Romantasy for Grimdark Fans

What fantasy books to read if you’re a grimdark romantasy fan

Yes, you read the title right. We here at Grimdark Magazine are always on the hunt for quality grimdark books. This is not without some challenges. Ask ten people what grimdark is and you’ll have ten different answers. However, certain characteristics have traditionally indicated books in our wheelhouse. We want stories with dark settings, grey characters, and plenty of fucking grit. Books like The First Law Series and Empires of Dust are what makes our black hearts swoon.

Make no mistake, romance is off kilter for us. It’s not something we look for, many of us actively avoid. And yet, as the grimdark team discussed our favorite books, we noticed some had romance as a strong plotline.

This is not your typical romantasy list. None of the characters referenced here will ever win “couple of the year”. These books feature unconventional romance with grimdark staked through its heart.  If you are looking for something bleak, violent, and spicy we have you covered.

Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher

Black Stone Heart Known for his twisted characters, intricate worldbuilding, and being unapologetically gritty, Michael R. Fletcher needs to be in your grimdark library. His The Obsidian Path series is no exception. For those who detest romance, Black Stone Heart may just change your mind.

The main character Khraen is a hollowed man. His memory shattered into vague, distorted images, an innate calling drives him south to recover his identity. Khraen’s journey is one of death, but he doesn’t walk it alone. A powerful force hunts him and wants him to remember. She is the key to understanding who he is. Her love may destroy him entirely. The Obsidian Path Series is brimming with bloodshed and violence, which coincidentally, Michael R. Fletcher made both important aspects in Khraen’s relationship.

Read the full review here.

About the Book

THE FIRST STEP ON THE OBSIDIAN PATH

A broken man, Khraen awakens alone and lost. His stone heart has been shattered, littered across the world. With each piece, he regains some small shard of the man he once was. He follows the trail, fragment by fragment, remembering his terrible past.

There was a woman.

There was a sword.

There was an end to sorrow.

Khraen walks the obsidian path.

Read Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher

The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

The Court of Broken KnivesThe debut The Court of Broken Knives crowned Anna Smith Spark as Queen of Grimdark. Her writing portrays violence as grace. A poetry of death. Gloriously and achingly traumatic.

Marith and Thalia’s relationship in The Court of Broken Knives is just as hypnotizing. By the blood on their hands, her characters find solace in each other. By divine right, their legacy is death. Their love is a humble flicker in the flames of war but that will not save them.

“It always comes back to death and dying. Always. Everything.”

Read the full review here.

About the Book

It is the richest empire the world has ever known, and it is also doomed — but only one man can see it. Haunted by prophetic dreams, Orhan has hired a company of soldiers to cross the desert to reach the capital city.

Once they enter the palace, they have one mission: kill the emperor, then all those who remain. Only from the ashes can a new empire be built.The company is a group of good, ordinary soldiers for whom this is a mission like any other. But the strange boy Marith who walks among them is no ordinary soldier. Though he is young, ambitious, and impossibly charming, something dark hides in Marith’s past — and in his blood.

Read The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

Fourth wing by Rebecca Yarros

Fourth Wing Fourth Wingby Rebecca Yarros went viral upon its release but do not mistake this book for another Harry Potter or Hunger Games. The main character Violet Sorrengail is clever and possesses enough snark to rival Gideon from the Locked Tomb series. She will need all of her cunningness if she is to survive training to become a dragon rider. A training program where students are required to “eliminate” any weaknesses, including their classmates.

Fourth Wing aligns more with traditional romantasy novels but grimdark readers will be pleased with Rebecca Yarros’s complex characters. This is not a good vs evil narrative. The relationships that develop throughout the novel are given the same intricacy. Alliances will shatter. Bonds will form between enemies. As one can expect, survival is morally gray business.

Read the full review here.

About the Book

Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general—also known as her tough-as-talons mother—has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.

But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away…because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.

Read Fourth wing by Rebecca Yarros

Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

Summer SonsLee Mandelo wrote magic with Summer SonsThis gripping novel delicately blends southern gothic horror with queer romance. Summer Sons follows Andrew as he races to find the real cause of his best friend’s death. He alone does not believe Eddie committed suicide.  Determined to find answers, Andrew discovers something more sinister.

Summer Sons offers a realistic take on self-discovery and acceptance through Andrew’s story. The romance is a slow burn with its most important aspect as the journey. Lee Mandelo does a fantastic job showcasing their characters’ grief and how it impacts relationships.

Read the full review here.

About the Book

Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom that hungers for him.

Read Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi

The Last Tale of the Flower BrideThe Last Tale of the Flower Bride is its own vibe. Roshani Chokshi’s haunting and enchanting debut features an unforgettable romance. A romance sprung from lies and secrets. Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada’s past is shrouded in mystery, even her husband is not privy. When circumstances call for her to return to her childhood home, her buried past surfaces. The skeletons buried in her closet have come to claim her life.

“In fairy tales, a kiss marks a threshold-between the state of being cursed or cured lies a kiss. But not all kisses cure; some kill.”

The romance in The Last Tale of the Flower Bride captures the essence of fairy tale. It’s captivating from the first page and doesn’t stop. Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada is the physical manifestation of allure.

Read the full review here.

About the Book

Once upon a time, a man who believed in fairy tales married a beautiful, mysterious woman named Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada. He was a scholar of myths. She was heiress to a fortune. They exchanged gifts and stories and believed they would live happily ever after—and in exchange for her love, Indigo extracted a promise: that her bridegroom would never pry into her past.

But when Indigo learns that her estranged aunt is dying and the couple is forced to return to her childhood home, the House of Dreams, the bridegroom will soon find himself unable to resist. For within the crumbling manor’s extravagant rooms and musty halls, there lurks the shadow of another girl: Azure, Indigo’s dearest childhood friend who suddenly disappeared. As the house slowly reveals his wife’s secrets, the bridegroom will be forced to choose between reality and fantasy, even if doing so threatens to destroy their marriage . . . or their lives.

Read The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi

Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar

Legacy of the BrightwashLegacy of the Brightwash is a narrative of death and sorrow. An aching journey told from the scars of addiction and violence. These characters are complex. Real. They feel love. They suffer loss. Krystle Matar didn’t write a fast-paced action thriller. She details how a person’s spirit shatters and its aftermath.

Tashué and Stella are both parents faced with the impossible task of protecting their children from the totalitarian regime that is the Authority. Against their better judgment, they’re falling in love. While their bond offers a sliver of hope, it makes them an immediate target. Their love will either save or catapult them to self-destruction.

Read the full review here.

About the Book

Tashué’s faith in the law is beginning to crack. Three years ago, he stood by when the Authority condemned Jason to the brutality of the Rift for non-compliance. When Tashué’s son refused to register as tainted, the laws had to be upheld. He’d never doubted his job as a Regulation Officer before, but three years of watching your son wither away can break down even the strongest convictions.

Then a dead girl washed up on the bank of the Brightwash, tattooed and mutilated. Where had she come from? Who would tattoo a child? Was it the same person who killed her? Why was he the only one who cared?

Will Tashué be able to stand against everything he thought he believed in to get the answers he’s looking for?

Read Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar

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Carrie Chi Lough

Carrie Chi Lough

Carrie resides in Colorado with her other half and their puppy, Irwin. She is passionate about fountain pens, bottled inks, and dark SFF books.