Like More Fright, Less Horror? Read These 10 Dark Fantasy Books

The dark fantasy genre is a fascinating one. It studies the shadowy side of human nature as well as delves into the supernatural.

If the weird, sublime and the out-of-the-ordinary appeal to you, then do take a look at the following ten books, each of which is a shining example of the dark fantasy genre.

10. The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger, by Stephen King

First Published: 1982

What It’s About:

In the first book of this series, we meet the mysterious hero, Roland Deschain from Gilead. He is known as the last gunslinger. His presence is menacing, haunting, and he is usually seen on his own. No one knows the quest that he is on, traveling through an empty world, similar to the one we inhabit. He is after a man in black, an evil creature with the ability to bring the dead back to life. Despite being a good man, Roland seems to bring nothing but death wherever he goes.

Why You Should Read It:

This book has plenty of beautiful imagery and memorable characters that will haunt you. It is interesting to know that Stephen King took 25 years to complete this series, and considers it his magnum opus. The series originally appeared as a short story in a fantasy magazine, but due to its popularity, King expanded it into a series which continues to enthrall dark fantasy fans even today.

Best Quote:

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

9. Weaveworld, by Clive Barker

First Published: 1987

What It’s About:

This dark fantasy story takes place in the Fugue, a magical land inhabited by descendants of supernatural entities who, once upon a time, lived alongside humans on Earth. To protect it from destructive forces, the Fugue has been woven into a carpet. When its guardian dies, a battle ensues between good and evil forces in a bid to gain control of the Fugue.

Why You Should Read It:

Full of memorable characters, the story brings together a magical fantasy and reality. It will appeal to readers who like a hint of science-fiction and fantasy and prefer a dark undercurrent running through a book. The macabre and fantastic world of pure fantasy that the author welcomes you into is deeply engrossing. There is plenty of symbolism in the story with characters frequently pondering over the meaning of life and the role of society.

Best Quote:

“That which is imagined can never be lost.”

8. The Black Company, by Glen Cook

First Published: 1984

What It’s About:

The powerful wizard, the Dominator has the ability to turn his enemies, even those almost his equal in magical skills, into lifelong servants. The most powerful of his victims are known as the Ten Who Were Taken, also called Taken. Dominator works with his wife, the Lady, whose magical prowess doesn’t compare to her husband’s. Together, they established an evil empire that stands unparalleled in terms of sheer evil. The empire, however, was overthrown by rebel forces led by the White Rose, but none were able to kill the Dominator, the Lady, and the Taken. Instead, they were imprisoned. After four centuries, a wizard, hoping to learn from the Lady’s wisdom, unlocks her from the prison, and in doing so unleashes a terrible chain of events that change everything.

Why You Should Read It:

Dealing with the traditional good-versus-evil battle, this is a fascinating book because it makes the reader wonder who is, in fact, good and who is evil.

Best Quote:

“Evil is relative. You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”

7. Shadowland, by Peter Straub

First Published: 1980

What It’s About:

Tom Flanagan and Del Nightingale are school friends who decide to spend the summer at Del’s uncle’s house in New England, where they hope to become excellent at the magic tricks. In the dark house situated in the heart of the forest of Vermont, the two budding magicians spend time learning some deeply-guarded secrets. They enter a world of evil, but only one will successfully make it into the deeply evil realm. The summer will prove life-changing for the two friends.

Why You Should Read It:

A coming-of-age fantasy novel, this story has a heavy undercurrent of horror and suspense throughout. From the very beginning, the book will leave you unsettled and make you feel that something is very wrong. Straub has an uncanny ability to construct a menacing atmosphere, while creating shocking imagery. Read this to be left awestruck.

Best Quote:

“You’ll never get anything done if you walk around with an unchipped heart.”

6. Ancient Images, by Ramsey Campbell

First Published: 1989

What It’s About:

For several years, there have been rumors of a lost horror film starring two of the biggest actors in the genre, but the rumored film was never released. According to word of mouth, powerful forces got rid of the film by burning all known prints and no one has ever seen the finished film, no one that is still alive anyway. When film researcher, Sandy Allan is invited to the screening of a newly discovered print of the film, eerie events start taking place, beginning with the disappearance of the sole surviving print. Sandy sets out on the quest to find the lost film and this is when the real horror begins.

Why You Should Read It:

If you are looking for a realistic story with effective horror built into the plot, you will enjoy this dark fantasy novel. When a story is grounded in reality, the horror seems even more real.

