If I like the political scheming aspect of fantasy more than the dragons and magic, I might like ___

I enjoy fantasy books, or perhaps the idea of them more than actually reading them. I’ve found that often it’s the medieval scheming that I enjoy over wizard battles. I suspect there may be some historical fiction or specific fantasy authors I should investigate. Got anything I should check out?

Must it be fictional? Otherwise you have epic stuff like The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Wars of the Roses, and so on.

Believe it or not, David Eddings. His Elenium and Tamuli series both have quite a bit of political intrigue in them, Church politics (including a contested papal-type election) in the former and Generic Asian Imperial politics in the latter. They are set in the same world, with the same core set of characters. They also both have criminal politics subplots (as in underworld maneuvering and spying).

Tigana, A Song for Arbonne, the Lions of Al-Rassan and the Sarantine Mosaic duology by Guy Gavriel Kay are excellent books with minimal magic (especially Arbonne and Al-Rassan) and lots of political scheming.

Avoid his other works.

The 'Saga of Pliocene Exile" books by Julian May are practically all political scheming, thought the medieval setting is medieval only because the aliens who came to Earth before humans evolved, like it that way. But it’s still quite medieval.

Well, Game of Thrones is such an obvious answer that I have to assume you already either know you like it or know you don’t.

A “fantasy” novel I read recently which is excellent, but is all about politics and society, is The Traitor Baru Cormorant.

Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I haven’t heard of most of what’s been mentioned.

Re: GRRM, read and enjoyed, yes. Although for whatever reason the book I had in mind was the early parts of Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion, before all the magic sets in. I don’t really even remember much of the book; I just remember thinking about how I was enjoying the scheming without the magic.

Magic is good too, but I don’t need help finding it.

It mustn’t. While I started the thread because I’m looking for stories and dramatization, I like straight up history too. Gibbon has been on my “when I get around to it” list. I’ve added him to my library queue. Any particular WotR book you recommend?

How open are you to Shakespeare? His historical plays and tragedies are loaded with political scheming and often literal backstabbing.

There’s a great deal of political intrigue (and assassinations) in Raymond Feist’s Empire Trilogy. Daughter of the Empire is the first, and they’re all pretty good.

He just wrote a sequel to the Sarantine Mosaic duology…or at least, something set in the same setting, that I liked…Children of Earth and Sky. Have you read it yet?

Also, you might like Scott Lynch’s “The Lies of Locke Lamora” and its sequels.

Okay, here’s an unsung masterpiece: The Traitor Baru Cormorant. It’s pretty light on the fantastic elements, more of a made-up world, but oh my lord is the politicking phenomenal.

There’s Swordspoint, Ellen Kushner’s mannerpunk classic about a professional duelist and the conflicts he finds himself in.

The Goblin Emperor was nominated for Hugo and Nebula, and is all about politics in a fantasy kingdom.

City of Stairs is the first in a trilogy about politicking.

I can go on and on; this is one of my favorite subgenres. But if you only read one, I cannot recommend The Traitor Baru Cormorant enough, with the warning that it’s dark as hell, not in a splattergore George RR Martin way, but in a punch-to-your-gut holy shit way.

On the Roman theme - I, Claudius.
It was made into an excellent BBC TV series in the 1970s.

Yeah, I actually think Guy Gavriel Kay is a pretty solid contender in this genre. His Fionavar Tapestry series is polarizing. I think it’s garbage, but other folks love it. Nearly everything else by him is a barely-fictionalized take on our world, with tons of excellent intrigue.

Oh, and another: Ken Liu has written two of a trilogy set in a fantasy Asian kingdom. The first is The Grace of Kings, and is pretty good.

I was so disappointed with his post-Mosaic books that I pretty much gave up on him. Does this new book of his have an actual plot?

The Locke Lamora books are indeed very good, although the quality drops a bit with the third.

More or less. It’s set in the not-Renaissance, after the not-Byzantines have fallen to the not-Turks, and is about a group travelling to not-Constantinople, all of whom have their own agendas.

It’s less tightly plotted than his earlier books, but much more tightly plotted than his not-China ones, and the entire thing takes place over the course of a few seasons, so there’s at least economy of time.

Bujold is exactly who I was going to recommend. There are more books in that series now, which you might like. The magic continues, but so does the intrigue.

Elizabeth Moon returned to the Deeds of Paksennarion fantasy world with a sequel series called the “Legend of Paksennarion”. The first is Oath of Fealty, and there are 5 total. Some magic, but heavily political/intrigue.

12 kings in Sharakhai is fantasy with a political bent. Set in a desert kingdom ruled by 12 kings.

Rook by Daniel O’Malley. A woman wakes up in a park, surrounded by bodies. She has no memory. Her only guide is notes she finds. It’s urban fantasy. Political. Cool as heck.

I came in to recommend those as well, along with Gay Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic, and The Curse of Chalion.


The Ile-Rien duology from Martha Wells, starting with The Element of Fire.

The first book in the Collegia Magica series, The Spirit Lens, by Carol Berg has lots of scheming. I haven’t read further in the series yet.

The Chosen, by Ricardo Pinto.
Then a few I think I remember having lots of intrigue, but hopefully someone else in the thread will remember better than I.
The Isavalta books by Sarah Zettel.

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey, which has a ridiculous premise (what the world needs is a super submissive sex spy!).

I’m on the garbage side.

The OP made me think of Katherine Kurtz, but I only know her by reputation, never having actually read any of her books, so I don’t know whether she fits or not.

I’m watching this thread for what to avoid (or at least, what to know what I’m getting myself in for), since I’m not a big fan or politics and scheming and intrigue and struggles for power.

Tigana is my choice as well. An excellent stand alone novel that also tops a lot of lists of “best totally stand alone” fantasy books.

There is magic, but it isn’t all about fantasy and dragons, etc.