This is the list with the best dark fantasy books all the way to 2021.
I’m a huge fan of this subgenre, so if you’re looking to expand your reading list with some dark books, you’re at the right place.
Now, you might wonder:
what makes a book dark fantasy?
According to wikipedia, dark fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy that incorporates disturbing or frightening themes. It often has an element of horror and a dark tone.
As such, it’s often used as a synonym for supernatural horror. However, it’s also often associated with stories featuring anti-heros or morally ambiguous characters.
It can even refer to the darkest fantasy books of authors that also write other subgenres of fantasy.
So, a real definition is hard to pinpoint. As such, you’ll find several books in this list, both of the “supernatural horror kind” and of the “anti-hero kind.”
Anyway, I’m just going to give you a list with some great picks if you want to explore your dark side more!
So, read on for the best dark fantasy books, both for:
Young Adult and
New Adult / Adult.
Best YA Dark Fantasy Books
Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy #1) by Emily A. Duncan
Genre: YA Dark Fantasy Romance
Publisher: Wednesday Books
We start off our list with the best dark fantasy books with Wicked Saints: a girl who can speak to the gods, a prince in danger, and a boy with a monstrous secret.
Together, these three must assassinate the king and stop the war. Their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light.
The Risen Shard (The Chain Breaker #1) by D.K. Holmberg
Genre: YA Dark Epic Adventure Fantasy
Publisher: ASH Publishing
Gavin Lorren has finally escaped the life of being a trained assassin. No more killing innocents. No more working alone.
But his good fortune is fleeting. Gavin finds himself facing a new enemy, fast and deadly El’aras warriors—an ancient race with innate magical talent. Not that Gavin knew it involved sorcery, but by the time he does find out, it’s already too late. If he wants to survive, he needs to uncover parts of his past that he’d hoped to forget.
The Library of the Dead (Edinburgh Nights #1) by T.L. Huchu
Genre: YA Dark Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. The dead whisper to her that someone’s bewitching children—leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. So when a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, Ropa decides to investigate.
To hunt down the clues, she needs to call on Zimbabwean magic and her Scottish pragmatism. Ropa dices with death, discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?
Daughter of the Blood (The Black Jewels #1) by Anne Bishop
Genre: YA Dark Fantasy Romance
Publisher: Roc NAL (New American Library) Penguin
The Dark Kingdom is preparing to fulfill an ancient prophecy: the arrival of a new Witch Queen, who will wield more power than even the High Lord of Hell himself.
However, the new queen is young and easily influenced: whoever controls her controls the Darkness. And so, three sworn enemies begin a ruthless game of politics and intrigue, magic and betrayal.
What’s at stake?
Just the destiny of an entire world.
Blood Heir (Blood Heir Trilogy #1) by Amélie Wen Zhao
Genre: YA Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Delacorte Press
In the Cyrilian Empire, the Affinites are reviled, and their gifts are deemed unnatural. But the crown princess, Anastacya Mikhailov, has the most terrifying gift.
Her ability to control blood has long been kept a secret, but when her father is murdered, she is the only suspect. And so, Ana must find her father’s killer.
But beyond the palace walls is a world of corruption and great conspiracy, threatening the balance of Ana’s world. She can only find one person corrupt enough to help her: Ramson Quicktongue. He’s a cunning crime lord with very sinister plans. However, the princess might be the most dangerous player out of all of them.
What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo
Genre: YA Dark Horror Fantasy
Eleanor has not seen or spoken with her family in years. Not after they sent her away to the boarding school of Saint Bridig’s.
Her memories of them are vague: the fanged snout of her grandfather, the barrel full of water her mother always soaked in, and the hunting trips in the dark wood with her sister and cousins. And they all looked at her as if she was a freak.
But now Eleanor finds the courage to return home and confront her family, but they already seem to await her and welcome her with open arms. And yet, a sudden death rocks the family, leaving Eleanor to manage the difficult new dynamic.
She turns to her mysterious grandmother, Grandmere, for help, who brings order into the household.
But that soon turns to tyranny.
