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Top 50 Best Epic Fantasy

The Absolute Best Epic Fantasy Series (Updated for 2015)

Epic 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.

What is Epic Fantasy?

Epic Fantasy always includes some nation or world impacting events at play in the story and a hero or cast of heroes who embark on a quest to save it. There's usually an antagonist (villain or villains) who seek to overthrow the current order of things as they are. Another quality of true epic fantasy is the large supporting cast of characters. Epic fantasy usually includes a well-developed magic system. And there's usually an emphasis on heavy world building with different lands, peoples, and cultures.



Check out our Epic Fantasy subgenre page for more information about what defines Epic Fantasy.

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 2015) 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 villain. It's much more than that. I suggest you read exactly what epic fantasy really is before reading this list.

About the Rankings (Now Updated 2015)

The rankings are a bit different from the Top 25 List and some of the other lists; this specific list only covers epic fantasy and I evaluate the books and their rankings 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 reasoning.

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.

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The Malazan Book of the Fallen

(The Malazan Book of the Fallen)

(Steven Erikson)

img Comments (3)
Award Nominations:2000 WFA

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.

Some 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 now.

Books in The Malazan Book... Series (10)

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A good heroic stand alone fantasy book about a girl who becomes a legendary military leader is Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarrion. There is a great deal of military detail present in the book (fans of The Black Company may be especially interested).

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For a different take on the whole military fantasy subgenre, you could read Naomi Navik His Majesty's Dragon. It's sort of old-style naval military fiction, but replace the ships with talking dragons. The first book has garnered some impressive reviews over the past couple of years -- it's well worth reading if you are in the mood for something different. Note, only the first couple books are great -- the series collapses after a few.

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Another series that put a lot of emphasis into tactics and military would be John Marco's Tyrants and Kings. A rather unknown book/series, which is a pity it deserves far more recognition.

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For a standalone fantasy book that's ALL military fantasy, check out Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes and his other standalone, Best Served Cold.

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A couple more suggestions for those of you who love military fantasy fiction (I know I do). Paul Kearney's The Monarchies of God could be considered military fantasy. I personally don't care what you call it, this series is one of the most under-appreciated fantasy series out there. Don't make the mistake of not reading it! You should also check out his new novel, The Ten Thousand which is military fantasy at its best. A must read if you like Glen Cook or the Malazan novels.

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And finally, if you are still scrounging around trying to find some good military fantasy books, check out books written by Chris Bunch (The Seer King series and Dragon Master series especially). He's a mixed bag in terms of quality, but you can expect a LOT of military strategy, tactics, and graphic sex in his books. Don't expect more from the author -- he died a few years ago.

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Also give Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series a go. It's a coming-of-age story set in a roman-inspired fantasy milieu. Lots of action, magic, military tactics, struggles against overwhelming military odds and so on.

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Also give David Anthony Durham a try. His recent novel, Acacia trilogy was hailed as the next best thing several years ago -- big on the epic battles and gritty dark realism of Erickson and Martin with a focus on some heroes. Unfortunately, the series fell flat by the end and disappointed. But it's still a decent read. More similar to Game of Thrones than Mazalan, however.

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Also give James Barclay's Cry of the Newborn a whirl. It's similar in style and content (though less epic) to Erickson's work. It's an example of a Fantasy military fiction done right. Barclay also knows how to write damn good battle scenes, giving even Erickson a run for his money.

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For a big big EPIC fantasy, Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive is your best bet. The story spans the ages (from what we've seen so far) and involves huge armies clashing in a fantasy version of no man's land with monsters. Big on magic, big on battles, big on magical heroes who kick ass.

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The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a military fantasy; you might want to read Glen Cook's classic The Black Company series. It's dark, gritty, and has a hell of a lot of battles. It's the book that has forever defined military fantasy and it's probably the "closest" you'll find to Malazan in terms of style and feeling. His recent series (starts with The Tyranny of the Night) is also a military fantasy series -- a series that pits men against ancient demon creatures.

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If you are after the EPIC in epic fantasy, Wheel of Time. Lots of battles, lots of characters, lots of intrigue, and lots of angry fans after Jordan derails the series around book 6 and dies before he gets it back on track. It took Sanderson to get the series back on track and to finish it off. But if you like Mazalan, read WOT, you will probably like it.

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For a "different" sort of gritty military fantasy, you might also want to give Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky a read. Some pretty novel concepts in the book and series and theres a lot of books.

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Oath of Empires might be something you could try out; it's an alternative history saga, where the Roman Empire has never fallen and magic works. Oath of Empires is epic, featuring massive magical battles and huge opposing armies (Persian and Roman) clashing so hard you can hear the horses scream. It's never become "popular" in fantasy circles, which is a pity.

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You can also try Scott R. Baker's The Darkness That Comes Before saga, a series which has big battles and the black grittiness pioneered by Martin. It's a smart fantasy too with a philosophical twist (some hate this, some love this). Think Jesus Christ decides to take over the world through war and deceit, and that pretty much sums up the series.

