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Fans of the Wheel of Time, you've found your new Jordan in the form of Islington.
The Shadow of What Was Lost has been the closest thing I've read to The Wheel of Time since, well, I actually read The Wheel of Time, minus some of the stupid idiosyncrasies Jordan threw into his works.
This is the first book in a trilogy, and it's vast. Did I mention it feels like a book that Jordan came back to life to write through someone else? I mean, this is a book Jordan might have written in his early years, had not written The Wheel of Time instead.
Ancient evil stirring. Check. A trio of callow youths forced into the greater world full of dangers and strange creatures trying to kill them? Check. Different cultures? Check. A complex magic system? Check. A mythology that spans thousands of years? Check. A Rand-Al-Thor character who's lost his memory? Check. Action, adventure, political intrigue, treachery, betrayal, and teenage angst? Double fucking check.
Want an even more WOT reading experience? Then listen to the audiobook version. The audiobook narrator, Michael Kramer, is the same person who narrates The Wheel of Time, The Stormlight Archive, and Mistborn. He's also one of my favorite audiobook narrators and narrates some of the best fantasy audiobooks out there.
So I highly recommend you listen to the audiobook. It's bloody damn good and with Audiobook King Kramer reading it, you'll almost feel like you are in the middle of some alternate universe version of The Wheel of Time.
The Shadow of What Was Lost is a wildly entertaining to read from start to finish. The author manages to take some very familiar tropes and weave together something entertaining. It's a book that's defined by the influences around it, yet still manages to do the traditional, well.
If one would call The Shadow of What Was Lost a clone of The Wheel of Time, they would not be without reason to make such a claim. Yet, if this is a clone, it's a clone that's well made, and built from the DNA of the source, but in many ways, improved upon.
So yes, it's is possible to enter the most cliched of stories and, by strength of your world building and story, still make your own mark on the genre. And yes, even though the influences of The Wheel of Time are clearly marked in this story, there's enough that's new (and completely different) there so it's far more than a simple clone.
This book is an outstanding example of doing the traditional epic fantasy tale right. This is not some complicated subversion of the fantasy genre or some grimdark tale where the 'villains' are called 'heroes' on the book flap description, where doing evil shit and calling it moral ambiguity is edgy and cool.
No, this is very much the traditional good versus evil, with heroes and villains. However, Islington does a good job at complicating the good vs evil conceit by putting his heroes on either side of the line and forcing them to deal with emotional turbulence.
So it's a traditional epic fantasy, but the author does inject more ambiguity than say Jordan does in The Wheel of Time. I also appreciated how the author was not shy about throwing in violence and death. People do die horrible deaths.
This book is not as expansive as The Wheel of Time was. The narrative and scope feel smaller, there are less 'places on the map', the evil more personal, and the story more focused. But Wheel of Time it does feel like still, just a smaller, more pocked sized version of it.
So look, if you love Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, or The Storm Light Archive Books, you are going to really love this outstanding example of traditional fantasy done right.
Even more surprising, this is an indie novel, but feels like something a well-established epic fantasy writer like Jordan would cough up.
Absolutely read this. Even more so if you are a fan of The Wheel of Time. Despite the heavy influence of Jordan, The Shadow of What Was Lost is it's own entity.
As they say in Thailand, 'Same Same but Different'
Read this one guys -- one of the best indie books I've yet read. I lost a night of sleep finishing the 25 hour audiobook. And to me, that counts as something well worth recommending.
The sequel (An Echo of Things to Come) takes everything in the first book and expands it, delivering a deeper, more developed story and fixing many of the shortcomings of the first book. The first two books are absolutely a must read for anyone who loves The Wheel of Time.
Books in The Licanius Tri... Series (2)
One reviewer said The Path of Flames should be up for a Gemmel award. And I wholly agree. This is one of the best examples of what indie fiction can bring to the reading table.
Path of Flames is wonderfully written, viciously exciting, and can stand shoulder to shoulder with anything written by David Gemmel. If you love heroic action fantasy in the vein of Gemmel, or the dark grittiness of Brent Weeks' Night Angel series or the grimdark military setting of the Black Company, or you will find yourself absolutely delighted with Phil Tucker's Chronicles of the Black Gate.
The Path of Flames (first book in the Chronicles of the Black Gate) may be indie fantasy but deserves to be picked up by a large publisher. Yes, it's that good. I'm just sad that it took me until late 2017 to read this book, otherwise it would have been near the top of this 'best indie fantasy' list when it came out!
Note that this book took #2 in Mark Lawrence's 2016 SFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog Off) competition, beating out a good hundred other fantasy books.
So. If you haven't picked this one up and you want to dip your toe into the world of indie fantasy, I can recommend no better entry than The Path of Flames. It's a crackling good read.
And someone please give the author a Gemmell award. He deserves the shit out of it.
Books in Chronicles of th... Series (6)
The Earth is under siege - and no one knows about it because the invaders erase those whom they consume. A handful of men and women stand on the border between the mundane and the magical. They have a special spark of soul - not quite enough to be naturally gifted in spellcraft but greater than the average person, a tiny flame that can ignite incredible potential. They possess the ability to fight back against the Vorid: the ability to become a Contractor.
Daniel Fitzgerald is one of those people, but when duty comes calling he promptly slams the door in its face. He has no illusions of grandeur. He is not someone special. He wants to go to school and study law. And frankly, he doesn't really like people, and he doesn't want anything to do with magic. He just wants to be left alone. But when the entire planet is a battlefield, there is no place to run.
If you loved Brandon Sanderson's 'The Reckoner's', then Andrew Ball's The Contractors is about as close as you can find to something similar in tone and story. It's wildly entertaining from start to finish and I have to admit the book held me from start to finish.
It's the story of an alien invasion of earth from creatures from another dimension and about a college student who makes a pact with an entity set on stopping the alien invasion by becoming a vampiric monster himself.
The characters are surprisingly deep, there's a college/school setting, a coming of age, a girl to impress, rival magicians who want to send your soul to hell, and of course, the entire world to save.
