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. But even in 2015, we are STILL waiting for the next in the series. Will Martin ever finish this series? Maybe.
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 there.
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 series has been completed for many years now and unfortunately, the last book really disappointed, but it's worth reading.
You can also try R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before, which features superlative prose, a unique, but fascinating story-line, 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 Malazan 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 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.
The thing is, Discworld is not just ONLY about giving you good laughs, it's also a wickedly clever and cutting look into the state of the human condition. The humor of the Discworld is merely the tip of the iceberg, but if you sink below the surface, you'll see there is a lot more to a Pratchett novel than cheap laughs -- there's darkness and depth and an over-boiling anger at the unfairness, selfishness and stupidity of humans. And yet there's still hope there too. Because of the depth into the human condition that Pratchett explores in his long running series and his clever use of humor to elucidate the follies, foibles, and beauty of humanity, Pratchett is one of those writers that has transcended the genre itself, writing something that's 'more' than fantasy. It's a damn shame we won't be seeing too much more from this brilliant author who is now suffering from Alzheimer's.
Start with The Color of Magic, which follows the tourist Twoflower and his bumbling, hapless wizard guide, Rincewind. It's a mad, mad adventure that will have you gasping for breath. His best book is probably Nightwatch.
Pratchett IS the Douglas Adams of the fantasy world with a bit of George Orwell thrown in for good measure.
What's even better is that every single one of Abercrombie's books are great reads. His best is The Heroes, but even his newest 2015 YA series, The Shattered Sea, is a fine read indeed. You won't do any bad by picking up his first book in The First Law series, The Blade Itself.
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 in the gritty style of Abercrombie, check out books by R. Scott Bakker, Mark Lawrence, Luke Sculls, Jeff Salyards, Scott Lynch , Joe Abercrombie, George R.R. Martin, and Steven Erikson.
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 (as of 2015, still waiting on the third book) and both are good (though some argue the second is not as good as the first, to which I agree).
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).
There's a surprising amount of hate towards this book and author. A lot of this anger has to do with the the protagonist's hero being unrealistically heroic at everything he does, from magic, to martial abilities, to his skills with the ladies. However, Rothfuss is a clever chap and there's a deeper story beyond the surface story going on here in this frame story. The narrator's the painter of his own portrait and arguably unreliable. We'll have to see what happens in book three, but I think Rothfuss knows exactly what he is doing here.
From the start to the end of each book, you're taken along on an 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. Even in 2015 with an absurd number of awesome fantasy reads to be had, The Kingkiller Chronicles still stands out as some of the best fantasy in the genre.
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.
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 cliche's, 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 Abraham has 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.
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.
If you like the whole ancient mythos of Middle Earth, the histories, the tales within a tale, the small stories that Tolkien throws into his world that tell of the "early days" of mankind and of elves and of magic and gods and kings, then you'll find a lot to like in Tad William's Shadowmarch which incorporates a lot of folklore tales of gods and faeries which are directly relevant to the plot and story; there's a lot of mystery and magic to the world created by Williams. And the series is completed.
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.
Another interesting tale that plays directly on the Tolkien mythos is Jacqueline Carey's The Sundering duology, which takes many of Tolkien's conventions and mixes them up. It's a story told in all that high language, high mythology glory that Tolkien wrote in. Think of it as "Sauron's Tale" as told from the perspective of the bad guys who you find out are more misunderstood than anything else, while the good guys are self-righteous pricks. The whole thing is quite serious (this is by no means a comedy but rather a tragedy) and I thought it was a pretty compelling tale all around.
Richard Morgan, author of some seriously kick your ass science fiction, brings his talents to the fantasy genre with some pretty damn cool gritty fantasy. In his completed trilogy, he pretty much tries to subvert every sort of Tolkien convention. Take Tolkien, change about every equation and add an unhealhty mix of violence, graphic sex, and disturbing acts of inhumanity, and populate it with a caste of seriously flawed characters and you have something along the lines of a Tolkien gone mad. I'd say this is probably the most grimdark series I've read yet.
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.
For another epic fantasy with an end-of-the-world plot and a coming-of-age (sorta) story, read Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings. Words of Radiance, book two was released this year and for the most part carried the torch passed from the first book. The series is now THE epic fantasy saga everyone talking about. If Jordan took up Tolkien's world-building mantle with A Wheel of Time, Sanderson has replaced Jordan by building an even BIGGER world with this generation's new epic fantasy series. And he's a better writer than Jordan.
For a 12th-century version of Middle Earth set in a stark (English) European landscape that's as cold as the world is gritty and brutal where main characters can die at any moment, read George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga tale. Besides, everyone is now calling Martin 'The American Tolkien.' What more can I say there?
