Gladiator 2 is coming! Here’s the best dark fantasy to read between now and November 14

Last Updated on July 16, 2024

Gladiator starring prime Russel Crowe is one of the best pieces of cinema ever created. I’ve watched that movie–or had it running in the background while working on this very website–so many times I’ve lost count. To actually see the trailer for Gladiator 2 release almost twenty-five years later is both wildly exciting and absolutely terrifying to a super fan, like me. The cinematics, battles, closeness of the one-on-one combat, and Denzel Washington’s character (despite whatever that American slash something accent attempt is) have me pumped for this. The one violently intrusive thought I have is that, other than 2022’s Top Gun: Maverick, I can’t really recall the last time trying to recreate that amazing feeling of the original or taking a new spin on an old movie went well.

Whatever may come, there is the better part of half a year between now and when Gladiator 2 hits the screens, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve got an itch to read about some dark fantasy gladiators getting their feet onto the red sand. The team and I are here to help with that, starting with a book from one of the best series I’ve ever read, The Midnight Falcon by David Gemmell (Rigante quadrilogy) where gladiators Rage and Bane took to the sands for bloody adventure and vengeance.

The Midnight Falcon by David Gemmell

Cover for The Midnight Falcon for Gladiator articleIf you’re in the mood for more gladiator combat, you need to drop everything and read Midnight Falcon ASAP. When Bane the Bastard is exiled from his homeland of the Rigante highlands, he sets his sights on Stone—Gemmell’s fantasy version of the Roman Empire. All his plans turn to dust at the tip of Voltan’s blade, Bane sets off on a desperate quest for revenge.

His training to become the best Gladiator in Stone brings him under the tutelage of Rage and Telors, famous gladiators past their prime who are training for one last desperate bout. But his quest to face Voltan in the colluseum leads to more than just one on one combat. Bane finds himself caught incredible ocean of blood as the machinations of the Emperor Jasaray and his enemies as they grapple for power and topple the great army of Stone into war with the Rigante. Incredibly sharp combat scenes, whip-smart political manoeuvring, a desperate war of people defending their home land, and some of the most brilliant character work in the genre will keep you busy while you wait for Gladiator II’s release!

About The book

Bane the Bastard is the illegitimate son of the Rigante king who men called Demonblade. Born of treachery, Bane grew up an outcast in his own land, feared by his fellow highlanders, and denied by the father whose unmistakable mark he bore–the eyes of Connavar, one tawny brown, the other emerald green.

Hounded from the country of his birth, Bane found acceptance across the seas–only to have it stripped away in an instant by a cruel and deadly swordsman. Now fighting as a gladiator in the blood-soaked arenas of the Empire, Bane lives for one thing: revenge. And he pursues his goal with the same single-minded determination that won his father a crown.

But more is at stake than a young warrior’s quest for vengeance. The armies of the Stone are preparing to march on the lands of the Rigante. The fate of human and Seidh alike will be decided by the clash of swords–and by the bonds of twisted love and bitterness between a father and a son . . .

Read The Midnight Falcon

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Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

Cover for Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff for Gladiator listicleGodsgrave is the second book in Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight trilogy and a must for Gladiator fans. Set in the Republic of Itreya, there are many similarities between Kristoff’s world and ancient Rome – including the gladiator arena and the citizens’ love for blood sports. Assasin Mia Corvere sells herself into slavery for the chance to exact revenge on two of the most powerful men in the land on a rare occasion when they will both appear in public at a gladiator tournament. The only hitch? Mia has to become the champion of the battle royale to get herself close enough to assassinate them.

The reader gets to witness Mia’s time training rigorously in the gladiator collegium, form relationships with her fellow gladiators (some friendly, some not), and perform in the arena. There are numerous fast paced gladiator battles described by Kristoff in all the bloody gory detail imaginable. The gladiators are mostly new characters to the series and Kristoff spends time to build them up, giving back stories and tales of their lives before slavery giving the reader greater insight in to this world. As the second book in the trilogy it isn’t the best starting point, but gladiator Mia is just as entertaining as assasin Mia and is must read for those who want more blood stained sands in their reading material.

Read our review here.

About the book

The second thrilling installment of the award-winning Nevernight Chronicle, from New York Times bestselling author Jay Kristoff.

In a land where three suns almost never set, a ruthless assassin continues her quest for vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church hierarchy think she’s far from earned it. Plying her bloody trade in a backwater of the Republic, she’s no closer to ending the men who destroyed her familia; in fact, she’s told directly that Consul Scaeva is off limits. But after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia’s suspicions about the Red Church’s true motives begin to grow.

When it’s announced that Scaeva will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally end him. Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between love and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.

Read Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

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Buzzard’s Bowl by John Palladino

Cover for Buzzard's Bowl by John Palladino for Gladiator listicleBuzzard’s Bowl, the second volume of John Palladino’s grimdark fantasy series, The Tragedy of Cedain, features plenty of gladiator action. Edelbrock Brendis is a former minor nobleman who, through his own strategic missteps, becomes an enslaved gladiator fighting in the Buzzard’s Bowl arena. Edelbrock is a deeply pathetic and tragic figure, drawing equal parts sympathy and repugnance, but he grows significantly throughout Buzzard’s Bowl while oscillating between depth and shallowness of character.

Buzzard’s Bowl is full of fast-paced action with plenty of surprises for each of the main characters, especially when their storylines converge. Palladino shines in writing pulse-pounding action sequences. My favorite is the scene captured on the outstanding cover designed by Dusan Markovic, which depicts a flooded Buzzard’s Bowl arena with battling gladiator ships electrified by levitating Magicai wizards. This is one of several epic action sequences in the book that grimdark fans will adore.

Read our review here.

About the book

Cedain continues to collapse.

Ashmount’s destruction shatters the Magicai while the culprits responsible continue sabotaging the world. All the while, the next season of Buzzard’s Bowl begins and Edelbrock, in his constant fight for survival, desires a vengeance he can only find in the arena.

Seradal and Villic find themselves in the middle of a war between Remeria and the Camel Clans, and may end up on opposing sides, while the threat of Calrym looms over all of them.

At the behest of the woman he loves, Demri finds himself thrown into the Elkavich, a not-so-secret order of Magicai who are intent upon fixing the world.

Ashen, a former urchin rescued by a noble with selfish aspirations, works to dismantle the nobility of Calrym.

Death is assured to all who walk the world, the only unknown is when they will perish.

Read Buzzard’s Bowl by John Palladino

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.

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