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Top 25 Best Fantasy Books

Love fantasy novels? Hate wasting time reading trash? Then read this definitive guide to the top 25 Fantasy books in the genre. Updated 2015

This is a list of books that are the crème de la crème of the fantasy genre. I've carefully chosen the top 25 fantasy books from among hundreds of series and thousands of books. In my 20 or so years of devouring fantasy books, certain fantasy books have really stood out far above the rest. This is a list of those books.

The Top 25 Fantasy Books list selects from among a wide range of fantasy, from epic fantasy to detective fantasy, from well-known fantasy to obscure fantasy, and from old "classic" fantasy books to the best of later year's (2014) fantasy releases. The goal of this list is to present as broad a selection of the best fantasy literature from different fantasy subgenres -- cult hits, best sellers, critically acclaimed, and classics. This is the web's number one fantasy list, visited by millions of readers over the seven years it's been kicking around.

To include is to exclude, and alas, this list is short, and the number of fantasy books out there is huge. If my omission of your favorite author offends, my apologies, but you can’t please everyone. For each fantasy book recommendation given, I try to give some compelling reasons why the book stands out as one of the best fantasy books in the genre, rather than just saying "this is one of the best fantasy books ever." I acknowledge that judging books is like judging beauty: it's in the eye of the beholder. Some people may like a book, while others do not.

2015 Update

It’s been several years since I have updated this list, and now I bring the 2015 perspective to this update.

A lot has changed in the two years since this list has been updated. Fantasy has continued to grow up and gotten much more…complicated. 

"Black and white fantasy'? So…last decade! Grim dark is vogue and antiheroes now the rage. And speaking of fantasy heroes, when they are not generally facking shit up and being all anti-heroish, then they better have a serious flaw or twelve. 

And hey, who wants just an regular old evil villain when we can have a sympathetic baddie that can still tug on those old heart strings while also filling in part time as a malicious serial killer – you know, that mass murdering dark wizard who takes a breather between murders to feed soup to orphans then goes back to ravaging women and killing puppies.

There has of course been an endless deluge of the written word: new books, sad books, good books, bad books – but mostly bad books. Supposedly, there’s a publishing revolution, of sorts, with Amazon’s push into self-publishing. While this has resulted in a vast flood of new indie books, the reality is that for every self-published gem that gets picked up and made into the next best thing, there’s a veritable mountain of horrid prose, painful typos, and dreadful plots to sift through first.

After You Read the Top 25

For more recommendations, read the (new) Top 100 Fantasy Books list that directly continues where the Top 25 List #26 and ending at #100. 

For an overview of the fantasy genre with our recommendation picks for the BEST book of each subgenre and category, check out our new Best of the Fantasy Genre list. It's a great supplement to the Top 25 List and perhaps even a different way of picking the RIGHT fantasy book that suits your tastes.

For a modern list of the best fantasy books to come out since 2010 (past 5 years), check out our new Best Fantasy Books Since 2010 list.

Be sure to read the brand new, uber huge, Top 50 Stand Alone Fantasy Books list (just updated end of 2014). 

Then take a look at the Best Fantasy Series list to top it off.

If you want a humorous take on MY worst fantasy books picks in the genre, read MY Worst Fantasy Books list.

And don't forget to visit our very active and always helpful Fantasy Book Forum full of awesome members and plenty MORE book recommendations and great fantasy book discussions. 

And hey while we are on the topic books, if you want some quality science fiction book recommendations, be sure to visit our brand new sister site that's all about science fiction books: -- the web's most detailed science fiction book recommendation site! Start with our The Top 25 Science Fiction Books Ever list, then work your way through the other subgenre recommendations. The site is still in development, so stay tuned the fully functional site on a brand new layout coming in the first part of 2015.

View OLDER versions of The Top 25 list here

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Feb 2015
Awards Won:1997 LocusF
Award Nominations:1997 NEBULA, 1997 WFA

This still-brilliant series starts with A Game of Thrones. What can I say about this series other than read it! It's well-regarded as the best fantasy series, by nearly everyone except the now legion of haters who (including the list author) are incensed that Martin has not released the next damn book yet.

Martin's books have been at the top of this list for years, and despite his delayed release of the 6th book (The Winds of Winter), his works still stand out as some of the best in the genre. If you haven't read Martin just yet (I'm speaking to the three of you out there who have not), you owe it to yourself to read this series. Like now.

Martin writes with flair, deftly weaving multiple storylines in a gritty, even brutal, world that consists entirely of gray characters instead of the classic black and white. Martin's world is a vast chess game spanning continents, and the pieces are lords, bastards, knights, wizards, ladies, and children. What really stands out in this series is Martin's penchant for axing the major characters. That's right -- no character is safe from the author's noose. Despite the demise of major characters, the plot lines continue stronger than ever. Tired of protagonists walking through fire without a scratch, falling hundreds of feet without a bruise, and defeating superhuman creatures with the same amount of effort that one puts into scratching an arm? Then this series is your fix. The sheer unpredictability of the series renders it a delectable experience. Dare you to predict the winners and losers? If you haven't read the series yet, read it! Chances are, you're going to be calling in sick the next day so you can keep reading. It's that good.

Still waiting for Book 6. Does Martin Still Have the Magic?

There's been a lot of controversy about the quality of Martin's work as a whole, mainly due to the disappointing Feast for Crows and disappointing-yet-again Dance with Dragons. The complaints mainly have to do with the plot not moving along as quickly as everyone would like, Martin still introducing NEW major characters 5 books in and, of course, the grinding length of time it's taking Martin to complete new books (we now average 5 years between each book release).

Despite the past few hiccups (I remain optimistic book 6 will right all wrongs done the past two books), Martin still remains a master storyteller with sharp prose and a fascinating world that's gripped millions of readers -- and continues to grip them both with the stellar HBO TV series and the books. When the man can inspire such obsessive hate and also fanatical adoration in fans, you know there is something special about the series. Martin's work will still yet remain at the top of the list, because I feel that despite the letdown of the last two books, his story is so magnificently grand that it remains some of the best works out there to showcase what fantasy can truly be.

You can't argue how impact Martin has been on the Fantasy genre as a whole; if Tolkien helped shape of fantasy. Martin has left an equally indelible mark.

I don't think you need me to tell you the HBO adaption of A Game of Thrones is like awesomely amazing and continues to break new boundaries and set new records for high quality TV productions. But don't skimp out on the books just because you've seen the TV series -- there's a lot in the books missing from the TV series.

If you haven't yet read Martin though, don't hesitate. Don't think. Just do it. It's seriously compelling and you'll shortly find out why the world has gone mad for Martin.

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Feb 2015

Kvothe: Wizard, Villain, Warrior, Slave. Hero and villain of a thousand tales. But behind a legend, there is the simple story of a boy, a woman, and a world that will never be the same...

