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Top 25 Best Fantasy Books of the 90's

The Best Fantasy Books Published in the 1990's

Ah the 90's. Bad fashion, bad hair and Nickelback.

If fashion and hairstyles (and arguably music) took a hit, fantasy certainly did not. The 90's saw the emergence of some of the best fantasy ever written, with giants like A Song of Ice and Fire, The Wheel of Time and The Malazan Book of the Fallen born.

The Movement of Fantasy in the 1990's 

If we could define the 90's fantasy trend in one world, it would be 'epic.' 

Epic is the name of the game -- epic fantasy evolves with authors taking some of the classic epic fantasy trends formulated in the 70's and 80's and makes them bigger, thicker, and a hell of a lot more convoluted.

Many of the most popular fantasy series were of the epic fantasy mold. But you can't have 'epic' without a 'series' and the 90's showed us the supersized version of the fantasy series -- long, long multi volume spanning works covering a single story, usually with years between each new book.

The behemoth that is A Song of Ice and Fire started its long march towards pop culture legend by the end of the 90's, merging the likes of a Shakespearean tragedy with historical fiction and epic fantasy, ushering in a new era of fantasy. Heroes dies, villains win, and the seeds of a award winning TV show were planted, coming to fruition over a decade later.

By the mid 90's, the idea of modern fantasy is fully formed and released upon the masses. If the 80's took the classic fantasy developed in the 50's, 60's, and 70's and made it more complex, more gritty, more self-reflective, then the 90's started the long trend of subversive fantasy.

We have A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings released, proving that heroes can die with the story machine churning onward without a stutter.

We have His Dark Materials subversion of the Narnia tale. And we have Malazan Book of the Fallen which merges the epic vastness of the Greek classics with a harsh vision of fantasy that gleefully ignores expectations.

We also see the forward progression of the 'fat fantasy' movement, carried onward by the likes of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time -- a bestselling train that moved deep into the next decade, proving the eager readers are more than willing to put up with a story that spans 10,000 pages.

This fat fantasy trend is seen with many of the fantasy released during the 90s: A Song of Ice and Fire, The Wheel of Time, Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Sword of Truth, and more.

If you haven't read some of the best of the 90's fantasy, you have a very large gap you need to fill. The 90's was another golden age for fantasy and set about paving the way for fantasy to conquer the mainstream in the 2000's.

With practically every new TV series a fantasy one, fantasy authors who have become celebrities and social media personalities, you might forget that fantasy wasn't always mainstream. The 90's planted the seeds that would sprout a decade later.

And fantasy...TV...and pop culture would never be the same.

Welcome to the 90's -- one of the best fantasy era's ever.

How We Picked the Best Fantasy Novels of the 90's

This is our selection of the best of the best fantasy books of the 1990s. It wasn't easy making this list and curating the picks. But we feel these are all books (or series) that were published between 1990 and 1999. And by 'best' we mean the fantasy works that stood out above the rest and, in some cases, completely changed the fantasy genre for good.

Other Best of ERA Fantasy Recommendations

Make sure you check out our other historic fantasy best book lists, which cover nearly a century of fantasy books.

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)

And with the 90's out of the way, bring yourself into the modern fantasy with our Best Fantasy Books Since 2010.

Disclaimer: Your opinion matters to us. Feel free to disagree with us, but be prepared to defend your position. If you feel we've missed something, let us know your recommendation in the comments.

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A Song of Ice and Fire

(George R. R. Martin)

You should already be familiar with this one. If you're not, you've lost at the Internet. While the TV series has done an excellent job of bringing this epic to life, you should still get hold of these books and devour them. And once you do, you're fully justified in becoming that guy.

Why it made the list

It's unlike any other series you've read before. Because it's graphic. Because it's gritty. And because Martin has zero fucks to give. You will be surprised, shocked and hurt by the twists and turns woven into the books. Beloved hero? Off with his head! Evil brat? Give him all the things! Budding romance? Stick them with a sword!

