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Top 25 Fantasy Books of the 80's

The 80s, Also Known as the Golden Decade for Fantasy

The 80s wasn't just a period of Hammertime(!) and big hair. It was also a revolutionary decade for fantasy. a revolution in the marketplace that helped make fantasy the pop culture hit that it is today. The 80's also gave us some of the best fantasy books ever written -- books that are STILL widely considered landmarks in the genre.

The 80's also showed that fantasy was big business. Proving that books in the genre could be major bestsellers, authors like David Eddings and Terry Brooks wrote popular series using The Lord of the Rings as a blueprint. 

These books – as formulaic as they seem to us now – invigorated the genre by showing that, even with a niche audience, fantasy could make serious bank. If it weren't for these achievements, we might not have the pleasure of watching petulant dragons rebel against their white-haired human mothers.

The other development to come out of the 80s is a darker, grittier fantasy, which would evolve into the creatively named subgenre of grimdark fantasy. Today it's epitomized by George R.R. Martin and his passion for violent limb removal.

So, check out this list of greats among greats for a decade of fantasy that's widely hailed as a golden age of fantasy and arguably one of the best decades the genre has ever seen. 

Make sure to check out our other Best Decade Lists

Best Early Modern Fantasy (1930's to 1950's)

Best Fantasy of the 60's (post Tolkien fantasy finds it's footing) 

Best Fantasy Books of the 70's (fantasy finds complexity)

If you were to open a copy of Lyonesse and give it a good shake, a bunch of (very annoyed) fairies would fall out. Because they're everywhere in this book. It sounds hella cheesy but it's actually a good thing. When reading this, magic is almost tangible due mostly to Vance's exceptional ability to bring a fairytale world to life.

Why it made the list

Before you're put off by the word fairytale', you should know that this is definitely not a children's bedtime story. Unless creating deranged offspring is your thing. The plot is enchanting and you'll be totally engrossed, but it's also haunting and tragic. There are no friendly neighborhood fairy godmothers in Lyonesse and the beings that inhabit this world can be and often are nasty pieces of work.

Vance is a skilled enough writer that he's managed to combine elements of the Arthurian legend with fairytale creations that are flawed and, as a result, feel real and accessible.

There's a little bit of everything here quests, mystery, romance, lust, myth, betrayal and magic. This wealth of fantastical elements and thematic material could spin off into batshit-crazy territory, but Vance manages to keep it tight and well balanced.

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Chronicles of the Black Company

(Glen Cook)

This was one of the first gritty fantasies to hit the shelves. To appreciate this work fully, imagine what it must have been like to encounter the kind of dark fantasy that we're used to reading now. Now imagine that you've only ever read novels where good is perfect and bad is more evil than a Lucifer/Donald Trump wrestling team up.

Why it made the list

Other than its status as a revolutionary title, it's also impossible to put down. This is a book about survival, about trying to make the right decision in a world where there is no clear division between right and wrong. There are no heroes here, just mercenaries fighting to maintain their place in a world gone dark.

The characters in the book are survivalists. No, not the kind that enjoy rattlesnake sushi a la Bear Grylls. The life and death types that are caught in a war where there are no good choices and to survive, they do what they must. The kind of moral ambiguity that this creates is the reason for the pervading darkness of the series. Despite this, Cook makes sure that we see the world through the eyes of the Black Company where each individual has a reason to be doing what they think is the best. Even if it's one we'd consider bad.

Considering the darkness that surrounds the characters, their interactions are the most enjoyable aspect of the series. There's a cast of many different people and each is treated with equal importance and serves a purpose.

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Lord Foul's Bane

(Stephen R. Donaldson)
Comments (0)
Awards Won:1979 BFS
Award Nominations:1978 WFA

Before the loathsome creature that is King Joffrey Baratheon came into our lives, there was Thomas Covenant. He may not be deranged (incest isn't fun for the whole family) or as blatantly sadistic, but, were you to despise him, you would be completely justified. This is partly because he's a bitter, twisted man, but mostly because his journey to self-improvement starts after he rapes someone. Wait, it gets worse. Before he assaults her, she heals him from leprosy. That's a whole other level of reprehensible.