Best Quote:

“She sat on a bench on the empty platform, the breaths of oncoming trains stirring the hairs on the back of her neck. She leafed through Graham’s notebook, but couldn’t concentrate; she found she had to keep glancing along the platform towards the tunnel. Some fault in the mechanism made the train doors reopen after she boarded, as if someone had leapt on at the last moment. “

5. At Fear’s Altar, by Richard Gavin

First Published: 2012

What It’s About:

This book is a collection of dark fantasy and horror. Most stories relate to people going about their daily lives, when suddenly they are plunged into otherworldly horrors. The author heavily emphasizes on the atmosphere and that which is not explicitly stated. The tension is built through clever writing, with mentions of monsters throughout the book. When a woman goes on a hiking trip, little does she know that she will walk right into the clutches of a monster. When a mask is found, no one realizes that it is, in fact, a portal into another world.

Why You Should Read It:

Whether you are looking for monsters, psychological horror, or the weird underbelly of the dark fantasy genre, you will find it all in this book. If you enjoy well-written characters and the heady mix of horror and fantasy, this book will not disappoint.

Best Quote:

“But you said you banished King Him after … that you banished King Him the last time.”

4. Three Dark Crowns, by Kendare Blake

First Published: 2016

What It’s About:

On Fennibirn Island, every generation sees a set of triplets. The triplets are three Queens, all of whom are equal heirs to the crown and each triplet has magical powers. Katherine can ingest any poison and is a poisoner. Mirabella controls the elements and has the power to conjure up a storm or create a vicious fire. Arsinoe is a naturalist, someone who can make the reddest rose bloom or control the fiercest lion. Becoming Queen means fighting for the crown and the fight can turn into a game of life and death. The deadly battle begins on the triplets’ sixteenth birthday. The triplets, however, are not as powerful as they have told everyone, and the race for the crown may bring out forces darker than any of them thought possible.

Why You Should Read It:

A dark story with plenty of twists and turns, this is a suspenseful page-turner in the dark fantasy genre.

Best Quote:

“No one really wishes to be a Queen.”

3. Magic Steals, by Ilona Andrews

First Published: 2016

What It’s About:

Dali Harimau is a shapeshifting tigress and is able to heal using her magical skills. She has a dislike for violence and bloodshed that others like her are used to. She becomes a vegetarian to prove how much she dislikes the way of life that those around her follow. Jim Shrapshire is the complete opposite of Dali. He is a Jaguar shapeshifter and has been asked to control the Atlanta Cat Clan. He does so with lethal force and swift action to quash any disobedience. He approaches Dali whenever he needs to be healed and has a soft spot for her. One day, Dali is approached by a woman whose grandmother has disappeared, and Dali and Jim investigate the matter together. The two are unaware that they may just come face to face with a lethal enemy far more skilled than them in the dark arts.

Why You Should Read It:

Magic, enigma, romance and dark forces are just some of the elements that make this book the enthralling read that it is. A fast-paced action novel that melds together dark fantasy and suspense, it keeps the reader wanting to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Best Quote:

“True beauty is in how that person makes you feel. When a man truly loves you, the longer you are together, the more beautiful you will be to him.”

2. The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins

First Published: 2015

What It’s About:

Before both her parents died, Carolyn was like any normal American girl. Then, she and a few others were taken in by a man they called Father. Carolyn and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father’s customs. The siblings have studied the books they found in the Library at their home with Father. The books have helped Carolyn and her siblings understand some of the Father’s secrets and how he gets his power. They wonder if Father may actually be God. One day, Father goes missing, and could possibly be dead. The Library, which holds all of his secrets now stands unguarded and the control over all creations is uncertain. Carolyn must gather all her tools to prepare for a battle with much stronger competitors.

Why You Should Read It:

In preparing for the battle, will Carolyn forget what makes her human? This book brings to life some memorable characters and a plot that never fails to shock.

Best Quote:

“Peace of mind is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.”

1. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

First Published: 1818

What It’s About:

Victor Frankenstein is a dedicated science student, obsessed with discovering the origins of life and making lifeless matter come alive. Using stolen body parts, Frankenstein brings to life a monstrous human being. He is horrified by his creation once he sees it in all its horror. Because it is isolated, the creature turns into a murderous hunter seeking revenge against Frankenstein.

Why You Should Read It:

It is interesting to note that this work of classic literature, which also falls under the dark fantasy genre, was written by Mary Shelley when she was only eighteen. It is a Gothic thriller, a romance novel and a work of dark fantasy. The book has been extremely influential in the genres of horror and science-fiction and continues to be widely read today. It asks some crucial questions, including the meaning behind every human being’s existence.

Best Quote:

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”

Conclusion

These ten dark fantasy novels are the perfect blend of fright, horror, suspense and mystery. The plot often delves into otherworldly landscapes, often with a protagonist fighting mythical creatures for survival.

Scary monsters are scattered throughout books in this genre, with frequent accounts of supernatural forces. When you feel the need to escape to a mysterious setting with strange and unforgettable characters, these ten dark fantasy books will provide you with the perfect getaway.

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