If you're the kind of fantasy reader who finds elves arrogant, dwarves annoying or orcs ridiculous, then A Song of Ice and Fire is perfect for you. Humans are the only race that exists, and that's one of the reasons it's so great it's unlikely that you'll find books that delve into the human psyche as well as these ones do. And Martin has created complex characters that can't be split into good and evil. Because the conflicts at the heart of the series are so realistic and so human, this world is engrossingly believable.

It's also impossible to separate yourself from what's happening in the book. This is because each chapter focuses on a character hopping between them as the action progresses. Once you connect with one of these people, you'll be desperate to read about them again and you'll race through the pages until you can.

Four books into the series and there are still so many directions the plot could go in, so many questions to be answered and so many fates hanging in the balance. Undoubtedly, some of our favorite characters will be hacked to pieces. Others will hack bad guys to pieces. And George R.R. Martin will continue to hack our emotions to pieces.

A Song of Ice and Fire is the best kind of fantasy: It takes your imagination for a ride, toys with your emotions and doesn't let up. Be prepared for sleepless nights. You've been warned.

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Wheel of Time

(Robert Jordan)

You can be forgiven if you looked at the Wheel of Time series and feel intimidated. It's big. It's long. It's a labor of labor. But in the 90s, Robert Jordan was the king of the world. At a time where the audience for fantasy books was growing Jordan offered readers a fantasy world that was already familiar: All the tropes and formulas pioneered by Tolkien are there. Which is both the book's greatest strength and it's most obvious weakness.

Why it made the list

The world building aspect of this series is enough to get it on this list alone. You could even accuse Jordan of creating a world that was too detailed. If it weren't for the extensive glossary at the back of each book, it would be impossible to keep track of the cultures, people and places. The characters in the series, villains included, have rich backstories some of which are more interesting that the actual plot of the series.

Jordan is inclined to be a windbag, but his writing style distils imagery into word format so that you're able to picture every aspect of this world in vivid detail. He also gives readers the power to make their own inferences about the fates of the characters. He provides a prophecy that must be fulfilled and then gives us the chance to figure out how they'll end up there. He achieves this by giving characters visions of the past and the future and by allowing other characters to hint at possible futures. That he kept track of all these threads is enough of a reason to read the series.

Any fantasy fan should at least give the series a try. It's kind of like running a marathon sometimes there's euphoria; sometimes an intense desire to lie down and cry big fat man tears, but once you get to the finish line, you will have achieved something. Even if it's just the right to complain about how ridiculous the marathon was.

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The Farseer Trilogy

(Robin Hobb)
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Award Nominations:1997 BFS

In Hobbs' books, it can be difficult to decide who the hero is, what their quest is and how they'll go about it. And that's a good thing.

Why it made this list

Unlike other fantasy epics, The Farseer Trilogy doesn't call upon a hero to save the world. It focuses on genuine human relationships and how they shape the future. While many fantasy books start with the central character as a misunderstood being, there isn't a character in any series that's more pitiful than the protagonist of the Farseer books Fitz. And the reason it's so easy to empathize with him is something that we face everyday: The constraints of a society that places more value on some groups than on others.

Hobb is excellent at making you feel whatever the character is feeling her skill at writing in first-person will make it impossible for you to separate yourself from Fitz's story. Her books are complex and layered and intense. While the standard fantasy requirements are there magic, dragons, jackass kings and bizarre quests, they're used to different effect in The Farseer Trilogy.

If you like a bit of darkness with your order, this series has a ton of it. There's sadness, loneliness and tragedy woven throughout all three books, but the beauty of the relationships and the power they hold to transform the characters' lives make those dark moments all the more rewarding.

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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.


Good Omens

(Neil Gaiman)

A sushi-loving angel, a gearhead demon and Death as a gamer nerd. Do we even need to be a plot?

