Best Fantasy Series
Do you love those fantasy novels with many kingdoms, protagonists, politics, and cultures? Do you like the epic struggles between small bands of heroes against impossible evil? Do you eagerly follow the growing pains of the coming-of-age hero as he (or she) finds greatness? Then you want to check this list of the best fantasy series ever written.
It's hard to select series that are NOT epic fantasy, since most of the series released these days, are. In this list, I wanted to bring you the top 25 best fantasy series from a number of different fantasy subgenres. Some may be grand epic fantasy, some may be more character-driven fantasy, some may be simply fantasy that's part of a series.
I've based my picks on how good the ENTIRE series is as well as how influential they have been on the fantasy genre as a whole. You'll see familiar faces on The Top 25 Best Fantasy List but also plenty of new faces as well.
Like any "Best" list, you can't please everyone with your picks, so don't take it personally if your favorite series is not listed on the list. Rest assured I've spent a lot of time deciding what should be included and excluded.
I've also put together a list of
the Best Epic Fantasy
Series for those of you who are ONLY looking for epic fantasy
September 2012: I've completely updated the Best Fantasy Series list with a tons of new books (including some requested in the comments -- yes, I DO read every single one) and revised the rankings to reflect 2012 sensibilities, especially taking into account the whole series (including bad sequels). I've expanded this list from a Top 25. It's a far different, more well rounded list now.
You can view the crowd-ranked version of this list and vote on the entries at the bottom of this page.
This series tops the Top 25 Best Fantasy Books, and with good reason and it's my pick for the best fantasy series. Martin shattered the fantasy mold and created something completely new. Indeed, fantasy books will never be the same. The world created is a dark one: children are made slaves, brutal graphic wars are fought, heroes are slain and villains are crowned king, swearing and sex are rampant, and all that's ugly about the world is flung in your face.
This is a world where heroes are not invincible, and villains are just as likely to emerge victorious. This type of gritty fantasy is not for everyone. Those faint of heart who wish to sail in safer fantasy waters would do well to look elsewhere: this is a no-holds-barred look at a fantasy medieval world; if lingering in padded fantasy worlds where sex is suspiciously absent, violence treated as a romantic comedy, and dashing, good-looking heroes always win, this fantasy may not be for you. But for those of you with a steady heart who want an absolutely addicting descent into a medieval realm torn asunder, where struggling heroes may or may not win, where magic is as mysterious as it is ephemeral, where the battles are so vivid you can hear the clash of steel and the whinnies of dying horses, where an epic story spans the vastness of continents, then heed the siren call of A Song of Ice and Fire.
A Song of Ice and Fire is a starkly real treatment of the horror of war and conquest of lands, of rape and pillage and revenge, and man's ultimate fight against extinction. So if you have what it takes, read this series. I guarantee your reading world will never be the same.
The last two books in the series have a been a bit of a let-down in
terms of moving the plot forward, but things do look up for book 6.
Regardless, Martin has still crafted a fantasy world that's taken our world by
storm, and it still stands as one of the best examples of fantasy out
If you like Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga, try David Anthony Durham's Acacia . It's very similar to A Song of Ice and Fire. It's the first of a series, but what a first book. It's one of my top picks for 2007. Also read Greg Keyes' The Briar King , the first in his not-yet-complete trilogy which features delicious prose, gritty realism and an enticing plot. You can also 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. You might also like Tad Williams newest fantasy saga: Shadowmarch . It's got some similar themes and the series is NOW complete.
It's a given that you should read Mazalan Book of the Fallen for some epic fantasy that will blow your socks off. And for a solid gritty fantasy about a company of soldiers who work for evil, give Glen Cook's Black Company a read.
If you want MORE similar recommendations, then go here.
One of the best epic fantasy series currently out there. No boy-finds-magic-sword-and-defeats-dark-wizard story here. Malazan Book of the Fallen is a complex creation, with an absolutely huge cast of characters and stories that span thousands of pages. The stories encompassed in each book are like pieces of a puzzle -- each piece is a small picture of the story, but as you progress through the books, a spectacular picture emerges. It takes a bit of work to wrap yourself around the story, however. Those used to the standard epic fantasy tale may find themselves bewildered half way through the first book. The strange world, enigmatic characters, and vastness of the story can be confusing, BUT perservere and the Malazan Book of the Fallen becomes something incredible. By the time you are a couple of books into the series, you'll be hopelessly addicted.
the ten-book series finally completed, this stands as one of the best
epic fantasy series out there from start to finish. It can take a while
to get into the series (hundreds of pages into the first book and for
some even a couple of books). There were some complaints about the ending,
but there was also a lot of praise as well. I think most agree the
author did a reasonably good job at ending the series -- it could have
been better, but considering the vast plot threads and huge cast of
characters, Erikson did a good job.
Erikson is a prolific writer. The Malazan Book of the Fallen saga comprised 8 books in 2008, with two more scheduled for release. Erikson co-created the Malazan world with Ian Cameron Esslemont. Esslemont's novels, which are set in the same world as Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, are considered as canonical as Erikson's own. Esslemont's novels are called Novels of the Malazan Empire. Erikson also wrote several novellas (short novels) set in his Malazan world. His two novellas follow the storylines of Bauchelain, Korbal Broach and Emancipor Reese, three characters who appear briefly in Memories of Ice. I've listed all books from the Malazan universe. Read Malazan Book of the Fallen first, and if you can't get enough, read the Novels of the Malazan Empire books and the Novellas which follow some of Erikson's characters. Click on the book images to get the Amazon book descriptions.
George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga also features an epic scope and the grey characterization that Erikson so loves. Martin's work is smaller in scale though and tends to be more focused, plot wise. You can also try Scott R. Baker's The Darkness That Comes Before saga, which is 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. Also give James Barclay's The Cry of the Newborn a whirl which is similar in style and content (though less epic) to Erikson. It's an example of a Fantasy military fiction done right. Barclay also knows how to write damn good battle scenes, giving even Erikson a run for his money. Also give David Anthony Durham a try. His recent novel, Acacia, is a fantastic read -- big on the epic battles and gritty dark realism of Erikson and Martin. At it's core, The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a military fantasy; you might want to read Glen Cook's classic 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.
Tired of the run-of-the-mill fantasy and looking for something a bit...different? Check out The Sorcery Code, an epic fantasy that's not afraid to do something new in the genre. Fans of strong epic fantasy with an emphasis on romance will find themselves right at home here. Well-developed, morally ambiguous characters. Check. A completely unique magic system with a strong, page turning plot? Double Check!
Once a respected member of the Sorcerer Council and now an outcast, Blaise has spent the last year of his life working on a special magical object. The goal is to allow anyone to do magic, not just the sorcerer elite. The outcome of his quest is unlike anything he could've ever imagined - because, instead of an object, he creates Her. She is Gala, and she is anything but inanimate. Born in the Spell Realm, she is beautiful and highly intelligent - and nobody knows what she's capable of. She will do anything to experience the world . . . even leave the man she is beginning to fall for. Augusta, a powerful sorceress and Blaise's former fiancée, sees Blaise's deed as the ultimate hubris and Gala as an abomination that must be destroyed. In her quest to save the human race, Augusta will forge new alliances, becoming tangled in a web of intrigue that stretches further than any of them suspect. She may even have to turn to her new lover Barson, a ruthless warrior who might have an agenda of his own . . .
Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he's on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian - leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies. Nobleman, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, Captain Jezal dan Luthar has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules. Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it. Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he's about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glotka a whole lot more difficult.
Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood. Unpredictable, compelling, wickedly funny, and packed with unforgettable characters, The Blade Itself is noir fantasy with a real cutting edge.
This series throws epic fantasy on its head. On the surface we have all the conceits present in standard epic fantasy: a band of heroes, a Gandalf-like wizard, a dark lord who must be defeated, etc. However, Abercrombie doesn't just twist these cliche fantasy conventions, he completely shatters them. If you're jaded from all the hackneyed epic fantasy crap out there, I highly suggest this incredible series. The writing's witty, the plot is original, and the characters are absolutely fascinating. Read it!
even better is that with every new book added to the universe
Abercrombie (two standalones released, with a third coming out by the
end of 2012), Abercrombie's writing only gets better. His standalone,
The Heroes, was his best work yet.
The Blade Itself is a new style of Fantasy that's gaining swift momentum. The quality level demanded of a good Fantasy novel is now very high. Readers are no longer satisfied with the dark lords versus farm boy conceit. This new style of Fantasy takes the old staples of Fantasy and remakes them into something more sophisticated. Strong, witty writing, dry humor, twisted plotting, and full of contrasting elements, this new style makes for some intelligent reading. In this new world of noir Fantasy, shades of grey are the new black and white. If you like this 21st century upgrade to the Fantasy genre, check out books by R. Scott Bakker, Brandon Sanderson , Scott Lynch , Joe Abercrombie, George R.R. Martin, and Steven Erikson .
This is NOT your standard epic fantasy. But oh man, there's a lot to love about this one. If you want to take a much needed break from the standard fantasy clichés, The Long Price Quartet should be your next stop. Even if you ONLY like standard fantasy, still read this gem of a series. It's widely being hailed as a modern masterpiece.
This is a series with an incredibly strong plot; really, once you get hooked at the start, you're going to have to just finish all the books to see how everything gets wrapped up (and all four books have been completed).
Abraham's characters are living and breathing creatures. There are no characters introduced just to move along the plot. It's a rare thing to get so involved with the characters you read about. But Abraham invites you to do just that -- all of the characters are sympathetic, with flaws and strengths and personalities.
So, toss away all that boring epic fantasy and read a REAL fantasy series that's just about a cut above everything else out there right now. As a bonus, the series is completed with all four books out. Many agree that the first couple of books are the weakest in the series (and even a "weak" book here is better than most of the fantasy out there) with the final books the best.
Fans of this series will also be delighted to know that
released the first book in another series -- this one a standard epic
fantasy (but with Abraham's trademark style, fantastic plot, and
awesome characterization) which, should you find The Long Price Quartet
not the type of fantasy for you, more palatable. It's called the Dragon
and the Coin.
Book Flap Description
Witness the titanic battle for supremacy waged on Earth, in the Courts of Chaos, and on a magical world of mystery, adventure, and romance.
This is one series that people seem to brush over in favor of all the "modern" stuff. Big mistake. Amber's a classic series that's been around for a few decades now. It's a different kind of fantasy, but it doesn't follow the standard "epic" fantasy conventions. This makes it a breath of fresh air to read.
What makes this series "better" than all the other stuff? Well Amber is by far one of the most unique and utterly fascinating fantasy worlds, outside of Tolkien. The world created by Zelazny is one where magic and science rule, where illusions and reality blend together. If you've read science fiction, you'll be familiar with the basic premise: the world is made up of parallel universes, each of these universes a reflection of the original world, a city called Amber. Everything is but a pale shadow of Amber. Earth is but a shadow.
Into this mix throw in the squabbling princes and princesses of Amber. Only the Royal blood of Amber can move through the different worlds freely. And many of the siblings don't get along...
All in all, Amber is a fascinating fantasy world that you will
to explore. It's hands down better than most of the fantasy series on
the market right now.
The Name of the Wind is a stunning work of imagination and storytelling triumph and currently ranks very near the top of my Top 25 Best Fantasy List. I won't bother trying to rehash why you should read it. Just do.
Two books have been released now and both are good (though some argue the second is not as good as the first, to which I agree).
So the author spends an enormous amount of time detailing the trivialities of the protagonist's life. So it can take a long time for something, anything to happen.
Despite the flaws with this series, I don't think there is another fantasy series out there where you get into the head of the protagonist as much as you do in the King Killer Chronicles with maybe the exception being Farseer trilogy by Hobb (and that protagonist had me wanting to slap him for being such an incoherent doormat half the time).
From the start to the end of each book, you're taken along on
adventure you don't want to end. This is one of the most enjoyable
series out there folks. Do yourself a big favor and read it.
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.
Tale of the Dying Earth truly stands as one of the greatest works ever penned. Everything that’s good and bad about the human condition is eloquently expressed within this tale. You get the full range of heroics, adventure, drama, atmosphere and excitement all wrapped by Vance’s dry sense of humor and terse yet flowery prose.
Dying Earth is more science fiction than fantasy, but it certainly does have many fantasy elements as told through several characters within the story (most notable Cugel the Clever).
The characters are often over-the-top characterizations by intention and are used by Vance as sharp instruments to perceptively express the full extremes of the human condition – both the best and the worst of it.
This is literary fantasy of the highest form, written by a man
who’s had wide ranging influence on the genre. Many of the best modern
fantasy authors cite Vance as a huge influence on their work.
Beautifully and cleverly written prose that jabs and pokes at the human condition in such a way that all the foibles, follies, and exaltations are laid bare to the reader.
Fans of Lionesses, Books of the New Sun, and
Ghormenghast will die for joy with this series.
If you like your epic fantasy big in the style of Wheel of Time, the closest you'll find to that style is The Storm Light Archive -- written by the same man who's finishing The Wheel of Time series. You really won't find any other books close to the style of Jordan.
This is Sanderson's own vision of an epic fantasy series, his own take on The Wheel of Time (and he's determined to do it right this time and not make the mistakes Jordan made) and folks, it is indeed epic -- the fantasy tale spans millennia and includes a cast of larger than life characters, from humble slaves, magical assassins, female scholars to the leaders of great armies. There has only been ONE book released in the series so far, so it's hard to say exactly how the entire series will play out in time, but based on the strength of the first book, there's a hell of a lot of potential.
This series doesn't try to do anything ground breaking in the genre like Abercrombie, nor does it try too hard to be clever. But what it does excel at is telling a gripping tale in an epic setting and interesting world. The magic system, like all of Sanderson's works, is very well thought out and the action scenes, when they happen, are explosive and powerful.
Keep in mind that this is a huge book and it takes hundreds of pages to get into the flow of the story. But keep reading till the end and the action comes to an explosive head -- it's worth the wait.
If you are tired of fantasy with bland characters or infallible heroes, give The Farseer a read. Hobb is a master writer of characters that are brought to life with her pen.
The Farseer is the story of Fitz Chivalry, a royal bastard. It's the story of his rise and fall, of his love and loss of love, of how he travelled to magical lands, communed with wolves, and saved a kingdom from doom.
You won't find a story that will have a bigger impact on you than The
If you want an emotional fantasy, The Farseer is about as good as it
gets. The quality of the entire series is maintained from the first to
the last book. If you are not a fan of the ending, Hobb wrote a
direct sequel trilogy just for you, to give you the fairy tale ending
you are looking for.