If you want a book that's like Lord of the Rings but longer, has strong female characters, and very strong characterization (FAAAR better than Jordan's), read Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn saga, another classic. The series is older, yes, but it has aged remarkably well. And the writing is top notch, and good prose and good characters never age.
Magic, Tolkien style fantasy races, multiple worlds, powerful sorcerers, necromancers, and lost magic. More along the lines of a D&D style story, but elevated. The series ends horribly, but the journey is pretty good. If you like Tolkien AND Wheel of Time, you'll dig it.
If you like Tolkien, read Eye of the World by Jordan. This man, when he was alive, claimed Tolkien's world-building mantle: Jordan created a massive world, richly developed cultures, and a well-defined magic system. When you read Jordan, you explore an ancient world full of secrets. I have to throw out a disclaimer though: Wheel of Time is far far from perfect; Jordan becomes lost in his own world as it grows too big even for him; (some of) his characters devolve into caricatures, and Jordan's handling of romance between characters is puerile to say the least. However, many people still find the books great fun, and if you like Tolkien's epic style, Jordan is a must read. Jordan died a few years ago, but the talented Brandon Sanderson finished the series. It's now completed and Sanderson did a good job at finishing it. Overall, I was disappointed with the series though, even if Sanderson did his best. This is one of those series that started out strong but started to die around book 5 or 6. It's still worth reading though, especially if you like heroic epic fantasy that is absolutely epic in length and scope.
What 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, youexplore 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 fantasy series.
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.
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 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 Riddle-Master 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 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.
Similar recommendations: J.R.R.Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
I also recommend Phillip K. McKillip's wonderful Riddle-Master trilogy, which features similar prose and a similar, though at the same time, very different, story.
You might also try Sean Russell's The Swans' War .
This book is a classic with a complex heroine and plenty of subversions. The author is from the same mold as Le Guine.
The Lyonesse Trilogy by the great Jack Vance. Plays quite a few of the same notes as does The Earthsea Cycle: beautiful, poetic writing, well developed complex characters, a magical world steeped in welsh/Celtic mythology that you want to move into, and some deep themes explored.
Starts with The Dragonebone Chair. From boy to man and from man to hero, this is a remarkable tale that's brimming with detail. It's a story where the journey's end is not the ultimate destination, but the journey itself is.
The Curse of Chalion won the World Fantasy Award and the author has won Hugos and Nebula awards already for her other series. Beautiful writing, complex characters, deep themes. Something about this book brings to mind A Wizard of Earthsea, even if the plot and story are not at all the same.
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.
The Secret History by Donna Tart. Not specifically fantasy persay, but the writing and tone and characterization is somewhat similar. A young group of students at a college discover another way to think about their life and the rammifications of this change everything about how they live.
The Magicians alludes to a number of popular fantasy classics. Alice in Wonderland is one such work and The Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, one of the major focus of all the Magican books are about a postmodern version of Narnia.
Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaimen. One thing I love about The Magicians is it moves the simpler children's fiction into the adult realm with an adult perspective. It's Narnia for grown ups.One book about that perfectly captures the child realm but transforms it for adults is Gaimen's Ocean at the End of the Lane. Thematically, Gaimen does the same thing as Grossman. While both works are completely different in scope and plot, they do take a child's perspective but remake it for an adult which changes it.
If we are going to follow that rabbit down the rabbit hole into the dark and murky literary past, seeking the origin of boy-goes-to-magic school to become a wizard, we might as well get to one of the sources. If Potter made it a pop culture thing, then Ursula Le Guine helped bring it alive like no other author. Yes, Im talking about The Wizard of Earthsea. Before there was Harry Potter, there was Ged.
For another novel about Magicians in training, you might like The Night Circus. It's about two young magicians locked in deadly conflict trying to outperform the other who are both part of a magical circus. Its a rich and intoxicating read most decidedly literary and one of the best fantasy books of 2011.
Harry Potter. Yes, if you like The Magicians, read Harry Potter the titular character who is deconstructed by Grossman and reformed into a far more complex and troubled and fallible version as the character Quinton.
You might want to give Susan Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell a read. Like Less Grossman's The Magicians, it's a story about magic in a world that supposedly has no magic. Both novels veer from the usual fantasy conventions, weighing in as more than just "fantasy." I like to call these "literary fantasy." This novel, however, heralds back to the Victorian era and features a more conventional sort of story (that borrows heavily from the likes of a Jane Austen novel in language an description) and is NOT a postmodern take on the fantasy genre that The Magicians is.
The Conan books are classics that helped form the early fantasy genre during the 30's, and along with Karl Wagner's Kane books and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series, Howard's work helped create the Sword and Sorcery genre. To say Conan has been influential on modern fantasy and pop culture at large would be a vast understatement.
Don't let the fact that these books are nearly 100 years old scare you from reading them. They are dark, compelling, and richly evocative reads. And hey, by reading them, you can lord this fact over all the other 95% of the fantasy nerds who claim to love Fantasy but have never read one of the pillars of the genre.
