Back in the late nineties, author J.V. Jones released A Cavern of Black Ice, book one of the Sword of Shadows series. She is said to be one of the early writers of gritty fantasy alongside George R.R. Martin, who released A Game of Thrones in 1996. Her popular four-book series last saw a release in 2010 and is yet unfinished, with the fifth book rumoured to be in progress.
Fast forward to 2018, and when you think of grimdark fantasy it’s often the male writers who first come to mind. However, there are a number of female authors smashing grimdark fantasy right now – here’s my top five.
The Poppy War blasted into the grimdark community’s dark awareness in May this year with some already lauding it as the fantasy debut of the year.
It is set in a Chinese inspired epic fantasy world influenced by the Second Sino-Japanese war and the 1937 Rape of Nanjing. It’s the first book of a trilogy with book two currently in the works.
R.F. Kuang, in a post on Goodreads stated that this book… “is not a romance story” or “a YA fantasy school story” and that “if you’re turned off by violence” then you should probably “pick up a different book”.
Reviews are awash with praise for the complex, morally grey characters as well as the masterful worldbuilding. They also contain plenty of content trigger warnings for all the gruesome stuff. The author has this handy list on her website: self-harm, suicide, violent rape, sexual assault, murder, massacres, brutalization, mutilation, torture, substance abuse, abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, relationship abuse, human experimentation, chemical warfare, and genocide.
Fucking hell! If you’re a lover of dark books with dark themes then this one should definitely be top of your list.
Let’s rewind to the heady days of June 2017, when two Annas hit the grimdark fantasy scene. The first Anna on this list, Anna Stephens, released her debut novel Godblind about bloodthirsty gods and their gloriously ruthless return to the world.
Godblind was hailed as not only having one of the best covers, but also as containing one of the most gruesome and eye-watering torture scenes in recent times. One which no doubt prompted every guy reading this book to wince and cross their legs. Ouch.
Anna Smith Spark
The second Anna to hit the scene in June last year is Anna Smith Spark. Her debut novel The Court of Broken Knives had us all singing this gloriously bleak ditty:
Why we march and why we die,
And what life means… it’s all a lie.
Death! Death! Death!
The Court of Broken Knives was shortlisted for the David Gemmell Awards and GdM picked it as one of its top reads of 2017.
The follow up, The Tower of Living and Dying, is expected to be published this July. Take a look at the cover reveal.
Darkmage, the first book of M.L. Spencer’s The Rhenwars Saga was released in 2011. Book two, Darkland, as well as a prequel, Darkstorm, were published in 2017. The third book, Darkrise, came out in February this year.
Here’s what the author has to say about the series: “The Rhenwars Saga takes all the familiar tropes you would normally expect to find in a typical fantasy series, blends it all up at high speed, and then sprays the resulting concoction all over the kitchen.”
Sounds brutal, grimy and messy (and like a big pain in the ass to clean up afterwards…) but right up our gore-strewn street.
You can read an excerpt of Darkrise here.
Deborah A. Wolf
The Dragon’s Legacy came out in April 2017. Book two, The Forbidden City, was released in May this year and book three, The Seared Lands, is well underway.
A GdM review of The Dragon’s Legacy says that, “the world and characters are both deliciously grimdark, and the book abounds with the things that make grimdark such a pleasure to read.”
This world has a desert setting with a matriarchal society, and giant cats that are bonded to their warrior women. There are dragons. In a recent interview the author states that, “The monsters are ferocious and terrifying, and so are many of my characters, who can be said to be ambiguous on a good day.”
Monstrous, ambiguous characters – our favourite!
Bonus: Rosalyn Kelly
Melokai was described by author and reviewer C.T. Phipps as, “a solid piece of grimdark” with rich worldbuilding and “which isn’t afraid to create dark situations with no clear good guy or no good guys whatsoever.”
Another reviewer said Melokai is a “grimdark fantasy on a par with Game of Thrones and Godblind. There is violence, rape, torture, and an infant’s head gets crushed underfoot. The characters are a hateful bunch, in a good way, with no obvious categories of good guys and bad guys. This is perfect for readers with a bloodthirsty appetite.”
If that sounds like your cup of tea – you’re reading Grimdark Magazine… of course that sounds like your cup of tea! – then check out an excerpt of Melokai here.
You want more?
Here’s another five to keep an eye out for: Timandra Whitecastle, A.M. Justice, Rebecca Levene, Devin Madson, and Kameron Hurley.
Now that you’ve topped up your TBR pile, I wish you happy blood-gore-grit-filled reading!