Conan drops the F-bomb: fantasy books for adults
June 23, 2010 7:24 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for fantasy (as in, swords and sorcery, dragons, etc) books written for adults.

Yes, I am looking for knights who say fuck.

Since my earlier sci-fi for grownups question got me such amazing answers, I am hoping to repeat it for a related variety of genre fiction. Like I said there, I am looking for books that contained sex (and not always nice sex), violence (ditto), and big-picture ideas about society, as well as being well enough written to blur the line between genre fiction and "real" literature. Just this time with more swords and fewer spaceships.

I have read George RR Martin's books, Morgan's The Steel Remains, Bradley's Avalon, Stephen Donaldson's books, and some early Piers Anthony books that were surprisingly raunchy.

I'm not looking for jokey books like Terry Pratchet or pretty much anything with a pun in the title. I'm not a fan of Neil/Neal Gaiman & Stephenson. Series and stand-alone suggestions are equally welcome; ditto new releases and old classics.
posted by Forktine to Media & Arts (65 answers total) 131 users marked this as a favorite
C.M. Valente's Palimpsest is the first thing that springs to mind.
posted by lriG rorriM at 7:31 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how closely they fit your criteria, but I really love Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen and Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey. Sex, violence (often together), and some really cool 'mythology'. It's fantasy, but with a hint of (historical) reality, and the story gets better with each book.
posted by torisaur at 7:32 PM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

P.S. Excellent question, I can't wait to see the responses :D
posted by torisaur at 7:33 PM on June 23, 2010

The Tamir Trilogy by Lynn Flewelling is really well written and deals with some interesting topics. The main character undergoes a sex change as a child, reverts to her natural gender later in life, and has to deal with all the consequences.
posted by lriG rorriM at 7:34 PM on June 23, 2010

Best answer: The First Law series is absolutely incredible. Seriously, I read this a couple of months ago and am now ranting about it to strangers on the internet.
posted by procrastination at 7:41 PM on June 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

I just got sucked into Naomi Novik's Temeraire series. It isn't as gritty as you might be looking for, perhaps, but it is fascinating.

Essentially, it's the Napoleonic wars if dragon Air Forces were the norm. Way epic.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:42 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Lies of Locke Lamora?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:43 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

And here I was going to recommend the Martin and Morgan. Piers Anthony books are raunchy because he comes across as a freakish perv, and I am not meaning in a good way.

Are you looking for adultish fantasy in general or specifically adultish high fantasy (dragons, elves, yadda yadda) and sword and sorcery (Conan, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser). Because there are a ton of adult fantasies I could recommend but rather fewer adult high or sword and sorcery fantasies.

Jacqueline Carey's first Kushiel trilogy is full of easily the most graphic sex I've ever encountered in a non-pornographic setting. It would be comparable to the sex in The Steel Remains except there is far more of it and detailed at far greater length. And most of it is heavy sadomasochism. I like Carey's style; others find it off-putting. It's certainly an actual prose style, though, rather than just a collection of words typed onto a page like with (for example) Terry Brooks or whoever.

Lots of swords, lots of quite strange theology, some magic, not a lot of dragons or elves or so forth.

Guy Gavriel Kay's post-Fionavar books are about the best written you'll find, contain a moderate amount of violence, but they are relatively light on sex. Particularly not-so-nice sex. It's also quasi-historical-but-with-magic and not a lot of dragons etc. My personal favorite is probably his Sarantine Mosaic but his earlier books are more fantasyesque and less historical. Particularly the Fionavar trilogy which was clearly what he wrote to purge the Tolkien influence which had undoubtedly consumed his life for a long time given that he was the guy who put together The Silmarillion with Christopher Tolkien. That should give you an idea of his cred.

China Mieville fits the bill and has lots of grotesque and macabre magical creatures but they tend not to be the traditional Tolkienesque sorts. Perdido Street Station would be the place to start.

