The GdM team pick their favourite self-published fantasy books

Readers that follow our page will be aware that the Grimdark Magazine review team are big supporters of self-published fantasy works. As it’s Self-Published Fantasy Month we decided to put together a list of some of our favourite self-published fantasy books. You can find out more about Self-Published Fantasy Month here but for the purpose of this article, my GdM colleague and member of the SPFM team Elizabeth will give us a quick introduction below:

Hey all! Thank you for supporting self-published authors. Self-published fantasy is tough. When you are a self-published fantasy author, you are someone who has to wear many hats. It is not good enough to be a great writer; you also have to be someone who can organize printing, package your book, get it illustrated, and finally market it. You can write the greatest story in the world, but if you can’t get it out to people to read it, it will languish. That is why the blossoming self-publishing community is so important and exciting. Five years ago, the great grimdark author Mark Lawrence created the Self Publishing Fantasy Blog Off. A competition that pits some of the best self-published fantasy writers in the world against each other. It is a brutal competition that takes close to a year to complete and involves ten fantasy review blogs. Around it has erupted an entire community of readers that cheer on the winners and console those cut. But the most important thing is that books are getting read, great stories are making it out to the masses, and self-published fantasy is becoming a force to reckon with. 

Self-published fantasy month has come out of the great love readers have for these tireless authors. Jason Aycock at Off the TBR, Justine Bergman at Whispers and Wonders and Storytellers on Tour, podcaster, and reviewer Calvin Park from Under a Pile of Books and myself have come together to celebrate these authors for the entire month of September. Check out the website and follow the twitter feed. We will be hosting daily giveaways, interviews, and guest posts to introduce readers to new authors. 

Thanks Beth. Okay, without further ado here are the GdM team’s recommendations which will include the book’s summary and a quick review extract or sentence about why we’re including them on this list. If you are new to self-published fantasy or are just looking for your next quality fantasy read then give one of these GdM-approved books a try, and by all means, let us know how you find them in the comments. Happy reading!

The Sword of Kaigen by M.L Wang (Theonite Series)

Holly said:The Sword of Kaigen is a Japanese-inspired military fantasy that goes beyond first-rate fantasy – the writing is both brutal & meaningful, as a wealth of fantastic characters fill the landscape. The world-building is beautifully vivid & imaginative, with shades of Brandon Sanderson meets Avatar: The Last Airbender. This was a masterfully woven odyssey; a Battle Royale of emotions!”

Goodreads says:
A mother struggling to repress her violent past,
A son struggling to grasp his violent future,
A father blind to the danger that threatens them all.

When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?

High on a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’

Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.

Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.”

Tags: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Adult, High Fantasy

Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher (The Obsidian Path #1)

You can read our review here.

Chris said:As with all of Fletcher’s work, Black Stone Heart does not shy away from a steady diet of comfort food for the grimdark appetite. His recipe is equal parts violence, gritty happenings, grisly humor, and a dash of bad luck for flavoring.

Goodreads says:
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.”

Tags: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Aching God by Mike Shel (The Iconoclasts #1)

Nate said:It’s that perfect cocktail of fantasy adventuring tropes mixed with horror, dread, and the traumatic realities of the DnD party lifestyle.

Goodreads says:
The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. That is, until old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, heralding an urgent summons back to that old life.

To save his only daughter, Auric must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. With only a few inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. Auric has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?

First book in the Iconoclasts trilogy, Aching God is the debut novel of RPG adventure designer Mike Shel. He is working on book 2, Sin Eater. The first two chapters of Sin Eater are included at the end of Aching God.”

Tags: Fantasy, Horror, High Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Blood of Heirs by Alicia Wanstall-Burke (The Coraidic Sagas #1)

You can read our review here.

Edward said:Blood of Heirs is a fantastic display of character-driven fantasy that will have you feeling every ounce of pain, relief, joy and terror that the POVs endure.

Goodreads says:
Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive.

Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.

Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness?”

