The best dark and grimdark SFF of 2022

Last Updated on January 6, 2023

With another year pretty much done, it’s time for the Grimdark Magazine review team to pick their favourite dark and grimdark SFF reads of 2022! When I was compiling this list it really dawned on me that even though it was another relatively shit year for a fair few of our team members and followers, on the plus side they have been treated to some absolutely brilliant books.

Across traditional and indie publishing, and authors from many walks of life and perspectives, the world of dark and grimdark SFF was certainly in safe hands in 2022. So, maybe give your TBR pile a call and let them know they are about to be inundated; let’s get stuck into the best dark and grimdark SFF of 2022.

An End to Sorrow by Michael R. Fletcher

Picked by Tom Smith

Cover for An End to Sorrow by Michael R. FletcherTHE OBSIDIAN PATH IS IN RUINS

Abandoned by his god and chained in the bilge of Iremaire’s war galley, Khraen has lost everything.
His only friend is dead, his wife beheaded and thrown into the ocean.

In an act of true self-destruction, a shard of Khraen’s heart stalks the islands destroying the others.

His sword calls him home to PalTaq, where it all began.

Only there can Khraen find an end to sorrow.

Our review

Once more I was amazed at the way Fletcher’s mind works in his narrative voice. I’ve read most of his published works to this point and I always wonder what deep, dark well he draws forth these ideas. He never fails to deliver, and An End to Sorrow is another entry in Fletcher’s study of human motivation and need.

Read the full review here.

Read An End to Sorrow by Michael R. Fletcher

Sins of the Mother by Rob J. Hayes

Picked by Chris Haught

Cover for Sins of the Mother by Rob J. HayesIn her darklight the world will burn.

Eskara Helsene is missing. She left her queendom, her friends, her children, even her own name behind. No one has seen the Corpse Queen for a decade.

Someone is murdering Sourcerers, forcing them to reject their magic and opening scars in reality, and monsters from the Other World are pouring through.

When an old acquaintance turns up out of the blue, Eska has no choice but to investigate the murders and the holes in reality. Can she stop the killer before the entire world is consumed? And will the conflict reveal her true nature?

Sins of the Mother is the 4th book in the best-selling The War Eternal Series. A gripping dark epic fantasy perfect for fans of Patrick Rothfuss and Mark Lawrence.

Our review

Two years ago, when I’d finished reading From Cold Ashes Risen, I thought I had finished a brilliant trilogy that would rank among the greats in the grimdark pantheon. I still hold to that belief, but I was pleasantly surprised early this year when Rob J. Hayes released a continuation of Eska’s story in Sins of the Mother. It seems she wasn’t finished with the world just yet.

Read the full review here.

Read Sins of the Mother by Rob J. Hayes

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

Picked by Brigid Flanagan

Cover for The Stardust Thief by Chelsea AbdullahNeither here nor there, but long ago . . .

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

Our review

The story was delightful and dark, gritty and compelling, and all-around wonderful. I fell for The Stardust Thief  within just a few chapters, and its many twists and turns kept me engrossed until the very last page. The world-building in The Stardust Thief is lush and plastic, which just adds to the book as a whole transporting you into its realm. The jinn, the magic, every aspect of the lore fits together seamlessly to create a world of stories perfect for a literary escape.

Read the full review here.

Read The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

The First Binding by R. R. Virdi

Picked by James Tivendale

Cover for The First Binding by R. R. VirdiAll legends are born of truths. And just as much lies. These are mine. Judge me for what you will. But you will hear my story first.

I buried the village of Ampur under a mountain of ice and snow. Then I killed their god. I’ve stolen old magics and been cursed for it. I started a war with those that walked before mankind and lost the princess I loved, and wanted to save. I’ve called lightning and bound fire. I am legend. And I am a monster.

My name is Ari.

And this is the story of how I let loose the first evil.

Thus begins the tale of a storyteller and a singer on the run and hoping to find obscurity in a tavern bar. But the sins of their past aren’t forgotten, and neither are their enemies. Their old lives are catching up swiftly and it could cost them the entire world. No one can escape their pasts and all stories must have an ending.

