Craving a fantasy book with bite? These reads will deliver. From eerie fairy tales to epic sagas, each of these eight dark fantasy books exposes the dangerous underbelly of fantasy worlds. In these stories, brutal battles come with a cost, not all romances end with happily ever afters, and humanity's capacity for cruelty and cowardice can't be solved with a simple spell. That's not to say these books are depressing; by contrast, each of them will pull you into an absolutely mesmerizing and magical world. Just keep your wits about you while you visit ... it wouldn't do to get lost in these dark fantasies forever.
Creatures of Want & Ruin
An unforgettable and consistently surprising dark fantasy, Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Want and Ruin is set in an alternate history version of Prohibition Era-Long Island. Ellie West is a fisher-woman by day and a bootlegger by night in her beloved home of Amityville. Ellie knows that her illegal side-hustle is not without its perils, from lawmen and mobsters alike, but she’s eager to help her younger brother pay for his education.
When Ellie’s desperation leads her to sell some hooch she acquired second-hand to strangers planning a decadent party, she gets caught up in a dark side of rum-running that she never could have anticipated. The liquor she sold gives those who drink it terrible, apocalyptic visions ... and the potent spirits can be traced back to a cult of devil-worshippers whose power over the people of Long Island is spreading like wildfire.
The Sunset Warrior
This post-apocalyptic science fantasy novel is the first in an action-packed five-book series. Generations ago, environmental disaster made life above ground on Earth impossible. The survivors retreated underground, where the feudal society of Freehold rose up in darkness. Power in The Freehold rests in the hands of lords called Saardin, who maintain control over the underground kingdom with the help of their bladesmen. Ronin is one of these warriors whose role in the harsh world of Freehold is to maintain order. But when tensions underground threaten to escalate into war, Ronin defies tradition to prevent the last of humanity from destroying itself. In search of peace, Ronin does the unthinkable and journeys above ground, seeking answers on the alien surface of the Earth.
The Book of the Damned
This collection of three sinister, sensuous fantasy stories shows Tanith Lee’s skill for building immersive, unsettling worlds. In one, a writer follows the ominous path of a man who has promised her he’s destined to die that day. In another, a traumatized woman in the Middle Ages transforms into her unfathomably powerful male alter-ego in the evenings, and stalks the streets of Paradys searching for prey. And in “Stained With Crimson,” a poet falls under the thrall of an uncannily beautiful woman who seems to know his most private, shameful fantasies.
Silver Birch, Blood Moon
This World Fantasy Award-winning anthology features twisted takes on fairy tales by celebrated authors like Caitlin R. Kiernan, Nalo Hopkinson, Neil Gaiman, and more masters of eerie speculative fiction. From a dread-filled retelling of Thumbelina, to a gritty rendition of Snow White, to an adaptation of The Little Mermaid from the witch’s perspective, each of these delightful stories invites readers to remember the inherent horror in most tales that begin with ‘once upon a time…’
RELATED: 11 Enchanting Fairy Tales for Adults
It’s easy to see why this absolutely absorbing dark fantasy-mystery was awarded a Shirley Jackson Award. The story follows the members of a British folk band, who converge on the rambling country estate of Wylding Hall to record an album. During their time at Wylding Hall, band member Julian vanishes without a trace, and is never seen again, leaving trauma and unanswered questions in his wake. Years after Julian’s disappearance, the remaining band members return to Wylding Hall to film a documentary about the baffling mystery surrounding Julian. But once they’ve returned to the scene of the tragedy, the past won’t stay buried for long ...Featuring morally ambiguous protagonists and a gripping atmosphere of dread, Wylding Hall is a must-read for those who like their fantasy stories filled with anti-heroes.
The Dark Tower
This seven-plus-book saga by Stephen King is a perfect fit for fantasy fans who also enjoy high strangeness and horror. King’s magnum opus follows Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger of Gilead, as he travels to the mythical Dark Tower, a pillar that holds up the very fabric of reality. In order to fulfill his destiny, Roland must battle evil figures like The Man in Black and The Crimson King, and form a fellowship with travelers from our own world. Full of body horror, unrepentantly bloody battles, and true moments of terror, The Dark Tower series is a perfect fit for dark fantasy fans who want to sink their hooks into a long epic.
The Gormenghast Trilogy
This classic gothic fantasy series by the late Mervyn Peake is soon to be a TV series adapted by Neil Gaiman, so now’s the perfect time to discover the books. Peake’s masterpiece follows the eccentric inhabitants of the crumbling kingdom Gormenghast. Most of the royals and their servants adhere to rituals and customs with a strict rigidity, using these traditions as a way to bring meaning to their otherwise meandering existence. But a conniving kitchen boy aims to unseat the status quo in the dysfunctional kingdom, threatening Gormenghast's heir Titus Groan. In his quest for power and upheaval, Steerpike manipulates the castle's most isolated inhabitants, including Titus' fanciful sister Fuschia.
This eerie fairy tale by Neil Gaiman has become a modern classic, winning Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker Awards. Young Coraline is unsettled after her family moves to a new apartment. Despite omens warning her not to follow her curiosity, Coraline opens a small door that leads from her family’s flat to an adjoining one that is believed to be empty. Coraline steps through the door and into an alternate, and apparently utopian, version of her life, in which Other Mother and Other Father—adoring adults who closely resemble her own parents, although with buttons for eyes—dote on her. But Coraline soon realizes that her time in the Other World is not without a price.
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