Why it's on this list

Sometimes fantasy (and its audience) takes itself too seriously. After you've been bogged down in yet another 500 page long description of a singing willow tree, it's refreshing to pick up a book that has humor at its heart. This is Pratchett's gift to the genre, and this book is one of his best. It's obvious that the two authors enjoyed writing this book as much as people enjoyed reading it and if that's the only reason you pick it up, then we'll call this a win.

A novel written by these two legends of fantasy is like Darth Vader marrying a Klingon. It could've been a disaster, but who wouldn't want to see Lord Vader brandishing a Bat'leth lightsaber?

As with all Pratchett books, all the best-laid plans go to hell in a hobbit hole and chaotic hilarity ensues. The best thing about these books is that it, in poking fun at fantasy, we have the chance to laugh at ourselves and at a genre that can be stuffy and overly serious. You should read it because it's laugh-til-you-vomit funny, because it's considered a cult novel and because it combines the best writing of two legends to create one of the most original fantasy books of the 90s.

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(Garth Nix)
Comments (4)
Award Nominations:2004 LocusYA

Sometimes the best and most unique new fantasy comes from the Young Adult section. Before Twilight reared it's sparkly head, Garth Nix created a world that explores our beliefs about death, the responsibilities of growing up with tragedy and the impact of grief.

Why it's on this list

Because it's just so different. It's well written and well thought out with just enough humor to provide relief from the intense subject matter. And that's one of the main reasons you should read this series: It gives you the chance to confront your own feelings about grief, loss and the possibility of an afterlife, without being too confrontational about it. If you can walk away from a book having learnt something new about yourself, or about the world around you, it's a good day at the office.

In the never-ending search for something new in a genre that's full of stereotypes, tropes and traps, the books that create a unique system of magic will stand out. If you haven't read this series, you'll be surprised to learn that the magic in this series comes from a set of bells. Yes, those ones. Of the ding-dong persuasion. It makes for an interesting alternative from the sorcerers, sword-wielders and staff-bearers, and it's intriguing enough to keep you entertained for four books.

And if you weren't already sold, there's only one word left to convince you: Zombies.

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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 this 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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Tigana is both a sweeping epic and a look into human nature flaws and all. The characters and plot exist in an area of grey where good and evil aren't absolutes. The plot follows a culture that after an intense war has lost its identity.

Why it made this list

The hallmarks of gritty fantasy are all here: There's sex, violence and gruesome brutality, but what makes it an adult fiction is that nothing in the book is simple. Everything even the Big Bad can be explained when viewed from a different perspective. The heroes aren't Frodo-perfect; they're human. And they're capable of doing the worst kinds of things: They can be brutally violent, dispassionately calculating and selfishly ambitious.

Other than being so well written, Gavriel Kay's refusal to categorize anything (or anyone) as purely good or evil is at the core of what makes it so special. It's possible to empathize with every character, because we can see ourselves in them the good and the ugly. It's also a book about the subjugation of a group of people something that 20 years later, is still an issue we grapple with every day. The best fantasy books are like this one, where the exploration of an issue in a different world exposes possibilities for understanding our own.

The intense relationships in the book give us the opportunity to explore the theme of memory and loss for ourselves. It's also told using multiple perspectives, and with each point of view, readers are able to identify a different set of emotions, purposes and views from inexperienced naivet to long suffering cynicism.

The book is perfectly balanced: The plot moves quickly enough to keep the action going without sacrificing the details of a well-built fantasy world. It's not a light fantasy book by any means and it can be an intense emotional ride, but it is worth it.

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His Dark Materials

(Philip Pullman)

This series is challenging. Not because it's badly written or because there's a complex world to understand, but because it asks the reader to consider their beliefs and question everything they base their principles on.

