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21 Best Dark Fantasy Books In 2023! (Read & Ranked!)

Jamey Muller
Updated: June 6, 2022
9 min read

Dark fantasy is a curious subgenre characterized by supernatural and horror elements, anti-hero protagonists, and moral ambiguities.

These best-selling books will take you on a mysterious journey, where the balance of bad and good is permanently askew.

At A Glance: The TOP 3 Dark Fantasy Books

1. Top pick: A Ruin of Roses
2. Runner up: Gild
3. Also great: The Raven Spell

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Top pick
A Ruin of Roses (Deliciously Dark Fairytales)
A Ruin of Roses

This dark and sexy novel by K.F. Breene tops this dark fantasy list of books you should not miss.

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“A Ruin of Roses” is the first in the “Deliciously Dark Fairytales” series by the USA Today bestselling author. 

A retelling of the timeless story of Beauty and the Beast, this book features an incredibly resilient heroine and a secretive anti-hero.

The lady protagonist, Finley, is on a dangerous quest to save her land. She and her family have been toiling when a curse swept through the entire Kingdom.

Everything is locked in time. Unable to feel their beasts within, shifters are stuck in their human form. Many are ill and dying. 

After concocting an elixir that somewhat diminishes the curse's effects, Finley realizes that it is not enough.

Desperate for salvation, Finely ventures into the Forbidden Wood. She needs to find the plant that can power the potion, or it is her father’s turn to perish.

The rumors of a beast prowling in the woods leave her terrified for her life, but she must push through. 

Then she comes face to face with the monster, who drags her into his castle, intent on keeping her a prisoner.

“A Ruin of Roses” is suitable for 18+ readers. If you are looking for a novel with a thrilling plot and notable characters, you should read this.

Gild (The Plated Prisoner Series)

“Gild” by Raven Kennedy is another epic novel drawn from an ancient tale.

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It is an imaginative retelling of the myth of King Midas, starring morally gray characters living in a gilded world.

Auren has been kept as King Midas’ prisoner for a decade in the castle nestled in the frozen mountain. 

In Highbells, everything is gold, even Auren, imprisoned in her gilded cage. In her years of confinement, she has suffered from physical abuse and emotional torture by her captor.

Auren longs for freedom. Even though surrounded by decadence, she wanted to escape. She felt like a bird with its wings clipped – no way to escape.

To top it all off, Auren has fallen for King Midas, the man whose touch turns everything to gold. 

Shockingly explicit and brutal, “Gild” contains dark elements and contents that are not intended for anyone under 18.

It features violence, mature language, and non-consensual sex and human trafficking themes.

First of the four-book series “The Plated Prisoner,” it is an adult fantasy you will find addictive.

Also great
The Raven Spell: A Novel (A Conspiracy of Magic)
The Raven Spell

Luanne G. Smith’s “The Raven Spell” is a book of murder and magic revolving around a detective and two mysterious witches.

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Set in Victorian England, “The Raven Spell: A Novel (A Conspiracy of Magic)” centers on Ian Cameron, a private investigator who lost his memories.

Cameron is discovered in a muddy riverbank in London, debilitated after sustaining a fatal blow to the skull. He has no recollections of what happened to him.

There are two curious objects in his possession – a bloodstained business card of a master wizard and a pocket watch that does not tell time.

Cameron seeks the help of two witches, Edwina and Mary Blackwood, to retrieve his lost memories. 

Abandoned by their parents, the Blackwood sisters have made a life for themselves in the city. Each has a magical gift. 

Edwina has a talent for spotting gems, while Mary’s gift can pull the memories of people who just died and use them to create memory orbs.

“The Raven Spell” is a dark fantasy novel that will keep you captivated until the end. If you like mystery and suspense, this will be an enjoyable read.

Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked, 1)
Kingdom of the Wicked

“Kingdom of the Wicked” is part of the blockbuster trilogy of the same name by Kerri Maniscalco.

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The book follows the story of Emilia, a witch who lives in secret among humans. She and her twin sister Vittoria have avoided persecution until Vittoria turns out dead.

Emilia had no way of knowing her sister's fate until that one night when Vittoria’s body was found, defiled beyond belief. 