To survive, Eleanor must embrace her family and join forces with the ghost of Grandma Persephone to confront the monstrousness lurking deep within her Grandmere, and herself.
The Warded Man (The Demon Cycle #1) by Peter V. Brett
Genre: YA Dark Adventure Fantasy
Publisher: Random House
As darkness falls after sunset, the corelings rise—demons who possess supernatural powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years, the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards—symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile.
It was not always this way.
Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms, but those days are gone. Night by night, the demons grow stronger while human numbers dwindle under their relentless assault.
Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past.
Together, they will stand against the night.
Blood Song (Raven's Shadow #1) by Anthony Ryan
Genre: YA Dark Adventure Fantasy
Publisher: Anthony Ryan
Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of ten when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order.
The Brothers of the Sixth Order are devoted to battle, and Vaelin will be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate, and dangerous life of a Warrior of the Faith.
He has no family now save the Order.
Vaelin’s father was Battle Lord to King Janus, ruler of the unified realm. Vaelin’s rage at being deprived of his birthright and dropped at the doorstep of the Sixth Order like a foundling knows no bounds.
He cherishes the memory of his mother, and what he will come to learn of her at the Order will confound him.
His father, too, has motives that Vaelin will come to understand. But one truth overpowers all the rest: Vaelin Al Sorna is destined for a future he has yet to comprehend.
A future that will alter not only the realm, but the world.
Best New Adult / Adult Dark Fantasy Books
Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle #1) by Jay Kristoff
Genre: New Adult Dark Epic Fantasy
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
A list featuring the best dark fantasy books wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Nevernight chronicles.
The story is about Mia Corvere, set in a land where the three suns almost never set. Mia is the daughter of an executed traitor and is barely able to escape the repercussions with her life. But she does so with the help of a friend, a creature made of shadows, drawn to her by the gift she possesses.
Trained to be an assassin and hungry for revenge for the people responsible for her father’s death and mother’s imprisonment, she now journeys to the Red Church to become an apprentice.
But, as may be expected, getting initiated as a Blade of the Lady of Blessed Murder is not just about following and passing her classes.
When your classmates are all killers, and the challenges presented in each class can get you killed, it’s about survival.
I would highly recommend Nevernight to anyone who loves reading a story with a dark protagonist. It’s still the quite classic combo of coming-of-age and action, but it has more violence, and some pretty steamy sex-scenes to have it be YA.
So, yes, there’s also a romance subplot to fill the romance need in your heart.
When it comes down to it, it’s a story about a girl training hard to become the best and most deadly assassin of them all, but it also begs the question as to how far she’d go to reach that goal.
How far do you go for revenge? What parts of yourself do you give up? Will it be worth it?
Those are all things Mia struggles with. Even cold-blooded killers have a bit of a heart left in them, you know.
Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1) by Mark Lawrence
Genre: Adult Dark Epic Fantasy
So, the book is all about Jorg Ancrath, a Prince and heir to the throne of Ancrath. In a turn of events that find him trapped in thorns, Jorg becomes the Prince of Thorns from the title.
He escapes his home and becomes an immoral boy leading a band of outlaws in a world of chaos.
Despite being hardened by life on the road, going back to his father’s castle and confronting the horrors from his childhood is still worse.
Prince of Thorns is an excellent beginning to the Broken Empire trilogy.
There’s lots of violence, it has action, and also moments of rest and reflection. Not to mention, Jorg is a great character you’ll just love to hate or hate to love.
If you haven’t read it yet, I’ll advise you to do so right away!
Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Adult Dark Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Flatiron Books
The book follows the journey of Galaxy “Alex” Stern, raised in Los Angelos by a hippie mom.
Though she dropped out of school early and was sucked into the world of drug dealers and much worse, she still ends up at Yale. She survived an unsolved homicide, and at her hospital bed, she is given a second chance.
Her job is to monitor the activities of Yale’s secret societies, together with Daniel Arlington–or Darlington, as he’s called.