Sounds like fun? It is! One of the best indie fantasy books I've read. I just hope the author finishes book 2 soon.
Highly recommended and a must-read for those who like The Reckoners or Peter Cline's Ex-Heroes, or just a pretty kick ass coming of age story about a kid who gets to be a hero.
Books in The Contractors Series (1)
With a Martin-esque plot and Jim Butcher pace, The Axe and the Throne is a definite "must read" for even the pickiest fantasy fans.
In his stunning debut, Ireman has built the type of world so vivid and engrossing that leaving it at the end is agony. In spite of leaning toward grimdark, where authors often enshroud every scene in depressing darkness, there is no lack of cheerful moments or brilliant scenery. Yet the pangs of near-instant nostalgia that come after you put down a book like this have less to do with the inspired setting, and far more to do with those who inhabit it.
From savage, unremorseful heroes, to deep, introspective villains, the cast of this story is comprised of believable characters capable of unthinkable actions. And it is these characters -- the ones you wish you could share a drink with or end up wanting to kill -- that forge the connection between fantasy and reality. Keethro, Titon, Ethel, Annora. These are names you will never forget, and each belongs to a man or woman as unique as they are memorable.
No book would be complete without a its fair share of intrigue, however, and there is no lack of it here. Each chapter leaves you wanting more, and Ireman's masterful use of misdirection leads to an abundance of "oh shit" moments. Do not be fooled (or do -- perhaps that's part of the fun) by storylines that may appear trope-ish at first. This is no fairytale.
Five years ago, Corin Cadences brother entered the Serpent Spire a colossal tower with ever-shifting rooms, traps, and monsters. Those who survive the spires trials return home with an attunement: a mark granting the bearer magical powers. According to legend, those few who reach the top of the tower will be granted a boon by the spires goddess. He never returned. Now, its Corins turn. Hes headed to the top floor, on a mission to meet the goddess. If he can survive the trials, Corin will earn an attunement, but that wont be sufficient to survive the dangers on the upper levels. For that, hes going to need training, allies, and a lot of ingenuity. The journey wont be easy, but Corin wont stop until he gets his brother back.
This was a very pleasant surprise and stands out as one of the best indie / self pub fantasy I've yet read. Basically, take Tomb Raider, add little pinch of The Name of Wind's detailed magic system and teen-fueled magic school setting, throw in a bunch of feuding gods and you have Sufficiently Advanced Magic -- a thoroughly fun read. If you want to dip your feet into both indie fiction and some non-hardcore LitRPG, this is one of the best books to do it.
The book has problems, but given how entertaining the whole story is, it's well worth the read and I would say a good example of indie fantasy done right. It also has a particularly developed (and interesting) rule-based magic system that's a joy to read about.
Read If You Like:
Tomb Raider, Magic-School Settings, Detailed Magic Systems, The Name of the Wind's magic school setting, Lit RPG, a Dungeon Crawler made fiction
Books in Arcane Ascension Series (1)
If there is one book to read from the list, then hands down I point you to The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble's Braids - which stands out as one of the best indie fantasy books out there. A solidly impressive debut.
This is one of those indie fantasy books that does not read like the normal self pub fantasy. It's every big as good as a traditionally published book, and even better than many. In fact, it seems even publishers agree (this book was picked up to be published by Ragnarok Publications). So technically the book is now a hybrid published -- both indie and traditional -- but we'll still list it here as self-published since it was recently such.
So why read it?
Well besides it deliver a rip-roaring tale you can't put down, the plotting is strong, the characters well drawn, and the writing sharp. In many ways, it's a thief meets sword & sorcery tale that's similar to the Night Angel series by Brent Weeks, Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick, and the Shadowdance series by David Dalglish.
Recently, this book won Mark Lawrence's Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off Contest -- beating out the other ten books on the list.
And a read through the book makes it pretty clear why it won the competition: it's damn good.
And with a nearly perfect rating on Amazon (though if you've read some of my Amazon review expose posts, you'll know how trustworthy those are. You can buy a positive review for under 10 bucks), at least a few other people agree with me here and find it a pretty damn good read.
So if you are looking for one of the best, if not the best, indie fantasy book out there right now, The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble's Braids is near the top.
With the first book in the series prices at only .99c and the other two books in the series costing a couple bucks each, there is no reason you shouldn't pick this one up. It's a telling example of indie fantasy doing all the things right.
Read it to see exactly some of the best self published fantasy that can go toe to toe with any fantasy published the traditional way.
Books in Amra Thetys Seri... Series (3)
This one is for fans of Stephen King's The Dark Tower.
The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree reads like something an alternate version of Stephen King's The Dark Tower. In the indie fantasy sphere, S.A. Hunt is one of the more popular self pub authors on Amazon with a legion of fans who love his work. And he's is, I posit, one of the more talent authors pushing the boundaries of self pub fiction.
But don't take my word for it. Book 3 in the series took home Reddit's 2014 Self Published Fantasy of the Year award. And do a search on S.A. Hunt and you'll find a ton of real readers who love this author and his books. Many well known book bloggers have written glowing reviews of his books as well. So Hunt has a track record of producing quality fiction that people do indeed love.
One thing you will quickly encounter when reading self published books on a regular bases is that most of it is dreck, quite a bit is mediocre at best (a product of still-learning writers honing their skills on your dollar), and a few books are uncut gems. The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree is that gem -- one of the best indie fantasy books I've read.
Indeed, over the past few years, only a handful of self pub books I've read really stood out as exceptional from the rest. Blood Song by Anthony Ryan was one (you may have heard of this one). And The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree is the other. Both books were exceptional -- unpolished yes, but exceptional. Anthony Ryan later on landed a traditional publishing contact with the Big Six (Ace and Orbit), but he started out self publishing Blood Song in 2012. And I feel SA Hunt's The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree is the next big thing -- but we'll see if the author wants to keep his work self published for maximum control.
So for some of the best, most addicting fantasy you'll find in the self pub market, absolutely give The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree the read it rightfully deserves. It's every bit as good as anything you'll find in the traditionally published world.