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George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga also features an epic scope and the gray characterization that Erickson so loves. Martin's' work is smaller is scale though and tends to be more focused, plot wise. The battles take a while to build up, but when they happen, oh boy.

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Awards Won:1997 LocusF
Award Nominations:1997 NEBULA, 1997 WFA

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, yes, the last two books have been disappointing 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. 

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Try David Anthony Durham's Acacia . It's has a somewhat similar feel to A Song of Ice and Fire. The series wasn't as good as it initially promised to be by the end of it, but it's still good enough to read; the author pulls some interesting plot threads out of the blue by the end of book 2. My major complaint about the series was that I never really found the characters all that interesting

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The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan, of Science Fiction fame. Marin can write villains as heroes and heroes as villains, but if you want to read about a dour world without a shred of goodness, check out Morgan's foray into the fantasyscape. Its a dark and blood and cold as ice, but there's a shit load of brutal action.

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You might also like Tad Williams newest fantasy saga: Shadowmarch which has some similar plot elements (strange fey creatures coming down from the north behind a wall of magic mist, trying to take over the world). There's a rich cast of characters scattered across the world in completely different lands (much in the way that Martin features characters living in the frozen north, characters living in exotic deserts, and so on). The creatures the north, the Quar, are similar to the Others, but more developed as mysterious, yet somewhat sympathetic entities, rather than the zombie-making horrors that Martin makes the Others to be. You might say this is the story of "The Others" and how they came to be so damn pissed off at the world of men.

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Monarchies of God -- a vastly under-appreciated series. If you like the epic struggle between kingdoms, fierce battles, strange unexplored lands across the sea, and life aboard a ship. Paul Kearny writes a compelling tale here. Elements of grim dark too.

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Because like Martin himself recommends Howard's masterpiece.

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Elements of ASoIaF's gritty and dark but at times hilarious. Well written. Think a book made up of the Tyrion chapters, centering around a band of thieving scoundrels in an Ocean 11 fantasy plot.

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The Gap Cycle by Donaldson. This is science fiction NOT fantasy and in no way is there any similar plot elements or themes, but Gap Cycle is darker than dark and features heroes who have more in common with villains. If you like the bleak outlook on flawed humanity taken up by Martin, Gap Cycle won't disappoint your disappointment in the human race.

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Take a royal family who can walk into different realities. Gray characters, squabbling siblings, alternate realities, a prince in exile.

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There are elements of Martin in this work, which I was very impressed with as debut novels go. It's very much so a dark fantasy, with brutal violence, death, magic, and some compelling characters who are all flawed. You'll feel right at home if you are a Martin lover.

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Try R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before, which features superlative prose, a unique, but fascinating storyline, and the gritty realism that Martin exhibits. It's got that world is ending element to it as well. It's also a heck of a lot more philosophical too, which may or may not be something you like. On a whole Bakker's work is sort of like Tolkien's Mordor invades Martin' Kingdoms and stirs up a lot of shit. Throw a fantasy wizard Jesus with kung fu abilities and stuff the prose subtext full of philosophy. On the surface it's a head-case trippy mix, but there is a certain power to this series.

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Another series that had a somewhat similar feeling to Martin's work is The Godless World trilogy -- there are some shared elements between the works or at least the gritty, dirty feel of A Song of Ice and Fire is shared by both works. The Godless World is actually more like a cross between Martin and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I did find the quality of the series dipped by the end of the trilogy, but it's still a good enough read. Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series. Rich characterization with characters you dislike who eventual grow on you as the story progresses; oh my god -- plot twists and turns, and magic that's not at all present until the story progresses. Not as much action and drama, but a more character driven saga.

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Elements are similar. You have incest, kingdoms on the cusp of decline and ruin, pacts made with monstrous powers. The landscape is dour and the heroes are partly villains.

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Sword of Shadows is pretty close to Martin in terms of the setting and the portrayal of gruesomeness. The setting is a cold, brutal, Arctic-ice world. It's not as "grand" or "epic" as Martin and the cast of characters is not as morally ambiguous. Still a pretty damn good read, though the author is taking her sweet time finishing the damn series already.

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I would be doing you a disservice if I did not recommend Glenn Cook's The Black Company series. It's gritty military fiction with a cast of grey characters, and great battle scenes -- something that Martin focuses on in his books. The focus of the series centers on a company of soldiers.

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Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is a must-read, and it's a finished 10 books long. There are some elements that are similar to Martin's work: it's got gritty and intense battle scenes, a cast of ambiguously grey characters, main character deaths, plenty of brutality that characters inflict on each other, and unpredictable (and utterly massive) plots. It's quite similar to Martin in the way that the line between villain and hero is quite blurred. You often end up rooting for characters on both sides of the war. No one is really "the hero" and every character is either trying to maintain their power status quo, or steal it from someone else. However, the work, as a whole, is a LOT MORE disjointed than Martin's work (even counting for the fact that Martin has lost his way a bit)

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If you like reading about Jon Snow, you might give The Farseer trilogy a read. There are some shared story elements (though the plot and world is NOTHING at all alike mind you). Farseer is pretty much the story of a young king's bastard who grows up in a castle full of intrigue. He doesn't have a lot of options and struggles to survive, and in the process gets tangled up in a series of political schemes. The main character also has a special relationship with wolves (he can speak to them mind-to-mind via a magical skill called the 'Wit') so you might read this one if you like the whole Stark and Direwolf thing. Some of the best characterization in the fantasy genre. Be warned: Jon Snow is a lot more bad-ass of a hero though.

