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Dark fantasy: 5 cycles that are worth reading

Dark fantasy: 5 cycles that are worth reading

Scified2022-04-01 17:50:20
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The film adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones) took dark fantasy to a whole other level of popularity.  Deprived of the typical pathos of classic fantasy, vital in dialogue and description of everyday life, tough in the storylines - it as a genre has brought all the characters much closer to real life. Not that classic fantasy is bad, not at all. But what gave a fully immersive effect as a teenager is often, when re-read years later, perceived as a stretched-out, full-blown fairy tale. Alas, after some age, a classic fantasy work oozes the classic theatrical "I don't believe it!" in a fairy-tale-like way, devoid of half-tones.

And it is precisely dark (aka black) fantasy that is a genre devoid of all this.  The heroes become more "convex": positive heroes sometimes, in a human way, show very non-positive traits.  The average warrior, dying, no longer says to the foe, "Bastard, you cut off my leg, but retribution is coming, fear!" He physiologically reliably agonizes, uttering a few final swear words. Similarly authentic is everyone else's behavior. And then, lo and behold, the elves lose the flavor of highly moral ubermensch, and the same orcs reveal some perfectly human traits.  

And the reader, the adult reader believes, believes it all much more than the mock and deprived of vital dialogues of classic fantasy - because that is how the people around him talk and behave,

So there you go. You can pay for college papers and start to read this amazing books! There are a certain number of works in dark fantasy that are worth reading.  Some are widely known, some are not, but, for me, this is the best dark fantasy I've read


Black Fantasy. List of the best books and cycles.

Harry Harrison. The Hammer and the Cross series

There is no point in introducing the author. These are some of the last works he created with John Holm (the pseudonym of Tom Shippy, a famous philologist, and author of several research papers)


  • "The Hammer and the Cross (1993)
  • "The Cross and the King (One King's Way) (1994)
  • "The King and Emperor (1996)
  • "The Emperor and the Hammer (1996)

The series is undeservedly much less well known than Bill the Galactic Hero, Eden, or Steel Rat.


 To tell you the truth, it's a bit of a stretch to be considered dark fantasy. Rather, it is a free interpretation of well-known historical events.  The closest analogy to what is happening will be the famous TV series "Vikings". 

In Harrison, the main character's enemies are the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok.   As in the TV series, the magic here is present somewhere on the periphery, appearing only occasionally and in homeopathic doses.  Nevertheless, it is present.  


But there is plenty of everything else, for which "Vikings" is so beloved. 

The dynamic plot, blood spurting in all directions, the naturalness of everyday life, and dialogues.  The main character turns out to be a kind of Harry Potter during the Viking expansion.  The hero is very, very smart, which helps him survive all 4 books in the series. The hero is thrown in almost all the known edges of Europe. The storyline is twisted and deprived of the usual classic fantasy storyline chasing an artifact / saving the world / Great War with the villain.  The title of the series directly encrypts the essence of the plot - a civilizational clash between the world of the Vikings and the world of Christian Europe.

 I have a great affinity for Harrison's work, which was largely my diet of books as a child. But it is his Hammer and Cross series that is his most mature; it is the author's "swan song." Almost everything else is certainly interesting, too. But, frankly, less vital.  

 I'll be blunt, if have decided to make a series about Drakkar and axes, the authors of Vikings would have taken this particular series as the basis, it would have been more interesting to watch.    

Glen Cooke, The Black Company

An exceptionally large-scale work.  There's already plenty of magic here, there's even a wonderful love line - non-trivial and hooking.  Oddly enough, what is largely absent here is the main character, as such. He is replaced by - a host of secondary characters who at some point catch an updraft to that level.


Due to the scale, the length of the cycle in both time and space, it is difficult to briefly describe the essence of the plot other than "the fighting, tossing and turning of a squad of mercenaries."  They are sometimes on the side of the law (and not that it's a good law), then they are against it.  The squad's composition is highly variable simply by the vitally believable inability to get through all the twists and turns of the dynamic plot alive, most just don't survive.  

The good ones here can be bad, and the bad ones, even the very bad ones, have their own sad and empathetic story.

 Some of the books in the series are delightful, some are just tolerable.  One thing they have in common is that once you start reading the first one, you want to read the next one.  And it will take, due to its epochal nature of it, at least a few months.  