Why it's on this list

It's not an accident that Thomas Covenant is a whiny bag of a man. One of the driving forces of the plot is his complete inability to believe in the magical world he finds himself in. He's probably the most challenging protagonist you'll encounter. Actually, everything about this book is a challenge the content, the language and the writing style. And that's exactly why a serious fantasy fan should at least attempt it. We read fantasy because it forces us through our imaginations to confront things that aren't in our comfort zone. While you wouldn't want every book you read to be difficult as this one, every now and then it's refreshing to be pushed to the ends of mental frustration.

Confronting this idea of a horrible person put in a powerful position with no guarantee that they'll do the right thing is an interesting one. This book may have been written in the 80s, but this issue is something we're confronted with on a daily basis.

Also, the world that Donaldson has created is a bizarre cross of Dali-esque imagery and horror-inspired scenery. It's not something you'll come across in any other fantasy series. Seeing it through the twisted lens of Covenant's bleak worldview makes for a unique reading experience.

If there's one thing to be said about Donaldson's writing, it's that it is confident. He's comfortable throwing complex sentences and obscure words at his audience.

Of all the books on the list, this is the one you'll struggle with the most. Give it a go anyway.

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With a Martin-esque plot and Jim Butcher pace, The Axe and the Throne is a definite "must read" for even the pickiest fantasy fans.

In his stunning debut, Ireman has built the type of world so vivid and engrossing that leaving it at the end is agony. In spite of leaning toward grimdark, where authors often enshroud every scene in depressing darkness, there is no lack of cheerful moments or brilliant scenery. Yet the pangs of near-instant nostalgia that come after you put down a book like this have less to do with the inspired setting, and far more to do with those who inhabit it. 

From savage, unremorseful heroes, to deep, introspective villains, the cast of this story is comprised of believable characters capable of unthinkable actions. And it is these characters -- the ones you wish you could share a drink with or end up wanting to kill -- that forge the connection between fantasy and reality. Keethro, Titon, Ethel, Annora. These are names you will never forget, and each belongs to a man or woman as unique as they are memorable. 

No book would be complete without a its fair share of intrigue, however, and there is no lack of it here. Each chapter leaves you wanting more, and Ireman's masterful use of misdirection leads to an abundance of "oh shit" moments. Do not be fooled (or do -- perhaps that's part of the fun) by storylines that may appear trope-ish at first. This is no fairytale. 

Available on Amazon & Audible, Barns & Noble, iTunes, Google, and Kobo.


The Fionavar Tapestry

(Guy Gavriel Kay)

You wouldn't be wrong if you accused this series of following the classic heroic fantasy formula developed by Papa Tolkien. But you'd be very wrong if you called it unoriginal. Guy Gavriel Kay is an skilled writer capable of building worlds that are surprising in their creativity and stand apart from other series that fall into this sub-genre.

Why it made the list

Let's just talk about the interesting concept that lies at the heart of this series: Multiple worlds exist as part of a universal tapestry, each one a reflection of the primary world, Fionavar. At risk of being unraveled, five students from our world are transported to Fionavar to save this tapestry of worlds.

There are no ambiguities in the characters in this series: The heroes are unequivocally good. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could make it difficult them difficult to identify with. But the struggles they encounter are so human that they're almost pedestrian. Almost. And although there was the potential that the characters could end up being too one dimensional as exclusively good characters can be Kay writes them in such detail that you'll feel like they're people you know. These are characters that inspire all kinds of the feels the depth of which should be reason enough for you to pick up this series.

The series is deliberately large in scope because Kay wrote it with the specific intent to prove that books that follow the Tolkien formula of High Fantasy could be original. And he succeeded.