In one of the most remarkable fantasy debuts ever, Patrick Rothfuss joins the celebrated ranks of Martin, Erikson, and Tolkien as one of the master tale-spinners. The biography of the legend, The Name of the Wind delves deep into the inner workings of Kvothe, a boy who dares to challenge destiny. The Name of the Wind is Patrick Rothfuss's debut novel, but oh what a powerful debut it was! This is one tale you do not want to miss. I've read a lot of fantasy books in my time, but rarely have I relished a novel as much as I have this one. It's coming of age tale and a quest fantasy; it doesn't do anything that hasn't been done already by other writers, but it just puts everything together so precisely and perfectly. And the writing, oh the writing, is gorgeous.

Nearing the end of 2014, where does The Name of the Wind stand among the elite reads of the genre?

Still very strong, I feel.

I felt the sequel is a great read that for the most part delivers on the promise of the first book. It takes over half the book for something to happen, but the latter half of the book ends on a very strong note. So while many have mixed feelings about the book, Rothfuss still gives us a very strong tale that carries the torch.

And about those complaints people have.

The Name of the Wind is a frame story with the implication the whole thing is one grand tragedy -- we've only seen the edges so far but for those who read a bit deeper into the story than the surface there's a lot more to be revealed. The complaints people have regarding the sequel book, I think, can easily be explained away if you look at the story as a whole. Kvothe is an unreliable narrator (anyone who has read A Book of the New Sun will know what I'm talking about) and his grand exploits could in fact be -- probably are -- grand embellishments of a storyteller and bard. So think deeply before you pick up that pitchfork and write off Rothfuss, the man knows exactly what he's doing with his tale.

If you haven't read the book, you better. Seriously, read it.

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Feb 2015

The Blade Itself features reluctant heroes, black humor, and breathtaking action. Seemingly a novel of contrasts, The Blade Itself is defined by its cast: a philosophical Barbarian who hates to kill, a dashing hero afraid to fight, and a crippled torturer with a heart of gold. The twisted plot and cast of unforgettable characters makes The Blade Itself an absolute must-read. The other two books are equally enthralling, and there is no dip in the "quality" of the series. This is one of the best trilogies in the fantasy genre. Joe Abercrombie just keeps on getting better and better with every book. His latest book The Heroes is just one of the most awesome books ever.

The Blade Itself is a rousing entrance to into the fantasy genre and book one of the First Law trilogy. Joe Abercrombie takes all the classic fantasy conventions and spins them into something new. This is a subversion of epic fantasy brought to a whole new level. An artistic movement within the genre that  takes the old staples of Fantasy and remakes them into something more sophisticated. Strong, witty writing, dry humor, twisted plotting, and full of contrasting elements, this new style makes for some intelligent reading. In this new world of noir Fantasy, shades of gray are the new black and white. 

Since The Blade Itself was published, Abercrombie has gone on to produce even better books. Yet, this story was his debut novel and the one that made him a big hitter in the genre. And it's also the 'gateway novel 'into his larger 'First Law' universe. 

Because the quality of the Abercrombie's writing has only been getting better and better over the years, I've kept Abercrombie very high on this list. He's is still one of the top fantasy authors writing in the genre. Abercrombie's books are not necessarily for everyone, as his books have a very sarcastic tone, characters are morally ambiguous and sometimes do bad, bad things for good reasons (or just good things for bad reasons), and he doesn't necessarily write "epic" fantasy (outside of the first trilogy, which was a subversion of epic fantasy), but it's a fantasy that's just so damn wildly entertaining you can't but fall in love with it.

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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, Barns&Noble, iTunes, and Google, or visit

Feb 2015

Do I even need to discuss it? The father of modern fantasy, the recreation of the English myth, an apex of English literature; Lord of the Rings is more than mere Fantasy, it is both myth and a fictional history so real, so enticing, that it can be read as "real". Peter Jackson's movies capture the imagination of the books with astounding clarity -- yet at the same time, the books deliver a different, yet equally satisfying experience.

Without a doubt, Lord of the Rings is a transcended work of art. It's a trilogy born from years of hard research, channeling everything from Tolkien's linguistics background, to his years in the muddy trenches of World War I, to his love of English mythology all forged into an indelible modern myth that's spawned an entire literary genre.

If we look at the sheer contribution these books have made to the genre, the series would rank #1. If you have not yet read this series, it's time to get it over with. And no, the movies are NOT the books.

Why Lord of the Rings is NOT ranked number one on this list is the most often asked question left in the comments. The reason? While Tolkien has influenced the genre, his books are also more than 50 years old and the genre has radically evolved since Lord of the Rings was first written. You are firmly stuck in the past if you don't yet realize this. 

Tolkien's works are classic and are rightly regarded as masterworks, but are they the best in light of 2015? 

I firmly state they are not and will vehemently argue the genre has evolved quite a bit since the 1950's. You simply just have to look at how characterization (in the genre) has evolved, how women are not mere pretty perfect window dressings but actually real (and flawed) characters now, how heroes are flawed creatures with a bit of villain in them and villains are not all bad who may even have a bit of the heroic about them too.

Fantasy has grown up folks and become more nuanced -- far more complicated than Tolkien's simple dichotomy of good and evil. 

And, for fuck's sake, let some other writers have a chance at some glory dammit you selfish people :p -- where's the fun if Lord of the Rings is always at the top spot? 

Because of Tolkien influence on the genre, I've put him at #4. Is he the best in the genre? I say no. Is he one of them most influential -- even up to the present -- I say definitely yes! But, the genre has moved on since then so give him the recognition but not get fixated on past glories and instead look to the future. 

If this argument doesn't sway you by now, I suggest you look at our Most Influential List INSTEAD of this Top 25 List and treat that as your own Top 25, as you're mood won't be improved as you continue down this current list which has an eye firmly set on the modern rather than the past.

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Feb 2015

Post-modern fantasy and one of the best fantasy reads (when you take all three books together) in the genre. The Magicians is a book that will take you by surprise. In a genre populated by epic fantasy quests and magical swords, by overused cliche's, thin characters and even thinner plots, this book is an ode to something more profound, something more substantial; it's fantasy that's decided to grow up; fantasy where there is not always a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, fantasy where heroes don't always win and if they do come out on top, they sometimes suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress. This is part Harry Potter on downers and suffering from clinical depression, part Alice trapped in a Wonderland gone nightmarish wrong. At its heart, the Magicians is really the story of a boy-become-man struggling to give the world meaning in a world that has no meaning. What does this all mean? The Magicians is fantasy that's more than fantasy. If you are looking for a happy-go-lucky read where the world is saved and everyone finds true love and does a victory dance into the sunset, you may want to skip this one. For the rest of you who want to taste something different (and this one has a lot of zing to it folks), Lev Grossman's The Magicians delivers.

The Magicians takes a number of children's classics such as Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Alice and Wonderland and transfigures them, moving them from the simple innocent child fiction into the adult land with adult problems to deal with.

