33 Must-Read Sword and Sorcery Books for Adventure Seekers

Discover the history of sword and sorcery fantasy from pulp origins to modern revivals. Includes an essential reading list of 33 gritty, action-packed novels.

If you’re partial to a spot of swashbuckling, a dash of dark magic, and a generous helping of gritty heroism, then you’ve probably dipped your toes into the tempestuous seas of sword and sorcery.

You might even have a favourite battered paperback, its spine creased from countless re-reads, tucked away somewhere safe.

This genre of fantasy, oft-clad in a loincloth and waving a sizeable chunk of sharpened metal, has a storied history that’s as colourful as the characters it portrays.

But before we delve into the 33 essential reads, let’s journey back to the genre’s roots, shall we?

Buckle up for a whirlwind tour of testosterone, tarnished heroes, and timeless tales.

Pulp Fiction’s Barbaric Birth

Our tale begins in the rough-and-ready world of 1930s pulp magazines, where the gritty, often morally ambiguous world of sword and sorcery was first birthed.

The term itself was coined by Fritz Leiber, in response to a challenge from Michael Moorcock, another luminary of the genre.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there’s plenty of blood to spill first.

Our first stop is the Hyborian Age, the playground of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian.

With his rippling muscles, disdain for witchcraft, and tendency to solve problems with a broadsword, Conan embodied the genre’s defining characteristics. He was no knight in shining armour, more like a brigand in a blood-stained loincloth.

And readers loved him for it.

The pulp era was a veritable breeding ground for such characters. Amidst the lurid covers of magazines like ‘Weird Tales,’ they battled monsters, rescued (and occasionally abducted) maidens, and got up to all sorts of sword-swinging, sorcery-slaying shenanigans.

From Pulp to Paperback

The pulps may have birthed the genre, but it was the paperback revolution of the 1960s and 70s that really spread the seeds of sword and sorcery across the globe.

This was the era of Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, a somewhat anaemic-looking bloke with a cursed sword that devoured souls.

Elric was the polar opposite of Conan—frail, introspective, and reliant on sorcery (and his soul-sucking sword) to survive.

He was a new type of hero for a new age, typifying the shift towards more morally complex characters.

Then, of course, there was Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series.

These two roguish heroes, one a burly barbarian and the other a nimble thief, navigated a grimy, dangerous world full of dark magic and dangerous women.

It was a world where the monsters were often human, and the heroes were just trying to make a dishonest living.

The Modern Age of Grizzled Heroes

Fast forward to the present day, and sword and sorcery is still going strong, although perhaps it’s had a few pints, put on a bit of weight, and developed a slightly cynical outlook on life.

Modern authors have taken the genre’s foundations and built upon them, creating worlds that are darker, grittier, and dripping with even more gore.

Take Joe Abercrombie’s ‘The First Law’ series, a work of grimdark fiction as cheerful as a funeral in a rainstorm.

Its characters are deeply flawed, its world is cruel, and its magic is as likely to kill you as save you.

It’s sword and sorcery that’s been dragged through a hedge backwards, and it’s bloody brilliant.

Or consider Scott Lynch’s ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora.’

It’s a tale of thieves and con artists plying their trade in a city that makes the dens of the pulps look like a holiday resort.

It’s a world where the swords are sharp, the wit is sharper, and the sorcery…well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of it.

Looking to the Future

Sword and sorcery has come a long way since the days of pulp magazines, but its heart remains the same.

It’s a genre that relishes in the raw, the rough, and the real.

It’s about heroes who aren’t always heroic, magic that’s as dangerous as it is powerful, and worlds where life is cheap and survival is an art.

It’s a dark, dangerous dance—a bloody ballet of blades and black magic.

And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

33 Recommended Sword and Sorcery Novels

If you’re looking for fantasy tales full of daring heroes, arcane magic, and thrilling adventures, sword and sorcery stories never fail to deliver action-packed escapism.

Here are 33 page-turning sword and sorcery novels everyone new to the genre should read:

Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

The iconic series that defined sword and sorcery featuring everyone’s favorite loincloth-wearing Cimmerian warrior.

Jirel of Joiry by C. L. Moore

Groundbreaking tales of the first female sword and sorcery heroine Jirel and her battles in a demon-haunted medieval France.

Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard

Sword and sorcery inspired by Aztec mythology with an engrossing mystery.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Excellent sword and sorcery in a Middle Eastern inspired setting featuring a ghul hunter protecting the people.

The Amethyst Sword by Fleur Adcock

A lyrical and imaginative tale of warriors, wizardry and Celtic mythology.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

An original post-apocalyptic African sword and sorcery adventure.

The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

An action-packed epic following mercenaries, dragons, and ancient powers.

The Barbed Coil by J. V. Jones

A gritty tale of battle mages and political intrigue.

The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swanwick

A subversive, contemporary take on sword and sorcery tropes.

The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

Soaring dragon rider adventure perfect for fantasy fans.

The Fox Woman by A. Merritt

Classic Asian folklore inspired sword and sorcery.

Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen

Celtic-flavoured sisterly conflicts amid mythical battles.

