Top 50 Best Epic Fantasy
fantasy is arguably the father of all fantasy subgenres. It's also the
most popular fantasy genre, with hordes of new epic fantasy books being
released each month. Unfortunately, the epic fantasy genre has become
cluttered with cliches. It's hard to sort through all the "fat fantasy
crap" to find the best in the genre.
I've done my best here to give my recommendations for the best epic fantasy series. These books aren't your usual hackneyed fat fantasy series -- they do something new, or tell a fantastic story, have realistic characters, or exhibit qualities that put them above the rest. Indeed, these are those epic fantasy books that actually deserve to be on the bookshelves or (since we are in 2012) the Kindlestore.
Please keep in mind that I've added EPIC FANTASY to this list -- so fantasy series that don't fit that mold, no matter how good they might actually be, are not included. Please don't email asking me to add The Dresden Files, Twilight, Vampire Diaries, The Hunger Games or any of those books to the list -- they're not epic fantasy! Epic Fantasy is a very specific kind of fantasy and a term that's often tossed on any fantasy book with a bit of magic, a hero, and maybe a villian. It's much more than that. I suggest you read exactly what epic fantasy really is before reading this list.
The rankings are a bit different from the Top 25 List and some of the other lists; this list covers only epic fantasy and I evaluate the books based on that alone.
Also note that these are what I consider "The Best Epic Fantasy", so I'm intentionally not including epic fantasy like The Sword of Truth, Shannara, Eragon, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, RA. Salvatore or David Eddings. Sorry, I don't consider that stuff good enough to make this list by far. You can read my Worst Fantasy commentary for my exact reasonings.
You'll recognize some of the books from other lists, but there are some new picks as well. If you want recommendations that are broader (i.e. just not epic fantasy), check out the Best Fantasy Series list.
September 2012 Update: Added quite a few new books to the list, converted it from a Top 25 to a Top 50 list and re-arranged a number of the books to reflect my 2012 sensibilities on what's the best and what's not the best. I've updated my commentary about some of the more popular books.
This epic 10-part series is finally completed as of 2011. It's one hell of a ride from start to finish.
Now, I personally rate Martin's A Game of Thrones (and the whole series as a whole) "better" than Erikson in broad terms. But when we are talking strictly epic fantasy, I believe Erikson's work is slightly stronger and far more epic than Martin's work.
For some people, Malazan is too "epic" to be understood or enjoyed. But we are talking about "epic" fantasy here and you can't get more epic than the Malazan books -- there's a huge cast of powerful characters that grow and mature over the series, there are super villains and super heroes, vast landscapes explored, and the series is on such a scale that it even jumps between past and present.
Basically, if you are looking for a big EPIC with a lot of stress on the EPIC part, Malazan Book of the Fallen is as epic as you'll find. It's also an adventure that you won't forget and features a large cast of gray characters with complex motivations. This book has helped change the face of fantasy. As such, it's a must read. Big points go to this series for actually being completed, unlike some of the others on this list.
will find it a big push to get into Erikson's work, as he doesn't make
it easy for the reader; the landscape, the setting, the characters, the
language, and pretty much everything is so different from what you are
used to in a fantasy novel that there's a shock factor that requires
some time and patience to overcome. To give this series a fair shake,
you really need to invest time reading the first book and part of the
second; by book three, the series really starts to pick up and you'll
never ever be satisfied with regular fantasy again. So be patient, put
the time in, and enjoy some of the best epic fantasy out there right
This book has appeared at number one on many of our lists. I make no apology for this, as the series is really the best fantasy out there. People will argue that Martin's quality has gone down in the fourth book or that he's taking too long to finish the series. Some will argue the series is too bloody, too brutal, etc.
It doesn't matter.
A Song of Ice and Fire is THE fantasy series of our age. It's influenced countless other books and has started an entire genre of subfantasy ("the gritty fantasy"), or if not started, than at least popularized.
If you want a fantasy series that follows all the standard cliches -- heroes who never die, villains who are two dimensional, wise cracking sidekicks, deus ex machina -- then read something else. If you want a fantasy series that's brutal, unforgiving, and totally unpredictable, A Song of Ice and Fire can't be beaten.
yes, the last two books have been dissapointing to some of the fans;
Martin has not moved the plot threads along as fast as the fans would
like. The next book looks to finally be the one we are waiting for -- I
hope. Regardless of the disappointment, the series still stands at the
pinnacle of the fantasy genre.
Tired of the run-of-the-mill fantasy and looking for something a bit...different? Check out The Sorcery Code, an epic fantasy that's not afraid to do something new in the genre. Fans of strong epic fantasy with an emphasis on romance will find themselves right at home here. Well-developed, morally ambiguous characters. Check. A completely unique magic system with a strong, page turning plot? Double Check!