Why it made this list

Fantasy often draws on ideas from religion. There's obvious religious symbolism. There's obvious religious influence. And then there's Phillip Pullman. His Dark Materials is a blatant in its cynical view of organized religion with the Church often playing the part of the villain. This shouldn't put you off though; the series weaves theory-heavy subjects including physics, parallel universes, quantum theory and theology with the personal themes of loyalty, family, love and friendship

Even though it was marketed as a children's series, the themes are equally intense for adults. It's an engrossing tale, with well-written characters and an intriguing plot. But, more importantly, it's an opportunity to think about our own preconceptions. Pullman questions everything in this series theology, spirituality and knowledge. And he challenges the reader to do the same.

It's always impressive when an author can combine fantastical elements like a talking bear with concrete aspects similar to those in our world. Pullman does this flawlessly. The magical aspects of the book are the devices through which he challenges our beliefs and knowledge.

It's easy to empathize with the journey of the main protagonist Lyra Belacqua as she moves from childish innocence to adulthood and the sense of loss that comes with this growth is something we all experience. That she is such a strong female character is just another reason to pick up this series.

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A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen

(Steven Erikson)

Starting this series is like being thrown into a tornado. Strapped to a cow. With a lightning rod attached to your head. It's chaotic and you'll find yourself confused but exhilarated. And it gets better from there.

Why it's on this list

The key word when starting this series is perseverance.

Erikson doesn't spoon feed the reader. You enter the world with no cues or explanations and are expected to keep up until the answers to your many thousands of questions are answered. And they do get answered; you just have to be patient. This is part of what makes this series so exceptional without being bogged down by excessive explanations about the world that he's built, Erikson just gets on with the action and yanks you into the plot with force.

The genius of the confusion felt by the reader is that it mirrors what the characters are experiencing: They also don't have all the information and must put together pieces of the puzzle until they have a full understanding of their circumstances. It's a unique thing to encounter in fantasy because, most of the time, the characters have some kind of weird author-provided omniscience that allows them to know the exact path they need to take to reach their destiny.

With every title, Erikson's writing improves almost as much as his attention to detail. Many characters enter and exit this world as the plot progresses and each one is as well written and realised as the next.

The battles between the characters in this series are epic in the truest sense of the word. These are people with incredible skills from strategic brilliance to god-like power. There is nothing better than watching the mammoth showdown that happens between beings of such power.

Most significantly though, neither the confusion felt nor the epic nature of the characters overwhelms the emotional aspects of the plot. There's tragedy here the kind that is both beautiful in its intensity and devastating in its sadness. This is the power of good fantasy: To combine elements of magic with emotional depth so that when you put down a book, you feel a deep sense of loss at having finished it.

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The Acts of Caine

(Matthew Stover)

With one of the most unique premises in fantasy, a romantic plotline and vivid action scenes, this series is unlike any other in the genre.

Why it's on this list

The Acts of Caine is set in a future dystopian world. It's dark. Very dark. It's greatest strength is its originality it's about actors' who get sent to a place called Overworld, which is essentially a high fantasy realm, for mass entertainment purposes. Imagine Bruce Willis in Westeros and you'll have a good feel for the books. (Can someone please write an episode of Game of Thrones with a duel between Bruce Willis and Tyrion Lannister. Please?)

Despite the dystopian future, it's easy to identify with this reality because Stover has woven allusions to our world and history throughout the series. In our entertainment-obsessed society, it's also easy to relate to the theme of how far people are willing to go in their search for something new to entertain them. Just ask the Kardashinags. It's not always an easy read the action scenes are violent. More violent than anything George R.R. Martin ever imagined. That they're so graphic is testament to Stover's writing skill they're so well written that they come to life vividly in your mind. If you're not sensitive to graphic brutality, then you'll find these scenes satisfyingly intense. Even if you are put off by such violence, you'll be able to appreciate the combat sequences.

In the midst of the violence, there's a romantic thread that adds depth to the plot and to the characters without overpowering the other elements of the series. This is no easy accomplishment fantasy books with romance at their core are often imbalanced. That is not the case with The Acts of Caine.

The plot here is as unrelenting as the action. It's a labyrinth of subplots within subplots that will keep you intrigued until the last page.