The Sword Woman by Robert E. Howard

Historical sword and sorcery set in the Dark Ages.

The Pit Dragon Trilogy by Jane Yolen

Young adult dragon rider adventure.

Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist

Political intrigue in a fantasy Asian-inspired setting.

Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks

A funhouse mirror world of swords and sorcery.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

A modern cyberpunk meets Arabian Nights tale.

The God Stalker Chronicles by P.C. Hodgell

Demon hunting swordswoman in an intricate world.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Action-packed YA blending epic fantasy and sword and sorcery.

Cloudbearer’s Shadow by J. Kathleen Cheney

Asian-inspired magic and dragons.

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

A witty Caribbean storytelling vibe flavors this magical quest.

The Achtung Archipelago by Nick Mamatas

Subversive WWII alternate history mixed with sword and sorcery.

Starless by Jacqueline Carey

Epic journeys and demonic villains galore.

The Dragon’s Legacy by Deborah A. Wolf

Character-driven sword and sorcery with clan intrigue.

Throne of the Five Winds by S.C. Emmett

A unique Vietnamese fantasy world.

The Stone Knife by Anna Stephens

Grimdark sword and sorcery with imaginative worldbuilding.

The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick

Political intrigue mixed with gritty action.

Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston

Majestic afrofuturist fantasy.

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Indian-inspired tale of magics, dance, and destiny.

Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies

Swashbuckling fantasy on the high seas.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Magic and manners in Regency England with a dash of sword and sorcery.

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

Epic fantasy inspired by Mongolian history.

The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V.S. Redick

Nautical fantasy adventure.

What are your favourites? Share your recommendations in the comments.

Why Epic Fantasy Matters: A Look at its Influence and Importance

Explore the captivating world of epic fantasy, its influence, and cultural impact. Discover why readers find these fantastical realms so enthralling. Dive into the power of storytelling and the inspiration it ignites. Join the newsletter for a free Ravenglass Universe starter library.

Ah, epic fantasy. That marvellous genre that transports us from the mundanity of everyday life to realms where dragons soar, dark lords brood, and heroes embark on grand adventures.

But what exactly is it about these fantastical worlds that readers across the globe find so enthralling?

Today, we shall take a look at the influence and importance of epic fantasy, a genre that has inspired generations to dream of the impossible.  

Escaping the Rain, One Page at a Time

Let’s face it, the weather in the UK can be a bit dreich (that’s Scottish for ‘dreary’, for those not in the know). As the rain patters on our windows (and not to mention whatever’s going on this week in the news), we can’t help but long for a bit of escapism. And what better way to do so than by diving into a world where the sun shines bright, the grass is always green, and the only rain that falls is the sort that fuels the growth of magical plants?

Epic fantasy provides us with the perfect portal to such worlds. We can traverse the vast deserts of Arrakis, scale the heights of the Misty Mountains, or even hitch a ride on a dragon as we leave the drizzle behind. And the best part? We can do it all from the comfort of our own homes, with a nice cuppa tea in hand.  

Inspiring the Next Generation of Adventurers (and Authors)

Epic fantasy has an uncanny ability to ignite our imaginations. Many of us remember the thrill of reading The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time, our minds filled with images of daring quests and magical realms.

These tales of heroism and enchantment have a lasting impact, inspiring countless readers to embark on their own creative journeys. In fact, some of the most successful authors in recent years have been heavily influenced by epic fantasy. From George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire to Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicle, these works owe a great debt to the fantasy classics that came before them.

And let’s not forget the legions of fan fiction writers who have honed their craft by exploring the worlds of their favourite stories.  Who knows, perhaps the next Brandon Sanderson is currently scribbling away, inspired by the very books they once devoured as a child.  

Not Just for Dreamers: Epic Fantasy’s Cultural Impact

Epic fantasy is not merely a source of entertainment—it has also had a significant impact on modern culture. From fashion to architecture, the influence of these fantastical worlds can be seen in various aspects of our daily lives. Take, for example, the surge in popularity of medieval-themed events like renaissance faires and LARP (live action role-playing) sessions.  These gatherings allow enthusiasts to don the garb of knights and wizards, effectively bringing their favourite fantasy worlds to life. Meanwhile, the architectural designs of buildings like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and New Zealand’s Hobbiton showcase the genre’s impact on construction and design. In short, epic fantasy has shaped not only our imaginations but also the very world we live in.  

One World to Rule Them All (or Unite Them, At Least)

In today’s increasingly fractured world, epic fantasy serves as a unifying force (so long as you stay away from some of more extreme fan groups on Reddit). It transcends cultural barriers, as readers from different backgrounds can bond over their shared love for these tales. In this sense, the genre serves as a reminder of our shared humanity, a testament to the power of storytelling to bring people together. So, the next time you curl up with a hefty tome of epic fantasy, just remember—you’re not merely indulging in a spot of escapism. You’re partaking in a grand tradition that has sparked creativity, shaped culture, and united people from all walks of life. And that is a story worth celebrating.

If you love epic fantasy as much as I do, you can get the Ravenglass Universe starter library for free when you join my newsletter. https://subscribepage.com/ravenglassuniverse

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