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It's witty, intelligently plotted, the characters are all grey, and there's a ton of brutal action in the books. Abercrombie writes some of the best fight scenes in the genre, and his portrayal of war and battle is spot on (especially in his later books like The Heroes) and will make you really think about the ultimate cost of war. One of the best series that's come out in a few years -- one that actually tries to do something new in the genre. Even better, with every new book added to the series (or universe), Abercrombie gets better and better. It's similar to Martin's work in the sense that there is really a moral compass -- good and evil are just both sides of the same coin. Heroes are not made out to be noble paragons: they are just straight out meaner, stronger or more conniving than the rest. If you like the grittiness of Martin where the boundary between heroes and villains is thin, Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns is an interesting take on the Anti Hero. This is the singular tale of a hero on a quest for revenge and glory (which eventually involves saving the whole world) but the flawed humanity present in Prince of Thorns channel the shades of Martin's brutal take on a fallen and immoral knighthood.

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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 version 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.

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.

Books in The Stormlight A... Series (2)

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Another epic fantasy series with two books out so far as of 2014. One of my favorite series and a different take on the genre. It merges medieval Arthurian settings and peoples with epic fantasy that's about a grand battle between monsters and men, sorcerers and heroes. There's a lot of zing to it with tons of action, magic, massive battles, military strategy, and an glorious amount of medieval detail.

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Flintlock 'Gunpowder with Grit' epic fantasy. Gods, gunpowder mages, and sorcerors all go at it in this one. A heady mix of unique magic, complex troubled heroes, and troubled landscapes.

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Colonial military fantasy with a lot of action, squad combat, violence and complex heroes. After two books we are still seeing where this series is good, but is some of the best stuff out there in the past couple years.

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This series was probably my favorite epic fantasy debut last year in 2013. A remarkable release and a true epic fantasy with the word epic. The style of this fantasy is very much in like with Tolkien, Jordan, and The Stormlight Archive with big strange landscapes, a cast of many characters, strange magic, a dark threat coming, powerful heroes with personal stories, etc.

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And for a fantasy series that doesn't focus as much on magic and dark lords but more on character relationships and complex politicking (and some epic sword battles), Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire should be read.

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For more rolling epics in the high fantasy style of The Way of Kings, The Wheel of Time is probably the closest you'll find in terms of "style" and plot and setting. Keep in mind that Sanderson did write the last 3 books in the Wheel of Time to complete Jordan's massive series, so it should come as no surprise The Stormlight Archive is Sanderson's own version of The Wheel of Time.

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Malazan Book of the Fallen is also another huge epic fantasy series, but the characters are more gray (and there are a lot more of them). Still, it's one of the best epic series out there right now.

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Lots of magic and action in this one. And 7 big big novels in the series. An interesting setting and an interesting magic system. It's an older fantasy (a couple decades old) and not as complex as the more modern epic fantasies to come out in the 2000's, but it's a fun read, even if the final book is a huge letdown.

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Sanderson has written a lot of other good epic fantasy that you should read. The Mistborn Trilogy series is a given. His Elantris stand alone is also great. Warbreaker, I wasn't too fond of. The last three Wheel of Time books have been finished off by him as well.

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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.

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If you like the whole ancient mythos of Middle Earth, the histories, the tales within a tale, the small stories that Tolkien throws into his world that tell of the "early days" of mankind and of elves and of magic and gods and kings, then you'll find a lot to like in Tad William's Shadowmarch which incorporates a lot of folklore tales of gods and faeries which are directly relevant to the plot and story; there's a lot of mystery and magic to the world created by Williams. And the series is completed.

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Patricia A. McKillip's Riddle-Master is also another series(trilogy) with similarities to Tolkien's style of writing.

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If you want to see some of Tolkien's conventions turned on their heads and enjoy a noir version of a classic high-fantasy tale with a starkly realized cast of grey characters, read Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy.

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Another interesting tale that plays directly on the Tolkien mythos is Jacqueline Carey's The Sundering duology, which takes many of Tolkien's conventions and mixes them up. It's a story told in all that high language, high mythology glory that Tolkien wrote in. Think of it as "Sauron's Tale" as told from the perspective of the bad guys who you find out are more misunderstood than anything else, while the good guys are self-righteous pricks. The whole thing is quite serious (this is by no means a comedy but rather a tragedy) and I thought it was a pretty compelling tale all around.

