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Best of the Tolkien Clones

Fantasy Very Similar to Lord of the Rings In Style and Content

Tolkien is considered the founding father of the modern epic fantasy. Thus, it’s no surprise that many fantasy epics give a heavy nod to Tolkien, through some of the plot conceits and/or the world-building. This is a list that aims to give readers who “like” the Tolkien style some recommendations for some similar-but-not-completely-derivative works. The use of the word “clones” is more of a tongue-in-cheek title. By “clones,” I don’t mean works that are completely derivative, but rather fantasy epics that are heavily influenced by the Tolkien template. What is the “Tolkien Template?”

Epic fantasies that include all or a heavy dose of the following:

  • A Dark Lord and evil servants (think Sauron, orcs, trolls, and the like)
  • Magical items (the one ring, the rings of power, magic swords, magic amulets, etc)
  • Different races (men, dwarves, elves, eagles, etc)
  • Magic-imbued creatures (elves, immortals, wizards)
  • World-building with a deep mythos and well-developed history (history of middle earth, different ages of middle earth, etc)
  • Some sort of quest to defeat an evil force or prevent a world-ending catastrophe
  • A callow youth (usually a farmhand or some other ignorant-of-the-greater-world character)’s journey from innocent and ignorant to powerful and influential, usually with the direct fate of the world resting solely on his shoulders.
  • There will be various trials and tribulations faced by the “hero”.

You might think of these works as Tolkien’s literary children. There are hundreds and hundreds of such works out there and most modern epic fantasy books do borrow from Tolkien in some ways. Here’s a list of the best clones, aka the books that follow the Tolkien conceits pretty closely, yet are a cut above the rest.

No doubt the haters will hate this, but Jordan takes many of the Tolkien conceits and weaves them into his own, arguably “deeper” world than Tolkien’s. Think Tolkien with a 90s update. Epic fantasy in 2012 seems to be moving in a different direction than some of the more classic, Tolkien-inspired stuff; now fantasy has a more gritty feel, with complex characters and motivations, characters that are not good or even, and an almost post-apocalyptic fantasy landscape that’s as barren as a desert. I’ve already written quite a bit about The Wheel of Time under my Top 25 entry and every time I shove WOT on a best list somewhere, I have to defend my selection with a mini-essay, such is the WOT backlash and hate. Regardless of your personal opinion of Jordan (RIP), the world he’s created is heavily influenced by Tolkien. There’s a Dark Lord, a callow youth with the destiny of the world on his shoulders who journeys from innocent farmland into the greater wilderness of the world, where he faces numerous trials and tribulations, all serving to prepare him for the final showdown. There are magical races, magic galore, magical items, various cultures, and a very well developed historical mythos with different “Ages” (taking a direct page from Tolkien’s Middle Earth with the different eras – First Age, Second Age, Third Age, etc). Enough said. If you haven’t read Wheel of Time, get off your horse and start it. It’s too big and too influential to ignore.

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Tad Williams is reported to have said this novel was his personal conversation with Tolkien. This series (especially ¾ of the first book) is slow, pedantic, with every little minutia of the character’s day-to-day life in a castle that it’s almost exhausting. However, this is a series that rewards patience (and slow readers with patience). It takes a long time for the story to warm itself up, but once it does, you’re taken on a thrilling ride to a place far, far away. This book really can divide readers into two groups: those who pick it up and read the first 200 pages, and those who complete the book. If you’re in the latter group, a breath-taking work of fantasy fiction awaits. Don’t listen to the naysayers who complain about the book’s pacing – most of them never made it into the meat of the story! Characters are well drawn, leaping off the pages as real, breathing entities (even if they seem to do stupid things sometimes – much like real people keep making stupid mistakes); the world is richly portrayed, with every little detail brought to life with William’s fine command of the English language. Why is this a Tolkien “clone”? Some of the archetypes are similar to those of the Tolkien template: there’s the standard young lad who’s coming of age, a mysterious race (non-human of course) that fled the land when man first arrived, an aged wise woman (think a midwife version of Gandalf), an evil king, a magic world imbued with magical artifacts of power and an evil sorcerer. This is primarily a novel about the journey from innocence to experience, and in the course of this process, a young man will leave his castle and flee into the wild, magical, and mysterious lands of the greater world, In the process finding a sword, fighting a war, and becoming a hero. What’s so very great about Tad Williams is that despite all the Tolkien cliché’s present in the novel, he somehow manages to rise above it all and craft something unique and wonderful in its own right. Say what you want about Tolkien’s ability to create a fascinating world; Williams “one-ups” him in every way when it comes to creating real characters who go through a metamorphosis. This series is a perfect marriage between personal realism and epic fantasy.

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A very underrated epic fantasy series. This is a series that’s a work of beauty – it’s poetic and beautifully written and so painstakingly crafted that it has to be a first novel, which it is – Kay’s very first. Guy Gavial Kay is one of the best wordsmiths writing in the fantasy genre; the language used is lyrical, poetic, and so well crafted you want to weep for the beauty of it.