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The Sandman

(Neil Gaiman)

Neil Gaiman is Neil Gaiman. Picking which of his books should be on these lists is kind of like picking the best Queen song. They're (mostly) brilliant, so it comes down to taste. But The Sandman is one of those compulsory fantasy reads even if it is a graphic novel.

Why it's on this list

The artwork is unlike anything else you'll find in a comic book. Sometimes it's difficult to make out, but every page enhances the story in a way that text-only titles can't. If you're not able to appreciate the skill behind the art, you're as wrong as Donald Trump's toupee.

The Sandman isn't for everyone, but any true fan of the genre (and how far it can stretch the imagination) should at least give it a try. Fantasy fans are dreamers. Whatever we're reading has the potential to overwhelm the real world and pull us into an imagined one. And this is the theme at the center of The Sandman. It's a story about stories and about our relationship to the tales we experience real or imagined.

If none of that gives you the burning desire to own a copy, then Gaiman's masterful blend of horror and fantasy should do it. It's not gory horror, but it's thrilling. And books that can inspire any kind of thrill whether it's spine chilling or something else are why we read anything to begin with.

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Harry Potter

(J.K. Rowling)

It's one of the bestselling series of all time. If you've managed to avoid reading the books or seeing the movies, you're probably dead. Yes, they're for children. They're also charming, well written and easy to read.

Why it's on this list

Considering its popularity and sales numbers, there's no way the series wasn't going to be on this list. But why should you read them?

Firstly, even though the last books big volumes, they're quick reads. They're not bogged down with terminology or worldbuilding details. It's one of Rowling's greatest skills: The ability to describe an idea we've never encountered in the most succinct way. Non-fantasy readers are often put off with overly descriptive writing, which is one of the reasons this series is the perfect introduction to fantasy.

The themes in the book family, love, loyalty, friendship and sacrifice are there, but Rowling doesn't dwell on the concepts for too long preferring to show rather than tell. Complex fantasy is great, but sometimes it's a relief to experience a narrative where good is only good and evil is pure. There aren't many gray areas in the series. And Voldemort is as big a Big Bad as any.

Even though the series was aimed at children, Rowling does an admirable job of developing her characters as they go from wide-eyed to battle-hardened without losing the essences of their personalities. She's also written a strong female protagonist, the kind that you'd want your daughters aspiring to.

Remember when you dreamed of being someone extraordinary and fully believed it was possible? It's probably been a while since then, but the Harry Potter books tap into that period in childhood where anything was possible. If you've been reading gritty or dark fantasy, then this series is the perfect way to take a break from grim realism and enjoy a few hours in the kind of world that your inner child longs for.

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The Book of Atrix Wolfe

(Patricia A. McKillip)

Patricia McKillip is one of the most eloquent fantasy writers in modern fantasy. She combines great characters with epic adventures to create books imbued with mystery.

Why it's on this list

It's fortunate that McKillip is as eloquent as she is because it allows her to create whole worlds in small volumes. Creating something that feels epic in such a concise way is one of the reasons why her work is a pleasure to read. In contrast to the gritty realism of many fantasy books written post-Red Wedding, The Book of Atrix Wolfe has a fairy-tale feel to it.

There are some great themes underpinning this work the power of words and language, like the quest to find understanding and acceptance and the destructive nature of war but McKillip isn't heavy-handed about exposing them. The narrative mystery provides the reader with just enough thematic content to draw personal conclusions.

Read this book for the descriptions of food alone. While each one is full of symbolism, they're so vividly described that it doesn't overwhelm the images conjured in your imagination.

The characters she's created here are nothing unfamiliar they fit standard fantasy tropes but they're true individuals. The tropes fade in the face of such strong personalities. For anyone looking for something that is still recognizable as part of the fantasy genre while giving providing you with something fresh and interesting, then The Book of Atrix Wolfe is ideal.

