As anyone who reads my posts knows, I am a huge fan of indie fantasty and science fiction. It comes with the territory when you’re an indie author. However, there’s the simple fact that a lot of people believe that the stamp of one of the Big Six publishers is a guarantee of quality. I don’t believe this but there is still a prejudice against those who are either self-published or published by a smaller press.
And let’s be honest, thanks to certain changes in the market, almost anyone can submit a book and get it published. They can have great covers and terrible texts or terrible covers but fantastic prose. There’s very much a state of caveat emptor in effect and while the majority of indie books I read are good, what can we say are genuinely great?
This is a list of ten indie books that I’ve read over the years that I give 5-stars to. Some of them are among the best fiction I’ve read and could easily be top tier traditionally published. Others are just perfect and off the wall for what they are. I’ve tried to get a suitably varied mix of what different kinds of fantasy and science out there as well. I’ve also tried to narrow it down to books that can be read by just about anyone and they’d go, “that was a great book.” Enjoy!
Of Honey and Wildfires
by Sarah Chorn
The only steampunk book on this list, Sarah Chorn has created a fantastic alternate frontier where the locals will kill each other or their mothers for shine. Shine is a bit like materia from Final Fantasy 7 or Dune‘s spice in that it’s less about what it can do and more about what people will do for it. The story is strongly pro-LGBT with a transman and lesbian pair of protagonists. It’s less Wild West and more like West Virginia coal mining town, though, but that appeals to me as an anarchist in Appallachia.
About Of Honey and Wildfires by Sarah Chorn
From the moment the first settler dug a well and struck a lode of shine, the world changed. Now, everything revolves around that magical oil.
What began as a simple scouting expedition becomes a life-changing ordeal for Arlen Esco. The son of a powerful mogul, Arlen is kidnapped and forced to confront uncomfortable truths his father has kept hidden. In his hands lies a decision that will determine the fate of everyone he loves—and impact the lives of every person in Shine Territory.
The daughter of an infamous saboteur and outlaw, Cassandra has her own dangerous secrets to protect. When the lives of those she loves are threatened, she realizes that she is uniquely placed to change the balance of power in Shine Territory once and for all.
Secrets breed more secrets. Somehow, Arlen and Cassandra must find their own truths in the middle of a garden of lies.
The Immorality Clause
by Brian Parker
There wasn’t a chance I wasn’t going to put a fantastic noir detective novel on this list given my tastes. Brian Parker was bound to win, though. The Immorality Clause takes place in the Big Easy circa 2066 with the Red Light District back in action but now selling sexbots, VR, and designer drugs for the police to deal with. Detective Zach Forrest is ambivalent about the Puritanical and hypocritical rules of the Lousiana PD and prefers to focus on Homicide. Especially when he’s implicated in a scandal that has him break the morals clause forced on detectives. But how could he have known she was a robot? She was so alive. And if she was alive, what does that mean for the latest generation of machines?
About The Immorality Clause
Easytown’s robotic pleasure clubs are a serial killer’s playground.
The futuristic slum in eastern New Orleans is a violent place where any vice can be satisfied–for a price. As long as the taxes are paid and tourists continue to flock to the city, businesses are allowed to operate as they see fit. Easytown has given rise to the robotic sex trade; where the robots are nearly human and always better than the real thing.
Homicide detective, Zach Forrest, has never trusted the machines. When a string of grisly murders rocks the city, he must hunt down the killer responsible. With no witnesses, and no evidence, Forrest embarks on an investigation that will challenge the very scope of reality. Will Forrest find the killer before he becomes the next victim?
by Dyrk Ashton
I’m a huge fan of Dyrk Ashton who, like me, is a force for promoting indie authors as well as an indie author. In the case of Paternus, I just like his book because it made me grin from ear to ear from beginning to end. It is weird that it reminds me most of Transformers more than anything else with a millennia-long secret war on the Earth. The gods of humankind were all inspired by warring races and the level of research displayed here for what amounts to a fun kickass adventure novel is surprising.
About Paternus by Dyrk Ashton
Described as American Gods meets The Avengers and Supernatural meets The Lord of the Rings, Paternus combines myths from around the world in a modern story of action and intrigue that is “urban fantasy on the surface, but so much more at its core!”
Even myths have legends. And not all legends are myth.
When a local hospital is attacked by strange and frightening men, Fiona Patterson and Zeke Prisco save a catatonic old man named Peter—and find themselves running for their lives with creatures beyond imagination hounding their every step.
With nowhere else to turn, they seek out Fi’s enigmatic Uncle Edgar. But the more their questions are answered, the more they discover that nothing is what it seems–not Peter, not Edgar, perhaps not even themselves.