And so on. I could go on but I'll wait to find out exactly how specifically dragons&elves kind of fantasy you're talking about. There is some of that sort which would qualify but you've already read the best of it with the Martin.
posted by Justinian at 7:48 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just read Empire of the East by Fred Saberhagen and really, really enjoyed it. Not tons of sex but lots of violence, battle strategy and a neat combining of technology and magic. It was written in the late 70's I think but doesn't feel dated at all.
posted by victoriab at 7:49 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about Laurell K. Hamilton's stuff? Her Anita Blake series is vampires, and her Merry Gentry series is more sword&sorcery type fantasy (though still with a present day setting). Be forewarned that though you have requested adult themes, they are chock full of all *kinds* of sex. Think "adult" as in films, not as in opposite of child. I started reading the Anita Blake series on a recommendation and the early books aren't nearly as "erotica masquerading as horror" as the later books are.
posted by booksherpa at 7:52 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Are you looking for adultish fantasy in general or specifically adultish high fantasy (dragons, elves, yadda yadda) and sword and sorcery (Conan, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser).

Honestly, I'm not immersed enough in the genre to know how to answer that. Probably the best answer is that I'm looking for good writing first, and genre specificity a distant second. So if the writing is excellent, and it's not targeted at the tween or teen market, I'm interested in hearing about it.

I haven't liked the few modern magic / vampires / faeries books I've tried (eg Anne Rice), but maybe I just haven't tried the right author yet. So I'd rather leave the genre broad in the hope of bringing in more possibilities to explore.
posted by Forktine at 7:55 PM on June 23, 2010

I enjoyed Melanie Rawn's series starting with Dragon Prince, despite the lame title and ridiculous cover. It has a lot more politicking than I've seen in other fantasy novels, with people in power trying to work out whether the ends of eventual peace justify the means of war and assassination and rape and whatnot. It also has some angry-sex scenes that somehow disturbed me way more when I read them as an adult last year than when I first encountered them as a teenager.
posted by vytae at 7:56 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Whatever else you read, don't miss Samuel R. Delany's Neveryon series. (In my opinion, at least, these are both Delany's greatest work and the highest literary achievement to fall clearly within the genre of swords-and-sorcery fantasy.) Le Guin's Earthsea books are another obvious pick not yet mentioned. I'd also second the idea of reading some of Howard's Conan stories (in this nice new edition or the old multi-authored pulps, your call; the prose is beautifully purple either way) and Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.
posted by RogerB at 7:59 PM on June 23, 2010

My husband is a fan of G.R.R. Martin, too, and has enjoyed similar books by R.A. Salvatore and Robin Hobb.
posted by jenny76 at 8:00 PM on June 23, 2010

I have 2 different series that I really love. The Coldfire Trilogy by C. S. Friedman and The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon.
posted by slavlin at 8:11 PM on June 23, 2010

John C. Wright Guardian of Everness and Mists of Everness, and Chronicles of Chaos trilogy.
posted by rainy at 8:15 PM on June 23, 2010

2nd Paksenarrion series by Elizabeth Moon. It's really great.
posted by rainy at 8:15 PM on June 23, 2010

I wouldn't call them modern classics or anything, but I really liked Barbara Hambly's depiction of demonic posession in the Dragonshadow, Knight of the Demon Queen, and Dragonstar books. They were later additions to a tale that started with Dragonsbane, a more general audience adventure about going after a dragon that had taken over a town (loved the book, but doesn't have the extra edge you're talking about). The three followups, though, focused on demons as much as dragons, and managed to weave what I thought was a very compelling picture of what makes a demon more damning than just a evil monsters. Not so much about gore and sex, so much as the acid-stains that interacting with demons leaves on the soul.

So many demons in science fiction ar little more than juiced up monsters, or just more Bad Guys with an extra dollop of viciousness/remorselessness. Banish the demon and everything is good again, or at least fixable. This series may be built around dragons and saving the world from demons, but wound throughout the tale is a more thought provoking look at what it means to be seduced, suborned, betrayed, and taken by demons, followed by further studies in how the victims recover (or not), post rescue.
posted by Ys at 8:16 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Brian Aldiss' Heliconia trilogy is mature enough. Not silly. I don't know how many f bombs there are....but it isn't silly either.