Hobb has written 3 trilogies set in the Farseer
world, which are listed below (click on the appropriate image to get an
Amazon book description). The Tawny Man trilogy is a direct sequel to
the Farseer trilogy. Liveship Traders takes place in the same world as
Tawny Man and Farseer, but in a different country. There is one
character present in Liveship Traders that is present in the other two
Not an epic fantasy in your traditional sense, but one of the most underrated series out there starring the brutal amoral assassin, Caine. This is a series that holds nothing back – it’s brutal and uncompromising the entire way through. With an interesting blend of science-fiction and fantasy combined with an absolutely amoral psychopathic killer as the star of the whole show (literally, Caine the killer is in fact a movie star beamed to another dimension to wreak murder and induce mayhem among the local population for the entertainment of billions back home), it’s an absolutely must read, especially if you like anti-hero fantasy where there is no defined moral compass. Every book in the now four part series (with more likely to come) is good with no dip in quality.
series is one of my absolute favorites, and it’s a crime that the author
and the series are not as well-known as they should be. If you want
something different that’s so tasty you’ll practically cry with
A beloved fantasy series by all who’ve read it, though few modern fantasy readers have read it. This is probably one of the best hidden epic fantasy gems out there right now and you would do well to get your hands on this series.
The basic premise sounds petty hackneyed – a stable boy, a
princess, imps, dwarves and an evil king. But his is Dave Duncan we are
talking about here. Duncan manages to take those worn-out fantasy
conceits and twist them around into something completely new and
utterly enthralling. This is some stellar heroic fantasy that will
absolutely keep you turning the pages.
The world-building is great and the cast of characters, especially the loveable hero Hap, are just great. I’m also a big fan of the magic system which stands out as one of the more unique magic systems in the genre, right up there with Sanderson’s Allomancy (Mistborn) and Farland’s Rune Magic (Rune Lords)
You won’t go wrong reading this; if you are looking for your next epic
fantasy fix, this should be your next read. There is a sequel series, A Handful of Men that continues the story of the first series years later. The first series is better, though.
This is a different sort of fantasy and helped solidify the New Weird / Slipstream movement. The New Crobuzon novels are loosely connected (set in the same world), with the first being Perdido Street Station. It's hard to explain Mieville's work -- it's a combination of the bizarre, the familiar, and the totally weird. But everything somehow fits right together in the end. And the writing is good, so very good. Beautiful metaphors and similes dance from the pages. Prose so sharp it almost cuts. and keeps you turning the pages. The books take a bit to get into due to the utter weirdness of the characters and the landscape, but after a bit of time the environment starts to sink in. The plots are always strong, however. All in all, the series is as grand as it is grotesque and gaudy, and the whole tale is captivating. This is a series that you'll need to put some work into and just slow down and let the words, story, and setting wash over you. If you do, you'll be in for something special.
Yep, had to include it. Most people have probably read this series and even more authors have written hackneyed copies of it, but this series is the original father epic fantasy and deserves to be read. To the two people who haven't read it: just go ahead and get it over with. If you want to factor in significance to the genre of fantasy, Tolkien ranks at the #1 spot. However, most people have read him so I've put him at a lower spot to give other authors a chance at some recognition.
Tolkien spent his life writing in the Lord of the Rings world. Tolkien pretty much has four "novel" type stories set in middle earth. I have listed them below in chronological order. Click on the book picture to get an Amazon book description. The Silmarillion is a prequel to the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. It details the entire history of Middle Earth, how it was formed, and describes the history of the First, Second, and Third ages. If you really want to know the history of Middle Earth, and read some of the old tales, read the Silmarillion -- it's sort of the pre-story of the Lord of the Rings, a history of Middle Earth. Children of Hurin is Tolkien's old "new" novel that was recently released by his son, Christopher Tolkien. Christopher edited and completed one of Tolkien's unpublished works. It's a greatly expanded version of Chapter XXI of The Silmarillion, "Of Turin Turambar" and takes place long, long before the Hobbit. The Hobbit is the precursor to The Lord of the Rings and pretty much a must read if you like Lord of the Rings. If you have never read Lord of the Rings, I suggest starting with the Hobbit then moving on to Lord of the Rings. You can then read the Silmarillion and Children of Hurin later.
can I possibly recommend if you like Lord of the Rings? 'Rings' is the
progenitor of an entire genre, and one can recommend almost anything.
Regardless, I'll try to suggest a couple books based on the "feel" of
Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien has always been about the world in which his characters live, never about the characters who live in his world. He created a world full of myth and legend, starkly real and full of mystery. There is always some strange power deep in a mountain, or some magical glade in the heart of a forest. There are worlds deep in the world, and worlds high in the heavens. It's a land full of wonder, a world too large to explore; it's an earth that still has mysteries and unknown lands.
There are several authors who recreate this type of world -- but with stronger characters and more meaningful relationships. Tolkien's characters were always too perfect, too evil; their motivations are at best unclear and at worst, unrealistic. Modern fantasy has taken the roots created by Tolkien and grown them into full trees and in some cases grafted those roots to new trees completely.
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 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 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 is finishing the series and looks to be doing a good job. In fact under Sanderson's finishing touch, the Wheel of Time is finally getting back on track; Sanderson's last two Wheel of Time books were some of the best Wheel of Time books since books 5-6. This year (2011) will mark the final completion of the series when A Memory of Light, the final book, will be released.
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
(first book in the Stormlight Archive saga). If Jordan took up
Tolkien's world-building mantle with A Wheel of Time, Sanderson is
picking up that epic fantasy mantle with this generation's new epic
If you want a book that's like Lord of the Rings but longer, has strong female characters, and very strong characterization (FAAR better than Jordan's), read Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn saga, another classic.
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. 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. Patricia A. McKillip's Riddle-Master is also another series(trilogy) that brings back similarities to Tolkien's style of writing.
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.
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.
A work of fiction that has influenced the genre. This is pure, unadulterated high fantasy. Vance is one of the most influential writers in the fantasy and science fiction sphere, with his Dying Earth series and his high fantasy series, Lyonesse. The Lyonesse trilogy is regarded by some as Vance's best work -- certainly right up there with his Dying Earth series. The land of Lyonesse and the Elder Isles are imbued with vivid life; into these magical lands are introduced a synthesis between Tolkien and Old English myths and folktales -- you have Old Folk, kings, princes, magicians, fairies, ogres and villains wandering through the magical landscape that is Lyonesse and the Elder Isles. While the Vancian style may not suit every reading sensibility -- especially those who prefer the more wordy and descriptive styles of say, Jordan or Feist and books less about the characters and settings than fast-paced action or magical battles, but if you give the series a fair shake, you'll see just why Lyonesse has inspired an entire generation of fantasy writers. This truly is some of the best fantasy out there, and because of its age, it's not been read by many a modern fantasy reader.
Dark, epic fantasy that's really quite different from any other fantasy series out there -- a tasty recipe that combines the best of the horror, fantasy, and Gothic genres. This is one epic fantasy that stands wholly original, untainted by the scent of unoriginality present in most fantasy books released these days. Friedman creates a vivid and fascinating world, a world where human imagination actually has the power to create reality. Of course, the human psyche being what it is, the world is not a paradise, but rather a dark and sinister place; a place where man's own imagination has become an enemy. With a flawed anti-hero, compelling characters, and an outright fascinating world, this series delivers something special. I heartily recommend this superlative fantasy series.