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The Death of the Necromancer

(Martha Wells)
Comments (0)
Award Nominations:1998 NEBULA

It's easy to jump into the world Wells has created in this book because there are many similarities to our world including a city, Lodun, that is reminiscent of 19th Century London. The steampunk / gaslit feel to this world is the perfect setting for a Sherlock Holmes like story that includes magic, sorcerers and mystics.

Why it's on this list

The dialogue between characters is witty, quick and snappy without them being overly flippant. They're developed slowly you'll feel like you're always learning something new about each of them. There's never a chance to get bored with them because you're kept guessing about who they are, what their role in the narrative will be and how much they know. Because there's very little internal character processing, readers have the opportunity to unravel the mysteries of these characters and their motivations for themselves.

There's a love story here, but it's not typical of the genre because the characters are already together. Their commitment to each other is more believable than many other romantic plot options in other fantasy works.

It's a tightly woven tale too. It's full of suspense, and Wells doesn't shy away from gore and gruesomeness. At it's heart, it's a detective story, but isn't stereotypical. One of the greatest parts of the book is the classic detective meets criminal moment which is given an interesting twist. You'll have to read it to marvel at it.

Wells makes sure that the reader is never overwhelmed by the information or by the details of the world she's created. She reveals information only when it's necessary and so it never feels pointless and keeps the pace of the plot moving forward.

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The first book in the Deverry series is Daggerspell and it's a complex sometimes tragic tale based on the idea of reincarnation.

Why it's on this list

The world building alone is a reason to pick up this series. Kerr has created a vivid world similar to old-time Wales. There's something very rich and magical about Welsh history and language, and this adds to the mysticism of some of the subject matter.

The magic system is unique. And it's the second reason why this is one of the best series of the 90s. Central to the plot is the idea of destiny that everyone has a part to play and a fate to fill and that, if someone doesn't reach their destiny, they'll repeat their life until they get it right. There are many traditional fantasy elements in this series (including elves and dwarves), but Kerr is a skilled enough writer that they don't feel stale.

The characters in Deverry are complex. They're the third reason to read this book. They grapple with personal and cultural issues that are similar to our own and it's easy to identify with the driving force behind each character: The desire to discover their destiny.

While this world is sexist, the women in the series are well-developed and we're shown that even in a society where they're downtrodden they're able to take back some of their own power. Again, this is a theme that many people can identify with.

There's a tragic element to the series (it is, after all, about death) but it only serves to deepen the connection between the reader and the world of Deverry.

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The Dark Elf Trilogy

(R.A. Salvatore)

A disclaimer: If you're not a Dungeons and Dragons aficionado and have read extensively within the genre, you might be tempted to avoid The Dark Elf Trilogy. This is because it seems like a very simplified, conventional fantasy. Don't!

Why it's on this list

Because the main protagonist Drizzt Do'Urden is a fantastic character. He's a legend in the D&D mythos. He's the kind of character that reminds you that the basic requirement for a hero is that he/she be intrinsically good even in the face of overwhelming evil.

The culture of the world in this series is fascinating because from the beginning it's clear that it's an evil place. Hatred, anger and resentment are the main emotions ruling Drizzt's world. It's a challenging premise: Can you imagine a world where everything and everyone is bad? Difficult to picture? Now, imagine writing a character strong enough to break the chains of this society to become something unheard of in that world something good. Intrigued? Good. Because it's admirable both in terms of concept and content.

It's true that everyone loves an underdog. And Drizzt is an underdog in the truest sense of the word. Being along for his journey from downtrodden to hero is endlessly compelling. You can't help but love this character.

The reasons this book is on this list is because it's easy to read, easy to get lost in and easy to enjoy. For those looking to read fantasy but not sure where to start, it's a great starting point.

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The Death Gate Cycle

(Margaret Weis)

There are 7 books in The Death Gate Cycle and it's an ambitious work, but there are enough light elements in the books that make it a (mostly) easy read.