This is a series of three books and you absolutely must read all three books before you start casting your judgment (don't post how much you hated the first book unless you've read all three books). By the end of the third book (which was just released 2014), the full scope of the events in the first and second books are bought to a close and the circle completed. This is a series where each book becomes better, where the characters grow, make mistakes, more mistakes, then learn. It's quite remarkable, really, by the end of the tale you feel like you have been there and back again (and you have)  you've left the Shire had a grand adventure, and returned only to find it's not the same because the characters are not the same, having learned and grown up.

The flaws of the first book disappear as the final chapter in the tale ends and the story finds a sort of uneasy inner peace. It's an ending, and as satisfying as an ending can be in a world where endings are not always happy.

This book was formerly on a previous iteration of the Best Fantasy Books list, back when only the first book was out, but I bowed out to the pressure and removed it because of all the complaints I was getting. Well now after all three books have been released and the tale is completed, this book is going back on the list where it rightfully deserves its spot. 

For some of you who want simpler fantasy fare, where black is black and white is white, where there is a clear villain, the heroes are all heroic and don't whine and bitch about emotional issues, who don't want a postmodern subversion of the fantasy genre, then this is not a book that will resonate. Stick to the Wheel of Times, the Lord of the Rings, and the Way of Kings type material.

But IF you like complex fantasy, wow, you are in for a fucking treat. 

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Feb 2015

Discworld, a long running 40 series long sharp biting satire on the human condition couched as fantastical hilarious and downright ridiculous fantasy romp. I have not yet included Pratchett on the Top 25 list so this makes his first entrance. Pratchett, because his stuff is so different, may not be on the radar of the ordinary fantasy fan. But it's a mistake to ignore his works. This man is great a pillar in the fantasy genre and needs to be read.

I'm putting Pratchett on for his entire series some of his books are fantastic, some outstanding, some merely good, but all make for good reads. Taken as a whole,Pratchett's Discworld series is...transcendent. As a whole the sum is greater than the parts; the books taken together are sharp insights into the foibles of humanity.

Pratchett's series shares a lot in similar with Martin's brutal A Song of Ice and Fire series. While Discworld, ostensibly, is a lighter series wrapped with comedy but at the core both of these series explore the idea of civilization and how it changes over time. The difference of course is the direction. Martin's shows how fragile civilization is and how it can easily descend from peace and order to unfettered chaos and violence.

Pratchett, on the other hand, crafts an extended world, one that morphs from the medieval to the modern through the impetus of technology; Pratchett's statement through his works is that technology and social order are highly connected and to have one you must have the other.
Then again,there is also Prachett's satire on the entire fantasy genre, from Dragons,Drafts, Demons, Witches and Wizards to social issues such as the role of women,feminism, racism, and religious tolerance (or intolerance).

And despite Prachett's use of satire and comedy to elucidate on the human condition and his conversation on how technology can push civilization into more enlightened social reform, the man also is able to tell a pretty damn entertaining tale.Many great humorists who use the tale as a medium to express deep thoughts about the human condition get so caught up in the subtext of what they are trying to say that the narrative itself falls flat. 

Not so with Terry Pratchett. The man knows how to ride a rip-roaring read funny and at times dark, but still brimming with hope. And yes, he knows how to tell a god dammed good tale; not just a funny tale, but a funny tale with some real substance beneath the humor.

Pratchett is one author where after you read one of his Discworld books, you are a better, more developed person after the reading of it. And that my friends is why Pratchett is one of the best fantasy authors in the genre.

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Lies Of Locke Lamora

(Scott Lynch)
(Gentleman Bastards)
Feb 2015

A web of schemes and frauds weave the pattern that makes up the Lies of Locke Lamora. Scott Lynch establishes himself as a fearless storyteller, thrusting his characters into a world doused with intricate historical and cultural information. The writing is witty, the plot twisted, and the characters real. One of the most refreshing (and unique) novels to arrive on the fantasy scene, Lies of Locke Lamora is an entertaining read that delivers on every promise it makes. Those fantasy fans riding the new wave of fantasy, pioneered by George R. Martin, China Mieville, Steven Erikson, and Scott Bakker will be delighted with Scott's effort.

A fine book (and series) by a fine author one of the best authors in the entire fantasy genre, in fact. Scott Lynch really took the whole two dimensional 'rouge/thief' stories you find in D&D fiction and filled out the edges, giving the characters and story some real color and depth. Lynch now in fact owns this specific sub-genre of fantasy. He's been copied but never yet equaled.

Three books are out as of 2015 with the fourth on the way (supposedly) in 2015. I have to rate the series as A, B+, B; so far, I was mildly disappointed with the recent book (Republic of Thieves) though the writing itself was top notch, even if the plotting and structure and characterization, somewhat uneven. However, the series ends on a very high note with some interesting developments. I look forward to the next in the series, where I think things really start heating up.

Should you read this series? Absolutely. There was a long long wait between book 2 and 3 and the author suffered from some personal issues, but he's back on track from what I hear.

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Feb 2015

The Stormlight Archive has for better or worse become the poster-boy for where (classic) epic fantasy is going. It's the evolution of the Tolkien-style fantasy -- a fantasy that was very much expanded and added to by Robert Jordan with The Wheel of Time. And now Brandon Sanderson is rebuilding epic fantasy in his image, updated for modern readers. It's a fantasy very much divergent from the style of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire which embraces the gritty conceit. Sanderson's style of epic fantasy strides the middle ground between Tolkien and Martin -- a bit of each, but not too much of either. 

The Stormlight Archive (2 massive books into the whole 10 series) is a hugely epic series that's casting an eye on the Malazan throne for epicness. The first book pulls out all stops and makes a grand statement with the page count alone, being only a mere first 1000+ pages in a purported 10 book series. You can see why The Stormlight Archive is about as epic a fantasy as they come.  

But not only epic, but also damn good. This is one of the best fantasy books to come out in the 2000's and certain one of the best fantasy of the past five years, hands down.

The Way of Kings does everything right as an epic fantasy. There's a world-ending plot in the backdrop, a cast of interesting characters that are starkly realized, a unique magic system, different races with a lot of tension between them, huge and epic battles, and some of the best action in the fantasy genre.

Characterization is also fantastic. Sanderson has done a particularly well job at building up the character of Kaladin, who spend the majority of the novel enduring the fantasy genre's worst Dirty Job ever. Through the nightmare that is Kaladin's life (and various flashbacks to his childhood), Sanderson does a great job explaining the character's motivations and present actions. These flashbacks are also used to great effect as a way to throttle up the dramatic tension as the story progresses. The action, when it happens, explodes and what a ride it is!

So if you are a fan of Sanderson's work, you love epic fantasy, or you just want to read one of the best damn fantasy books out there, The Way of Kings blows pretty much every other 'epic fantasy' competition out of the water, with the exception of Martin's works.

All in all, a fantastic start to what's looking to be a great epic series (a series that's looking to be far superior to The Wheel of Time). 

The sequel, Words of Radiance, was a spectacular read that kept the strength of the first book for the most part. I don't feel it was as good, but there were certainly some very strong moments in the book.