The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow...
Despite the inevitable flood of protests I'll get by including this on the list, Robert Jordan has really defined the modern epic fantasy genre. I've stated it before, but I'll say it again: despite the problems and controversies of how Jordan has handled the story (it's agreed that the first 5 books are pretty good, the later 6 or so really lose track), this series is "the" epic fantasy series of our generation. Robert Jordan has pretty much taken up the cloak that Tolkien left and stretched out so wide the very seams threaten to tear. I can confidently say that no other story is as large as WOT. Indeed, you'll need a backpack to carry Jordan's entire story, literally. Those who like their fantasy big, with dozens of realms, a huge cast of characters, and plenty of magic, politics, and adventure, WOT delivers. This book defines what classic epic fantasy is folks, for better or for worse. You will find peoples opinion sharply divided about whether WOT has imploded under the too-many plot threads of the story, but without a doubt, WOT is a seminal work of epic fantasy and is a must-read book for every epic fantasy lover.
If you are looking for new variations on the epic fantasy genre, there are several authors and books who have done some interesting things, but if you want something "classic", the Wheel of Time is the best you'll find. I'm sure not having this in the top 5 will offend his fans, while even including the WOT will invariably offend others.
But if you want to read epic classic fantasy with a huge cast of characters who move from sheepherders and blacksmiths to great men of importance in a huge detailed world, and on whom the fate of a world and all the worlds that will ever be rest, then read this. This is about as epic as classic fantasy comes.
Generally regarded, along with A Man of His Word, as Duncan’s best work. This is some of the best sword and sorcery fantasy you’ll read, period.
The premise is that a dying man with very few abilities to
recommend him as special gets transported into another dimension/world
into the body of a warrior, Shonshu by a God who is in fact looking for
a pawn. Shonshu is no mere warrior, however. Rather, he’s a Swordsman
of the Seventh Rank and in a brutal, feudal world where top class
hierarchy is associated with martial prowess, Wallie as Shonshu now
stands at the pinnacle.
It’s a wildly entertaining ride though a vaguely medieval landscape mixed in with a faint Oriental influence. Combine it with a myriad of Greek and Roman gods who take an active role in the whole story. Wallie brings his modern sensibilities to a medieval world which makes for some interesting scenes as the books progress. But you also see the character grow and evolve too. The characters are quite well done as are the relationships.
The series has a multi-leveled plot all the way through and
there are enough twists going on that keep you suspended right until
the final page.
There is a faint D&D feel going on behind the scenes with the character’s martial abilities represented by different “sword levels” tattooed on their heads. You get to watch your own “protagonist” (game character) power up through the levels as the series progresses. However, this novel is a far, far cry from those tie-in game knockoff novels.
So if you are looking for some absolutely fantastic sword and sorcery fantasy with a cross-over twist, this series is a must. Hell, even if you don’t like sword and sorcery, read it – I don’t care whether you like A Game of Thrones, hate or love The Wheel of Time, this series will appeal to you.
After a few decades, Duncan recently released a new book in
the series entitled The Death of Nnanji.
Epic Dark Fantasy in the classic western tradition. This is Steven King's Magnus Opus, a series that's taken him decades to finish. In this huge series, King writes about "worlds other than these." It's a dark journey through a bizarre landscape with equally strange characters. It's a journey through space and time, through worlds not our own in a quest to protect the most precious thing in the universe.
He called himself Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever because he dared not believe in the strange alternate world in which he suddenly found himself. Yet he was tempted to believe, to fight for the Land, to be the reincarnation of its greatest hero....
Great epic fantasy that breaks out and does something different. Covenant contains many of the classic fantasy conventions: a quest, a hero, and a magical talisman. But the similarities end here. The protagonist, Covenant, is through and through an anti-hero. This series is one series that provokes the reader's passions: either fanatical love for the series or maniacal hatred for it.
Fantasy books often feature absolutely altruistic heroes. But a hero Covenant is not: he's a flawed man who struggles with vices, a man who's thrown into a confusing situation. He's selfish, stubborn, and does some despicable deeds. More than anything, it is these characteristics that seem to upset people who read the first book then declare Thomas Covenant the worst fantasy series ever. Sorry folks, you're not "getting" the series.
The story of Covenant is the story of a flawed man's
into something better. And along the way, he may just end up saving The
Land. If you want a complex story about a flawed man forced to become a
hero, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant delivers. It's a fantasy series
that has remained unique over the twenty years that its been published.
Millions have read it and loved it. If this doesn't move you to read
it, than nothing ever will. But if you haven't read it yet, do so your
missing out one of the most remarkable fantasy tales ever. And please,
before you leave a comment trashing this series, read the ENTIRE series
Stephen Donaldson has three Thomas Covenant series: First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and the recent series, the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Each series is chronological and follows the exploits of Thomas Covenant. I've listed the series by chronological order. Click on the pictures to read the amazon descriptions.
If you like his Donaldson's first trilogy , then you should read
his Covenant trilogies listed above. His new trilogy (Last Chronicles
) is a riveting read that will please both old and new fans. Thomas'
old lover, Linden, returns to The Land, only to find it changed beyond
recognition... And Thomas the Unbeliever? Read the books to find out!
If you like the characterization of Thomas Covenant, you may like Tad William's epic fantasy Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn saga which really follows the transformation of the protagonist over the course of the series. 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. 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.
Donaldson also has a very interesting (and dark dark) Science Fiction saga (Gap) that you will like if you liked the anti-hero aspect of Covenant.
Book Flap Description
Ged was the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, but once he was called Sparrowhawk, a reckless youth, hungry for power and knowledge, who tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death's threshold to restore the balance.
A classic fantasy tale
about the rise of a village boy the most famous wizard of an age, The
Earthsea Cycle is a series that transcends the genre. The writing is
lyrical and beautiful -- those who appreciate Tolkien's Middle Earth or
Patricia McPhilip's RiddleMaster trilogy, will find themselves
enthralled by the story of Ged, a simple boy who becomes much more.
This series is roundly hailed as one of the great fantasy classics. It
doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the new generation of
fantasy, but it's a classic tale that's told by a master storyteller.
And it's a haunting tale that you will never forget.
Series listed by chronological order, from left to right. Click book image to see details. The first three four books follow the life of Ged. The fifth is a compilation of short stories set in the Earthsea world. The sixth (The Other Wind) returns to the story of Ged and concludes the cycle.
Glen Cook pioneered the "gritty" epic fantasy before that sort of fantasy become the gold standard of today. Black Company is the name of a number of books that follow the happenings of The Black Company, a company of mercenaries who end up being employed by The White Lady. What makes this series different from all the other military fantasies out there is that their employer, The White Lady, would be the equivalent of Sauron. It's a world where good and evil are not so defined, a world where doing evil is sometimes good and doing good is sometimes evil. It's also a rousing military tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
There are a number of books, but I recommend the (best) Books
North (the first three books) followed by the Books of the South. The
series goes downhill after that. But the first three books are
A blend of science fiction and fantasy (see science fantasy)
that you can still label as “fantasy.” This is one of those pillars of
literary achievement. I’m not going to try and explain it here other to
say that this series if for those who want a deeper sort of fantasy,
one full of metaphor and allusion. It’s some pretty deep stuff. If you
like literary fantasy, you’ve found mecca with this series. Fans of
action epics, fast-paced dialogue and action, save-the-world plots, and
easily understandable prose will probably find this series hard to
read. But if you are someone who enjoys reading for the love of reading
itself and you enjoy thinking fantasy that will challenge you, this is
the best in the genre.
