Sword and Sorcery

This list is for the dying genre that desperately needs to be revitalized. The literary movement was started by one of the best, Robert E. Howard,when he wrote his Conan the Cimmerian adventures; but many others have carried the flame for him and have make some of the most memorable pieces of fantasy available. Marvel as sparks fly and and magic flares to life while you explore this sadly forgotten jewel of a genre.

Please be careful when adding books to this list. Not all Fantasy fits, even if it includes both swords and magic. On the scale of Heroic Fantasy, this is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Epic Fantasy.

"Sword and sorcery (S&S)... is a subgenre of fantasy and historical fantasy, generally characterized by sword-wielding heroes engaged in exciting and violent conflicts. An element of romance is often present, as is an element of magic and the supernatural. Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus mainly on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters" (Wikipedia).

Note: Many High fantasies may also deal with dangers on a smaller scope without being Sword and Sorcery because they are focused on the good of an entire kingdom, or something similar. Sword and Sorcery is much more about the individual hero or heroine.

For more information, see also The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
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588 books · 446 voters · list created January 28th, 2011 by Milo (votes) .
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Comments Showing 1-18 of 18 (18 new)

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message 1: by Xenophon (last edited Mar 03, 2011 04:09PM) (new)

Xenophon Hendrix Among the books I added are several King's Blades books by Dave Duncan. The fourth, fifth, and sixth volumes are more or less stand alone with a different protagonist in each novel. I'm not just bombing the list with a favorite series, and in any case, they are just that good.

I added The Heritage of Hastur to represent Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books because it is one of the best in the series. The book that is currently being marketed as the first in the series, Darkover Landfall, I don't consider to be very good, and I don't recall it as being as sword and sorceryish as some of the other volumes. Most of the series can be read in any order.


message 2: by Milo (new)

Milo Thanks man. I think all the books you've added fit wonderfully with the genre.


message 3: by Garham (new)

Garham This is a bit of a curmudgeon-ish question, but does GRRM's game of thrones really belong in a list of sword and sorcery? At the top of the list no less?

I'd agree that it shares certain features in common with S&S ("low" magic, a darker & grittier feel, a more cynical and less thinly-veiled-christian morality) but for me two of the biggest things that mark S&S as a genre are brevity and simplicity. In my view S&S is always fast-paced and without pretension. I find it a bit tough to see a series that's more drawn out, convoluted & stylistically overwrought than war & peace under the same umbrella as Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser, Conan, Kothar, Brak, Elric, Jirel, Simon Tregarth etc.

Am I way off base here?


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

No I agree with you Garham, a lot of these books don't deserve to be on here, not because they are bad books but because they are not sword and sorcery. to quoteth wikipedia "Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus mainly on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters" one thing that is confusing about this is that some S&S has large battles in it, "the Scarlet Citadel" Conan story and the "Stormbringer" Elric Novella have large battles in them, more than one for both, and I'm sure more than that have huge battles in them, I haven't read as much as I would like to have in this genre, so I'm not an authority, but I do agree with Garham that the defining characteristic that separates S&S from high fantasy is length. S&S is incredibly short the stories always being less than a hundred pages: Conan of Cimmeria, ELric of Belnibone, Fafhrd and Grey Mouser and High fantasy is incredibly long: Lord of the Rings, Earthsea, His Dark Materials, Xanth, the series often exceeding a thousand pages, sometimes even two thousand pages.

Also I would add that it seems as if High Fantasy's protagonists are always good with one or two flaws, whereas Sword and Sorcery's protagonists tend to be morally neutral in some gray area between good and evil, only marginally better than their enemies.

Then again Conan isn't really that evil, if somewhat bloodthirsty, but then again many good *fictional* soldiers are, and he's always saving many a fair damsel, but he won't hesitate to kill when he needs to.

In short, A Song of Fire and Ice is not sword and sorcery, Conan should be number one and Elric not far behind. and remember: If it has long scenery porn it is not sword and sorcery, but is in fact, high fantasy.

Sorry for the rant.


message 5: by Jim (new)

Jim I'm also not seeing how Jim Butcher's Dresden books got on this list. Good reads, but nowhere near my thought process when I think 'sword and sorcery'.


message 6: by Garham (new)

Garham Glad I'm not the only one. It seems rather obvious to me, and while this is just a guess I somehow rather doubt that GRRM considers his stuff as any sort of homage to classic S&S or its' roots. In fact I'd guess he might even be offended.

On other topics mentioned: A little bit of scenery porn isn't really a horrible thing, but as you've mentioned if it's *long* then I think it's definitely stretching the stylistic conventions that mark S&S as a genre. If the world building seems more important than the story/plot/action then it's not really S&S.

As far as morality goes, I think High Fantasy has a general tendency towards being a sort of morality-play whereas the morality of S&S and its' heroes is usually pretty ambiguous. The meta-narattive of G vs E doesn't usually seem to occupy central stage.