Thoroughly devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer. She wants to get revenge at any cost, even if it means using long-forbidden dark magic.

Emilia teams up with Wrath, one of the Wicked princes of Hell that she was forewarned not to trifle with.

Despite their clashing personalities, the witch and the demon must work to get to the bottom of the mystery.

“Kingdom of the Wicked” sees the changes that happen in goody-two-shoes Emilia as she spends time with the Wicked.

The continuation of the series delves into Emilia’s journey to vengeance until she uncovers the biggest secret of all.

For the Wolf: The New York Times Bestseller (The Wilderwood Books)
For the Wolf

Hannah Whitten entered the dark fantasy genre in 2021 with a masterful debut – this brilliant reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood.

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“For the Wolf” is about Red, the only Second Daughter to be born in centuries in her Kingdom. As such, she has only one purpose – to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood.

Red needs to go to save her land. She wants to, just to escape the reality that her dangerous powers continue to grow.

Red soon discovers that the legend is false. The Wolf is not a monster but a man. 

The Kingdom's sinister superstitions are also revealed in precise details – wicked and far from the truth.

“For the Wolf” is told from an alternating point of view. The first is Red, whose fear for her own powers leaps off the pages. The second is her sister, Neve, trying her best to save Red from her gory fate.

You will adore the enemies-to-lovers trope between Red and the Wolf.

This novel is an enthralling tale of duty, love, and sacrifice.

Wintersong: A Novel (Wintersong, 1)

“Wintersong: A Novel” by S. Jae-Jones is an enchanting cross between the fantasy film “Labyrinth” and the tale of Beauty and the Beast.

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The novel centers on Liesl, who has heard of the stories about the Goblin King – a dangerous but enigmatic man. They have inspired her musical compositions, setting her mind and spirit on fire.

When Liesl turns eighteen, she begins to feel that all her fantasies from childhood are slipping away.

Her life is dull until that winter when the Goblin King snatches her sister to make her his bride.

Liesl has zero option but to travel to the Underground to save her. There, she becomes captivated by a world unlike the one she knows, where the Goblin King rules supreme.

Facing an impossible decision, Liesl must discover the truth behind who she truly is. The time and old laws are working against her.

It will not be long before her fate is sealed.

While meant for young adults, “Wintersong” contains heavy themes, such as sex, manipulation, and violence.

The relationship between the female protagonist and the anti-hero is often unhealthy.

Its ending is bittersweet, but there is a sequel if you want to know more about Liesl and her fate after.

The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (Dark Tower, The)
The Gunslinger

This bestseller by the king of horror, Stephen King, deserves its spots as one of the best dark fantasy works ever.

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“The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger” introduces one of the king's most memorable protagonists – Roland of Gilead. Known as the Last Gunslinger, he is a lone man on a journey to the Dark Tower.

In the novel, Roland is depicted chasing a man across the desert. This Man in Black has previously brought a dead body back to life.

Roland's world is on is an alternate timeframe that is somewhat similar to the Old West.

He meets a boy from modern-day New York named Jake during the pursuit. Jake has been mysteriously transported to Roland's world after dying a horrible death. T

They form a friendship and stay together until Roland makes it to his ultimate destination.

After a massive sacrifice from Jake, Roland finally meets the Man in Black, where he is shown how insignificant he is in the grand scheme of things.

“The Gunslinger” is the first in the seven-book series, “The Dark Tower.” 

Aside from the good versus evil motif, the novel also touches on themes such as time passage, survival, and existence.


“Bacchanal” by Veronica G. Henry is a haunting dark fantasy novel set in the Depression-era South.

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The book features a strong heroine, Eliza Meeks, who possesses dormant magical powers. 

She belongs to a traveling carnival called Bacchanal, which roams in the South. As Eliza will soon learn, Bacchanal is also home to an ancient demon who feeds on human souls.

Having been abandoned by her family at a young age, she is forced to join Bacchanal to get out of the swamp trap that is Baton Rouge.

Eliza found a family to call her own

 among folks stranger than herself.

She does not know that she has the powers to defeat the demon, the true owner of the carnival.

Once she understands the purpose of her powers, only then will she get to save her friends and family.

“Bacchanal” features rich African traditions and Black American history. Henry combines historical realism and fantastical elements to explore themes like oppression and poverty.