Tags: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Adult

The Blackbird and the Ghost by Hûw Steer

Elizabeth said:The Blackbird and the Ghost is a fun adventure novel full of excitement and compelling characters. Tal, the lead protagonist, is Indiana Jones with more swagger and snark. He quips his way through tombs, puzzles, and boiling seas while he battles his arch-nemesis. It is well written, the pacing is flawless, and the story had me yearning for more.

Goodreads says:
The Boiling Seas are the mariner’s bane – and the adventurer’s delight. The waters may be hot enough to warp wood and boil a hapless swimmer, but their scalding expanse is full of wonders. Strange islands lurk in the steamy mists, and stranger ruins hold ancient secrets, remnants of forgotten empires waiting for the bold… or lying in wait for the unwary.

On the Corpus Isles, gateway to the Boiling Seas, Tal Wenlock, the Blackbird, seeks a fortune of his own. The treasure he pursues could change the world – but he just wants to change a single life, and it’s not his own. To reach it, he’ll descend into the bowels of the earth and take ship on burning waters, brave dark streets and steal forbidden knowledge. He’ll lie, cheat, steal and fight – but he won’t get far alone. The ghosts of Tal’s past dog his every step – and one in particular keeps his knives sharp.

The Blackbird will need help to reach his goal… and he’ll need all his luck to get back home alive.”

Tags: Fantasy, Adventure, Mystery

Chasing Graves by Ben Galley

Elizabeth said: “Ben Galley’s epic story, Chasing Graves, is the quintessential grimdark fantasy.”

You can read our review here.

Goodreads says:
“Welcome to Araxes, where getting murdered is just the start of your problems.

Meet Caltro Basalt. He’s a master locksmith, a selfish bastard, and as of his first night in Araxes, stone cold dead.

They call it the City of Countless Souls, the colossal jewel of the Arctian Empire, and all it takes to be its ruler is to own more ghosts than any other. For in Araxes, the dead do not rest in peace in the afterlife, but live on as slaves for the rich.

While Caltro struggles to survive, those around him strive for the emperor’s throne in Araxes’ cutthroat game of power. The dead gods whisper from corpses, a soulstealer seeks to make a name for himself with the help of an ancient cult, a princess plots to purge the emperor from his armoured Sanctuary, and a murderer drags a body across the desert, intent on reaching Araxes no matter the cost.
Only one thing is certain in Araxes: death is just the beginning.”

Tags: Fantasy, Adventure, Dark Fantasy

Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes (Best Laid Plans #1)

You can read our review here.

Charles said:A fantastic story of pirates, mayhem, and skullduggery.

Goodreads says:
Everybody knows Drake Morrass is only out for himself.

As the fires of a dying city burn on a distant shore, Drake sees an opportunity to unite the other pirate Captains under his flag and claim a crown for himself. If he is to succeed he will need allies and the Oracle named Keelin Stillwater, the best swordsman in the isles, as Drake’s right hand.

With enemy ships sailing his waters and setting fire to his cities, and the sinister Tanner Black threatening to steal the throne before Drake has even sat in it, Drake must somehow convince the other Captains that his best interests are also theirs.

Author Rob J. Hayes, after his successful completion of his award-winning grimdark trilogy, The Ties That Bind, now continues the saga of First Earth.”

Tags: Fantasy, Adventure, Pirates, Dark Fantasy

Paternus: Rise of Gods by Dyrk Ashton (Paternus Trilogy #1)

You can read our review here.

James said: “This is urban fantasy done right. It’s dark, adult, and gruesome. If you can get past the slow start then you are in for a treat.”

Goodreads says:
Described as American Gods meets The Avengers and Supernatural meets The Lord of the Rings, Paternus combines myths from around the world in a modern story of action and intrigue that is “urban fantasy on the surface, but so much more at its core!”

Even myths have legends. And not all legends are myth.

When a local hospital is attacked by strange and frightening men, Fiona Patterson and Zeke Prisco save a catatonic old man named Peter—and find themselves running for their lives with creatures beyond imagination hounding their every step.

With nowhere else to turn, they seek out Fi’s enigmatic Uncle Edgar. But the more their questions are answered, the more they discover that nothing is what it seems–not Peter, not Edgar, perhaps not even themselves.

