Boxing Day is here, and it’s time to check out the Grimdark Magazine team’s favourite books for 2019 in our Best Fantasy Books of 2019 (click here for 2018 if you missed it!). It’s been another helluva a year for SFF across books, television, gaming, and cinema, so the team have put up a list well worth checking out for fans of Grimdark Magazine.
A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie
Holly Adams best fantasy books of 2019
Unapologetically bleak, twisty plot twists, uncompromising violence, gallows humor, painfully awkward and deliciously sexy romance, characters with distinct voices, fucking bonkers imagery and of course, the gritty battle sequences. No one writes a battle quite like Lord Grimdark. The reality of the battles, the hacking and slashing, the emotional investment, the palpable energy that radiates throughout. There is a shit ton of blood that gets spilled between the pages of this book and it is glorious!
GdM Review: Click here
Blurb: The chimneys of industry rise over Adua and the world seethes with new opportunities. But old scores run deep as ever.
On the blood-soaked borders of Angland, Leo dan Brock struggles to win fame on the battlefield, and defeat the marauding armies of Stour Nightfall. He hopes for help from the crown. But King Jezal’s son, the feckless Prince Orso, is a man who specializes in disappointments.
Savine dan Glokta – socialite, investor, and daughter of the most feared man in the Union – plans to claw her way to the top of the slag-heap of society by any means necessary. But the slums boil over with a rage that all the money in the world cannot control.
The age of the machine dawns, but the age of magic refuses to die. With the help of the mad hillwoman Isern-i-Phail, Rikke struggles to control the blessing, or the curse, of the Long Eye. Glimpsing the future is one thing, but with the guiding hand of the First of the Magi still pulling the strings, changing it will be quite another…
Master of Sorrows by Justin Travis Call
Elizabeth Tabler best fantasy books of 2019
My favorite was Justin Travis Call’s book, Master of Sorrows. Justin managed to take a fantasy trope, the hero’s journey, and turn it into something fresh and interesting. The entire book was engaging and kept me up late into the night reading.
Blurb: You have heard the story before – of a young boy, orphaned through tragic circumstances, raised by a wise old man, who comes to a fuller knowledge of his magic and uses it to fight the great evil that threatens his world.
But what if the boy hero and the malevolent, threatening taint were one and the same?
What if the boy slowly came to realize he was the reincarnation of an evil god? Would he save the world . . . or destroy it?
Among the Academy’s warrior-thieves, Annev de Breth is an outlier. Unlike his classmates who were stolen as infants from the capital city, Annev was born in the small village of Chaenbalu, was believed to be executed, and then unknowingly raised by his parents’ killers.
Seventeen years later, Annev struggles with the burdens of a forbidden magic, a forgotten heritage, and a secret deformity. When he is subsequently caught between the warring ideologies of his priestly mentor and the Academy’s masters, he must choose between forfeiting his promising future at the Academy or betraying his closest friends. Each decision leads to a deeper dilemma, until Annev finds himself pressed into a quest he does not wish to fulfil.
Will he finally embrace the doctrine of his tutors, murder a stranger, and abandon his mentor? Or will he accept the more difficult truth of who he is . . . and the darker truth of what he may become . . .
Never Die by Rob J. Hayes
Chris Haught best fantasy books of 2019
Never Die – Rob J. Hayes. Brilliant stand alone in a great 2019 market for grimdark choices. These characters stuck with me through the story and beyond, and the way the narrative was all tied together was a work of art.
GdM Review: Click here
Blurb: Ein is on a mission from God. A God of Death.
Time is up for the Emperor of Ten Kings and it falls to a murdered eight year old boy to render the judgement of a God. Ein knows he can’t do it alone, but the empire is rife with heroes. The only problem; in order to serve, they must first die.
Ein has four legendary heroes in mind, names from story books read to him by his father. Now he must find them and kill them, so he can bring them back to fight the Reaper’s war.
Smoke and Stone by Michael R. Fletcher
Nate Aubin best fantasy books of 2019
Fletcher knocked it out of the park once more with one of the grimmest, darkest, and most genuinely original novels I’ve read in a long time. Smoke and stone has hungry gods, drug-based sorcerery, and a post-apocalyptic city hewn from a single, seamless piece of stone. Even among the killer lineup of 2019 releases, this book shines with creative madness.
Blurb: After a cataclysmic war of the gods, the last of humanity huddles in Bastion, a colossal ringed city. Beyond the outermost wall lies endless desert haunted by the souls of all the world’s dead.
Trapped in a rigid caste system, Nuru, a young street sorcerer, lives in the outer ring. She dreams of escape and freedom. When something contacts her from beyond the wall, she risks everything and leaps at the opportunity. Mother Death, a banished god seeking to reclaim her place in Bastion’s patchwork pantheon, has found her way back into the city.