(technically it might be scifi but for all practical purposes it gives you the same fantasy oomph. I think you'd like it)
posted by ian1977 at 8:22 PM on June 23, 2010

What about The Chronicles of Amber? I am not sure there's explicit sexual stuff (honestly I can't recall) but I don't think the author tiptoes around such topics. That's not his style. It definitely felt like an adult read, to me.
posted by ZeroDivides at 8:24 PM on June 23, 2010

I was pretty impressed with Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trillogy.
posted by octothorpe at 8:30 PM on June 23, 2010

Guy Gavriel Kay is one of the best fantasy writers alive; his prose is top notch. My favorites are The Lions of Al-Rassan and Last Light of the Sun. Under the Banner of Heaven is supposed to be wonderful as well.

If you like GRRM you might be interested in Tad Willams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy. I'm a big fan of it and it was reputably the series that inspired Martin to take a crack at writing a fantasy trilogy for adults (yes, ASOIAF was at one time intended be a trilogy, not the 8+ volume epic it's turned in to).

But, while GGK and Williams write fantasy aimed towards adults, neither are adult in the sense of Martin, with tons of sex, violence, and cursing. Still, if you care about good characters, writing, and plot you might give them a shot.

Another book that comes to mind is The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick. It's very dark and very good. Kind of a Victorian aesthetic morphing into urban fantasy. It seems like it's a bit of an unknown gem. I hope you read it!
posted by 6550 at 8:31 PM on June 23, 2010

Please read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. It is the best fantasy novel I've ever read and maybe one of the best novels I've ever read.
posted by shesbookish at 8:37 PM on June 23, 2010 [8 favorites]

I had to drop in here to recommend The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It's a retelling of Arthurian legend from the point of view of the women involved. It's fantastic and there's tons of magic and I love it.

Also, thanks for asking this question! I'm getting tons of great suggestions from this thread hooray!
posted by capnsue at 8:46 PM on June 23, 2010

oh shoot i just saw that you mentioned the mists of avalon in your question i'll go away now
posted by capnsue at 8:48 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Daniel Fox's Moshui series sounds pretty close to what you're looking for. There aren't a lot of explicit sex scenes, but there are plenty of really violent scenes. It's an epic tale of war and political intrigue that includes gods, a dragon, and other supernatural elements. The characters are well-drawn and the prose is quite pretty, as well. The first book is Dragon in Chains and the second is Jade Man's Skin. There will be a third book called Hidden Cities to wrap up the series but it's not out yet.

I just got sucked into Naomi Novik's Temeraire series. It isn't as gritty as you might be looking for, perhaps, but it is fascinating.

I agree; there's not a lot of explicit sex or gore, but Novik has a lot of grown-up things to say about colonialism, racism, loyalty (to country, to friends, to self) while also telling an epic story.
posted by creepygirl at 8:48 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ok, "fantasy" can mean a couple things depending on the person saying the word. Kind of like how musical genres are a lot more specific if the person speaking is one of those crazy people who knows 18 different types of electronic music. I'll just recommend some good stuff that mostly meets your criteria. Note that like a lot of these threads about F&SF I don't think that some suggestions meet your criteria; for some reason F&SF recommendation threads tend to the "here is some stuff that I liked!!!!" no matter what is asked for.

I already suggested Carey's first Kushiel trilogy (heavy on the freaky sex), China Mieville, and Guy Kay. Mieville and Kay, in particular, are in full control of their writerly voice in terms of style. Whether you would care for their particular styles is a different question, of course, but they cannot be accused of being amateurish like some fantasy authors I could name.

