We’re pleased to present this guest feature from Christopher Husberg, author of the fantasy novel Duskfall. In the following feature, Husberg shares five of his favorite works of dark fantasy:
Stuck with arrows and close to death, a man is pulled from the icy waters of the Gulf of Nahl. Winter, a seemingly quiet young fisherman’s daughter, harbours a secret addiction that threatens to destroy her. A young priestess, Cinzia, must face a long journey home to protect her church from rebellion. A rebellion sparked by her sister. Three characters on different paths will be brought together by fate on one thrilling and perilous adventure.
I was a fan of “Game of Thrones”, like, way before it was cool.
And by “Game of Thrones” I’m of course referring to the source material by George R.R. Martin, the dark fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. I read A Game of Thrones for the first time in high school more than fifteen years ago, and I was immediately hooked. My freshman year of college, I remember having wallpapers of the Targaryens and the Lannisters on my rented desktop computer. My roommate and his friends made fun of me for that, but the joke’s on them—I guarantee they all watch the HBO program now.
As awesome as the television show and the books are, “Game of Thrones”/ASOIAF was certainly not the first dark fantasy epic on the block. I’d like to call attention to a few of my underrated favorites in the genre—books that have high body counts, often include elements of horror, don’t shy away from letting bad things happen to our favorite characters, and do all of these things (and others besides!) remarkably well.
1. Inferno – Dante Alighieri
One man’s journey through hell, and beyond. ‘Nuff said, right?
I’ll start with a classic. You could categorize almost any of the classical epics as dark fantasy, but Inferno is far and away my favorite—not only because Alighieri is a weirdly brilliant poet, but also because his mind was as sick and twisted as they come. Things don’t get much darker and more tortured than Hell itself, and Dante describes the horrors that afflict the denizens of Inferno with excruciating detail. If you haven’t read Dante’s Inferno, I highly recommend it. It’s core reading for any serious dark fantasy fan.
2. Last Argument of Kings – Joe Abercrombie
An apocalyptic war looms over an unsuspecting people, and it is up to a barbarian, a torturer, a soldier, and an incredibly powerful mage to stop it—or at least see it through to its dire end.
Joe Abercrombie has become the poster-child for grimdark—the nihilistic fringe of dark fantasy. Many know The Blade Itself because it’s the first in his trilogy, introducing some extremely memorable characters as well as his idiosyncratic grimdark style. I often hear people talking about his later books, too—Best Served Cold, The Heroes, Red Country—and for good reason; all of the above are fantastic novels. But my favorite of his is actually the final volume of his trilogy: Last Argument of Kings. The sheer existential dread that Abercrombie weaves into the ending of his trilogy still astound (and haunts) me. I remember sitting in bed after finishing the last page, practically in shock, because nothing seemed to have ended rightly for anyone, and I had just never seen that before—at least not on this scale. This wasn’t just the end of a single novel, after all; it was the end of a series. “Nobody gets what they deserve,” one of the characters frequently says, and you see the absolute truth of that in the ending of this novel, and it is delightful. Horrifying…but delightful.
3. Deadhouse Gates – Steven Erikson
It’s sort of impossible to give a blurb for this book. If you want a blurb, go read the first installment in the series, Gardens of the Moon. 🙂
No one tells epic, ensemble, sprawling tales quite like Steven Erikson, and Deadhouse Gates stands in the top tier of my favorite Erikson novels. Erikson, like George R.R. Martin, is not afraid to be cruel to his characters. Deadhouse Gates contains some of the most surprising death scenes I’ve read. In Erikson’s world, noo one is safe from the slaughter, or from fates far worse. He also captures the horror and desolation of war in fantasy better than almost any other author I could name (when you read about the Chain of Dogs, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Deadhouse Gates is just the second entry in Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, but it’s one of my favorites.
4. The Stormcaller – Tom Lloyd
Isak is a white-eye, born bigger, stronger, and more charismatic than any man. He was raised to fight and die on a battle field—until he is chosen to succeed the white-eyed king. Suddenly he becomes the focal point of prophecy as he is swept up in a war that goes far beyond the mortal realm.
If you like fast-paced action, characters that are larger than life, battles that are even larger than that, all taking place in a dark fantasy setting where the gods are just trying to survive (let alone the mortals), look no further than Tom Lloyd’s The Stormcaller. I particularly enjoyed how Lloyd grinds elements of horror into his gritty fantasy world. He does this well in The Stormcaller, but it becomes even more prevalent as the series progresses. I’d love to say more about this book, and the Twilight Reign series in general, but so much of what I want to say is spoilerific. So, instead, I’ll just say this: Tom Lloyd is a solid voice in dark fantasy, and if you’re interested in the genre you should totally check out his work.
5. The Reapers are the Angels – Alden Bell
Temple is a young girl wandering the wasteland of a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested America. She must stave off the dead and escape the living as she searches for a home and her own salvation.
I’m maybe cheating a bit with this entry—it’s technically a post-apocalyptic zombie novel, but in my book that qualifies more or less as dark fantasy, and especially so in this case. Also, when I think of underrated novels, this one always comes to mind. I seriously don’t know why it hasn’t garnered more attention; it’s easily in my top ten list of all-time favorite books.
Bell presents a bleak post-apocalyptic world from the eyes of a lonely girl, whose most genuine interactions are with the people who want her dead. A lot of my favorite dark fantasy, as you’ve likely noticed in this list, goes grand in scale. This book does the opposite, spiraling inward into a fascinating, tragic character, and how she interacts with, attempts to be a part of, and ultimately loves the world around her.
I never expected the most beautiful novel I ever read to be a zombie novel, but it is, and it’s this one. Go read it. You won’t be disappointed.