire life, fearing the damage it might cause to those around him.

A great evil is coming. He can’t hide anymore.

In the spirit of fantasy epics like Throne of Glass and The Lord of the Rings, enter a world of magic and dragons, kings and queens, and victory and defeat, during a time when honor and valor still meant something. 

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.03

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Next on our list of dark fantasy books is Fatemarked. This fast-paced novel won fans for its epic story line, rich world-building, and captivating characters. Readers mentioned how distinct the character cast was, with each having their own personality and relatability.

Others mentioned that even as the story developed the characters and its world, it also had plenty of action and electrifying battles. This kept the book moving at an intense and thrilling pace the entire time.

Negative Comments

In general, critics of Fatemarked said that the overall tone of the story or its characters. For the former, they described the book as too bleak and heavy. This depress them enough that they didn’t want to continue reading.

In terms of the latter, these readers suggested that the novel’s dialogue and characters came across as either bland or geared to a younger readership. As such, these critics found it difficult to bond to them or get invested in the story.


The Aching God by Mike Shel

Description

“Closer, mortal. You are here, finally, to feed the Aching God…”

Book cover of "The Aching God"

The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. That is, until old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, heralding an urgent summons back to that old life.

To save his only daughter, Auric must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands.

With only a few inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization.

Auric has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.29

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Next on our list of dark fantasy books is The Aching God. Fans loved the fact that the main character, Auric, was not just an older protagonist, but one coming out of retirement and courageously battling his inner demons to do so.

While this makes Auric a recognizable character type, these readers praised the story’s portrayal of him. Yes, he’s tortured by brutal memories, but his severe PTSD struck these readers as realistic and engrossing.

Moreover, they praised the book’s world-building. The world was full of history, secrets and mystery. But in particular, an atmosphere of slowly increasing dread and fright haunted its pages. 

Negative Comments

If The Aching God wasn’t to a reader’s taste, what did they say? 

It turns out that there wasn’t a clear common thread between their feedback. If I had to pick one, though, it would be that some readers found the characters’ types overly familiar types. 

I got the sense that while the book’s fans recognized Auric, for instance, as a ‘tortured hero’ type, they found these features fleshed out and real. Readers who weren’t as enthusiastic about the story, however, thought this was cliche.


The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub

Description

On a brisk autumn day, a twelve-year-old boy stands on the shores of the gray Atlantic, near a silent amusement park and a fading ocean resort called the Alhambra.

Book cover of "The Talisman"

The past has driven Jack Sawyer here: his father is gone, his mother is dying, and the world no longer makes sense. But for Jack everything is about to change. For he has been chosen to make a journey back across America–and into another realm.

One of the most influential and heralded works of fantasy ever written, The Talisman is an extraordinary novel of loyalty, awakening, terror, and mystery.

Jack Sawyer, on a desperate quest to save his mother’s life, must search for a prize across an epic landscape of innocents and monsters, of incredible dangers and even more incredible truths. The prize is essential, but the journey means even more.

Let the quest begin. . . .

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.13

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Next on our list of dark fantasy books is a novel by Stephen King and Peter Straub.

Readers delighted by The Talisman remarked that it was a wonderful hero’s journey story. Jack, they said, was an enjoyable and convincing child protagonist. They rooted for him as he faced his fears and struggles, while also enjoying his growth and bravery.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t find the story enjoyable, though, their comments were generally consistent: these readers said that the novel stretched for too long, particularly in the middle.


Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

Description

The time is now.

Books cover of Interview with the Vampire

We are in a small room with the vampire, face to face, as he speaks – as he pours out the hypnotic, shocking, moving, and erotically charged confessions of his first two hundred years as one of the living dead… 

He speaks quietly, plainly, even gently, carrying us back to the night when he departed human existence as heir – young, romantic, cultivated – to a great Louisiana plantation, and was inducted by the radiant and sinister Lestat into the other, the “endless,” life…

Learning first to sustain himself on the blood of cocks and rats caught in the raffish streets of New Orleans, then on the blood of human beings…

To the years when, moving away from his final human ties under the tutelage of the hated yet necessary Lestat, he gradually embraces the habits, hungers, feelings of vampirism: the detachment, the hardened will, the “superior” sensual pleasures.

He carries us back to the crucial moment in a dark New Orleans street when he finds the exquisite lost young child Claudia, wanting not to hurt but to comfort her, struggling against the last residue of human feeling within him…

We see how Claudia in turn is made a vampire – all her passion and intelligence trapped forever in the body of a small child.

