Dark Fantasy Book Recommendations

Heck Tate

The Fleet Footed
Dec 29, 2010
Somewhere good. You're jealous.
I've been reading science fiction and fantasy my entire life and have pretty much devoured everything I can get my hands on in the genres, but I've recently been getting bored with the repetitive plots and themes. A few years ago I read the Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman and thought it was one of the most creative and thrilling series I've read in a long time. Since then I've been looking for similar reads (series or stand-alones) which are creative, unpredictable, and thought-provoking. I've read the Farseer, Nightrunner, and Incarnations of Immortality series since then, and while I liked each of these, I still found nothing that is on the same level as the Coldfire Trilogy. It might be important to note that one of my favorite authors is Roger Zelazny because of his straight-forward style, but I am willing to make some sacrifices in style for truly good stories.
What I am looking for is (for lack of a better term) Dark Fantasy, something with elements of the supernatural which does not follow the tired sword and sorcery "protagonist saves the world/gets the girl" themes. Authors should not be afraid to kill off main characters or have them do things which the reader may find morally questionable. I am not, however, looking for straight horror stories as (with the exception of Lovecraft) I find them just as predictable as typical sword and sorceries.
Please suggest something which you think I will find intriguing, and thanks in advance.
When I read the title, I was going to suggest the Freidman trilogy...never mind.

Have you read China Mieville? I've only read Perdido Street Station, but that seems to fit what you're looking for.

I also would recommend The First Law trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie. They're not dark, as such, but they're not unrealisitc, stereotypical fantasy. They're very character driven, and very well written.
Like the poster above says, China Mieville - both Perdido Street Station and The Scar would definitely fit here.
Viriconium by M. John Harrison
And why not try the stories of Clark Ashton Smith? There was a nice anthology in the Masterworks series called Emperor of Dreams.
Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay was also a good non-stereotypic dark fantasy read for me.
The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Definitely not straightforward fantasy, but not King's usual stuff either (though it does have a horror edge to it). It's about a young boy from our world who enters a dark fantasy world in order to save his mother and her "twinner" (her copy in the alternate world). In some ways it's a precursor to King's The Dark Tower series, which lots of people would probably also recommend.
Well, not all modern horror falls into that category, either. Have you tried any of the following:

Thomas Ligotti
Michael Cisco
Caitlin R. Kiernan
W. H. Pugmire
Stanley C. Sargent
Michael Shea

And, of course, there are always the fantasy tales of Clark Ashton Smith. I would recommend most highly his Zothique, Poseidonis, and Hyperborean cycles, though some of his non-series tales also stand head-and-shoulders above most of the dark fantasy out there... stories such "The Double Shadow", "The Chain of Aforgommon", "The Treader of the Dust", and the like.

I don't know if you've tried Michael Moorcock's fantasy, but a fair proportion of it (especially those he wrote since the mid-1970s) are quite good. His Elric stories are held in high regard and, though uneven in quality (some of these were among his earliest published works, while others are very recent -- this year, in fact) at times hold some of his best fantastic writing; while his "Second Ether" set (Blood, Fabulous Harbours, The War Amongst the Angels) are fine pieces. And, of course, it isn't the typical thing to have your "hero" actually destroy the world....

There is also the series of tales featuring Kane, by Karl Edward Wagner. Kane is an extremely ambivalent character; while he can indeed do heroic things such as saving the world, he usually does such for his own reasons (such as realizing he is being used by a force he thought he was using, and he'll be damned if anyone or anything will control him) or, at times, for pure quixoticism. He is also a vicous monster on more than a few occasions. (He is based, at least to some degree, on the Cain of the Bible. In other words, in Wagner's fantasy universe, this is the man who first brought murder into the world....) At times these are reminiscnt of Robert E. Howard's best work, and at times they can be quite lyrical as well; but they are by no means your usual heroic fantasy.
Heck Tate here are the dark fantasy books that I would suggest for you.

George R.R.Martin A Song of Ice and Fire. It lacks the supernatural element but it hits big time on all of your other points. I think you will enjoy the series. Only four books are published so far but those four are well worth reading.
Lioness made a suggestion of The First Law books by Abercrombie which I loved. His stand alone Best Served Cold is awesome too.
John Marco Tyrants and Kings series.
Fiona McIntosh Quickening, Percheron, and Valisar series.
Carol Berg Rai-Kirah series.
Brent Weeks Night Angel trilogy.