If you are looking for epic fantasy, I can't recommend any other series over this right now. Start reading if you haven't already. There have been some excellent epic fantasy series (in the style of Martin, Jordan, and Sanderson) released the past couple years (The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne, The Traitor's Son Cycle, The Powder Mage Trilogy, and The Shadow Campaigns of particular note), but so far Sanderson's series still remains at the top of the pile.

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Assassin's Apprentice

(Robin Hobb)
(The Farseer)
Feb 2015

Hobb is one of the best characterization writers in the Fantasy genre. Her characters are vividly real, leaping out of the pages into our minds as living characters. She has no qualms about allowing her protagonists to suffer and she readily avoids Dues Ex Machina (at the cost of drawing out her stories, which is not a bad thing). 

Her Farseer books are full of fantastic characters and an interesting, mysterious world to explore. The world occupied by Fitz is arguable almost a character in its own right. You'll come to know The Six Duchies like you do your own living room. You'll hear the cries of fish mongers, smell the dirt and decay, and practically feel the cobble stones beneath your feet as you journey with Fitz Chilvary through this intoxicatingly crafted word.

Toss in a gripping plot and fantastic prose and these books make for some glorious reads. The books are also home to the most hated villain ever to grace the pages of fantasy.

Hobb's The Farseer trilogy is perhaps her greatest work; she's carried on with the character is two sequel trilogies (the second trilogy of which the first book was released now, as of 2014). And even now with the fantasy genre being moved in completely new directions with the likes of Martin, Abercrombie, Lynch, Lawrence, and Sanderson, Hobb's works are still worthy to be on anyone's top fantasy book list. She's like that good old fashioned dinner you visit there's nothing particularly new on the menu, but you know what you get and it's always delicious.

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Feb 2015
Award Nominations:2000 WFA

Since Tolkien, Fantasy has rarely been revolutionary, instead becoming more of an evolution and reinterpretation of Tolkien's original work. Well, I can honestly say Erickson's saga is revolutionary. 

No Fantasy book series is more epic in scope than The Malazan Book of the Fallen. His saga combines both military and epic fantasy into a delightful mix. Brilliant prose, epic storylines, gritty realism, fascinating mix of gray characters, Erickson combines the best of George R. Martin with the epic scope of the Greek Classics such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. One word when reading it: epiphany. A refreshing change from the usual Robert Jordan-esque fantasy clones that pop up like weeds these days.

However, now that the entire series has been completed, Erikson has lost a bit of his former luster (and his former ranking on this list). His works are absolutely worth reading and you may utterly love what he does or detest it. His final book was, overall, widely regarded as disappointing. You know the phrase 'It's not how you start the race but how you finish' and Erikson did not finish strong.

However, if you love dark fantasy with an epic cast of characters and a storyline that spans millenia (and is sometimes confusing as hell connecting it all together), read the whole thing. One thing Erikson does and does well is create absolutely epic battles of guns and magic.

From start to finish, Malazan Book of the Fallen is one hell of a ride and is a MUST read for any serious fantasy fan. It can take a few books to get into the series (like 2 or 3 books), but if you are patient and bear with the world-building in the first couple of books, the series gets damn good. You may or may not like how it ends though.

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Feb 2015

American Gods is more than just an intelligent novel about a bunch of homeless gods, but rather a cerebral fantasy that's also a damn good tale.

This is Gaiman doing what Gaiman does best: ripping out the old, mashing it with the new, and weaving a weird and insightful story about the resulting conflict. I've thought long and hard about why American Gods, in 2014, should still remain on the list of the best fantasy. Indeed, Gaiman has an entire wardrobe of other outstanding books, many of them that tell a better tale and have better characters.

But here's the thing: American Gods is Neil Gaiman's finest work. And one of the finest works in the fantasy genre, a transcendent novel that helped redefine fantasy in the 21st century.

He's written many things, some with better tales, some with better characters, but never ever a book so wide, so deep, so broad with insight about culture and the underlying threads behind it as American Gods. And this is saying something, considering the large body of masterworks produced by the author.

American Gods is triumph of storytelling and a real look into the underlying, hidden assumptions of what it means to be American. A scary, somewhat strange hallucinogenic road trip of a novel, American Gods is a metaphoric quest to find the real American identity; to nail down pat what it really means to be American. And in the quest to answer this fundamental question, Gaiman captures the quintessential American truth about identity: every person in America has roots from somewhere else.

This is a book that highly resonated with culture and by doing so helped changed the face of fantasy, becoming a prototype for metaphorical Urban Fantasy -- a fantasy that's a sharp critique through living metaphors of the underlying cultural identities that collide, contrast, and cohesively make up the fabrics of western society.

The irony is that this concept of myth and metaphor of the old Gods and the new Gods in perpetual war with each other, reflections themselves in this struggle of man's ever fluid boundary of conflicting beliefs that form changing culture, has been rendered cliche by Gaiman himself. Many authors since American Gods have used these metaphors in story (and some before Gaiman), but Gaiman did it best, and did so in such a profound way it's nearly impossible to write something new about the subject. 

Why read American Gods? Because it's one of the most profound, transcendent fantasy novels of the 21st century. The story and characters may not be everyone's cup of tea (there are better, even among the author's own body of work). But there's no other Gaiman novel as ambitious with broad insight about culture, religion, and society. And for this reason, American Gods is one of the best fantasy books and why you see it on firmly planted on nearly every best fantasy list out there.

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Feb 2015

This is a coming of age story; leaps and bounds above the usual run of the mill boy-becomes-wizard-and-saves-world. With prose so good that you will want to lick the pages, and a story equally as enthralling, you will do no wrong buying this series. Lovers of Tolkien's Middle Earth will find themselves right at home in Guin's Earthsea. This is epic fantasy, but it's one of the best series out there. These books won a Nebula and Hugo award. This is the types of book you can read over and over, then some more. Touching, beautiful, at times sad, the Earthsea saga is one of the great masterpieces of fantasy literature.

Before there was Harry Potter, there was Ged. The Wizard of Earthsea is the story that developed the boy goes to wizard school theme that's practically a fantasy staple these days. Harry Potter and a countless other modern fantasy tales were influenced by Le Guin's masterpiece.
Besides the wholesome tale Earthsea tells, there's a lot more to the story, thematically, than just an entertaining tale (one of the marks of true literature). 

Each book in Earthsea trilogy offers a very different perspective of the hero's journey. In the first, Ged must right his own mistake in which a moment of youthful pride unbalances the world. In the second book, another heroic origin story, the young heroin must reclaim her identity and by doing so, becomes a hero. And in the final tale of the (original)l trilogy, a man who seeks to overcome death and claim immortality pulls everything into darkness. 

The books are deep works indeed if you dare to dig down a bit.

Yes, even in 2014 The Wizard of Earthsea is well worth your reading time. While it may not have the complications of the modern fantasy style -- all that grim postmodern angst -- it's still a wonderful coming of age tale and there's far more meaning to the stories than most fantasy works. And hey, sometimes you want to read something a bit more positive and classic, rather than dark this, dirty this, and grim that. 

