Sword and sorcery authors are masters of crafting tales filled with thrilling adventures, magical worlds, and epic battles. Robert E. Howard, often regarded as the father of sword and sorcery, created the iconic character Conan the Barbarian. Howard’s stories, filled with barbaric heroes, ancient civilizations, and dark sorcery, laid the foundation for the genre.
Michael Moorcock is another luminary in sword and sorcery, acclaimed for his creation of the Eternal Champion and the iconic character Elric of Melniboné. Moorcock’s work, including the “Elric” series, explores complex themes of fate, morality, and the balance between chaos and order.
Fritz Leiber, known for the “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” series, brought a distinctive blend of wit and adventure to the genre. His stories often feature a duo of roguish protagonists navigating through a world steeped in magic and danger.
Contemporary authors like Brandon Sanderson have revitalized the sword and sorcery tradition, introducing intricate magic systems and expansive world-building in series like “The Stormlight Archive.”
These authors share a passion for crafting vivid, immersive worlds filled with larger-than-life characters and supernatural elements. Sword and sorcery fiction continues to captivate readers with its timeless appeal, blending elements of fantasy, heroism, and mysticism into tales that transport audiences to realms where swords clash, spells are cast, and destinies unfold in epic fashion.
Here are twenty of the top sword and sorcery authors:
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, 1892-1973
J.R.R. Tolkien, a foundational figure in fantasy literature, laid the groundwork for the sword and sorcery genre with “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” His meticulous world-building, creation of languages, and exploration of profound themes have influenced countless authors. Tolkien’s contribution to the genre is immeasurable, shaping the landscape of fantasy literature for generations.
Robert E. Howard, 1906-1936
Robert E. Howard, a pioneer in sword and sorcery, is renowned for his creation of the iconic character Conan the Barbarian. His prolific output, including the “Conan” series, set the standard for the genre, introducing readers to a world of fierce warriors, ancient civilizations, and dark magic. Howard’s ability to weave gripping narratives and craft vivid, atmospheric settings solidifies his status as the father of sword and sorcery.
Fritz Leiber, 1910-1992
Fritz Leiber, a luminary in sword and sorcery, is best known for the “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” series. Leiber’s distinctive blend of wit and adventure, coupled with the camaraderie between his roguish protagonists, sets his work apart. His contributions to the genre, marked by tales of magic, intrigue, and daring escapades, have solidified Leiber’s legacy as a master storyteller.
L. Moore, 1911-1987
L. Moore, a pioneering female writer in the sword and sorcery genre, contributed significantly to the genre’s early development. Her work, including the “Jirel of Joiry” series, showcased a blend of dark fantasy, swordplay, and complex characters. Moore’s ability to craft atmospheric and imaginative worlds, coupled with her exploration of strong, independent heroines, established her as a trailblazer in the field.
Jack Vance, 1916-2013
Jack Vance, a prolific author, significantly contributed to the sword and sorcery genre with works like “The Dying Earth” series. Vance’s unique blend of vibrant settings, intricate cultures, and masterful storytelling established him as a visionary within the genre. His influence can be seen in the diversity of his narratives and the imaginative richness of the worlds he created, making him a revered figure among fans of speculative fiction.
Michael Moorcock, 1939-
Michael Moorcock has left an indelible mark on the sword and sorcery genre with his creation of the Eternal Champion and the memorable character Elric of Melniboné. The “Elric” series showcases Moorcock’s talent for exploring complex themes of morality, fate, and the eternal struggle between chaos and order. His influence extends beyond literature, shaping the genre’s landscape and inspiring generations of fantasy writers.
Samuel R. Delany, 1942-
Samuel R. Delany has left an indelible mark on speculative fiction, including sword and sorcery, with works like “The Fall of the Towers” trilogy. Delany’s exploration of identity, sexuality, and societal structures within fantastical settings sets his writing apart. His contributions to the genre extend beyond traditional fantasy elements, introducing readers to thought-provoking themes and challenging narratives that elevate the sword and sorcery landscape.
Charles R. Saunders, 1946-2020
Charles R. Saunders is celebrated for his contributions to sword and sorcery with the creation of the “Imaro” series. Known for his focus on African-inspired settings and characters, Saunders introduced a fresh and underrepresented perspective to the genre. His work is recognized for its cultural richness, imaginative landscapes, and heroic storytelling.
Robert Jordan, 1948-2007
Robert Jordan, the pen name of James Oliver Rigney Jr., is celebrated for his expansive and immersive “Wheel of Time” series. Spanning multiple volumes, Jordan’s epic storytelling, intricate magic system, and diverse characters have earned him a dedicated fanbase. His contribution to the sword and sorcery genre lies in the scale and complexity of his world-building, creating a rich tapestry that captivates readers across generations.