Good luck and welcome to the board.
I wouldn't call ASOIAF, Fiona McIntosh, or Brent Weeks particularly dark. They're just normal fantasy, to me.

Don't get me wrong. I love them. To little bitty pieces. But they're not dark to the extent of Celia Friedman.
Not really fantasy, but John Connolly might be up your alley. It's more a take on modern PI/detective stories, with a supernatural/demonic twist. The protagonist, Charlie Parker, is a PI who ends up investigating a lot of cases where there is more going on than you'd expect... very creepy villians out of horror, but not straight horror. And the good guys don't necessarily win all the time. Connolly can create a mood of terror and menace unlike any author I ever read.
I guess I'd consider ASOIAF sorta dark. Not in a horror sense, but in a gritty, violent, 'holy crap!' sense.
Yeah I think you should really try ASOIAF, which beings with A Game of Thrones. Certainly gritty and unpredictable, and very excellent.
I'm kicking myself right now for not mentioning the Dark Tower series as something that I have already read and loved, they would have been the perfect recommendation. I know that most of King's work ties in with DT, but he has so much that it feels like an insurmountable challenge to read them all.

I've also read what's out for ASOIAF but like Lioness said, I don't really consider them "dark" though they are very far from the stereotypical fantasy genre. I'm really looking forward to the new one which GRRM has promised, at times I was incredibly frustrated with A Feast for Crows because IMO he cuts out many of the best characters.

Thank you all very much for the suggestions, I love the activity on these forums. I looked up the First Law trilogy and that sounds like something I would be interested in, the premise reminds me a little of the Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolf, another series I loved.
I've also read what's out for ASOIAF but like Lioness said, I don't really consider them "dark" though they are very far from the stereotypical fantasy genre.

I'm not entirely sure how you're defining dark fantasy if you don't include ASOIAF, since it does seem to meet perfectly every criteria you mention in your original post.

Thank you all very much for the suggestions, I love the activity on these forums. I looked up the First Law trilogy and that sounds like something I would be interested in, the premise reminds me a little of the Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolf, another series I loved.

I like the First Law series a lot, but I'm not sure it is what you're looking for since the plot is closer to being a standard Epic Fantasy than ASOIAF's plot (albeit that the First Law is to some extent satirising the typical Epic Fantasy plot), although it is dark in the sense that it is very cynical about humanity.

Have you tried anything by Tim Powers? He's written some excellent non-Epic Fantasy, I'd recommend "The Anubis Gates" as the best place to start.
I would like to add another voice in support for the recommendation of Clark Ashton Smith, especially since you like Lovecraft. He is the first author that springs to mind when someone says they like dark fantasy. In that vein I would also strongly recommend Algernon Blackwood, there's a good collection available by Penguin called "Ancient Sorceries and Other Stories".

I would also suggest that Robert Howard's "Solomon Kane" stories might also be just what you are looking for, or perhaps one of Tanith Lee's dark fantasy collections such as "Forests in the Night" (which I've recently read).

However, if you're not after short stories, what about "Fevre Dream" by George R. R. Martin, "Song of Kali" by Dan Simmons, "Something Wicked this way comes" by Ray Bradbury, "The House on the Borderland" by William Hope hodgson or "Darker than you Think" by Jack Williamson? All of these are novels in the great fantasy masterworks series.
Just in case you haven't got the idea yet... I'm also going to recommend Clark Ashton Smith. However, I think you might want to try buying an anthology that contains one of his stories. For dark fantasy, I'd recommend The Mammoth Book of Sorcerer's Tales. It includes The Double Shadow by Clark Ashton Smith, Ten Things I Know About The Wizard by Steve Rasnic Tem, Villagio Sogno by Richard A. Lupoff, The Sage of Theare by Diana Wynne Jones, To Become a Sorcerer by Darrell Schweitzer, The Walker Behind by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and many other wonderful stories.
Ill add another vote for Abercrombie and Mieville.

I am waiting for an available copy at library and ill finally try a song of fire and ice.
Tim Lebbon’s Noreela books (Dusk, Dawn, Fallen, Island) are dark fantasy.
I agree with Fried Egg on Smith, Blackwood, and Lee. Although Smith is more of an acquired taste. Tanith Lee is probably the most accessible, and her range is amazing.

And where Howard is concerned, of all his stories that I have read (and although they are many, they are a small fraction of his huge output) I think that his "Solomon Kane" stories are the best.