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The most celebrated fantasy by a foreign author and a series that's spawned a best-selling video game.
The Witcher books throws in a Philip Marlowe-style antihero, Slavic fairy tales, a gritty world full of tension, war, and mutants, then shakes the whole thing up and spits out something that's uniquely refreshing. The fairy tales are often similar to and familiar, but at the same time uniquely different.
The Witcher has made some serious dents in the western fantasy market as a polish-to-English translated work. Back in Poland, The Witcher has taken over, becoming a best selling book, spawning a TV series, a movie, and epic video game trilogy (with the game aimed at a global audience).
It's not an understatement to say that the Polish have gone mad for the Witcher, and now, the whole Western world is too. Perhaps this is in part due to the success of the video games (which are all outstanding), but the books too have hit a chord with the western audience. Search the web for 'The Witcher' and you'll see many people list Andrzej Sapkowski's books up there as some of the best fantasy books -- an assessment that I wholly agree with.
The Witcher saga is quite simply, marvelous. There is some real power to the work. The Polish influence adds a slightly different cultural twist than the western audience may be used to, providing a different kind of fantasy that's refreshing as it is exciting to read.
With a highly regarded video game series that's shaken won a stack of Best Game of the Year Awards (the newest game in the series, The Witcher 3, is arguably in the running for the best RPG game ever made), amazingly good translations of the original Polish text, and published by the powerhouse publisher Penguin, The Witcher series is something you should read.
If you want to explore the wide, wild world of foreign fantasy, The Witcher is one of the most accessible and compelling works of foreign literature out there. It's not only good foreign fantasy, it's some of the best fantasy period.
So read it.
Books in The Witcher Series (7)
If you are looking for an introduction to the best Chinese science fiction, look no further than Lui Cixin's stunning and much celebrated award-winning trilogy which has sold nearly half a million copies so far.
Not bad for a simple power-plant worker living remote part of China turned best-selling, award-winning science fiction writer.
Yes, Three Body Problem is Hard Science fiction and not 'Fantasy' but it's such an outstanding work and an example of a foreign speculative fiction novel that even took the English world by storm, a feat that's rarely ever achieved by a translated-into-English fantasy novel. Even more, this is the first time any Chinese work has penetrated so deeply and so successfully into the western market
The Three Body Problem, originally written in Chinese, has been lovingly translated into English by none other than Ken Liu, the only author ever to win the Nebula, the Hugo, and the World Fantasy Awards for a single work of fiction "The Paper Menagerie". Ken Liu also recently debuted his 2015 fantasy novel The Grace of Kings to high acclaim.
Lui Cixin is China's most popular science fiction writer and China's vanguard of a new, burgeoning modern speculative fiction movement. The Three Body Problem won the 2015 HUGO Award for Best Novel. So as far as "translated science fiction" by foreign authors go, The Three Body Problem is one of the most critically praised speculative fiction books of the past decade.
As such, this book should top your reading list if you are interested to see what else is out there outside the English sphere in terms of science fiction & fantasy literature.
Hell, by winning the HUGO award any by being translated by a Hugo-Award winning author, this book is an absolute must-read anyways. While it may be part of the Hard Science Fiction subgenre, the Three Body Problem is, besides it's science fiction setting, fundamentally a story about the human condition.
Liu said of his book that he 'wrote about the worst of all possible universes in Three Body out of hope that we can strive for the best of all possible Earths.' indeed, and that's exactly what Three Body sets out to do. It's an easy to read, utterly captivating novel about humanity -- the darkness, the light, and the hope that lies in our future.
Three-Body Problem is part of a trilogy with book 2 The Dark Forest released in August 2015 and the final concluding volume coming out August 2016.
Books in Three Body serie... Series (3)
One of the best urban fantasy series out there, regardless of whether it's translated from Russian or not.
The Night Watch made our Top 25 Fantasy books and is an outstanding series to take up.
Very few foreign translated fantasy have made inroads into the English market. The Witcher books by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski and to a lesser degree, the Night Watch series by Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko.
Night Watch is a nuanced story of the Others -- mortals who gain supernatural powers -- and the struggle between philosophies the Others align with: the Light or the Darkness.
It's a conflict of philosophy that's complex, compelling, and fuels the conflicts and plots found within the series. Night Watch is no simple urban fantasy novel about witches and warlocks and good and bad.
No, it's the story of the endless struggle between good and evil and more importantly, the delicate yet infinite space between these dichotomous. It's that tricky space between the good and even -- the complex shades of gray -- that Night Watch (and the sequels) focus on.
What is good and what is evil when evil is good and good is evil?
