Recently a reviewer described my novel Melokai (In the Heart of the Mountains #1) as grimdark. I’ve been calling it epic fantasy, but as it does fit with the grimdark sentiment, I’m embracing it wholeheartedly! So, just what is grimdark?
It’s considered lots of different things by different people. Therefore, completely based on my own understanding, I would call the wider genre Fantasy, the subgenre Epic Fantasy and then the sub-subgenre Grimdark.
Grimdark means to me that the world is darker, grittier, more brutal than some of the lighter epic fantasy. It has morally ambiguous characters and there’s often not a guaranteed happily ever after ending. Think George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones where ‘good’ doesn’t always win, the violence is graphic and unrelenting, and there are darker themes like incest.
A few authors always spring to mind when you think of grimdark fantasy: the aforementioned George R. R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie (read my review of The Blade Itself) and Mark Lawrence (read my review of the Prince of Thorns). But what about the women making their dark, gritty mark on this subgenre?
If you like your fantasy on the more realistic and ruthless side, or you want to read more books written by a woman, then here are eight female grimdark authors to check out (in no particular order). I’ve added them all to my To Be Read list!
1) Anna Stephens
Anna Stephens’ debut novel Godblind came out in 2017 and the second in the trilogy, Darksoul is due out this summer. This front cover is my favourite of all eight.
Godblind (The Godblind Trilogy #1)
The Mireces worship the bloodthirsty Red Gods. Exiled from Rilpor a thousand years ago, and left to suffer a harsh life in the cold mountains, a new Mireces king now plots an invasion of Rilpor’s thriving cities and fertile earth.
Dom Templeson is a Watcher, a civilian warrior guarding Rilpor’s border. He is also the most powerful seer in generations, plagued with visions and prophecies. His people are devoted followers of the god of light and life, but Dom harbours deep secrets, which threaten to be exposed when Rillirin, an escaped Mireces slave, stumbles broken and bleeding into his village.
Meanwhile, more and more of Rilpor’s most powerful figures are turning to the dark rituals and bloody sacrifices of the Red Gods, including the prince, who plots to wrest the throne from his dying father in the heart of the kingdom. Can Rillirin, with her inside knowledge of the Red Gods and her shocking ties to the Mireces King, help Rilpor win the coming war?
2) Anna Smith Spark
The Court of Broken Knives is Anna Smith Spark’s debut grimdark novel. Released in 2017, the follow up, The Tower of Living and Dying, is expected to be published this July.
The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust #1)
They’ve finally looked at the graveyard of our Empire with open eyes. They’re fools and madmen and like the art of war. And their children go hungry while we piss gold and jewels into the dust.
In the richest empire the world has ever known, the city of Sorlost has always stood, eternal and unconquered. But in a city of dreams governed by an imposturous Emperor, decadence has become the true ruler, and has blinded its inhabitants to their vulnerability. The empire is on the verge of invasion – and only one man can see it.
Haunted by dreams of the empire’s demise, Orhan Emmereth has decided to act. On his orders, a company of soldiers cross the desert to reach the city. Once they enter the Palace, they have one mission: kill the Emperor, then all those who remain. Only from ashes can a new empire be built.
The company is a group of good, ordinary soldiers, for whom this is a mission like any other. But the strange boy Marith who walks among them is no ordinary soldier. Marching on Sorlost, Marith thinks he is running away from the past which haunts him. But in the Golden City, his destiny awaits him – beautiful, bloody, and more terrible than anyone could have foreseen.
3) Kameron Hurley
Hugo award winning author Kameron Hurley writes both science fiction and fantasy. Her fantasy series, the Worldbreaker Saga, started in 2014 with book one The Mirror Empire. Book two Empire Ascendant came out in 2015 and the third, The Broken Heavens, is due to be published in 2019.
The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga #1)
On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.
In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.
As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.
Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.
In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.
NOTE: I’ve read this one! It's included on my list of 20 SFF novels with a matriarchal society. Read my review of The Mirror Empire here.
4) Robin Hobb
Last year, fantasy author Robin Hobb released Assassin’s Fate the sixteenth novel set in The Realm of the Elderlings universe, which started with her debut The Assassin's Apprentice in 1995.
She is known as one of the pioneers of portraying a more realistic world where virtue isn’t always rewarded. The Assassin’s Apprentice came out one year before George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.
There are 23 books in total in The Realm of the Elderlings universe, including the shorter works.
Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy #1)
In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.
Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals - the old art known as the Wit - gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.
So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly, as he trains to become a royal assassin.
5) M.L. Spencer
Darkmage, the first book of M.L. Spencer’s The Rhenwars Saga was released in 2011. Book two, as well as a prequel, book zero, were published in 2017 and the third book, Darkrise, is due out this year.
