Twenty-Three Great Dark Fantasy Novels
Dark Fantasy Novels and Novellas
Dark Fantasy was popular throughout the 19th century.
There was Frankenstein (1818), Varney the Vampire (1847) and Dracula (1897) just to name a few.
The so-called Penny Dreadfuls fed the desire of Victorians and people of the Edwardian era for horror that blended a little history with mystery and fantasy.
Vampires were popular but so were werewolves and evil spirits. There was a time when people really did believe that it was possible for men to become half beast half man creatures. In Germany at the tail end of the Middle ages a man was broken on the wheel for being such a creature.
When we do get to the Victorians and Edwardians, however, those times had long since gone. Even so, they were not beyond enjoying the fantasy of such things really happening and neither are we in our comfortable 21st Century.
In the 20th Century Dark Fantasy proved to be as popular as it was in the previous century. American pulp magazines featuring the grim forces of the night in spine tingling tales of horror sold well.
Then there were the American comic books of the 1950s responding to the greatest horror of them all - the atomic bomb. It was a weapon so awful it created a situation where two great powers, the soviet Union and the United States of America, could not afford to clash openly with one another.
Thanks to a book titled Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham they were eventually either watered down or totally destroyed by censorship. Of this type, the E.C. comics line was the best and nowadays uncensored reprints of the 1950s E.C line are available.
In the Vietnam War years, American comics such as Last Gasp illustrated both the grim nature of certain episodes in the American national past while painting a grim future for humanity if there was ever a nuclear war. These protest comics referred to themselves as comix to separate them from the more commercial mainstream.
After the Vietnam War there was a rethink at Marvel and D.C. when it came to violence in the comics. One of the nastiest killers to emerge from this rethinking was the revitalized villain of the world of The Batman best known as The Joker.
Today Dark fantasy continues to have a presence and to be popular. There are scores of new novels dealing with vampires and werewolves.
There has been a recent revival in the end of the world saga that was popular in the 1950s and '60s in short stories, novels and also in television episodes of dark fantasy anthologies such as Twilight Zone.
Here I am presenting 25 Dark Fantasy novels including three of my own.
1. The New Doctor Who Adventures - Lucifer Riding by Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore (1993)
In this novel Ace, one of the Doctor's more difficult companions, has become less than comfortable with the Doctor's ways. She has been in combat and has grown cynical. By the end of the novel, however, she gains new insights into the Doctor and why he does what he does.
The story takes place in a complex solar system where there is an energy source that might save the Earth. Getting to it, however, is virtually impossible.
What's more there are being referred to as angels. They might have the answer but communicating with them isn't easy. Then there is a scientist messing about with forces he doesn't understand. These are forces capable of ripping the fabric of existence apart.
This is set in a time after the Earth's inhabitants have found the way to the stars. But doing so isn't enough. Overpopulation and pollution have already come close to dooming our world. Exploitation of other worlds seems to be the only way to save our own. There is, however, an alien opposition to this move as well as aliens willing to help for a price.
Then there is the distant future threat of a Dalek War but there is hope. The Doctor can at least provide that much for humanity.
2. FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley (1818)
Also known as The Modern Prometheus, this novel is still widely read and widely commented on. A man creates a creature from the parts of human corpses.
The creature is left to its own resources and that is where the true horror of the work comes in. By not taking responsibility for his creation, Frankenstein becomes responsible for the crimes the creature commits.
3. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
For a children's work this novella has a lot of dark fantasy and elements of adult madness. It may well be the most quoted fantasy novel ever to be published in English. Not many people are unfamiliar with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, or the rabbit with the fob watch. There's lots of eating, drinking, tears and violence.
The Cheshire cat certainly belongs to dark fantasy with its disappearing act. Chopping off heads Willy-nilly had a darkness about it. Legend has it that the Cheshire cat has a connection with the creaminess of Cheshire cheese.
4. CARMILLA by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1872)
Here we have a female vampire preying upon young females. The writing has style and the image of a cat-like beast entering a young woman's room and biting her on the chest does stay with the reader.
5. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
This is the werewolf tale taken into what was then modern times. An experiment gone wrong and the evil within Dr. Jekyll is released in the form of Mr. Hyde. This novel is as much about 19th Century repression as it is the horror when the repression comes to an end and the flood gates of want and desire burst.
Evil may walk as Mr. Hyde but Hyde in being evil can do things Dr. Jekyll must not even think about doing.
6. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)
This novel about a man who does not age nor reveal his sins in his appearance thanks to a portrait that will do it in his stead is considered a classic of late 19th Century dark fantasy. Vice as seen through the eyes of a 19th Century writer shines sinister forth throughout. In many instances the morals of the age are put into question and this, of course, is a very dangerous thing to do in any age.
7. DRACULA by Bram Stoker (1897)
This late 19th Century novel set the trend for vampire novels well into the 21st Century. Prior to Varney and Dracula vampires were generally female rather than male.
