Essential Grimdark

***Updated September 2014

Here are the best grimdark books that someone interested in grimdark should check out first. And, of course, if you are already reading grimdark but have not read these, you should try them immediately!

Broken Empire Trilogy by Mark Lawrence

Broken Empire-Mark Lawrence

Touching and horrifying, The Broken Empire Trilogy by Mark Lawrence, consisting of the books Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, Emperor of Thorns is a modern masterpiece of literature and fantasy and exemplifies the grimdark genre, in all its majesty and violence. This is the series I bother all my friends to read, no matter what they like to read.

The First Law by Joe Abercrombie

The First Law Joe Abercrombie

Relentless and brutal, some might say this series typifies grimdark. The author Joe Abercrombie even took on the moniker "Lord Grimdark". I loved these books; however, they are stylistically very different than The Broken Empire and I have not yet put my finger on the reason. The writing style could be partly to blame as they read very differently. The Blade Itself, (Book 1) is a masterpiece of fantasy literature as are books 2 and 3.

A Song of Ice and Fire-George R.R. Martin

A Song of Ice and Fire George R.R. Martin

I recently finished A Dance With Dragons and was again blown away after being underwhelmed with book 3, A Feast for Crows. The first 3 books were spectacular, a high point in the history of epic fantasy because of the depth, scope, and scale of the world George R.R. Martin created. It's not hard to see why these books have been on best seller lists for years and continue to be read. I've read this is where grimdark started however David Gemmell (Legend), Michael Moorcock (Elric of Melniboné), and Robert E. Howard (The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian)all come to mind having done gritty, dark fantasy long before A Song of Ice and Fire.

The Dark Tower by Stephen King

The Dark Tower Stephen King

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed,” from the first line of The Gunslinger, a book I read about 20 years ago for the first time and fell in love with it. Stephen King's magnum opus, another high point in the history of fantasy literature. Pure epic fantasy, and very dark, this work is well known but still I have talked to quite a few people who have never heard of it. A Washington Post writer wrote about the book contained "cataclysmic encounters and moments of desolating tragedy". Also described as crude and a "horrific, violent tale", the whole series is excellent.

Malazan Book of the fallen by Steven Erikson

Malazan Book of the Fallen

So far I have only read Gardens of the Moon and I thought it was excellent. I read half of Deadhouse Gates but got a bit overwhelmed with all he characters so I put it aside. Malazan books typify grimdark; strong character development, violence, war, excellent writing, and a dark and gritty setting.

The Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook

Black Company Glen Cook

Required grimdark reading. So far I have only read the first book in the The Black Company series, and it was so good that I have put it on hold for a bit. It takes a little while to get used to the style and may seem confusing at first but it does connect and once it does, you can't put it down. About a group of tough as nails soldiers, beautifully written and brutal, this series has 9 books out with more planned for the future. Glen Cook also has stand alone books which are great, as well the Dread Empire series, the first 2 books I have read with 6 more yet to read and Instrumentalities of the Night which I plan to read this year. 

Drenai Saga by David Gemmell

Drenai David Gemmell

David Gemmell, sadly no longer alive, is one of my all time favorite authors. He wrote a lot before he passed, most of it can be considered gritty fantasy. The work he is most known for is Legend, the first book of the Drenai Series, which also includes several sub series, my favorite being Waylander. Every book of his I have read has been excellent. He is a wonderful writer, filling his books with bits of philosophy, brutal action, amazingly realized characters, and many of the resounding themes I love in grimdark, revenge, treachery, suffering, and temptation to name just a few. His Troy series is excellent, as is his Greek series, one of my favorites of all time, and the Rigante series looks awesome!

Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer

Horus Rising Dan Abnett

Where it begins "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war." That is the introduction sentence to the Warhammer 40,000 novels, written by many amazing authors and where the term grimdark originates. While more science fiction, I love these books and have read 20+ and will continue with this series. Horus Rising, which I reviewed, is one of my all time favorite books. I recommend anyone wanting to get into this series to start with that. These books are brutal and dark, sometimes twisted, and always action packed, written extremely well by authors including Aaron Dembski-BowdenDan AbnettGraham Mcneill. This is high quality science fiction.

