What is the appeal of all these dark fantasy books featuring anti-heroes who are seemingly capable of committing terrifying deeds of murder and mayhem?

Why are so many modern fantasy authors at work in this subsection of the genre?

If you are looking for a break from your classic epic fantasy novel, and are looking for something that is really going to turn your world upside down and make you analyze our world in vastly different ways, then dark fantasy novels might just be one of your next reads.

Dark Fantasy Books Question Everything

The fantasy genre is the place to go to explore other worlds.  Fantasy gives an author an amazing canvas to work with; here literally anything is possible that the writer’s mind can create.  As a reader, this is an exciting place to be: you never know what might happen, even in fantasy books that stick closely to time honored tropes.

Dark fantasy is the opportunity to go a different route.  It is the departure from the norm, the radical turn away from the status quo, the deconstruction of established tropes.  If it was one book on the vast bookshelf of the fantasy genre, it would be the one that you have to ask special permission to check out, and the one that all of your wizardry tutors told you not to read.

Without a doubt, it would be the book you would only want to read after midnight, and within a carefully etched circle full of wards to protect you from any errant demons that you might summon.  And when we are talking about tomes of dark fantasy, there are definitely going to be some demons that come to visit you from the pages of these macabre books.

Reflective Characters

“It was a long journey that Dogman had taken, the last few years, and a strange one.  From nowhere to nowhere, and he’d lost lots of friends along the way.  He remembered all those men gone back to the mud. […] And what for? Who was better off because of it? All that waste.  It was enough to make a man sick to the soles of his boots.”

While other characters in the wider fantasy genre certainly find time to reflect on their problems and their place in the world, more often than not it is the characters in dark fantasy books who dedicate the most time to thinking.

Morally Ambiguous Protagonists & Anti-Heroes

“Do you know what’s worse than a villain? A villain who thinks he’s a hero.” Black Dow, from The Last Argument of Kings

Dark fantasy books are the home of the anti-hero, or the morally ambiguous protagonist.  Without a doubt, these are some of the most interesting characters created in any genre.

I remember whenever I was reading any book from the Wheel of Time, the characters who I really wanted to learn more about were the Forsaken and Shaitan.  Maybe that just makes me an evil person.  I also really wish I could have joined the Death Eaters (or the Forsaken).

Following these complex characters and watching them challenge the world offers a great amount to think about, both as readers and as writers.  Anti-heroes are often the ones who disagree with the world they have been placed in, and because they disagree with the world, the world often attempts to kill them.  Or in the very least make their lives an utter hell.  Your standard fantasy hero would nobly endure such lashings, but not the anti-hero.  The anti-hero is going to fight back, generally with little regard for the rules.

Moreover, these anti-heroes quite often deliver some variety of sinister deeds to the ruling class or to villains who the White Knight and his Noble Circle of Friends would refrain from harming.  Just like the books themselves, the characters cross the line.

As a reader, this always left me dissatisfied because once someone was handed over to the authorities, the retribution that should have been dispensed to the offender was seldom equal to the crime they had committed.

The Fight Scenes Are Brutal Yet Well Crafted

dark fantasy genre

Authors of dark fantasy books by and far write some of the absolute best fight scenes.  Not only are they clever and action packed, they are some of the most harsh and brutal moments of the book.

This results in a lot of heart pounding and adrenaline rushes, so be careful how much espresso you are consuming while reading.

Do they go too far?  In some instances, yes.  But it is also important to remember that this area of the genre is the place where you are expected to try and go too far.

7 Bloody, Terrifying Dark Fantasy Novels to get you Questioning Things

It would be very cruel indeed for me to eulogize dark fantasy without at least suggesting some to get you started.

  • Best Served Cold
  • The Black Company
  • Crown of Swords
  • Clash of Kings
  • Feast for Crows
  • The Blade Itself
  • Before They Are Hanged

If you are a seasoned reader of dark fantasy, and you know you like your anti-heroes to be clever and ruthless, you might consider my book, Splatterism: The Disquieting Recollection of a Minotaur Assailant (An Upbuilding Edifying Discourse).

My Anti-Heroes Are Going to Destroy the World