That being said, I think many S&S authors did write their own world-views and morality into their stories in some way, it's just less heavy handed. This usually isn't to the works' credit though in my opinion. For example, I would enjoy REH a lot more without the race-science/eugenics BS.


message 7: by Andrew (last edited Apr 30, 2013 08:07AM) (new)

Andrew Obrigewitsch I'm getting sick of seeing these utterly stupid lists on here. The top 2 books are not Sword and Sorcery at all and neither is 1/2 of this list, it's the same with the Epic Fantasy list, it's full of stuff that is not epic fantasy. I wish there was some way to edit the lists or someone that kept random things off them.


message 8: by Emanuil (new)

Emanuil Andrew wrote: "I'm getting sick of seeing these utter stupid lists on here. The top 2 books are not Sword and Sorcery at all and neither are 1/2 of this list, it's the same with the Epic Fantasy list, it's fully ..."

I totally agree.


message 9: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Obrigewitsch Dresden files are on here for gods sake and books by Guy Gavriel Kay. And I think it's more like 2/3rds of this list is not Swords and Sorcery.


message 10: by Andrew (last edited Jan 05, 2015 09:40AM) (new)

Andrew Obrigewitsch Oh and buy the way this is not a dying genre, pretty much every book published with the words Forgotten Realms on the cover is Sword and Sorcery. Pretty much all adventure fantasy is Sword and Sorcery, at least if it's not Urban Fantasy or Epic Fantasy.


message 11: by Artemas (new)

Artemas Ahh another list where most people don't seem to have the slightest clue what the sub-genres of fantasy are. A Game of Thrones listed as Sword & Sorcery? Please.


message 12: by Meg (new)

Meg I got really excited about that list, but then I saw that most of the books don't really belong here... and I see I'm not the only one that noticed that. So will someone fix the list or what?


message 13: by Allison (last edited Jan 18, 2015 10:47AM) (new)

Allison Ok, I'm doing some cleanup. What a mess! I think people added anything that includes a sword and magic in the same book. I'm going to need some help determining what else should be deleted.

I've deleted ones I'm sure are epic, high or urban fantasy - books by Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Jim Butcher, Tolkien, Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, Raymond Feist, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ursula Le Guin, Brent Weeks, N.K. Jemisin, Robin McKinley, Garth Nix, Robin Hobb, Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynne Jones, Michelle Sagara, Terry Pratchett, Ilona Andrews, Carol Berg, Catherynne M. Valente, Patricia A. McKillip, Faith Hunter, Melina Marchetta, Janny Wurts, Kristen Britain, Peter V. Brett, Ellen Kushner, Terry Brooks (Shannara), David Eddings, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mercedes Lackey (Valdemar), Charles de Lint, Patricia Briggs, Vampire of the Mists by Christie Golden

Ones I'm not sure about but think should be removed: John Crowley - Little Big, Terry Goodkind - Sword of Truth (epic), Fiona McIntosh - Royal Exile, Nine Princes in Amber, C.S. Friedman, Sarah J. Maas, Sheepfarmer's Daughter, Katherine Kurtz, Patricia Briggs, Glen Cook

Others I have no clue - let me know and I'll remove them!


message 14: by Artemas (last edited Jan 18, 2015 09:55AM) (new)

Artemas Allison wrote: "Ok, I'm doing some cleanup. What a mess! I think people added anything that includes a sword and magic in the same book. I'm going to need some help determining what else should be deleted.

I've d..."


Nice Job Allison! I hate when people just add whatever they want to these lists without any regard for the theme.

I'd still remove Wizard's First Rule, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and the Princess Bride.


message 15: by Allison (new)

Allison Artemas wrote: "Allison wrote: "Ok, I'm doing some cleanup. What a mess! I think people added anything that includes a sword and magic in the same book. I'm going to need some help determining what else should be ..."

Ok - got those. Thanks!


message 16: by Allison (last edited Jan 18, 2015 11:12AM) (new)

Allison I do apologize if I deleted something that belonged... I did try to be careful.

I added some more definitions in the description. Hopefully it will help everyone know how to decide what belongs in the genre. Let me know if it needs to be added or edited, especially if I got something wrong.


message 17: by David (new)

David I'm very surprised to see Jack Vance books listed under Sword and Sorcery. I've read the Dying Earth series and yes they have a few Fantasy-ish elements but like most of his work I've always thought of his novels as science fiction. Dying Earth? SF to me. Lyonesse and sequels, Fantasy. I think the others listed here are also SF.


message 18: by David (new)

David Meant to also mention, nice Sword and Sorcery list here. Quite exhaustive. And hard to keep on top of all the crazy things people add. Myself I added the Paul S. Kemp Egil and Nix books. Wonderful S&S series. Highly recommended reading.


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