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Mythago Wood

(Robert Holdstock)

'Unique' is a vastly overused word. It has about as much meaning as Kim K's twitter feed. But in the case of Mythago Wood, it's warranted. Firstly, Holdstock tells the story from the protagonist's point of view in first person journal entries with intermittent letters from the other characters to add an extra layer to the narrative. This style could be overly self-aware and nothing could be more irritating than reading self-involved diary entries from a whiny character. (Can you imagine Frodo's diary?) Luckily, the writing is clear and doesn't sacrifice pace in favor of internal processing. (Bella Swan, this means you.) The reason it works so well is that you can't help but be pulled into this world. The book explores philosophical elements and, through Steven's diary entries, the reader is forced to confront them.

Why it made this list

It's not often that a book manages to capture the imagination, while giving the audience the space to consider tougher questions without forfeiting any of the plot. It's a fine balancing act that Holdstock has achieved. None of this takes away from the beauty of the forest environment he's created. It manages to be a well paced mythic fantasy that asks a lot of the reader, without it being emotionally exhausting. Maybe if Stephen Donaldson wrote The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant with as much care, fewer people would use his books as stairs for mini-labradoodles and hamsters.

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Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners

(Ellen Kushner)

Considering the theatrical title of the book, this is a light and easy to read fantasy that manages to be equal parts refreshing and enchanting.

Why it made this list

We love fantasy because it gives us a chance to immerse ourselves in a different world to our own. Sometimes it's not a better world. Would you like to live in Westeros? But fantasy authors can if they decide to create a world that's better than ours. When they're able to imagine somewhere that's free of some of the most entrenched issues in our society racism, homophobia and sexism they take the audience for a ride; one where we can see how our own reality could be better. And Kushner has used Swordspoint to do this.

Don't panic yet! This isn't a deep read it doesn't require you to examine the world around you too intensely, but the inclusion of bisexual characters does propose an alternate reality where some form of equality has evolved beyond that of our society.

It's not necessary to delve into those depths, though. This is a book about a master swordsman complete with well-planned episodes of swashbuckling and lots of stabby action. Kushner is never over the top, her writing is precise and the pace of the action is perfect, making it easy to read and even easier to enjoy.

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Howl's Moving Castle

(Diana Wynne Jones)

Don't make the mistake of assuming this book is just for kids. And don't choose the movie over the book either. If you did, you'd be missing out on the quirkiest title on this list.

Why it made the list

It's charming. It's funny. It's wonderfully weird. Jones has mastered the art of dialogue. The character Sophie is snappier than the Grinch on Valentine's Day. And it's a pleasure to read. To add to its charm, the narrative has a Victorian feel to it and the characters have very real, three-dimensional personalities. There are no tropes or stock characters here; the characters are original.

At the introduction of every new and inventive element, you'll be both amused and impressed. And then you'll wonder how she comes up with this stuff. Jones has an imagination to be envied. Most importantly, her imagination never forces the reader to see the world exactly as she does. There's enough room for you to create your own world within her world. And on top of all these things, there's a well-paced, winding plot and action that is never predictable and always fun.

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The Seventh Sword

(Dave Duncan)

In the 80s, a variety of subgenres, new directions and styles evolved. Some were gritty and mentally taxing requiring some emotional work on the reader's part. Luckily, Dave Duncan was on hand to provide some relief.

Why it made the list

Sometimes the most important thing fantasy can bring to a reader is a few hours of pure escapism. And that's why The Reluctant Swordsman is one of the greatest series of its time it's an adventure story. And it's a great one.

It's not an emotionally tiring read, but it's not shallow either. It does explore the nature of faith and the possibility of miracles. It also touches on issues like slavery, rigid caste systems and how justice should be served. But first and foremost, this is all about the hack 'em and slash 'em. The best thing to do before you pick up this book is keep two things in mind: Firstly, don't expect great female characters. Unless your kind of woman is a robotic blow up doll. Second, don't read it if you're looking for a work of great scope. This is more of a character piece than an epic tale.

