Court intrigue fantasy books are very popular. They are stories that involve some sort of royal or other political court and are full of backstabbing and political manoeuvring.
There are many layers to these novels. The characters are often clever, witty and will go to any lengths to get what they want. The lines between “good” and “bad” are blurred, creating complex, morally grey characters.
This sub-genre of fantasy has been reviewed and discussed at The Fantasy Review quite a bit, so I have put together a list of recommendations for court intrigue fantasy books.
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin is one of the most popular fantasy series with political intrigue. Characters like Cersei Lannister and Littlefinger in A Game of Thrones are the perfect villains for stories like this. They will stop at nothing to achieve their goals but there is another side to them which makes the reader wonder if they are truly evil after all.
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
Individuals like Ned Stark do not often cope well in these scenarios as they are too honourable or naive for their own good. There are exceptions, of course, but these characters tend to learn how to manipulate the court for their own means eventually.
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The Magician’s Guild by Trudi Canavan
My first introduction to court intrigue fantasy books was The Magician’s Guild by Trudi Canavan and I loved it. There are no kings or queens, but political maneuvering, alliances and power struggles are all heavily involved in the plot.
Canavan’s other series The Age of Five is another fantastic example of this sub-genre. I have talked about these books a lot on this site for a reason – they are incredible.
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The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan
Have you ever heard of the Game of Houses? In Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series we are introduced to this menacing, scheming game and soon find out how backstabbing and brutal it can be.
The Eye of the World might be a homage to J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, but the later books quickly branch away and become full of court intrigue. Fantasy books are rarely as exciting as when the political system is at the heart of the story, and Robert Jordan’s books are no exception.
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The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
The lighteyed princes are spoilt but not stupid. They know how to play with the power they have and they won’t let anyone take that away from them easily.
The Mistborn trilogy is another example of court intrigue fantasy books that cannot go unmentioned. Vin struggles in a world of politics, princes and princesses that are so different from the streets she grew up in.
Brandon Sanderson is a master of political plots and well worth reading.
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Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
This is the only book (so far) that I have read in Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy but already it is clear that politics is at the heart of the plot. The main character in Assassin’s Apprentice, Fitz, is the bastard of a prince and he is given a place at court.
Fitz is trained, of course, as an assassin’s apprentice. This premise is teeming with potential for complex characters who want to take power and use others for their own gain. I will have to get back to this trilogy soon.
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The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
It is not quite like the other books on this list because we rarely see the inside of a throne room (or similar), but it certainly falls into this sub-genre. It is dark and the plot will drive you mad with twists, but that’s what makes it so good!
Talking of morally grey characters, not even the protagonist of this book is 100% good, and you will probably find yourself disagreeing with her a lot – most – of the time. This makes it fun and interesting to read. It is something new for this genre that surely needs it.
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