Every soldier has a story: the mage who snorts gunpowder as a source of power; the Naval officer who take to the skies on the wings of a dragon; the shaman trained in an elite military school; the special forces protecting us from demons, doomsday machines, and other horrors. Military fantasy comes in many flavors, from alternate history with battles reshaped by magic, to high fantasy that takes readers out of the royal court and onto the battlefield. We’ve gathered some recent favorites below!
We would be remiss to not mention the earlier military fantasy work of Sherwood Smith’s Inda, Steven Erickson and Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series, and Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. But for the purposes of this list, we’re looking at series (and a few standalones) with publications in the last few years.
The Powder Mage Trilogy by Brian McClellan
“The Age of Kings is dead… and I have killed it” is the declaration of Field Marshal Tamas upon brutally getting rid of the Royal Cabal who have bankrupted the state of Adro and left it vulnerable to the invading Kez. But each of the Privileged mages he dispatches has the same mysterious message for him: “You can’t break Kresimir’s Promise.” Although Tamas is a powder mage, gaining power through eating or snorting gunpowder, he cannot unravel this mystery alone. He enlists retired police inspector Adamat, with his perfect recall, to figure out what Kresimir’s Promise could be. Meanwhile, his son Taniel, disaffected yet having inherited his father’s powder mage abilities, must hunt down the surviving Royal Cabal member who escaped the coup. McClellan’s series is also considered flintlock fantasy—i.e., steampunk’s cousin without the steam.
While the first trilogy wrapped up in 2015, it was shortly followed by another series set in the same world: Gods of Blood and Powder, about the frontier city of Landfall, besieged by an insurrection from the oppressed populace within.
Signal Airship series by Robyn Bennis
Josette Dupre is an Auxiliary Lieutenant for Garnia’s Air Signal Corp—which means she’s technically military, but as a woman she’s forbidden to engage in combat. During a particularly tense battle, however Josette leaps into action, and finds herself earning a promotion rather than a court martial. Now, as Garnia’s first female captain, she has to lead a resentful crew aboard a brand-new, untested airship. And as if that wasn’t trial enough, she’s assigned a handler in the form of Lord Bernat, a man more suited to flirtation than soldiering. Bernat watches her every move, and Josette knows that any mistake will be reported back to her higher ups—and not only cost her the captaincy, but quash the very idea that women can serve in their military. Can Josette find a way to defeat Garnia’s enemies—while proving her own expertise and gaining the trust of her men?
The Black Company by Glen Cook
Glen Cook’s series about the elite mercenary unit, The Black Company, started back in 1984 and is still going strong to this day. This September, a brand new adventure is coming—Port of Shadows. Being “The Lady’s favored” has put targets on the backs of many members of the Black Company, especially the group’s historian, Croaker. Though they are being asked to aid their newest member in breaking a rebel army, Croaker is concerned over a court of sorcerers known as The Ten Who Were Taken, particular those of their number who look strangely like The Lady and her sister…
American Craft series by Tom Doyle
Tom Doyle reimagines American history, giving us magically-inclined founding Fathers who made a deal with the ancient sorcerers of Europe to secure their new nation’s freedom… and ensure a certain amount of magical protection.
Now modern magician/soldiers known as “craftsmen” travel the globe, dodging both curses and plain old-fashioned assassins, all to protect their country from demons, doomsday machines, and all the horrors wrought by those who choose the Left Hand Path.
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
When war orphan Rin aces the Empire-wide test, the Keju, she is finally free of servitude. But she is also launched into a new world as she’s accepted into Sinegard, the most elite military school in the Nikara Empire. Bullied by her classmates for being dark-skinned, poor, and female, she learns that she has shamanist powers, and works to develop them.
But unearthing this ability leads to knowledge she’d just as soon not have; the Third Poppy War might be coming between the Empire ad the Federation of Mugen, and she has been chosen by a vengeful god to save her people. And this fight could cost her her humanity.
The Shadow Campaigns series by Django Wexler
In an alternative Europe steeped in muskets and magic, the Vordanai Empire seeks to consolidate its power through as many battles and as much intrigue as necessary.
Beginning with The Thousand Names, Wexler has woven an alternate history that now spans five books and ranges from the placid desert outpost where Captain Marcus d’Ivoire must quash a rebellion with help from a young recruit named Winter Ihrenglass (who happens to be a woman in disguise) all the way to the court cities of Vordan, where a young Queen Regnant must consolidate her power to fight challenges both martial and demonic.
Temeraire series by Naomi Novik
Novik’s series is traffics less in magic than the others on this list, but rather in magical creatures: It’s an alternate history of the Napoleonic Wars in which the British air force is made up of sentient dragons working alongside crews of aviators. In His Majesty’s Dragon, British Royal Navy Captain William Laurence discovers a completely new type of dragon egg, from which hatches the eponymous Chinese dragon Temeraire. This discovery changes the course of Laurence’s fate, as he is forced to the skies with Britain’s Aerial Corps and finds himself developing a deep affection for Temeraire.
The series wrapped up in 2016 with nine books that take Laurence and Temeraire all over the world, from Brazil to China to France to face Napoleon Bonaparte himself.
Shadow Ops series by Myke Cole
Split into two trilogies, the Shadow Ops series begins with a world gone mad as ordinary people suddenly awake with magical abilities. Army officer Oscar Britton is attached to the military’s Supernatural Operations Corps and sees the worse of these untrained eruptions. Then one day he manifests a prohibited magical power and finds himself marked as public enemy number one.
Britton is driven into the underground and learns about the ways magic has changed the world for good. The second trilogy begins with Gemini Cell, a prequel to the first trilogy that follows the story of a Navy Seal raised from the dead by a sorcerer.
The Midnight Front by David Mack
Cade Martin’s family has a secret. Though they live seemingly ordinary, even privileged lives as American on the eve of World War II, and upon graduating from Oxford he decides to retreat to the comfort of his own country rather than face the looming war. But his life is shattered on the voyage home when he learns the truth: he and his family are karcists—mages who belong to a secret magical lineage—and his parents have been murdered. As he grapples with his grief, a 357-year-old karcist, Adair MacRae, teaches him how to harness his powers.
Cade soon learns that MacRae is part of a band of sorcerers called The Midnight Front. He and his fellow karcists are determined to mirror the Allies’ fight with their own battle against the mad German karcist Kein Engel and his army of demons. But can Cade become strong enough to avenge his family? Or will his battle mean the loss of his soul?
War Cry by Brian McClellan
With his forthcoming novel, McClellan brings readers to a new front line separate from the Powder Mage universe: The high plains of Bavares, where opposing platoons sit in an uneasy stalemate as they watch their rations continue to decline. Teado has been part of the war effort since childhood, but now that his powers have manifested, he fights as a shapeshifting mage—a rare Changer, his kind nearly extinct after decades of battle. But it’s not enough for his platoon mates to dart behind enemy lines to demoralize the other army; with their own resources dwindling, they must attempt a risky resupply mission that could change the course of the war.
War Cry will be available August 28 from Tor.com Publishing.