Let’s face it: we love crime stories, and this holds just as true in the genre of fantasy fiction as it does in contemporary thrillers, mysteries, and non-fiction. Sometimes we’re hoping for the cop, the detective, or the private investigator to hunt down that rogue necromancer; sometimes we’re rooting for the clever thief to pull off that daring airship heist. All well-designed magical worlds have norms and rules…as well as characters who would break them.
My forthcoming novel, Jade City, is a gangster family saga that I’ve been calling “the Godfather with magic and kung fu,” and that author Ken Liu describes as “epic drama reminiscent of the best Hong Kong gangster films.” On the island of Kekon, magical jade is controlled by clans that bear resemblance in different ways to Triads, Yakuza, and Mafia organizations in our own world. The fun for me came in taking inspiration from modern day crime syndicates and throwing superhuman martial arts, Asian culture, and magical substance turf wars into the mix.
There are enough fantasy crime novels to keep any crime fiction and fantasy buff well occupied. It wasn’t easy to narrow down the field (I could easily have written a list just of fantasy heist novels, another list focused only on fantasy detective fiction, etc), but you’re unlikely to go wrong with these: ten of the top fantasy crime fiction novels.
So, there you have it: a mix of old and new, capers and noir, lawmen and lawbreakers. More than enough literary proof that where there’s magic, there’s magical crime. Spread the word about your favorite fantasy crime novels, and if my list isn’t enough for you already—there are over eighty books there by my count—check out the five honorable mentions I couldn’t resist including below.
With thanks to the Codex Writers forum and Twitter for recommendations.
Fonda Lee is the award-winning author of the YA science fiction novels Zeroboxer and Exo. Born and raised in Canada, Lee is a black belt martial artist, a former corporate strategist, and action movie aficionado who now lives in Portland, Oregon with her family. Jade City is her adult debut.