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Richard Morgan, author of some seriously kick your ass science fiction, brings his talents to the fantasy genre with some pretty damn cool gritty fantasy. In his completed trilogy, he pretty much tries to subvert every sort of Tolkien convention. Take Tolkien, change about every equation and add an unhealhty mix of violence, graphic sex, and disturbing acts of inhumanity, and populate it with a caste of seriously flawed characters and you have something along the lines of a Tolkien gone mad. I'd say this is probably the most grimdark series I've read yet.

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If you want the beautiful, almost lyrical writing of Tolkien and a world in which magic is present but still a grand mystery (i.e. not every character is throwing around magic like kids throwing sand at a beach), Sean Russell's The Swan's War is the answer.

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Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle is also a beautiful tale, full of lyrical, often sad, prose; a tale about a village boy who seeks his destiny.

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For another epic fantasy with an end-of-the-world plot and a coming-of-age (sorta) story, read Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings. Words of Radiance, book two was released this year and for the most part carried the torch passed from the first book. The series is now THE epic fantasy saga everyone talking about. If Jordan took up Tolkien's world-building mantle with A Wheel of Time, Sanderson has replaced Jordan by building an even BIGGER world with this generation's new epic fantasy series. And he's a better writer than Jordan.

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For a 12th-century version of Middle Earth set in a stark (English) European landscape that's as cold as the world is gritty and brutal where main characters can die at any moment, read George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga tale. Besides, everyone is now calling Martin 'The American Tolkien.' What more can I say there?

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If you want a book that's like Lord of the Rings but longer, has strong female characters, and very strong characterization (FAAAR better than Jordan's), read Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn saga, another classic. The series is older, yes, but it has aged remarkably well. And the writing is top notch, and good prose and good characters never age.

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Magic, Tolkien style fantasy races, multiple worlds, powerful sorcerers, necromancers, and lost magic. More along the lines of a D&D style story, but elevated. The series ends horribly, but the journey is pretty good. If you like Tolkien AND Wheel of Time, you'll dig it.

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If you like Tolkien, read Eye of the World by Jordan. This man, when he was alive, claimed Tolkien's world-building mantle: Jordan created a massive world, richly developed cultures, and a well-defined magic system. When you read Jordan, you explore an ancient world full of secrets. I have to throw out a disclaimer though: Wheel of Time is far far from perfect; Jordan becomes lost in his own world as it grows too big even for him; (some of) his characters devolve into caricatures, and Jordan's handling of romance between characters is puerile to say the least. However, many people still find the books great fun, and if you like Tolkien's epic style, Jordan is a must read. Jordan died a few years ago, but the talented Brandon Sanderson finished the series. It's now completed and Sanderson did a good job at finishing it. Overall, I was disappointed with the series though, even if Sanderson did his best. This is one of those series that started out strong but started to die around book 5 or 6. It's still worth reading though, especially if you like heroic epic fantasy that is absolutely epic in length and scope.

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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 best so far was The Heroes, set in the same world as First Law, is probably his best written. Red Country which stars The Bloody Nine was good but not as good. His newest series The Shattered Sea, which is for Young Adults, is good reading but lacks the full bite that his 'adult' grimdark books had.

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.

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If you like The Name of the Wind, you might like Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy . Though the authors have a different style and radically different plots, both authors really delve deep into the mind of the protagonist. You really get to know the hero. Both stories are about the rise of a no-name boy into something great. - See more at:

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06

The Wheel Of Time (Wheel of Time) (Robert Jordan)

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.

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Major Events. Unlikely Heroes. Well written magic. Enthralling.

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07

Earthsea Cycle (Earthsea) (Ursula K. Le Guin)

Another fantasy series that crops up near the top of many best fantasy lists. Earthsea Cycle 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, cough Stormlight Archive), what it lacks in size it makes up with quality. Good doesn't always mean big, folks. 

So 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.

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08

The Dagger and the Coin

(The Dagger and the Coin)

(Daniel Abraham)

This one is epic fantasy for the thinking man. Its tightly plotted and superbly written, something we expect from the author of The Long Price Quartet, a fantasy series that tops many a persons 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 whos 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 probably enjoy this one though it's more character driven and slower paced (at least until book three). But slow does not equal boring! It's slow in the way that meat is slow-roasted over a fire so you can enjoy the delicious, tender flavor all the more longer.

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09

The Kingkiller Chronicles

(The Kingkiller Chronicle)

(Patrick Rothfuss)

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 (first in the series) 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 breached by the story. 

But rather, it's an epic-ly personal tale about a single hero, Kvothe. Is the large than life story truth or is it fiction given to us by an unreliable narrator? Ah, to be seen in Book 3 if it every comes out. 

Quite simply, this 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. 

If you have not read it yet, stop here and make this your next read. THIS is the book you are looking.

Books in The Kingkiller C... Series (3)

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10

Lyonesse Trilogy (Lyonesse) (Jack Vance)

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 surely seem like they are paid by the word, this highly original, atmospheric, and evocative series will be a huge breath of fresh air. Beautiful prose that's efficient. 

Highly recommended for ANYONE who loves a good classic high fantasy tale and some of the most beautiful prose in the genre.


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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.

