Dark fantasy brings in a bunch of horror elements, terrifying elements, a few monsters and violence. Shadows hold horrors and death is always next door.

What differentiates this genre from the horror genre is the intent. While horror aims to scare readers, dark fantasy does not. However, when it comes to dark fantasy worlds, the genre can grab multiple ramifications.

All in all, here are some of the best books featuring unusual fantasy worlds in dark scenarios.

What Are The Top Dark Fantasy Books with Epic World Building?

​Raise the Dead, by Tony Fuentes and C.S. Kading

In theory, the Corpse Wars are long over, and the Death Mages made sure no one could interact with the dead anymore. However, the dark fantasy worlds are much more difficult to change, and newborn people can still speak to the dead.

Dr. Emilio Kane wants nothing to do with it. He just wants to be a doctor, nothing else, no fancy requests. But his life changes one day when Queen Marisol turns up…

Is she dead? Can she get back to life? Her destiny is uncertain, and no one really knows what to believe. One thing is for sure, though, Emilio has a mission. In fact, he might be the only one who can get the queen back on her feet.

This is when the action begins and trust me when I say there are lots of plot twists to keep you interested.

The Monster of Elendhaven, by Jennifer Giesbrecht

This is a debut masterpiece from Jennifer Giesbrecht, but you'll be surprised. And then, if this is her debut work, imagine what she's planning for the future. This world of fantasy has murder, intrigue, monsters, and magic. What else can you ask for?

Anyway, back to the plot. Elendhaven is a city with a dark future. It's been partially abandoned, hit by the plague, and simply left to die. But then, there's something in this city that actually thrives, and no one can really explain what it is.

The monster looks like a man, but there are small details that make it stand out… And while the heart keeps growing, the future looks even darker and more cunning.

Now, all these monsters roaming around Elendhaven do care about the city, and they're planning to revenge on anyone who wronged the locals.

It sounds like a bit of a classic scenario, but once you get hooked in, you’ll love the action. It’s one of those things… You know the monster’s bad, but at the same time, it’s looking to avenge the locals, so there’s something good about it.

You don’t know who to love or who to hate, and that's exactly what makes the action unique.​

Heroes of MidAria, by Felix Cipher

The reader is introduced to the unusual Middle Realms – a world with many unusual creatures and types of people. Everyone in this world is seen through a wide spectrum – demons and other mythical creatures watch the world from the other end. But everyone in Felix Cipher‘s world wants to be liked by angels.

No one really knows what is behind the spectrum. There is no evidence whatsoever. People believe they can only be good or bad. This is a bit challenging for Dacitrynn, a cross between a demon and an angel – not very desirable in this world and often to be avoided.

Dacitrynn faces one challenge after another. He knows he is an unusual monster and he ends up getting funny looks wherever he goes. He often asks himself – is there any purpose for his existence? Can he find a place where monsters like him can rest peacefully and enjoy life?

The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

Glokta ends up in an unexpected situation. His life has taken him through a series of challenges – from fencing fights to tortures and bloody situations. He ends up trapped in a problematic body, but at least he no longer has to deal with torturing smugglers and other scum.

On the other hand, Jezal is a captain now, yet his past is just as dark – former fencing champion. He is now cheating on his friends at cards and enjoys an easy life without too many issues. Finally, the reader gets to meet Logen too, a terrible warrior with a dark past.

Then, Bayaz steps in. He might be old, but his temper is extremely young. He is about to make any other character's life more difficult. He is a challenge that could ruin everyone's plans. All these destinies fall together in a big puzzle with much more to hide than just a few coincidences.

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

Get ready to discover one of the most intense dark fantasy worlds out there through Kvothe's eyes. Known as Kote, he is an innkeeper who has done pretty much anything since his troubled childhood – burnt down cities, killed warriors and kidnapped princesses.

Living in a crime riddled city, he has obviously learned these bad habits from those around him. Looking for a new challenge, he joins a challenging school of magic. His previous careers – thief, musician, killer, hunter, assassin and so on – were not satisfying enough, so he tries something different.

The book follows Kote's adventures through an infamous world covered in crime and death. There are multiple plot twists to entertain the reader, as well as a bit of humor, suspense and thriller adventures – something for everyone to enjoy.

Prince of Fools, by Mark Lawrence

The Red Queen has some reputation. She is secretly contested, yet everyone fears her. She has fought wars and while no one has seen it, everyone is aware of her main weapon – the Silent Striker. This is what keeps the people quiet and prevents a potential uprising.

Her grandson – Prince Jalan – is aware of this weapon and can actually see it. He does not seem to care much. He loves life as it is – he likes drinking, gambling, women and so on. Everything changes when a war with the undead kicks in and while Jalan thinks he is safe, he is wrong about it.

Jalan manages to survive the Silent Striker and ends up in a team with a Norse warrior. The two start a long journey to break a spell, but as they advance through the dark world, they realize that they are only a few small pieces in a game – and believe it or not, his grandmother controls the board.