It's also some serious value for your money, priced at .99c. So yea, this is a must read if you want to sample the best of what Indie fantasy has to offer.
Books in The Outlaw King Series (3)
If you are looking for some indie fantasy that tastes of Grimdark, The Heresy Within by Rob Hayes is some of the best in the self pub fantasy world you'll find.
So why read it? It's dark, bloody, and violent the quality we all love in some good grimdark fantasy. Even better, there are three books in the trilogy with the other two sequels waiting for you as soon as you tear though The Heresy Within.
I like this book a lot and I feel it's one of the best standout indie fantasy books / series you can lay your hands on right now. Indeed, The Heresy Within took our own 2014 Best Independent Fantasy Novel' award.
Technically, Rob Hayes is now published with Ragnarok Publications and because of such is technically a hybrid published author -- that publishing space existing between indie and traditionally published; the same shelf-space that fellow self-pub alumni Michael J Sullivan, David Dalglish, Anthony Ryan and many of the other self-published superstars now seem to occupy.
But since his roots are firmly founded in the self pub space (and his new books often ONLY appear digitally distributed on Amazon), I've listed his book here on this list. Just keep in mind that Hayes' work is good enough to land a publishing contract with a well-known and respected publisher in the fantasy space.
So if you are in the mood for something dirty and dark with heroes that are complete bastards surviving in an unforgiving, take-no-prisoner's world, I highly recommend this one. Fans of gritty fantasy from the likes of Abercrombie's First Law. Week's Night Angel series, and Angus Watson's The Iron Age, will find themselves right at home reading The Heresy Within.
The book will cost you less than $3 dollars and is nearly 600 pages, so there's plenty of value to be had for what you will pay.
So yes, I highly recommend you read this book (and sequel books) to see some of the best gritty fantasy the indie market has so far produced.
Books in The Ties That Bi... Series (3)
Sick and tired of reading the same old stale fantasy? Well David Benem has something to say about that. The answer is, of course, to read his remarkably good What Remains of Heroes.
If you want an epic fantasy that dwells in the gritty spectrum while also retaining a philosophical and introspective edge to it, What Remains of Heroes delivers these in spades.
This one scored well in the Mark Lawrence Fantasy Blog Off competition, scoring a #6 spot on a list of 10 books. And I see why: it's a compelling read from start to finish, especially if you wants you some good old grimdark fiction.
Let's see what's inside the covers: morally conflicted anti-heroes. Check. A dark unforgiving world. Check. Subversion on the standard fantasy trappings. Check. Well developed character. Check. Raw violence and action. Check and check again.
Grimdark and just the ways we likes it.
The influences behind this book are numerous, ranging from historical Sword & Sorcery fiction such as Robert Howard and Michael Moorcock's Elric books to modern grimdark works with clear inspiration from the likes of Abercrombie's The Blade Itself, Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire, and Scott R.R Bakker's Prince of Nothing.
If this sort story peaks your interest and you want to read some quality indie fantasy that read likes a conversation between the classics of Sword & Sorcery classics and the modern grimdark aesthetic, look no further then What Remains of Heroes.
And while the book springs from self publishing roots, the end product here is a book that's well-edited with smooth prose, a sharp plot, and complex characters. It's a book that holds up very well against any traditionally published book and one of those rare sought-after jewels you do find if you dig deep enough into slush of the self published landscape.
And the cover is really fucking cool too -- one of the best I've seen in the indie fantasy space.
Then there's epic fantasy.
The Weight of a Crown falls into the later and at nearly 600 pages and the first chapter, throws down the gauntlet, eying to make a dent on epic fantasy.
And mostly, it succeeds.
There's a large cast of POV's. There's three kingdoms at war. There's court intrigue. There's gladiatorial battles. There's powerful heroes. There's a long forgotten evil. And there's evil demons to slay.
The Weight of a Crown book took #3 out of #10 on the Great Self Publish Blog Off competition. It did well there, and after reading it, I can see why.
Because it's a mostly well-written, always entertaining novel that does a good epic fantasy tale tell well.
While the book doesn't always succeed at what it intends to do (trying to ascend the heights of the mountain that is A Song of Ice and Fire), it still does a pretty good job at going part of the way there.
If you want some indie epic fantasy, The Weight of a Crown does a pretty good job at scratching that itch. The plot is somewhat scattered, the pacing uneven, the prose in need of editing, but The Weight of a Crown reaches for the stars, fails to, yet still hits the moon.
And even though it fails to reach the lofty heights it intends, it still goes the distance.
Worth reading? You betcha -- it's very much worth the read, even ifits a pretty damn long one (the book tops at nearly 600 pages). Here's an even better reason to read it: the book is FREE on Amazon right now.
A good epic fantasy that mostly delivers on it's promise...and free to download.
There shouldn't even be a debate about this one. Pick it up now.
Books in The Azhaion Saga... Series (2)
For your alternate history meets the weird west, Boodrush is the book to read.
Bloodrush is an interesting book indeed. With a setting and story that combines the likes of the weird wild west with faeries, Bloodrush wins some serious creativity points.
Bloodrush is a pretty good stand-in example for all that's good and bad -- about indie fantasy: you get a richly developed world, some unique ideas, a weird-yet fascinating setting, a solid story, and decent prose; yet while other hand, you endure a still somewhat unpolished book with unpolished prose and characterization.
Basically, it's a flawed jewel and the sort of book that you will want to sift the depths of the self pub fantasy world to find. And while the book may be wildly uneven in parts, vacillating between outstanding to good then mediocre and back to good again, it's still a worthwhile effort.
The book took second place on Mark Lawrence's Self Pub Blog Off competition as well, just coming behind our top of the list entry, .The Thief Whole Pulled on Trouble's Braids.
Overall, Bloodrush is an great indie fantasy that has the solid potential, with round or two of professional editing, to land a traditional publishing contract.
So for the most part, Bloodrush can stand toe to toe with anything you might find in the bookstore fantasy section. As to whether the author will stick to self pub model or go the hybrid publishing route that other talented self-published authors have gone remains to be seen.