Once a respected member of the Sorcerer Council and now an outcast, Blaise has spent the last year of his life working on a special magical object. The goal is to allow anyone to do magic, not just the sorcerer elite. The outcome of his quest is unlike anything he could've ever imagined - because, instead of an object, he creates Her. She is Gala, and she is anything but inanimate. Born in the Spell Realm, she is beautiful and highly intelligent - and nobody knows what she's capable of. She will do anything to experience the world . . . even leave the man she is beginning to fall for. Augusta, a powerful sorceress and Blaise's former fiancée, sees Blaise's deed as the ultimate hubris and Gala as an abomination that must be destroyed. In her quest to save the human race, Augusta will forge new alliances, becoming tangled in a web of intrigue that stretches further than any of them suspect. She may even have to turn to her new lover Barson, a ruthless warrior who might have an agenda of his own . . .
This one is epic fantasy for the thinking man. It’s tightly plotted and superbly written, something we expect from the author of The Long Price Quartet, a fantasy series that tops many a person’s top ten fantasy list. Each character is deftly drawn and complex with real motivations and flaws that they must struggle to overcome as the story progresses; I would argue that each character is a broken human looking for a way to survive in an uncaring and brutal world. And in the background, there is an ancient threat that is again rising in the shadows, threatening the status quo of a now-free humanity, a humanity once enslaved to the Dragons who ruled the world in a previous age. Particularly entertaining among the characters is the young rising star of a noble house, Geder, the real-world equivalent of an artistic introverted high schooler who’s picked on by the entire class, suddenly finding himself a hero when given unexpected command of a military company, and makes the ruthlessly logical decision to murder an entire city. This fantasy is some compelling stuff, and looks to be some of the best epic fantasy released in the past few years. Fans of Abercrombie, Martin, and Erikson will love this one.
How can I not put this book on a best epic fantasy series list? This series needs no explaining. The series helped shape the concept of epic fantasy. The conceits used (dark lords, callow youths, elves, dwarves, goblins, magic swords, evil creatures lurking in the dark) are standard in the fantasy genre. Because of the influence this series has had on fantasy as a whole, it's without a doubt one of the best epic fantasy series ever written. So if you are the one person who hasn't read this series, do yourself a favor and just get it out of the way.
This is an epic fantasy series that plays by its own rules. The series incorporates some standard epic fantasy conventions only to turn them completely on their head. You might call this series a complete subversion of the genre.
But you can forget about all that stuff. Just looking at the series on its own without comparing it to the greater genre as a whole, it's a wildly entertaining fantasy series with some vicious action, completely grey characters who are somewhat of a paradox (a barbarian killer who hates killing, a torturer who's actually a kind man, etc). The writing is sharp as a knife, packed full of wit.
Joe Abercrombie has only been getting better with each new book released -- his newest standalone, The Heroes, set in the same world as First Law, is probably his best written. His newest book Red Country is set to be released shortly.
So if you are looking for an epic fantasy that does something
different and breaks the standard conventions to pieces and with some
of the sharpest prose around, one that's pretty damn funny to boot,
First Law should be read.
High kings, evil sorcerers, exiled princes, tricky fairies, and willful princesses – this highly influential series has it all. There is nothing derivative about this series, being one of the “founding” fantasy series in the genre, right up there with Lord of the Rings. The highly imaginative world of the Elder Isles is brought to indelible life through the superbly talented pen of Jack Vance, one of the grandmasters of the modern fantasy and science fiction genre. If you are tired with the various dry, plodding and wordy epic fantasy dreck where hack authors are surely are paid by the word, this highly original, atmospheric, and evocative series will be a huge breath of fresh air. Highly recommended for ANYONE who loves a good tale and beautiful prose.
If you like Martin or Erikson, you’ll enjoy Kearney’s fabulous Monarchies of God, an epic fantasy that’s not derivative of either's work, as Kearney published before both the others. Monarchies of God tells the gritty tale of five kingdoms in the midst of a potential war; there are numerous characters scattered around different parts of the world, with the main character being the captain of a ship seeking to find a lost continent across the sea. There’s a lot going on in these books but the plot and pacing moves along fast – you might think of this as a lighter version of Martin and Erikson where things actually happen and characters do important plot things without requiring a thousand pages to move things along. The series has everything you like about epic – complex characters that are mostly shades of gray (though not to the level of say Abercrombie or Martin’s characters), an epic world-ending threat looming on distant lands, kingdoms gearing up for war, and politicking.
No epic fantasy series evokes as much passion as does The Wheel of Time. It's got a legion of fanatical fans as well as a legion of critics. So why am I casting Robert Jordan's WOT so high on this list? Well for one, when you mention epic fantasy, it's simply impossible NOT to mention Robert Jordan in the same breath -- either as a template for what not to do or as an example of classic fantasy that does many things right and some things wrong.
Jordan is the guy who helped to pioneer the concept of the big fat fantasy series. With a story that spans over 13 books and even the death of the author (it's still being finished with the last book to come out this year by Brandon Sanderson), the Wheel of Time is truly an epic.
