One of the things I struggle with as both a fantasy and sci-fi reviewer as well as a fan is the fact I want to support independent authors but can't really wade through it all. In this age of digital publication, there's tens of millions of titles available on Amazon.com but no way to say "This one is really good" and "this one is really bad" save reviews. However, no one wants to wade through hundreds of reviews either. Also, what if a new book hasn't gotten many reviews yet? It's the struggle of the independent author (of which I am one as well).
|The list will not include self-promotion.|
I know a couple of these guys but I haven't been paid for any of these and my opinions are completely honest. In fact, sadly, I had to leave a few friends off this list because I just felt the books weren't quite as awesome as in this collection. Still, take it for its worth as I've purchased a copy of each and every one of these books with my own money.
One thing I will comment on is the fact that the indie market has exploded in recent years and this has broken the monopoly on literature held by the "Big Five." No longer do we have to rely on bookstores to get our books into your hand and while this has its downsides (I love bookstores), it has massively increased the convenience of acquisition. Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, Nook, and other sources mean we can we can enjoy works from self-published, small press published, and other sources.
20. To Beat the Devil by Michael Gibson
It was a choice between this and STAKED by J.F. Leiws. Sadly, Lewis is now published by Pocket Books and he's betrayed the compact. Technomancer by Michael Gibson is the story about how Armageddon happened in the year 2001 and God forgot to show up. Demons now rule the Earth but appreciating their iPods, the internet, and capitalism--having let humankind build a cyberpunk paradise for them. Our protagonist, Salem, is a cyborg smuggler who gets recruited by an old man who has an idea on how to take down the Demon Lords forever.
19. Paternus by Dyrk Ashton
It's weird but this book reminds me very strongly of the Transformers. It's about a bunch of gods born on Earth waging an epic million-year war against one another behind the scenes. Anubis is five or six other gods fighting against Moloch who is a half-dozen others. Our heroes are a pair of teenagers caught up as observers of the epic struggle between them--which used to be over but has gone hot again. Dyrk Ashton's research and incorporation of more than Greek and Norse myth is to be commended.
18. Hard Luck Hank: Screw the Galaxy by Steven Campbell
Hard Luck Hank is a series which is hard to put into words but if I had to describe it, I'd say that it's a series about a space station that's the Mos Eisley Cantina except the protagonist is Patrick Walburton and most of them have superpowers. Hank is an indestructible lummox and breaks legs for hire. He doesn't aspire to be anything else and the series highlights how, across the centuries of his immortal lifespan, he doesn't get any better no matter what happens to him. Its also damn hilarious. I recommend the audiobook over the physical copy in this case.
17. Faithless by Graham Austin King
I first became familiar with Graham Austin King's work from his Riven Wyrde Saga, which is a conspicuously dark Young Adult series that involved slavery, genocide, and theocratic manipulation. So, I picked up Faithless the first day it came out and was blown away by its story of a young man sold into slavery to a corrupt smithy god's temple. I didn't like everything, perhaps because of it reminding me how I left the Catholic Church for Anglicanism, but it was still an amazing work. Faith, work, slavery, politics, and treachery.
16. Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike
Orconomics is a deliberately Pratchett-esque take on the typical Dungeons and Dragons/World of Warcraft-esque fantasy world. The premise is that the monsters have been hunted to near-extinction or WORSE, have tried to assimilate with the "good" races. That means they can't be murdered for their gold. This results in a complicated plot by the guilds to fulfill a prophecy they hope will keep the money flowing from genoc...err, I mean adventuring.
15. The Immorality Clause by Brian Parker
I've got a few science fiction noir books on this list and Brian Parker's Easytown novels are one that I liked so much that I participated in an anthology set in the world. The premise is it's about 2070 and prostitution has been legalized with incredibly life-like androids. The protagonist is the crusty, slovenly cop who finds the whole thing skeevy--right up until he meets one who seems as human as anyone else. Basically, Blade Runner if you remove the overtly dystopian elements and make it something a bit more down-to-Earth. I really liked it as just a very "fun" book.
14. Ghosts of Tomorrow by Michael R. Fletcher
Ghosts of Tomorrow is a crazy book with cyborg cowboy samurai, kidnapping children to harvest their consciousness, and over-the-top gun battles. It's a solid cyberpunk story that I loved from start to finish. Really, I'm kind of upset I put it at the bottom of the list here but I am doing so because the sequel isn't out yet. It's a solid piece of science fiction and also squarely fits into the grimdark movement of writing.
13. Damoren by Seth Skorkowsky
The Valducan series is a series about a group of monster-hunting antiheroes with magical weapons. They're ruthless, cruel, and yet have a strong brotherhood. I really felt this series was one of the best urban fantasy series from the indie scene. My favorite character is Matt Hollis, the gun-slinging cursed soldier that is hated by his own people, and is the star of the first novel.
12. Drones by Rob J. Hayes
I've dabbled in the cyberpunk genre before. Drones is a book set in a world where emotions can be harvested from people and transplanted to buyers. The protagonist is an emotionally dead "Drone" who sells all of his emotions on the black market. Of course, this being cyberpunk, there's a conspiracy to make billions more by doing something awful. Our protagonist has to decide to do something about it or just keep living the life of a numb zombie. I had a huge amount of fun with this book and hope the author makes a sequel. I also recommend every single other series by the author, especially his Best Laid Plans series.
11. The Elder Ice by David Hambling
The Cthulhu Mythos is one of the most successful public domain franchises in existence, rivaled only by Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur. The Elder Ice is probably my all-time favorite spin-off save possibly Titus Crow by Brian Lumley. The protagonist, ex-boxer and WW1 vet Harry Stubbs, is a working class hero who frequently finds himself encountering the terrifying and surreal in a Spanish Flu-ravaged London. I really love the characters, research into real-life occultism, and twists that always kept me guessing as to what was really going on.