David Gemmell, 1948-2006
David Gemmell, a beloved figure in modern sword and sorcery, crafted numerous heroic fantasy novels, including the iconic “Drenai” series. Gemmell’s works are characterized by gritty realism, morally complex characters, and epic battles. His ability to explore themes of heroism, sacrifice, and the consequences of power resonates with readers, making Gemmell a celebrated and enduring voice in the sword and sorcery genre.
George R. R. Martin, 1948-
George R. R. Martin, best known for the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series (adapted into “Game of Thrones”), has left an indelible mark on modern sword and sorcery. Martin’s epic storytelling, intricate character arcs, and complex political intrigue redefine the genre, infusing it with realism and moral ambiguity. His works have gained widespread acclaim for their subversion of traditional fantasy tropes and their ability to keep readers on the edge of their seats.
Barbara Hambly, 1951-
Barbara Hambly, with works like the “Darwath” series, has added her unique voice to the sword and sorcery genre. Hambly’s storytelling is characterized by a blend of fantasy, horror, and intricate world-building. Her exploration of diverse themes and the depth of her characterizations have contributed to the genre’s richness and diversity.
Jennifer Roberson, 1953-
Jennifer Roberson has made significant contributions to sword and sorcery, notably with the “Tiger and Del” series. Roberson’s work stands out for its emphasis on strong character relationships, intricate world-building, and a blend of magic and martial prowess. Her storytelling prowess, combined with a focus on character development and relationships, has resonated with readers, solidifying her place among influential authors in the genre.
Gregory Keyes, 1963-
Gregory Keyes has contributed to the sword and sorcery genre with series like “The Waterborn” and “Chosen of the Changeling.” His work demonstrates a talent for intricate world-building, diverse cultures, and epic storytelling. Keyes’ ability to create immersive settings and interwoven plotlines showcases his commitment to delivering rich and engaging fantasy narratives.
Kristen Britain, 1965-
Kristen Britain has left her mark on sword and sorcery with the “Green Rider” series. Her storytelling skill lies in creating a vibrant and expansive world filled with magic, intrigue, and compelling characters. Britain’s work reflects a blend of traditional fantasy elements with a fresh and engaging narrative style, attracting a dedicated fan base.
Patrick Rothfuss, 1973-
Patrick Rothfuss, with the “Kingkiller Chronicle” series, has become a prominent figure in contemporary sword and sorcery. Rothfuss’ intricate world-building, poetic prose, and character-driven narrative have garnered widespread acclaim. His work reflects a meticulous approach to storytelling, offering readers a rich and immersive experience within a fantastical setting.
Joe Abercrombie, 1974-
Joe Abercrombie has made a significant impact on sword and sorcery with his gritty and subversive approach to the genre. Known for the “First Law” series, Abercrombie deconstructs traditional fantasy tropes, infusing his narratives with dark humour, moral ambiguity, and flawed yet compelling characters. His works reflect a nuanced exploration of power, war, and the consequences of heroism, contributing to the evolution of modern sword and sorcery.
Kai Ashante Wilson, 1982-
Kai Ashante Wilson brings a fresh and innovative perspective to sword and sorcery with works like “Sorcerer of the Wildeeps.” Wilson’s writing defies conventions, blending elements of fantasy with LGBTQ+ themes and complex character relationships. His unique voice and imaginative storytelling challenge traditional genre boundaries, making him a notable contributor to the diversity and evolution of sword and sorcery.
Jen Williams, 1983-
Jen Williams has made a mark in contemporary sword and sorcery with series like “The Copper Cat.” Known for her blend of adventure, humour, and well-drawn characters, Williams’ work resonates with readers seeking a balance between action-packed plots and nuanced storytelling. Her contribution to the genre lies in her ability to infuse traditional elements with a modern sensibility.
Nicholas Eames, 1986-
Nicholas Eames is a contemporary author who has made a notable impact on the sword and sorcery genre with his debut novel, “Kings of the Wyld.” Eames injects humor and modern sensibilities into classic fantasy tropes, creating a unique and engaging narrative. His ability to balance epic battles, memorable characters, and a refreshing approach to the genre has garnered acclaim, making him a rising star in the world of sword and sorcery.
And that’s our list of the 20 best sword & sorcery authors. What’s your take on these – any surprises, or any sword and sorcery writers not on this list that you feel should make the top 20?