Why it made this list

Weis and Hickman are behind The Dragonlance Chronicles one of the most popular fantasy series to come out of the 80s. While their books are full of many of the most conventional fantasy tropes, The Death Gate Cycle has enough original ideas that the tropes won't bother you.

The world building in this series is completely novel. The Death Gate universe is made up of multiple worlds created to separate two warring magical races. There is enough attention to detail paid to each world to make them distinct from each other. The differences of each world are so distinguishable that they're almost characters in themselves.

You can't help but care about the characters in the series, and if you've read the Dragonlance Chronicles, you'll be privy to a number of very Meta inside jokes. There's always enough left hanging at the end of every book to make you want to keep reading. The language moves the action along by forgoing any overly detailed descriptions in favor of character development great for readers who find most high fantasy overly wordy.

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The Nightrunners

(Joe R. Lansdale)

Considering that fantasy gives authors the opportunity to create entirely new cultures, it's surprising that so few erase the negative aspects of our own society sexism, racism, and homophobia in favor of something better. The Nightrunner Series is one of the few epic fantasies that feature a m-m couple as protagonists. Two things: If you are uncomfortable with that idea, don't be put off. The romance is a subplot and is very subtly referenced. Also, it's not the only reason you should pick up this series.

Why it made this list

It's not just that the characters in this series are so well fleshed out, it's that the cultures they're a part of are cleverly distinct from each other. Flewelling's characters' motivations are always clear and always part of a gradual path of development. There's no part in this series where you wonder why anyone is doing something that seems out of character.

Patriarchy isn't present in these books either women are capable of the same things as men. Even though the plot centers around two men, the female characters are interesting, and are given as much depth as the men.

The greatest thing about this series? It's all about the plot. What this means is that the action is unrelenting and moves at a good pace. Whenever there is emotion, it's used exclusively to move the story along. It sounds like an obvious thing to say, but in a genre where internal processing and world building are often given too much plot time; it's refreshing to read something purely to see what happens next.

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Dark Lord of Derkholme

(Diana Wynne Jones)

The concept at the core of this series is genius. And completely original. People travel from our world to a fantasyland complete with all the requirements for the genre, including elves, wizards and dragons as part of a tourist escapade.

Why it made this list

Other than an intriguing and unique concept, the characters (and there are many of them) are colorful and full of personality. The best thing about these books is the relationship between Derk our protagonist and his family. It's a pleasure to be pulled into Derk's world and Jones's writing reaches out to include you in all the intrigues of a complex family.

Read it for the satire, if only because sometimes fantasy and its audience takes itself too seriously. The message here is that escapism can exist for its own sake and this series certainly makes sure you've experienced it. It has a lighthearted core, but doesn't avoid dark subject matter in favor of keeping it light enough for children.

Diana Wynne Jones is adept at writing satirically but not cynically, absurdly but not ridiculously and with the kind of wit that makes the series impossible to ignore.

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The Dark Tower

(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 this list

Even though the first book was published in the 80s, the third one was published in the 90s and 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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Sevenwaters Trilogy

(Juliet Marillier)

The Sevenwaters Trilogy has the feel of a fairy tale and all the standard requirements for this kind of story, including spells, evil stepmothers, princes and an impossible quest. But it's much more intense than any of the fairy tales we're used to.

Why it made this list

Before diving into this book, be aware that this series will take some emotional energy from you. It's not a bad thing though. In fact, it's why you absolutely should read it. Marillier subjects the characters to the most horrific things (including rape) and takes the plot to some very dark places, but balances them out with a beautiful story about family.

It's written in first person from the perspective of the main heroine, Sorcha. Considering the violence and abuse leveled at her, you'd think that this narrative style would be too overwhelming, but Marillier does a good job of expressing Sorcha's inner world without getting caught up in endless emotional processing.

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War of Light and Shadow

(Janny Wurts)

This series is epic in every sense of the word. It takes place over many generations, its world is complex and detailed and the quest at the heart of the plot is the kind that legends are made of.