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12

The Chronicles Of Prydain

(The Chronicles of Prydain)

(Lloyd Alexander)

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. 

Books in The Chronicles o... Series (5)

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13

Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn

(Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn)

(Tad Williams)

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. And sometimes, you know, that's not a bad thing.

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, look then to Shadowmarch -- you'll like it better.

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The vast scope of The Darkness That Comes Before is very redolent of Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen saga, though the characters are less grey, and the story more focused.

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I also recommend Tad Williams Otherlandsaga. It's science fiction, but there are quite a few fantasy elements too; it's kind of like the Matrix. Otherland is of the best Science Fiction books, IMHO.

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Read William's new fantasy saga Shadowmarch. Wonderful prose and a strong plot.

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The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien. Another book that shares some similarities is Michael A Stackpole's The DragonCrown War Cycle.

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14

The Farseer (The Farseer) (Robin Hobb)

Another epic fantasy series that should be read. While this series is not epic fantasy in the style of a band of heroes setting off to destroy a dark god / evil wizard who threatens the world with extinction (or just some really fucking bad times for the survivors), it is epic in scope -- there's some kingdom-destroying threats at large and one man who tries to do something about it. However, while the scope is epic in the sense that bad shit is affecting the Six Duchies and world-changing events are at large, it's very much the personal story of the young man caught up in the events of the world. 

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.

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15

The Prince Of Nothing

(The Prince of Nothing)

(R. Scott Bakker)

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.

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Also try George R.R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga, which is very epic and very gritty.

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The vast scope of The Darkness That Comes Before is very redolent of Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen saga, though the characters are less grey, and the story more focused.

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16

A Land Fit For Heroes

(A Land Fit for Heroes)

(Richard K. Morgan)

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 book here. That stuff is for the kiddos -- A Land Fit For Heroes is for the adults.

Morgan has a knack for taking something that's been done already many times, and spray painting 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.

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17

The Lightbringer Series (Lightbringer) (Brent Weeks)

An epic fantasy with one of the more interesting magic systems, a hell of a lot of action, dark gods and powerful baddies to defeat, and an good old fashioned coming-of-age tale.

If you want to be entertained by your fantasy, well, this series will certainly do that. It's not a complex, slow plodding fantasy like Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series. Nor is it a vast gritty chess board of brutal politics, unchecked treachery, and morally ambiguous heroes that A

Song of Ice and Fire is. 

But what it is some non stop action, adventure, and plain old fun. If you like your epic fantasy with powerful heroes, powerful villains, and over-the-top heroic action, then The Lightbringer Series delivers a bus load of it. 

Book one was so so, but book two brought it big time improving on what was a mediocre start with the first book to something really special. Book three carries the torch, though dropping it lower a bit. Overall though, the force is strong with this series. Book four is one of my most anticipated fantasy reads.

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18

Chronicles Of Amber (Amber Chronicles) (Roger Zelazny)

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.

The 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.

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Black Sun Rising more especially in the series of "The Coldfire Trilogy" is so similar to "Memory, sorrow and Thorn" in the sense that both have stories about an Apprentice who who saves the rest from the enemy

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19

The Long Price Quartet

(The Long Price Quartet)

(Daniel Abraham)

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.For the rest of you who want to read character driven epic fantasy that doesn't fit the USUAL mold of epic fantasy, then this is an awesome series

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20

The Gentleman Bastards

(Gentleman Bastards)

(Scott Lynch)

This starts off decidedly on a non-epic note: a band of thieves go about robbing the rich to...live lavishly and just because they can. There is not great evil to defeat or kingdom at risk, just the personal narrative of a couple thieves. 

But as the books progress, the effects of Locke's decisions start having wider and wider consequences for the world at large. Basically, as you progress, the stakes grow larger as the world expands and as Locke finds out more about who he really is. By the end of book three, there's an character epiphany, and his former role in the larger events of the world, that will shake you to your boots.

Besides all that 'spiciness' stuff, it's a brilliantly written novel, full of goody unexpected plot twists you don't see coming, thieving anti-heroes, and a mix in of other genres like sword and sorcery (heroes with magic, sword fighting, and plenty of high-stake action scenes) and epic fantasy (world building, magic system, a prevailing ancient mythos to the world with detailed history).
 
So is The Gentleman Bastards counted as epic fantasy? I'd say yes, it is. And yes, read it.

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21

The Fionavar Tapestry

(The Fionavar Tapestry)

(Guy Gavriel Kay)

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.

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22

Cold Fire Trilogy (The Coldfire) (C.S. Friedman)

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.

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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.

The 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 altruistic hero.

There are three trilogies about Thomas Covenant. The first is the best, the second nearly as good, and the last...disappointing. 

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You may like George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga; there are some detestable main characters (anti-hero types) that become more agreeable as the series progresses; You see a slow evolution of these characters.

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Read Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy for another story with magnificent characterization set in a fantasy landscape (though Farseer is not exactly epic fantasy). Donaldson is unique in fantasy because his character is whole an whole an anti-hero instead of a hero.

