• Last updatedLast updated: Jan 15, 2021

4 Best Dark Fantasy Books and Series That Are Not Song of Ice and Fire

An imaginary world full of witchcraft, magical creatures, and brave warriors. Not always it’s a setting for an old good fairy tale. Whenever this world is filled with some more realistic elements, such as hate, envy, revenge, and, consequently, fights, broken lives, blood and deaths, the classic dark fantasy starts. In this post, I’ll share the best dark fantasy books I read and ready to recommend.

Editor's Choice

Stephen King’s packed with a thrilling plot, interesting characters, and unexpected events

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9.5
Best Dark Re-Imagining

A truly dark re-imagining of Peter Pan; a story that will keep you thrilled, compelled and interested till the very last page

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9.5
Most Violent

If you’re ready for a true anti-hero who you’ll never love, events, darkest of all, and captivating storyline, you’ll love this series

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9.3
Best Urban Dark Fantasy

A more grown-up, gritty, and modern interpretation of the Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia series

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9.1

Top 4 Dark Fantasy Books Review 2021

1.

Dark Tower Editor's Choice

Features
  • Plot rating: 9.8
  • Captivating: 9.5
  • Easy to read: 9.1 (3.8 to the 1st book)
  • Publication date: 1982-2012

My father was obsessed with King for as long as I can remember (long before my birth, actually). No wonder our home was filled with his books: short stories, novels, and this huge series. I started to share my dad’s obsession since I was about 12; I read Carrie, The Shining, Pet Sematary, Misery, just to mention a few. However, the huge volumes of Dark Tower and the fact there were 7 (!) of them pushed me away (the 7 books of Harry Potter never scared me though, probably because this series was designed for kids of my age, while Dark Tower seemed something way more serious). There’s the 8th, by the way, which was published in 2012 as a spin-off.

It’s hard to retell the whole plot in a small blog sector, and I actually don’t intend to; instead, I’ll share my impressions and, hopefully, give you an idea of whether it’s your kind of literature or not.

King himself considers his Dark Tower a “magnum opus”, the work of his lifetime. Not surprising, considering the fact that he had been writing it for about 30 years. In short, the whole story is about saving the world, of course. The main character, Roland is the last living gunslinger, a member of a knightly order, whose main purpose was to keep the world safe and sound. There’re other worlds, however. The Dark Tower is some sort of a hub that keeps all the worlds functioning, and someone wants to find it and set chaos in all the universes. The Roland’s goal is to prevent it from happening.

Throughout the books we’ll be witnessing Roland fighting his enemies, finding friends and losing them, looking for allies, and trying to survive on his way to the Tower. I read The Gunslinger when I was at the uni, during my first year there. I had a couple of friends who told me the same thing: The Gunslinger might not be the most fast-paced and easily digestible read, though if you cope with it, it’ll open the whole new world to you and you’ll be dying to read the next volume. That’s exactly what happened: it took me a while to finish the first book, but the next 6 were digested quickly, almost in a row.

Starting with the second book I couldn’t stop admiring King’s imagination and unpredictable twists of the plot. Each volume will keep you compelled and intrigued, unlike the first one, these don’t get boring at any point. From the Roland’s allies (a heroin addict New Yorker, a disabled woman with identity disorder, and a sociopath-sadist) to the mix of different universes, times, and genres, to unexpected locations, this story will keep your eyes glued to each page, till the very end.

An unpredictable, twisted dark fantasy story (with elements of many other genres) that is definitely worth reading. However, if you’re not into huge volumes and big book series, it might not be as enjoyable. Also, The Gunslinger is definitely not for everyone and it might push you away from reading the rest of the books. It’s different from the whole series, rather slow-paced, and you’ll keep wondering “WTF is going on?”. And the Gunslinger won’t give you many answers, by the way. My advice: take heart, read these 200 pages, and prepare for the most unforgettable and epic journey of your life.

Pros
  • Incredible storyline
  • Huge imaginary universe, very well thought through
  • Unexpected characters, events, and locations
  • Fast-paced and compelling starting with the 2nd book
Cons
  • The Gunslinger is slow-paced and hard to digest
  • Huge volumes, not for those who love short stories and not ready to spend months on a single story
2.

The Child ThiefBest Dark Re-Imagining

Features
  • Plot rating: 9.3
  • Captivating: 9.2
  • Easy to read: 9.9
  • Publication date: 2009

This story is a re-imagining of Peter Pan, written in a more grown-up, and, surely, darker way. Its author, Brom is a well-known American gothic fantasy illustrator, so, in addition to the beautiful in its darkness story, the book also boasts of Brom’s own compelling artwork.

The Child Thief is Brom’s most renowned work, for a good reason. The novel isn’t for children at all, I wouldn’t even recommend it even to young adults. It’s filled with the most shocking, devastating, and heavy issues like child molestation as well as different forms of abuse and torture. The book is not all about it, of course, but it’s definitely what it’s based on.

The Brom’s Peter Pan saves such lost, hurt, and insulted boys and girls. He promises to take them away from the misery of their New York life to a total bliss of Avalon. Of course, something must be given in return. In fact, Peter looks for warriors to fight Flesh Eaters who are threatening The Lady, the queen of Avalon.

While reading, you’ll come across numerous references to Celtic and Scottish mythology which makes the story even more fae. However, don’t forget this fantasy is truly dark: apart from the heart-breaking stories of mistreated abused children of real, modern world, there’s a lot of violent scenes that are taking place in Avalon: Peter turns out to be much more complex that it first seemed. Yes, he’s a hero, but he’s also a sadist, an ego-centric delusional sociopath, who, however is loyal to what he trusts. He fights for his queen by any means, using the “saved” children the way he wants. An antihero which, however, I absolutely loved.