Scott Lynch has been recommended by some people. I think that's a decent recommendation although I don't think he's (yet) as skilled as Kay or Martin. But you'd probably expect that. I believe Lynch wrote Lies when he was 25 while Martin and Kay have been professional writers for more than 30 years. I like Lynch's books quite a bit, I just think he'll be even better in a few years.

Delany's Neveryon stuff is clearly important and groundbreaking. It's not to my personal taste but I recognize that it clearly deserves to be on a list of what you're asking for.

Gene Wolfe's fantasy (note: not his Sun books which are not fantasy) are about as literary as you'll find but badly fail on the graphic sex and violence front. So take that as you will.

Some have recommended Abercrombie's First Law books. I'd probably go with Abercrombie's Best Served Cold. An absolutely brutal book, very much of a feeling with Morgan's The Steel Remains. Like Lynch, I think Abercrombie is maturing as a writer and I think Best Served Cold is actually better in a lot of ways than his newbie trilogy. If you liked the Morgan, it's definitely worth a try.

But having thought about it, I think you'll find that the set of modern adult fantasy which contains a bunch of sex (by which I assume you mean relatively graphic sex not the "and then they disappeared into the bedroom, fade to black" kind), heavy violence, and yet is well-written by even a fairly loose standard to be fairly small. There's a lot of good modern adult fantasy. There's a lot of modern adult fantasy with sex and violence, particular if you include fangfuckers like Antia Blake. But the overlap isn't huge. It's not non-existant, but it isn't huge.

The sort of Richard Morgan Altered Carbon feel (which I assume you'll know what I mean if you've read Morgan's fantasy) tends to turn up in science fiction more than fantasy, as a bit of a holdover from cyberpunk and then the British golden age of SF post-Banks.

Oh, I anti-recommend a lot of recommendations in the thread. But I dunno if I'm assholish enough to anti-recommend them specifically. Except for Anita Blake. If you liked the last couple of Anita Blake books you are a bad person and you should feel bad and I hate you.
posted by Justinian at 8:56 PM on June 23, 2010 [9 favorites]

Yes: Novik is good stuff but, again, lacks the sex and gore. So OP it depends on whether you are actively seeking the sex and gore or not. Of course the set of "good modern adult fantasy" without a specific criteria like "graphic" is so large as to make a thread like this completely unworkable except as a "my favorite fantasy" chatfest.
posted by Justinian at 8:58 PM on June 23, 2010

Definitely on board with the Memory, Sorrow & Thorn trilogy being Epic Fantasy Done Right (the actual books, by the way, are The Dragonbone Chair, The Stone of Fairwell, and To Green Angel Tower). Also wanted to pop back in & mention C.S. Friedman. She's got some amazing stuff, some of it more typically swords & magic fantasy, others more about exploring other worlds. Her Coldfire trilogy features my top pic for sexiest badass Bad Guy Of All Times (Black Sun Rising, When True Night Falls, and Crown of Shadows). A little short on sex and cursing, but fits in the adult swim period the same way Tad William's work does: Damn good writing.

Friedman has a real talent for portraying other cultures, even non-human cultures, in a way that doesn't leave you thinking, "oh yeah, that's just Vikings with funny hats and a shiny new name." A shorter work by her would be The Madness Season, which puts humanity at the losing end of life's spectrum, and watches a more successful species groping its own way through evolution through the eyes of a (nominally human) stowaway.
posted by Ys at 9:02 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding "The Lies of Lock Lamora." Very loosely I'd describe it as Ocean's 11 crossed with the Count of Monte Cristo. It's lots of fun and if you like it there is a second book out.
posted by crios at 9:03 PM on June 23, 2010

Mercedes Lackey/Roberta Gellis wrote a historical fantasy series with elves interfering in the succession of Henry VIII. Perhaps less literature than you're asking for, but better written than Piers Anthony, IMO. The books in the series are This Scepter'd Isle (2004), Ill Met by Moonlight (2005), By Slanderous Tongues (2007), And Less Than Kind 2008.