Fans of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth and Lionesses and Mervey’s
Ghormanghast are guaranteed to love this.
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 is Tad Williams response to The Lord of the Rings. It's a slow, pedantic, and sometimes tedious tale about the young kitchen Scullion, Simon. Tad with his ponderous style, slowly brings the reader into his fictional world, and carefully, oh so carefully, weaves the threads of the plot together. Action doesn't happen right away -- maybe not even for hundreds of pages -- in a Williams novel. But what you get is a living, breathing world that you become part of.
Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is NOT a series for everyone --
either love or hate William's style, but a shoddily written, hack
series this is NOT. So if you want a slow, epic fantasy series with
great characterization, an interesting world and realistically
motivated villains, pick up this series.
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 , which features an epic, black & white struggle, struggle between good and evil. Also read William's new fantasy saga Shadowmarch. Wonderful prose and a strong plot. I also recommend Tad Williams Otherland saga. 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.
My pick out there for the best YA fantasy series hands down. The characters are wonderfully complex and greatly evolve over the course of the story. The premise of the story is unique too, as is the setting. This is no light read -- the story gradually gets darker and darker. There is plenty of action and you'll never get bored. Just make sure you have plenty of time -- once you start the series, you'll finish it.
It seems that most of the fantasy authors get paid by the word. The shoddy fantasy is a reflection of that fact. Some authors take pride in their work, and write...art. Guy Gavriel Kay is one such writer. He doesn't always write the most popular kinds of fantasy, but every book he writes is imbued with intelligence, wit, and a beautiful story.
The Fiovanar Tapestry is one of the most underrated fantasy series out there. The quality of the writing is a few miles above the normal standards. Kay IS a wordsmith, his writing is sometimes lyrical and always beautiful. His characters are crafted with care, and there's always a number of complex and interweaving plots. It's not uncommon for one sentence to foreshadow major events that happen hundreds of pages later. When you read Kay, you're missing out if you don't pay attention to every sentence. If you are looking for some fluff fantasy to skim over, I suggest you look at some other fantasy options. Kay writes books that are meant to be read -- every word and every sentence.
The Fionavar Tapestry is high fantasy, but it's probably a
epic fantasy you are not used to. Still, if you are looking for a
character-driven, realistically portrayed (as funny as that sounds)
epic fantasy, I can't recommend anything better than this series.
A wonderfully beautiful novel that explores the ideas of myth and reality and the connection between the two.
This series concerns itself with mythological archetypes that
are given life in a primeval forest somewhere in England. There are a
number of books in the series that explore this concept, but the best is
the first one which reads as a sort of mysterious and lucid adventure
The first book (Mythago Wood) recounts one man’s journey into the heart of this primeval forest as he searches for his kidnapped love – a mythical Celtic princess he meets on the edge of Mythago Wood, given life by the power of the forest itself.
A journey into the heart of Mythago Wood is a journey into the
mythos of mankind, for in this forest is contained every myth from
every culture that every was and ever will be; and the further you go,
the deeper into mythic history you go till you read the one true myth
before all myths…
It’s a stunning look into the heart of man and one of those books that makes you think deep thoughts. Highly recommended by anyone who wants a deeper sort of fantasy tale.
Elric is the prince of a dying race, a pale, morose champion of right, despite the cards stacked against him. He's a physical weakling who needs to take drugs and relies on evil magic to survive. This puts him at odds with just about every other standard fantasy hero in the genre. In any other book, Elric would be closer to a villain than a hero. Elric may not be that "popular" these days (as evinced by the limited comments these books get on this website), but Elric has had a lasting influence on the entire fantasy genre.
This dark fantasy trilogy is ostensibly a children's book, but there's a lot more to the story than a simple child's tale. The author incorporates ideas from Milton's Paradise Lost, a poem that's actually the basis of the entire novel. On the surface, it's the struggle of a young girl, together with her Daemon familiar, to find her place in the world through a series of grand, fantastical adventures. This sort of fantasy is NOT the simplistic Eragon with cardboard characters ripped straight from Star Wars and Tolkien. Nor is the fantasy a happy one. It's a dark look at the nature of things, of God, and of sacrifice. It's also a resounding rebuke to the religious powers of this world.
Ignoring all that "literary" stuff, the trilogy is also an amazing adventure and can be appreciated as such, if you have no wish to dig into the subtext. His Dark Materials is without a doubt one of the greatest fantasy series ever written.
There are a number of compelling YA fantasy out there
Abhorsen, Narnia, Bartaemeus. I've included a few of these works here,
but if you want my rankings on the best YA fantasy, see the list.
A startling work of imagination that will evoke feeling when you read it. Reading Gormenghast is like feasting your eyes on a masterfully drawn painting -- you might not always get the context, but you're drawn to the beauty it represents.
If you are a fan of fantasy with superbly written prose, this is for you. The characters are indelible and the castle setting will leap out at you from the pages. You will never, ever forget the characters or the castle.
Some of the best characterization in the fantasy genre. Fans of Fitz Chivalry will find themselves right at home in this series.
This is a series of three books that are connected, though
each features a different character.
A magnificent novel of adventure, magic, and revenge with one of the most unique magic systems in the fantasy genre. Mistborn is the story of a band of wizards fighting a hopeless battle against an invincible mage tyrant. The interesting cast of characters and strong plotting makes this one book you have to pick up. Those looking for a strong epic fantasy series should check this one out.
I would, in a heartbeat, replace Mistborn with Sanderson's newest series, The Stormlight Archive. However, only the first book of that 10 book saga has been released.
A great series in the same style as Lord of the Rings and the Wizard of Earthsea. It's the story of the Riddle-Master of Hed, Morgan, who has an unknown destiny. You see, he himself is a riddle, a man born with three mysterious stars on his head. And to solve the greatest riddle of all -- himself -- he will change the world forever.
The book is one of the great modern fantasy trilogies. My
recommendation is that you only read it when you don't have to work the
next day -- it's very hard to put this series down once you start, so
be prepared for a LONG reading session.
J.R.R.Tolkien's A Lord of the Rings. I also recommend Ursula le Guin's classic The Earthsea trilogy, which features the same lyrical writing style as McKillip, and the hauntingly beautiful tale of a young boy's journey from boy to wizard. You might also try Sean Russell's The Swan's War trilogy which features lyrical prose, a pervading sense of pathos and a world full of opportunity, were magic is as mysterious as it is dangerous.
An interesting series that details the life of a young prince who, after witnessing the horrific murder of his mother and brother, runs away. The young prince lives with a band of marauding bandits living under their rules until fate provides him a chance to seek revenge and claim his throne. This is the tale of a prince become assassin.
The protagonist, an antihero, will kill anyone and do anything to get what he wants. A dark and gritty tale and one of the best books of 2011.