This fantasy mixes in some cross-over elements into the standard ‘save-the-world-from-an-evil-dark-lord’ plot. Five ‘earthlings’ find their way to a magical alternate reality and become wrapped up in the politics of the landscape. And of course, a Dark Lord comes with his orc-like minions to conquer the land and must be defeated. On the surface, it appears to be standard “save the world” fare, but it’s much more. By far, this is a series that you’ll either love or you’ll hate. But it’s one you should read. Some argue that Kay was still trying to find his voice when he wrote this series, and that may indeed be true, but it’s a voice that still rings strong and true.

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With a Martin-esque plot and Jim Butcher pace, The Axe and the Throne is a definite "must read" for even the pickiest fantasy fans.

In his stunning debut, Ireman has built the type of world so vivid and engrossing that leaving it at the end is agony. In spite of leaning toward grimdark, where authors often enshroud every scene in depressing darkness, there is no lack of cheerful moments or brilliant scenery. Yet the pangs of near-instant nostalgia that come after you put down a book like this have less to do with the inspired setting, and far more to do with those who inhabit it. 

From savage, unremorseful heroes, to deep, introspective villains, the cast of this story is comprised of believable characters capable of unthinkable actions. And it is these characters -- the ones you wish you could share a drink with or end up wanting to kill -- that forge the connection between fantasy and reality. Keethro, Titon, Ethel, Annora. These are names you will never forget, and each belongs to a man or woman as unique as they are memorable. 


No book would be complete without a its fair share of intrigue, however, and there is no lack of it here. Each chapter leaves you wanting more, and Ireman's masterful use of misdirection leads to an abundance of "oh shit" moments. Do not be fooled (or do -- perhaps that's part of the fun) by storylines that may appear trope-ish at first. This is no fairytale. 

Available on Amazon & Audible, Barns & Noble, iTunes, Google, and Kobo.

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Awards Won:1979 BFS
Award Nominations:1978 WFA

Tad Williams is reported to have said this novel was his personal conversation with Tolkien. This series (especially ¾ of the first book) is slow, pedantic, with every little minutia of the character’s day-to-day life in a castle that it’s almost exhausting. However, this is a series that rewards patience (and slow readers with patience). It takes a long time for the story to warm itself up, but once it does, you’re taken on a thrilling ride to a place far, far away. This book really can divide readers into two groups: those who pick it up and read the first 200 pages, and those who complete the book. If you’re in the latter group, a breath-taking work of fantasy fiction awaits. Don’t listen to the naysayers who complain about the book’s pacing – most of them never made it into the meat of the story! Characters are well drawn, leaping off the pages as real, breathing entities (even if they seem to do stupid things sometimes – much like real people keep making stupid mistakes); the world is richly portrayed, with every little detail brought to life with William’s fine command of the English language. Why is this a Tolkien “clone”? Some of the archetypes are similar to those of the Tolkien template: there’s the standard young lad who’s coming of age, a mysterious race (non-human of course) that fled the land when man first arrived, an aged wise woman (think a midwife version of Gandalf), an evil king, a magic world imbued with magical artifacts of power and an evil sorcerer. This is primarily a novel about the journey from innocence to experience, and in the course of this process, a young man will leave his castle and flee into the wild, magical, and mysterious lands of the greater world, In the process finding a sword, fighting a war, and becoming a hero. What’s so very great about Tad Williams is that despite all the Tolkien cliché’s present in the novel, he somehow manages to rise above it all and craft something unique and wonderful in its own right. Say what you want about Tolkien’s ability to create a fascinating world; Williams “one-ups” him in every way when it comes to creating real characters who go through a metamorphosis. This series is a perfect marriage between personal realism and epic fantasy.

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A complete subversion on the epic fantasy genre with a number of the standard tropes. It’s a bit like seeing Lord of the Rings unraveled and put back together with all the pieces in the wrong order and the characters doing expected things. It’s also a new sort of epic fantasy – a grittier version where the line between hero and villain is a thin one. One of the more intelligent fantasy series that loosely follows in some of the Tolkien traditions if only to break them.

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This is the dark shadow of Tolkien, a grittier Lord of the Rings written for the 2000s. The world crafted by Bakker is a violent, lusty landscape that's as fascinating as it is ancient. There's a ginormous number of impossible-to-pronounce names thrown at you; you will find yourself flipping back and forth between the appendices to figure out who is what and what is who. There are many of the epic-fantasy trappings  a forgotten dark god ready to conquer the landscapes with minions, slowly creeping down into the lands of men from the forgotten edges of the known world; different cultures and races (including a host of non-human, albeit evil, ones), and wild sorcery. But this series is so much more than just another nod to Tolkien  it's complex and fascinating on every level, one of the best modern fantasy epics out there right now. Bakker is an author who goes against the grain and doesn't write a tale that lays out everything nice and easy for the reader; stuff happens that you don't expect, names and locations are hard to pronounce, the world is grey, dirty and morally ambiguous. If you are looking for a save-the-world epic where everyone dances off into the sunset and characters remain static cutouts, this is not a series for you. But if you want to immerse yourself into a moody world that relishes gore and violence just as much as it does philosophizing, this is your series.

