Last Updated on February 12, 2024
Here at Grimdark Magazine we love to discover new authors who whet our appetite for the darker side of science fiction and fantasy (SFF). Esmay Rosalyne, CT Phipps, and I have assembled Grimdark Magazine’s second annual list of Rising Stars in Dark and Grimdark SFF. The goal of this list is to highlight and recognize early career authors who have published some of the most exciting new dark and grimdark SFF novels over the past year. A list of the previous year’s winners can be found here.
P.L. Stuart, Author of A Drowned Kingdom
Submerge yourself in the majesty of P.L. Stuart’s masterful debut novel, A Drowned Kingdom, a fantasy inspired by the mythology of Atlantis. A Drowned Kingdom asks the question: when the most powerful country in the world is swallowed by the sea, can a new kingdom rise again?
A Drowned Kingdom is told as a first-person narrative by Othrun, the Second Prince of Atalantyx and half-brother of First Prince Erthal, heir to the kingdom. P.L. Stuart’s decision to employ single-perspective first-person narration works very effectively, although it is often discomforting being stuck inside the head of a despicable character such as Othrun.
Being inside Othrun’s head creates a morality distortion field on par with some of the greatest grimdark protagonists. But P.L. Stuart’s approach is also unique with the deeply religious influences on Othrun’s reasoning. Othrun’s belief in the Atalantean religion with its one true God seems genuine, but there are moments when his religious fervor may cross over into delirium. Othrun’s faith-based explanations for major events in the novel push him further into zealotry. P.L. Stuart has done a marvelous job plumbing the depths of Othrun’s psychology as he justifies treachery and sets himself on a path toward possible tyranny.
P.L. Stuart lives in Chatham, Ontario, with his wife, Debbie. A Drowned Kingdom is the first novel in The Drowned Kingdom Saga.
Lavanya Lakshminarayan, Author of The Ten Percent Thief
In The Ten Percent Thief, Lavanya Lakshminarayan immerses us in Apex City, formerly known as Bangalore, once the Silicon Valley of India and now governed by a technocapitalist meritocracy. The Big Brother of the tale is Bell Corp, a corporation that has created its own technocratic caste system by ranking individuals on its signature bell curve. Individual productivity and the virality of social media posts help to improve one’s score, propelling them toward the upper tail of the bell curve. But it’s not enough to reach the top percentile: citizens must continually strive toward perfection to maintain this privileged ranking. Bell Corp has a zero-tolerance policy toward failure: anything less than perfection is unacceptable.
The Ten Percent Thief shines because of Lavanya Lakshminarayan’s finely honed prose. Lakshminarayan succeeds in establishing emotional connections to the rotating cast of characters in each chapter, while providing a broader view of Apex City society. The Ten Percent Thief is a deeply thought-provoking and timely novel that updates the traditional notion of castes for a near-future meritocratic society infused with artificial intelligence.
Read the full review here.
Lavanya Lakshminarayan is a Locus Award finalist and is the first science fiction writer to win the Times of India AutHer Award and the Valley of Words Award, both prestigious literary awards in India, and her work has been longlisted for a BSFA Award. She’s occasionally a game designer and has built worlds for Zynga Inc.’s FarmVille franchise, Mafia Wars, and other games. She lives in India and is currently working on her next novel.
John Palladino, Author of Buzzard’s Bowl
John Palladino takes his craft to new heights in Buzzard’s Bowl, the second volume of his grimdark fantasy series, The Tragedy of Cedain. I am delighted to see how Palladino has grown as a writer since publishing his first novel, The Trials of Ashmount. Palladino already showed great promise with his debut, and he has made all the right moves with Buzzard’s Bowl.
Buzzard’s Bowl is fast-paced and full 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.
John Palladino gleefully embraces the best of grimdark fantasy in Buzzard’s Bowl, which reads in many ways like an irreverent version of A Game of Thrones. Palladino shares Joe Abercombie’s talent at developing broken, morally complex characters, George R.R. Martin’s epic worldbuilding and well-paced story arcs, Scott Lynch’s incisive humor, and the raw emotional impact of Anna Smith Spark. Buzzard’s Bowl firmly establishes John Palladino as one of the most exciting new voices in the grimdark fantasy community.