And how they arrive at their passionate and dangerous alliance, their French Quarter life of opulence: delicate Grecian statues, Chinese vases, crystal chandeliers, a butler, a maid, a stone nymph in the hidden garden court…

Night curving into night with their vampire senses heightened to the beauty of the world, thirsting for the beauty of death – a constant stream of vulnerable strangers awaiting them below… 

We see them joined against the envious, dangerous Lestat, embarking on a perilous search across Europe for others like themselves, desperate to discover the world they belong to, the ways of survival, to know what they are and why, where they came from, what their future can be…

We follow them across Austria and Transylvania, encountering their kind in forms beyond their wildest imagining…

To Paris, where footsteps behind them, in exact rhythm with their own, steer them to the doors of the Théâtre des Vampires – the beautiful, lewd, and febrile mime theater whose posters of penny-dreadful vampires at once mask and reveal the horror within…

To their meeting with the eerily magnetic Armand, who brings them, at last, into intimacy with a whole brilliant and decadent society of vampires, an intimacy that becomes sudden terror when they are compelled to confront what they have feared and fled… 

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.99

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Another story on our list of dark fantasy books is Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. This book, readers remarked, is a deeply character-driven tale that explores the vampire mythos from philosophical and moral angles.

Fans said that this gave what could have been a standard vampire story depth and emotion. The questions the story raised – for instance, what gives life (or death) meaning – intrigued these readers.

Moreover, readers described the characters as a highlight. Decisions, isolation and the passing eras affect each character. Because of this, they struck readers as vivid and complex.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t like Interview with the Vampire, what did they say? These readers said that while they understood that the story was philosophical take on the vampire mythos, it was too ponderous.

They reported that Louis’ reflections eventually came across to them as self-pity and they eventually lost interest in the story.

Others said that although the book had no outright sexual or romantic content, the eroticism between the characters – particularly Louis to Claudia, a child vampire – disturbed them.


The Greyfrair by Clay Griffith

Description

Rousing pulp action and steampunk come together in a heartbreaking story of high adventure and alternate history.

In the year 1870, a horrible plague of vampires swept over the northern regions of the world. It is now 2020 and a bloody reckoning is coming. Princess Adele is heir to the Empire of Equatoria, a remnant of the old tropical British Empire.

When she becomes the target of a merciless vampire clan, her only protector is the Greyfriar, a mysterious hero who fights the vampires from deep within their territory. Their dangerous relationship plays out against an approaching war to the death between humankind and the vampire clans.

The first book in a trilogy of high adventure and alternate history. Combining rousing pulp action with steampunk style, the Vampire Empire series brings epic political themes to life within a story of heartbreaking romance, sacrifice, and heroism.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.81

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

And next on our list of dark fantasy books is The GreyfrairThis novel captured readers’ imaginations with its unique multi-genre world and its characters.

For the former, fans praised the story for its smooth blend of horror, adventure and  romance, all set in a tantalizing steampunk fantasy world. Many of them added how much they enjoyed seeing fascinating concepts – such as a vampire empire – playing out. 

In terms of characters, The Greyfrair impressed readers with Adele and Gareth. Both struck them as fleshed out, growing based on their experiences in the story. Others mentioned that the romance between them was a highlight.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t enjoy The Greyfriarwhat did they say? In general, critics focused on the writing style and characters. They tended to say that the writing came across as awkward, with certain phrases standing out.

As for the characters, these readers expected them to be as unique as the book’s world was. Instead, the characters came across as familiar types to them. 


Free the Darkness by Kel Kade

Description

Raised and trained in complete seclusion at a secret fortress on the edge of the northern wilds of the Kingdom of Ashai, a young warrior called Rezkin is unexpectedly thrust into the outworld when a terrible battle destroys all that he knows.

With no understanding of his life’s purpose and armed with masterful weapons mysteriously bequeathed to him by a dead king, the young warrior relentlessly pursues his only lead.

A single elite warrior escaped during the battle and may have knowledge of who Rezkin is and who is responsible for the slaughter at the young man’s home. 

Rezkin must travel across Ashai to find the one man who may hold the clues to his very existence. His last orders, spoken on the lips of his dying Master, were to “Kill with conscience” and “Protect and honor your friends.”

Living in isolation from the outworld under a strict regimen of training and education, the young warrior has no understanding of a conscience or friends.

Determined to adhere to his last orders, Rezkin extends his protection to an unlikely assortment of individuals he meets along the way, often leading to humorous and poignant incidents. 

As if pursuing an elite warrior across a kingdom, figuring out who he is and why everyone he knows is dead, and attempting to find these so-called friends and protect them is not enough, strange things are happening in the kingdom. New dangers begin to arise that threaten not only Rezkin and his friends, but possibly everyone in Ashai.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.27

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Next on our list of dark fantasy books is Free the Darkness by Kel Kade. Blending a fish-out-of-water tale with gripping action and an intriguing main character, this book captivated fans from page one. 