Yes, there are problems with the novels. As so many of you kindly love to point out in comments, Jordan completely loses control of the plots around book 6 and the series spirals out of control for another 5-6 books. Yes, there are too many characters to keep track of. Yes, women are portrayed as two-dimensional characters. Yes, Jordan spends too much time detailing every single little detail, especially on filler stuff that becomes annoying after 10 pages, let alone 10 thousand pages.
Yes, it's currently in vogue to knock
Jordan's work as trash, pulp and a variety of other less savory things.
But the fact remains that the man has created a massive world with a
huge plot and an unforgettable story. There are better writers writing
fantasy these days, there are more clever epic fantasy series with
realistically portrayed characters, there are series that do new things
with the fantasy genre. But give Jordan's Wheel of Time series the
credit it's due: it's changed the face of epic fantasy for good or for
ill. So on that premise, the series should be read. And you know,
despite all the naysayers out there slagging the work, you might find,
hell, you actually enjoy it. I know I do.
Man, what's NOT to like about this series? It's got some great heroes, carefully constructed over the 1000+ pages of the novel. It's got some serious kick ass action (it takes a while to build up to the action, but when it happens...it happens!). It's got an end-of-the-world plot. It's got different lands, different races, and different cultures. It's got a unique and pretty fascinating magic system. hell it's even got a story (and characters) that spans, like, eons dude. And it's written by Brandon Sanderson, the man who's written another great epic fantasy series (Mistborn) and who's finishing off the Wheel of Time.
I know ONLY the first book of what's
going to be a ten-book series has been released. But based on the
strength of the first book and the premise of the series, The
Stormlight Archive is looking to be one of the best classic epic
fantasy series out there -- a verson of Jordan's Wheel of Time without
the wheel falling off. Of course, time will tell as more books are
released, but for now, it's a worthy epic to be read.
Yet another book that seems to be near the top of many a best fantasy list. The Kingkiller Chronicles is not yet complete, but the first two books deliver a great story. The Name of the Wind is not epic in the way that The Wheel of Time is -- there are only a handful of characters. It's not epic in the way of Malazan, where space and time itself is scaled. But rather, it's an epic tale about the hero of the story, Kvothe. Quite simply, it's one of the best tales I've yet read. The strength of this book is not so much the actual settings and plot, but in the telling of the story itself.
Not exactly epic high fantasy in the traditional sense, but there's enough fantasy elements to land it on the list. Amber is, for many new fantasy readers, almost an unknown series. But it's a fantasy series that should be read. There's complex political scheming, a cast of warring noble siblings, and parallel worlds.
More than a few accolades name this as the greatest fantasy series ever written. And it's true that this is one of the most original and complex fantasy worlds you'll find outside of Tolkien.
plot is pretty complex, but this is one series you should just pick it
up and start reading without looking at the plot summary. One of the
greatest joys I've ever had reading a book came from discovering how
this book unfolds as I read it.
Another epic fantasy series that should be read. There's magic, adventure, romance, and some of the best characterization in the fantasy genre. This IS epic fantasy done right and you're missing out big if you've never read the series.
This epic fantasy series is quite a bit different from your standard fantasy fare. If you want an epic military fantasy series where good and bad are not so clearly delineated, The Black Company delivers this. There are some of the classic epic fantasy conventions, such as a band-of-heroes against a world-ending-evil, except things are twisted around a bit. Instead of good against evil, the struggle is more or less evil versus more evil, with the heroes themselves of questionable morality. If you like the gritty military fantasy style of A Song of Ice and Fire and Malazan Book of the Fallen, you'll love Black Company.
If dark fantasy married epic fantasy and had a child, The Coldfire Trilogy would be that child. This series is pretty damn dark with more than a few aspects from the horror genre tossed into the mix as well. Characters are well drawn and complex -- there are no paper deep characters here, no generic fantasy landscape borrowed from Tolkien. Cold Fire sets itself apart from any other fantasy series out there, both with the novel's unique setting and the cast of characters. The protagonist is also an anti-hero character, which makes the story and plot even more interesting.
Another fantasy series that crops up near the top of many best fantasy lists. Earthsea is a classic fantasy tale well done. While it doesn't rack up a sizable page count like some of the newer fantasy series (cough, Wheel of Time), what it lacks in size it makes up with quality. Good doesn't always mean big, folks.
for a very well written classic fantasy tale about a boy's journey to
become the greatest wizard alive, Earthsea is one of the best. And the
writing is just so damn beautiful to read.
This one is a lot of fun; I’d even go as far as to say it’s one of the most entertaining standard fantasy tales in the genre. Duncan takes the standard fantasy clichés and makes them his own with some deft plotting, a cast of well-developed characters with complex relationships, one of the more interesting magic systems out there, and a lovable underdog hero you just love rooting for when the odds are stacked against him. This series is written with such earnestness and passion that you can’t help but love it. If you want some sort of existential tale that celebrates a good man’s ability to do bad things rather than a feel good novel about heroes who actually make you feel good about yourself, than don’t read this. But if you want a standard fantasy tale where heroes are actually, well, good and one that rises far above the standard fantasy derivatives out there, read. Highly recommended.
