Fantasy & Beyond

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Yeah, you know who I am. I'm that guy who fell out of love with fantasy a few years ago. When it all seemed to become grimdark and magic systems. I'm almost exclusively a science fiction reader these days, and very much loving it. So now I'm asking this old/new hive mind for suggestions of new books (say, the past five years) that fit my tastes.

What I'm looking for: I think the best way to describe it is secondary world historical fantasy. I enjoy historical fiction at times, but am hampered by knowing how the big events transpire. I love heroic fnatasy, sword-swinging warriors, people trying to do the right thing, and a sense of realism. Some kind of pseudo-European setting, but that's not a must

What I'm not looking for. I can't stand the nihilstic streak of modern grimdark. I'm also weary of books about magic. If there is magic, let it be vague. No magic is perfectly fine. No quests to save the world if you please.

Authors I enjoyed previously:
David Gemmell - Still the greatest after all these years
James Barclay - Especially his Elves trilogy
Stephen Aryan - The Mage books were phenomenal, I lost interest with The Coward.
Nicholas Eames - Still excited for book 3
Leo Carew - Perfect example of non-magical fantasy
Joe Abercrombie - Grimdark done right (ie - as a comedy)
Mark Lawrence - Jorg and Jalan novels only, Red Sister was enough to put me off for good.
Adrian Tchaikovsky - Shadows of the Apt is peak fantasy
Anna Smith Spark - The only author I've enjoyed on prose alone.
Daniel Abraham - The Dagger and Coin. More like this please.

Authors I have not enjoyed
Robin Hobb - Absolutely tedious stuff (see also: RJ Barker)
Steven Erikson - I enjoy the Malazan universe, but not his overly philosophical style.
Glen Cook - Sounds like I'd like it, but the writing is too stylistic for me.
Devin Madson/Mike Shackle/Anna Stephens/Adrian Selby/Gareth Hanrahan/David Wragg - The sort of grimdark I walked away from
Brent Weeks - An obsession with twists that destroyed my interest in his narratives
KJ Parker - Seems to be more interested in writing books than in telling stories

So yeah, I'm thinking I might just be hard to please, but it does feel like the sort of book I enjoy reading just isn't published anymore. That's fine, genres come and go. But if there are books out there, I'd like to find them.
Oooh, what an interesting challenge. I am largely not into sword-swinging Euro-fantasy, but let's have a crack. :beaming:

First up, easy swing: both Daniel Abraham and Joe Abercrombie have new material which I hope you have been enjoying! (Though the Abraham is still in progress and I feel is possibly closer to the Long Price Quartet in vibes than Dagger & Coin.)

Historical fantasy + low/vague magic to me points straight to Guy Gavriel Kay, who is nothing like a new author, but isn't on either of your lists. Old-skool recs would include Lions of Al-Rassan (roughly analogous to end of Moorish Spain / El Cid historically) and A Song for Arbonne (analogous to Catharist southern France) and Tigana (totally fantastical, but a bit more magic). But Kay's more recent work is a rough series looking at (his fantastical version of) Italy / the Balkans / then Mediterranean around the fall of Constantinople - the books are Children of Earth and Sky, A Brightness Long Ago and All the Seas of the World. Magic is wedged in the seams and cracks, but very tenuous and vague.

Richard Swan has just finished his Empire of the Wolf trilogy, of which I've only read the first, but it might be your thing - it's quite medieval-Euro-ish, set around a travelling judge / justice (it's sort of based on the concept of circuit courts) and the pursuit of justice getting kingdom-breakingly big. There is a bit of magic, but it's woven really interestingly into the systems of justice.

I really enjoyed Mike Brooks God-King Chronicles, but it might not be your jam. The world is fairly low-magic from memory, but has some fun weird elements (dinosaur-riding samurai, for instance). There are big fantasy staples - a prophecy, a rising dark god - but it's sort of more about culture clash and personal struggles and action than those big things? (Bea might have more thoughts here.)

How do you feel about more nautical historical fantasy? I know you ruled out RJ Barker, and I agree the Wounded Kingdom trilogy was very Hobb (and I also bounced off it), but his second trilogy, the Tide Child, was a big fantasy swing at tall ship nautical fiction (ala Hornblower etc) and I found it really engaging. But a very weird fantasy setting and very nautical, so if that's not your jam, perhaps not. (If you would like some tall ships, but not that much tall ship, I recently finished Dark Water Daughter by HM Long which was very much pirates and naval engagements, but less detailed. More "realistic" setting, but quite high level of magic. HM Long also did a Norse-flavoured series that was very good, though a little grimmer - but I really enjoyed it and I usually hate grimdark, so perhaps have a look.)

