If you use the Genre Blender to combine Fantasy and Mystery you get one of the bigger sets of results, over 75 books. It’s a popular blend, because adding a mystery plot to the landscape-heavy fantasy genre is a great way to give a fantasy a structure other than “let’s go save the world!” But browsing those titles shows that most of the blender results are urban fantasies — books set in out world, with magic layered in. Why should urban fantasy be the only ones to get the awesome dead bodies and murder investigations? Some of these are closer to caper novels than traditional murder mysteries and there is a wide variety in worlds depicted, but they are all NOT our world. Here are some epic fantasy novels that include a mystery plot:
Category 1: Fantasy/Mystery: The Right Side of the Law
(law enforcement officials or professional investigators of some kind)
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
Bennett’s latest is a set in Bulikov, the once-powerful seat of an empire that has lost its gods. When a Saypuri historian is in the city to use the archives is murdered, intelligence officer Shara Komayd travels from Saypur under the guise of a cultural ambassador to get to the truth of his death. It’s a marvelous combination of spy thriller, murder mystery and epic fantasy. The setting is rich with implied history and political rivalries. And Bennett writes like a dream.
Nights of Villjamur (Red Sun) by Mark Charon Newton
Villjamur is expecting an ice age, and has a bit of a refugee problem. The emperor unexpectedly dies, which throws the city into political upheaval, but it is the mysterious death of a politician that obsesses city investigator Rumex Jeryd. This is a great example of how a murder plot can be incorporated into a larger narrative. It’s not the only narrative thread, but for me it was one of the most interesting.
Four & Twenty Blackbirds (Bardic Voices) by Mercedes Lackey
In the city of Haldene, constable Tal Rufen is investigating the murder of several young female street musicians. There is a ritual aspect to the serial killings that points to the oppressive religious caste, but a mad mage might be behind it all. This is a pretty abrupt departure in plot and tone from the rest of the Bardic Voices books (a series I love, mostly for all the music), but it’s a nice combo of fantasy, mystery and even a little romance.
Guards! Guards! (Discworld) by Terry Pratchett
Oh Discworld, how I love you! Fans of the series all have their favorite cycles of stories, and my favorite were always those featuring Sam Vimes and the Night Watch. In his first outing he must find a way to expel a distructive dragon from the city of Ankh-Morpok. While a murder mystery plot usually brings a certain darkness to a book, Pratchett keeps it silly.
Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
Although there are mysteries in this series, it’s actually usually a really interesting legal thriller variant. In this case the deceased is a fire god that protected the city of Alt Coulumb, and first-year associate Tara’s necromantic firm works with a local priest to determine if the god was murdered.
Dust and Light (Sanctuary) by Carol Berg
A youthful indiscretion has come back to haunt pureblood Lucian de Remeni-Masson. His contract with the Registry has been canceled, and he is offered a degrading new one with the city coroner, Bastien. He uses his magic to draw the dead and uncovers a series of murders. Lucian goes through a great character arc as he gains confidence and power and the crimes that he and Bastien are confronted with are compelling.
Cast in Shadow (Chronicles of Elantra) by Michelle Sagara
Kaylin was trained as a Hawk, one of those charged with keeping the streets safe in Elantra. When children start disappearing in Nightshade, she has to face her past. There are lots of interesting world-building of this book, which includes several non-human species and an appealing character in Kaylin. It reads more like urban fantasy due to the dark tone, but this is definitely not our world.
The Buried Life by Carrie Patel
When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Recoletta’s top-secret historical research facility. This has a bit more of a steampunk-y feel rather than epic fantasy, but it’s got great characters (especially the villians) and the mystery is well-plotted enough to keep the pages turning fast.
Sweet Silver Blues (Garrett, P.I.) by Glen Cook
Garrett is a human private detective in a world with a truly wide variety of non-human breeds. He’s been hired by the gnome family of his deceased friend Danny to find the woman Danny left a small fortune. I haven’t read this series, but apparently there’s a strong emphasis on the hard-boiled mystery with a lot of humor.
Category 2: Fantasy/Mystery: The Wrong Side of the Law
(Law breakers and mercenaries and ne’er-do-wells investigating)
Sworn in Steel (Tales of the Kin) by Douglas Hulick
While the first book in this series is more of your caper plot, this second outing of Drothe has the newest Gray Prince of the underworld trying to establish himself among the Kin (the criminal organization of this fantasy world. His efforts are stymied when he is accused of killing another Gray Prince and must find the real killer and clear his name. Even a criminal has to have standards, right? Fans of rogueish anti-heroes who long for sword-and-sorcery tales of Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar with a side of Scott Lynch should look for this series.
Jhereg (Vlad Taltos) by Steven Brust
Vlad is an assassin in a fantasy city where humans (Easterners) are the minority and society is ruled by clans of Dragaerans. In this first outing he is hired by a crime lord to kill another crime lord named Mellar. Unfortunately Mellar is holed up at the estate of Vlad’s friend Morrolan and rules of hospitality forbid Vlad from making the hit. He’ll have to get creative if he wants to collect his hefty reward. Rather than the conventional plot of a mystery where an investigator looks for clues to find a killer, the books in the excellent Vlad Taltos series usually subvert this completely with Vlad needing to solve the puzzle in order to remove the obstacles to him killing someone. It shouldn’t work, but it really, really does.
The Sword-Edged Blonde (Eddie LaCrosse) by Alex Bledsoe
Eddie LaCrosse is sword jockey — basically a sword for hire. He happens to have been childhood friends with the King of Arentia whose queen has been accused of killing the royal heir. He agrees to help find out the truth. Another really appealing mix of sword-and-sorcery and hard-boiled mystery. The tone and language are a little anachronistically modern, but there’s a lot of action and a flawed but likeable hero.
Fade to Black (Rojan Dizon) by Francis Knight
Rojan Dizon lives in the layered dystopian fantasy city of Mahala where the rich live up high and the poor never see the sun. A bounty hunter of sorts, he takes a job looking for the daughter of one of the wealthy elite. But he must hide the fact that he is one of the outlawed pain mages, able to access magic through physical pain. Dark stuff.