The societies practice all sorts of different magic, many alumni being the most powerful politicians or Hollywood stars. Their activities may be more sinister and extraordinary than expected, and Alex soon has to deal with more than she bargained for.
The book tackles a diversity of issues, such as victim-blaming, assault, drug use, and rape. If any of these things trigger you, I wouldn’t recommend reading it. It gets dark, and it gets real. None of the subjects are particularly fleshed out, but Leigh doesn’t shy away from them either.
The review in short: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo a thrilling read bound to keep you up at night. If you’re looking for a darker take on magic, want to explore the secret societies of Yale, while also follow the threads to solve a murder, definitely give this book a try!
A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness #1) by Joe Abercrombie
Genre: Adult Epic Dark Fantasy
Leo dan Brock struggles to win fame on the battlefield on the blood-soaked borders of Angland. He hopes that the crown will help, but the king’s son, Prince Orso, is a man who specializes in disappointments.
Savine dan Glokta, the daughter of the most feared man in the Union, plans to claw her way to the top of the slag-heap of society by any means necessary. Unfortunately, the slums boil over with the kind of rage that money can’t control.
Meanwhile, Rikki struggles to control the Long Eye. Glimpsing the future is one thing, but with the hand of the First of the Magi still pulling strings, changing it is quite another.
The age of machine dawns, but the age of magic refuses to die.
The Second Bell by Gabriela Houston
Genre: Adult Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Sometimes a child is born with two hearts. In the isolated mountain community, when this happens, they call the child a striga. It’s considered a demon, who must be abandoned on the edge of the forest.
The mother has a choice: leave with her infant, or stay in the mountain and try to forget.
Salka, a nineteen-year-old striga, and her mother, Miriat, left and live a life of deprivation in an isolated village. The striga tribe there share the same belief as humans: to follow the impulses of their other hearts is dangerous.
But Salka soon finds herself in a threatening situation that forces her to explore the depths of her true nature and test the bonds between mother and child.
All the Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter, Angela Slatter
Genre: Adult Historical Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Titan Books
Miren O’Malley’s family has prospered for a long time due to a deal with the Mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation.
However, for many years the family has been unable to keep their side of this bargain. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even if the price is Miren’s freedom.
The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst
Genre: Adult Dark Adventure Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Twenty-five years ago, five heroes defeated the bone maker Eklor: a corrupt magician who created an army out of animal bones. But only four of the heroes survived.
Kreya, the leader, has exiled herself to a remote tower with one purpose: resurrecting her dead husband. But that requires a cache of human bones and a sacrifice: for each day he lives, she will live one less.
Still, she’d rather live one year with him than a hundred without him.
Unfortunately, using human bones for magic is illegal in Vos. Yet Kreya knows where she can find the bones she needs, but defying the laws of the land exposes a terrible possibility.
Maybe the dead don’t rest in peace after all.
Mistborn: The Final Empire (The Mistborn Saga #1) by Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Adult Dark Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
After the Skaa have slaved in misery, living in fear in the ash-covered world, Kelsier, a half-Skaa, discovered within himself the powers of a Mistborn. As a brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents with the Lord Ruler, who reigns with absolute power an ultimate terror, as his mark.
Kelsier recruits the underworld’s elite, planning the greatest heist in history, and the downfall of the divine despot.
But even with such a grand criminal crew, Kel’s plan looks like the ultimate long shot, until a girl named Vin enters his life. She’s like him, but finds it hard to trust. Yet she must learn to trust Kel, if she is to master powers of which she never even dreamed off.
Those were the Best Dark Fantasy Books!
I hope you’ve found a great pick from this book list to add to your dark fantasy book collection.
Have you read any of these?
Is there a book you would add to this list?
Please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below!
2 thoughts on “The Best Dark Fantasy Books to Explore Your Dark Side (Adult & YA)”
Great list, but I don’t believe The Black Jewels series is YA. It covers a lot of very adult subject matter, portrayed fairly graphically.
Hi Leslie, thanks! Hm, I’ll look into that and move it over to the adult side. Thanks for letting me know! 🙂