A good old story rewritten in a modern and dark way. It’s quite lengthy, but you won’t be bored even for a second. The storyline is compelling and intriguing, the writing is brilliant, and all the heroes are complex and evolving as we watch them going through all the difficulties the circumstances offer. Might, however, be too offensive or even shocking to sensitive readers.

Pros
  • Twisted, unpredictable storyline
  • Complex characters
  • Truly dark and compelling
Cons
  • Many violent scenes
3.

The Broken EmpireMost Violent

Features
  • Plot rating: 9.7
  • Captivating: 9.2
  • Easy to read: 8.9
  • Publication date: 2011-2013

If you’re looking for a canonic dark fantasy novel with all the genre’s essentials: magic, kingdom, warriors, violence, blood, cruelty, and a bunch of anti-heroes, this trilogy is exactly what you need. I remember a few years ago when I finished reading the Dark Tower, everyone and their mother told me that there’s a series I would definitely love. Not as eclectic and epic as the King’s masterpiece, this story nevertheless deserves its place in your dark fantasy books collection.
The first book, Prince of Thorns starts with the MC raping girls. Yes, you got it right. That’s exactly the way the author introduces us to Jorg, an immoral young man, raised, however in a royal family, by a loving mother. We later find out that there was a lot of pain and traumas in his past which led to his current self – an insane sociopath, rapist, and murderer.
The whole story is set in post-apocalyptic Europe, where a flourishing Empire once used to be. Now it’s a place of total chaos, violence, and sorrow. Jorg, together with his band of other outlaws, is trying to get his throne back by all means. Written in 1st person POV and in two time frames, the book will let you plunge into the MC’s inner state, thoughts, and feelings so that very soon you start to realize the reasons for his unforgivable behavior. Note, I said «realize», not «get behind».

I’ve heard many negative comments on the book’s violence and that it’s too much for some. However, I don’t share this opinion whatsoever. For sure, what the MC does has nothing to do with a noble, likable life of a prince/king/emperor, but all the scenes included are in their places. You need them to hate Jorg right. You need them to understand what exactly he has become. You need them for that atmosphere of mixed feelings towards the character and the whole plot.

A truly dark fantasy world with all the essentials of the genre. Broken Empire, an anti-hero who you’ll never feel sympathy for, a tragic story behind him, battles, selfish, immoral warriors, all in all – the atmosphere you’re probably looking for. Violence is the central element of the trilogy, and if you’re not ok with the MC not evolving in his morals, you won’t enjoy the story to its fullest.

Pros
  • Beautiful in its darkness setting
  • 1st person POV
  • Totally unlikable MC, adds to the dark atmosphere
  • Fast-paced
Cons
  • The MC is not changing for the better
  • Many scenes of violence
4.

The MagiciansBest Urban Dark Fantasy

Features
  • Plot rating: 8.9
  • Captivating: 9.1
  • Easy to read: 9.3
  • Publication date: 2009-2014

If Harry Potter lived in New York and learned about his powers much later, in his high school years, while J.K. Rowling described her world in a more adult manner, including violence and sex scenes, this would be The Magician series.

Lev Grossman’s world is set in New York of modern days. Quentin Coldwater, a young man, was raised on fantasy novels in which all the action took place in Fillory, a magical land. To his great surprise, it turns out that he is of no ordinary himself: he has magical powers. To learn all the nuances of witchcraft, he goes to a secret college of magic where students do what students usually do: make friends, have sex, fall in love, get drunk, and study, of course.

The five years of college pass by, and after the graduation the MC together with his friends learns that Fillory is real. Sure thing, they go there to check if it has anything to do with that fairy land they read about when they were young. Spoiler: it’s not. Instead, it’s a dark, filled with dangers place, reminding of our real world, but magic makes it much more complicated as well as appealing.

I must confess: I was expecting much more from the series when I just read the synopsis. My fav fantasy story retold in a more realistic, grown-up manner, why not give it a try? Well, I absolutely did love the setting and the main character. Quentin is a questionable, self-involved teen with lots of teen problems. He has flaws and despite being a magician and a main character of the story, he’s not that brave or loyal, or anything so distinct. And yes, I still love him. All this makes him a real person which I could easily come across in my college or at school.

What, however, I didn’t like was the storyline, or, to be exact, the pace of the whole thing. Everything happens rather quickly, just imagine: 5 years of education are put in one book along with the events that took place after the graduation. Also, I couldn’t stop experiencing those deja vus every now and again: All merely looked like a quick, adapted retelling of Harry Potter and Narnia. No, it’s not plagiarism whatsoever, Grossman created his own, rather compelling world, but it’s obvious what he was inspired by.

In a word, the series is a good re-imagining of the beloved Harry Potter and Narnia series. The main character is an ordinary guy with his flaws and insecurities, a guy-next-door, he’s easy to understand and empathize. Do not expect it to revolutionize your world though. The plot is rather predictable, and the events happen too fast at times.

Pros
  • Interesting re-imagining of Harry Potter
  • Ordinary heroes with ordinary teen problems
  • Sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll
Cons
  • Too fast-paced
  • Predictable events

Conclusion

When it comes to dark fantasy, nothing can beat the Dark Tower, in my opinion. Mixed with many other genres, this series remains my all-time favorite story set in a crazily twisted universe, filled with unexpected events, characters, and outcomes. Also, when it comes to series, the Broken Empire is something I would call a perfect presentation of the genre. The Child Thief is a relatively small story, yet filled with dark events and violent scenes, and doesn’t lack on moral at the same time. Read The Magicians if you’re excited by the idea of a more realistic, grown-up re-imagining of Harry Potter and Narnia.

Also, be sure to check out my Best Fantasy Romance compilation, and the post on the Best Neil Gaiman Books, where you’ll surely find something else for your dark fantasy stories collection.

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