You might like Joel Rosenberg's "Guardians of the Flame". Magic, sex, violence, and lots of big picture.
posted by galadriel at 9:03 PM on June 23, 2010

Best answer: Wild Seed by Olivia Butler. It's not in space or anything, but it's kind of like a tale of two gods' dysfunctional love.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:25 PM on June 23, 2010

The Borrible trilogy has no sex, the characters being kinds of children, but it's incredibly violent for its age group (children), and quite adult in tone and scope.

Little, Big is another very adult orientated fantasy.

I don't know, I don't actually view sex and violence as necessarily cosigns of 'adultness' if you know what I mean. Some of the most violent fantasy I've read is aimed squarely at teenage boys. To this effect, I'm not sure whether to recommend Howard's other, non-conan work; it's certainly quite violent, but not necessarily "adult".

Gene Wolfe's books are all unmistakably adult.
posted by smoke at 9:30 PM on June 23, 2010

Malazan Book of the Fallen.

First book is a little rough, but he gets better. A lot of people who like Martin seem to like this. Can be slow and confusing but the payoffs are great if you stay with it. Plenty of violence, some sex, a LOT of big picture society stuff. The author is an archeologist and anthropologist and it shows, he has a real sense for time and space.

Also, the series is going to be finished before the author dies which is a big advantage over that absolute fucker George R. R. Martin.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:46 PM on June 23, 2010

I suggest Seanan McGuire's books about the half-fae PI October Daye. There's two now, Rosemary and Rue and A Local Habitation. And if you're into Zombies, her SF/poli-sci thriller Feed may also be up your alley.

(I liked the October Daye books; zombies are not my thing.)
posted by mephron at 9:48 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Dresden files are fantastic.

I recommended Ghosts in the Snow & sequels by Tamara Siler Jones in your first post. On the chance you didn't get a chance to check them out (as opposed to didn't like it) I'll recommend them again. The darkest, grittiest fantasy I have ever read. they are hard to find, but really, really good.

Mortal Coils by Eric Nylund.

The Tales of Alvin Maker by Orson scott Card. The best alternate universe fantasy I've ever read. I always dread when the next book comes out because I feel there is no way it can live up to the earlier ones, yet they always do.

How about Laurell K. Hamilton's stuff? No. Just, no. These are some of the worst books on the planet. Especially the Faerie series.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 10:58 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure if they're the kind of fantasy you're aiming for, but you might take a look at "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" by Susanna Clarke and "Magic for Beginners" by Kelly Link. You should also consider that fantasy books are sometimes shelved in the literature section, depending on the author's status and best known works (e.g. Rushdie's recent "The Enchantress of Florence").
posted by unsub at 11:19 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Absolutely KJ Parker.

It's fantasy in the sense that it's a different world than ours, but there is little or no magic, lots of violence, and crazy twisty plots. There's not much sex, but what there is is not "nice" sex.

I recommend the Engineer Trilogy and the Scavenger Trilogy. They're similar in some ways to George R.R. Martin, (complex, wide-ranging, political, realistic, etc) but more focused on the common people, and really just more focused in general.

Plus, s/he is completely mysterious and no one knows if it's a man or a woman!
posted by exceptinsects at 12:00 AM on June 24, 2010

Best answer: OH!
Touched by Venom, by Janine Cross.

Okay, so when this came out everyone was like, "ew, WTF dragon porn" and I actually picked it up thinking it was going to be hilarious. But in fact it was kind of crazy and fucked up in a good way, like if Ursula LeGuin wrote The Tombs of Atuan on some very, very bad drugs.

This book is the opposite of nice.
posted by exceptinsects at 12:09 AM on June 24, 2010

Try Clive Barker's fantasy, like Imajica, or (and yes, I keep recommending her) Steph Swainston's Castle series.
posted by rodgerd at 1:33 AM on June 24, 2010

I'd strongly recommend R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing series. The first book is The Darkness that Comes Before. It fits your requirements to a t, and the author is a student of philosophy and ancient languages.
posted by nihraguk at 2:56 AM on June 24, 2010

Best answer: The book you are looking for is Lev Grossman's "The Magicians" which is basically Harry Potter meets Brett Easton Ellis.