Our review

In a similar fashion to Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind and Jay Kristoff’s Empire of the VampireThe First Binding is about an important character revealing their epic tale, telling the truth about their becoming legendary or infamous and how they ended up in the position they are in at the present time.

Read the full review here.

Read The First Binding by R. R. Virdi

The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning

Picked by Jodie Crump

Cover for The Shadow Glass by Josh WinningJack Corman is failing at life.

Jobless, jaded and on the “wrong” side of thirty, he’s facing the threat of eviction from his London flat while reeling from the sudden death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, a film Jack loved as a child, idolising its fox-like hero Dune.

But The Shadow Glass flopped on release, deemed too scary for kids and too weird for adults, and Bob became a laughing stock, losing himself to booze and self-pity. Now, the film represents everything Jack hated about his father, and he lives with the fear that he’ll end up a failure just like him.

In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying home, a place creaking with movie memorabilia and painful memories. Then, during a freak thunderstorm, the puppets in the attic start talking. Tipped into a desperate real-world quest to save London from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with excitable fanboy Toby and spiky studio executive Amelia to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy while conjuring the hero within––and igniting a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do his father proud.

Our review

If you ever danced with the Goblin King, if you cried when Artax died, if you were a little bit scared of skesis when you were young – then The Shadow Glass will have you pumping your fist and grinning like an idiot. This book was a love story to the wonderful, imaginative things I grew up with, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

Read the full review here.

Read The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning

Spear by Nicola Griffith

Picked by Fabienne Schwizer

Cover for Spear by Nicola GriffithShe left all she knew to find who she could be . . .

She grows up in the wild wood, in a cave with her mother, but visions of a faraway lake drift to her on the spring breeze, scented with promise. And when she hears a traveler speak of Artos, king of Caer Leon, she decides her future lies at his court. So, brimming with magic and eager to test her strength, she breaks her covenant with her mother and sets out on her bony gelding for Caer Leon.

With her stolen hunting spear and mended armour, she is an unlikely hero, not a chosen one, but one who forges her own bright path. Aflame with determination, she begins a journey of magic and mystery, love, lust and fights to death. On her adventures, she will steal the hearts of beautiful women, fight warriors and sorcerers, and make a place to call home.

The legendary author of Hild returns with an unforgettable hero and a queer Arthurian masterpiece for the modern era. Nicola Griffith’s Spear is a spellbinding vision of the Camelot we’ve longed for, a Camelot that belongs to us all.

Our review

Spear by Nicola Griffith is a gorgeous queer Arthurian novella out from Tor.com in April 2022. And if it sounds even the slightest bit like something you’d enjoy, this is a book to preorder now. It blew my mind as I read it on the day I received it. This slim volume manages to capture its reader and tell a complete story in just under two hundred pages, something which many longer books don’t achieve.

Read the full review here.

Read Spear by Nicola Griffith

Babel by R.F. Kuang

Picked by Julia Frazer

Cover for Babel by R.F. KuangTraduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

Oxford, 1836.

The city of dreaming spires.

It is the centre of all knowledge and progress in the world.

And at its centre is Babel, the Royal Institute of Translation. The tower from which all the power of the Empire flows.

Orphaned in Canton and brought to England by a mysterious guardian, Babel seemed like paradise to Robin Swift.

Until it became a prison…

But can a student stand against an empire?

Our review

Babel is the kind of book that you will need to read and reread to fully grasp, and every new read will reveal new details to you, new elements to focus on. This is a book like a university degree – the amount you get out of it is proportional to the energy you put in, and if you’re willing, is infinite.

Read the full review here.

Read Babel by R.F. Kuang

Eleventh Cycle by Kian N. Ardalan

Picked by John Mauro

Cover for Eleventh Cycle by Kian N. ArdalanIt has been a thousand years since the last Seed abandoned their duty. The mists are closing in. Finally, the Morning Bell tolls. A new Seed is born, but is it too late?
The rot eats away at mortals. The Witnesses pray so that they may not turn into one of the forgotten. And the constricting mists infect the lands with fear.
But there is more to this tale than just the Elders and their Seeds. Four mortals will have a part to play in Minethria’s fate. A farmer girl with only love in her eyes. A warrior born to the life of a refugee. A highborn stuck between the realm of gods and men. And a woman running into front lines and away from home.
Will the cycle finally be completed? Or will the mist swallow all?
A seed is born and the evil is slain, so doth another cycle commence. Yet the last Seed born hath turned traitor, and the mists which had been pushed back, returneth.