This is an ideal series for the metro ride you won't embarrass yourself by laughing out loud, crying at the death of a beloved character or ripping it to pieces in frustration. What it will do is provide you with an excellent way to escape the horror of halitosis and body odor.

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The Color of Magic

(Terry Pratchett)

What would a list of best fantasy books be without mentioning Terry? Not that Brooks dude who wrote an entire series about glowing pebbles. The other one. The funny one. Everyone has an opinion about what the best Discworld book is and, even if you don't think this is it; you'd be hard pressed to find a more inventive title in the series.

Why it made the list

As always, Pratchett has written something that's easy to read because it's both short in length and endlessly funny. There are see-through dragons, an upside down swordfight and the strangest trolls you'll ever read about. Despite the amount of silliness Pratchett manages to fit into this short book, it's smart. Sometimes the humor is dry and at other times it's ridiculous, but it's always entertaining.

It's obvious that Pratchett was aware of the elements of high fantasy he's a master of the genre and he doesn't turn them upside down in an effort to prove a point, he just takes them to the extreme. His imagination is endless, and so is the joy you'll get while reading this book.

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The Mists of Avalon

(Marion Zimmer Bradley)

The Arthurian legend is already a familiar epic. But Marion Zimmer Bradley has taken the legend and developed it into a tale that's even grander in scope. It's a re-imagining of the classic, told from the perspective of the well-known Arthurian women - Gwynyfar, Morgaine and Igraine

Why it made the list

To start, for sheer bravado. Thanks to a variety of child and teen aimed screen adaptations, everyone over the age of six knows about Arthur and the sword in the stone. To take on a legend like this one, Bradley had to bring something new to round table. The old legend is there there's jousting (arguably the most ridiculous looking sport to ever existafter American football), battles for king, country and the pursuit of getting laid, and a bunch of men in steel underwear poking each other with metal sticks. But, in this retelling, the women are given the same treatment as the men have in all prior Arthurian works. It's smart, sometimes tragic and always thought provoking exposing issues around male dominance, female adolescence and the struggle to find power in a world where the balance of power is unequal.

The Mists of Avalon is a long read. Nor is it an easy one. But it adds an extra dimension to the traditional Arthurian myth a story that's been an obsession for hundreds (!) of years. For this reason alone without mentioning Bradley's beautifully constructed prose you should give it a read.

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Bridge of Birds

(Barry Hughart)
Comments (2)
Awards Won:1985 WFA

Master Li and Ox the main characters in this work are easily some of the most loveable characters in fantasy. Aside from these charming protagonists, the book is a lot of fun to read.

Why it made the list

Hughart's writing is never too flowery or too simple. This book is like a Thai food dish, every element is balanced so that none of them are overpowering, take away from the overall taste or from the eating experience. In Bridge of Birds, the ingredients action, description, character development and humor come together in a satisfying literary version of delicious pho.

Watching the action through Ox's nave eyes means that the reader can experience the wide-eyed wonder that he does, when he does. It's a refreshing departure from the more serious titles of the 80s. Hughart is a master of humor. He's not obvious about it like Pratchett, but it is as effective as anything you'll read in the Discworld series.

There aren't many fantasy titles where the end feels right. Mostly, they fall flat and leave you disappointed. The conclusion is just like that bowl of pho it fills you up, warms you up and leaves you with the desire for more like it.

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Daughter of the Empire

(Raymond E. Feist)

Some fantasy revolves around magic. Some around flying lizards. Some around pointy-eared genetic anomalies. The Daughter of the Empire is none of these. It's political fantasy at its finest.

Why it made the list

There's a reason why you can't turn on the TV without seeing Donald Chump or Billary Clinton: We're obsessed with politics. And this title has all the things we love most about politics. Assassinatios, double crosses, plots within plots, slippery characters and all out struggles for power it's all there. The complexities of a narrative like this could be overly confusing if they weren't in such good hands.