Darkmage (The Rhenwars Saga #1)
The hope of the world rests in the hands of a Darkmage.
The Well of Tears is open and the terror of the night has been unleashed. Now, the last Sentinel left alive with the power to defend his world against the minions of the Netherworld is a man destined to be corrupted into the image of what he hates.
In the name of duty, Darien Lauchlin will see oaths forsaken, crowns toppled, friends sacrificed and the land he loves desecrated. For there is a very thin line between duty… and brutal inhumanity.
6) Timandra Whitecastle
Timandra Whitecastle’s Touch of Iron launched in 2016, the second book of The Living Blade series was released in 2017, and the as-yet-untitled book three is forthcoming.
Touch of Iron (The Living Blade #1)
Is the Living Blade real or just a legend?
With it… Prince Bashan could win back his kingdom. Master Telen Diaz can free himself of the burden from his past. Owen Smith sees a once-in-a-lifetime chance to gain untold knowledge.
… but for Noraya Smith, the Living Blade will bring nothing but suffering and sorrow.
7) Rebecca Levene
Smiler’s Fair is the first novel in the Hollow Gods Quartet by Rebecca Levene. It was published in 2014, with book two The Hunter’s Kind (2015) and the third book due out this March.
Smiler's Fair (The Hollow Gods #1)
Yron the moon god died, but now he's reborn in the false king's son. His human father wanted to kill him, but his mother sacrificed her life to save him. He'll return one day to claim his birthright. He'll change your life.
He'll change everything.
Smiler's Fair: the great moving carnival where any pleasure can be had, if you're willing to pay the price. They say all paths cross at Smiler's Fair. They say it'll change your life. For five people, Smiler's Fair will change everything.
In a land where unimaginable horror lurks in the shadows, where the very sun and moon are at war, five people - Nethmi, the orphaned daughter of a murdered nobleman, who in desperation commits an act that will haunt her forever. Dae Hyo, the skilled warrior, who discovers that a lifetime of bravery cannot make up for a single mistake. Eric, who follows his heart only to find that love exacts a terrible price. Marvan, the master swordsman, who takes more pleasure from killing than he should. And Krish, the humble goatherd, with a destiny he hardly understands and can never accept - will discover just how much Smiler's Fair changes everything.
8) J.V. Jones
Considered one of the early originators of grimdark, J.V. Jones’s Sword of Shadows series started with A Cavern of Black Ice in 1999. Just as we await the next book in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, Sword of Shadows is also unfinished, with the fifth book ‘underway’.
A Cavern of Black Ice (Sword of Shadows #1)
As a newborn Ash March was abandoned--left for dead at the foot of a frozen mountain. Found and raised by the Penthero Iss, the mighty Surlord of Spire Vanis, she has always known she is different. Terrible dreams plague her and sometimes in the darkness she hears dread voices from another world. Iss watches her as she grows to womanhood, eager to discover what powers his ward might possess. As his interest quickens, he sends his living blade, Marafice Eye, to guard her night and day.
Raif Sevrance, a young man of Clan Blackhail, also knows he is different, with uncanny abilities that distance him from the clan. But when he and his brother survive an ambush that plunges the entire Northern Territories into war, he yet seeks justice for his own . . . even if means he must forsake clan and kin.
Ash and Raif must learn to master their powers and accept their joint fate if they are to defeat an ancient prophecy and prevent the release of the pure evil known as the End Lords.
My grimdark epic fantasy Melokai was published in October 2017. It is the first in the In the Heart of the Mountains trilogy and book two, called V, will be out later in 2018.
There are also two novellas set in the same brutal world – The Fall of Vaasar (get a free copy) and The Sand Scuttler, coming out in May 2018. As well as three short stories.
Melokai (In the Heart of the Mountains #1)
Legendary warrior Ramya has successfully ruled as Melokai for longer than most. Prosperous, peaceful, and happy, her people love her. Or so she thinks.
Ramya’s time is up. Bracing herself for the gruesome sentence imposed on all Melokais who have served their purpose, she hears instead a shocking prophecy.
Is the abrupt appearance of a mysterious, eastern cave creature the prophesied danger? Or is it something darker, more evil? And what of the wolves? Will the ferocious war with their kind oust her from power?
Suddenly Ramya must fight threats from all sides to save her mountain realm. But while her back is turned, a conspiracy within her inner circle is festering. Ramya and her female warriors must crush an epic rebellion before it can destroy her and devastate her beloved country.
Do you know of any more must-read female grimdark authors? Or have you read any of the above? Let me know! Leave a comment below.
>>My debut novel, a grimdark, epic fantasy called MELOKAI, is out now! Available from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Read more about my books here.<<
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