Great grim and gritty YA fantasy--Now with suggestions

Here's a question I was asked in a comment on yesterday's post: "do you think it's possible to do grim and gritty YA fantasy (on a Joe Abercrombie level)?"

I'm not the best person to ask--I've never read Joe Abercrombie, I'm don't much care for grim and gritty (I read almost no "urban fantasy"), and I'm not entirely sure what constitutes "gritty" anyway. I looked it up--Merriam Webster says"having strong qualities of tough uncompromising realism." But since I'm not sure what "realism" means, exactly, when you are talking about fantasy and science fiction, I don't feel all that much more secure...

But regardless, here are some books that I think are rather outstanding examples of grim and gritty YA science fiction/fantasy, books in which there is little comfort to be found, and no easy answers:

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.

The Knife of Never Letting Go, and its sequels, by Patrick Ness.

Finnikin of the Rock
, by Melina Marchetta.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
and its sequel, by Carrie Ryan.

I note, however, that the questioner wanted fantasy specifically, so the first three mightn't count, and I think I fail. And even though there are lots of YA dystopian books out there, they really aren't all that grim and gritty (and they are mostly sci fi). Like Birthmarked, for instance, which I reviewed yesterday. It was rather a pleasant read, as dystopias go, and not without hope and likable characters for whom one could (just about) imagine happy ever afters...

Here are the suggestions from commentors (thanks, mb, Kate, Angie, Penthe, Chachic and Michelle)

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Magic or Madness and sequels by Justine Larbalestier

The Devil in the Road by Robert Westall.

Holly Black's Modern Faerie Tales trilogy, particularly Valiant.

White Cat, by Holly Black

Margo Lanagan's books.

The Boneshaker, by Kate Milford

Charlie Fletcher's Stoneheart trilogy

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman


  1. I haven't read Joe Abercrombie, but some grim and gritty YA that comes to mind: House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, Magic or Madness and sequels by Justine Larbalestier, The Devil in the Road by Robert Westall.

  2. My mind goes to MG, though it's not grim and gritty in the same way as YA and adult fantasy. I'm thinking of Kate Milford's The Boneshaker and Charlie Fletcher's Stoneheart trilogy, for example. I guess the adjective I'd use for those is dark. The 100 Cupboards books by N.D. Wilson are also pretty dark.

  3. I'd say Holly Black's Modern Faerie Tales trilogy counts as grim and gritty fantasy/urban fantasy. Particularly VALIANT--the second book. But all three really.

  4. I haven't read Joe Abercrombie but I've heard Holly Black's Modern Faerie books described as gritty. I see that Angie already mentioned them. I think Holly Black's latest book, White Cat has also been described as such.

  5. Anything by Margot Lanagan would count, I think.

  6. I haven't read any of Abercrombie either, but you might recommend Holly Black's newest WHITE CAT. It's pretty gritty: centers around families of magic workers set up like the old crime families in the 20-50s. It's good. I've also heard SISTERS RED is in that vein but I haven't read it for myself. Good luck!

  7. Of course, there's also anything by Neil Gaiman... Particularly THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.

  8. thanks for the suggestions:)

    for those [and charlotte, of course], who havent read him, he is an AWESOME fantasy writer who really writes dark, brutal and at times nihilistic fantasy [yes, grim and gritty dosent have to equate to urban fantasy either].

    speaking of what constitutes gritty, abercrombie is the downright DEFINITION of that [in fantasy terms here], which means that if you are WILLING to read fantasy that:

    *has little magic
    *has serial killers,murdrers and even torturers and slaves as main charactors
    *GIANT buckets of blood splater all over the place [in this case, head decapitations,torture scenes and really INTENSE swordfights and battle scenes galore

    than by all means, read him. he might not be your preference, but do give him a shot. [he has an eye for black humor too].

  9. Hi Anon!

    In YA,you are less likely to have graphic torture and deaths of main characters...But several of the authors listed, like Ness, and Lanagan, and Marchetta, aren't at all afraid to go into very dark and gritty territory. The first eighty pages or so of Lanagan's tender morsels has incest, rape, and death...Patrick Ness killed of a favorite character of mine. and Marchetta's Finnikin of the Rock can't be described as comfort reading...

    I might try Abercrombie, because I do like dark humor, but I'm pretty sure he's not my cup of tea!

  10. *nods and smiles*

    I completly understand. although the incest part is also something abercrombie does too. and the sex scenes I might add.

    in case you want to know more:

    and thanks for your answer.


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