If reading the same story over and over (Raymond Feist/David Eddings) is boring; if talking dragons (Anne McCaffrey) seem stupid; if and impossibly brave, noble heroes and heroines (Terry Goodkind) induce a gag reflex; if puns are not your thing (Piers Anthony); if the author has taken 12+ books to defeat the dark lord (Robert Jordan); or if you feel the most fantasy rips off every Lord of the Rings cliche (Terry Brooks).... ...then this list may be for you.
There has been a wave lately of 'gritty fantasy' - usually low on magic, with both heroes and villains who are motivated by realistic goals (revenge, power, greed) and possess human faults and motivations. Unlike traditional fantasy, not everything is black and white - gritty fantasy has shades of grey.
1. George R.R. Martin. With his "Song of Ice and Fire" series he practically invented the genre. A very good TV series has been developed from his work. Tends to be a bit wordy and had a 5-year hiatus between books.
2. Joe Abercrombie. I feel he has really refined the genre, stripping it back to its bare essentials. Violent, uncompromising, with an interesting array of characters. He also knows how to wrap up a trilogy in 3 (3!) books instead of dragging out a series over 12 or more. Mr George Lucas, take note.This is an author who genuinely tries something different.
3. Paul Kearney. Probably THE most underrated fantasy author, ever. His military fantasy in his "Monarchies of God" and "Macht" series is second to none.
4. Patrick Rothfuss. His "name of the Wind" is a bit more of a traditional 'coming of age' story, told with a new freshness. A talented newcomer.
5. Scott Lynch. His "Locke Lamora" series following a group of thieves make compelling reading.
6. R. Scott Bakker. His "Prince of Nothing" series is uncompromising and philosophical by turns. Difficult but rewarding.
7. Stephen Erikson. I like this series, but its epic scale can be a little offputting. It falls for the "too many books in a series Wheel-of-Time syndrome" and while it is a fresh take on the genre, I feel keeping track of all the characters requires some sort of computer program.
8. Paul Hoffman. His "Left Hand of God" perhaps tried to do too many genres at a time, but was nonetheless a refreshing change and an interesting read.
9. Daniel Polansky. His "Straight Razor Cure" was excellent for a first time author and I feel his future works are definitely worth watching. Somewhat a grimmer, more violent version of the Locke Lamora underworld vibe.
10. Brian Ruckley. The "Godless World" trilogy also actually stopped at 3 books. Violent, harsh, quasi-norse fantasy.
11. Andre Sapkowski. The Witcher videogame was based on his books, many of which are twisted, ironic takes of old fairy tales. A cult hero in Poland, he deserves better recognition in the west (so more of his books would be printed in English!)
12. David Gemell. Technically a writer of heroic fantasy, his heroes and villains were clearly aligned, but not always 'pure white' or impossibly evil. Had quite violent action scenes for his era.
13. Guy Gavriel Kay. Also not so much a 'gritty fantasy' author so much as an honourable mention. His realistic approach strikes a chord. Stephen Lawhead writes in a similar style.
14. Grey Keyes. The "Briar King" quadrilogy has some harsh plot twists and is a worthy inclusion.
15. David Anthony Durham. "Acacia" has some huge plot twists and is developing well in book 2.
16. Brandon Sanderson. "The Way of Kings" seems a better than usual series from this author, with a more grounded hero than usual.
17. Daniel Abraham. A very talented author - a complete change of pace from normal fantasy. Highly recommend. His "Dragon's Path" is more traditional but the "Long Price Quartet" is his most famous work.
18. Richard Morgan. Makes a real attempt to turn fantasy conventions on their head. A gay hero is something I could have done without, though.
19. Stephen Deas. Talking dragons! Bleeech! However, he makes up for it with the backstabbing politics and intrigue.
20. Jon Courtney Grimwood. An established author but a new entrant in the fantasy field. His "Fallen Blade" was a good read but did not match up to his other series.