Our review

With its epic worldbuilding, hauntingly beautiful aesthetic, and well-realized protagonists, Eleventh Cycle is a tour de force of grimdark fantasy and a bold statement from emerging indie author Kian N. Ardalan. The novel takes place in the mist-encircled land of Minethria as the prophesied Eleventh Seed is born. This offspring of the Elder King may, perhaps, serve as savior to the mortal beings of this war-torn land.

Read the full review here.

Read Eleventh Cycle by Kian N. Ardalan

Leech by Hiron Ennes

Picked by Ryan Howse-Meister

Cover for Leech by Hiron EnnesMEET THE CURE FOR THE HUMAN DISEASE

In an isolated chateau, as far north as north goes, the baron’s doctor has died. The doctor’s replacement has a mystery to solve: discovering how the Institute lost track of one of its many bodies.

For hundreds of years the Interprovincial Medical Institute has grown by taking root in young minds and shaping them into doctors, replacing every human practitioner of medicine. The Institute is here to help humanity, to cure and to cut, to cradle and protect the species from the apocalyptic horrors their ancestors unleashed.

In the frozen north, the Institute’s body will discover a competitor for its rung at the top of the evolutionary ladder. A parasite is spreading through the baron’s castle, already a dark pit of secrets, lies, violence, and fear. The two will make war on the battlefield of the body. Whichever wins, humanity will lose again.

Our review

In Verdira, a brutal winter encroaches as a replacement arrives for a doctor who just died. Both the dead doctor and the replacement are part of The Institute, where doctors are trained; they also both share the same hive-mind. Trained doctors are almost exclusively from The Institute, and the entity inside can take over as many bodies as it believes it needs. But the fact that the replacement has no idea how the original doctor died is cause for concern—what could have happened that the hive mind wasn’t aware of?

Read the full review here.

Read Leech by Hiron Ennes

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

Picked by Angela Gualtieri

Cover for Age of Ash by Daniel AbrahamKithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories unfold.

This is Alys’s.

When her brother is murdered, a petty thief from the slums of Longhill sets out to discover who killed him and why.  But the more she discovers about him, the more she learns about herself, and the truths she finds are more dangerous than knives.

Swept up in an intrigue as deep as the roots of Kithamar, where the secrets of the lowest born can sometimes topple thrones, the story Alys chooses will have the power to change everything.

Our review

This is a great read if you enjoy a “slow burn” style of writing, and luxuriating in a delightfully written story that is character driven and utterly immersive.

Read the full review here.

Read Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

The Martyr by Anthony Ryan

Picked by Aaron Jones

Cover for The Martyr by Anthony RyanTimes have changed for Alwyn Scribe. Once an outlaw, he’s now a spymaster and sworn protector of Lady Evadine Courlain, whose visions of a demonic apocalypse have earned her the fanatical devotion of the faithful.

Yet Evadine’s growing fame has put her at odds with both Crown and Covenant. As trouble brews in the kingdom, both seek to exploit her position for their own ends.

Sent to the Duchy of Alundia to put down a rebellion, Alwyn must rely on old instincts to fight for his new cause. Deadly feuds and ancient secrets are laid bare as war erupts, a war that will decide the fate of the Kingdom of Albermaine and, perhaps, prevent the coming of the prophesied Second Scourge.

Our review

Anthony Ryan’s latest novel is the sequel to last year’s brilliant The Pariah and is the second book in The Covenant of Steel series. The outlaw Alwyn Scribe survived the events of The Pariah and now finds himself on a journey across a land filled with unrest as religion and rebellion lead to bloodshed. Alwyn does his best to keep a dark secret from coming to light as he climbs the ladder from outlaw to spymaster and sworn protector of the Risen Martyr Lady Evadine Courlain.