The gods and monsters, heroes and villains of lore—they’re real. And now they’ve come out of hiding to hunt their own. In order to survive, Fi and Zeke must join up with powerful allies against an ancient evil that’s been known by many names and feared by all. The final battle of the world’s oldest war has begun.

Paternus: Rise of Gods, is Dyrk Ashton’s critically acclaimed debut novel and the first book in The Paternus Trilogy. It has been compared to works by Neil Gaiman, Scott Hawkins, Roger Zelazny, China Miéville, Joss Whedon, and Kevin Hearne.”

Tags: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Mythology, Adult

Death March by Phil Tucker (Euphoria Online #1)

James said: “Death March is gripping, with intense action segments, awesome characters, and a detailed magic and perks system. ”

Goodreads says:
I sacrificed everything for my family. It wasn’t enough. I lost my mother, and now I’m about to lose my brother.

I’ve got only one thing left to gamble: my life. Which is why I’m willing to play Euphoria Online in Death March mode.

If I survive six months in-game against a lethal array of wyverns, ogres, necromancers, and more, I’ll earn my brother a pardon.

If I lose?

Well. I’m done with losing.”

Tags: Fantasy, LitRPG, Science Fiction, Dragons

Art of War: Anthology for Charity edited by Petros Triantafyllou

You can read our review here.

Adrian said: “While the fiction in this anthology predominantly isn’t self-published fantasy, this is one of my favourite books because it’s put together by a bloke who runs a review blog who just has a big heart. I’d like to call this ‘self-edited fantasy’.

Art of War features 40 authors, two artists, a designer, and an editor, all who donated their time and expertise to make this book happen–all so Petros could take the proceeds and donate them all to Doctors Without Borders. Not the worst reason you’ve ever had to put down a few bob and read some short stories, right?”

Goodreads says:
“Charity Anthology: All proceeds going to MSF (Doctors Without Borders).

“War, my friend, is a thing of beauty.”

How do you get forty fantasy authors to contribute short stories for a war-themed anthology without paying them? It sounds as if there should be a good punchline to that, but all Petros Triantafyllou did was twist the moral thumbscrews and tell them all the profits would go to Doctors Without Borders, a charity that works tirelessly across the world to alleviate the effects of conflict, sickness and poverty.”

Tags: Fantasy, Short Stories, Anthology

Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Mike said:Never Die by Rob Hayes and The Headlock of Destiny by Sam Gately. Both have amazing characters; both are emotionally engaging; both are grim and hilarious.

Goodreads says:
“Samurai, shinigami, vengeful spirits, and an impossible quest.

Itami Cho has earned the name Whispering Blade. She is a Shintei warrior, sworn to the path of oaths and honour. But keeping her oaths has always been more difficult than taking them. When Flaming Fist and his bandits attack the city of Kaishi, Itami swears one last oath: she will protect the city and its people at any cost.

Ein has spent his life dreaming of being a hero, and now the God of Death has given him a chance. The Reaper has set him an impossible quest: an eight-year-old boy sent to stop an immortal Emperor.

Never Die is a stand alone set in the world of Mortal Techniques. It’s a wuxia adventure filled with samurai, shinigami, heroes, and vengeful spirits.

Tags: Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Mythology, Adult

The Headlock of Destiny by Samuel Gately (Titan Wars #1)

You can read our review here.

Goodreads says:
Some say titans are descended from giants. Others say they are risen from men. But there’s never any debate about where to find them. They will be in the center of a roaring crowd, beating the hell out of each other. From contenders like the Savage and Scott Flawless to pretenders like Richard the Living Portrait and Troll-Blooded Thom, a titan’s lot in life is the same: To wrestle for dominion and glory in the squared circle.

Van, a quiet titan from the brewery town of Headwaters, wants no part in this. He’d prefer to be left alone with a beer. But destiny has him in a headlock, and it is prepared to drag him into battles that will shake the land and change his world forever.

Step into the ring with this one-of-a-kind novel, brewed special for fans of epic fantasy, fans of professional wrestling from the Golden Era and beyond, or simply fans of a good tale.”

Tags: Fantasy, Wrestling, Epic Fantasy

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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.