The gods and monsters, heroes and villains of lore—they’re real. And now they’ve come out of hiding to hunt their own. In order to survive, Fi and Zeke must join up with powerful allies against an ancient evil that’s been known by many names and feared by all. The final battle of the world’s oldest war has begun.
Paternus: Rise of Gods, is Dyrk Ashton’s critically acclaimed debut novel and the first book in The Paternus Trilogy. It has been compared to works by Neil Gaiman, Scott Hawkins, Roger Zelazny, China Miéville, Joss Whedon, and Kevin Hearne.
Editions note: Earlier editions list the title as simply Paternus. These are the same book as Paternus: Rise of Gods.
Genre: Urban Fantasy / Contemporary Fantasy / Mythic Fiction.
Ghosts of Tomorrow
by Michael J. Fletcher
Michael J. Fletcher is one of the best authors of the indie fantasy publishing world. I could recommend literally any of his books and they’d be great. However, I’m inclined to recommend one of his lesser known ones in Ghost of Tomorrow. In the future, brain scans are a powerful currency as they substitute for AI but require you to die in the process. Unfortunately, that means there’s a massive black market for them with unwanted children being the most lucrative. Our protagonists also include a cyborg ninja cowboy.
About Ghosts of Tomorrow
The children are the future.
And someone is turning them into highly trained killing machines.
Straight out of school, Griffin, a junior Investigations agent for the North American Trade Union, is put on the case: Find and close the illegal crèches. No one expects him to succeed, Griffin least of all. Installed in a combat chassis Abdul, a depressed seventeen year old killed during the Secession Wars in Old Montreal, is assigned as Griffin’s Heavy Weapons support. Nadia, a state-sanctioned investigative reporter working the stolen children story, pushes Griffin ever deeper into the nightmare of the black market brain trade.
Deep in the La Carpio slums of Costa Rica, the scanned mind of an autistic girl runs the South American Mafia’s business interests. But she wants more. She wants freedom. And she has come to see humanity as a threat. She has an answer: Archaeidae. At fourteen, he is the deadliest assassin alive. Two children against the world.
The world is going to need some help.
by Graham Austin King
Graham Austin King’s Riven Wyrd saga turned me onto his writing. However, I think this is his best book. A young man is sold by his father into slavery at the temple to the Forgefather. For most of the people sold, it means a life of darkness in the mines. Wynn is willing to do anything to get out of it, though, and that means working with the corrupt clergy above him. The problem for all of them, though, is that the Forgefather is real and not pleased with the things being done in his name.
The temples of the Forgefather have fallen. The clerics and defenders that could once be found across the nine lands are no more. Priests huddle in the great temple, clinging to the echoes of their lost religion. But the Father has fallen silent. There are none who still hear his voice.
The mines of Aspiration lie far below the temple’s marble halls. Slaves toil in the blackness, striving to earn their way into the church and the light. Wynn has been sold into this fate, traded for a handful of silver. In the depths of the mines, where none dare carry flame, he must meet his tally or die. But there are things that lurk in that darkness, and still darker things within the hearts of men.
When the souls bound to the great forge are released in a failed ritual, one novice flees down into the darkness of the mines. The soulwraiths know only hunger, the risen know only hate. In the blackest depths Kharios must seek a light to combat the darkness which descends.
The Skald's Black Verse
by Jordan Loyal Short
I have a weird complaint about Warhammer 40K. Specifically, I think it’s not dark enough. Yes, the setting that coined grimdark isn’t dark enough. Specifically, you rarely get to see the suffering and sadness of a hopeless universe between all the pew-pew as well as chainsaw swords. This book takes a Medieval horror setting IN SPACE and actually deals with the consequences. The Empire rules over the Viking-esque world full of black magic and the moon is about to explode. Colonialism, spaceships, demons, and deep characterization.
About The Skald's Black Verse
Brohr has been lied to, abused.
All he wants is to live in peace, away from the ignorance of his village, to outrun the raging ghost which haunts him.
But a hidden evil seeks to harness Brohr’s fury.
Accused of murder, hunted by ruthless soldiers, Brohr delves the way of the Skald, unlocking forbidden blood magic as he unearths terrible family secrets.
When the red moon is broken, and all is lost, it’s up to Brohr to lead a rebellion, or face the end of the world.
by M.L. Spencer
Dragon Mage is a fantastic homage to Eighties-and-Nineties style fantasy where good was good, evil was evil, and young farm boys have powerful destinies. In this case, the farm boy (or fisherman’s son in this case), is autistic. I really enjoyed this story and it brought back all sorts of fun feelings from my Waldenbooks days. It’s just good clean fun from beginning to end.