Mara, the lead protagonist, is a fascinating character. She's strong, intelligent and determined and it's easy to root for her. Because it's so easy to like her, you can't help but feel everything she feels as the plot progresses. This isn't an easy thing her path is often filled with violence and abuse but it's the reason why it's such a satisfying read. You'll grow with Mara, be inspired by her resilience and find yourself identifying with her.

Nothing in this work is black and white including the central bad guy, Bunto. He isn't an evil nutbag; he's a flawed man whose ignorance and stubbornness makes for a fascinating villain. That he's not a satanic soul-stealing, world-ending, vampire-like Big Bad is one of the reasons this book feels so real at some point in your life, you'll have encountered someone like Bunto.

There's a distinctly Japanese feel to the culture in the book. And after reading numerous fantasies based on some version of Western (British) culture, it's a breath of fresh air. This isn't a title that focuses on world building, it's hyper-focused on culture-building. And it's a resounding success the Tsurani society that is at he center of this world is fascinating.

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Master of the Five Magics:

(Lyndon Hardy)

This isn't a well-balanced fantasy. World building is almost non-existent, there is no continuity in culture and the politics are random. Considering these things, you'd think this was one of those books that form part of a makeshift footstool. But it does have one redeeming quality: The magic system.

Why it made the list

Magic systems in fantasy range from obvious spoken word sorcery to wingardium leviosa and everything in between. They also range from absurd to plausible. Master of Five Magics is one of the fantasies that fall into the latter category.

The magic systems in Hardy's world replace the elements that are missing: Culture, theology and world development. It's obvious that he spent time making sure that the magic systems would make sense. To enjoy this book, you'll need to ignore its dubious geography and focus on the magic systems, which are complex, but well defined and explained.

It's refreshing to read high fantasy where all the usual elements (wizards, knights, evil weirdos) are present, but are treated with less importance than whatever system of magic shapes their experience of the world. It probably won't become your latest old favorite, but it's unlike anything else you'll read.

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War for the Oaks

(Emma Bull)

It was in the 80s that the subgenres of fantasy we know today started. One of these urban fantasy owes much of its development from War for the Oaks, which was one of the titles that pioneered it. If this is the only reason you decide to give it a try, you'll find it's time well spent.

Why it made the list

Some authors get so caught up in their own worlds that they can't bring themselves to the level of the reader when explaining the details of their creation. When this happens, the explanations they provide can seem patronizing. Bull never does this to the reader. Instead, she gives you enough information to understand the War for the Oaks universe, but trusts that you have the intelligence to fill in the blanks. In doing away with the overly condescending and lengthy descriptions that many fantasies are plagued with, action and character development are given all the attention.

Bull's writing style is uncomplicated but not overly simple, making it easy to read. She's an excellent storyteller and maybe because she draws on things that she experienced in real life the magic elements feel as much a part of our reality as her tales about being in a rock band. Can you really think of anything more entertaining than a rock musical with faeries? That's what Bull has created here.

You should already be convinced that this deserves some attention. But if you need another reason to do so, then the characters in War of the Oaks are it. Eddi, the main protagonist, is easy to like but it's the faerie Phouka a shape changing, mischievous Prince lookalike that makes this book so much fun to read.

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The Deed of Paksenarrion

(Elizabeth Moon)

Fans of the Paksenarrion series often talk about how they often re-read these books. Their reasons for doing so include the well-written military scenes, the well thought out plot and the characters.

Why it made the list

The primary reason that this series is one of the best of the 80s is the main heroine Paksenarrion. She's one of those rare characters that you can both identify with and aspire to be more like. The plot is driven by the strongest of her character traits her sense of duty. It's refreshing not because it's a new concept, because it isn't but because the world we live in today lacks the kind of honor that Paksnerrion exhibits.

