Thursday, 25 June 2020

Some Dark Fantasy Book Recommendations Without Sexual Assaults

Around the time grimdark emerged as its own genre I was getting tired of traditional fantasy tropes and wanted something new. It seemed perfect timing. I read Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy and it so expertly reverted the fantasy tropes I was familiar with that I loved them.

Something strange happened after that though. Other books I picked up seemed to be less a clever conversation with the past and more just a glorification of abuse and violence. Suddenly fantasy books didn't leave me feeling better about myself and the world, they made my escape from the real world into a hellscape of rape and gratuitous violence. So I stopped reading grimdark. I also started and stopped reading urban fantasy (for several reasons but the standard list of things that started happening to all the protagonist - lost memory, got raped - was a deciding factor) and started reading more science fiction.

I've hit a point in my life where I'm not willing to finish a book I'm not enjoying, and with a few exceptions I now stop reading if there's a rape scene or if there are no redeeming protagonists. If I don't want to main characters to succeed in their goals...

So here's a list of books that have darker themes but (as far as I can remember - PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I'M MISREMEMBERING) do NOT have rape scenes. They do have other violence and can be really intense at times (I often need to break up series so I don't get too depressed reading some of this stuff), but there are no sexual assaults.

I haven't been reading as much fiction lately, and dark fantasy isn't my favourite, so this will be a short list. If you've got others, please leave a comment as I'm always looking for good, rape free fantasy.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickenson - I just finished reading the first 3 of an incomplete 4 book series about a woman whose island was colonized by a major empire, destroying their way of life. Baru determines to join the Empire and destroy it from within. There is betrayal, rebellion, colonization, mutilation, and more.

Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield - Set in an alternate medieval Belgium, a woman must find her undead husband to secure her daughter's inheritance. There's war, a hellmouth, and women doing what they must to survive.

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Steveley - The first book in a completed trilogy (there's also a standalone, Skullsworn, set in the same world and focused on an assassin/priestess). The Emperor has died and his three unprepared children must deal with the fallout. Contains assassins, eagle mounts, subtle magic, armies, fanatical priests, etc.

City of Stairs* by Robert Jackson Bennett - I'm currently reading a different series of his, but I think City of Stairs is the grittier book. There are hints of assault (ie, it's known assault happens in this world) but there are no on page assaults. The plot centres around a female diplomat sent to uncover a murderer in a colonized city. (If you ever thought computer programming would make a cool magic system, I highly recommend Foundryside.)

Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan - An interesting completed trilogy about a society built on the use of dragon blood in a world where few dragons remain. There are navel battles, betrayals, wars, etc.

Lamentation by Ken Scholes - The first of a completed 5 book series that was so intense I needed a break between books. When an ancient device destroys the city of Windwir, war comes to the Named Lands. There is a lot of violence, sometimes graphic torture, assassination, political intrigue, plots within plots within plots.

This next book isn't technically grimdark (being older than that label) but the author really puts her characters through the ringer (which is true of all the books I've read by her).

Transformation by Carol Berg - The first of a trilogy but can easily be read as a standalone. A slave who used magic in the past must help his new master overcome his possession. This is one of my favourite novels because there's a surprising amount of humour to it. Black humour, to be sure. It also doesn't pull any punches. There is off page assault (it's clear the protagonist was assaulted in the past and he tries to warn another character who is assaulted off page).

Carol Berg's Song of the Beast is also a brilliant book, but so harsh I've only been able to read it once.

Another hesitant recommendation is The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter*. One side character is assaulted off page, which results in several things going bad for other characters (who try to avenge it). The book is about a man in a structured society who manages to go beyond his station. So much violence and fighting. I haven't read the second one so I'm not sure if the protagonist remains someone I can root for.

If you've had enough dark fantasy and want a palate cleanse, E. K. Johnston's The Afterward is excellent. It's about a group of female knights (one of whom is transgender and several of whom are gay) who go on a quest to defeat the bad guy. It will leave you feeling good about the world.

[*Sorry, I wrote this quickly and have edited out some typos like "City of Stars" and Evan Winters. My apologies.]

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