Those looking for some quality indie fantasy -- a book that stands out from most of the others around it -- read this one. Highly recommended and at (of time of writing) only $2.50 on Amazon.com which is a worthy bargain for what you get.
Books in The Scarlet Star... Series (2)
This is one of those books you don't realize how good it is until you are lost somewhere in the middle of the story and realize you haven't put it down since starting.
It's an unassuming read at first, yet a powerfully good read.
Like many other indie fantasy books on this list, the story premise is weird. But specializing in the non-traditional fantasy -- stuff the traditional pub world is afraid to risk on -- is what makes indie fantasy so surprising, and sometimes like in this case, very rewarding.
Monsters of Elsewhere is a whimsical tale that brings to mind something dark and horrific crafted by Neil Gaiman -- a children's fairy tale gone horribly wrong.
Other indie fantasy books on this list delve into gritty lands or strange landscapes and "caverns measureless to man."
But Waldram takes you into the world of fairy tales and monsters hiding under beds. A world that Gaiman has so successfully brought to the masses. And Waldram is does the same with Monsters of Elsewhere and succeeds.
Read it and be delightfully scarily entertained.
The Demon of Cliffside is a completely different fantasy than you've ever read -- an anomaly that would not exist but for the indie publishing movement that empowers it.
Indeed, one area where indie fantasy particularly excels is in bringing non-standard fantasy that's so beyond the pale of traditional fantasy that publishers would be hesitant to pick it up as a bad financial investment.
This sort of money-first business model, correct as it may be for maximizing profits and minimizing loss on the behalf of the publishers, stifles creativity. And The Demon of Cliffside by Nathan Fierro is great example of what imaginative fantasy the indie marketplace can foster.
This book is a fantastic fantasy adventure from a non-human perspective. You don't follow the story of a magnificent hero, a village boy come into his destiny, or an aging soldier. No, it's the tale of a lonely creature, a demon-like thing exiting long before the coming of man, that lives along a high cliff and comes down to walk among humans, using the hidden power of alchemy to travel disguised. It's a wildly different sort of fantasy, so far out there that you'd never see something like this published the traditional way. But it's a fantastically different sort of fantasy -- the most unique story on this list of best indie fantasy by far -- and then some.
Pick this one up if you are hankering a taste for something completely and wildly different: a character-driven urban fantasy set in an alchempunk world that's about as far away from standard fantasy as Mars is from Earth (meaning of course, pretty fucking far).
As a bonus, This is a stand-alone book, so you don't have to plow your way through a thousand pages just to get a proper ending.
A good imaginatively strange book, but nevertheless an excellent, powerful read and an example of what beautiful oddities the indie marketplace can produce. Absolutely worth the 2 or so dollars you pay on Amazon.
Kan Savasci: a legend, a warrior, a mage… hero and villain. Tears of a Heart marks the tale of a young man, Aeden, who unwittingly shapes the world. It is a coming-of-age tale, that fills the void of waiting for Rothfuss’ next book.
It is a coming-of-age tale, that fills the void of waiting for Rothfuss’ next book. The writing is beautiful, layered, and timely. Chase Blackwood weaves an intricate tale that hints at so much more. This is no simple story, it’s a grand epic that has only begun to show itself. And that may be its greatest challenge. Tears of a Heart, the first book in the series, was beautifully written, and interesting. It shows us an amazing world filled with detail and depth, but for a portion of it, just a touch slow. The writing, such beautiful writing, overshadows this, as does the ending. It’s a difficult world to leave.
Tower of the Arkein, the next book in the series, is where the story truly begins to unfold, and where Chase Blackwood shines as an author. It is fast paced, full of action, adventure, and love. A very strong entry in the fantasy genre, and if the next book is equally as good, expect it to make quite a splash.
You can buy on Amazon now.
If you want some delightfully creepy YA fantasy, look no further than Halloween Jack and the Devil's Gate. M Todd Gallowglas takes some of those classic fairy tales and weaves them together into something refreshingly new.
These books are fun, fun, fun.
Old legends are made new again here as Gallowglas melds a modern folk tale with a steampunk setting then rides the story on the back of a swashbuckling adventure.
It's a great, lightheartedly fun novel to read to the kids with over-the-top characters, frenetic action, evil to thwart and powerful events to contain.
There are some editing errors, the dialogue can be a bit rough at time, and the characters need a bit of fleshing out. But considering this is an indie production, these are easily forgivable.
I'd say fans of Jonathan Stroud's creepy Lockwood and Co. books will find themselves entertained by this one. It may not be deep and the story told is to say the least, weird, but Halloween Jack and the Devil's Gate a fun read the whole way through.
You won't be bored. And your kids won't be either.
Books in Halloween Jack B... Series (2)
The Black God's War is very much that complex epic fantasy that you absolutely want to read. Though it's self published, it's a very polished work with complex many-layered characters, strong world-building, and a content spanning conflict between different cultures.
The book tells a story where the right and the wrong are nebulous and you really never know what side you should stand on as the reader. It's a bit of a thought experiment about the genre made manifest into a novel.
Readers who like to think when they read will find a good deal of mental stimulation while reading this.
The two sides of the conflict are well-drawn with unique characteristics that define them. You have one side with that mirrors the historical Greeks and the other culture taking on influences from the Indian sub-content. It's this clash of very different cultures that provide the narrative steam powering the novel.
The Black God's War is a story about characters and their journey with the journey defining the characters, how they change, how they see the world, and how they come to understand their place in the world.
For a complex fantasy with a compelling story, with complex characters, and a plot you can never really predict, read this one. It's a good example of what sort of hidden jewels you can find if you dig into the world of indie fantasy. Overall, this book takes many of your expectations about what a traditional epic fantasy should be, then does it's best to thoroughly shatter those expectations.
The Black God's War a fantasy that's best appreciated in chunks rather than binges, but those who pick this one up can expect good things await. I felt the book was, by the end of the story, complex, deeply plotted, with a plot full of unexpected twists.
Enjoyable to read? Yes, absolutely and an indie novel that's worth picking up if you want to sample some of the better written self pub epic fantasy.