A complex and bold contemporary Gothic fantasy that hits all the right buttons. It's Urban fantasy, it's supernatural fantasy, yet it's also more than that. This is Russian fantasy that works wonderfully for the Western audience, bringing with it that subtle yet powerful Russian perspective of the world -- and life -- that's so utterly different than the Western view of things.
Oh yea and it's also hellishly entertaining and, moral complexities aside, a wild ride from start to finish, full of plots, plots within plots, complex, introspective characters, and twisted narrative threads.
Read this series. It's one of the best urban fantasy books and in the running for some of the best fantasy you will read. The fact that its also Russian fantasy makes it even sweeter.
Books in Night Watch Series (3)
The Scar is the story of a man with a self-destructive drive to find redemption at all costs, the woman who just might be able to save him, and a senseless murder that both brings them together, forever changing their lives for the good and the bad.
Its the story of grief, and pride, and the ultimately, the forgiveness that leads to healing. It's a dark and complex sword and sorcery tale about crime, punishment and forgiveness.
This is a work of writing that channels the emotional connection of a Robin Hobb novel with the wild and dark imagination of Michael Moorcock, lathered in the rich yet gloomy perspective that seemingly underlies the Russian perspective, leaking between the cracks of the story, in the conversation between characters, and the subtext of the words.
If you want an introduction to Russian fantasy, there are few books better than The Scar that will do that, and do it in such a way that the world, setting, and characters make sense to your western notions. The Scar, however, takes your hand and leads you through and in the process, makes you really think about the world and morality.
Russian fantasy, if youve read any, tends to dwell in the dour and dark, exploring the lows of the human condition, yet also at times, revealing the highs at which humans can still yet achieve.
The Scar is some of the best modern foreign fantasy and wildly under-appreciated due to it being a Russian fantasy translated into English. For a complex Sword and Sorcery tale that reaches beyond the boundaries Sword and Sorcery for something grander, read this utterly compelling work of Russian fantasy.
When it comes to Japanese fantasy, there's a number of both older fantasy and modern works available. One novel that bridges the two is Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara.
The Dragon Sword and Wind tells a world steeped in myth, where gods and magic rule, where a boy and girl desperately fight to save their people and who, in the process, learn what it means to grow up.
It's a novel of imagination, of poetic beauty, and powerful emotions. Between the first and last page, deep themes of good, bad, and the many shades between are expertly explored. It's also a novel that's easy to digest for fantasy readers who are interested in exploring real Japanese culture and the mindset of the Japanese without the impingement of western ideas and ideals.
Too many fantasy books that 'explore the Far East' are in fact written by authors who are not of that culture, who bring an inherent western ideology, cultural morays and ideals into the setting and story.Not so with The Dragon Sword and Wind which is and remains quintessentially Japanese. Yet, despite the cultural differences, all those elements that make a captivating story for all cultures and peoples, are bound into the story.
If you want to read some of the best and most acclaimed Japanese fantasy that's been rightly translated into English, The Dragon Sword and Wind is a classic and a good introduction to the greater body of Japanese fantasy that's available.
Take the baroque period of French history during the time of Cardinal Richelieu -- a time of political upheaval, religious conflict, deadly court intrigue, and brutal war between the great European powers and add Dragons to the mix and you get the swashbuckling fantasy of The Cardinal's Blades by Pierre Pevel.
Pierre Pevel is one of France's most acclaimed fantasy authors. He's won a pile of french awards for his writing and his books are some of the best (and most exciting) foreign fantasy to land in the west. The books are written in such a way that if you love the swashbuckling action, you'll practically be eating the pages
This action heavy, political complex novel is followed by two sequels. The Cardinal's Blades imagines a world where the elite French spies mount magnificent dragons and seek to derail plots by the Spanish and Italians to destabilize France.
The Cardinal's Blades books are an action-heavy, magic-heavy fantasy trilogy with complex characters, swashbuckling heroes, and political scheming.
If you enjoy The Three Musketeers, Dave Duncan's King's Blades, or Sebastien de Casell's Traitor's Blades, you'll absolutely eat up this swashbuckling series that gives any of those mentioned a run for their money.
This is probably one of the most famous works of fantasy -- a familiar nostalgic tale that brings to mind all the wonders and dangers of childhood. The Neverending Story tells the tale of a young boy as he stumbles into the magical land of Fantastica, takes on a quest to save the world and in the process, becomes a mighty hero. The story is richly imagined and the characters charming.