Read the full review here.
You’ve stumbled upon somebody who takes nothing seriously, not even author bios. It’d be a good guess to say John Palladino was born in 1988, lives in Avoca, New York, has a bachelor’s degree in business management, and enjoys hibernating at home while writing. He might also lie and say he enjoys pets, long walks on the beach, and his hobbies include happiness and scuba diving. You’d see right through those lies, however, and notice he prefers the simpler things in life—reading, video games, and making ill-timed jokes. John also dislikes taking care of anything that excretes substances.
H.C. Newell, Author of Curse of the Fallen
H.C. Newell has put a grimdark twist on classic Tolkienesque fantasy with Curse of the Fallen, the first volume of her Fallen Light series. The heroine of the story, Neer, is a young woman cursed with forbidden magical powers in the land of Laeroth. Neer’s magical abilities make her a target of the Order of Saro, a religious faction who rule the human-controlled territories and have outlawed magic. Neer will stop at nothing to break this curse and begin a new life free of fear.
H.C. Newell’s writing is the perfect match for her dark tale. Newell is a natural storyteller, and reading Curse of the Fallen feels like listening to a haunting story over a slowly dying bonfire, waiting for creatures to jump at you out of the darkness. With Curse of the Fallen, H.C. Newell has crafted a delightfully dark adventure and established herself as a rising star of grimdark fantasy.
Read the full review of Curse of the Fallen here. Also check out our reviews of the next two books of the Fallen Light series, The Forbidden Realms and Shadows of Nyn’Dira, as well as her novella, The Banished.
H.C. Newell is an American author of dark epic fantasy. Newell began her writing journey at a young age. In elementary school, she would often write small plays for her and her cousins to perform. In middle and high school her love of writing transformed into fiction literature, which she would write in spiral-bound notebooks. By 2015, she had written more than 5 romance and young adult novels and several short stories.
In 2014, Newell started her first novel series, Forthwind, which was a young adult trilogy. As she grew as an author, she found her niche in adult fantasy, and created the Fallen Light universe. This six-part novel series took Newell over seven years to create. She published her debut novel Curse of the Fallen in April 2021.
Newell’s works have been compared by readers to authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson, Andrejz Sapkowski, and Robert Jordan among others.
E.J. Doble, Author of The Fangs of War
The Fangs of War is a high stakes and gritty military fantasy full of dark and broken characters, cutthroat political intrigue, meddling gods, eldritch monsters, and the best type of emotional turmoil!
The roving forces of Tarraz have brutally executed the King of Provenci, paving the way for a new and brutal military government to launch into power. Commander Alvaraz is dead-set on razing Tarraz to the ground and has built up the largest army seen in a generation. The two nations are plunged into a catastrophic war, which is quickly revealed to be a conflict not only of men, but also one of the divine.
If you like the sound of a slow-burn yet action-packed multi-POV grimdark fantasy with complex characters, lyrical writing, emotionally engaging twists and turns, and a dash of (metaphysical) horror thrown in, then please do yourself a favor and check out The Fangs of War. It is perfect for fans of Joe Abercrombie, Richard Nell, Michael Michel, R.J. Barker and Anthony Ryan.
Read Esmay’s full review here.
E.J. Doble is twenty-one years old and from Bath, UK. He is a self-published author, whose first novel, The Fangs of War, was released in January 2022. He is a part-time swim teacher and painter.
When not writing, he is most often found drinking excess amounts of coffee and tending to a variety of houseplants with odd and entirely pointless names.
David Hambling, Author and Editor of Eldritch Prisoners
The Cthulhu Mythos continues to be something that produces new material every year. Despite H.P. Lovecraft’s xenophobic views, many new authors have taken up his work in bold and new directions as the focus on cosmic horror as well as an alienating universe hostile to humanity by its very existence is a timeliness creation. Eldritch Prisoners is an anthology of which David Hambling is both the primary author of and editors. It deals with body snatchers, alien prisoners, and a crushing sense of loss. He’s selected authors who have created some truly spine-tingling and fascinating stories from.