Epic fantasy with a different face. All the standard conventions are there, but they are reshaped, twisted and painted with shadows. This is dark fantasy folks, strong on sex, violence, and gritty atmosphere. If you are expecting hero soldier finds magic sword and kills all the bad guys, you are NOT going to get that sort of novel here. Morgan has a knack for taking something that's been done already many times, and spraypainting a fresh coat on it -- you can see the shape but the color's different. And in this case, he starts with the hero. The hero, you see, is gay. The villains are good...and bad. This is complex, epic fantasy from a master storyteller. If you can get over the author playing around with gender (gay hero), this atmospheric fantasy series is a great read.
A fantasy tale that people love to love or love to hate -- there is very rarely any middle ground when it comes to Thomas Covenant. My recommendation is that you should read the first series, if only to see what all the damn arguing going on in the comment section is.
series takes a unique view of the classic epic fantasy. Instead of a
hero, there's an anti-hero -- one who's pretty damn selfish. The
series, if it was left to that, would be too depressing for most people
to finish. But the series is also one about transformation and
redemption. Through the Chronicles, you slowly start to see Thomas
Covenant move from anti-hero to hero, from selfish bastard to
This doesn't do anything smart, new, or fancy. But what it does, it does pretty damn well: the story of one man's struggle against a world dominated by demons who terrorize humankind at night.
This is a dark epic fantasy with a lot of zing to it. If you are looking for some GREAT heroic epic fantasy with a lot of action and character building (with a pretty cool magic system), The Warded Man delivers this in full force. It's also one of the more exciting fantasy reads out there -- I promise. The sequel, The Desert Spear, does not deliver on the promise of the first book due to the author's handling of the plot threads and characters. The first part of the second book still makes for an enticing read, however. Looking forward to seeing where things go in book three; let's hope the author brings the story back on track.
There are writers who like to write pulp and there are some writers who like to write fiction. Williams is the latter. Memory, Sorrow, Thorn.
This series has made pretty much all the other fantasy lists. It's a good series that many people don't have the patience to read. And that's a right shame. If you stick with the story, a rich fantastical tale will unfold. It just takes TIME.
Tad Williams has recently completed another epic fantasy, Shadowmarch. My feeling is that while Shadowmarch has a lot more action and fantastical elements (fairies, gods, half gods, strange magic), Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is a deeper fantasy tale with a lot more under the hood than Shadowmarch. That's not to say that Shadowmarch is not a great epic fantasy series -- it is -- but I like Memory Sorrow, Thorn better. Still, if you find Memory, Sorrow, Thorn too slow, then look at Shadowmarch -- you'll like it better.
An epic fantasy by a really talented writer. This is not your standard epic fantasy. Or rather, it's epic fantasy with a lot of emphasis on characterization. Yes, there is the good guys versus dark lord plot in the series, but the series is not so much about slaying bad guys as it is the story of how normal people react in bad situations -- both the good and the bad. Don't take this to mean this series is boring -- it's not. But rather, this series is a far more intelligent epic fantasy than many of you may be used to. Oh whatever, just read it.
This is a newer fantasy series -- a sort of naval epic fantasy. And it's a very well done series, two books into it with the third coming out shortly.
There's a lot going on in this series -- a cast of well realized characters that include mad god kings, miniature warriors, sentient animals, assassins, sorcerers, princesses, and ship boys, all locked in a life and death struggle for an evil artifact aboard a giant ship. It's a complex fantasy series that's different from a lot of the standard high epic fantasy. An exciting read and one of the better fantasy debuts I've read in a long time.
Classic fantasy done right. Good story, good plot, terrific action, and fantasy set in a Roman milieu (something unusual in fantasy). As a big bonus, the entire series has been completed -- and unlike some other fantasy epics, this one maintains its quality.
You'll really like the novel fantasy setting -- it's not too often that you read a fantasy tale that's not set in some world parallel to Tolkien's own. The author's magic system is quite unique too and interesting.
Alera also has quite a bit of a military aspect to it as well -- so if
you are the type who likes outnumbered armies duking it out with
superior forces (ala Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Black Company, The
Instrumentalities of Night, etc), this series has plenty of that sort
Another classic epic fantasy series. I'm not a huge fan of Feist's later works, but his first two books, Magician and Magician's Apprentice are a great intro into the world of epic fantasy. There's really everything you love about epic fantasy found in these two books: the rise of a nothing boy to a powerful magician, magical worlds, different cultures, romance, and of course, a lot of magical action.
is lambasted in some circles for his "simplistic" fantasy. And I agree,
most of his fantasy is pretty simplistic. But if you want some of that
non-thinking classic fantasy where it's possible for boys to become
wizard heros who save damsels in distress, then this series is for you.
Raymond Feist's Series in Chronological Order
I've listed his Midkemia books in chronological order by series. Each series is set in the same world that Magician is and are sequels, sort of. Feist has even more books, but I've only listed the series that I feel are actually worth reading. His best by far are the two Magician books and his Empire Trilogy as I've stated about 10 times now.