I think you'd also enjoy John Varley's "Titan" trilogy which is technically science-fiction but reads more like fantasy.
posted by zanni at 3:19 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding "The Magicians", I haven't been so happy to find a new author in quite a while.

It is basically a-kid-going-to-magic-school, but written by an adult, for adults, by an author who has actual literary talent. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of literature, which makes it even more fun.

Another modern fantasy that I can't recommend highly enough is "Replay", by Ken Grimwood. That one stuck with me for a long time after reading. No elves, lots of sex, lots of thinking about consequences.

Lastly, I suggest the "Empire" trilogy by Wurts and Feist. They are both kind of hacks, constantly going back to the same world and using boring fantasy cliches such as screwup-kid-becomes-super-important-world-class-magician. Or else, unknown-is-actually-the-son-of-the-king. But *not* in this series. This is a heavily political trilogy, with well thought out politics based on enormously powerful mages who are outside the law, by law. Start with "Daughter of the Empire." I found it riveting, a complete page-turner of a series.
posted by Invoke at 5:42 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: for some reason F&SF recommendation threads tend to the "here is some stuff that I liked!!!!" no matter what is asked for.

Look at the bright side: so far no one has suggested "DTMFA" or "get therapy." Seriously, I'm ok with that and am checking reviews and plot descriptions before ordering. If a book genuinely speaks to someone and comes even slightly close to what I'm asking for, I'm willing to give it at least a glance, because sometimes that's how you find neat stuff Anita Blake notwithstanding I kid I kid.

These are great suggestions so far (and I hope there will be more). I have already ordered the first batch, and will swing by the library this afternoon as well.
posted by Forktine at 6:07 AM on June 24, 2010

I'd definitely recommend Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch. There is actually a new sword and sorcery anthology called - rather unimaginitively - Swords & Dark Magic which contains stories by Abercrombie and Lynch and others mentioned in this thread like Gene Wolfe and Steve Erickson. It might work well as a sampler of what is out there.

Another suggestion that I haven't seen in this thread: David Anthony Durham.

(I would echo Justinian's comment that it is really irritating that so many people just parrot their favourites in these threads. Heliconia? Gormenghast? What the fuck? They are classics but are so obviously not what the OP is after.)
posted by ninebelow at 6:39 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow have edited a series of "adult fairytale" anthologies, the first of which (and the only one I've read) was Snow White, Blood Red. Lots of swords, knights, dragons etc there - also lots of sex and violence.
posted by Ziggy500 at 6:47 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Anne Bishop has tons of sex, lots of sorcery and a few swords. Also, some graphic torture scenes (a bit too graphic for my taste) and they're well written, too. Simon R. Green's Nightside books are full of graphic violence and a little sex and are also entertaining. Don't bother with the Secret History books he's writing now unless you just want constant violence uninterrupted by sex, plot, characterization, landscapes, props, etc. Mary Gentle's book Ash: A Secret History also has plenty of violence and sex, some relatively nice, some not so nice at all. She's all about endless military minutiae though, be forewarned that if pages upon pages of tactical maneuvers and armor descriptions are not your thing - they're not mine - her books may not be either. There is a sequel to Ash; I didn't bother.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:55 AM on June 24, 2010

Just a note, in case you're looking for Guy Gavriel Kay books: his latest is Under Heaven, not Under the Banner of Heaven (which is nonfictional and about Mormon Fundamentalists). Quite a difference, there~

Under Heaven is lovely, as are most of Kay's books. I would definitely put him in the camp of leaning towards "real" literature, but he may be lacking in the graphic sex and violence if those are what you're really after. The Lions of al'Rassan, Tigana, and Song of Arbonne are all excellent as well, with lots of political intrigue, epic wars, and wonderful characters.