The Wizard of Earthsea has been a highly influential work on the genre and rightful deserves its place as one of the best fantasy books.

Books in The Earthsea Cyc... Series (6)

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Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

(Susanna Clarke)
Feb 2015

What would happen if you locked Tolkien, Dickens, and Jane Austen in a room? Why, Susanna Clarke's masterpiece Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell of course! Like the Victorian era the book is situated in, the story ambles along at a sedate pace. But what starts out as a jolly stroll down Oxford Street transforms into the darkly disturbing descent into the madness of two magicians.

Fabulously written, dark, fully of mystery and wonder, Susanna Clark's masterpiece deserves to be read by every fantasy fan who loves a slower read and who can appreciate good literature.

A complete re-imagining of English history, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is the story of two English magicians in a world where magic exists only in the annals of English history. It starts slow, but keep reading--the tale soon envelopes you. This a different sort of read than the Robert Jordan type of fantasy, but it's a refreshing addition to the fantasy genre. Even in 2014 where epic fantasies are very much the norm, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell still stands out as something completely different. You can't always eat the same meal every day right? Why not try something different? If you are in for something new that's very tasty, give Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell a shot.

Note to readers: a lot of people complain how tedious the book is, how flowery the language is, how boring the plot is, etc. Here's what to expect: it may take you 3 months to get through the first half of the book and 3 days to finish the second half. It takes until the second half of the book for things to get going. Once the book gets going, it really gets going! So read the WHOLE book before you say it's boring!

If you are expecting the action of a Brandon Sanderson or Brent Weeks or the sly dark wit of an Abercrombie, then look elsewhere.


If you are a lover of literary works, of slow pedantic writing full of minor details, of a plot and characters that slowly develop over hundreds of pages before events and conflicts roil over, give this masterpiece a read.

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Feb 2015

And for a series that's pretty darn gritty in the way of "war is dirty and sucks and everything is going to hell in a hand basket", Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire should be read. Glen Cook helped influence Martin's works.

Before fantasy became gritty grim dark, it existed in the form of Glenn Cook's Black Company -- an influential work that can be felt in many "modern" fantasy books. The Black Company is arguably the progenitor of the dark and dirty grim dark militaristic fantasy of the 21st century and one of the most influential fantasy books in the genre and as such, belongs on this list of one of the best fantasy books to read.

The Black Company could adequately be described as "realistic fantasy", a term applied to Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and Erickson's Malazan series.

Fans of Malazan Book of the Fallen, particularly, may find themselves right at home with The Black Company, as both series follow companies of soldiers through battle quite closely. Both series feature epic battles with magic and mayhem thrown in aplenty. Both series have ambiguous characters who are neither black nor white. The Black Company is more tightly focused on a small band of characters than a huge cast, as in Malazan.

If you've read anything in the fantasy genre, you can easily see some of the books that draw influence from The Black Company. A recent example would be Mark Lawrence's The Prince of Thorns trilogy.

What's particularly intriguing about The Black Company is that the characters are not afraid to make hard choices. Too many fantasy books these days have goody goody two-shoes characters who can't step on an ant for fear that it's the wrong thing to do. Glen Cook throws all that out the window and creates a group of mercenaries who define their own moral codes, rather than bow to our own. Yet they have their own code of honor, despite the fact that their morality is often suspect (at least according to our own social mores). That means characters often make uncomfortable choices, arguably evil choices.

The Black Company really does ask the question: what's the difference between evil and good? And it's not a simple answer folks. The Black Company end up employed by The Lady, a character who might be able to show Tolkien's Sauron a new trick or two.

So for an action-packed military fantasy series that was genre-busting way back before gritty fantasy was popular, The Black Company takes the cake. This came out in the early 90's, but despite its age, it still beats most of the other epic fantasy out there today, even in the 2014 era of fantasy, this classic is absolutely worth the read. There is still no other work of fiction quite like it right now.

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A superstar on earth, Hari Michaelson is worshiped by billions. But in the world of Ankhana, Michaelson is feared by all. He is known only as Caine, the Blade of Tyshalle -- a relentless, unstoppable assassin who kills monarchs and commoners alike. Back home on earth, Michaelson's adventures in Ankhana command an audience of billions, but he is forced to ignore the fact that he is killing men for the entertainment of his own planet. Bound by the rigid caste society of his planet, forced to keep a growing rage in check, the boundaries between Hari Michaelson, the superstar, and Caine, the Blade of Tyshalle begin to slip. When his wife goes missing in Ankhana, Michaelson and Caine must become one to save his wife and survive the treacherous rulers of two worlds.

Day of the Jackal meets Lord of the Rings, Heroes Die is a heart-pounding thrill ride that never brakes and one novel you don't want to put down. A blend of sci-fi and fantasy, Heroes Die is as good as they come.

And I really mean that.

It's a unique tale with interesting concepts and a whole lot of blood -- like a lot of fucking blood.

A world is only as good as its characters, and Stover's Caine is very, very good. He's an anti-hero through and through, a man twisted by his own violence, confused between his role as a good guy superstar back on earth and his occupation as the best assassin Ankhana has ever seen. Caine ponders the morality of his actions, all the while eviscerating his victims. This sort of violent conflict the man has with his role as assassin and his role as entertainer/superstar give this book an interesting angle. Who is the real man behind the character and which one is the mask? Hari Michaelson the superstar or Caine the assassin?

Ultra violent, visceral and just damn cool, Heroes Die is a shrine to violence and Caine is the high priest. Those wanting a superb story that rushes along faster than a supersonic jet, with more action then you can shake a stick at need wait no longer.

This book has been on multiple versions of this best fantasy book list and it STILL remains on the list, even in 2014. It's such a standout book in even in crowded genre with many greats, it's still one of the greatest, if oft overlooked, book.

There are a number of Caine novels as of 2014 and every single one of them are fantastic, though the first couple books are the best.

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The Prince Of Thorns

(Mark Lawrence)
(The Broken Empire)
Feb 2015

This one is full to the brim with gritty, amoral, cynical dark humor. A different sort of fantasy, but one that's extremely refreshing, disturbing, and entertaining -- one of the best fantasy reads to come out the past couple years. Even as we near 2015, The Prince of Thorns still stands tall among other strong fantasy books.

For a dark, gritty, anti-hero driven fantasy, I felt strong Abercrombie vibes. There's a strong influence from A Game of Thrones -- and if you've ever read KJ Parker's The Engineer trilogy, you'll see some similarities in the tone and style of world. The setting of the world is interesting too, a sort of post-apocalypse world gone to hell that sparks similarities to Jack Vance's Dying Earth world.

This is the brutal story of Prince Jorg, a teenage princeling who abandoned his father's castle after witnessing the murder of his mother and brother. During this time away, he's been eking out a place for himself with band of marauders. These are brutal killers of the worst sort and Jorg has been living as a sort of apprentice murderer under their rules. Things get interesting when he decides to head back home and reclaim his stolen birthright by force and blood.