Blood For the Blood God-Werner

Warhammer books are fantasy, set in the huge Warhammer world. Blood For the Blood God by C.L Werner is another of my favorite books of all time. One of the darkest, bleakest, most insanely violent I have ever read, it is pure unadulterated grimdark at its best! There are many other great Warhammer books, some of the best authors are C.L WernerWilliam KingGraham Mcneill, and Gav Thorpe

A Land Fit For Heroes Series by Richard Morgan

The Steel Remains Richard Morgan

One of the best, most unique and entertaining grimdark books out there. I just read The Steel Remains and reviewed it here. I really loved it! Can't wait to read the next one and the last book is coming out later in the year.

The Prince of Nothing Series by R. Scott Bakker

The Darkness That Comes Before R. Scott Bakker

Incredibly dark and intellectual, this is hard work to read but worth it. The Darkness That Comes Before is the first book. Once you get past the crazy names it is phenomenal in terms of depth and grittiness. 

Clockwork Vampire Chronicles by Andy Remic

Clockwork Vampire Andy Remic

Beginning with Kell's Legend, this series is very gritty, insanely imaginative, and so fun to read. His new series, Rage of Kings Book 1-The Iron Wolves Review, is one of my favorite books of last year. I reviewed the second book The White Towers and was very impressed. 

The Ties That Bind Series by Rob Hayes

The Heresy Within Rob Hayes

Very underrated and not well known, and that should change because this series of three books is excellent, very much in the style of Joe Abercrombie. I have read the first 2 books in the series, which begins with The Heresy Within and enjoyed them immensely. Great magic system, great characters who are mercenaries and brutal violence, this book doesn't pull any punches. The trilogy is being re-released by Ragnarok Publications and the first book is coming October 20, 2014. 

The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock

Elric Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock is another amazing author, who has consistently put out excellent fantasy novels. While traditionally considered sword and sorcery, it is also heavy on the grimdark elements. I have read many of his books and many are among my favorite of all time. All of his books are intertwined to his concept of the "eternal champion" so many of the themes run through all his work. Start with the original Elric of Melnibon book and if you enjoy it continue to read the whole series. He also wrote many other series, my favorites are Corum and The History of the Runestaff

The Grim Company Series by Luke Scull

The Grim Company Luke Scull

One of the best books of 2013, Luke Scull's debut The grim Company, is grimdark at its best. Book 2, Sword of the North, is out 2015. Can't wait!

Bloodsounders Arc Series by Jeff Salyards

Scourge of the Betrayer Jeff Salyards

Another stand out book, Scourge of the Betrayer is one of my favorite grimdark books. I review it here. Book 2 is ouit, and I reviewed it here and it is by far one of the best books I have read this year. Jeff Salyards has set up a great world and I hope he releases many books in it over the coming years. 

Steelhaven Series by Richard Ford

Herald of the Storm Richard Ford

Another great new entry in the grimdark genre, I just read this and was blown away. Herald of the Storm  was recently reviewed here. I gave book 2 5 stars and it was even better than book 1. Can't wait for book 3. 

The Barrow by Mark Smylie

Definitely one of the grittiest and darkest books I have read this year, maybe ever, I gave this 5 Stars
This is the epitome of what grimdark is. Not for the fainthearted!

Aeon's Gate series by Sam Sykes

Great writing, very funny, highly imaginative and very dark and brutal, this whole series is great. I reviewed book 1 here. A new book in the same world comes out the end of October 2014 called The City Stained Red

Son of the Morning by Mark Alder

A dark book set during a dark time, this is another one of my favorite books and will be up for 2014 book of the year on Grimdark Fantasy Reader. This is more of historical fiction/fantasy. I was captivated from page 1 and it never let up. 