10. Satan's Salesman by Matthew Davenport
Satan's Salesman is a book which I enjoyed purely for the simple premise: a executive finds out the Devil is real and is offered a job with a business which buys souls. The cavalier attitude which the main character takes these revelations and how much damage he immediately starts doing is incredibly entertaining (and horrifying). It's a short but solid book for someone who wants a horror-fantasy without violence but plenty of selfish cruelty.
9. Brutal by James Alderdice
I really enjoyed this book simply for the premise: a mercenary goes into a town with two feuding wizards and a beautiful duchess then plays them against one another. Combining A Fistful of Dollars/Yojimbo with high fantasy is something I very much enjoyed. I think he may have taken the "Nameless" element of the Man with No Name a bit far but I found the main character tremendously entertaining. Sometimes, you just want to see a smart mercenary put the screws to the bad guy with his mind as well as sword.
8. The Finder at the Lucky Devil by Megan Mackie
If this was an urban fantasy recommendation then this would be at the top, perhaps even 1# as The Finder at the Lucky Devil is my favorite book of 2017. It's just such a delightful character and enjoyable setting. The protagonist, Rune, inherits a Chicago bar in a setting where magic and technology collide. She soon finds herself enamored by a mysterious cyborg secret agent named Saint Benedict who works for the megacorporations that rule the world. Rune has a special gift, finding, that might lead the megacorporations to a program that will guarantee their control over the world forever. It also might bring up the past she's determined to keep buried. It's just so damned fun!
7. Gideon's Curse by David Niall Wilson
I'm a fan of David Niall Wilson's books for multiple reasons and was tempted to go with Remember Bowling Green: The Adventures of Frederick Douglass, Time Traveler (which is Doctor Who versus Donald Trump in America). However, I instead believe Gideon's Curse is even better. It is the story of a cursed plantation that carries within it a grim story of a romance, an attempt to do better by the local branch of Christianity, and the horrible but all too realistic consequences by a society that justified slavery. It's heavy subject matter but one of the horror-fantasy novels that has stuck with me even years later. I really think it's a work everyone should read.
6. Mercury's Son by Luke Hindmarsh
Mercury's Son remains one of the best independent science fiction books I've read in a long time. It's basically a Blade Runner-esque world except instead of Replicants, it deals with the fact the polluted post-cyberpunk world has been replaced with a militant theocracy. Our protagonist the last cyborg alive, forced to work for his pseudo-environmentalist Luddite bosses. Surprisingly, it keeps its noir tone and we get a good deal of fun exploring the hypocritical dystopia that hates humankind as well as technology but depends on both to survive.
5. Shattered Dreams by Ulff Lehmann
Shattered Dreams is a story about a multiple point of view war that analyzes everything from religion to the concept of treason in a feudal society. Its protagonist suffers PTSD before they had a name for it and really gets into the nitty gritty of a lot of interesting fantasy concepts. Basically, how do people react to an invasion, do they stay or flee, and what sort of reaction do the local religious authorities have? Things you don't normally see when Sauron's forces come calling. I felt it was dark and brutal but not overwhelming. I also loved the sequel, Shattered Hopes, which is a direct continuation.
4. A Wizard's Forge by A.M. Justice
This is a story I really enjoyed because it's the perspective of a woman who goes on what she thinks will be a epic journey of self-discovery, gets captured, brutalized, and emerges as a much darker as well as cynical figure. I like the contrast between her internal torment with the somewhat idyllic fantasy world she's found herself in. I can't wait for the sequel. I don't think I would have enjoyed this novel nearly as much as I did if not for the fact it takes the typical "coming of age" journey and then goes really dark with it.
3. 1000 Scars by Michael Baker
Grimdark is an arguable label but when you have a murderous band of marauders led by an insane necromancer as your hero in a Persia vs. Greek-esque war then you have a pretty good argument your series qualifies. I feel this book is incredibly underrated and really could use with a lot more support. The protagonists are people I want to see die horribly but ones I can't turn away from either. I also love the perspective of the one decent person in the group who is stuck with them and trying to steer them to save the world.
2. Darkmage by M.L. Spencer
M.L. Spencer is one of the best independent fantasy authors today. As such as I love Anna Stephens and Anna Smith Sparks, I'm going to say she's my "Queen of Grimdark." This is ironic given her books are something you could probably film as a PG-13 series. The difference is that they're focused on the intellectual issues of morality, good vs. evil, and what happens when it turns out there's no such thing as a "right" answer in a typical fantasy world? I also love how the prequel opens with the idea of a rag-tag band of misfits FAILING to save the world. I don't think that happened anywhere else in fiction but Final Fantasy 6.
1. Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell
KINGS OF PARADISE may be one of the great undiscovered gems of 2018. It is one of those rare grimdark books which may actually stand with the likes of Lawrence, Abercrombie, and Martin. The premise is a tropical island kingdom is within spitting distance of a volcanic hellohole of one where life is doubly harsh for its Viking-like inhabitants. A deformed berserker, a spoiled prince, and a (possibly) deranged nun all end up involved in a complicated story to determine its fate. Really, all dark fantasy fans should check this book out.
Honorable Mentions: Steel, Blood, and Fire by Allan Batchelder, Song by Jesse Teller, The Sorcerer's Ascension by Brock Deskins, The Blighted City by Scott Kaelin, We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson, Confessions of a D-List Supervillain by Jim Bernheimer, and The Secret King: Lethao by Dawn Chapman, Exile by Martin Owton