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I would categorize this as the bastard child of Tolkien and Martin: it has some of the ancient lore and world-building mythos present in Tolkien crossed with the dark grittiness of Martin. I don’t feel it completely lived up the initial expectations shown in the first book of the trilogy, but overall it was a good read and certainly better than the usual Tolkien clone series. Think of this as a way less complex version of A Game of Thrones. George R.R. Martin Extra Lite without the complex characters though some of the characters are somewhat morally ambiguous in a gritty setting.

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This series goes for the high style, flowery mythos of The Silmarillion but crossed with the more personal story of The Lord of the Rings. This is not just the usual classic epic fantasy ripping off Tolkien’s Middle Earth, featuring hard-to-pronounce names, young heroes who rise from the bowels of obscurity into world-changing prominence, magical lands and magical objects, a clutch of non-human races including dwarves, elves, dragons, and the like. Well, actually, The Sundering includes all of the above, but it’s all got a very interesting twist on the whole “let’s band together and defeat the dark lord” thing. The twist here is that Carey is writing Sauron’s Tale, not Frodo’s. This is the story from the “bad guys’” perspective, except that the bad guys are not really the classical bad guys, but have rather been propagandized as evil by the good side. It’s an interesting twist on the whole good vs. evil paradigm. The whole thing comes off as a tragic tale where the misunderstood younger brother gets the short end of the stick, and when he rises up to restore order to the world, gets cast down as a doomed villain. Carey excels at writing rich, complex characters and developing elaborate and lush landscapes. She does so here with The Sundering, creating a lovechild between Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Keshie’s Dart.

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An excellent series – one that’s flown a bit under the radar in recent years, no doubt thanks to the appearance of the new wave of gritty fantasy that’s fast replacing the classic fantasy style of the 80s and 90s. A young man with magical talents, mysterious magic, a world-changing event; on the surface, this would just be another epic fantasy clone, but it’s so much more. This is a much more personal story than say, Lord of the Rings, but it’s every bit as satisfying. Many of the Tolkien-style conceits are omitted (no elves, dwarves, orcs, and such) but the world-building and magic is reminiscent of Tolkien’s Middle Earth in some ways.

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This one is a bit of a lite version of Lord of the Rings one that was aimed at kids but can still be readily enjoyed by adults. There are definitely some similarities with Lord of the Rings with some of the archetypes present in the Chronicles of Prydain. The world created by Alexander is a world steeped in Welsh mythology – much like Tolkien infused his own Middle Earth with ancient Celtic legends.

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English mythology abounds in this; like Lord of the Rings, Weirdstone of Brisingamen is based heavily on English mythology, from which the tale draws inspiration. Both Lord of the Rings and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen are steeped in ancient folklore and the locations are heavily influenced by the English countryside.

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Classic good-versus-evil fantasy. I won’t say this is an exact Tolkien clone, but it’s clearly influenced quite a bit by Tolkien’s world. There are elves (including a Galadriel-style queen), dwarves, humans, dragons and the like. There are evil dark gods/ dark lords to be conquered and Gandalf-like wizards. When it comes to the entire saga, my usual recommendation is to start with Magician: Apprentice and the direct sequel Magician: Master, then call it quits there. There are a ton of books in the Riftwar Saga – most broken into trilogies or sagas--but Feist really starts to milk the series for all it’s worth and it just becomes another “defeat an even greater evil dark lord” story every few books. Still, it’s better than most of the Tolkien clones out there.

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With a fast pace and as epic as the lands of Westeros, More Than A Game is a must-read for all fantasy fans.

“More Than a Game”, the first of a 12 part LitRPG series, has captivated readers and was voted New Fantasy Book of the Year (2014). Now available in English you can explore the novel that has captured the imagination of the Slavic world.

Harriton Nikiforov is a journalist who embarks on the story of a lifetime to the virtual world of Fayroll. His life will never be the same. Forced to take the story, he becomes ‘Hagen the Warrior’ and is seduced by the beautiful and engaging fantasy world of Fayroll and drawn into an adventure of clan intrigue, with a variety of quests and epic battles and magic, “More Than a Game” is a brilliant synergy of fantasy fiction and online gaming.

Written by Andrey Vasiliev and translated by Jared Firth, the book keeps close to the original, including the author’s terrific sense of humor. Vasiliev’s writing career began in 2013, when he had ‘run out of things to read’. Since then he has gained a reputation as a top author in the relatively new LitRPG genre. With a blend of sword and sorcery, cyberpunk, sci-fi and heroic fantasy, “More Than a Game" has achieved great critical acclaim and fantasy fans will love this series.

For a compelling LitRGP read from one of the founding masters of the genre, get More Than a Game on Amazon now. For more information about the author's works and books, visit the author webpage.