It's also a great example of pure epic fantasy: There's magic jewelry, quests with a capital Q, self-serving elves and grouchy dwarves. This was written before people had tired of Tolkein-like fantasy. If you can keep that in mind and not be put off by the stock epic fantasy elements, you'll find this an enjoyable read. The characters might be Lord of the Rings clones, but that doesn't mean they're not interesting. What makes them so fascinating is that they're very human they make mistakes and their personal growth comes about in reaction to their missteps.

Sometimes it's fun to hang up your need for profanity, sex and blood in favor of something more innocent. The Deed of Paksnerrion is an excellent choice if you decide you'd like to do just that.

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The Anubis Gates

(Tim Powers)
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Awards Won:1983 PKD
Award Nominations:1984 LocusF, 1985 BSFA

In creating this world, Powers borrowed ideas from all over the place. Mythology, Ancient Egyptian theology, quantum theory and classical literature they're all used in The Anubis Gates. It's a ridiculous combination of ideas, but it's the reason why this book is so entertaining.

Why it made the list

It's clear that Powers is an ambitious writer. He has zero qualms about chucking whatever he can into the mix. He doesn't even seem concerned about it making sense. And yet, it does. With the diverse concepts thrown around in the book, the plot is complex. But you'll never feel lost it in. It's a testament to his talent that he's able to create clarity out of chaos.

This is also a title that comfortably sits between many genres, without veering too far in any direction. There's just enough humor to keep it entertaining without turning it into a Pratchett style spectacle. There are enough thrilling moments to keep you entertained without it becoming a (pre-born-again) Anne Rice novel.

While the characters in The Anubis Gates aren't the well drawn, the plot is excellent, unpredictable and will keep you guessing until the end where the loose threads are pulled together into a tight and satisfying conclusion.

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The Hero and the Crown

(Robin Mckinley)

When people talk about why they don't enjoy reading fantasy, it's often because they find the writing overly descriptive and difficult to follow. This title won't change their minds. McKinley's style is lyrical, but she writes using complex sentences and complicated grammar. Putting that aside though, the heroine of The Hero and the Crown Aerin is one of the best in the genre.

Why it made the list

For anyone who felt like an outcast or misfit when they were growing up (and that probably describes most fantasy fans), this is the kind of book that would have given you some measure of comfort. This is because Aerin is a misfit that becomes a heroine, without sacrificing her identity. This kind of escapism is perfect for people who find themselves out of sync with people they're surrounded by.

The most interesting thing about this title is that it explores what happens after whatever Heroic Mission has been completed. Most fantasy series will end when the hero has completed their quest to save the world/avoid the guillotine/destroy an earring. Even if there is a small epilogue to the tale, it won't delve into the implications of the heroic act the way that McKinley does here. To achieve this, we're exposed to Aerin's internal processing and moral conflict post-adventure. It's an interesting way to carry the narrative and provides some excellent food for thought.

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Fevre Dream

(George R. R. Martin)
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Award Nominations:1983 LocusF, 1983 WFA

He writes stories where castration, rape, skull crushing and child sacrifice are par for the course. So it should come as no surprise that George R.R. Martin conquered the sub-genre of horror fantasy before he wrote A Song of Ice and Fire. It's much (MUCH) more subtle than the series he's most famous for something you'll need to keep in mind if you plan to read Fevre Dream. And you should.

Why it made the list

Thanks to Twinkle Toes Twilight and the many vomit-inducing teenage wet dreams it spawned, vampires have lost much of their mythos. Long before that, Martin published a tightly written tale that combines elements of horror with urban fantasy in a thrilling urban fantasy. If you're experiencing the same kind of vampire-fatigue as the rest of the intelligent world, you might be tempted to avoid this book. But that fatigue is exactly why you should read it. Because it will erase the memories of Stephanie Meyer's brand of sparkly literary poison.

