One of the important changes brought about by the internet’s increasing availability as well as the rise of the e-book is the independent book market becoming a much bigger competitor to traditional publishing. Self-published books, small presses, and medium sized presses now can reach audiences of millions.
Speaking as an indie grimdark author myself, I have selected ten of the best books I’ve read in my career of immersing myself in the genre. These books are all solid examples of the genre and something that I think everyone who loves grimdark will get a kick out of.
10. This is my Blood by David Niall Wilson
Mini-Review: No grimdark list would be complete without a little controversy and this is one of those books that thrives in it. What’s the premise? What if Mary Magdalene was a vampire. A woman is created by the Devil and turned into a blood-sucking fiend who hovers around Jesus of Nazareth while various things go south as all fans of the New Testament will find. For those of us who paid attention in Sunday School, it’s an interesting exploration of a taboo topic. Vampires, after all, make everything better.
9. Melokai by Rosalyn Kelly
Mini-Review: Amazons have been a staple of fantasy since the Ancient Greeks but never has the deconstruction of their society been as brutal (and done by a woman no less). The society of the Peqkyians is a ruthless and totalitarian one where the Melokai rules absolutely as half the population is used as chattle. Rosalyn Kelly has created a fantastic but dark world with numerous antiheroes trying ot get ahead in a world ruled by oppressive caste-based societies. The protagonist of the first book thinks she’s kind, beloved, and fair–while being one of the worst people in fantasy. I like the contrast.
8. Steel, Blood, and Fire: Immortal Treachery by Allan Batchelder
Mini-Review: Vickers was once the greatest warrior in the world, killing and carousing with no thought to the consequences. Age has managed to catch up with him, though, and he isn’t the same fighter he used to be. Unfortunately, a new warrior naming himself the End of All Things is leading an army across the land with seemingly no purpose other than destruction. Vickers is hired to kill him despite being hopeless outmatched and assembles a team of thugs to do the dirty work necessary in bringing the End down. What follows is a complicated and sometimes moving plot that shows the big epic plots of other stories from the bottom up. It is the first book in a really solid grimdark series.
7. Damoren by Seth Skorkowsky
Mini-Review: Urban fantasy rarely gets much love among grimdark because it is not more traditional fantasy or sci-fi. However, I solidly am behind the Valudcan series by game reviewer and Origins award winner Seth Skorkowsky. The series about a bunch of ruthless anti-heroes hunting demons is full of moral ambiguity, brutality, and solid world-building. Damoren follows Matt Hollis, a demon-infected gunslinger who is only barely tolerated by his organization. I liked Matt and think other fans of the genre will too. He’s not the star of the whole series, though, just the first book. The protagonists switch between volumes for a more layered look at the universe.
6. Seraphina’s Lament by Sarah Chorn
Mini-Review: Seraphina’s Lament is a truly dark and terrifying story based on the famines during the reign of Joseph Stalin. Taking place in a fantasy world where the old monarchy has been overthrown only to be replaced by something worse, starvation ravages the land. However, the population have more to deal with than their tyrannical overlord and his incompetence, the gods have decided to punish the land by unleashing a plague of hungry dead that will wipe the living from the face of the globe. The tight connections between the various characters sometimes stretches credulity but this is a solid piece of dark fantasy.
5. Shattered Dreams by Ulff Lehmann
Mini-Review: Ulff Lehmann is one of my favorite military fantasy writers. He has a wonderful way of weaving multiple story arcs and perspectives into a single coherent narrative that reminds me a bit of George R.R. Martin. A Light in the Dark is a series that follows the invasion of a nation by its rivals while magic returns to a world that has long forgotten it. It’s not as grim as it could be, but its protagonist is suffering PTSD from murdering his wife, so it’s not exactly kittens and rainbows either. One thing I like about the books is they continue directly from one volume to the next, like one continuous story.
4. Darkmage by M.L. Spencer
Mini-Review: M.L. Spencer is one of my all-time favorite indie fantasy authors. Her series, Rhenwars Saga, begins with an awesome premise: what if the ragtag band of misfits FAILED to save the world before an apocalyptic threat? The world has mostly recovered by the start of Darkmage but it isn’t ready for round 2. I love the deliciously flawed protagonist, Darien, and his collection of sidekicks that don’t know how to deal with someone that wields godlike power but is not wise enough to wield it. A man who eagerly uses his power to slay tens of thousands of “evil” soldiers, only to later change his mind on who is evil. A solid series everyone should check out, though I also recommend reading the prequel Darkstorm.
3. Ghosts of Tomorrow by Michael R. Fletcher
Mini-Review: Ghosts of Tomorrow is not just one of my favorite grimdark novels. It’s one of my favorite novels period. I admit to a certain level of bias, though, because I’m a huge cyberpunk fan. No grimdark list is complete without a nod to its science fiction roots and this is a great one. Brain harvesting from children is a lucrative business in the mid-21st century as A.I. are needed for all manner of businesses but the only way to create one is to burn out an existing human mind.
2. Where Loyalties Lie by Rob Hayes
Mini-Review: Rob Hayes may not be the most famous voice in grimdark, but he is one of the most prolific and talented. He was the first grimdark author I ever read and who introduced me to a lot of wonderful stories that he keeps churning out regularly. Where Loyalties Lie is a combination that I’m surprised more people haven’t done: grimdark fantasy and pirates! They’re ruthless, murderous, and terrible people but the pirates of this book are entertaining as hell. The story of them building their own kingdom is amazing. Winner of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off award.
1. Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell
Mini-Review: Choosing number one for this was very hard. However, if there was truly special in this pile (and all these novels are), I would have to give it to Kings of Paradise. It is a story that rivals The First Law trilogy for entertainment value. Following a character assortment including a deformed cannibal philosopher, a murderous peasant priestess, and an arrogant prince with a gift for magic–well, this is a memorable cast to see the least. They’re also startingly believable as well. The writing is evocative, the world-building wonderful, and the story incredible.