Beyond Redemption, by Michael R. Fletcher

Delusion has become reality and the humanity no longer has a purpose in Beyond Redemption. The wrong people have the power – those with the strongest convictions. They are crazy and obsessed with their belief, but their delusional views push them to dominate the world.

Out of all these people, some of them believe they can even create gods. The so called Geisteskranken manipulate those around them. Led by the High Priest Konig, they aim to help a young man – Morgen – become a god who they can control later on. It sounds crazy, but they believe in their plan.

Loads of people would benefit from a god, while just as many are against the idea. A bunch of slaves brought together by the only sane individual left are likely to change the plot. But as forces hit the young boy from all directions, time runs out and the unexpected occurs.

The Drawing of the Three, by Stephen King

Roland is the last gunslinger in the world. He has to complete a quest and go through a nightmare scenario where nothing really seems too real. But out of nowhere, he runs into three doorways. Located on the beach, each of them will take him into someone else's life in modern New York.

There is a catch behind each of these doors and Roland is too inexperienced to figure it out. Therefore, he teams with two others to figure the mystery. He is joined by the beautiful Odetta Holmes and Eddie Dean. Will the three manage to solve the issue and complete the quest?

The trio joins an unusual world covered in evil and horror. Everyone is an enemy in this scenario – no one else to count on. Stephen King has managed to create one of the most intense dark fantasy worlds out there and the book will take you through exquisite realism and darkness.

Shattered Dreams, by Alpha Dominion

This book is about everything, from love and friendship to betrayal and war. Long story short, you have a prolific soldier who got betrayed and imprisoned by his own government, only to regain his freedom later on.

Then, you have a civilian coup and some prosecutions, as well as a revolt from citizens who are tired to see the power juggling between two different sides.

Some would say this is a political thriller taking place in dark fantasy worlds, but it’s not. It’s a novel with plenty of plot twists, realistic countries and scenarios, and things that may actually happen in real life.

It’s a mix of fantasy and reality, but trust me, it makes no difference what kind of fantasy books you like. This one has a little of everything, so you can’t go wrong with it.

Besides, just when you think you got everything, boom, a new plot twist throws everything in the air…

The Warrior Prophet, by R. Scott Bakker

This is the second book in a longer series and one that will not disappoint you. The story follows the ongoing Holy War, which keeps going on and claiming victims. However, some new suspicions regarding the original threat kick in – the infidel may not be the issue. In fact, the problem might come from within.

Changing lives and characters with his words, Kellhus aims to expand his influence over the Men of the Tusk. Achamian and Esmenet end up testing their love and relationship in unimaginable manners. On the other hand, Cnaiur goes mad and changes his perception over the war.

Convinced that he will be betrayed by Kellhus, Cnaiur ends up sealing a deal with the Second Apocalypse agents and the Holy War is about to get lost. Who will win the war and who are the good people in a world where no one is who they seem to be?

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

The Magicians follows Quentin Coldwater. He is a brilliant young man about to finish high school, but he feels miserable. He loves his fantasy novels and he cannot get over one of them that took place in a magical world known as Fillory.

He ends up admitted to a secret college of magic and finally gets to explore the beautiful craft of sorcery. He also discovers some of the things associated with college – parties, sex, love and alcohol. But magic does not give him the happiness he has always dreamed about. Until one day…

It turns out Fillory is real. It is a magic world, but it is not as light and happy as he thought. Instead, Quentin ends up in a dark world where every adventure is a nightmare. Fillory is absorbing and teaches Quentin that not everything is what it seems to be.

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

Coraline moves into a new home and starts exploring it, only to discover a series of mysterious places. The flat is small and out of the 14 doors, only 13 of them can open and close. The 14th one hides a brick wall.

One day, Caroline manages to unlock it. Instead of a wall, she finds a passage. She goes through it and ends up in another flat, which looks just like hers. However, she senses something different about it and it does not feel right.

Initially, everything seems better – food, toys, books and so on. But then, her mother is different, not to mention her father. They want to keep Coraline there forever. Soon, she discovers other kids are kept in this place – trapped as lost souls. She is their only chance to escape.

Final Thoughts on Dark Fantasy Books

Bottom line, these are some of the most exciting dark fantasy worlds to explore, whether it comes to individual releases or long series.

These stories often delve into the human psyche, exploring the duality of good and evil, and the moral ambiguities that exist within us. They provide an escape from reality, allowing us to confront our fears and experience adrenaline-fueled thrills in a controlled setting.

The above books also tap into our universal experiences of loss, pain, and tragedy, connecting us on an emotional level. Additionally, these stories often feature complex, multi-dimensional characters and intricate plot lines, satisfying our intellectual curiosity. Overall, the combination of escapism, emotional connection, and intellectual stimulation makes dark fantasy stories irresistible to many people.

Feel free to also check our dark fantasy book section.

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