Readers said that the story was full of hilarious moments whenever Rezkin, the protagonist, comes into contact with the outside world. Experiencing his mishaps as well as his growth was a delight.

Aside from that, fans praised the book for its riveting combat. Rezkin impressed them with his mastery of martial skills, and many readers remarked that the fight scenes were amazing overall.

Negative Comments

What did critics of Free the Darkness say? Overall, they said that Rezkin came across as too infallible. They described him as coming across more as wish-fulfillment rather than as a well-developed character. Because of this, these readers found him unconvincing as a protagonist and found it difficult to connect with him.


Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Description

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price — and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .

A convict with a thirst for revenge

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager

A runaway with a privileged past

A spy known as the Wraith

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.46

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Another one of our dark fantasy books is Six of Crows. Fans of this novel often said that they enjoyed how the story had a unique character cast, featuring people from all different walks of life. It added uniqueness to all of the characters, while also introducing themes of class and race.

Other readers remarked that they liked how action-packed and full of witty banter the story was.

Negative Comments

What did critics of Six of Crows say? In general, they commented that with so many lead characters, it was hard for them to connect with more than one or two.

It also sounded like they thought there were too many elements in the story that made it difficult for them to suspend their disbelief. For instance, these readers often mentioned that the high fear, praise and success Kaz has, even for a criminal prodigy, seemed unfounded.


The Young Elites by Marie Lu

Description

I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever.

A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was.

Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars — they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king.

As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society.

This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle.

But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.91

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

And next on our list of dark fantasy books is The Young Elites. Fans praised the novel for giving them Adelina, this story’s teen protagonist. She may battle a sense of worthlessness, but she’s ultimately a determined, ambitious and formidable character.

In addition, others mentioned that they liked the fascinating cast and appreciated that the romantic sub-plot was kept light.

Negative Comments

As for critics, those who didn’t rate The Young Elites highly said that they found it difficult to connect to Adelina.

They mentioned that the ‘dark’ aspect of her character came across to them as meanness rather than moral weaknesses or complexity. As such, it was hard for them to get invested in her story.

Other said that while they found the story’s premise interesting, they found it difficult to get emotionally invested in it.


Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Description

Book Cover of The Gardens of the Moon

The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations with the formidable Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii, ancient and implacable sorcerers.

Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins.

For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead.

But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.

However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand…

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.88

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

What did fans of Gardens of the Moon say?

These readers frequently praised the author, Steve Erickson, for taking this fantasy story in a different direction than a more Tolkien-like fantasy: while the book has a similar epic feel and scope, it also has a mystery, violence and tragedy to it that appeal to them.

They also mentioned how imaginative they found the story, particularly the world-building, and appreciated how instantly the story threw them into the story of a gigantic war.

Negative Comments

What did readers who didn’t enjoy the novel say?

It turns out that while they agreed that the story was epic in scope, they often felt like that the sheer amount of information they were told meant that they had little idea of what was happening or why it mattered.

In addition, these readers said it was difficult to get emotionally invested in the characters – there were just too many to cover for them to have much development.

Along a similar vein, others mentioned that the dialogue between the characters felt like standard fantasy book talk rather than individualized speaking styles.


The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Description

Book cover of The Ruin of Kings

There are the old stories. And then there’s what actually happens.

Kihrin is a bastard orphan who grew up on storybook tales of long-lost princes and grand quests.

When he is claimed against his will as the long-lost son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds that being a long-lost prince isn’t what the storybooks promised.Far from living the dream, Kihrin finds himself practically a prisoner, at the mercy of his new family’s power plays and ambitions.

He also discovers that the storybooks have lied about a lot of other things things, too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love, and how the hero always wins.Then again, maybe he’s not the hero, for Kihrin isn’t destined to save the empire.

He’s destined to destroy it . . .

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.83

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Next on our list of dark fantasy books is The Ruin of Kings. With an expansive scope and a world brimming with history, politics and mythology, this YA epic fantasy struck fans as spectacularly engaging. All of this, they said, was done without an onslaught of information.

Negative Comments 

On the other hand, readers who didn’t think The Ruin of Kings was for them said that the story’s non-linear chronological structure made it confusing.

Others said that having the story told from these multiple time periods made it difficult for the character development to come across as organic. In each them, Kihrin sounded like a completely different character.


Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Description

Book cover of Half a King

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

Another story on our list of dark fantasy 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. 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 Bone Ships by R. J. Barker

Description

Two nations at war.

A prize beyond compare.

For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war.

The dragons disappeared, but the battles for supremacy persisted.

Now the first dragon in centuries has been spotted in far-off waters, and both sides see a chance to shift the balance of power in their favor.