With mysterious characters and settings, this is a novel that empowers you to not bend to the world's many injustices.

King of Battle and Blood (Adrian X Isolde, 1)
King of Battle and Blood

International bestselling author Scarlett St. Clair wrote this epic fantasy series featuring vampires.

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“King of Battle and Blood” is the first book in the series “Adrian X Isolde” revolving around the age-old war between vampires and humans.

Protagonist Isolde de Lara has been chosen as the consort of the Blood King, Adrian Aleksandr Vasiliev, as a bargaining chip to end the war.

While Isolde is conflicted because of her attraction to the vampire king, she must stay true to her purpose.

Her plan is foolproof – enter the vampire court and undermine Adrian’s efforts to end the war, and once she gets the chance, kill him.

Isolde soon learns that assassinating Adrian is not as easy as she thinks. When he discovers her plot, he threatens to change her into the very thing she despises.

“King of Battle and Blood” includes mature scenes that are inappropriate for very young readers. 

If you like dark fantasy with a healthy dose of romance, this book will not disappoint. 

The Quarter Storm: A Novel (Mambo Reina)
The Quarter Storm

Another Veronica G. Henry fan-favorite, “The Quarter Storm: A Novel,” revolves around a ghastly murder and a powerful Vodou priestess.

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Mambo Reina Dumond becomes embroiled in a murder investigation when her client's boyfriend is found dead – a victim of ritual slaying.

The crime took place at an apartment above a Vodou shop. The dead man was an undercover policeman, a friend of Detective Roman Frost, a nonbeliever of Vodou and Reina’s ex-lover.

When Frost starts to accuse Reina's fellow Vodou practitioners of the crime, she feels the need to defend her fate and find the real killer.

The murder puts the entire Vodou community under scrutiny, and Reina will have none of it.

She soon learns that the ritual killing is a conspiracy. A wielder of dangerous magic is behind the slaying, and the next target is Reina.

To solve the mystery that threatens to ruin her way of life, Reina must tap into the strength of her own magic.

Set in New Orleans, “The Quarter Storm” is rich with intrigue and a little romance.

Summer Sons
Summer Sons

“Summer Sons” by Lee Mandelo is a gripping story with classic gothic elements, side by side academic intrigue.

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Andrew and Eddie are the closest of friends, having spent most of their lives together. When Eddie leaves for graduate school at Vanderbilt, Andrew promises to join him six months later.

However, days before Andrew reunites with his friend, Eddie turns up dead of an apparent suicide.

While searching for the truth behind Eddie’s death, Andrew discovers the horrible truth about the person he considered his brother and the bloody family history he worked so hard to bury.

Eddie’s true nature, ruled by drugs and capriciousness, is revealed in its full glory.

To top it all off, Andrew is forced to deal with a horrid phantom that is out to get him, waiting for him to fall.

Part ghost story and academic thriller, “Summer Sons” tackles sensitive issues such as sexuality, identity, and relationships.

The horror elements, from ghosts to ancient abodes, are plentiful. The suspense will keep your palms clammy with sweat.

What Is a Dark Fantasy Book?

Dark fantasy is a subgenre in literature and other artistic works, often combining horror and disturbing themes with standard fantastical elements.

Most dark fantasy stories have no universal likeness, other than the supernatural episodes and gloomy, dark tone.

Instead of the ideal, pure-at-heart protagonists, you deal with morally ambiguous anti-heroes. 

What Is the Most Famous Dark Fantasy Book?

Hailed as a dark fantasy classic, George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” brings together the best the genre has to offer. 

Magic and mystery are interspersed with romance and intrigue, creating a masterpiece you will not be able to put down. 

It is the first of the promised seven books in “A Game of Thrones” series, already adapted into a well-loved television series.


Books and Blurbs

Publisher’s Weekly


Written by
Jamey Muller
I'm the head-writer @ Knowledge Eager (or, in plain English, I'm the guy writing the majority of the content here). Addicted to the stock market, football, sushi and tacos.
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Jamey Muller
I'm the head-writer @ Knowledge Eager (or, in plain English, I'm the guy writing the majority of the content here). Addicted to the stock market, football, sushi and tacos.