The best dark fantasy and science fiction books of 2023

Header for the best fantasy and science fiction books of 2023

Last Updated on February 11, 2024

It’s getting late in the year and so it’s time for the Grimdark Magazine team to pick the best dark fantasy and science fiction books of 2023. With plenty of awesomeness being released in fantasy and science fiction this year, we’re focussed on the best dark SFF books released in 2023 that we think will appeal most to grimdark readers. So, depending on where you are in the world, grab yourself a coffee, tea, an ice cold frothy, or a piping hot toddy, and prepare your TBR pile to get much, much taller.

Traitor of Redwinter by Ed McDonald

Picked by Fiona Denton

Cover for Traitor of Redwinter by Ed MacdonaldChoosing my most loved book of the year was hard because I’ve had the privilege of reading and reviewing some cracking novels. I’ve picked Traitor of Redwinter by Ed McDonald because this is the one that has stuck with me the most; I can’t quite shake it off. I find myself imagining what will happen next in the final installment of The Redwinter Chronicle, wondering if we will get more novels set in this amazing world, and replaying the book in my head in random moments of down time. Traitor of Redwinter should be for epic fantasy fans what catnip is to kittens. You really really really love it whilst you have it, and then you’re searching around the house for something to give you the same feeling. It’s got everything I love from fantasy all in one place. I keep looking at my TBR, and back to Traitor of Redwinter, and wondering if I shouldn’t just sack one off on favour of jumping back in to the other and that’s what has made it so special.

Read our full review, here.

About the book

The power of the Sixth Gate grows stronger within Raine each day―to control it, she needs lessons no living Draoihn can teach her. Her fledgling friendships are tested to a breaking point as she tries to face what she has become, and her master Ulovar is struck by a mysterious sickness that slowly saps the vitality from his body, leaving Raine to face her growing darkness alone. There’s only one chance to turn the tide of power surging within her―to learn the secrets the Draoihn themselves purged from the world.

The book can teach her. She doesn’t know where she found it, or when exactly, but its ever changing pages whisper power that has lain untouched for centuries.

As the king’s health fails and the north suffers in the grip of famine, rebellious lords hunger for the power of the Crown, backed by powers that would see the Crowns undone. Amidst this growing threat, Raine’s former friend Ovitus brings a powerful new alliance, raising his status and power of his own. He professes support for the heir to the throne even as others would see him take it for himself, and desperately craves Raine’s forgiveness―or her submission.

But the grandmaster has her own plans for Raine, and the deadly training she has been given has not been conducted carelessly. In Raine she seeks to craft a weapon to launch right into her enemy’s heart, as Redwinter seeks to hold onto power.

Amidst threats old and new, Raine must learn the secrets promised by the book, magic promised by a queen with a crown of feathers. A queen to whom Raine has promised more than she can afford to give…

Read Traitor of Redwinter by Ed McDonald

Buy this book on Amazon

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh

Picked by Beth Tabler

Cover for Some Desperate Glory by Emily TeshI have been a fan of Emily Tesh for awhile. Her Greenhollow Duology is a beautiful lyrical masterpiece. However, in Some Desperate Glory, Tesh proved that she can write in multiple genres and styles. It was a fascinating premise, and I left the book excited to read the next. More so than any other book I have read this year.

About the book

While we live, the enemy shall fear us.

Since she was born, Kyr has trained for the day she can avenge the murder of planet Earth. Raised in the bowels of Gaea Station alongside the last scraps of humanity, she readies herself to face the Wisdom, the powerful, reality-shaping weapon that gave the majoda their victory over humanity.

They are what’s left. They are what must survive. Kyr is one of the best warriors of her generation, the sword of a dead planet. When Command assigns her brother to certain death and relegates her to Nursery to bear sons until she dies trying, she knows she must take humanity’s revenge into her own hands.

Alongside her brother’s brilliant but seditious friend and a lonely, captive alien, Kyr escapes from everything she’s known into a universe far more complicated than she was taught and far more wondrous than she could have imagined.

Read Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh

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After the Forest by Kell Woods

Picked by Fabienne Schwizer

UK cover of After the ForestFairy tales always end with evil defeated. But what happens to the heroes after their ordeal? For them, vanquishing their foes is only the beginning of their story. Kell WoodsAfter the Forest picks up on such a story, fifteen years later. Hans and Greta are now adults, struggling to fit into a society that doesn’t have space for them. After the Forest is a powerful story of belonging and finding your place in the world – and how perhaps what is considered “right” may well be wrong. Woods’ writing is haunting and evocative and I loved how After the Forest combines commercial historical fantasy with a deeper sense of social awareness.

Read our full review, here.

About the book

Ginger. Honey. Cinnamon. Flour.

Twenty years after the witch in the gingerbread house, Greta and Hans are struggling to get by. Their mother and stepmother are long dead, Hans is deeply in debt from gambling, and the countryside lies in ruin, its people starving in the aftermath of a brutal war.

Greta has a secret, though: the witch’s grimoire, hidden away and whispering in Greta’s ear for the past two decades, and the recipe inside that makes the best gingerbread you’ve ever tasted. As long as she can bake, Greta can keep her small family afloat.

But in a village full of superstition, Greta and her mysteriously addictive gingerbread, not to mention the rumors about her childhood misadventures, is a source of gossip and suspicion.