Why it made this list

In a discussion of epic fantasy, it would be a sin to leave this series out. Not only are there multiple worlds and characters to keep track of, but there are also plots within subplots within plots.

Considering the scope of the series, it wouldn't have been surprising for it to feel all over the place. But Wurts has managed to keep it tight each new character, story or plot line serves to add depth to the series. There's nothing that feels gratuitous or redundant a feat that few authors have done as well as she has.

Janny Wurts doesn't simplify language. She expects the reader to keep up with her complex style of writing. The language is dense but it never loses focus and always feels precise as if she's chosen every word carefully. Despite this, her writing is good enough that you'll never feel out of your depth, even though there are a variety of different magic systems, cultures and worlds.

As for the epic nature of the series, there's a siege that could rival anything found in the fantasy genre as well as an intense encounter with black magic. There's an endless amount of people and places to keep you occupied. There's something for everyone in this series in-depth world building, a mastery of history, legendary battles and clashes, three-dimensional characters and a plot that will keep you guessing throughout.

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Crown of Stars

(Kate Elliott)
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Award Nominations:1997 NEBULA

If there's one thing that can be taken from our own history, it's that that watching monarchies fight for and over power is fascinating. As long as you don't get your head chopped off in the process. It's this kind of intrigue that drives the plot of Crown of Stars and makes it such an enthralling read.

Why it made this list

The series requires a serious investment of time each title is long and needs some energy to get through. Fortunately, it's worth it to spend some time with the characters. They're complex and complicated with all the motivations, strengths and flaws of people in our own world. For this reason, they feel real and easy to identify with. You can't help but become attached to them.

Elliot manages to paint a world that's rich in detail without sacrificing any pace in the action. Not something that's easy to find in long sagas like this one. And it's lucky she's so skilled at it because reading this series becomes and immersive experience one that would suffer if it got weighed down by lengthy expositions or descriptions.

The themes explored in the series are easy to relate to; the kind of things we content with throughout our lives. Through the relationships between the characters, she challenges readers to explore notions concerning the cost of power, the fine line between love and obsession and the complex nature of fulfilling duties in the face of contention.

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The Sword of Truth

(Terry Goodkind)

Most would argue that this series gets worse with every addition. But Wizard's First Rule is good enough to get the series included on the list. It's probably more of a Spice Girls type of 90s nostalgia than an OK Computer 90s classic, but every now and then its worth yanking out the rose colored glasses of the past.

Why it's on this list

You can't miss these books. They're almost as obese as the books in Jordan's Wheel of Time series. In some ways, Goodkind's series is almost an evolution from the Wheel of Time: The characters are more interesting, each book is an event not just a continuation of an event, the world is more realistic and most importantly Richard Cypher doesn't sulk about being the hero: He's the hero-est hero to ever hero. And for people that are fans of epic sagas like The Wheel of Time, this series will keep you occupied for ages. Also, the author won't do something as inconsiderate as dying halfway through the final book.

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The Magic of Recluce

(L. E. Modesitt Jr.)

This is another series that requires the reader to persevere through a slow beginning. And it's worth having some patience because each painfully described detail that makes the first few chapters tedious has a reason.

Why it made this list

The magic system is definitely interesting. The relationship between order and chaos becomes a driving force for the plot. It also subverts the classic dark is bad and white is good trope; in Recluce, black wizards are good and white wizards bad.

The idea that the motivations behind magic use can shape whether the result is good or evil is intriguing. The journey to finding a balance between the two is one that the central protagonist, Lerris, is concerned with and it's fun to be on the journey with him. He learns things for himself, without the help of a sage old wizard or guide. And because most of this is written in first person from his point of view, you'll feel as if you're learning with him.

The female characters in the series are strong and have an equal place as the men do. While there is a wealth of great male characters in fantasy, there aren't many female characters that have interesting characters whether they fall into a common trope or not. This is not the case in the Magic of Recluce.

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