It's the quintessential childhood fairy tale that brings makes adults into children again. The Neverending Story is really one of the greatest childhood fantasy tales ever put to print, right up there with other classics like The Princess Bride and The Chronicles of Narnia
Yet unlike it's fairy tale literary peers, this is a foreign novel, originating from 1983 West German novel by Michael Ende, written during a time of uncertainty and political turmoil between the East and West. Looking beyond the story itself into the roots of the novel is a stark reminder that even in times of tragedy, turmoil and conflict, the imagination of a writer can still roam wild and free, where worlds of fantastical adventures are imagined, where children can become heroes, and the evil that consumes us, ultimately, overcome by earnestness of innocence.
If you haven't read The Neverending Story, there's a huge literary gap in your fantasy readings that needs to be filled. Read it to your kids or read it yourself. But make sure you bloody damn well read it!
Why? Because this famous German novels transcends fantasy and dwells solidly in the realm of a classic novel. It's a story for all ages, for the ages -- as ripe and refreshing for kids and adults three decades ago as it is now.
A strange, weird, and wholly wonderful Hebrew novel that was translated into English and received a fair deal of critical acclaim. TOR, the fantasy publishing powerhouse, published it and a number of award winning fantasy authors praised it.
The World of the End novel about the afterlife in which a man named Ben searches for long-lost wife. In the eternal afterlife, everyone whos ever lived exists, but finding someone specific is nearly an impossible task. But its a quest that Ben sets upon himself to take up, even if it takes an eternity to do so.
But things are not so simple, the afterlife is not what it seems to be, and it turns out, Ben's wife just still might be alive.
Its the story of the end that just turns out to be the beginning...where death is not the end of the mysteries, but rather, the beginning of even greater mysteries to solve.
This twisty novel sets out with a simple plot and uncomplicated premise, but becomes anything but once you get into it. Its also an interesting look into Hebrew mythology, offering a unique perspective of the world as seen through the Hebrew culture (this being written by an Israeli author).
The World of the End is all in all a strange yet remarkably deep novel that requires some effort to push into, but the rewards are worth the effort.
Its a love story, an ode to a love story, a detective story, a whodunit, and adventure, a fantasy tale, a story about the afterlife, and a book about finding lost things. Yet at the core, its the story about a man who will do anything to find and reunite with his wife.
Dont pass up this unforgettable novel. The story and characters will stay with you long after you finish the last page. Its an awesome blend of fantasy, adventure, mystery, and a sweetly compelling romantic tale to boot.
Banned in China and often hailed as the Chinese version of A Brave New World the Fat Years is a compelling philosophical novel of ideas, wrapped in a Chinese perspective of the world as seen from within China, but a brutal totalitarian China thats morally bankrupt. Its a chilling look at a world and China that could be.
The Fat Years is a novel that works better as a novel of ideas than a compelling narrative tale. Oh theres a love story, there's a political thriller in there, there's an astute economic examination of China, but the strength of the book is not about the characters and story, but rather the stark dystopian portrayal of a fictional China that's in fact remarkably zeitgeist (a fact that did not go noticed by the Chinese powers that be who banned the novel in China).
With the rise of China, The Fat Years is a compelling novel that looks at the absurdity of the Chinese system with a perspective of one who lives as part of the system. And while many key elements are lost in translation between Chinese and English, The Fat Years is a good introduction to Chinese culture, China-West relations, and perhaps a cautionary tale of a country and government gone awry because the citizens and country fail to learn the lesson of past mistakes so as to change the future.
It's a warning and a message and a novel that should be read if you want to understand the Chinese conundrum as through a literary tale of action, intrigue, and mystery.
Pretty much everything you might want in a high fantasy novel: political intrigue, serious monster slaying, heroes and villains galore, and a number of complex, very well written heroines who lead the show.
Japan has long had a strong literary past. They also produce some of the best stories through the medium of anime and manga (see our bestanime.org site for anime recommendations). As such, you can find a remarkable amount of strong, character driven narratives in Japanese literature, especially their science fiction and fantasy works.
The Japanese have a tendency to know how to tell a damn good story full of complex characters, intricate plots, hard choices, and surreal situations. The same goes for Fuyumi Ono's wonderful Twelve Kingdoms (which an outstanding anime series by the same name Twelve Kingdoms used as the source material)
And Fuyumi Onos marvelous Twelve Kingdoms is an outstanding and thoroughly entertaining novel to read if you want to breach the body of compelling Japanese work thats finally being translated into English. This one is perfect for the young adult audience with a sassy heroine who takes destiny into her own hands, navigating the dark landscape of an ancient fantasy landscape that's as foreign to her as it is to you.
Twelve Kingdoms is a story that uses fantasy to tell an epic tale of the human condition. While the lead character may be a teenage girl, this is a complex story with complex themes, and it's absolutely entertaining the whole way through -- regardless of your age or genre.