Conclave of Shadows
The Darkwar Saga
The Chaoswar Saga
Another epic fantasy that doesn't necessary fit the classical definition of an epic fantasy. Anyone who's tired of the generic Tolkien-derived fantasy and paper-thin characters won't have anything to complain about with this series. This is a more "literary" fantasy series and the author is quite the wordsmith. Those of you who want a slower paced, more complexly plotted book with non-standard fantasy characters leading the story, The Long Price Quartet is a series you'll want to sink your teeth into. I suspect lovers of fiction written by China Mieville, Guy Gavriel Kay, Sean Williams, and Tad Williams will enjoy this series immensely. If you are the sort of fantasy reader weaned on action fantasy like The Wheel of Time, David Gemmell, or Raymond E. Feist, this series won't be for you.
Epic fantasy for the thinking man, that's what R Scott Bakker's fantasy series is. Full of characters who are not what they seem and featuring some wicked action and a grim story, The Prince of Nothing is a different type of fantasy series. It's not a series that everyone is comfortable with, but it's a series that doesn't follow the standard fantasy mold. I find the Prince of nothing series a refreshing breeze in an otherwise stagnant fantasy genre.
Not so much your classic epic fantasy but more of an epic tale of revenge. It’s basically the story of a young boy who leads a brutal crusade to regain his throne – a throne he abandoned when he fled from his home after watching his mother and brother being brutally murdered. This is one hot fantasy series, a dark, gripping fantasy that has some similarities to K.J. Parker’s works, though set in a more typical fantasy landscape.
I wouldn't really classify this as epic fantasy so much as dark fantasy; however, the scope of this novel is certainly epic with the characters crossing space and time as they progress through the series. A thoroughly dark series (understandably since it's born from the mind of Steven King), but one that's incredibly addicting. If you have not yet read this book, read it even if you are not a fan of Stephen King or the horror genre.
A delightfully atmospheric fantasy tale that's got a lot going for it, including a cast of well-realized characters, a dark and bitter landscape, and an interesting hero. Unlike some of the modern fantasy tales out there, characters are more black and white than gray, but some of the villains, as much as you love to hate them, are complex characters too. A good amount of action present in the story with a gripping plot. This is one of my own favorite epic fantasy tales.
You might frown on the inclusion of this novel on a list about epic fantasy, but the tale, while ostensibly about rabbits, reaches much further than a mere animal story. It’s an allegory, it’s an epic fantasy, it’s a children’s tale for adults and an adults' tale for children, it’s anything you want it to be and everything you imagine it to be. Banish all thoughts or pre-conceived notions about what this novel is or what it should be. Just read it. You will never, ever forget this startling tale.
Acacia is written in the epic Fantasy tradition that Tolkien pioneered. Epic Fantasy is probably the most popular type of Fantasy and the real "poster boy" for the Fantasy genre (something that I personally believe should not be the case). If you like Acacia, then it's a sure bet that you will love these other series. You should definitely read George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, which is the best epic fantasy series currently out there (and my top pick). Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time is also another excellent epic Fantasy in the tradition. The Greg Keyes' Kingdom of Thorn and Bone is also another spectacular epic fantasy series that's several notches above most other series. And of course the daddy of epic Fantasy, The Lord of the Rings. For a more anti-hero protagonist, Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is another great series to read. You want epic Fantasy that brings new meaning to the word "epic," then read Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen . And if you want some epic Fantasy that really breaks or twists in some way most of the standard conventions of epic Fantasy, read Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself .
This is an epic fantasy in the tradition of George Martin -- the characters are gray, good and evil are not so clearly defined, and there are four royal children who are forced to flee their kingdom because of treachery.
I'm a big fan of this series. Despite the
comparisons with A Song of Ice and Fire, this series is NOT George
Martin. I like the political intrigue present in the novel and the gray
characters. Book two carries on the plotline, though it's harder to
connect with the characters who survive from the first book. This may
turn off some readers who want to connect with the protagonists in the
way that you might connect with Kvothe from A Name of the Wind or Fitz
from The Farseer. I was disappointed with the series, however and I
didn't feel the author did as good of a job with the characters or
their relationships. Still a good epic fantasy.
Acacia is written in the epic Fantasy tradition that Tolkien pioneered. Epic Fantasy is probably the most popular type of Fantasy and the real "poster boy" for the Fantasy genre (something that I personally believe should not be the case). If you like Acacia, then it's a sure bet that you will love these other series. You should definitely read George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, which is the best epic fantasy series currently out there (and my top pick). Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time is also another excellent epic Fantasy in the tradition. The Greg Keyes Kingdom of Thorn and Bone is also another spectacular epic fantasy series that's several notches above most other series. And of course the daddy of epic Fantasy, The Lord of the Rings. For a more anti-hero protagonist, Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is another great series to read. If you want epic Fantasy that brings new meaning to the word "epic," then read Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen. And if you want some epic Fantasy that really breaks or twists in some way most of the standard conventions of epic Fantasy, read Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself .
A beautiful and deftly woven fantasy tale that rings strong with a lot of the elements that make Lord of the Rings so captivating.
Why might you want to read this? Let's look at a little checklist: A mysterious landscape that’s almost poetic. Check. A strong mythos of the world underlying the conversations, references, and history. Check. Magic is mysterious and rare. Check. The world is under threat by some unknown force. Check. Beautiful, lyrical prose. Check.
This three-book series proves you don’t need to have ten-thousand page books to tell a proper high fantasy tale.
you love reading epic fantasy with rich history and myth built into the
story, complemented by beautiful language, pick this series up. You
certainly won't go wrong reading it. Magic is very much a mystery in
this series; part of the pleasure of reading this series is the sense
of mystery and wonder. If you want to get lost in mysterious lands on a
quest to save the land from an ancient evil, this should be your next
series. It’s epic fantasy that’s got a lot of the familiar themes, but
it’s damn well written epic fantasy.
J.R.R. Tolkien's A Lord of the Rings. The Swan's War trilogy seems both similar to yet different from Lord of the Rings. The mysterious and rare nature of magic is a trait shared by both books, as is the beautiful prose that seems half poetry, half fiction (though Russell's work is more "modern"and novelistic). Also give Ursula Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea a try: the book has that sense of mystery and wonder that permeates The Swan's War.
You might also call this one The Lord of the Rings of horror books – a somewhat apt description that describes what this is. It’s not a book that will appeal to everyone (fans of easy-to-read epic fantasy where all the cards are laid out on the table by page 10 probably won’t), but what I will guarantee is that Imajiica is a feast of the senses and the imagination. Not all “epic fantasy” is derivative of Tolkien or Jordan. Imajiica is an epic fantasy with a new face – rather than an all-consuming struggle against an implacable and unstoppable outside force of evil, it’s a struggle to save mankind from itself. This is a monster of a book at almost 1200 pages, but it’s a book that will have you captivated the whole way through; there is no useful filler, only laser-sharp plotting and even sharper prose. The setting is quite unique – a mystical fantasy universe, Imajiica, made up of 5 worlds/dimensions (called Dominions). The 4th Dominion, our world, has been separated from the other 5 worlds. The last great attempt to reconcile our world with the other 5 backfired, and nearly all the metaphysically talented people died (Shamans, Magicians, etc.). But now, things are again ripe for another attempt, and this time if the worlds are not reconciled, mankind will certainly destroy itself in the future. Barker is famous for writing his stories where there is another world underpinning the reality of our own, just a pin prick away, if one knows exactly where to prick. This makes for a creepy, atmospheric setting, much in the way of a Lovecraftian novel. The quality of the writing is high too with beautiful atmospheric prose.
Mystery, magical realms opening into the world, complex political plotting, evil villains, the world descending into a dark and chaotic place, strange creatures haunting the world. This series has it all. It also officially passes the "fat fantasy test" with seven books in the series (which is complete). On the whole, Crown of Stars is an enjoyable series with a cast of strong characters. Elliot is a talented writer. The way Elliot is able to bring some of her characters to life reminds me of Robin Hobb's style of writing -- which is a pretty big compliment for any writer.
complaint with this series is that it's too long. It should be a 4- or
5-book series and not 7 books. The series kind of loses focus in the
last couple of books, but as a whole, it's a creative epic fantasy
that's well worth reading.
Tad William's Memory, Sorrow, Thorn saga. William has beautifully reinterpreted Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (and no it is not in the least bit a clone, and no, there is no One Ring), creating a vast world of mystery and magic. Characterization is top notch.
I'm a very big fan of this epic fantasy / dark fantasy series. The series follows the story of Sabriel (and her children) as they venture from the New Kingdom (the modern world) into the mysterious Old Kingdom, a magical world behind a wall bordering the two realities where strange things happen -- the dead haunt that land, magic exists, and evil lurks around every corner. The series is exciting and chilling at the same time. If you want to feel scared while reading epic fantasy, this series will do it! Especially good is the first book which will just blow your socks off. Read it with the lights turned down when you are by yourself and expect to be scared.
I am no big fan of D&D-type literature, and Weis and Hickman expend a lot of energy writing those types of books. However, this massive epic fantasy saga is wholly original. It's massive, ambitious, and well worth the read. I gleefully lost myself for a few weeks in this very addicting saga. If you like the hero-driven, magic-riddled worlds of Robert Jordan, and Raymond E. Feist, then you will probably love the Deathgate Cycle saga.
Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. Farland? Runelords. Raymond E Fiest's Magician books.