About Dragon Mage
Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.
Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known.
But Aram is more. Much, much more.
Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honor among the armies of men: dragon riders.
Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.
Where Loyalties Lie
by Rob J. Hayes
Possibly my favorite book on this because it is grimdark pirates! The protagonist is a con man who theoretically a pirate but is better at words than swords. He, however, has a dream of creating a pirate kingdom by uniting all the other bands into one collection then betraying them. Unfortunately, for that, he needs the help of a lot of people who are wise to his antics. It’s a dark book with some horrific violence but also incredibly well-written.
About Where Loyalties Lie
Everybody knows Captain Drake Morass is only out for himself.
As the fires of a dying city burn on a distant shore, Drake sees an opportunity to unite the other pirate Captains under his flag and claim a crown for himself. If he is to succeed, he will need allies and the Oracle named Keelin Stillwater, the best swordsman in the isles, as his right hand.
by J. Zachary Pike
Possibly the only comedic fantasy that I think might be up there with Discworld. Orconomics is a fantastic book and surprisingly effective at combining parody, believable characters, and actually effective social satire. I love Orconomics and think it’s a fascinating look at the “dungeon economy” and how it might work. The fact it also manages to show how racism plays a part in capitalism (while being really funny) is also a delicate needle to thread even if the racism is against orcs.
Professional heroes kill and loot deadly monsters every day, but Gorm Ingerson’s latest quest will be anything but business as usual.
Making a Killing in Professional Heroics
The adventuring industry drives the economy of Arth, a world much like our own but with more magic and fewer vowels. Monsters’ hoards are claimed, bought by corporate interests, and sold off to plunder funds long before the beasts are slain. Once the contracts and paperwork are settled, the Heroes’ Guild issues a quest to kill the monster and bring back its treasure for disbursement to shareholders.
Life in The Shadows
Of course, while professional heroics has been a great boon for Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and all the other peoples of light, it’s a terrible arrangement for the Shadowkin. Orcs, Goblins, Kobolds, and their ilk must apply for to become Noncombatant Paper Carriers (or NPCs) to avoid being killed and looted by guild heroes. Even after getting their papers, NPCs are treated as second class citizens, driven into the margins of society.
An Insane Quest
Gorm Ingerson, a Dwarven ex-hero with a checkered past, has no idea what he’s getting himself into when he stands up for an undocumented Goblin. His act of kindness starts a series of events that ends with Gorm recruited by a prophet of the mad goddess Al’Matra to fulfill a prophecy so crazy that even the Al’Matran temple doesn’t believe it.
Money, Magic, and Mayhem
But there’s more to Gorm’s new job than an insane prophecy: powerful corporations and governments, usually indifferent to the affairs of the derelict Al’Matran temple, have shown an unusual interest in the quest. If his party of eccentric misfits can stop fighting each other long enough to recover the Elven Marbles, Gorm might be able to turn a bad deal into a golden opportunity and win back the fame and fortune he lost so long ago.
Kings of Paradise
by Richard Nell
This was the book that was going to be at the top of the list no matter what. Because it’s not just my favorite indie book, it is one of my favorite books period. The only one that I think really deserves to be on that Rothfuss, Lynch, and Martin level for me. The story of a deformed witch’s son, a spoiled prince, and a slightly deranged priestess as they struggle to decide who will control a bunch of tropical islands. The twists in this one rival Ned Stark’s fate and the Red Wedding for me.
About kings of paradise
A deformed genius plots vengeance while struggling to survive. A wastrel prince comes of age, finding a power he never imagined. Two worlds are destined to collide.
Only one can be king.
Ruka, called a demon at birth, is a genius. Born malformed and ugly into the snow-covered wasteland of the Ascom, he was spared from death by his mother’s love. Now he is an outcast, consumed with hate for those who’ve wronged him. But to take his vengeance, he must first survive. Across a vast sea in the white-sand island paradise of Sri Kon, Kale is fourth and youngest son of the Sorcerer King. And at sixteen, Kale is a disappointment. As the first prince ever forced to serve with low-born marines, Kale must prove himself and become a man, or else lose all chance of a worthy future, and any hope to win the love of his life. Though they do not know it, both boys are on the cusp of discovery. Their worlds and lives are destined for greatness, or ruin.
But in a changing world where ash meets paradise, only one man can be king… The first installment of an epic, low- fantasy trilogy. Kings of Paradise is a dark, bloody, coming-of-age story shaped by culture, politics, and magic.