Khale the Wanderer Series by Greg James

A brand new grimdark series by Greg James, who already has numerous books to his credit. This is very much sword and sorcery in the style of Kane and Conan but holds its own in terms of world building and characterization. im very impressed and can't wait for the second book out later in 2014. I reviewed this one here

Other Series of Interest to Grimdark Readers

I don't think these next 3 fully fit the grimdark label as do the above books. However, they all include strong elements of grimdark and are all excellent books. They often come up in grimdark discussions and I have read most of them and I concur. 

Demon Cycle by Peter Brett

Demon Cycle Peter Brett

I read the first book, The Warded Man and thought it was very good. I plan to continue this series soon. Many people love these books and they have a very high Goodreads score. 

Night Angel by Brent Weeks

Night Angel Brent Weeks

One of my favorite series, which starts with The Way of Shadows, features a master assassin and his apprentice, is probably more grimdark than Demon Cycle but to me it has a lighter feel than the rest of the grimdarks I have read. Beautifully written and imagined, I can't recommend this series enough to people. 

Gentleman Bastards by Scott Lynch

Gentleman Bastards Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of my all time favorite books, one of the best written and most clever I have come across. This is a dark book but it is also has a lighter feel at times that seperates it from the rest of the grimdark books. Red Seas Under Red Skies, book 2, was a bit different and I did not finish it but I plan to go back to it. The last book to come out, The Republic of Thieves, was by far one of the best 2013 releases. Book 4 out this year!
Tales of the Kin Series by Douglas Hulick

Book 1, Among Thieves, was extremely good and features assassins and an imaginative underworld. I didn't enjoy book 2, Sworn in Steel, quite as much but it was definitely a solid book.

That's it for now. There are other grimdark books out there and I will update again soon to include them. 


Marco G said...

I have read half of this list, and am so happy that i have more books to read! Thank you so much for the trouble of listing these

PS: A big thanks to the loves of my life in grimdark

Peter Brett
Mark lawrence

PPS: Just finished second book in king slayer trilogy, by patrick rothfuss

Amazing is a word often used, but it was amazeballs +1

philip witvliet said...

Marco, also check out one of the best books of the year, The Barrow. Epic grimdark. I review it here

Mach616 said...

Hey Phil great list. My TBR pile is now tremendously larger. I've read Abercrombie, Martin, Lawrence, and Lynch. I can't wait to get started on some of the others you've got listed. What do you think of Blood Song by Anthony Ryan? Regardless if it's considered grimdark or not that is one great book. Are you on Twitter? Anyway, thanks for the awesome blog and I look forward to more.

philip witvliet said...

Thanks Mach616! Glad you liked it. My TBR pile grows every single day. I loved Blood Song so definitely give it a try as the next one is out soon. I am on Twitter but I don't use it a lot except to announce new reviews. Just look me up by name. Next reviews will be coming June 3 for Mark Lawrence's new book, Prince of Fools, and the second in Jeff Salyards awesome Bloodsounders Arc series called veil of Deserters and I loved that book!

Ted Cross said...

I keep wondering why people don't seem to consider sci-fi stories to also make the grimdark list. I know I wrote my new release with grimdark in mind.

The Immortality Game

philip witvliet said...

I have Warhammer 40K listed here which consists of hundreds of short stories and books. I just don't read much Sci-fi. I don't really know why others don't Ted.

spacetimerift said...

I have read a few of these and most of them are in my TBR list. Great selection! My all time favorite (so far) is The Prince of Nothing by R. Scott Bakker, although The Broken Empire is the next in my list after I finish reading the Kingkiller Chronicle. I am hoping to write reviews in my blog for everything featured here, atr least 10 of them within 2015 :)

Awesome blog, btw.

cblink said...

May I suggest Steel, Blood & Fire by Allan Batchelder?

Jonathon Taylor said...


I'm surprised the Acts of Caine hasn't made this list. I've read 90% of the series on your list, but would still argue Stober's series eclipses them all in grimdark terms.

Loren Rhoads said...

I loved the Elric books and was looking to explore more grimdark. This is perfect. Thanks for the reading list!

Jaci Szczepanski said...

Please add Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice to this list. If you haven't read it, you should.

Queequeg1 said...

The Red Knight is one of my recent favorites.