1. Westeros (A Game of Thrones)
Do I even need to explain this one? A country the size of a continent–Westeros–torn up by the War of the Five Kings. No one has even a small measure of security–not the nobles who fight for power and end up dead/tortured/imprisoned, not the soldiers who fight in the armies, not the peasants who have no protection from any of it. Everything is war torn, everyone has lost relatives to the violence, and I imagine widespread hunger is going to set in pretty soon. And that’s just Westeros. It isn’t necessarily better across the sea, what with the slave cities and the Dothraki razing villages.
2. Faerie (The Promethean Age)
The cruelty and danger inherent in Faerie is on full view in this series. You’d at least think that the Queen had it good, but no. Her throne is designed to bleed her, like the one from Game of Thrones but much worse. Power is based in sacrifice, and this is hers. And the main protagonist has lost her identity and has no choice but to obey the commands of the Queen, whether she likes it or not–usually not. Actually, magical enslavement is kind of normal in this world.
3. The Isles of Glory (The Aware)
This book is told from the perspective of someone from the lower strata of society, a halfbreed denied citizenship to any of the islands. She just manages to eek out a living due to skills that the elite need, being treated like less than a person all the while. And then there’s dunmagic, which can curse people horribly and without their knowledge–anyone without magic is pretty much at its mercy. Of course, those with magic have their own problems–people with magic immunity are hated by those who practice dunmagic and often the targets of more mundane assassinations, should their skills be known. And people with sylvmagic, the counterpoint to dunmagic, can be corrupted by dunmagic, twisting their personality and making them become cruel and terrible. All the while, somewhere deep inside, they remain aware of what they’ve become.
Oh, and more–another main character, a noble escaping a bad marriage (as in, one with a great potential for domestic abuse) gets her arm amputated for her troubles. And honestly believes she’s better off losing the arm. Overall, it seems like absolutely no one is happy, and I haven’t even gone into the non-humans and their troubles.
Anne Bishop, and her dark romantic fantasy. Emphasis on dark. Terreille is just an awful place to live. It’s got it all–slavery, exploitation, torture, and pretty much any other bad thing you can imagine. The sheer corruption of the rulers, how ruthlessly they hold to power, and how badly they rule makes fear the only sustainable way to keep their positions. Fear, and getting rid of any competition before it grows up to become competition. Since these bad rulers are from the long-lived races, their people will be waiting for them to die and things to get better a long time.
5. Earth Bet (Worm)
This world features the aptly named Endbringers, monsters that attack populated areas just to devastate and kill. They’re nigh on impossible to kill, and the cost in lives it takes to turn them away just seems to grow. And they always come back, strong as ever. As they hit populated areas, more and more places are ruined by these attacks, and they never stop coming. Slowly but steadily (and horrifically, considering some of the powers of the Endbringers), humanity is losing. And the Endbringers aren’t the only nightmare-inducing supervillians in this world.
6. Earth (The Newsflesh Trilogy)
Despite being set in a post-apocalyptic zombie world, Feed shows the other extreme of the security spectrum from Game of Thrones. Not only are there zombie bears, but this world also features big government at its scariest–the very entity meant to protect people is perfectly willing to sacrifice them to stay in power.
7. Camelot (Merlin)
Magic is completely outlawed and anyone who has it is ruthlessly persecuted by a fanatical king. In the past, the king had essentially massacred those who practiced magic, and the survivors haven’t forgotten. This means that the king has many powerful enemies, some of whom consider the rest of his kingdom to be collateral damage. And of course, stopping most of these magical threats to the kingdom requires knowledge of magic, which is punishable by death.
8. The Fleet in Battlestar Galactica
The planets that humanity lived on were destroyed, with the survivors escaping on spaceships unequipped to deal with their population. They are searching for a planet to settle on, one that’s been lost for a long time–Earth. All the while, they are hunted down by the sentient machines that they created, which can pass for human. And so a cycle of violence and prejudice is perpetuated.
9/10. Rapture/Columbia (Bioshock/Bioshock Infinite)
Two cities, flip sides of the same coin, one built under water and the other built amongst the clouds. Both incredibly beautiful, and both places I would never want to step foot in (unless all the people were magically gone, so I could just admire the view). Rapture is what happened when people decided America wasn’t capitalist enough, and it turned people into commodities. Columbia is what happened when people decided America wasn’t racist enough, and…well, it’s just really racist.
There are other problems with these cities too, of course. But I’m not going to go into all of the details. Look at how outwardly pretty these cities are, instead.