Read the full review here.

Read The Martyr by Anthony Ryan

Echoes of Eternity by Aaron Dembski Bowden

Picked by Chris Napier

Cover for Echoes of Eternity by Aaron Dembski BowdenThe walls have fallen. The defenders’ unity is broken. The Inner Palace lies in ruins. The Warmaster’s horde advances through the fire and ash of Terra’s dying breaths, forcing the loyalists back to the Delphic Battlement, the very walls of the Sanctum Imperialis. Angron, Herald of Horus, has achieved immortality through annihilation – now he leads the armies of the damned in a wrathful tide, destroying all before them as the warp begins its poisonous corruption of Terra. For the Emperor’s beleaguered forces, the end has come. The Khan lies on the edge of death. Rogal Dorn is encircled, fighting his own war at Bhab Bastion. Guilliman will not reach Terra in time. Without his brothers, Sanguinius – the Angel of the Ninth Legion – waits on the final battlements, hoping to rally a desperate band of defenders and refugees for one last stand.

Our review

All in all, Echoes of Eternity was everything I expected it to be and more. Dembski-Bowden has a great talent for describing some of the most viscerally horrible and enigmatically otherworldly stuff, and also for making both nailed-on villains and potential Mary Sue heroes both relatable and compelling. Echoes of Eternity shocked me at times, had me whooping with glee at others and will probably take several re-reads to fully process.

Read the full review here.

Read Echoes of Eternity by Aaron Dembski Bowden

Children of Gods and Fighting Men by Shauna Lawless

Picked by Fiona Denton

Cover for Shawn is working on loading the mailing data at the moment. Should have a shipping date likely next week for you.They think they’ve killed the last of us…

981 AD. The Viking King of Dublin is dead. His young widow, Gormflaith, has ambitions for her son—and herself—but Ireland is a dangerous place and kings tend not to stay kings for long. Gormflaith also has a secret. She is one of the Fomorians, an immortal race who can do fire-magic. She has kept her powers hidden at all costs, for there are other immortals in this world—like the Tuatha Dé Danann, a race of warriors who are sworn to kill Fomorians. Fódla is one of the Tuatha Dé Danann with the gift of healing. Her kind dwell hidden in a fortress, forbidden to live amongst the mortals. Fódla agrees to help her kin by going to spy on Brian Boru, a powerful man who aims to be High King of Ireland. She finds a land on the brink of war—a war she is desperate to stop. However, preventing the loss of mortal lives is not easy with Ireland in turmoil and the Fomorians now on the rise…

Our review

I am so glad that The Children of Gods and Fighting Men is the first in a trilogy because I really do want to read more from Lawless and this world. There was no palpitation inducing cliff hanger but the set is laid for the next novel and I am very excited to read where Lawless will take the story next.

Read the full review here.

Read Children of Gods and Fighting Men by Shauna Lawless

The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan

Picked by Adrian Collins

Cover for The Justice of Kings by Richard SwanThe Empire of the Wolf simmers with unrest. Rebels, heretics, and powerful patricians all challenge the power of the Imperial throne.

Only the Order of Justices stands in the way of chaos. Sir Konrad Vonvalt is the most feared Justice of all, upholding the law by way of his sharp mind, arcane powers, and skill as a swordsman. At his side stands Helena Sedanka, his talented protégé, orphaned by the wars that forged the Empire.

When the pair investigates the murder of a provincial aristocrat, they unearth a conspiracy that stretches to the very top of Imperial society. As the stakes rise and become ever more personal, Vonvalt and Helena must make a choice: Will they abandon the laws they’ve sworn to uphold, in order to protect the Empire?

Our review

In Richard Swan’s new fantasy trilogy, starting with The Justice of Kings, a rich low magic world is brought to life through brilliant characters and their arcs. A mixture of detective work, dark fantasy, and low fantasy, I’ll be really surprised if this book isn’t on a few best of 2022 lists this year (Can we call this last bit a successful prediction? – Ed.).

Read the full review here.

Read The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan

Previous years’ best of lists

You want … MOOOAAAR? Check out the best of lists from the last few years and fill yer boots!

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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.