There's quite a lot of Celtic fantasy out there, but this one takes the cake as some of the best written. It's a deep and involving story that spans several generations over the three books, with each book about a different character. It's a lovely tale that's a twist on a fairy tale story set in a Celtic world on the cusp of change. What really stands out are the characters, though. It's not always a happy story that's told, but by the end of it all, you'll care deeply for each of the characters.
A dark epic fantasy tale about a girl who will go into the land of the dead to save her father. It's an exciting adventure that's also scary. Nix is a talented author who has an excellent command of the English language -- and the man uses his abilities to great effect in this series.
While this series is classified as Young Adult fantasy, it can
read and appreciated by all ages. Just make sure you read this series
with the lights dimmed -- you're going to be in for a good scare!
If you want a really chilling feeling, get the Audiobook version of the series. The
narrator does a superb job and the tale seems even more scary.
A classic series kids around the world have grown up reading is The Chronicles of Narnia . While Narnia is very clearly a Christian allegory, it can be enjoyed without reading too deep into the Christian subtext. The writing is great and it's a great magical adventure for both kids and adults. You should also read Garth Nix's newest series, Keys to the Kingdom . It's also a great read, both for the kiddies and adults, one of the better series for kids. Don't forget to read Jonathan Stroud's very impressive The Bartimaeus Trilogy It's an action-packed thrill ride about a magician's apprentice who manages to summon a powerful genie (Bartimaeus). Bartimaeus is less than pleased with this turn of events and tries to sabotage his young master at every opportunity. Hilariously funny, at times very dark, with great writing, a great cast of well-developed characters, and an interesting world, Bartimaeus is a must read series (for both kids and adults). And finally, Harry Potter . I won't bother explaining why. If you are specifically looking for books your kid might like, i suggest you visit The Top 10 Fantasy Books for Kids list.
In a world saturated by religious fanaticism, Maithanet, enigmatic spiritual leader of the Thousand Temples, declares a Holy War against the infidels. Ikurei Conphas, military genius and nephew to the Nansur Emperor, embarks on a war to conquer the known world in the name of his emperor...and himself. Drusas Achamian, spy and sorcerer of the mysterious northern sorceries, tormented by visions of the great apocalypse, seeks the promised one, the savior of mankind. Anasurimbor Kellhus, heir to the shattered northern kingdom, whose ruins now lay hidden in the deepest north, a place now desolate, home to only the No-Men. Gifted with extraordinary martial skills of hand and foot, and steering souls through the subtleties of word and expression, he slowly binds all - man and woman, emperor and slave - to his own mysterious ends. But the fate of men--even great men--may be cast into ruin. For in the deep north, the hand of the forgotten No-God stirs once more, and his servants tread the lands of men...
This is one of the more interesting modern fantasy series out
It's epic fantasy, but not in the way you're used to. This fantasy is
for those who want a combination of raw action and sharp philosophical
insights. It's gritty, dark, bloody, and pretty damn smart.
I can't say enough good things about this amazing fantasy series. It is, in my opinion, one of the best fantasy series out there. For some reason, it's not on too many radars, perhaps because J.V. Jones took 5 years between sequels, but I remain firm in my conviction that this series is really something special. The landscape and setting and different cultures/peoples are unique enough in their own right, but the vicious, dark action, very strong cast of characters, and enticing plot really draw you in.
Try George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga, which features a brutal, gritty world set in an ice-filled milieu. Characters are realistic and Martin holds nothing back. It's a superlative epic fantasy saga. You might also try J.V. Jones's other excellent Book of Words fantasy saga (starts with The Baker's Boy ).
A magnificent novel of adventure, magic, and revenge with one of the most unique magic systems in the fantasy genre. Mistborn is the story of a band of wizards fighting a hopeless battle against an invincible mage tyrant. The interesting cast of characters and strong plotting makes this one book you have to pick up. Those looking for a strong epic fantasy series should check this one out.
I would, in a heartbeat, replace Mistborn with Sanderson's newest series, The Stormlight Archive. However, only the first book of that 10-book saga has been released.
A compelling re-telling of stories of heaven, hell, the afterlife and beyond. I don’t think there is any other story out there quit e like this one. Plenty of authors have played around with the concept of death and the afterlife, but few have created a universe quite like Williams as found in The Crooked Letter.
The Crooked Letter, the first segue into the world of the Cataclysm series, is the deeply spooky end-of-the-world tale of twins who find out that death and life are full of surprises. The concept of an afterlife not based entirely on the Jewish heaven and hell constructs is one that the novel devotes a significant portion to exploring.
For one, dying brings you to an afterlife – one or two afterlives that is – a magical world where the laws of physics are replaced by the power of will. Things in “heaven” are not well, however. There’s a war going on between the residents of the second realm and an entity that’s seeking to destroy both the second realm and leap to the first realm. Heaven now looks like hell and the first realm (earth) has been taken along for the ride when the two realms “collide.”
It’s an entertaining book that aggregates a number of different folklores – there’s Germanic, greek, celtic, and Jewish folklore imbued into the story.
Beyond the mere story of two brothers caught in the middle of a struggle between different realms and basically trying to understand what the hell is going on, all the while surviving, there’s a lot of other stuff going on too.
The book explores themes such as one’s concept of a freely determined self, the difference between body and spirit, God, heaven, and hell.
It takes a while to figure out just what the hell is going on in the story, but once you do, it’s a darkly gripping adventure with elements of fantasy and horror. You won’t read anything quite like this.
This YA series has been around for a while now but still makes for some scintillating reading despite its age. It's a book that despite the evolution of the genre is still just as good as when it first came out. Some argue that Susan Cooper is one of the direct successors to Tolkien (she studied under him in university). The series has some very strong characters with a lot of depth to each of them. This is more complex fantasy on the whole than is Harry Potter.
This “naval” epic fantasy series is a “boatload” of fun. It’s one of the more refreshing grand epic fantasy tales released in the past couple of years with a mottley cast of zany and unique characters all sharing space -- not always willingly -- on a giant ship sailing across a vast unknowable sea.
There are mad god kings, treacherous empowers, evil sorcerers,
wizards from other dimensions, conniving ship boys, ruthless pirate
captains, talking rats and sword-wielding thumb-sized human. This is a
book that packs a lot of plot and characters onto every page.
You might think of this as Redwall meets Malazan Book of the
Fallen in some respects; the comparison doesn’t exactly work, but it’s
got some similar elements.
A strange mix of post-apocalyptic and steampunk fantasy, but a rewarding one. In a futuristic world, the sun is dying out and the world is slowly turning to ice with the few wealthy preparing for the ice age, while the rest of humanity will be left to die.
Standing on the edge of this depressing and doomed world is the great city of Villjamur. It’s a city of great potential that juxtaposes the wondrous and the horrible – a metaphor perhaps for man himself. It’s a city and land where the goal is to survive. The world is populated mostly by humans but there are a few sentient machines around too.
The plot is complex with a number of things going on:
This is a complex and ambitious piece of fantasy which is both a good and a bad thing. The author presents a world on the edge of an ice age (the Freeze) where the privileged few are preparing for a few decades of difficulty while many of the rest of the unfortunate population will be left to their own devices. This is a world populated mainly by humans, but there are a few sentient non-humans in the cast too which makes for a potentially more interesting set of characters.
The basic plot is something we’ve seen before: murder, mystery, mayhem and magic. But into the mix are added scheming politicians, imperial politics, deadly soldier assassins, weird religions and crazy cultists.