The narration is first person and well done at that -- I haven't been so entertained by first person narration in ages. This is some of the first person narration since Farseer and The Name of the Wind. I particularly loved Jorg's sharp insights into the human condition, which is generously sprinkled through the pages. The book/s almost had a sort of R Scott Bakker (from Darkness the Comes Before) vibe to it with Jorg's insightful philosophizing, almost addressed as a soliloquy to the reader. Clever stuff. And didactic.

Lawrence has managed to do well what few authors ever do: create a compelling anti-hero -- arguably one of the most complex and interesting in the whole fantasy genre. Make no bones about it: the protagonist Jorg Ancraft is one vicious bastard, but the genius of Lawrence is that you still kind of like him, despite the fact that he's, well, a pretty vile human being as a whole. But it's a vileness you understand. You know, kind of like that drunk guy you met at the corner bar who was abused by his father, had his wife stolen by his brother and his house auctioned by the bank -- you can understand why he hates the world.

Truth be told, it's tricky for an author to cook up a compelling anti-hero; to do so, you need the absolute perfect blend of good world-building, a protagonist that you can still sympathize with, and sharp, witty prose that binds the whole thing together and keeps you from hating the protagonist. Most authors can't balance this sensitive equation and fail horribly, either making the antihero so unlovable that you hate him completely or eventually turning the anti-hero into a good yet 'misunderstood' character. 

Well Lawrence does not fall into these trappings.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you are looking for a darker sort of tale. It grips you in a horrified, yet I-can't-stop-reading sort of way. It's not for everyone, especially those who only like reading about good, lovable heroes. If you are averse to bad things happening, avoid. But if you are on the lookout for a different sort of fantasy tale, one that's dark and brooding, starring a protagonist who's not afraid to do anything to achieve power, you'll find this tale gripping. The trilogy has been completed as of 2014 and from start to finish, the Lawrence maintains the quality of story, plot, and characters.

This year the first book in another trilogy set in the same world, The Red Queen, was released with another interesting, yet different type of character. Lawrence has really come into his own as a writer the past few year and his outstanding series has kept him on this list of the best.

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Feb 2015
Comments (5)
Award Nominations:2011 LocusF, 2011 WFA

Kay has made this list in the past with his outstanding Tigana (arguably one of his best works). Up until recently, I felt Tigana was Kay's magnus opus a work that he would never surpass.

I was wrong.

It turns out that Kay's recent book, Under Heaven, an alternate history set in a mythical China is every bit as grand as Tigana, and perhaps even better a more tightly weaved, more focused, more exotic tale. Under Heaven is Kay's first foray into Asian history and culture, his other efforts centered about European history. Under Heaven takes place along a mythical China set around 8th century during the Tang Dynasty and follows a fictionalized version of the An Shi Rebellion (one of the most brutal wars in history before World War II).

For readers who actually love to read, who enjoy luscious prose and value outstanding characterization, Kay's books are pretty much made-to-order just for you. There are a few talented wordsmiths in the fantasy genre who not only can mesmerize you with a rich tale but mesmerize you with their prose. Kay is one of these, up there with the handful of poetic authors with the likes of Sean Williams, China Meiville, and Neil Gaiman.

Kay's works sit near the top of the historical fantasy genre and he's a master at it. His tales are almost always set in a in fantastical alternate history richly based on real world cultures, locales, and historical period.

I was first enticed by Kay's literary spell casting (because that's what it is, Kay casts a magical net with his writing and draws you into his worlds; once you feel the enchantment, you are forever bound to his works) with his flawed masterpiece, Fionavar Tapestry. The trilogy was Kay's conversation with Lord of the Rings, and while derivative also had its own unique identify and was deeply imbued with Kay's deep understanding of European folklore. His later work and masterpiece Tigana was so stunning and so startling a take on the ostensibly simple tale about a band of rebels fighting an evil wizard delivered a startlingly emotional tale of love, hate, hope, and ultimately redemption. Kay has had a lot of good books since then (never quite touching on his former glory, though some of his romps through alternative versions of Venetian Europe and Medieval Germany were provocative).

Kay's heroes are not the traditional heroes of fantasy they are not always the talented swordsman, the heroic soldier, the all-powerful wizard, but rather men of knowledge and wit not of martial skill. Kay's heroes are in fact poets and jongleurs, the masters of word and song. Kay shows these types can be every bit as dangerous, courageous and heroic as the swashbuckling hero.

And like his heroes who excel in the arts literary and celebrate language, Kay's works always reflect his love affair with language. Kay shows us that as far as Asia and Europe are in distance and culture, the peoples are still yet the same the love, they hate, they betray, they hate, and they find redemption. People, as the saying goes, will always be people. And in the complex web of these interactions from peasant to emperor, from poet to politician, Kay shows draws a stunning portrait of a Kingdom on the verge of collapse and the people who seek to destroy it and to save it each with realistic motivations.

Kay has written many outstanding books. But Under Heaven is his masterpiece. Read if you want to be captivated by lambent prose, dripping with poetic beauty. Read if you want to be drawn into a fantastical tale of emperors, of soldiers, of nobles, and ladies, famers and peasants each impacting in some significant way the flow of events that direct the course of Kitai, the mystical ancient Chinese kingdom.

If words could tell a story just by the sound, then Kay's prose does just that. Read if you love to read.

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City Of Stairs

(Robert Jackson Bennett)
Feb 2015

This book is the newest work(just released September 2014) on this list -- but the author has been writing some of the best, if underrated, fantasy fiction for the past decade, so it's hardly a leap to put his works on this list (in fact, I had one of the author's previous works, The Troupe, on one of the older iterations of this list a few years ago).

Robert Jackson Bennett, like Neil Gaiman, is an author that seems unable to actually publish a bad novel. Yes, some works are better than others, but even the 'worst' of make for a pleasant and highly imaginative read.

City of Stars is his finest novel to date, a work that blends the traditional epic fantasy with a number of other genres and the novel, I hope, that will finally bring him the critical acclaim and popularity he deserves.

Assassins, ancient gods, alternate worlds, mysteries, magic,politics, love, brutal action -- and a car chase thrown in. City of Stairs is really an eclectic mix of ideas that all, somehow, fit together perfectly. And it's all told with such sardonic and crackling prose.

One of the best fantasy novels of 2014 and I would posit,one of the best, most unique fantasy works in the past five years. City of Stairs is a captivating read -- once it starts going, it really gets going and you've found yourself at page 300 at 4 am in the morning. If you read one book this year, make it City of Stairs. A world of rich storytelling awaits in Robert Bennett Jackson's books. 

And City of Stairs is the perfect stairway in to his works.

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Feb 2015

Finally a foreign author (translated) makes it onto the list. Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, a Russian author, does something very different in the urban fantasy sphere. It's a book about vampires but filtered through a different lens -- that of the Russian perspective. As such, it makes for a...different sort of fantasy read, very much unique with a different feel than fantasy coming from the English mythology and culture.