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If you like the characterization of Thomas Covenant, you may like Tad William's epic fantasy Memory, Sorrow, and Thornsaga which really follows the transformation of the protagonist over the course of the series.

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24

Abhorsen Trilogy (Abhorsen) (Garth Nix)

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.

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Prince Of Thorns (The Broken Empire) (Mark Lawrence)

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.

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26

The Demon War Cycle

(The Demon War Cycle)

(Peter V. Brett)

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 and memorizing fantasy reads to come out the past decade or two. 

But.

The two sequels (with the last book the worst) failed completely, pretty much destroying what was once one of the most promising fantasy series to come around in a long while. 

You can read our forum thread about why the series died after the first book. Apparently, Brett saw the thread and it gave him some depression. This is unfortunate, but I hope it spurs the author to fix what he's doing so very wrong. 

Should you read this series? On the strength of the first book, yes. But don't keep your hopes up for good reading after the first one -- it's all downhill from there.

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The Dark Is Rising Sequence

(The Dark is Rising)

(Susan Cooper)

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.

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28

A Man Of His Word (A Man of His Word) (Dave Duncan)

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 cliche's 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'tread 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.

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29

The Swan's War (The Swans' War) (Sean Russell)

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. 

If 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.

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The Lord of the Ring

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

The Swan's War

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"). 

The Wizard of Earthsea

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.

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30

The Witcher Saga (The Witcher) (Andrzej Sapkowski)

Fundamentally, this is a sword and sorcery more than it is an 'epic' but I include it because it does some interesting thing here. This series focuses on moral ambiguities all the while looking at some of the popular fantasy archetypes with a fresh perspective. Because of this, The Witcher books have less to do with world building but rather use the archetypal stories to pose some tricky moral questions. It's world building of a sort, but one that uses existing worlds here for a specific purpose. 

So don't expect the traditional village boy jaunting off to slay a dark god, all the while meeting an incognito princess along the way and finding out he's the chosen one to save the universe.  

But, it's on this list for the unique was it uses other 'world building' from well-known fantasy tropes to explore different ideas.

And bloody hell, it's an awesome read. So read it.

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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.

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32

The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower) (Stephen King)

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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.

Books in The Dark Tower Series (7)

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Last Call by Tim Powers. Some similarities I felt when reading it in tone and style to The Dark Tower. You may or may not agree, but give it a read.

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Otherland by Tad Williams. A sprawling epic story with a cast of characters who travel from virtual world to world as part of an overarching quest to find answers. Very much character-driven, but about as epic an adventure you can get. You'll like it.

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His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. Multiple universes, portals to other worlds, dark story that plays out with children as the actors, grand adventures. Youll probably like it if you like Kings work, though this one has an unequivocal anti-theological direction to it.

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Read Hyperion by Dan Simmons. A very dark science fiction tale thats epic. Not the same sort of story and pure science fictionbut, there are elements that you might like IF you like The Dark Tower particularly the tales told by the emotionally tortured pilgrims.

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Riverworld by Jose Farmer. Another science fiction classic, but I feel it has some of the same elements of enigma and adventure of the Dark Tower.

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Read Swan Song by Robert McCammon. Its a post-apocalyptic novel and considered one of the greats. Does have SOME similar elements.

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The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams. Part of a trilogy. Its a dark and twisted tale about an afterlife gone awry. Twins who are connected are separated by murder, one very much alive on earth and cast into an afterlife gone wrong. Their special connection, however, sets a cataclysmic change in reality, pulling together the afterlife realm and the physical realm. There is much of Kings haunted and forlorn world present in the novel as one of the characters struggles his way through an afterlife gone to hell, with monsters and creatures lurking around every corner and twisted versions of humanity preying on visitors. And when the afterlife begins to leak into the real world, a horrific version of reality takes over the world. It does feel very Stephen Kingish in some sections and the world, as stated, could be one of the nightmare worlds visited by Roland during The Dark Tower series.

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Read Steven King's The Talisman, which is another book set in the Dark Tower universe. It's a powerful read about a boy trying to save his mother. Jack Sawyer, a 12-year old boy, sets off on a quest to find a mythical talisman that will save his dying mother. His quest will take him across America and into the heart of a parallel world. I listened to the Audiobook version of this novel and was blown away by the story. Steven King is always at his best when he explores "worlds not our own." Several of his books explore the parallel universe concept. King's Insomnia is another such book (set in the same universe as The Dark Tower) and a great read.

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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.

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Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. 

Runelords. 

Magician books.

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Shadowmarch (Shadowmarch) (Tad Williams)

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.

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Imajica (Clive Barker)

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.

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The Folding Knife (K. J. Parker)

One of the more complex fantasy works on this list, The Folding Knife is another one of those epics that don't initially made the standard epic fantasy criteria until you start digging down deep to find the bones of it.

The Folding Knife is an example of an epic fantasy that lacks many of the epic fantasy qualities that you are familiar -- like magic while still maintaining the high stakes involved in an epic.