19th Century writers and publishers, however, saw a growth in female readership for dark fantasy and it was decided that an alluring male creature of darkness would be perfect for the female readership. Nowadays of course there are female readers who prefer their vampires to be female and that is fair enough. A vampire from Eastern Europe comes to England where he causes havok.
8. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)
Like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, this book for children has dark elements. There's the wicked witch and her winged monkeys.
For wonder, there's Emerald City, the Tin Woodsman, the cowardly lion and the Scarecrow. There's also the horse of a different color.
9. THE TRAIL by Franz Kafka (1925)
A man is put on trial. The charges are unknown to him but it seems that the best a lawyer can do for him is to postpone the inevitable. The darkness, the horror and the fantasy come from the sinister and surreal nature of the way Josef K is persecuted. A very dark and complex read but enjoyable.
10. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H. P. Lovecraft (written in 1927, first published in its entirety in 1943)
H. P. Lovecraft was an American who wrote for the pulps. Not many full length novels can be attributed to him but he is renowned for his mastery of dark fiction in the short fiction or novella format. In The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, one of Ward' s ancestors turns out to be a necromancer and mass murderer whom Ward is able to resurrect through arcane means from his ashes.
11. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (1955)
This great work appears in three volumes: The fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The return of the King. It is set in a land of elves and other magical creatures. A ring of power with the potential for great evil in the wrong hands must be firstly hidden from those who are evil and then destroyed.
12. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (1957)
This is really a group of short fantastic and somewhat dark stories woven together around a place called Green Town that appears on the surface to be a rather ordinary town in Illinois, USA. It has however a junkman who can sense the needs of his clients and come through for them, a witch in a machine capable of telling real fortunes and a man who almost destroyed happiness by creating a machine dedicated to happiness.
13. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice (1976)
A vampire reveals his past and contemplates his future. The novel doesn't begin well and requires the patience of the reader. It does become, however, a good read.
14. On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers (1988)
Swashbuckling adventure in a south seas world of black magic and skulduggery. In this novel it appears that magic comes to life where there is untamed iron. Where iron has been transformed into the tools of man it then becomes useless for magic.
15. Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett (1991)
This Disco World novel has Death in search of the meaning of humanity and of human existence. He takes a small break from his usual activities in order to do the research.
16. TWILIGHT HEALER by Barbara Custer (2001)
Here a bullied respiratory therapist finds solace in the undead. Here not every vampire is truly evil though evil most definitely is afoot. Custer's medical knowledge comes to the fore to create an intriguing tale with some dark romance.
17. Feather and Bone by Gus Smith (2001)
On the Northumberland moors evil is stirring. A dark force no one dares name is on the move tearing souls from bodies and leaving the shells.
18. Dead Ground by Chris Amies (2001)
In the south seas something is very wrong. There is a legend among the natives that Rogo will save them. But who is Roho and will he or she arrive in time to do so? The British Empire can only do so much in these trying times.
19. DEAD BEAT by Jim Butcher (2005)
This is the 7th novel in The Dresden Files series and its a beaut. Harry Dresden, modern Chicago wizard, has to go up against zombies and dark wizardry.
20. Disco Evil: Dead Man's Stand by Rod Marsden (2009)
A young woman gathers bad karma and through her own hubris meets an untimely end. A young man becomes a vampire and spends much of his time as a member of the undead avenging himself on those who have wrong him.
21. GHOST DANCE by Rod Marsden (2010)
A young man, thanks to a family curse, has lycanthropy. He is a werewolf. In order to break the curse he must travel to Germany from Australia in order to lay his hands on an ancient dagger. A young female vampire gets caught up in the young man's quest and endeavors to protect him from a present day warlock. Available through Kindle and Amazon USA.
22. QUEEN OF IRON YEARS by Lyn mcConchie and Sharman Horwood (2011)
A thirty year old man travels back in time to change history. His goal is to protect the Iceni tribe from being destroyed by the Romans. If he succeeds there is a slim chance that he will stop a particularly nasty disease in his own time.
23. DESK JOB by Rod Marsden (2012)
This is a modern author's salute to Lewis Carroll and his Alice books. Carroll had a great deal of fun with the less than brilliant politics of his own time as well as the belief that the British would always be a force to be reckoned with. He enjoyed playing around with pomp and ceremony. There is madness and murder in the office of Desk Job. It is brought on by a vile form of political correctness.There are humanoid forms of praying mantis (those who uphold the order and the correctness), dung beetle (those who worship the praying mantis) and mule (those who get most of the work done)..
More by this Author
The Great Gatsby, The Red Badge of Courage, A Stainless Steel Rat is Born, Brave New World, 1984, Story of O, Tender is the Night, Wasp, Dune, Twilight Healer, A Study in Scarlet, Dracula, Jazz.
Australian Propaganda from convict origins, to outlaws, to World War One, to populate or perish. Racism, Reverse Racism, sexism, loose lips sink ships, Muslims, Christians, bikinis, The Simpsons, USA
The 20th Century, Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Cold War, H. G. Wells, A Woman of Mars, The Hulk, Ian Fleming, Tarzan, A Clockwork Orange, Agatha Christie, Biggles.