A timeless classic that's been around for a while and will stay around. It's an epic fanasy that many have never read, which is a shame because it delivers a wonderful tale that mixes heroic fantasy and Welsh folklore. While it's not on the same level as, say, Lord of the Rings, it's still a worthy epic to read. Yes, it doesn't do some of the new and fancy existentialist things that modern fantasy in the vein of Martin, Erikson, Bakker, Lawrence, and Abercrombie have been doing, but that's ok -- sometimes you want to read about a good hero who does good things simply because they are the right thing to do. What makes Alexander's series stand out above many of his newer, more modern epic fantasy contemporaries is that his prose is absolutely sublime; each word belongs and sentences as a whole are works of beauty. Alexander is perfectly able to combine the right element of sorrow and humor at exactly the right times. Wonderful. This may be categorized as a children's classic, but it can be and should be read by every adult too.
This is some epic fantasy done right. While it doesn't do anything new for the genre, Keyes uses the good old fantasy conventions to tell a really damn good tale. The quality of the writing, the great characterization, the great plot, and rolling end-of-the-world adventure makes this a magnificent tale. I haven't ranked this series as high as others, mainly because the series doesn't do anything new for the genre, but don't let that stop you from reading it. Kingdom of Thorn and Bone is one of the best classic epic fantasy tales to be released in the past few years. It's all finished, something that's much appreciated by eager readers everywhere (yes, this is a jab at George Martin).
Another classic fantasy tale that's just pure joy to read. Follow along with Morgan as he seeks to solve the mystery of his birth. Maybe along the way he's save the world and find true love. Classic epic fantasy that's beautifully written. Fans of Earthsea and Swan's War and Middle Earth will like this one for sure.
A fascinating premise with this one: the world is still yet unfinished, with the mysterious outer edges of the lands unformed and pliable. Two great forces of the world battle it out using humanity as sword, the Gun – demons of chaos who empower select humans with superhuman abilities and special weapons – and the Line – giant steam-engine demons who employ human armies with biological and steam technology. This epic merges the western genre with epic fantasy.
Cold gritty fantasy in the same style as Martin's A Game of Thrones. There are strange lands, monsters, ancient magic, and non-human races. I thoroughly enjoyed the dark gritty feel present in the entire trilogy. While there were some flaws with the books, on the whole it's a series well worth reading, especially if you are a fan of dark, gritty fantasy.
A farm girl rises above her station to become a legend. A reversal on the usual male epic fantasy tropes and the best example in the genre of how to take standard fantasy tropes and weave them into something completely new that stands out above the rest. This series should be a case study for upcoming fantasy writers on how to have some individuality when you write epics.
One of the best YA epic fantasy series. Well-developed characters that are stereotypical but still exhibit a surprising amount of depth. A standard save-the-world plot, but one that still evokes a good deal of pleasure as you watch the characters struggle to save the world.
Epic fantasy with an Asian twist; instead of farm boy heroes you have a young monk with supernatural martial arts prowess; and instead of a clichéd medieval landscape you have a fantastical ancient China. Sean Williams is a master wordsmith – for some well-written epic fantasy with a completely different taste to it, I highly recommend this one. Sort of like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets Lord of the Rings.
Points for a completely new setting and a vivid imagination. I can safely say this series is unique. The author re-imagines humanity divided up by insect traits they exhibit, with each trait providing a different set of strengths and weaknesses. It’s an empire of politics and war with a lot of the former and even more of the latter. On paper, the whole idea comes off as a badly designed video game made book, but once you actually start reading, the implausible setting actually comes off as quite convincing. So if you want an epic fantasy founded on a unique premise, read this one.
Epic fantasy has become so cheap it’s now at the dime-a-dozen price range. Every author and wannabe-author is trying to pour out epics faster than beer at a Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day. It makes for some seriously substandard, watered-down reading. Tad Williams has his own style of epic fantasy; he doesn’t copy Jordan, Martin, or even Tolkien. Some of the greater Tolkien elements are there, as are some of the fantasy archetypal characters. But Williams is best when he’s writing an epic.
Everything is so finely detailed that it can take a while to get the story rolling – this is something that some love or hate about a Williams novel. But if you give his works a fair shake and invest some time plowing through the slow pacing of the first few hundred pages, you’re treated to something majestic. Shadow March combines some of the elements from A Game of Thrones with the mythos and world building of Tolkien. There’s a vast wall of mist in the very northernmost part of the lands that separates a race of mysterious fairies from humans. There’s an emperor in the southern desert lands dreaming of conquering the entire world and mortality itself. There’s a kingship dispute, treachery, and invasion. And there is a firm mythos woven into the story threads, giving insight into the world as it used to be eons ago, stories that do connect with the current plot.
I really enjoyed how Williams incorporates faeries into the story. The series are full of ancient mythology, lost realms, strange magic, and just a whole lot of adventure. And of course, as a Tad Williams novel, there's great characterization and beautiful writing present too. Well worth reading!
This is an epic fantasy for those who like to read good fantasy. Williams doesn’t always give everything to you right away and you are required to dig into the books a bit before things get moving. Williams spends more time than you like detailing the daily routine of the settings around the characters, but on the whole, it’s a great series and one that you should read.