Joe Abercrombie - The Circle of the World

A pillar and a safety net, the primary and most talented contemporary author in this sub-genre, who shines his talent like the Silmaril on the top of Melkor (in my opinion, of course).  Abercrombie is like a mix of Neil Gaiman and Robert Howarth, seasoned with a good pinch of Korgoth-Warvar.

The main series includes several stand-alone series united by a common world and "through" characters.  It has everything you need for good and interesting fantasy, and everything in a reasonable dose. 

The magic is there, but not much of it. The love line barely pulsates, barely hinting at the background of the rest of the plot. There is an abundance of - it's different wars, fights, and dizzying dynamics in the plot.

The author is exceptionally talented, both in creating the storyline and in describing it: his language and narration, and dialogues are wonderful. It's a rare case where it's not just the movement of the characters through the story, but also the beauty of the textual component as such, that is enjoyable.

What else... The characters go far beyond fantasy clichés.  The dialogues are stiff and truthful - the usual fantasy pathos is absent here, everything is accurate, right down to the usually reticent physiology. 

In the freshest work of the cycle, the author gradually and quite logically brings the development of the world to a proto-Steampunk setting.  

 Abercrombie is delightful and I look forward with great anticipation to each of his works.  Highly recommend.

  • Glen Cooke, Instrumentalities of the Night
  • The Tyranny of the Night [=Assistants of the Night] (2005)  
  • The Lord of the Silent Kingdom (2007)  
  • Surrender to the Will of the Night (2010)  
  • Working God's Mischief (2014)  

Glen Cooke has been exceptionally prolific and talented in just one sub-genre.  I don't need to explain which one?  Here, by the way, I suggest you also pay attention to Garrett's rather stylistically close adventures (hello Pehov).

 The plot of "The Guns of the Night" is quite difficult to describe, there are too many different plot twists and turns. The main character is thrown as a spy into a hostile kingdom and then all the fun begins ... Search the web will answer all the questions, I will highlight the positive features of the product.

 At one time I started reading the first book in the series several times but backed out under the pressure of too many character names and locale names. The fact that the author lumps them all together is the only downside to the cycle. Other than that, there is absolutely nothing to complain about.  The plot is great and non-trivial. Both the world and the characters are "clearly" and reliably depicted. There is plenty of magic, plenty of war, and carnage. There is again a symbolic, but psychologically accurate, love line.  As in all the works in this selection, there are no pianos in the bushes--if one is destined to die, one dies.


  1. Scott Bakker, The Prince of Nothing
  • The Darkness That Comes Before [= Servants of the Dark Master] (2003)
  • The Warrior-Prophet [= Bloody Time Warrior] (2004)
  • The Thousandfold Thought [= Fall of the Holy City] (2006)

 A very, very unusual read, which is won over not so much by the dynamic plot as by the exceptional, excellent language of the narration and dialogue.  The plot itself is far from the dynamics of what I cited above, but the language, the language outweighs everything here.  There are "psychological detectives", so this is a "psychological fantasy".

All the characters are spelled out with razor-sharpness, there is enough magic and war-fighting in numbers.  

The main thing here is the character's formation: both status and personality.  All of this, of course, against the backdrop of confronting the Main Enemy himself. For once, he here is a real inky concentration of evil. However, it is not he who is the most interesting: being disembodied, the enemy here is more of an idea. The main ones here are his minions in various forms (some, as it were, are more experts at changing them). And if I had trouble somehow describing the essence of the plot of Guns of Night, then describing Prince of the Void is even more difficult.


I will say one thing if you're looking for some kind of entertaining read - this is not about you, you'll have to skip chunks of text. But if you're the kind of person who takes the time to savor beautiful phrases and is willing to let loose unhurried paragraphs describing the thoughts and experiences of the characters, then this is for you. It seems to me that if Dostoevsky had tried to write dark fantasy, it would have been something like this. Sad, ambiguous, compelling to empathize with and ponder.

 That's pretty much it.

Of course, there are many more good books in dark fantasy that deserve attention. The same series about the Malazan Empire, for example, not to mention some single works.  But in my rating of the best dark fantasy books are those that I liked: interesting and noteworthy.  By the way, Kornev does some pretty good stuff (even though I'm pretty skeptical about the level of Russian-language fantasy), albeit not sparklingly, and close in style. They're great as a light, entertaining read with an entertaining and near-detective plot.

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Written by ChrisPublished on 2022-04-01 17:50:20
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