Night Watch is a morally grey urban fantasy, and one of the best examples of it; it's an updated, more modern version of Anne Rice, but much darker, deeper, more edgy and vastly broader in scope. Epic vampire fantasy set in Russia, but gritty and grey.

Forget about the mediocre, angsty vampire lit of the Twilight books, Night Watch is the adult version that sparks in the night.

Too often we get fantasy filtered through the eyes of western writers, but Night Watch is something different -- it's fantasy written from the view of a different culture -- soaked in different cultural ideas, myths, and social norms. In short:  a damn refreshing change and like a powerful shot of vodka, warms you the fuck up.

The style is gritty Gothic -- a sort of horror novel meets fantasy. The premise itself is new for the whole vampire urban fantasy that takes the genre in a slightly new direction. But most of all, it's the dark work and the raw cultural differences infused into the story that make it such a refreshing read. This is like no vampire fantasy you've read, and I posit this is the best of the bunch. If you want to read books about vampires this is the one to read, the one that is, actually, different. Though it's a translated work, the translation is most excellently done -- you don't get some stilted dry version that's a pale shadow of the original.

Rich characterization, a fascinating new world and mythology, interesting magic, and of course a vivid and lush setting (Russia) make this the Urban Fantasy to read. It's a book (and series) that's deserving to be read. One of the more exciting new fantasy works in the genre.

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Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser

(Fritz Leiber)

(Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser)

Feb 2015

Often referred to as 'the greatest fantasy author you've never read' by some. And sadly true.

But if you've read any modern sword and sorcery with dark themes, complex characters, strong world building, you've felt the far-reaching influence of Leiber.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser is a fantasy most of you probably have not read, due to its age and the criminal lack of recognition given to the series over the years. The impact on the genre Fritz Leiber cannot be understated. Together with Conan stories and Lord of the Rings, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were some of the most influential books in the fantasy, helping to define the boundaries of the genre and impacting generations of writers. Fritz Leiber actually coined the term Sword and Sorcery and together with Howard's Conan stories, he's credited as the father of Sword and Sorcery.

The familiar trappings expected by the modern fantasy reader are all present in the stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: evil wizards, abundant thieves, roguish swordsmen, princesses in distress. But all these elements are used in such a way that the stories are fresh; indeed this older series is very much readable by today's standards of fantasy. 

The cities are well developed, the landscapes are filled with a rich tapestry of history, the characters complex and realistic, thoughtful and at times dark. And the writings is sweet, hearkening back to a time when to be a writer meant to be a wordsmith, where the minimum of words are used with great skill to express so much.

Read this not only because it's one of the books that fostered an entire genre of writing, but for the phenomenal world building, the compelling characters, the deep relationships and exciting adventures all told with Leiber's remarkable prose -- a prose that many modern writers would do well to ape. Despite the age of these stories, it's clear Fritz Leiber is 10x a better writer than a number of modern popular fantasy writers. There's a certain cadence to the way Fritz Leiber tells his tales -- a subtle but powerful, like a monastic chant that soothes the soul, and very much present in all of his works. You have to read his stories to get the feeling of it, but once you do, you'll feel right at home in his wonderfully crafted worlds.

Not a 'Modern' fantasy you say? Meh, this stuff is better than 95 percent of the new fantasy that's published these days. Leiber is right up there with the modern greats like Martin, Abercrombie, and Lynch and was undoubtedly a huge influence in their own writings.

If you want to read sword and sorcery fantasy that focuses every bit as much on the relationship between characters as it does on the violence and action, this is a series you want to absolutely read. 

Books in Fafhrd And The G... Series (7)

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Feb 2015

This is epic fantasy with a different face, and different than any sort of fantasy out there. Think a delectable mix of epic fantasy, Gothic, horror, and mystery. If there was ever a definition for dark fantasy, it's The Coldfire trilogy.

Dark fantasy does NOT follow the standard (arguably tired) fantasy conventions of 'protagonist saves the world gets the princess/hero always wins'. The main characters may die, the hero may die, evil may, in fact, win. The hero may do questionable things to gain victory. It's fantasy that's morally ambiguous.

If you read this series, you can rest assured it's free from that taint of unoriginality present in 95% of the fantasy fiction out there. The world created by Friedman is quite unique -- a landscape where your own imagination influences the very essence of reality. Of course, human imagination being what it is, instead of a paradise crafted by the mind, the world is rather a vivid and starkly realized nightmare that literally haunts the populous. Only men of supreme will are able to bend the world to their desires. It's an interesting premise that Friedman fully explores over the series. The hero, or rather anti-hero, is one of the more compelling protagonists in the fantasy genre.

This is a fantasy series that you will either love to death or utterly despise. These are books that use the characters, the world, and the plot as a vehicle to tell a deeper message about mankind's foils and foibles. If you are the type of reader who wants fast-paced, easy to read fantasy with no deeper message, this fantasy probably won't appeal to your sensibilities. But if you want to enjoy a deep story about the nature of man set in a horrific world with a cast of characters who are not always likable, this is a tale you should read.

This series has been around since the 90's now, but even in 2014, the series still stands out among peers and is absolutely still one of the best fantasies ever written.

It should be read by you. No. It deserves to be read by you.

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The Night Circus

(Erin Morgenstern)
Feb 2015

This is a new entry on the list, one for those more literary minded who love a richly woven, utterly intoxicating tale of magical rivalry and love. Set in a mysterious circus, the setting is just as much a character in the story.

How to describe this book: one long lucid dream. A dream where the fantastical can become reality. Where the mysterious is just around the corner (or behind the curtain), a place -- and time -- beyond our ken -- beckoning with mystery.

The Night Circus, a book I eagerly consumed like movie theater popcorn, is magical indeed, from the structure of the chapters, to the setting, to the many character twining in and out of the story threads. The chapters are short and bite-sized, allowing short but sweet reading doses with each character. The prose is good, simple but not too simple, elegant, but not too elegant. Just about right. Overall, the writing is descriptive, lyrical, imaginative, and paints a fascinating portrait of a world you feel leaping from the pages. From cover to cover, the book keeps enchanting. Though I will say if you are not a fan of Morgenstern's writing from the get go, you probably will hate the entire book; her style of writing may annoy some readers.

The author does have an uncanny ability to paint a vividly realized world. The Circus is mysterious and yet strangely familiar. It's cliche to call a book 'A Tour de force' but The Night Circus earns such a description that fits.

All told, this is not a book about action and adventure. It's a story about a story with the story played out across an evocative setting. Just enjoying a stroll through the magical setting is almost as rewarding as the story itself.

The Night Circus is not a perfect story and not a perfect performance. The characters are somewhat lackluster, the writing can fall short at times, but like an actual live circus, the Night Circus is an experience that needs to be experienced at least one time in your life -- and it's a performance that absolutely delivers like few other books do. And for that, this is a must-read book that sits on this list.

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Feb 2015

If you like stories about grand heroes who stand up for the downtrodden, who fight for a righteous cause, then Legend is a shining beacon of this sort of fantasy.