Most interesting though is that this is fundamentally a Japanese novel and retains that essential 'Japanese' feeling to it (if you've ever watched anime or read manga, you will understand what I am talking about). As such, it's a good fantasy novel to familiarize yourself with Japanese literature and culture -- fantasy tale though it may be.
Theres the Odyssey, theres the Iliad, theres Beowulf, and then theres The Romance of the Three Kingdoms an ancient sweeping epic Chinese work of literature thats influenced a score of generations since it was first published in 14th century China.
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is one of the great Chinese literary classics considering one of the four pillars of Chinese literature. Many of the themes seen in western fantasy literature are present here in this grand story: hateful villains, powerful heroes, beautiful maidens, reclusive wizards, noble lords, all powerful empires, capricious gods.
This is not only a great work of Chinese literature, but of world literature too. Mentioning great works of foreign fantasy would be incomplete if Romance of the Three Kingdoms was not mentioned.
While this reads as more of a literary poem perhaps than a modern fantasy story like some of the other entries on this list, it's still one of the great works of fantasy literature in the world.
If you want to explore the deep crevasses of Chinese culture, mythology, and history, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a required reading.
Pierre Grimbert is on the rise with the fabulous The Secret of Ji, a fantasy that imagines a sprawling world of telepathic animals, magicians, mortals, and capricious gods. Its a chaotic landscape steeped in magic, ruled by mortals, watched over by gods and controlled by shadowy thieve guilds.
Some of the books our our Best Non-English Fantasy Books list may be on the esoteric side, or ancient fiction, or some grand literary work, or even from a western perspective, somewhat odd.
Six Heirs: The Secret of Ji, however, is eminently readable, digestible, and enjoyable by an English audience. Many of the fantasy trappings are fully present in the novel as are the expected fantasy story elements that we all expect from modern fantasy in 2016.
With the author citing himself as a big fan of Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock, it's no surprise that you find elements of each of these authors in his Secret of Ji books.
Yet, being a French fantasy, there are refreshing differences that absolutely make this a gem to read, especially if you are used to standard epic fantasy.
Indeed, Grimbert takes on the western fantasy genre with both guns loaded, borrowing familiar western fantasy tropes yet injecting the story, characters, and world with his own unique cultural spin.
So if you want to read some French-translated fantasy that rings the same familiar tones you are used to with Western fantasy, yet contains a spark of something ineffably different, give The Secret of Ji a read.
The book is a great example of how well foreign fantasy can integrate into the English fantasy market, yet still retain that essential cultural difference when you look hard between the pages.
Thoroughly, and utterly enjoyable by any modern fantasy fan. I absolutely recommend Six Heirs: The Secret of Ji for fans who love Sanderson, Gemmell, or Brent Weeks. It's ones of the easiest foreign fantasy books to read...and love.
Books in The Secret of Ji Series (3)
Bulgakovs highly regarded work has been around for nearly a century written during the Stalin-occupied era of Soviet history. Its a grand work of immense literary value and a devastating satire of the Soviet way of life in which Satan is pitted against the lunacy of the Soviet Bureaucracy.
The Master and Margarita is one of the great literary satires of the 21st century, written during a time of turbulence and instability under the iron hand of the Stalin soviet regime. Its a work that Bulgakov paid dearly for, suffering shame and humiliation from Stalins personal attentions (his work was deemed insulting to the Soviets). It's a work that ultimately cost him his career and ended his life in shame and disgrace.
Is it a work that's worth your career and life? The answer is absolutely, yes. Master and Margarita goes beyond genre fiction and dwells solidly in the realm of world literature. Yet there is also something deeply personal about the story and it comes off as easily readable as a simple and entertaining supernatural tale.
This is one of the greatest Russian classics and is widely regarded as the same in English circles. And while its an allegorical work, its a fantastic fantasy work in its own right and deserves to be read by those looking to sample the greatness of Russian literature.
Jonathan Wells and his young family moves to a Paris flat, inherited from an Uncle with a single mysterious warning included: to never go down into the cellar. But when the family dog goes missing, Jonathan, his wife, and child venture down into the cellar and vanish into a strange world.
Empire of Ants is brilliant novel that explores the mysteries of another civilization -- as foreign to us as we are to them. Empire of Ants is often compared to Watership Down and the comparison is apt -- the civilization of ants envisioned by Bernard Werber is intricately detailed, fascinating, and absolutely real.
