The sword and sorcery genre is chock-full of compelling reads and iconic authors. Characterized by supernatural battles pitting good against evil, often waged by unlikely heroes, this subset of the fantasy genre delivers a highly immersive reading experience. You’ll want to delve into these eighteen action-packed sword and sorcery fantasy books right away.
The Goblin Wars: Complete Trilogy: Omnibus Edition
From within the depths of her mountain lair, the sinister Lady Scrapple is assembling an army of mindless slaves. As she prepares to strike, the fates deliver what may turn out to be her downfall: a single goblin who is free of her hive mind. A few miles away, a city is on the brink of complete anarchy, as its king has vanished and left no heir. And amidst the chaos, one man makes it his mission to find the missing ruler. The complete trilogy includes Siege of Talonrend, Death of a King, and Rebirth of a God.
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The Hour of the Dragon
As Robert E. Howard’s only full-length Conan the Barbarian novel, The Hour of the Dragon delivers a thrilling adventure about one of the most well-known swordsmen of the genre. Conan’s rule as the King of Aquilonia is not favored by everyone in the kingdom, and a group of dissenters cook up a plot to overthrow him and put Valerius on the throne. The group resurrects an ancient sorcerer named Xalotan, who plays a hand in the defeat of the Aquilonian army by an opposing kingdom. When Conan is apprehended and set for execution, his only hope may be a slave girl by the name of Zenobia.
Chosen of the Changeling
This two-part book series embraces the vast and enchanting lore of American Indian mythology. In the first book, The Waterborn, a spiteful River God stands as a formidable enemy which unites the fateful paths of the magical Princess Hezhi and the barbarian warrior Perkar. In the sequel, The Blackgod, Hezhi and Perkar narrowly escape the River God with their lives. The pair find safety with the mischief-making brother of the water deity, but unless Hezhi can gain control of her frightening powers, the danger may just be beginning.
The Ladies of Mandrigyn
The first in a series of three, The Ladies of Mandrigyn follows Sun Wolf and his fearsome band of mercenaries. His first lieutenant is Starhawk, an unmatched Amazon warrior, who stands by his side as the crew sweeps through a war torn land bringing cities to their knees. When a woman from Mandrigyn—a city ravaged by a mighty and crazed wizard—approaches Sun Wolf to ask for help, the captain isn’t interested in lending his army out. However, the women left to suffer in Mandrigyn don’t accept his refusal so easily.
Moongather—the debut installment of Jo Clayton’s fantasy-rich Duel of Sorcery trilogy—is told from the dual perspective of the main protagonist Serroi as a child and as a grown woman. Brought into the world as a “mistborn” with green skin and a connection to the natural world, Serroi was trained to be an unmatchable warrior. Now, as the night of Moongather approaches, harkening the time in which demons can cross over into the world, Serroi knows that something monstrous and evil is on its way. She has been driven by fear in the past, but can she overcome it to stop the grim fate of her home?
The Sunset Warrior
All of humanity has fled below Earth’s surface after the land was reduced to nothing but ice. With the claustrophobic civilization reverting to a system of feudalism, samurais are regarded as those who maintain the peace and power. However, as war brews in the subterranean confines of the last of mankind, the great warrior Ronin may be the only one who can keep the survivors from destroying themselves. Set on a quest to maintain the peace, Ronin ventures out for the very first time to the surface of a world that humanity has forgotten.
The Reluctant Swordsman
When Wallie Smith comes to after being rushed to the hospital, he finds that he has been transported to not just another world, but into another body. Wallie is now a barbarian swordsman, with an eccentric priest and a slave girl as his companions in this strange new realm. As it happens, the ruling deity of this world is in need of Wallie’s newly-acquired services as a swordsman. If Wallie succeeds, he will have everything his heart desires. If he fails, however, the consequences will be dire … and dark forces are already plotting his downfall.
Swords and Deviltry
This award-winning collection of fantastical adventure stories comes from Fritz Leiber, who is credited with coining the very term “sword and sorcery.” In the first installment of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series, fate unites Prince Fafhrd and the magician the Gray Mouser, who embark on a series of adventures together. Notably, this collection includes the Nebula and Hugo Award-nominated story “The Snow Woman,” as well as the Nebula and Hugo Award-winning novella “Ill Met in Lankhmar.”