The book is a bit more expensive that some of the other indie fantasy on this list at nearly $4. Other such books are usually between .99 and $2. Though it's a bit higher than you might be used to paying for indie fantasy, I feel the book is worth the slightly extra cost. It really is one of the better epic fantasy books in the self published fantasy space.
Note: the sequel trilogy (Splendor and Ruin trilogy) that continues on from The Black God's War looks like it will never be finished. MosesSiregar III posted on reddit that he's done with writing and may never go back to it, suffering from burn out. This is a shame, so perhaps if enough people buy his books, he may regain that passion he had.
Books in Splendor and Rui... Series (2)
Sometimes you get a fantasy book that breaks all expectations -- and Scriber by Ben S. Dobson is that book. It's not only a book that tells a great story, a story that surprises in unexpected ways through a different sort of hero.
The story eschews the high fantasy conventions you typically find in the genre. That means no dragons, no god-slaying swords, no dark lord trying to conquer the universe, no brawny hero slaying armies.
The setting is medieval Europe so some expectations of the genre's tropes are there. There are battles, there are conflict, there are fantastical elements. But what pulls this unusual novel forward is the protagonist -- a character far away from the heroic standards. He's not a swordsman, or a leader, or a thief, but a lowly historian.
Indeed, it's in this protagonist that the book shows just how different Scriber is than most of the other fantasy out there. The hero, being a historian, is definitely not your typical bold and fearless protagonist found in most fantasy books, but rather a character who does a pretty good job at trying to run away from conflict.
A cowardly librarian as the hero of a fantasy tale. Yes, this is that book.
Yet even historians can be a hero and have an adventure. And that's exactly what this novel does -- pull you along with this unlikely of heroes into a grand adventure of mystery and magic. By the end of it, you see there are different kinds of heroes and different kinds of brave.
It's a remarkably nuanced work that brings a lot to the fantasy genre. As self published fantasy goes, Ben S. Dobson's works stands a cut above the rest.
For a different sort of fantasy, one that's builds an immersive world, crafts strong characters, and ultimately delivers a satisfying and emotionally climatic ending, read it. It's a tale that will stick to you like glue and a poster boy for indie fantasy done right.
Books in Scriber Series (1)
Brood of Bones is another example of imaginative an inventive fantasy available if you dig into the indie marketplace.
It's a twisting story the celebrates exquisitely crafted, yet flawed, characters set into a story that combines a whodunit mystery with gritty fantasy.
Like some of the other books on this list, Brood of Bones is a more unusual sort of fantasy tale -- one that's beautifully written, highly imaginative, and a prime of what's best about the indie genre.
So if you are looking for something compellingly strange that combines a blend of genres to produce something that slowly draws you in, then Brood of Bones is a must read indie fantasy.
It's weird, it's unusual, and it's a must read for those who want quality fantasy that is unabashedly different than anything else you might have ever read in the genre. This is definitely one of those novels that sticks with you after you finish the last page.
If indie fantasy is all about fostering creativity, Brood of Bones is a good, compelling argument for why we need indie books. And at under a dollar to buy this one as a kindle book, you can't really say no. An good book is made even better by being priced so cheap.
One of the more reviewed indie authors on this list with nearly half a thousand amazon reviews for this book alone and a horde of reviews from major fantasy blogs.
Mathias is arguably, one of the bigger self-published authors on Amazon with over a dozen fantasy books and all of them highly rated, at least on Amazon. Now, I don't put a lot of stock on Amazon reviews I find them prone to fraud (many authors buy fake reviews). But in this case, I agree with many of the reviews: The Sword and the Dragon is, overall, a good work of fantasy fiction, delivering on most fronts. The author has some real talent, and I'd argue, good enough to land a publishing contract with one of the Big Six publishers.
The fact that Mathias has not yet gone the way of the traditional or hybrid publishing route says that there's probably nothing a traditional publisher can do for him that self-publishing can't do better for him at this point (besides putting his books on the crowded fantasy section of some book stores).
The series starts of with the first book, The Sword and the Dragon. The plot seems simple at first the same old village boy finds magic item' plot that we've seen in a thousand spins of The Wheel of Time by now.
As things turn out, the simple plot, premise, and characters are far deeper and more complex then you first imagine.
It's an entertaining epic fantasy read one that falls in line with the more traditional epic fantasy you are used to. This is not gritty fantasy that tries to subvert. However, the author takes the traditional tropes and uses them in refreshing and well-developed ways.
It's a long book and parts do drag at times, but the overall plot, fast pacing, and strong writing keep pulling you forward.
One of the better examples of GOOD traditional epic fantasy in the indie space and for the most part, equal to a lot of the published epic fantasy you might read on a whim.
Books in The Wardstone Tr... Series (5)
B.V Larson somewhat well known for his often weird multi-book spanning science fiction. I'm actually a big fan of B.V Larson's science fiction work, having read his 13 book Star Force series, his five book Undying Mercenaries and now his Amber Magic series.
Larson is actually one of the most successful indie authors on Amazon -- he's sold hundreds of thousands of ebooks, has at least 25 books on the Amazon market place, and regularly gets hundreds of reviews on each of his books.
He's pretty much the poster boy for self publishing success.
As for quality, his early works are pulpy and the writing wildly uneven.
But somewhere along the couple dozen books he's written, Larson finds his voice and his writing talent vastly improves. And now, with his new books, Larson consistently demonstrates his writing craft through thoroughly his entertaining and inventive (sometimes weird) stories.
The same goes for his Fantasy series, Haven.
Amber Magic (and the entire 7 book series itself) feels a bit like Wheel of Time in plot, in character, and even the magic system. Notas good, not as developed, not as vast and deeply constructed, and a whole lot more pulpy, but it's still somewhat in the same direction that WOT goes.
Larson's books are always pulpy with a male hero who's a male version of Mary Sue: the impossibly talented hero who's good at pretty much everything without effort while also maintaining a consistent harem of beautiful women.