Secondarily, definitely nthing Name of the Wind. The sequel is supposedly due out next spring, but it's been a long wait for it. If you chafe a lot at waiting for the next book in a series, you may not want to start this one. It's an awesome book, however.
posted by ashirys at 7:08 AM on June 24, 2010

You'd probably like Steven Erikson's Malazan series. Very detailed and well fleshed-out. I found it very good, but it took a while (300+ pages or so) to really get into it -- but after that I was hooked.
posted by reptile at 7:22 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Except for Anita Blake. If you liked the last couple of Anita Blake books you are a bad person and you should feel bad and I hate you.

How about Laurell K. Hamilton's stuff? No. Just, no. These are some of the worst books on the planet. Especially the Faerie series.

Okay, okay, I get the hint. :) Sorry I focused more on the sex part of the OP's question and not so much the, um, good writing part. I will say that I did enjoy the first several Anita Blake books as dark romantic fantasy, but drifted away from the series a few books after the series really changed. According to the Wikipedia article about the series: "Anita Blake is celibate during the first 5 novels. She has her first "in-book" date in book 3 (Circus of the Damned). Book 6 (The Killing Dance) has her first sexual encounter since the beginning of the series. In-book sex returns in book 8 (Blue Moon). Beginning in book 10 (Narcissus in Chains), the sexual content increased significantly." So, while they may not be to the OP's taste, I don't think it's completely accurate to dismiss them out of hand.

Moving on... I'll n'th Guy Gavriel Kay (though I'll confess that his most recent, Under Heaven, left me a bit disappointed), specifically The Lions of Al-Rassan and Tigana. Both are excellent examples of what I see as one of his strengths, which is writing stories where the good guy/bad guy dichotomy is not so black and white. He's got a lovely descriptive and poetic writing style which captures the mood of a scene without going completely over the top like other authors *cough*Tolkein*cough*. Also, let me recommend Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Trilogy. While not perfect, it has some neat twists on the idea of "the big bad guy" that are a little different from what I've seen before. Don't let the fact that he's helping finish the unfinished Wheel of Time books automatically deter you.
posted by booksherpa at 7:34 AM on June 24, 2010

I'm going to link to this answer I wrote yesterday, too, primarily for the Tim Powers books. He's a great writer and those books are most thoroughly written for adults, with dark themes, plenty of swearing and drinking - real people in strange situations.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:38 AM on June 24, 2010

Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series.
Magic, dragons, and tons of S&M very violent sex.
posted by CathyG at 7:40 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I really liked Kate Forsyth's Witches of Eileanan series, but I also prefer slightly less sex in my fantasy.
posted by Zophi at 8:12 AM on June 24, 2010

_Enemy of the State_ by F. Paul Wilson is an interesting book, too: It's basically a crash course in basic economic theory, but presented through the medium of a sci-fi story about the collapse of a planetary government. I haven't read a lot of Wilson's work, but I have an itch on the back of my head saying that some of his other works would fit your sex criteria.
posted by Ys at 10:22 AM on June 24, 2010

I'm not sure if they're the kind of fantasy you're aiming for, but you might take a look at "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" by Susanna Clarke
posted by unsub

While this is an excellent book and certainly for adults, it is pretty much the opposite of the spectrum from what the OP seemed inclined towards. This is a mannered novel with virtually no sex or violence (because those things are not to be spoken of in polite company).
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:59 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Black Company series by Glen Cook (ignore the god-awful cover).

It follows a group of mercenaries over many years, and it gives a non-hero point of view to a lot of fantastical battles (as in, what it might be like to be just a regular guy in armor on a battlefield with wizards launching magics you don't understand at one another.) and people you know getting cut down right next to you.

I've read a lot of books in the genre, and as a series, it's really not like anything else.
posted by quin at 12:38 PM on June 24, 2010

I really like Erikson's Malazan series but I do not think it's something I would possibly recommend to someone with OP's criteria and who is not an experienced fantasy reader. You better be damn familiar with fantasy tropes and conventions because it's by far the most everything-and-the-kitchen-sink fantasy I've ever come across. Hell, I have trouble remembering who a lot of the people are and I read everything.