Read CT’s review here.
David Hambling is a journalist and author based in Norwood, South London. His fiction, starting with a collection, The Dulwich Horror & Others, explores the Cthulhu mythos in his own locale. His novels include the popular Harry Stubbs adventures, also set in the 1920s, and he has previously contributed to ST Joshi’s Black Wings of Cthulhu collections.
P.J. Nwosu, Author of Dream of Death City
Dream of Death City is the debut adult novel by author PJ Nwosu. It is an excellent read, and the first instalment in the new Red Kingdom series. Although there are no other full-size novels, Nwosu has two novellas in the same world available for free.
Dream of Death City blends dark fantasy with a decent detective fiction plot and would be the perfect novel for fans of Richard Swan’s Justice of Kings because it is set in a more historical, low-magic world. Still, anyone who likes darker fantasy detective stories would enjoy their time spent with Dream of Death City.
Read the full review here.
P.J. Nwosu writes dark mysteries in epic fantasy worlds. She loves reading gritty detective and fantasy novels, and is obsessed with learning about strange, creepy tales from history.
P.J. Nwosu tells twisty, dark stories against epic fantasy backdrops, and loves all things memento mori. She lives by the sea in Australia with her husband and black cat.
Tori Tecken, Author of The Blood Stones
Tori Tecken pours a lifetime’s love of fantasy into The Blood Stones, the masterfully written first volume of her new dark epic fantasy series, Legends of the Bruhai. The novel opens with Gehrin, a young boy who, against his father’s wishes, witnesses the execution of a man sentenced to death for murder of the prince. The condemned man is officially nameless, a traitor meant to be forgotten in the annals of history. However, the piercing gaze of the dying man leaves an undying impression on Gehrin. The Blood Stones excels in its portrayal of mental health struggles, especially related to issues of identity.
The Blood Stones is epic fantasy par excellence, Tori Tecken’s love letter to the genre and a tour de force of worldbuilding and character development that will capture your imagination from the first page and keep you guessing till the very end.
Read the full review here.
When Tori Tecken was a little sprout her epic fantasy storytelling involved small pirate and animal figurines invading Lego cities. Inspired early on by the powerful storytelling of writers like Jack London, C.S. Lewis, and Brian Jacques, Tori was obsessed with characters she couldn’t get out of her head and the possibility of worlds undiscovered.
After writing a few books, she became a self-published author at age 14. After teaching at Young Writers’ Conferences and conventions for a few years, she went to college. She married the weirdest boy she’d ever met. They now have three small humans of their own who are just as weird as they are, but much more wonderful.
Today, Tori is a wife and a stay-at-home mom, but still a storyteller. She writes beneath the supervision of two feline overlords in a chair that is older than she is. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Philip Chase, Author of The Way of Edan
The Way of Edan is surprisingly dark. Chase grabbed my attention from the opening prologue, giving realistic depictions of religious zealotry and violence. There are also a number of truly terrifying creatures dwelling in Eormenlond. Chase maintains an even pacing throughout the novel, introducing characters and worldbuilding in a natural fashion. I felt fully immersed in the story without ever becoming lost or confused, despite the complexity of the world and its large cast of characters. Grimdark fans will appreciate the gray morality embodied by several of the characters, in addition to those who appear objectively good or evil.
The Way of Edan strikes the perfect balance between modern and classic epic fantasy. Philip Chase manifests his deep love of literature in The Way of Edan, a lamentation that distills the best of fantasy from classics, such as Beowulf and The Lord of the Rings, through modern masterpieces like The Name of the Wind.
A medievalist with a Ph.D. in English Literature, Philip Chase has taught courses on writing, medieval literature, and fantasy literature, among other things. His special interests include Old English, Old Norse, Middle English, nineteenth-century medievalism, comparative mythology, and fantasy. Other inspirations include time spent in places like Germany, the United Kingdom, Nepal, and the Northeast and Northwest of the United States. His YouTube channel, “Philip Chase,” is dedicated to exploring fantasy literature, which is full of stories that reflect the full array of human experience and thus are worthy of critical exploration.