When sword and sorcery fantasy burst onto the genre scene in the 1930s, it introduced many archetypes that remain iconic to this day.
Big and brawny sword-swinging warriors cutting down an entire field of enemies. Evil wizards who must be defeated to free a hapless, enslaved people. Beautiful princesses who need rescuing from the aforementioned evil wizards. Roguish thieves unable to stay out of trouble because of their greed. Some readers might consider these tropes to be cliché, but they remain timeless for a reason.
But never let it be said that the sword and sorcery subgenre can’t evolve. The tropes might remain, but that doesn’t mean authors haven’t offered their own takes. Whether they stick to the tried and true or try a little subversion, today’s sword and sorcery fantasy books offer a little bit of everything for everyone. All that’s asked of the reader is a love for adventure and tolerance for a little violence.
To whet that appetite, here are 25 sword and sorcery books, ranging from the classics that launched the genre to modern titles for modern readers.
The Goblin Wars: Siege of Talonrend
War looms as the evil Lady Scrapple assembles an army of loyal minions. But her plans hit a snag when one of her goblins wrests free from her control. And amidst the rising danger, a nearby city loses its king and one man begins a journey to find him.
Jirel of Joiry
When we think of sword and sorcery and the warriors that populate its story, we often first imagine swordsmen.
But contrary to what popular culture might have us believe, powerful female warriors have been present since the beginning. C.L. Moore’s Jirel debuted in 1934, and the red-haired woman warrior archetype was born.
Kings of the Wyld
Warriors don’t stay young and strong forever. They get old and they retire, if they don't meet a grimmer and bloodier fate. But sometimes, you must come out of retirement—and that’s what the once-legendary band of mercenaries in Eames’ novel does.
The Copper Promise
A female warrior, an exiled knight, and a lord hellbent on revenge make up an unlikely trio, but they end up becoming the last line of defense against a monstrous dragon.
Chosen of the Changeling
A princess and a warrior join forces to battle a vengeful god. But when they seek refuge from the god’s brother, they find themselves caught between two warring deities.
Karigan just had the most disastrous day at school. She’s probably going to be expelled after getting into a fight. Now, her entire future is uncertain. Then she crosses paths with a dying man. A messenger of the king, the man begs Karigan to carry his message to its final destination. She agrees, changing the course of her life forever.
Elric of Melnibone
We often associate sword and sorcery with big, strapping warriors. Elric of Melnibone offers a counterpoint: the frail, albino king of a failing empire, and his soul-stealing sword.
The Ladies of Mandrigyn
When an evil wizard enslaves the men from the city of Mandrigyn, the women left behind seek help from Sun Wolf, a mercenary captain. He wants nothing to do with this job, but the women are quite insistent. And so, he begins training them in the art of war.
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The Conan the Barbarian Stories
Howard is credited by many as the creator of sword and sorcery, and his Conan the Barbarian character is synonymous with the genre for many readers. Films, television shows, and comics have all featured the character.
This volume collects the first 13 stories that introduced us to the legendary Cimmerian warrior.
Born an outcast, Serroi was taken in by a sorcerer with less than noble motivations. As an adult, she’s become a skilled swordwoman. But when she discovers an assassination plot, she’s targeted by people who’d prefer she not share that knowledge with anyone else.
For Auric Manteo, the days of adventuring are over. Instead, he lives out his retirement in the countryside. But he’s forced to come out of retirement to save his daughter.
Now, alongside novice companions and an old soldier, Auric journeys into the Barrowlands, where he not only must contend with deadly monsters and traps, but also a bloodthirsty god.
A legendary swordsman from the south and a talented female warrior trained by the greatest sword masters of the north meet when the latter journeys south to find her kidnapped brother.
The Reluctant Swordsman
When Wallie went to the hospital, he never expected to wake up in the body of a barbarian warrior. He definitely didn’t expect a slave girl as a companion or an old priest spouting nonsense about a goddess.
Wallie’s a modern guy with modern sensibilities, so he makes a logical assumption: this is all a weird dream caused by his illness and medical treatments. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
To Ride Hell's Chasm
A respected royal guard teams up with the scorned garrison captain to track down a princess who failed to show up for her betrothal banquet. But their investigation unveils something even more shocking: the princess wasn’t kidnapped, she fled. Now, the pressing question is why.
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps
Labeled a sorcerer for his knowledge and skills, Demane has been hired to guard a caravan on a perilous journey. Together with the captain he loves, Demane fights to keep their employers alive. But it comes at a great cost.
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The Five Senses Set
Three different young woman gifted with extraordinary abilities associated with one of the five senses fight off unwanted marriages, wicked wizards, and scheming nobles in this trilogy of standalone novels.
The Blade Itself
An exiled warrior, a wizard, a noble, and an inquisitor cross paths in Abercrombie’s debut novel, which helped to cement the grimdark fantasy trend of the late '00s.
The Magician's Guild
Every year, the magician’s guild gathers to cleanse the city of its sins. This year, however, a girl from the slums throws a rock at the guild and penetrates their supposedly-flawless shields with ease.
Now, they must track her down before her uncontrolled powers kill her and destroy the city. And, with some luck, maybe they can convince her to join their ranks.
The Adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Volume One
Unlikely partnerships between rogues are found throughout the entire sword and sorcery genre. Meet Fritz Leiber's the barbarian Fafhrd and the wizard’s apprentice, the Gray Mouser, the duo who inspired the now-iconic trope.
Better known for her novels about telepathic white horses and the extraordinary humans they’re bonded to, Lackey also wrote a series of short stories about a female sorceress named Kethry, a celibate swordswoman named Tarma, and the blood vow that ties them together.
The short stories were later woven together to create this first volume in her Vows and Honor series.
Tales of Neveryon
In this collection of stories, Delany explores a civilization in transformation when a slave gains his freedom and then leads a revolt. Fans will recognize in this volume Delany's familiar themes of language, power, and gender.
The Complete Morgaine
While Cherryh’s four-book Morgaine Cycle has more hard sci-fi aspects than you’d expect, the mission undertaken by its heroine is pure sword and sorcery.
Long ago, a linked network of portals allowed a ruthless empire to span space and time. Now, someone has used these ancient gates to transform the universe. To stop the calamity, a woman and her companion must travel from world to world and close the gates.
The Way of Shadows
A street urchin apprentices himself to the city’s best assassin, even if it means turning his back and forgetting everything—and everyone—he ever knew.
The Hammer and the Blade
Like any self-respecting roguish duo from a sword and sorcery novel, a warrior-priest of a dead god and a magic-wielding thief just want to get rich and famous. Unfortunately, life has other plans for them.
The Witcher: The Last Wish
Fantasy fans have likely heard of the video games and Netflix series inspired by Sapkowski’s Witcher series. This aptly-named first volume collects stories introducing us to Geralt, a monster hunter forged by elite training and magic.
If you like your sword and sorcery less black and white and instead cast in shades of gray, this series inspired by Polish folklore is for you.
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