Those are my initial suggestions for consideration; I won't be offended if you rule them all out immediately, but if you can provide reasons, I can refine my search. :lol:
DragonFlame liked this
Good morning Alex, I just wrote you a long answer praising the perfection of Guy Gavriel Kay for good historical fantasy with smidgens of non obtrusive and elusive magic - and somehow lost it while posting :scream: .
Then discovered @cupiscent had more than gloriously covered GGK and many more.
So can gladly endorse her comments only adding that The Sarantine Mosaic, comprised of Sailing to Sarantium and then Lord of Emperors, would be my recommended starters for his books. Byzantine Empire is equivalent period of history. You will find excellent prose, dialogue and characters as well, with few battles and no grimdark.
Good luck w your quest for reading and hopefully I get this posted properly. :happy:
cupiscent liked this
I start this copying what cupi said :happy:
I won't be offended if you rule them all out immediately, but if you can provide reasons, I can refine my search
I also note that since I don't remember much about past reads, the list is based on my feelings of what the series was, haha - sometimes the reality might be slightly different (for example, underestimating amount of grimness?)

  • Age of Madness by Joe Abercrombie - think industrial revolution setting with Joe's trademark writing (and not as grimdark as his previous books)
  • Founders by Robert Jackson Bennett - the 'magic' is more technical; actually, this one is under consideration, might not exactly fit
  • God-king Chronicles by Mike Brooks - I agree with cupi about this one, another maybe for you, but I think you'd enjoy the first book (The black coast), which can stand alone.
  • Burnished City by Davinia Evans - as Elfy said, I think this fits right in!
  • The Faithful and the Fallen and/or Of blood and bone by John Gwynne - older series which I feel also fits right into your description
  • Gael song by Shauna Lawless - set in Ireland in the 10th century (I think), the trilogy isn't complete and I've only read book 1, but it might be something you'd enjoy
  • Echoes of the fall by Adrian Tchaikovski - this is another one of his fantasy books
  • The shadow campaigns by Django Wexler - I feel this has got many elements you'd enjoy, check it out
  • Winnowing flame by Jen Williams - not sure about this one, maybe her previous trilogy Copper cat fits better?
Magnus liked this
Miles Cameron- I enjoyed many parts of Traitor Son, but wasn't a fan of explicit historical references like Christianity existing. It also lost me towards the end with all the portal and parallel worlds nonsense.

Joe Abercrombie- Still reading and enjoying.

Daniel Abraham- Wasn't a huge fan of Age of Ash, though the setting was interesting.

Guy Gavriel Kay - I've read A Song for Arbonne and found it slower than a glacier. He strikes me as a man more interested in the write itself than in telling a good story.

Richard Swan - I will look into further.

Mike Brooks - Really enjoy his Warhammer books, but his fantasy never appealed. Dinosaurs and samurai is just too out there for me

Robert Jackson Bennett- Souns too magic system-y for me.

John Gwynne - I read the first 4 books. Not a fan of coming of age stories, and it was a tad simplistic, but the rest was in line with my tastes.

Shauna Lawless - Not looking for real world history, even with fantasy elements

Echoes of the Fall - Read and enjoyed, though the ending was a little lacklustre.

Django Wexler - Read the first book, but not a huge fan. Felt like an inferior version of Brian McClellan's Powder Mage.

Jen Williams - Read Copper Promise. Felt like reading a summary of someone else's D&D game, not in a good way.

Notorious Sorcrer - Haven't read. Was put off by the mention of crossing planes in the blurb.
HormannAlex wrote: John Gwynne - I read the first 4 books. Not a fan of coming of age stories, and it was a tad simplistic, but the rest was in line with my tastes.

Notorious Sorcrer - Haven't read. Was put off by the mention of crossing planes in the blurb.
About Gwynne, you could try his next trilogy, I don't remember any coming of age story.
And the "crossing planes" in cupi's book is mainly just a place where the MC goes to make a living, most of the story happens in the city. Maybe try the first chapter and see what you think? Oh wait, I think that just shows him going to the other plane, oops

I can't think of others given what you said, sorry. I've got the first Richard Swan book at home but I haven't read it yet.
Other books I've enjoyed recently are set in Middle East-type locations or a big floating island in the sky...
Hmm I wonder about The priory of the orange tree, by Samantha Shannon?
By Peat

It might be worth checking out Cameron's later works. Against All Gods might be too weird for you, and Cold Iron might be too coming of age, but both otherwise fit and if you like his writing it seems worth a try.

Sebastien de Castell is another obvious rec by reputation

Peter McLean's Priest of Bones might be a possible fit

China rather than Europe, but Shelley Parker-Chan's She Who Became The Sun ticks a lot of boxes. It might be a little too close to actual historical fiction for you though.
Peat wrote:China rather than Europe, but Shelley Parker-Chan's She Who Became The Sun ticks a lot of boxes. It might be a little too close to actual historical fiction for you though.
I also thought that might be a bit too dark for him too...