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13 Best Military Fantasy Books

The best military fantasy isn’t just a bunch of castle sieges and knights hacking at each other (although those are fun). The most interesting books also examine what life in the military actually involves, and what combat can do to a person’s mind.

 

13
The Red Knight
by Miles Cameron – 2012
Book 1 of 5 in The Traitor Son series

Twenty-eight florins a month is a huge price to pay for a man to stand between you and the Wild.

Twenty-eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern’s jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men—or worse, a company of mercenaries—against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder.

It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it.

The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he’s determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery, it’s just another job. The abbey is rich, the nuns are pretty, and the monster preying on them is nothing he can’t deal with.

“Literate, intelligent and well-thought-out…a pleasingly complex and greatly satisfying novel.”
―SFF World

12
The Darkness That Comes Before
by R. Scott Bakker – 2003
Book 1 of 3 in The Prince of Nothing series

In a world scarred by an apocalyptic past, evoking a time both two thousand years past and two thousand years into the future, thousands gather for a crusade. Among them, two men and two women are ensnared by a mysterious traveler—part warrior, part philosopher, part sorceress, and a charismatic presence from lands long thought dead.

“[An] impressive, challenging debut, the first of a trilogy… [that will] please those weary of formulaic epic fantasy.”
—Publishers Weekly

11
Deed of Paksenarrion
by Elizabeth Moon – 1988
Books 1-3 of 4 in the Paksenarrion series

This books contains the first three books of the Paksenarrion series.

Paksenarrion, a simple sheep farmer’s daughter, yearns for a life of adventure and glory, such as was known to heroes in songs and story. At age seventeen she runs away from home to join a mercenary company and begins her epic life . . .

Book One: Paks is trained as a mercenary. She is introduced to the life of a soldier, and to the followers of Gird, the soldier’s god.

Book Two: Paks leaves the Duke’s company to follow the path of Gird alone—and on her lonely quests encounters the other sentient races of her world.

Book Three: Paks the warrior must learn to live with Paks the human. She undertakes a holy quest for a lost elven prince that brings the gods’ wrath down on her and tests her very limits.

“Brilliant . . . the excitement of high heroic adventure . . . will enchant the reader.”
—Bookwatch

10
The Rage of Dragons
by Evan Winter – 2017
Book 1 of 2 in The Burning series

The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost 200 years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every 2,000 women has the power to call down dragons. One in every 100 men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine. Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war.

Young, giftless Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance.

Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die 100,000 times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.

“Winter’s stunning debut fantasy epic is rich in complex characters and a well-wrought world with both European and African influences.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

9
The Sword of Kaigen
by M. L. Wang – 2019

Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.

Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.

When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?

“This companion novel to a YA series tells the story of a mother and son caught up in a shadow war… Wang’s novel mixes sci-fi technology with the martial arts lore of East Asia to create a fantasy realm that is intricate and original.”
—Kirkus Review

8
The Way of Kings
by Brandon Sanderson – 2010
Book 1 of 4 in The Stormlight Archive series

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

“I loved this book. What else is there to say?”
―Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind

7
Furies of Calderon
by Jim Butcher – 2004
Book 1 of 6 in the Furies of Calderon series

For a thousand years, the people of Alera have united against the aggressive and threatening races that inhabit the world, using their unique bond with the furies—elementals of earth, air, fire, water, wood, and metal. But in the remote Calderon Valley, the boy Tavi struggles with his lack of furycrafting. At fifteen, he has no wind fury to help him fly, no fire fury to light his lamps. Yet as the Alerans’ most savage enemy—the Marat horde—return to the Valley, Tavi’s courage and resourcefulness will be a power greater than any fury, one that could turn the tides of war…

“At the start of Butcher’s absorbing fantasy, the barbarians are at the gates of the land of Alera, which has a distinct flavor of the Roman Empire…”
—Publishers Weekly

6
Gardens of the Moon
by Steven Erikson – 1999
Book 1 of 9 in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series

The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting, and bloody confrontations with ancient and implacable sorcerers. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dreaded Claw assassins. For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, their lone surviving mage, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.

However, the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadow-bound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand…

“An astounding debut…has the potential to become a defining work.”
—SF Site

5
Promise of Blood
by Brian McClellan – 2013
Book 1 of 3 in the Powder Mage series

Field Marshal Tamas’s coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…

“McClellan’s debut packs some serious heat…A thoroughly satisfying yarn that should keep readers waiting impatiently for further installments.”
―Kirkus (starred review)

4
The Thousand Names
by Django Wexler – 2013
Book 1 of 5 in The Shadow Campaigns series

Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost, until a rebellion left him in charge of a demoralized force clinging to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.

To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must lead her men into battle against impossible odds.

Their fate depends on Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich. Under his command, Marcus and Winter feel the tide turning and their allegiance being tested. For Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to reshape the known world and change the lives of everyone in its path.

“A spectacular epic fantasy debut.”
—Fantasy Book Critic

3
His Majesty's Dragon
by Naomi Novik – 2006
Book 1 of 9 in the Temeraire series

When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo—an unhatched dragon egg—fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future–and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature.

Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

“Terrifically entertaining.”
—Stephen King

2
The Black Company
by Glen Cook – 1992
Book 1 of 4 in the Black Company series

Some feel the Lady, newly risen from centuries in thrall, stands between humankind and evil. Some feel she is evil itself. The hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must, burying their doubts with their dead.

1
World War Z
by Max Brooks – 2006

This book is a series of vignettes from people across the world experiencing the Zombie War. There’s no central protagonist, which makes the reading a little more difficult, but makes the whole book feel more real.

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

“Will spook you for real.”
—The New York Times Book Review

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