The Five Senses Set
In the first book in this collection, Mirror of Destiny, orphaned Twilla defies the king and escapes an unwanted marriage in order to rescue the survivors of a magical war and help save a contested land. In The Scent of Magic, scullery maid Willadene finds herself propelled upward in society due to an extraordinary magical gift–the same gift that may lead to her downfall. And in Wind in the Stone, young Sulerna must battle the sorcerer who enslaved her homeland and her own twin brother, who has since turned to the darkness.
Tales of Nevèrÿon
Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Samuel R. Delany uses the typical elements of sword and sorcery fantasy in the Tales of Nevèrÿon to explore themes of language, sexuality, and more. Set in a long-ago land on the brink of becoming civilized, slave Gorgik gains his freedom, leads a slave revolt, and holds a position in government—allowing him to abolish slavery. Ironically, Gorgik is sexually aroused by the very iron slave collars he set to outlaw. So, what does this mean for his mission–and his destiny?
The first in Feist’s expansive Riftwar Cycle series, Magician: Apprentice begins with the orphan Pug. Pug has traveled to the shore of the Kingdom of the Isles to study magic beneath the wonderful magician Kulgan. Though Pug’s courageous nature has gained him the attention of the palace and Princess, that doesn’t mean he’s gotten comfortable with the ways of wizardry—not normal wizardry, anyway. But when evil creatures tear a hole in space and time to continue an ancient battle between Order and Chaos, Pug’s unconventional sorcery may be the only thing that can stop them.
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Alanna: The First Adventure
In the world of Tortall, only men are allowed to strive for knighthood. Alanna—determined to lead a life of adventure and bravery—switches places with her brother Thom, who would rather cultivate the art of magic. Disguised as a boy, Alanna sets out for King Roald’s castle to start her life as a page. However, Alanna learns that there’s more to being a knight than just the skills of battle, and finds she must learn to master her emotions.
Tamora Pierce’s sword and sorcery universe stretches out over dozens of novels, following different characters that are just as interesting as the last. For a series with comprehensive world-building to get lost in, this is a wonderful place to start.
Riveting and intense, the first book of the Cavalier trilogy takes place in the land of Kraawn. Warriors imbued with the powers of the gods—Cavaliers—stand as protectors of the land, fighting back against the Forsworn—three evil gods on a mission to consume the world in darkness. However, something powerful has been slaughtering the Cavaliers, leaving the unprotected Kraawn open for attack. Deep in the mountains lives Kraawn’s last hope: Jonas Kanrene, a young boy whose life is about to change forever.
Blackbirds and Sparrows
Jolyon Grace’s Chronicles of Rhianna trilogy begins with Blackbirds and Sparrows, which follows a prophecy about the exiled King’s return to his throne. Jrack, now an elite guard for the King, has a troubled past: his family was slaughtered, he became a slave of the diamond mines, and he entered the brutal military service. Jrack and his brothers in arms set out on a journey that puts their lives and loyalty on the line. As they tread the path of destiny, heroes are to be made.
Order of the Trident
A band of heroes known as the Order of the Trident join together to fight the enemy forces that seek to destroy their lands. Though they cut a foothold deep into enemy ranks, winning respect from those around them, the enemy is preparing a final attack, which would plunge the world into eternal darkness. It’s up to the Order to stop it, though even they have very little idea of the extent of the evil lurking just below the surface.
The Red Sword
An apprentice wizard named Markal is thrust into power when his master is decapitated by an unknown assassin. If the apprentices can protect their master’s body for long enough, the power of the wizard order’s sanctuary gardens may bring him back to life. However, when a warrior named Bronwyn invades the gardens, Markal is sure she is another assassin come to finish the job. As Markal soon learns, however, Bronwyn’s presence is a harbinger of an even greater danger, which threatens both Markal’s order and Bronwyn’s homeland.
Rise of the Ranger
In the Echoes of Fate series, mankind has ruled Illian for a thousand years. War, however, is looming between the kingdoms of man – fractured, power hungry and unallied—and the elves, who believe that they are the rightful rulers of Illian. In the middle of this developing chaos is a ranger named Asher: a powerful assassin with mysterious connections to an ancient evil.
The Name of the Wind
Told in first person, the Name of the Wind is the story of Kvothe, both a hero and a villain, who currently lives in hiding in an unnamed imaginary world. Brought up as an actor in his family’s traveling troupe, Kvothe has lived many lives—from feral child on the streets to student at “the University.” Kvothe is driven both to learn as much as he can about a special form of high magic, as well as to find the Chandrian—legendary demons who murdered his family.
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Featured image from cover of "The Red Sword" by Michael Wallace