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 persevere 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.
With 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.
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.
The Broken Empire
Mark Lawrence's delicious gritty anti-hero military fantasy. If you like large battles, underdog heroes, and a full scale invasion of the dead into the land of the living, well, The Broken Empire is what you need to read. One of the more interesting heroes in the genre and featuring superbly written prose.
Starts with Scourge of the Betrayer. Some new 2014 military fantasy in a good grimdark tradition. Reminds me of Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence mixed with The Black Company by Glenn Cook.
The Thousand Names came out 2013 with a serious bang. Detailed military campaign and squad tactics/warfare as several companies of foreign colonial soldiers must make their way through an inhospitable desert to escape hostile locals trying to kill them.
Starts with The Red Knight. Plenty of medieval warfare here - tactics, sieges, and fierce battles against men and monsters.
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. And big bonus points for this trilogy actually being completed with all of the books very strong from start to finish. Even more, there's a new trilogy set in the same universe and set in the same timeline period, but covering a different story with a different protagonist.
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.
And if you want another literary fantasy series with a rich narrative, dry humor, and a compelling story, all written in flowery language, read Jack Vance's Lyonesse trilogy. For many older fantasy readers, this series is often compared with The Lord of the Rings and Dune in literary scope. Those weaned on filler fantasy of the likes of Brook, Eddings, and Salvatore, may not appreciate the scope and beauty of this work, but for those who love literary fantasy in the epic fantasy tradition, read it.
For another series that's baroque in description, alien in setting and just about as beautiful a series as Gormenghast is Gene Wolf's The Book of the New Sun series. It's a visual feast of the imagination. It's not strictly fantasy, but more of a "science fantasy."
Another author who's been heavily influenced by Peake is Jeff Vandermeer (read his book Ambergris). You might as well read The Etched City by K.J. Bishop, another book that shares some of the Gothic weirdness of the Gormenghast series.
For a modern version of fantasy weird, give China Mieville a try. It's not in the same vein as Gormenghast, but Mieville is the head of one of the "new" schools of fantasy that aims for the weird and the bizarre. Oh, and he's a superbly talented author too. You might start with his Perdido Street Station. In fact, Mieville has publicly stated that his Perdido Street Station novel was influenced by Gormenghast.
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. Im 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. Its 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 Vances Dying Earth and Lionesses and Mervyn Peake's Ghormenghast are absolutely guaranteed to love this.
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.
As of 2015, we are sitting at two massive books in what will be a ten book series. Words of Radiance, book 2 in the series, was by all measures a success. It was a very good read for the most part with plenty of "ohhh shiiittt' moments going on (Sanderson has made his career on 'Holy Shit' moments where action and drama perfectly intersect with showdowns between heroes and bad guys).
The Stormlight Archive 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.
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.
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 of the North (the first three books) followed by the Books of the South. The series goes downhill after that. But the first three books are stunning.
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 -- people 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.
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.
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 want to explore. It's hands down better than most of the fantasy series on the market right now.
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.
Otherland by Tad Williams. A sprawling epic story with a cast of characters who travel from virtual world to world as part of an overarching quest to find answers. Very much character-driven, but about as epic an adventure you can get. You'll like it.
His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. Multiple universes, portals to other worlds, dark story that plays out with children as the actors, grand adventures. Youll probably like it if you like Kings work, though this one has an unequivocal anti-theological direction to it.
Read Hyperion by Dan Simmons. A very dark science fiction tale thats epic. Not the same sort of story and pure science fictionbut, there are elements that you might like IF you like The Dark Tower particularly the tales told by the emotionally tortured pilgrims.
The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams. Part of a trilogy. Its a dark and twisted tale about an afterlife gone awry. Twins who are connected are separated by murder, one very much alive on earth and cast into an afterlife gone wrong. Their special connection, however, sets a cataclysmic change in reality, pulling together the afterlife realm and the physical realm. There is much of Kings haunted and forlorn world present in the novel as one of the characters struggles his way through an afterlife gone to hell, with monsters and creatures lurking around every corner and twisted versions of humanity preying on visitors. And when the afterlife begins to leak into the real world, a horrific version of reality takes over the world. It does feel very Stephen Kingish in some sections and the world, as stated, could be one of the nightmare worlds visited by Roland during The Dark Tower series.
Read Steven King's The Talisman, which is another book set in the Dark Tower universe. It's a powerful read about a boy trying to save his mother. Jack Sawyer, a 12-year old boy, sets off on a quest to find a mythical talisman that will save his dying mother. His quest will take him across America and into the heart of a parallel world. I listened to the Audiobook version of this novel and was blown away by the story. Steven King is always at his best when he explores "worlds not our own." Several of his books explore the parallel universe concept. King's Insomnia is another such book (set in the same universe as The Dark Tower) and a great read.