Werber alternates between the human story and ant story seamlessly. While lesser authors would struggle with how to capture this story and express it in a digestible manner, Werber handles it with ease. The ants come off as so utterly real that you can barely distinguish the ant tale from the human tale. It's a story that forces you to look at yourself -- and the human race -- in a new, unique way -- as an outsider looking at the strange, lumbering mammals, the nonsensical rules that bind us and control us.
Some of the richness of language and poetry is lost in the translation from French to English, but the core gist of the story comes off well and the translation mostly works.
Your perception of the world and of ants will never be the same after you finish this novel. Indeed, you will never, ever look at an ant the same way again.
Cold Skin is an atmospheric horror novel that imagines what might happen if a two people are trapped on a savage island full of mysterious and deadly dangers.
Thrown into these horrors, and woefully unprepared for them, is a young man who arrives on an Antarctic island for a year of isolated weather research.
Except that, as it turns out, he's not alone on the island -- monsters also dwell there. And an unlikely ally -- another man who's sour moods make him the most unwanted of company. Yet there is nothing like the threat of a horrific death at the hands of monsters that forces both men to rely on each other.
Cold Skin is a dark novel that channels the supernatural terror of Stephen King, the Gothic moodiness of Lovecraft, and the existential alien terror found in an HG Wells book.
This fantasy horror (or sci-fi horror, or pure horror, depending how you look at it) is packed with horrific action, macabre violence, and a truck-full of psychological drama. But beyond this simple horror story, there is something deeper going on.
It's horror yes, but it's also an exploration of what humans will do -- to themselves and each other -- when faced with terror, stress, certain death, and the uncanny.
So while this story can double as science fiction, fantasy, or horror, Cold Skin is also a strong psychological thriller that pits man against an uncaring, hostile and uncanny environment as he attempts to dominate it -- and utterly failing to do so. With each failure, stress accrues, panic sets in, and the realization that control of the environment -- and fate -- is ultimately just a thin illusion.
One of the best foreign fantasy novels that explores human nature under the guise of a horror story. Cold Skin is bizarre, creepy, and genuinely scary while also a very personal study what it means to be alone and of the fear of the unknown.
This novel represents the best of what foreign fantasy authors can bring to the table in the West. Something unique, something unflinching in how bizarre and crazy it is, something that's strange if compared to English works, yet despite the oddities, still wildly satisfying. And scary.
A re-imagined version of the Indian classic poem, The Ramayana, The Prince of Ayodhya is a lush tale full of imaginative settings, enticing characters, and captivating landscapes. It brings elements of the epic poem into that of a modern fantasy tale.
Its an easily accessible story for those who are not familiar with the heaps of great Indian literature and can be enjoyed by anyone who wants to lose themselves in a fantastical fantasy world set in an an Indian landscape and teeming with Indian mythology and culture.
If you've never been exposed to the wider world of Indian literature, you are missing out indeed as this ancient land has an illustrious literary movement that's spans hundreds -- even thousands -- of years.
Prince of Ayodhya is an easily digestible means of experiencing the richness of Indian mythology. Theres a landscape steeped in magic. Check. Theres swashbuckling adventure. Check. Theres larger than life heroes and monstrous villains. Check. There's an epic quest and a cast of heroes. Check.
The Prince of Ayaodhya brings the exotic and rich Indian stories if you dream of magical landscapes somewhat reminiscent of A Thousand and One Nights, this is a great (and enjoyable) book that will give you a solid taste of Indian folklore.
Our Version of the List
At a Glance
- 1 The Witcher (Polish) (Andrzej Sapkowski)
- 2 Three Body Problem (Chinese) (Cixin Liu)
- 3 Night Watch (Russian) (Sergei Lukyanenko)
- 4 The Scar (Russian) (Sergey Dyachenko)
- 5 The Dragon Sword And Wind (Japanese) (Noriko ...
- 6 The Cardinal’s Blades (French) (Pierre Peve...
- 7 The Neverending Story (German) (Michael Ende)
- 8 The World Of The End (Hebrew) (Ofir Touché G...
- 9 The Fat Years (Chinese) (Koonchung Chan)
- 10 Twelve Kingdoms (Japanese) (Fuyumi Ono)
- 11 The Romance Of The Three Kingdoms (Chinese) (...
- 12 Six Heirs (French) (Pierre Grimbert)
- 13 Master And The Margarita (Russian) (Mikhail B...
- 14 Empire Of Ants (French) (Bernard Werber)
- 15 Cold Skin (Spanish) (Albert Sanchez Pinol)
- 16 Prince Of Ayodhya (Indian) (Ashok K. Banker)
Publicly Ranked Version of the Listitems >>
- Six Heirs (Pierre Grimbert)