Complex political weaving, powerful magic, and a cast of well-developed characters. A cut above the normal fantasy epics.
This is epic fantasy with a face you've never seen before. The series centers on an alternative Rome where magic works. And like the real Rome, this Rome is a bloody world. Take all those juicy battles and toss in the addition of magic, demons, monsters, and mages. If you like your fantasy rife with magic, fighting, and action with super powerful heros and terrible villains, Oath of Empires is a great read. It's never reached critical mass, which is a shame -- it's better than a lot of the other fantasy series out there.
For many readers, this is a fast-paced assassin-epic fantasy in which a sort of gutter rat becomes a super assassin. The writing, while not deep or particularly sharp is fast paced and there's plenty of action. There's an end-of-the-world plot in the background somewhere, there's romance (though I must say, it's handled in such a two-dimensional way), there are kings and princes, wars and civil wars, and there's lot and lots of powerful magic and heroes practically on every page. There's a gritty feel to the books, especially the first book when the story details the protagonist's survive-by-any-means escapades on the street. This early part of the first book is by far the strongest part of the series and there's a lot of potential hinted at here during the first book.
But that potential is not held throughout the first book, nor the sequels. My major complaint with this series is that it seems pretty much like power rangers set in a fantasy landscape. There's an overabundance of super-powerful characters who powerup with even more power just when it's needed most. I felt like I was reading a fantasy version of Dragon Ball Z for part of the novel. For some though, that's exactly what they want in an epic fantasy; as they say, different strokes for different folks. If you are looking for a deeper, more complex sort of fantasy, this is not it. Fans of Gemmell or R.A. Salvatore or Feist or Jordan will find a lot to love with this series.
If you like this fast-paced, magic and action heavy sort of fantasy that doesn't really take itself too seriously or try too hard to hard to maintain internal consistency of both the magic systems and plots, it's a great, fun read. You'll also get a big kick out of Week's newest fantasy series (which follows along the lines of a more traditional fantasy epic, though with a pretty interesting magic system based on colors) The Light Bringer (two books out now). Also check out The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan and Legend by David Gemell for other authors that write in a similar style.
A High fantasy series that's never gotten the love it deserves. I read this series a few years ago and was thoroughly addicted. Lots of politics, fighting, strange magic, and some pretty compelling characters. Recommended.
Malazan Book of the Fallen (Steven Erikson)
A Game of Thrones (George R.R. Martin)
A Dagger and the Coin (Daniel Abraham)
Lord of the Rings (J.R.R Tolkien)
The First Law (Joe Abercrombie)
Lyonesse Trilogy(Jack Vance))
Monarchies of God (Paul Kearney)
The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan)
The Stormlight Archive (Brandon Sanderson)
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)
Chronicles of Amber (Roger Zelazny)
The Farseer (Robin Hobb)
Black Company (Glen Cook)
Cold Fire (C.S. Friedman)
Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin)
A Man of His Word (Dave Duncan)
The Steel Remains (Richard Morgan)
Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (Stephen R. Donaldson)
The Warded Man (Peter V. Brett)
Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn(Tad Williams)
The Fionavar Tapestry (Guy Gaverial Kay)
The Red Wolf Conspiracy (Robert V.S. Redick)
Codex Alera (Jim Butcher)
Magician (Raymond E. Feist)
The Long Price Quartet (Daniel Abraham)
The Prince of Nothing (R. Scott Bakker)
Prince of Thorns (Mark Lawrence)
The Dark Tower (Stephen King)
A Sword of Shadows (J.V. Jones)
Watership Down (Richard Adams)
Acacia (David Anthony Durham)
The Swan's War (Sean Russell)
Imajiica (Clive Barker)
Crown of Stars (Kate Elliot)
Abhorsen Trilogy (Garth Nix)
Deathgate Cycle (Weis and Hickman)
The Chronicles of Prydain (Lloyd Alexander)
A Kingdom of Thorn and Bone (Greg Keyes)
Riddle of Stars (Patricia A. McKilliip)
The Half-Made World (Felix Gilman)
Godless World Trilogy (Brian Ruckley)
The Deed of Paksenarrion (Elizabeth Moon)
The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper)
Initiate Brother (Sean Williams)
Empire in Black and Gold (Adrian Tchaikovsky)
Shadowmarch (Tad Williams)
Winds of the Forelands (David B. Coe)
Oath of Empires (Thomas Harlan)
The Night Angel Trilogy (Brent Weeks)
Boreal Moon (Julia May)
And For More Recommendations...
Don't see your "favorite" fantasy book on this list? Be sure to check out the Great Fantasy Books list for books that were bumped from the Top 25 over the last couple years. This is the next list you should look at if you are seeking to read more of best fantasy books out there.
Also look at the Good Fantasy Books for even more recommendations.
Check out the Top 25 Best Stand Alone Fantasy Books list.
Look at the Top 25 Best Epic Fantasy series list for the best of that type of fantasy.
Look at the Best Fantasy Series for a broad list of the best fantasy series ever written