If Larson has a weak point, it's in his writing of female characters who are never, ever well-developed and merely exist for the male hero to bed. This lack of proper female characters has been a trend in Larson's work from the very beginning (and I've probably read 20 or so of his books by now); at this point, I don't expect any improvement there. Yet, I'm still reading them!
Yes, I'm sure Larson is not popular with the feminists, but for those who want entering pulpy reads, the man has cornered this market space pretty well.
So if you are looking for an epic fantasy that apes some of the classics, one that borrowed heavily from those epic fantasy tropes we are quite familiar with now, this series delivers.
What you don't get is a dark, gritty morally ambiguous fantasy like Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire -- but for many of you, that may not be a bad thing.
Overall, an entertainingly, if shallow, read. Larson does know how to hit all the right pulpy buttons, making his books a bit of a guilty pleasure. You'll never read anything worthy of a Hugo or Nebula, yet the man probably makes more money than most of the traditionally published authors out there. And if you read his books -- any of them -- you'll see that first and foremost, Larson is a storyteller.
And the first book (and many of the sequel books) costs a mere .99c, so there's that too.
Books in Haven Series Series (7)
If you are hankering for a return of the more simplistic fantasy of yesteryear, found in the old Dragonlance and the Forgotten Realms books where magic and pure action are the defining qualities, then you'll probably enjoy Forging Divinity -- a good, all out classic Sword & Sorcery romp.
If you are looking for dark and gritty, this tale returns to an aesthetic that does not idolize heroes who do part time work being assholes.
There's a heavy focus on magic in this one -- how it works, how to use it, and how to abuse it. This is a world full of gods who walk among mortals, doing the godly things. The question the mere mortals observing these god figures is then 'how the hell do I become one of these gods too.' You do it by forging divinity which is the premise of Rowe's novel.
This book actually reminded me a lot like a Brandon Sanderson novel, the independently funded, less hyped up version. And you know, it's every bit as good as Sanderson's recent work, minus the polished prose, the predictable characters and the shitty romance.
Here's some trivia for you: the author used to work for Obsidian Entertainment and decided he'd rather start writing for himself, rather than someone else (even though like Obsidian makes some of the most entertaining, story driven video games -- hello, I'm talking to you, Knights of the Old Republic II and Pillars of Eternity). And thus, Forging Divinity is born, out of the ashes of Obsidian Entertainment.
Forging Divinity is a great book -- as indie fantasy goes it stands out as some of the best.
While the overall effort is entertaining, there are a few defining flaws to Rowe's effort. The characters do come off as shallow and the antagonist is thinly developed with unclear motivations. Again, pick up any Brandon Sanderson book and you'll run into the same thing, and that man is pretty much worshiped by most fantasy readers, so this may not be an issue for most readers now.
While some of the characters may be a bit on the shallow end of the pond, there is no clear side in the story conflict, however, which adds more depth the plot.
All an all, a good effort. It's a bit unpolished overall, but certainly readable.
So if you want some action-magic heavy fantasy that doesn't try to be something it's not, and you loved the old-school Dragonlance, Dungeons & Dragons, and Forgotten Realm books (though I'd say, a fair bit better even) and Brandon Sanderson, you'll find Forging Divinity and the sequel books right up your alley.
Sanderson, move over, you may have a future rival.
Books in The War of Broke... Series (2)
Palmer's indie fantasy debut manages to impress by taking many of the conventional fantasy ideas and tossing them out the window.
The book starts with a sharp bang -- or more like the cutting of flesh -- with the hero being tortured. From then on, the author takes on fantasy trope after trope, shredding them.
The book does well particularly in two points: an intriguing plot that carries you through and strongly developed characters. Both are bound together by just the right pacing -- the story moves not too fast that you feel you are missing things and not too slow where you grow bored.
All in all, Ours is the Storm is a standout indie fantasy, and I posit, better than many of the other books you'll find in the indie marketplace. Palmer's effort to bypass cliches the whole way though subvert your expectations and keep you reading to the end.
I was also impressed with how well edited the book was; when reading indie fantasy, you often endure an assault of awkward grammar, annoying typos, and clunky phrasing. But mercifully, this is not the case here. While it's not the end of the world to endure such editing mistakes (and understandable considering indie authors don't have a team of professional editors re-writing the book), it's still nice to see a book with some professional editing done on it.
Now while Ours is the Storm is good effort, it's also a flawed effort too.
The characters, the plot, and the overall pacing of the book are well done, but I felt the author skimps on the world-building aspect . There's enough attention given to drawing the greater world around, but it's an inch thick when it should be a yard. So if you are looking for a Brandon Sanderson style of multi-layered world building detail, a mathematically precise magical system, and a deep mythology, look elsewhere -- this book is found wanting in those areas.
But if you want a more character-driven fantasy full of morally ambiguous characters with a solid plot and solid pacing, this book is for you.
Overall, an indie fantasy well worth picking up.
One complaint I do have is with the pricing which is nearly $5 (at time of this article writing) for what amounts to just a tad over 300 pages. Keep in mind there may be sales that drop this price from time to time. But as of time of writing, this one of the more expensive indie fantasy books on this list by a good margin. This perhaps shows some real confidence on the author's part, but given what you get here with the story, I feel the book is a overpriced compared to most other indie fantasy fiction; the book should be more around the .99 to $2 mark.
But still, we are talking a couple bucks here, so this may not be an issue for you. I simply point this out.
Even if it's overly expensive as an indie novel, Ours is the Storm is still a good read and one of the better examples of some good indie fantasy.
It may not be perfect, but it's much better than most there in the indie space. So, it's worth picking up for sure.
Venturing into the world of self publishing is Chuck Wendig who's already an established writer, having authored (and been traditionally published) a number of books. Wendig was even nominated for the prestigious John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer.
So the man knows how to write some good fiction. Under the Empyrean Sky is his first self published novel and it's a good one. This book is actually more in the realm of science fiction (it's clearly a distopian novel), but it's a stand out book in the self pub speculative fiction sphere and I feel, well worth mentioning as one of the better books available on the Amazon marketplace.