Akachi, born to the wealth and splendour of Bastion’s inner rings, is a priest of Cloud Serpent, Lord of the Hunt. A temple-trained sorcerer, he is tasked with bringing peace to the troublesome outer ring. Drawn into a dark and violent world of assassins, gangs, and street sorcerers, he battles the spreading influence of Mother Death in a desperate attempt to save Bastion.
The gods are once again at war.
The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht
Mike Myers best fantasy books of 2019
My favorite book of 2019 is The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht. It is a dark fantasy thriller with plagues and monsters and evil people and a beautifully rendered nasty setting, but in Giesbrecht’s deft hands, it’s also a compelling, psychologically gripping tale of lust and revenge, told in parallel, twisting narratives that ingeniously leave the reader sympathizing with the most horrible people imaginable. I recommend The Monster of Elendhaven to anyone who likes dark fantasy and horror, as well as anyone who is interested in reading a brilliant character portrayal of a sympathetic yet horrifying anti-hero. Though it has a few perplexing moments, and perhaps that’s part of its charm, I absolutely loved it, and I look forward to seeing what Giesbrecht does next.
GdM review: Click here
Blurb: The city of Elendhaven sulks on the edge of the ocean. Wracked by plague, abandoned by the South, stripped of industry and left to die. But not everything dies so easily. A thing without a name stalks the city, a thing shaped like a man, with a dark heart and long pale fingers yearning to wrap around throats. A monster who cannot die. His frail master sends him out on errands, twisting him with magic, crafting a plan too cruel to name, while the monster’s heart grows fonder and colder and more cunning.
These monsters of Elendhaven will have their revenge on everyone who wronged the city, even if they have to burn the world to do it.
The Ruthless by Peter Newman
James Tivendale best fantasy books of 2019
One of the most developed, unique, and thrilling fantasy series currently being written. This is highly recommended to all grimdark and dark fantasy readers, and anyone who enjoys political or horror-tinged fantasy drama. There is something strikingly original about these books and when the next entry is released I will drop everything else and read it as quick as is possible.
GdM Review: Click here
Blurb: Return to a world of crystal armour, savage wilderness, and corrupt dynasties in book two of The Deathless series from Gemmell award-winning author Peter Newman.
For years, Vasin Sapphire has been waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. Now, as other Deathless families come under constant assault from the monsters that roam the Wild, that time has come.
In the floating castle of Rochant Sapphire, loyal subjects await the ceremony to return their ruler to his rightful place. But the child raised to give up his body to Lord Rochant is no ordinary servant. Strange and savage, he will stop at nothing to escape his gilded prison.
AND THE RETURNED…
Far below, another child yearns to see the human world. Raised by a creature of the Wild, he knows their secrets better than any other. As he enters into the struggle between the Deathless houses, he may be the key to protecting their power or destroying it completely.
THE WILD HAS BEGUN TO RISE
Sword of Kaigen by ML Wang
Tom Smith best fantasy books of 2019
My favorite for 2019 is Sword of Kaigen by ML Wang. Anyone who knows me knows my love for martial arts and also for Asian themed fantasy. The Sword of Kaigen was a well written and fast paced romp through a fictional Japan-adjacent country living on the brink of war and trying to maintain its martial and cultural traditions while the rest of the world is leaping forward with technology.
One thing I really enjoyed was the fight sequences. Wang really blends the magic and the martial arts together in a way that keeps the reader locked in. I also thought the protagonist shift partway through the book was a bold move which she pulled off with aplomb.
I really hope she continues writing in this setting. I highly recommend giving this book a look if you like any of the elements I mentioned.
Blurb: On a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’
Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.
Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.
When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?
As always, I have to list some Honorable mentions too: We Lie with Death by Devin Madson, Kings of Ash by Richard Nell, Crowfall by Ed McDonald, and God of Broken Things by Cameron Johnston.
The House of Sacrifice by Anna Smith-Spark
Adrian Collins best fantasy books of 2019
The House of Sacrifice was an unbelievable ending to the Empires of Dust trilogy. It was an experience that left me exhausted and satisfied by the end. Smith-Spark’s writing style is one of the most unique and exhilarating in recent memory and the tragedy of her characters is something I’ll savour for a long, long time.
Blurb: Marith Altrersyr has won. He cut a path of blood and vengeance and needless violence around the world and now he rules. It is time for Marith to put down his sword, to send home his armies, to grow a beard and become fat. It is time to look to his own house, and to produce an heir. The King of Death must now learn to live.
But some things cannot be learnt.
The spoils of war turn to ash in the mouths of the Amrath Army and soon they are on the move again. But Marith, lord of lies, dragon-killer, father-killer, has begun to falter and his mind decays. How long can a warlord rotting from within continue to win?
As the Army marches on to Sorlost, Thalia’s thoughts turn to home and to the future: a life grows inside her and it is a precious thing – but it grows weak.
Why must the sins of the father curse the child?
That wraps out Best fantasy books of 2019. Make sure to keep an eye out for the SFF books our team is most looking forward to in 2020 to start building that TBR to even more ridiculous levels!