It's kind of like if someone says they played Wii Sports a bit and decided they want to try playing some video games, what are some good ones which meet X, Y, and Z criteria... and then recommending they try Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer hardcore mode. I mean... I play a lot of hardcore multiplayer but someone who isn't already hugely comfortable with video games in general and FPS in particular is going to be like "what the hell is happening to me!!!!".
posted by Justinian at 1:56 PM on June 24, 2010

When I was a young teenager I read a book called The Particolored Unicorn by Jon DeCles. I don't recall being offended or confused at the time, but rereading it as an adult I was amazed, because it's filthy. It seems to be out of print, and it might be a bit too gimmicky for you (the unicorn speaks in iambic pentameter, and so on) but still.
posted by kostia at 5:23 PM on June 24, 2010

Justinian: I agree Malazan can be confusing, but not because of being deep in fantasy tropes. If you can handle a complex and confusing plot and you like fantasy you should be fine. It isn't that much more hard to follow than something like the George R. R. Martin stuff.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:00 PM on June 24, 2010

I just wanted to echo:

The Dresden Files


The Kushiel series.

I adore GRRM, and while I wouldn't say those two series are quite as high in caliber, in my mind they begin to come close. I also think Guy Gavriel Kay writes amazingly, amazingly well, and Tigana was just... a beautiful experience. But I can't remember how graphic it was. I read it a long time ago.

I would also reccomend Santa Olivia although I suppose it's more sci-fi than fantasy but it's by the Kushiel author and it has the violence (boxing, of all things!) and the sex and good writing. And it's a very interesting, different sort of story.

I will add that I did really enjoy the Anita Blake books up to a point (I gave up around book 12 or so). The first five or so books are excellent. And then I'm still attached to the characters. And then the sex is cool because hey, I was sixteen and a girl and it was essentially my girl-porn. But then it just got too ridiculous to even be my girl-porn, and I moved onto other similar but less ridiculous series (Kelley Armstrong & Patricia Briggs would be good other authors to check out for modern day werewolf fun, buy I honestly don't think that will really be your thing).
posted by quirks at 8:24 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. No sex, a bit of violence, but great story & characters, plus a very interesting religion. If you like that one, there are two other books in the same universe, Paladin of Souls and The Hallowed Hunt.
posted by mogget at 4:09 PM on June 25, 2010

Chiming in to nth Carey's Kushiel series. And don't stop after the third one - I think she's on her 12th at this point? Spanning generations, and they're just beautifully written (plus, naughtybits and lots o' swords).
posted by spinturtle at 9:00 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great suggestions, thanks. Are fantasy writers paid by the page? Because damn, they sure write thick books. As I read my way through the piles of books, I'll come back to mark best answers as appropriate.

(Also, I haven't read any of her books yet, but I have to be impressed by any author with this many fan tattoo photos.)
posted by Forktine at 1:32 AM on July 3, 2010

I'm a huge Jacqueline Carey/Kushiel fan, and as a result of this thread I read all of the Dresden Files and I'm eagerly awaiting the next one in the series, due out later this year.

I came in to say that you must, you must, you MUST read the Dresden Files, even though you normally are not too into fantasy series.


And that's true even if it's only for the incredibly hot Whoa-my-girlfriend-is-changing-into-a-freakin'-scary-creature-so-I-was forced-to-tie-her-to-something-so-she-couldn't-bite-me-TOO-much-but-ohgods-we-still-want-each-other-RIGHT NOW sex scene that perfectly accords with your violent/adult/sexy preference, and I forget which particular book that scene is in.

But the whole series is worth reading, because Jim Butcher writes like he is living the life of his main character. The man is a wizard, no question.

And there's other sexytime flirting scenes, too, and lots of sexual tension.
posted by misha at 8:00 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

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