And now, dark magic is returning to the woods and Greta’s magic―magic she is still trying to understand―may be the only thing that can save her. If it doesn’t kill her first.

Read After the Forest by Kell Woods

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The Hurricane Wars by Thea Guanzon

Picked by Saberin

Cover for The Hurricane Wars by Thea GuanzonThe Hurricane Wars is Thea Guanzon’s sleek and addictive debut into the world of fantasy, inspired by her Filipino roots. It has since hooked me in from the first page. Guanzon takes a common theme like light versus dark and makes it entirely her own. The worldbuilding, the romance, the characters and the politics are all crafted so well and so balanced against one another, making it literally impossible to put down. I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel, and the title hasn’t even been announced yet!

Read our full review, here.

About the book

The heart is a battlefield.

All Talasyn has ever known is the Hurricane Wars. Growing up an orphan in a nation under siege by the ruthless Night Emperor, she found her family among the soldiers who fight for freedom. But she is hiding a deadly secret: light magic courses through her veins, a blazing power believed to have been wiped out years ago that can cut through the Night Empire’s shadows.

Prince Alaric, the emperor’s only son and heir, has been tasked with obliterating any threats to the Night Empire’s rule with the strength of his armies and mighty shadow magic. He discovers the greatest threat yet in Talasyn: a girl burning brightly on the battlefield with the magic that killed his grandfather, turned his father into a monster, and ignited the Hurricane Wars. He tries to kill her, but in a clash of light and dark, their powers merge and create a force the likes of which has never been seen.

This war can only end with them. But an even greater danger is coming, and the strange magic they can create together could be the only way to overcome it. Talasyn and Alaric must decide… are they fated to join hands, or destroy each other?

Read The Hurricane Wars by Thea Guanzon

Buy this book on Amazon

The Book That Wouldn’t Burn by Mark Lawrence

Picked by John Mauro

Cover for The Book That Wouldn't Burn by Mark Lawrence

The Book That Wouldn’t Burn is Mark Lawrence’s self-described love letter to books and the buildings where they live. No one combines fantasy and science fiction as effectively as Lawrence. The Book That Wouldn’t Burn sees Lawrence elevate his craft to new heights, offering a meditation on human society in the information age, the seductive nature of lies, and the intrinsic danger of knowledge in the absence of wisdom. As a long-time Mark Lawrence fan, I was also delighted by the large number of Easter eggs pointing back to his previous work.

Read our full review, here.

About the book

The boy has lived his whole life trapped within a book-choked chamber older than empires and larger than cities.

The girl has been plucked from the outskirts of civilization to be trained as a librarian, studying the mysteries of the great library at the heart of her kingdom.

They were never supposed to meet. But in the library, they did.

Their stories spiral around each other, across worlds and time. This is a tale of truth and lies and hearts, and the blurring of one into another. A journey on which knowledge erodes certainty and on which, though the pen may be mightier than the sword, blood will be spilled and cities burned.

Read The Book That Wouldn’t Burn by Mark Lawrence

Buy this book on Amazon

Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Picked by Chris Napier

Cover for Children of Memory by Adrian TchaikovskyThe Children of Time series is one of my favourite sci-fi series of recent years, dealing with core themes of what makes a person a person even in profoundly alien forms. Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky sets the increasingly diverse civilisation of explorers against an arguably even bleaker setting than previously, trying to integrate with and save a colony of long fallen Earth that’s slipping into a seemingly inevitable apocalypse, over and over again. It’s trippy, emotive, thought provoking and supremely layered.

About the book

Earth failed. In a desperate bid to escape, the spaceship Enkidu and its captain, Heorest Holt, carried its precious human cargo to a potential new paradise. Generations later, this fragile colony has managed to survive, eking out a hardy existence. Yet life is tough, and much technological knowledge has been lost.

Then strangers appear. They possess unparalleled knowledge and thrilling technology – and they’ve arrived from another world to help humanity’s colonies. But not all is as it seems, and the price of the strangers’ help may be the colony itself.

Read Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Buy this book on Amazon

The Tyranny of Faith by Richard Swan

Picked by Adrian Collins

Cover for The Tyranny of Fair by Richard SwanThe Tyranny of Faith by Richard Swan is an absolutely unputdownable read. Swan ramps up the awesomeness of The Justice of Kings by giving readers more of what we loved in book one, and then building on it in book two. The emotional hits are harder, the action is bloodier, the magic out of control, and the stakes just keep going up as the tens of millions of people in The Empire of the Wolf are set up to be torn down. Dark fantasy fans need to be on this series.

Read our full review here.

About the book

A Justice’s work is never done.

The Battle of Galen’s Vale is over, but the war for the Empire’s future has just begun. Concerned by rumors that the Magistratum’s authority is waning, Sir Konrad Vonvalt returns to Sova to find the capital city gripped by intrigue and whispers of rebellion. In the Senate, patricians speak openly against the Emperor, while fanatics preach holy vengeance on the streets.

Yet facing down these threats to the throne will have to wait, for the Emperor’s grandson has been kidnapped – and Vonvalt is charged with rescuing the missing prince. His quest will lead him – and his allies Helena, Bressinger and Sir Radomir – to the southern frontier, where they will once again face the puritanical fury of Bartholomew Claver and his templar knights – and a dark power far more terrifying than they could have imagined.

Read The Tyranny of Faith by Richard Swan

Buy this book on Amazon

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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.