Gemmell was a prolific writer and a good one at that. His books are always fascinated with the concept of heroism and the individual sacrifice required to be a hero. Indeed, the concept of 'the stoic hero' always play a key theme in pretty much every single one his (many) novels.
Expect bloody battles, glorious last stands, magic, love, valor, sacrifice, honor, horror, and all that good stuff that makes you weep with joy. 

Come read about men who refuse to sacrifice their values no matter what the cost. This is not a tale about doing evil for the greater good, but doing good always no matter the cost. It's the fantasy fiction version of Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, Fury and any and every one of those movies about war, death, and courage and heroism where a band of men (and women) face insurmountable odds and certain death, but refuse to. Gemmell absolutely delights in telling the story of a broken man (often a man past his prime who just wants peace) who tries to find meaning through sacrifice.

With 'modern' fantasy celebrating tales where heroes are villains and villains are heroes, where the idea that the villain and hero are simply two sides of the same coin, the works of Gemmell stand out as a pillar that repudiates this idea. Gemmell's works are very much dichotomous. Words created of black and white rather than shades of the same colors. The Hero, then, is a hero in the true sense and villains are villainous.

Gemmell does not try and wow you with lyrical words, twisted political plots, or complicated narrative structure, but rather, he spends his energy writing action packed, emotionally enthralling heroic tales.

Gemmell is more of a storyteller than a writer and it shows in his rather simple, mostly utilitarian prose. His early works (like Legend) are rough around the edges, stylistically, but the passion and the heart of the story shine even beneath the roughness. His later works, however, like his Troy series, show a drastic improvement in his ability as a writer of prose with the final book in the trilogy (finished by his wife after he died), the best of the bunch with a far more refined writing style that Gemmell lacked.

While 'Legend' is standing in for all of Gemmell's Drenai books, I feel his best work was in fact his final work before he passed away, his magnificently written Troy Trilogy (starts with Lord of the Silver Bow), which cleverly re-invents the Greek story of Troy.

In this version of the Best Fantasy Books list, I've finally added Gemmell to the top list, in no small part due to his enormous contribution to the genre, specifically, to Heroic fantasy. There are perhaps more clever, better written books out there, but Gemmell was a pioneer. And by the end of his career he really was a master of his specific craft.

So come all ye who are weary of anti-heroes and dastardly heroes. Legend is your salvation.

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Feb 2015
Awards Won:2005 BFS

There is no finer reading about "other worlds than these" than The Dark Tower, a magnificent, sprawling, evocative epic that ties together a number of divergent concepts and genres, from the classic Western to the Arthurian legend along with Quest Fantasy and the Multiverse concept.

Spawned from the fertile mind of horror Meister Steven King, The Dark Tower is a masterpiece of storytelling, seamlessly weaving different genres together into a compelling mix. Set in a stark, tired world that has "moved on," Roland of Giliad, the last of the fabled Gunslingers, protectors of a (now) dying world -- and maybe more than one world -- journeys from landscape to landscape, from world to world on a quest to find and preserve from destruction the mythical Dark Tower, the nexus from which all things spawn and connect. A western at its core, with a solid mix of horror, fantasy, Arthurian legends, and Sci-Fi, the Dark Tower saga is a towering feat of imagination; at seven books long, it is King's true Magnus Opus.

The first book in The Dark Tower, The Gunslinger, is a flawed book -- even with the much older, much wiser, much better writer Stephen King publishing an updated version. Keep in mind the original was published over 30 years ago in 1982. The Dark Tower is clearly a story and concept that's haunted King's writings for many many years. In fact, quite a few of his books indirectly tie into The Dark Tower. You might say all his stories are twined into the central story of the Dark Tower. The first book is merely the gateway into much better things, into bigger worlds, and characters, and concepts, and a journey across worlds that you will never leave you. So if you are not impressed by the first book, give book two and three a read, the story gets much better as things fall into place. The seven book series is without a doubt uneven, with the first few books the strongest and the series occasionally stumbling afterward, but taken as a whole The Dark Tower is a remarkable work.

King is always his best when he writes about "Other worlds than these". And the Dark Tower is his Gilgamesh, his Tower of Babel that seeks to stand above everything else he's ever written.

Are there better single books by the same author? Yes, I would argue there are.

But taken as a whole, the collective story of King's haunted Gunslinger Roland, a character partially inspired by Robert Browning's mysterious poem, A Childe Roland, as he chases the Man in Black through the desert and into "other worlds than these" is one of the great fantasy works of our generation. Even in 2015, this is one tale that you do not want to miss out on.

And like seriously with a book that opens with "The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed", how can you not want to read it?

I especially recommend the fantastic AUDIOBOOK version which really bring to life the characters through the superb voice acting by the narrator. I'm a big fan of audiobooks and I find they are much more immerse then just reading a book. Just put it on your ipod and those monotonous chores are not so boring after all! I particularly like to listen to audiobooks when driving. 

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Feb 2015

The Dresden Files are Jim's first published series, telling the story of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago's first (and only) Wizard P.I.
Harry Dresden, a Sherlock with kick-ass attitude and wizard powers. This is some damn addictive detective fantasy. The series contains everything a fantasy book lover could want: magic, action, mystery, adventure, love, and sorrow. It also gets pretty damn dark by the later part of the series. Get ready to meet vampires, werewolves, wizards, fairies, and angels. Dresden is what Anita Blake should be.

I'm not usually a reader of urban fantasy, but Butcher has converted me with this stunning series.

Yea, yea, some of you will tell me that Dresden is only pulp fiction and shouldn't join the ranks of this august list. Pulp fiction or no, The Dresden Files are great reads. They may not be literary in the sense of a China Mieville novel, but heck, sometimes you don't WANT to think when you read. Pulp or not, Dresden represents another aspect of the fantasy genre: paranormal hard-boiled noir fantasy.

Many readers wonder why I don't put Butcher's other fantasy series, Codex Alera on the list. Well, simply put, there are 25 spots and I don't want to shove in the same author twice. Simple. So, read this as my endorsement for Butcher's Codex Alera series -- it's a great epic fantasy series with a Roman flavor that you should read. I personally prefer having The Dresden Files on this list since there's enough epic fantasy on this list already.

Dresden has been near the top of the Urban Fantasy genre for years. The series, for the most part, has opted for a darker tone with the main character undergoing significant changes (usually psychologically damaging ones) over the course of the series. This manages to keep things fresh for the most part, even in 2015.

However, I think the series is on the decline now. My major complaint with this series now is the fact that Butcher seems obligated to throw in a cameo of pretty much every side character in the entire series with every new book. This creates unnecessary filler and contrived plots. And, for the most part, no one ever really seems to die (permanently). I feel Butcher needs to dramatically shake things up and start killing off characters. We'll see how things stand, but Dresden probably will be knocked off this list and replaced with another Urban Fantasy that takes more risks the next version of the list.

Books in The Dresden File... Series (18)

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