Because whoever catches it will win not only glory, but the war.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.22

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Next on our list of dark fantasy books is The Bone Ships by R. J. Barker.

This novel impressed readers with its unique world and vivid, detailed world-building. Fans enthused over the lush descriptions of seafaring life, culture and economy. Each chapter revealed new layers to the setting, completely immersing these readers.

Moreover, this gave the dark and often ruthless war between the book’s main nations realism and depth. 

Other fans mentioned how they were captivated by the depth of the characters and how convincing their growth was. Several also mentioned how they came to care deeply about them as well as become moved by their courage and honor.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t enjoy The Bone Ships, what did they say?

For the most part, critics said that the beginning of the book is slow, mainly because of the world-building. They agreed that the story’s details gave it realism, but its denseness made it difficult to get absorbed into the book. 


Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

Description

Where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. Criminal mastermind Kelsier teaches Allomancy, the magic of metals, to another Mistborn, urchin Vin 16.

The unlikely heroine is distracted by rich Venture heir Elend. Can Kelsier’s thieving crew take on the tyrant Lord Ruler and bring back color to their world?

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.45

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Another story on our list of dark fantasy books is Mistborn: The Final Empire. Readers described this novel as having elements of and an air of mystery to it that they found delightful.

Moreover, Brandon Sanderson has a reputation for unique magic systems, and this story features just that. The refreshing system of Allomancy delighted fans, many of whom praised how thoroughly it was developed.

Other readers raved about Vin’s exciting journey from distrusting and quiet street urchin to confident and ferocious assassin. They described her growth as authentic and compelling, while also praising her well fleshed-out character along the way.

On a similar note, readers also thoroughly enjoyed Vin and Kelsier’s mentor/mentee relationship. He and Vin’s interactions, fans said, were one of the highlights of the story.

Negative Comments

Not everyone enjoyed Mistborn: The Final Empire. These readers said that while the world-building impressed them, they thought the story was slow. The crew’s plans proceed in a rather straightforward manner, while critics hoped for more conflict or complications.

Others expressed disappointment that more female characters didn’t feature in the crew or take part in the revolution overall. While these readers appreciated Vin as the main character, it struck them as unrealistic.


The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

Description

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 

If readers enjoyed The Way of Shadows, they often praised the story’s fast-pace and gritty and brutal setting. Yet at the same time, it didn’t glamorize the violence and cruelty of Azoth’s world.

Readers also appreciated that Weeks took character types familiar to them and gave the characters nuance through their personal and moral struggles.

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 too similar to other fantasy stories.

On the other hand, others mentioned that they thought that Weeks’ plain writing style made it difficult to get drawn into the story.


Dragon Weather by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Description

Arlian had never left his home village in the Obsidian Mountains. The green hills, white peaks, and black glass were all he had ever known of life, and though he dreamed of travel and adventure, he knew deep in his heart that he would probably never leave.

Until the dragon weather came. Incredible heat, oppressive humidity, dark and angry clouds . . . and dragons. Dragons with no feelings, no empathy, no use for humans; dragons who destroyed his entire village and everyone in it. Everyone, that is, except Arlian.

Orphaned and alone, Arlian the child is captured by looters and sold as a mining slave. Seven years later Arlian the man escapes, fueled by years of hatred for the dragons, bandits, and slavers that took his youth away – and a personal vow to exact retribution from those who have wronged him.

As Arlian makes his way through life, he is obsessed with the concept of justice, and that obsession informs every task, every decision.

Even Black, the man he befriends and grows to love as a brother, has little influence against Arlian’s obsession. His entire life has one purpose, and one purpose only: to mete out justice.

But can one righteous man change the entire world for the better? Or is he doomed by his own actions to become as unjust as those he seeks to destroy?

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.00

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Last on our list of dark fantasy books is Dragon Weathera novel readers praised for its exhilarating action and break-neck pacing. The story is a tale of Arlian’s quest for vengeance and his growth along the way.

As such, readers appreciated the book’s honest and ugly portrayal of combat. The battles were intense and brutal, even bloodcurdling. Those who enjoyed grittier and darker fantasies thought this was a great aspect of the novel.

Moreover, Arlian’s character growth into a more mature and gracious individual was insightful enough to make these readers think about issues of justice and revenge while not coming across as preachy.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t enjoy Dragon Weather though, it was for the same reason many of the book’s fans loved it: the brutality.

Dragon Weather takes no prisoners with its portrayal of violence and cruelty. Readers mentioned, for instance, that characters have their hands and feet chopped off. Others said that the frequently sexual assault and abuse the women in the story faced particularly upset them.


Top 20 Dark Fantasy Books to Read Right Now

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Top 20 Dark Fantasy Books to Read Right Now


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