As with all things Martin, you won't find this a comfortable journey. The story is complex and as always the writing is beautiful. You can say two things about Martin: First, that he's a twisted sunnuvabitch, and second, that he has a way with words that few people do. The action doesn't move quickly in Fevre Dream, but that only serves to heighten the suspense.

You will experience real frights, but nothing gory enough to limit it to a horror story.

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The genius of this series lies in the exquisite character development especially in relation to the hero, Vlad Taltos. We're accustomed to rooting for anti-heroes these days, (Hi, Dexter Morgan! Oh, you're a serial killer? Have an Emmy award!), and Vlad is one of the greatest of them all.

Why it made the list

Mainly because this is the Mr. and Mrs. Smith of the fantasy world. It's always a barrel of fun you don't need to think too deeply, you can just enjoy the ride. Even though there are ten books in the series, you'll find it easy to read.

There's something intriguing about an assassin and there are many fantasy series where a murderer-for-hire is the (un)hero. And Vlad isn't the only well-written character: His wife is as much kickass character as he is.

Brust is excellent at keeping things subtle. The humor is dry but low key, the characters well rounded but Brust doesn't seem obsessed with explaining them, and the plot moves quickly enough to keep you needing more. Part of the reason for this is the snark that drips off every page you won't be able to keep the grin off your face. And you'll probably look like a crazed maniac while reading, but you won't give any kind of a damn.

Added incentive: Dragons. Tons of dragons.

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The Belgariad

(David Eddings)

There are five books in this series the first being Pawn of Prophecy. This isn't fantasy with a lesson. Nor is it fantasy with emotional depth. And it doesn't even come close to being a fantasy for intellectual discussion, but it is fantasy for fun.

Why it made the list

There's nothing particularly special about this series we've seen characters and read stories like this before. It's not even the best example of this kind of fantasy. If you're looking for something that is both quick to read and an entertaining piece of fiction, then The Belgariad is perfect for you.

It's also an important series for the effect it had on the fantasy genre. This was one of those series that proved that fantasy could appeal to a wider audience. Probably because it doesn't take itself so seriously, it was one of the first big fantasy bestsellers.

If you'd like to introduce fantasy to someone who has never read anything in the genre before especially if they're younger then David Eddings is a good option. The characters are easy to identify with, the cultures aren't unlike the ones in our world and there's enough humor and adventure to keep anyone entertained. If you can finish these books and not wish you were a thousand-year old cantankerous sorcerer like Belgarath, then there's no hope for you.

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(Raymond Feist)

Like David Eddings, Feist was one of the first fantasy novelists to have measurable commercial success the kind that landed him on the bestseller list. It had a lasting impact on the genre itself by bringing in a new very loyal audience.

Why it made the list

If you're impressed by nothing else in this book, be impressed by how grand the scope is. It takes place over a decade and includes all the elements of an epic saga: Quests to far off lands, devastating wars and heroic adventures. Who doesn't love an epic?

Magician isn't complex in terms of character development or dialogue (which is often cheese-tastic). It's also full of standard fantasy clichs. But, because of the amount of different people, lands and occurrences in the book, it feels like a complicated read. The plot is nothing special, but there are enough surprises to keep you entertained.

This is comparable to a prescribed book at school. It's mainstream enough to appeal to almost everyone, it's never offensive and is, essentially, a beginner's guide to the tropes, stock characters and basic formulas of fantasy.

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A Spell for Chameleon

(Piers Anthony)
Comments (0)
Awards Won:1978 BFS

When this came out, there was nothing like it. The consensus is that you'll either love the Xanth books or hate them. If you fell into the latter category it would be because it's clear that Anthony doesn't hold women in the highest regard and, if you were to focus on this, you'd find A Spell for Chameloen a painful example of rampant sexism. Despite this, it is possible for you to enjoy this book.

Why it made the list

This is the Kubla Khan of 80s fantasy. It's bizarre, random and sometimes doesn't make much sense. But this is part of its appeal at no point do you need to take anything that happens seriously. You should apply this state of mind to the character of Chameleon most especially.

