7 Darkly Funny Fantasy Novels

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

If you’ve yet to meet Sal the Cacophony, you’re in for a treat. The anti-hero star of Seven Blades in Black, the doorstopping start to Sam Sykes’s The Grave of Empires series, is a foul-mouthed, foul-tempered, good-hearted riot.

Sal is an outlaw magician. The Cacophony is the magic gun with a fiery temper she carries from town to town on her quest for vengeance against band of powerful mages who wronged her. Sal roams across the Scar—her wasteland realm of a home—racking up a body count and enlisting several (semi-)willing allies in a story that alternates between cracking jokes and unpacking a helluva lot of emotional trauma.

The vibe is bleak and boffo, fueled by flawless gallows humor and an immense amount of gore. And it made us want more. So we thought of some other dark, funny fantasy favorites to keep us occupied until Sal the Cacophony rides again.

Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames
What do you get when you take the concept of aging, semi-retired rock bands and swap it out for aging, semi-retired bands of mercenaries? Eames’s glorious series-starting debut. Clay Cooper and his band Saga used to be feared and famous far and wide. Now, Saga’s members are old, mostly drunk, and doughy around the middle. But when one of their own comes knocking on Clay’s door with a cry for help, well, it’s time to get the band back together. A perfect read for fans of both humor and metal.

The Ruin of Kings, by Jenn Lyons
The first book in the A Chorus of Dragons series begins as a prison-cell conversation. It’s a dire situation from the start: imprisoned thief Khirin’s luck (what little he had of it) seems to have run out and he’s about to be put to death. But Lyon’s debut is also filled with gallows humor at its finest. Through alternating chapters, Khirin and Talon, his not-quite-human jailer, retell Khirin’s life story, mulling over the events that led him into a cell. What makes it so darkly funny? Talon knows so much about Khirin because she absorbs memories of those she knows intimately—including those she’s eaten. (Well, it’s amusing in context, anyway.)

A Crown for Cold Silver, by Alex Marshall
The first line of this opening novel in the Crimson Empire series explains it all: “It was all going so nicely, right up until the massacre.” So much of what gives this epic saga its bloody, cheeky appeal is its central protagonist, a middle-aged, bisexual retired rebel general and one-time queen named Cobalt Zosia. Years after she laid down her weapons, disillusioned and longing for peace, Zosia is drawn back into the fray by the slaughter of her entire village—her thirst for vengeance means she and her gang of ne’er-do-wells, the Five Villains, must ride again.

The Prey of Gods, by Nicky Drayden
Drayden’s gonzo debut has a foot in the worlds of both science fiction and fantasy, but with a first chapter that features hallucinatory crab-on-dolphin sex, it can’t very well be excluded from this list. This mile-a-minute head trip into a near-future South Africa is disorienting and stuffed to the gills with wild plot devices (sentient AI, aggrieved demigods, mass murder, a fearsome plague of dik-diks, and so on). It forecasts a dark future and deals with troubling issues of the present, with a bonkers, go-for-broke sensibility throughout that makes it a novel like no other.

Master Assassins, by Robert V.S. Redick
The title of this book is accurate, yes, and also deeply ironic. Kandri and Mektu Hinjuman are brothers, rivals, and soldiers in the service of a religious zealot, the Prophet. Assassins, however, they are not. Until someone the Prophet loves winds up inadvertently dead by Kandri’s hand. Mistaken for purposeful killers, the Brothers Hinjuman go on the run through a beautifully named desert—The Land That Eats Men—as accidental pawns in a grander scheme for control of the continent. The brothers’ relationship is complex and richly developed, and the hi-jinx they get into along the way are as memorable as they are amusing.

Food of the Gods, by Cassandra Khaw
Khaw knows how to pack a disturbing five-course meal into a book that reads like a tasty appetizer; for evidence, look to her Lovecraftian Persons Non Grata novellas. Here, though, with poor, unfortunate Rupert Wong, she finds the space to go big, bold, bloody, and absolutely bananas with a real feast of an absurdist dark fantasy. You could call Rupert Wong a career man; he has two. By day, he’s a cannibal chef for powerful ghouls. By night, he’s a bureaucrat in Diyu, the hell of Chinese mythology. His efforts to please an ever-growing cadre of gods and ghouls are gruesome and grin-inducing.

What’s your favorite not-too-serious fantasy novel?

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12 Divine Fantasy Novels in Which the Gods Walk the Land

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Volatile and vibrant, Gareth Hanrahan’s The Gutter Prayer already has established itself as one of the most exciting fantasy debuts of the year—and a large part of its success is thanks to the pesky deities that stalk its pages.