So if you fancy dark fantasy tale set on an exotic landscape with strange alien races, steampunk and magic, murder and mysteries, you’ll love this series. You might think of this series as a cross between Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, China Mieville
An ambitious and engrossing post-apocalyptic meets steampunk fantasy series that seems to be doing all the right things. You might think of it as a cross between A Song of Ice and Fire and Lions of al-Rassan.
premise itself: ancient technology has destroyed one of the great
cities of the world, Windwir, also the repository of all the knowledge
in the world. The leaders of the Named Lands will see justice done;
conflict is brewing and every kingdom in the Name Lands will play the
great game of politics…and war.
This series is one
of the better political fantasies to grace the bookshelves since A Song
of Ice and Fire. This is a rich fantasy with many layers of plot to it
with complex, fascinating characters – some of which will actually die
(again, like Martin’s series). Highly recommended.
Some pretty compelling stuff in this series is its beautiful prose, imaginative scenes, and hilarious action that will have you giggling as you struggle to turn the pages faster.
The key word when describing this series is “fun and funny.” I’ve heard this series described as a cross between the Firefly TV series combined with the character Jack Sparrow. The crew is a motley mishmash of different characters who all form a cohesive unit when one of them lands in trouble.
The plot is nothing new but the
setting, characters, and story fit so well together that it just
works. The premise follows the crew of the Ketty Jay as they struggle
hand to mouth to keep afloat; when they see a get rich quick
scheme to end their financial woes for good, they take it, only to find
out it was a horrible mistake that gets them framed for a crime they
did not commit. This forces them to go on the run – they have to prove their
innocence before they are killed.
You won’t find
anything new or unique in the book; it’s not deep, intellectual or
anything to write to your English teacher about, but it’s a fast paced,
entertaining and wildly funny tale that refuses to slow down once you
get past the first 100 pages or so. What’s particularly entertaining is
to watch the crew jump from one bad misadventure to another (even
This series has become the gold standard for urban hardboiled detective fantasy. There have been many clones but no true imitations yet. The premise is pretty simple: a down and out Private Investigator and Wizard, Harry Dresden, takes on investigations that are special, that that involve the supernatural. Now this may sound like a worn, tried and true formula by now with the rain of similar style books clogging up the fantasy shelves, but Dresden is one of the originals and by far about the best in the subgenre.
It’s an action packed, wildly entertaining, fun ride through the supernatural – a ride that includes vampires, werewolves, ghosts, faeries, rival wizards and other supernatural baddies – all trying their best to take down Harry Dresden. This is one of those series that takes a couple of books before Butcher really hits his stride with the character and story, but once he does, boy does the series come together. So give it to book three before things really pick up big time. What I particularly like about this series is you watch all the characters evolve over the entire story arc, and there’s an underlying story that’s carried through from book to book, even if each book might focus on one specific situation. The story also starts to get pretty dark midway through the series and by the time you catch up to the latest works, everything is only gritty and gray – including characters, choices, and setting.
A twist on the classic epic fantasy conceits. Moon takes many of the best elements from the genre and puts her own unique spin on them. This is a compelling story about a woman who rises above the limitations of her class and gender to become a legend. Fans of military fantasy will really enjoy this one as quite a bit of the novel follows the protagonist’s life among the military. This is a gritty novel in a lot of ways, as Moon does not try to beautify what is ugly. The heroine evolves with the story; she starts off wide-eyed and ignorant at the beginning, but grows into maturity and knowledge as the story progresses. It's very interesting to see how the events in the story affect the protagonist’s psyche. One of the best fantasy series out there and widely regarded by many as a modern classic.
One of the more unique epic fantasy series out there. Unlike your standard generic Tolkienized medieval landscape series, it introduces an ancient alternate Rome where magic works. The magic system itself is quite unique, where humans gain access to special powers through magical creatures bound to the elements called Furies. Someone who’s bound to an earth Fury will have powers over the earth and superhuman strength. Someone bound to a wind Fury will have powers over the wind. Special individuals can have two or even more Furies giving them control over multiple elements.
Written by the same guy who’s behind The Dresden Files, this series is
some good stuff. Lots of military action combined with an epic struggle
Feist has quite a few Midkemia books, but his Riftwar books (starting with Magican: Master and Magician Apprentice) are by far the best of the bunch (with the exception of the even better Empire trilogy). Riftwar tells the classic tale of a group of callow characters who, over the course of a few books, become powerful forces who battle to save the world from destruction. This (especially the two Magician Books) is classic epic fantasy and it’s mostly very well done. You get all those worn clichés – castle boy becomes hero, stirring dark forces creeping in to destroy the land, a princess in need of rescue, an ancient wizard mentor, etc – but Feist puts enough zest and passion into the whole tale that it works pretty well. Definitely one of the best classic farmboy-to-hero epic fantasy tales out there. If you love the likes of The Wheel of Time, The Death Gate Cycle, and Way of Kings, you’ll probably be slathering all over this series.
I personally don’t like pretty much any of Feist's other Midkemia books; if you really fall in love with the landscape and tale, you can continue on with other books which follow some of the events (sometimes decades or hundreds of years later after the Riftwar books). But they all lack the initial spark the first few books had, I find.
Raymond Feist's Series in Chronological Order
I've listed his Midkemia books in chronological order by series. Each series is set in the same world that Magician is and are sequels, sort of. Feist has even more books, but I've only listed the series that I feel are actually worth reading. His best by far are the two Magician books and his Empire Trilogy as I've stated about 10 times now.
Conclave of Shadows
The Darkwar Saga
The Chaoswar Saga
This is Le Modessit’s best work so far. It’s not a standout fantasy series, but it is pretty entertaining. Modessit’s fantasy typically features a young callow boy who rises through the ranks to become a power player in society, usually because of a few aces up the sleeve – brilliant tactical abilities and powerful hidden magic abilities. The Imager Portfolio follows the same sort of formula, but Modessit creates an interesting world full of rigid social orders and class politics. Into this maelstrom of nascent social conflict, our hero is thrust to change the political and magical landscape.
A good series to read, especially if you want a fantasy that
deals more with human conflict than any sort of defeat-the-dark power
conceit that the typical fantasy novel incorporates.
Military fantasy with some great characterization, gray characters, and a lot of plot twists the whole way through. The author takes great pains to create most characters as morally ambiguous – simple humans fighting to survive in a world that rewards the bad and punishes the good. This series hasn’t gotten the sort of attention it deserves. So if you are looking for a well-written good character-driven epic of love and war, treachery and betrayal, this one comes recommended.
Nearly half a century ago, fantasy was dividing into two fantasy worlds: Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Narnia has entertained generations of children and continues to do so even to this day.
For those who dislike books written in heavy allegory, especially
religious allegory, it's best to avoid this series -- you're going to
get upset. However, above the layer of allegory is a fantastic tale of
magic and adventure. Narnia may not be as complicated as the new
generation of fantasy, but as an old classic that's made its mark for
decades, it should be read -- if only to your children at night.
Duncan’s managed to make this list with 3 series. King’s
Blades are some sword-heavy fantasy for those who like fantasy full of
swashbuckling, politics, and raw action. This is not epic fantasy as
much as it is an action political fantasy that’s heavy on the heroics.