The Folding Knife is an epic that focuses on the ethics of things -- specifically on the making of difficult ethical decisions. There's a lot going between the pages and while there is no standard evil dark lord to slay or a detailed magic system, but it's a story about a man's willingness to do anything and everything strengthen the kingdom he comes to lead.

This novel is probably the most eclectic of the books on this list (especially added to an Epic Fantasy list), but don't just it and give it a read. You might find there's a real power The Folding Knife and become a life long fan of one of the best -- and most underrated -- authors in the genre.

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The Traitor Son Cycle

(The Traitor Son Cycle)

(Miles Cameron)

Epic fantasy meets medieval historical fiction.

And about fucking time.

No more cutting off heads with butter knives, riding days in full plate armor without feeling a scratch of discomfort, fighting for hours and hours at a time without getting tired, etc.

No, in The Traitor Son Cycle, you are going to feel the pain, weariness and complete discomfort the heroes of the story endure. And trust me, here's a lot of that to go around here.

This epic fantasy stands above many of its peers because of the sheer realistic detail built into the world. The author is actually an expert on medieval history and weaves realism -- from the armor weight, the way knights sit on the saddles, the structure of fortresses, to the cultures based on different European countries.

There's also a lot of action, excitement and general mayhem stuffed into the pages. Brutal bloody battles with men and brutal bloody battles with monsters.There's a good deal of military strategy, tactics, and squad combat dynamics going on here in this series as well, so much in fact that I'd even label this series military fantasy.

A refreshing and promising addition to the epic fantasy genre. Try this series out -- you may just find yourself in love.

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Guards Guards (Discworld) (Terry Pratchett)

What best list would be complete without throwing on something funny: a book that fully critiques the very archetype carrying the story forward. If you were to toss in Terry Prachett's name here, then you would be completely correct in your guess.

We delve into his Discworld canon and pull out one that parodies the epic fantasy genre by in fact telling an epic. that would be Pratchett's Guards, Guards, a story which has the very heroes of the story questioning the nature of epic fantasy while trouncing around in one. 

Cl every, insightful, witty, and mostly pretty fucking funny the whole way thought. 


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The Killing Moon (Dreamboods) (N. K. Jemisin)

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Award Nominations:2013 LocusF, 2012 NEBULA

A series that's immensely well written and one that takes quite a few of the epic fantasy archetypes and runs away with them in a slightly new direction.

Expect complex politics, heavy world building, an kingdom on the bring and in need of saving...and a whole lot of other epic fantasy complexities stuffed in -- all wrapped together in a new package, giving a fresh take on old ideas.

This is definitely Jemisin's homage to epic fantasy and one that really explores some difficult and relevant real-world issues through the context of the story.

Epic fantasy? You bet, but one that's wearing a slightly different face than you may be used to. Even better, it's completed -- no need to wait a decade between new books.

Definitely read if you want to lose yourself in a fresh, superbly well written, interpretation of some of the standard fantasy archetypes.

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40

Codex Alera (Codex Alera) (Jim Butcher)

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.

Codex 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 of thing.

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Transition from evil to righteous is one of the hard things in life because in "The Restoration Series#2" Flare tried and Failed! After converting when a chance showed to learn magic and sorcery flair grabbed it yet it's going to cost him his life. Read this book for yourself and see between good and bad what wins.

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Giving time for friends, inner demons enemies is what Chase is failing to balance. Because loving and vengeance all are priority for him and in "The Protector #3" he learns by experience.

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In the sorcerer's Path #4, mistakenly Azerick perceived there was peace and seems to be letting go of the past and gets hit by the devil again he sees reason to hit back. Readers just want to grab this and see if evil can be best fought with either evil or good.

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Never even once has he ever been understood in the white house despite doing great things.At this point demons are showing up but still Gordon is a patriotic guy and sacrifices his time to defend the state from the evil one.Trust me readers "Demons Accord #6" is one of those books you need to pay attention to.

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41

The Deed Of Paksenarrion

(The Deed of Paksenarrion)

(Elizabeth Moon)

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.

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For another assassin experience, the The Book of Jhereg from the Vlad Taltos will be a great recommendation.

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Want something bloody? checkout the Oath of Swords.

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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.

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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. 

A Song of Ice and Fire

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). 

The Wheel of Time

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 -- at least for the first couple books. The series fails after the third book and the last book is dreadfully disappointing.

The Lord of the Rings

And of course the daddy of epic Fantasy, The Lord of the Rings

The Malazan Book of the Fallen

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 . 

The Blade Itself

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 .

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43

A Sword Of Shadows (Sword of Shadows) (J. V. Jones)

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.

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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.

Feist 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 heroes who save damsels in distress, then this series is for you.

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A complex novel that subverts many of the fantasy archetypes. There's a lot going on with this story and the author holds nothing back at completely destroying both Harry Potter and Narnia through his sharp subversions of the genre.

But, epic fantasy we can label this, though it might be more a post modern take on it.

The Magicians is what happens when you take Harry Potter and company, give them clinical depression then transport the cast into a pseudo Narnia where all the cute animals are actually vicious monsters.