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 there. 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.
Also try George R.R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga, which is very epic and very gritty.
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 glories are laid bare to the reader.
Fans of Lionesses, Books of the New Sun, and Ghormenghast will die for joy with this series.
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 including 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.
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.
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 traveled 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 Farseer. 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.
A Note About Hobb's various sequel books....
Hobb has written 4 trilogies and another 4 book saga set in the Farseer world. Since it's all kind of confusing, I'll break it down here to make it easier for you.
The original story starts with The Farseer trilogy and centers about Fitz. The Tawny Man trilogy is a direct sequel to the Farseer trilogy taking place years later after the events and featuring the main characters. And her newest (as of 2015) trilogy The Fitz and the Fool is a direct sequel to the Tawney Man trilogy; it's also chronologically as her story time lines go, the newest.
The Liveship Traders trilogy takes place in the same world as Farseer but in a different country with different characters and roughly around the same time as the original Farseer Trilogy. The Rain Wilds Chronicles is a 4 book saga that takes place AFTER the events of the Tawny Man. but before her new Fitz and the Fool books (I believe).
(The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever)(Stephen R. Donaldson)
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 transformation 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 first.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
If You Like the Anti-Hero Aspect of this book, check out our Best Anti-Hero Fantasy Books list.
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.
This 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 delight, read.
The series is a bit uneven, however. The first book is fabulous, the second merely great. The last two books are merely just good.
This series has become the gold standard for urban hard boiled 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.
Its 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 theres an underlying story thats 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.
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 tale.
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 heavy 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.
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.
And apparently, author is hard at work on a NEW book in this series as of 2015.
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.
A magnificent series 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.
Despite everyone going gaga over Sanderson's new Stormlight Archive saga (which as of this updated writing has two books out), there is a certain power to the Mistborn books that Sanderson has not yet replicated in his later works. Call me nostalgic towards Sanderson's earliest work, but I think it's true! Either way, if you haven't read Mistborn trilogy yet, make it your next read.
What's also interesting is that Sanderson is turning the Mistborn world into a set of three trilogies -- with the first trilogy set in mythical times, the second trilogy (which has as of 2015 one book out and two on the way) set in a pseudo streampunk wild west hundreds of years later, and a future trilogy set in modern times or in futuristic science fiction setting. Awesome!
So you might as well read the original trilogy to get it out of the way!
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 sort of 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.
Politics, magic and sexuality burst from the seams of this one. This series has garnered a fantastic reputation over the years its been out.
Read if you want complex politics, an pseudo alternate Italian/Spanish Renascence setting, deep, complex characters, a heavy focus on complicated romantic relationships, and lots of graphic kinky sex.
I'd say if there was a 50 Shades of Grey of the Fantasy World, well the Kushiel's Legacy books would be it -- though a much deeper, more complex, and better written version of them -- and a hell of a lot longer too.
The Kushiel Legacy Books consist of three trilogies (but read the very first book Kushiel's Dart and see how you like), listed in order below:
A lot of people call Kearney's Monarchies of God 'A Game of Thrones Lite.' And for the most part, this is true. There are a five books (each only a few hundred words) with a hell of a meaty story packed in between the pages. I've said so before about this series on other lists: it's one of the more underrated series in the genre. It may not be as complex as some of the newer fantasy today, but if you want an epic fantasy with kingdom's clashing, big battles, strange magics, and mysterious lands to explore, well Kearney's book won't disappoint you.
It's a great series to read in between some of the other more emotionally taxing series out there.
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.
Classic, beautifully written heroic fantasy is the theme of these recommendations.
J.R.R.Tolkien's A Lord of the Rings. What more to say here. Nothing.
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.
Beautiful writing. Check. Heroic fantasy? Check. Slow, pedantic writing that details every inch of the world. Check.
Starts with The Name of the Wind. Lyrical, beautifully written and character driven, this high fantasy tale is one of the best in the genre. It's not so much a story about good and evil but rather the story of a hero as he remembers himself to be, true or not.
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 be 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.
I can't say enough good things about this amazing fantasy series except that the author has gone completely AWOL and, as of 2015, looks like she's pretty much abandoned writing at this point.
At one point, maybe close to 10 years ago, I considered it one of the best fantasy series out there. These days, the series is still good but against some of the new wave of awesome fantasy that's come out the past 10 years, is only so so.
Regardless, Sword of Shadows is a great read for all. And, 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 one of the better 'classic good guy versus bad guy' series (no grey ambiguity with the heroes here, the the setting is gritty).
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.
So, pick it up if you find the series on the cheap, just realize that only 4 books are out and
the last book doesn't look like it's ever going to be finished. The author recently posted on her almost abandoned blog that she's currently been hard at work on BOOK 5. Finally!
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 ).
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.