Under the Empyrean Sky is a novel that targets kids, but man it packs some deeply disturbing adult themes into the story. There's sex, there's foul language, and there's a lot of bloody violence. So if you are looking for a child friendly fantasy for your little one, think twice before handing the book off to little Tommy because he's going to be having some nightmares.
So yes, this one is definitely more aimed at the YA fantasy market and not the ages 8+ kid market like the Amazon description claims.
This is more of a science fiction than fantasy book and the setting takes place in a dystopian version of Oklahoma which finds itself under siege from a genetically modified stream of corn.
Yes, that's right, corn is the big baddie in this novel.
The plot is compelling, the down and out futuristic setting of Oklahoma is interesting, the characters decent, and the prose nice and terse. There are a lot of positives to the book and only a few negatives.
My primary complaint with the book lies in the characters who are pretty much straight-from-the-shelf characters without any serious depth or complexity to them. There are merely there to push the plot, and no more.
Yet for all that, Wendig does embody his characters with a furious sort of energy enough to carry the plot and story forward without too much complaint.
Under The Empyrean Sky is a strong book that deserves readers and, for an indie work, stands taller than many of it's peers. While the characters are a bit flat, the politics ham-fisted, and the plot anything but subtle, the unique setting and the sheer brazenness at making the antagonist a genetically modified strain of aggressive corn is either brilliant or ridiculous, depending on how you see it.
And I choose to see it as a good example of what self publishing can produce -- a story and plot that's way out in the left field of what you'd find in standard science fiction & fantasy stories. And this is a good thing, a fostering of creativity that betters the genre as a whole.
Well worth your time if you are looking for something different, something dystopian, and something for the YA crowd.
You may just never look at corn the same way again after reading it.
Books in The Heartland Tr... Series (3)
If you want to venture into a fictional landscape of the weird yet wildly entertaining, give Construct by Luke Mathews a read which reads something along the lines of the Bourne Identity mixed with The Iron Giant.
Weird, but still a compelling read once you actually get into the meat of the novel.
If you are expecting the standard Medieval fantasy of a Martin novel or the High Epic of Lord of the Rings, search elsewhere. But if you want something different, well, Construct delivers this and more. And hell, if you like a lot of action, well, there's that too.
Overall, I find Construct a very refreshingly fresh take on the fantasy genre, blending a number of genres into the fabric of the story: 'the Western', 'Steampunk', Japanese Mecca, and a large dollop of Urban Fantasy.
For those bored of the traditional fantasy, or if you want a suspenseful tale with a lot of action and mayhem to it, I highly recommend you give this book your attention. Well worth the couple bucks it costs.
(David J. Schwartz)
A wacky, unusual fantasy novel that's a lot of fun to read. Bluff's book features a diverse caste of odd, yet still charming, characters all thrown together in a sort of community college the magically gifted.
If you could take about every fantasy trope, toss in a bunch of eclectic college kids with magical abilities (insert comparisons to Harry Potter here), throw in action, covert operations, youthful angst, and a little bit of the X-Files, you'd get something approaching what Schwartz does in Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic.
The book reads better than most indie fantasy and it's actually a hybrid published novel starting out as self published but now being published through 47North. The author too is not necessary a strictly indie author he's been nominated (but didn't win) for a Nebula Award for his short book Superpowers in 2013.
While this quirky book is ultimately a pretty good read, there are some major issues that hold the book back.
The plot is scattered and jumps around frenetically and many of the characters in the book only seem to exist solely to provide "diversity" so the author can claim such on the book jacket description -- this may or may not be an issue, but I felt the author was trying too hard to create a politically correct novel and it comes off as unconvincing, and frankly, preachy as hell. The ending of the book is rough and not at all subtle.
So yes, there are issues with the book, but the good far outweighs the bad here.
This is a different sort of fantasy than you are used to, which is quite refreshing.
All in all, Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic is a good read and a (former) indie fantasy novel that stands better than most of the indie fiction out there. Yes it's a flawed work with the flaws holding it back from being a great book, but it's still a good read and worth picking up if you want some non-standard fantasy.
You wants you some hard-boiled fantasy? You gotch'a some with Colville's powerfully terse Priest.
Shorty, terse dialog; characters who are hard with sharp angles, laconic prose without anything extra, and a mystery that needs some solving.
I highly recommend Mathew Colville's Priest as a stand out hard-boiled mystery fantasy novel. Fantasy and hard-boiled mystery, outside of the urban fantasy meets detective fiction (i.e. The Dresden Files), is an unusual pairing. But Colville combines them here in Priest.
And it's combination that works very well indeed in the story -- the mystery pulls you forward through the novel till the last page. The plot is strong with a complex mystery that keeps pulling you forward, the characters are strong without being black and white cut outs, and even better, it's a self-contained adventure, not some heroic saga that will span 14 books before spitting out a cheap and unsatisfying ending.
Priest not a perfect novel and there are flaws: once you get into the story you'll see very quickly that it is indeed a self published book; the novel needs some serious editing with a good deal of typos & grammatical errors that liter the pages. But if you put aside your copy-editor cloak for a bit, you'll see it's still a pretty good book all things considering.
Note that Priest scored the 9th spot on the list of 10 in Lawrence's Self Pub Blog Off competition last year.
So for a flawed yet still very readable book, give Priest a read. I feel it stands out as a strong example of indie fantasy that really is a cut above most of the self pub stuff out there.
Those who want empowerment chick-lit paranormal romance fantasy in the vein of Charlaine Harris' The Southern Vampire Mysteries books with a sassy, strong female protagonist who kicks a lot of ass will find themselves enthralled by Mallory's To Kill a Warlock.
Mallory is one of the more successful indie authors on Amazon -- her books have hundreds of reviews each and she's sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
Indie she might be, but small she is not.
Hundreds of thousands of readers love Mallory's books -- maybe millions -- so there is something in her work that's hit a nerve. And I can see why. To Kill a Warlock is a fun urban fantasy tale of fairies, dark magic, sexy bad boys, and kink. A frenetic romp of action, adventure, and sexy time love.