His writing isn't that good - he struggles with descriptions and often resorts to vague redundancies like, absolutely beautiful, and his characters are as three dimensional as a pavement, but he is a good storyteller. He knows how to pace the action of a book so that all loose ends are tied up in a tight narrative. You can't help but be impressed by the number of ideas that he manages to cram into each book. Sometimes they're ludicrous, but they're always original.

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Icewind Dale

(R.A. Salvatore)

If you're a fan of RPG, Icewind Dale will appeal to you. It takes place in the Forgotten Realms a world in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. Yes, it's dorky. Should you care? No. Because Drizzt wouldn't.

Why it made the list

If any of the books in R.A. Salvatore's D&D titles makes it onto a list, it's because of Drizzt Do'Urden one of the most beloved characters to come out of the 80s. His popularity is probably partly due to his status as an outcast, which is something many of this book's main audience can identify with. The fact that Drizzt is able to overcome the less-than-ideal circumstances of his life has universal appeal.

Salvatore's greatest talent as a writer is that he's able to create bubbles of pure escapism. These books aren't complicated and they don't require any kind of deep thought processing, they're meant for one thing: To be read purely for the pleasure of reading. That doesn't mean these books are devoid of substance though. It is possible to take some of the wisdom Drizzt imparts and apply it to everyday situations.

Icewind Dale will appeal to readers that like action, because Salvatore writes vivid battle and fight scenes. It will also appeal to readers that look for interesting characters because he writes each one with the same amount of attention, whether they're protagonists or supporting characters.

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The Gunslinger

(Stephen King)

Stephen King fans will tell you that, when he is on form, there is no better writer in the world. But when he isn't on form, it can be difficult to work your way through his endless and sometimes bizarre metaphors and descriptions. The Dark Tower is a combination of both King at his best and worst.

Why it made the list

Even though the first book was published in the 80s, King only released the final book in 2012. The gaps between each book were long enough that you had to reread them before the next one came out. It's evident that King labored through this process he often said that he didn't know if he'd live long enough to finish it. It's also obvious that he considers this his ultimate achievement.

He really didn't hold back with this one either. The Dark Tower is what would happen if you stuck every book in the world in a blender and mixed it with some hallucinogens, the brain of a schizophrenic monkey and a keg of gunpowder. It may not be something that an average fantasy reader will get through, but for King fans, it's a testament to both his skills and his very creative mind.

The sheer scope of the series warrants its inclusion. But that's not the only reason. There probably isn't another set of books that blends so many genres together. Western, fantasy, science fiction, mystery thriller, horror, dystopian, classic. It's all there. King seems to delight in throwing whatever he can at the reader. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it's fascinating to watch him try.

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Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

(Tad Williams)

This is high fantasy at it's best. High fantasy a stuffy term to indicate a book or series that takes place in an alternative world is often weighed down by its own tropes: The three drinking buddies, an epic quest for a magic thingamajig, an omniscient Big Bad etc. Blame Tolkien. But Tad Williams's epic is so vivid, so well written and so convincing that you won't even notice how fantasy it is.

Why it made the list

All of the characters! And there are so many. Each as well rounded as the next. None of them feel extraneous and each one adds to the detailed fabric of this carefully created world.

The military battles in the series don't do anything to detract from the plot. If you have a strategy inclined mind, you'll enjoy the intelligence behind these portions of the books.

If you've never read this series before, keep in mind that it was written in the 90s when formulaic fantasy was par for the course. The books that stood out were the ones that created characters and storylines that we could relate to and authors that could inspire us to feel deeply about the world we were reading about. It's not as dark and gritty as more recent fantasy, but that doesn't make it any less epic.

The central love story between the hero Simon and the Princess Miriamele in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is an example of how Williams succeeded in both regards. It doesn't feel as if it's been included because it's expected, it's relatable and believable, and Williams makes sure you buy into it.

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