Books

So You Want to Read Sword and Sorcery Fiction: Here’s Where to Start

 

Genre is a tricky business, with one person’s dark fantasy being another’s grimdark and so forth. Sword and sorcery is no exception. Also known as heroic fantasy, sword and sorcery typically focuses on the action-filled adventures of individual, often morally conflicted heroes in fantastic and often semi-historical settings. Fiction of this sort has been around for nearly a century now, with writers old and new contributing their own takes on the genre. Here’s a few of them.

coming

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian
by Robert E. Howard

I’m of the opinion that anyone looking to explore a new genre should start with the classics, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories are as classic as they come. These tales of adventure epitomize the swashbuckling character of sword and sorcery fiction. Conan, while brave and canny, is no one’s idea of a knight in shining armor. He’s a freebooter, thief, pirate, and eventually, king.

swords and deviltry

Swords and Deviltry
by Fritz Leiber

Enjoy your fantasy with a twist of humor? You’ll love Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books. The eponymous barbarian and magician’s apprentice turned thief’s tongues are as sharp as their blades, and their misadventures in the city of Lankhmar (kind of a fantasy New York City) are as memorable for their dialogue as much as they are their skullduggery and swordplay.

imaro

Imaro
by Charles R. Saunders

Sword and sorcery fiction, like much of the fantasy genre, has a tendency to over rely on Western Europe as a model for world-building. Charles R. Saunders addressed this with his Imaro series: the tales of a black sword and sorcery hero and his adventures in Nyumbani — a fantasy world inspired by the continent of Africa. Saunders’ tales have been recategorized over the years as “sword and soul”: an afrocentric answer to sword and sorcery.

jirel of joiry

Jirel of Joiry
by C. L. Moore

By now, you might have noticed that sword and sorcery features a lot of male protagonists. So did fantasy author C. L. Moore. Her Jirel of Joiry stories featured the first female sword and sorcery hero: a red-haired warrior every bit the equal of her male peers. Her enemies underestimate her at their own peril.

Hammer and Blade

The Hammer and the Blade
by Paul S. Kemp

Sword and sorcery’s roots lie in the golden age of pulp fiction, but the genre isn’t dead. There are authors still keeping the flame alive today, among them Paul S. Kemp. His Egil and Nix novels bear some comparisons to Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, but it’s a comparison that Kemp claims proudly. If you’re looking to read something a little more modern, then these novels are highly recommended.