If you want urban fantasy with these elements, then Mallory is your indie queen and her books are your shrine to worship at.
If you are looking for something unusual, or strong writing or intricately plots, or complex characters, you won't find that here -- these books are rather weak in those areas. But for a frenetically paces paranormal romance that hits the same buttons as The Southern Vampire Mysteries and the Twilight books, well, read To Kill a Warlock.
Books in Dulcie O'Neil Series (7)
If you are hungry from some of the better traditional fantasy in the indie pub marketplace, The Blacksmith's Son delivers. There is nothing original or necessary inventive about this book (and the series as a whole), but it does deliver a nice, enjoyable standard fantasy tale.
Overall, the world-building is strong and the plot good enough to keep you reading the whole book to the end. The writing is good and at times fun to read. The pacing is good too, nice and brisk.
However, the weak point of this novel is the characters which I felt were a bit thin and undeveloped; the pacing, too, is a bit rushed in some parts with events moving forward too fast and not properly set up or developed.
Don't get me wrong, this is a good book to read. It's a flawed work that does feel like it needs more work to make it a better work, but even with this complaint, The Blacksmith's Son still stands out as one of the better indie fantasy books in the self pub marketplace, especially when it comes to telling the traditional fantasy tale that many readers still enjoy.
So if you want an enjoyable tale that costs under a buck and a good example of indie fantasy that's as good as a lot of the traditionally published stuff you'll find, well, you should pick this one up.
And hell, The Blacksmith's Son costs a mere .99 cents -- with a bargain price like that, how can you NOT pick this one up?
Books in Mageborn Series (5)
Hocking is probably the most popular "indie author" on this list with millions of copies of her books sold on Amazon. She's a firm member of the "Kindle Millionaires Club." I use the word 'indie author' loosely here -- so's so popular she's left that term far behind at this point.
Hocking writes those sort of fantasy books you might find on the magazine shelves of a grocery store -- formulaic and entertaining with a professionally book cover, but lacking personality.
She's now technically a hybrid author -- having published both indie and now signed with Macmillan, so we can't count her as a true "indie" author anymore. Still, Hocking helped paved the way for the current crop of indie authors proving that the indie path can be a path to serious financial success and global popularity.
You may enjoy her style of urban fantasy. But even more, I also recommend checking her books out so you see exactly what the indie marketplace is capable of producing. This may very well be the future of publishing with every book published digitally only.
Books in A Trylle Novel Series (3)
Ok, this is more than 25 books, but I thought I would extend the list with a few more bonus picks.
I reviewed Alchemist's Theorem: Sir Duffy's Promise a few months ago and was actually quite impressed with it. As children's fantasy goes, it was entertaining enough to keep me, an adult, reading till the end. Many of the books on this list target adult readers, but this is my pick for the younger age of the reading spectrum kids between seven and twelve will this an entertaining story through and through.
The writing was good, there was some good world-building, the magic systems was fairly comprehensive if unoriginal borrowed heavily from the alchemical magic you might find in the bestselling PC game Skyrim and the plot, simple though it was, is good enough to keep the kids hooked.
A good example of indie fantasy aiming for the younger market done right. Adult readers will likely want to skip this one because it is aimed at kids, but I recommend this as a good one to pass off to your kids. It's entertaining, kind of cute, and well written.
Overall, I was quite impressed with The Duchess of the Shallows. While it was a bit rough round the edges in terms of characterization and plotting, the creative world building with the intricately crafted gritty underworld was entertaining. The writing was strong and the plot strong enough to keep you going forward.
If you want something in the direction of Thieves World, Hulicks's Among Thieves, or Week's Night Angel, but with less action and a female protagonist, this is a good one to pick up.
Books in The Grey City Series (2)
Our Version of the List
At a Glance
- 1 The Shadow Of What Was Lost (James Islington)
- 2 The Path of Flames (Phil Tucker)
- 3 Contractor: The Contractors (Andrew S. Ball)
- 4 Sufficiently Advanced Magic (Andrew Rowe)
- 5 The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble's Braids (Mic...
- 6 The Whirlwind In The Thorn Tree (S. A. Hunt)
- 7 The Heresy Within (Rob J. Hayes)
- 8 What Remains Of Heroes (David Benem)
- 9 The Weight Of A Crown (Tavish Kaeden)
- 10 Bloodrush (Ben Galley)
- 11 Monsters Of Elsewhere (Matthew Waldram)
- 12 The Demon Of Cliffside (Nathan Fierro)
- 13 Halloween Jack And The Devil's Gate (M Todd G...
- 14 The Black God's War (Moses Siregar III)
- 15 Scriber (Ben S Dobson)
- 16 Brood Of Bones (A.E. Marling)
- 17 The Sword And The Dragon (M. R. Mathias)
- 18 Amber Magic (B. V. Larson)
- 19 Forging Divinity (Andrew Rowe)
- 20 Ours Is The Storm (D. Thourson Palmer)
- 21 Under The Empyrean Sky (Chuck Wendig)
- 22 Construct ( Luke Mathews)
- 23 Gooseberry Bluff Community College Of Magic (...
- 24 Priest (Matthew Colville)
- 25 To Kill A Warlock (H.P. Mallory)
- 26 The Blacksmith's Son (Mr. Michael G. Manning)
- 27 Switched (Amanda Hocking)
- 28 Alchemistâ€™s Theorem: Sir Duffy's Promi...
- 29 The Duchess Of The Shallows (Neil McGarry)
Publicly Ranked Version of the List48 items >>
- House Of Blades (Will Wight)
- Grave Beginnings (R.R Virdi)
- Bloodrush (Ben Galley)
- Free The Darkness (Kel Kade)
- Starscape (Benita J. Prins)
- Ashling (Mary Mack)
- Seascape (Benita J. Prins)
- Scriber (Ben S. Dobson)
- The Censor's Hand ()
- Priest (Matthew Colville)
- The Blacksmith's Son ()
- Construct (Luke Matthews)
- The Black God's War ()
- Amber Magic (B. V. Larson)
- Switched (Amanda Hocking)