High Fantasy / Epic Fantasy
A popular subgenre that's often used interchangebly with Epic Fantasy. We feel there is a distinction, however. High Fantasy tends to focus more on the setting and the change and choices made by the protaganist while epic fantasy tends to focus on the SCALE of conflict which affects the world at large. Epic fantasy features a large cast of characters while High Fantasy usually fewer.
Because these two genres can include elements of the other, it's easy enough to see why people call HIgh and Epic fantasy one and the same.
Click here if you want to read the differences between Epic and High fantasy.
The classic definition of “High Fantasy” often refers to the secondary or parallel world created for readers. The world we live in may be acknowledged, in the form of visitors, or exile, or some other oblique reference; but it is not the world in which the story’s action takes place. There, magic is a commonplace tool much in demand due to the power and cunning of evil characters attempting to thwart our heroes’’ attainment of their objectives (which tend to be grand and involve saving the world and all its good inhabitants).
Are you still confused about High Fantasy? Another way to think about High Fantasy is that it is usually about the journey of the hero through an exotic landscape where the journey and change upon the protagonist (and companions) is JUST as important as the ultimate quest or goal.
Level of Magic
Magic figures strongly in this type, but it is not used willy-nilly. It is a commodity that must be used wisely to be effective. Typically, magic is very common in quest fantasy, epic fantasy, and high fantasy though it depends on the style of the author.
Level of Characterization
The level of characterization in High Fantasy tends to be high. The focus, afterall is often on the hero and his or her choices and the consequence on the world at large of those same choices.
Level of Plot Complexity
Usually complex. The end goal is usually to fulfill some quest -- either a personal quest or a quest on behalf of someone (or something) else.
Level of Violence
Variable, but usually not graphic enough to be offensive to most readers.
If all fantasy fiction seems the same to you, you probably don’t appreciate the subtle distinctions that make High Fantasy different from, say Political Fantasy. Which probably means that the alien-ness of this genre doesn’t appeal to you. If you generally don't like the standard fantasy with magic, strange races, and exotic settings, you probably won't find High Fantasy appealing.
Note, these are not an exhuastive list of "the best" but rather a recommendation of the more representational writers and series in the genre.
Memory, Sorrow, Thorn trilogy (Tad Williams)
The Last Unicorn (Peter S. Beagle)
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series (Stephen R. Donaldson)
Recluce series (L.E. Modesitt)
Crossroads series (Kate Elliott)
The Witches of Eileanan (Kate Forsyth)
The Kingkiller Chronicle (Patrick Rothfuss)
Elven Ways series (Jenna Rhodes)
Green Rider series (Kristen Britain)
Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone(Greg Keyes)