But, what a tale this is. The story is like an onion with many layers -- you will have to peel through the first couple books to get to the tender and juicy parts that shed new light on the characters and how they act (or fail to act) in the first couple books.

The author seems to get some serious hate by those who don't like his brand of grown-up fantasy, but if you 'get' what Grossman is doing here in the books, there's some real brilliance to be found when you read this story. And with all three books now completed, this series get's the 'completed stamp.'

Anyways, this is getting way to complicated. Just give these books a read -- they have my highest recommendation and are among my personal best of fantasy. They may not be for you, but give them the chance they deserve before casting your judgement.

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The Secret History by Donna Tart. Not specifically fantasy persay, but the writing and tone and characterization is somewhat similar. A young group of students at a college discover another way to think about their life and the rammifications of this change everything about how they live.

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Anathem by Neal Stephenson. A science fiction story about a young boy whos a sort of monk and finds out the wider world is a complicated place.

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The Magicians alludes to a number of popular fantasy classics. Alice in Wonderland is one such work and The Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, one of the major focus of all the Magican books are about a postmodern version of Narnia.

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Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaimen. One thing I love about The Magicians is it moves the simpler children's fiction into the adult realm with an adult perspective. It's Narnia for grown ups.One book about that perfectly captures the child realm but transforms it for adults is Gaimen's Ocean at the End of the Lane. Thematically, Gaimen does the same thing as Grossman. While both works are completely different in scope and plot, they do take a child's perspective but remake it for an adult which changes it.

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If we are going to follow that rabbit down the rabbit hole into the dark and murky literary past, seeking the origin of boy-goes-to-magic school to become a wizard, we might as well get to one of the sources. If Potter made it a pop culture thing, then Ursula Le Guine helped bring it alive like no other author. Yes, Im talking about The Wizard of Earthsea. Before there was Harry Potter, there was Ged.

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For another novel about Magicians in training, you might like The Night Circus. It's about two young magicians locked in deadly conflict trying to outperform the other who are both part of a magical circus. Its a rich and intoxicating read most decidedly literary and one of the best fantasy books of 2011.

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Harry Potter. Yes, if you like The Magicians, read Harry Potter the titular character who is deconstructed by Grossman and reformed into a far more complex and troubled and fallible version as the character Quinton.

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You might want to give Susan Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell a read. Like Less Grossman's The Magicians, it's a story about magic in a world that supposedly has no magic. Both novels veer from the usual fantasy conventions, weighing in as more than just "fantasy." I like to call these "literary fantasy." This novel, however, heralds back to the Victorian era and features a more conventional sort of story (that borrows heavily from the likes of a Jane Austen novel in language an description) and is NOT a postmodern take on the fantasy genre that The Magicians is.

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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 fantasy (without being too large): 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, politicking, and even a bit of romance.

Sold yet? Think if this as a lighter, less complicated, less gritty version of A Song of Ice and Fire. Call it ASOIF 'lite.'

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Boreal Moon Trilogy (Boreal Moon) (Julian May)

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.

This is more of a classic fantasy tale than the newer, more gritty complex fantasy that's come out the past decade, but it's still a tale very much worth reading if you like magic, politics, treachery, and kingdom's on the brink.

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Crown of Stars saga (Crown of Stars) (Jean Plaidy)

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 and the narrative driven by the  characters and their relationships the whole way through.

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.

My my complaint with this series is that it's too long, the pace slows to a crawl, and nothing really happens for books and books. It should be a 3 or 4 books series and not 7 books -- and because of this, the series kind of loses focus in the last couple of books.

Nevertheless, as a whole, The Crown of Stars is a creative, strong epic fantasy that's still worth reading -- especially if you want a narrative driven forward by relationships -- particular love as the motivation.

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Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

Tad William's Memory, Sorrow, and 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.

Liveship Traders

Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders. Romance, adventure, and lots of romantic tension driving the narrative.

The Curse of Chalion

The Curse of Chalion, which has as strong narrative driven by characters. Even more, read the sequel, Paladin of Souls which is from the perspective of a middle aged woman looking for love again.

Symphony of Ages

You might also might like the Symphony of Ages books which is very much driven by romance the whole way through.

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49

The Chronicles Of The Unhewn Throne

(Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne)

(Brian Staveley)

A new epic fantasy series that just hits pitch perfect notes. This is really one of the best new fantasy series to come out the past decade.

There's royal siblings separated as children, a kingdom in turmoil facing threats both inward and outward, extinct immortal races that might not be so extinct after all, meddling gods, mysterious magic, an empire up for grabs, stolen thrones, princes on the run, more betrayals than a 

Shakespeare play, and hordes of invading armies. And this series is well written the whole way through with book two even better than book one.

How can you not want to read this one? If you like The Stormlight Archive, A Game of Thrones, or The Wheel of Time, man you are going to feast til you die on this one.

Don't make the mistake and pass on it.;

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Oath Of Empires Saga (Oath of Empire) (Thomas Harlan)

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 heroes 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.

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