In the city of Guerdon, the church bells ring with the cries of long-conquered gods, saints and alchemists wage war in the streets, and armageddon is all but at hand. A trio of misfit thieves is all that stands against a complex network of competing gods and mages—and the destruction they will wreak.

To commemorate one of our new favorite god-focused reads, we’ve rounded up some other standalones and series with intriguing (and, yeah, often dangerous) gods and goddesses who are ready to unleash divine wrath.

The Inheritance trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
Through three books (the first of which won the Locus Award), Jemisin unspools a world suffused with bound and chained gods. With a fierce female lead—a mortal and prospective god—and set against the backdrop of a floating city, the novels follow almighty and generational power struggles, with plots that double as meditations on redemption and forgiveness.

The Divine Cities trilogy, by Robert Jackson Bennett
Series opener City of Stairs starts 70 years after the war that caused the death of the gods, with a power dynamic upended from the days when the divine played favorites. But maybe the gods aren’t as dead as everyone believes. Fueling the conflict are conspiracy, corruption, and the tangled web of colonization that still binds all who inhabit the Divine Cities.

The Craft Sequence series, by Max Gladstone
What praise haven’t we heaped upon the Craft Sequence? And with good reason. Intricate and expansive, this post-God Wars world is now ruled largely by human sorcerers, whose mastery of Craft magic places them in office jobs, boardrooms, and law firms rather than wizard sanctums. It’s the tech-meets-magic fusion we’ve always dreamed of.

The Godblind trilogy, by Anna Stephens
This in-progress grimdark series has already left a bloody mark, courtesy of the introduction of the fearsome Red Gods and their exiled worshippers. This is a story of revenge and of fanaticism, as the devotees of the bloodthirsty Red Gods plot to return to Rilpor and overthrow its reigning god and rulers.

Malazan Book of the Fallen series, by Steven Erikson
Epic in every measure, this 10-volume series demonstrates its author’s anthropological background with an enormous cast of characters, a whole host of incomprehensibly powerful gods, and action that spans centuries. The political maneuvering in the Malazan Empire is matched and more by godly scheming, resulting in an ample amount of warfare.

Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
If you know anything about Pratchett’s slightly askew fantasy realm Discworld, you might guess that its deities also get the short end of the silly stick. Here, the Great God Om has been reduced to the form of a tortoise because his followers no longer believe, and must crawl his way back into the heavens. For follow-up reading, consider the other two novels sometimes packaged as Discworld’s unofficial Gods Trilogy: Pyramids, starring teenage Pharoah Teppic, and Hogfather, in which Death himself wrestles with the nature of belief.

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
You probably don’t need us to tell you about Gaiman’s monolith, but we can’t very well omit Shadow Moon’s apocalyptic roadtrip across America from the list. Old gods, brought to American shores by immigrants, struggle against new gods like TV and tech. For maximum trickster god shenanigans, pair with the spinoff Anansi Boys.

Food of the Gods, by Cassandra Khaw
These two paired novellas are just lousy with divine pantheons, as Malaysian, Chinese, and Greek gods and myths combine to terrorize the karmically challenged Rupert Wong. The mayhem caused by divine feuds stretches from the streets of Kuala Lumpur to London to Diyu, the hell of Chinese mythology.

Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Moreno-Garcia’s latest doesn’t release until August, but if it’s anything like her previous works (including coming-of-age magical realism, vampire noir, and fantasy of manners), you’ll want to preorder it. Not convinced? Consider the Jazz Age Mexico setting and a quest story set in motion by the Mayan God of Death.

The Iron Druid Chronicles, by Kevin Hearne
At the start of this series’ nine novels (and various short stories and novellas), titular Druid Atticus O’Sullivan was hiding from angry Celtic gods in Tempe, Arizona. In subsequent misadventures, he’s encountered all sorts of supernatural and occult friends and foes, including run-ins with Norse, Navajo, and Roman deities.

The Bound Gods series, by Rachel Dunne
In Dunne’s trilogy, twins are a sign of evil. Why? Because of the “Twins,” a pair of exiled gods trapped for fear they’d end the world. For its part, humanity is torn between those who favor the Twins and everyone else, who prefer the “Parent” gods that cast them out. As is custom in matters of divine disputes, war looms—and it’s the mortals who will pay.

The Titan’s Forest series, by Thoraiya Dyer
The drama plays out among the treetops in Dyer’s lush, lovely series. Gods and goddesses live among the human elite in the Canopy, the uppermost level of a rainforest realm. Unar serves the goddess Audblayin, though her desire to go up in the ranks may force her to descend to the forest’s lower layers, where danger and desperation dwell.

Which fantasy gods have earned your worship?

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