You might think of this something as a fantasy version of The Three Musketeers. Like all Duncan’s books, well plotted, well written, with an interesting world. And of course, always well developed and compelling characters, especially the protagonist.
Politics, magic and sexuality burst from the seams of this one. This series has garnered a fantastic reputation over the years it’s been out
This series wins big points for originality here. The premise itself sounds, on the surface, ridiculously unbelievable: a world where all humans have the attributes of different insects.
However, the author does a very good job at realizing this unique setting fully. While you initially expect the series to be kind of silly the author skillfully makes everything believable.
The author, in place of magic, gives every “race” unique powers (called insect ‘kinden’. The idea is that each human insect race gains strengths and weaknesses along the lines of that insect behavior. Beetles are good with tech, ants at warfare, and spiders at politics.
It’s an interesting concept, but it really forces characters into archetypal groups rather than let them develop as individual characters with unique abilities and personalities.
The series is a mix of weird and brilliant. Some may love it and others not. On the whole though, great world building and an interesting, even gripping story. There are some pretty wicked battle scenes too.
Some pretty compelling action hero fantasy staring an anti-hero criminal. Unlike some of the other anti-hero fantasy (Prince of Thorns, Thomas Covenant, Heroes Die), the anti-hero has a good mix of admirable qualities rather than being straight out badass. Steven Brust doesn't really get the acclaim he deserves, and he's really not well known outside the circle of his select fans. But give this series a chance and you'll find yourself pretty captivated by the whole thing.
If you want a different sort of fantasy -- funny fantasy as it's called, Terry Pratchett can't be beaten for a good laugh. Discworld cleverly parodies many of the standard fantasy conventions, often shining the light on just how stupid those conventions really are, when you think about them. Pratchett is a master at his craft: everything in the fantasy genre is fair game -- something that Pratchett takes full advantage of with his over 20 Discworld novels.
Start with The Color of Magic, which follows the tourist
and his bumbling, hapless wizard guide, Rincewind. It's a mad, mad
adventure that will have you gasping for breath. Pratchett IS the
Douglas Adams of the fantasy world
A series retells over and over the tale of two lovers (and the characters important to them) who meet and fall in love again and again over the course of centuries. It’s a lover’s tale that’s bound to the concept of reincarnation, fate, destiny and unfinished business.
It’s an interesting concept, and Kerr really makes the whole thing work again and again over the course of the series. And while you are reading about the same “souls” in every book, the general stories are different.
The language is quite poetic – descriptive and distinctly Celtic – and the characters are all so well done. If you like well done romantic fantasy, this is a series you’ll enjoy. Much recommended if you enjoy books by Kate Elliott and Marion Zimmer Bradley as some of their books have a somewhat similar feel in tone, setting, and content. If you are looking for raw action, gray characters, and epic world shaking events, this series is not for you. But if you want a sweetly romantic series, read it.
This is a series that's fallen a bit by the wayside in that many don't know about it. But it's a rare treat for those who want a well drawn dark fantasy tale with elements of horror. This is a tale that's moody and suspenseful following a path laid out by Edgar Allen Poe, especially the first book. It's a disturbing tale that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. The story itself is entertaining, but the series also brings up some deeper issues such as what is gender, and do the means always justify the ends. Lyn Flewelling puts a twist on the story around book two which gives the whole tale a whole new spin.
This series has mixed reviews. It’s pretty much the same tale told again and again with very little changed from book to book. Take a callow boy, force him into the wider, unforgiving world, give him nascent magic abilities that eventually become god-like, and have the character overturn the status quo system of the day and you have a Recluce novel.
Now that’s not to say the series is not entertaining – the
first few books are good reading. But the recycled plot archetypes
start wearing on you a few books down. You’ll probably enjoy them if
you like the world and magic system the author creates – everything is
internally consistent and the author tells stories that span thousands
of years from the start of the series to the end (and not necessarily
in the books chronologically published order). If you want to give this
series a go, start with The Magic of Recluce.
Sullivan was a self-published author who was, after years of persistence, able to land a contract with a publishing company.
The series have garnered a lot praise over the past few years. The books are fairly light reading -- the characters are over the top as is the action. You might think of it as an entertaining light action romp with quite a bit of humor. Fans of say, Brent Weeks and Scott Lynch (Lynch’s books are much better, however) will appreciate the series.
A Game of Thrones(George R.R. Martin)
The Malazan Book of the Fallen(Steven Erikson)
The First Law (Joe Abercrombie)
The Long Price Quartet (Daniel Abraham)
Chronicles of Amber (Roger Zelazny)
The King Killer Chronicle (Patrick Rothfuss)
Tales of the Dying Earth(Jack Vance)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson)
The Farseer (Robin Hobb)
The Acts of Caine (Michael Stoover)
A Man of His Word(Dave Duncan)
New Crobuzon(J.R.R Tolkien)
Lord of the Rings(J.R.R Tolkien)
The Cold Fire Trilogy (C. S. Friedman)
The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan)
The Seventh Sword (Dave Duncan)
The Dark Tower (Steven King)
Thomas Covenant (Stephen R. Donaldson)
Earthsea Cycle (Ursula Le Guin)
Black Company (Glen Cook)
The Book of the New Sun (Gene Wolfe)
Memory, Sorrow, Thorn (Tad Williams)
Bartimaeus (Jonathan Stroud)
The Fionavar Tapestry (Guy Gavriel Kay)
Mythago Wood (Robert Holdstock)
Elric of Melinbone(Michael Moorcock)
His Dark Materials (Phillip Pullman)
Gormenghast (Mervyne Peake)
Chalion trilogy (Lois McMaster Bujold)
Monarchies of God (Paul Kearney)
Riddle of Stars (Patricia A. McKillip)
The Broken Empire (Mark Lawrence)
Seven Waters Trilogy (Juliet Marillier)
Abhorsen Trilogy(Garth Nix)
The Prince of Nothing (Scott R. Bakker)
Sword of Shadows (J.V. Jones)
Mistborn (Brandon Sanderson)
Books of the Cataclysm (Sean Williams)
The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper)
Chathrand Voyage (Robert V.S. Redick)
Legends of the Red Sun (Mark Charan Newton)
Psalms of Issak (Ken Scholes)
Tales of the Jetty Kay (Chris Wooding)
The Dresden Files (Jim Butcher)
The Deed of Paksenarrion (Elizabeth Moon)
Codex Alera (Jim Butcher)
Riftwar Saga (Raymond E. Feist)
Imager Portfolio (L. E. Modesitt Jr.)
Tyrants and Kings (John Marco)
Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)
A Tale of the King's Blades (Dave Duncan)
Kushiel's Legacy(Jacqueline Carey)
Shadows of the Apt (Adrian Tchaikovsky)
Vlad Taltos (Steven Brust)
Discworld (Terry Pratchett)
Deverry Series(Kathrine Kerr)
Tamir Triad (Lyn Flewelling)
Saga of Recluse (L.E. Modesitt Jr.)
The Riyria Revelations (Michael J. Sullivan)
And For More Recommendations...
If you are looking for more book recommendations, check these related lists out.
Also look at the Good Fantasy Books for even more recommendations.
Check out the Top 25 Best Stand Alone Fantasy Books list.
Look at the Top 25 Best Epic Fantasy series list for the best of that type of fantasy.
Look at the Best Fantasy Series for a broad list of the best fantasy series ever written