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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 finishes...at #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: BestScienceFictionBooks.com -- 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.

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A Game Of Thrones

(A Song of Ice and Fire)

(George R.R. Martin)
Jan 2015

img Comments
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.

Books in A Song of Ice an... Series (5)

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17 Similar Recommendations by Readers

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Recommendations Recommend This

Try David Anthony Durham's Acacia . It's has a somewhat similar feel to A Song of Ice and Fire. The series wasn't as good as it initially promised to be by the end of it, but it's still good enough to read; the author pulls some interesting plot threads out of the blue by the end of book 2. My major complaint about the series was that I never really found the characters all that interesting

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The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan, of Science Fiction fame. Marin can write villains as heroes and heroes as villains, but if you want to read about a dour world without a shred of goodness, check out Morgan's foray into the fantasyscape. Its a dark and blood and cold as ice, but there's a shit load of brutal action.

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You might also like Tad Williams newest fantasy saga: Shadowmarch which has some similar plot elements (strange fey creatures coming down from the north behind a wall of magic mist, trying to take over the world). There's a rich cast of characters scattered across the world in completely different lands (much in the way that Martin features characters living in the frozen north, characters living in exotic deserts, and so on). The creatures the north, the Quar, are similar to the Others, but more developed as mysterious, yet somewhat sympathetic entities, rather than the zombie-making horrors that Martin makes the Others to be. You might say this is the story of "The Others" and how they came to be so damn pissed off at the world of men.

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Monarchies of God -- a vastly under-appreciated series. If you like the epic struggle between kingdoms, fierce battles, strange unexplored lands across the sea, and life aboard a ship. Paul Kearny writes a compelling tale here. Elements of grim dark too.

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Because like Martin himself recommends Howard's masterpiece.

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Elements of ASoIaF's gritty and dark but at times hilarious. Well written. Think a book made up of the Tyrion chapters, centering around a band of thieving scoundrels in an Ocean 11 fantasy plot.

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The Gap Cycle by Donaldson. This is science fiction NOT fantasy and in no way is there any similar plot elements or themes, but Gap Cycle is darker than dark and features heroes who have more in common with villains. If you like the bleak outlook on flawed humanity taken up by Martin, Gap Cycle won't disappoint your disappointment in the human race.

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Take a royal family who can walk into different realities. Gray characters, squabbling siblings, alternate realities, a prince in exile.

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There are elements of Martin in this work, which I was very impressed with as debut novels go. It's very much so a dark fantasy, with brutal violence, death, magic, and some compelling characters who are all flawed. You'll feel right at home if you are a Martin lover.

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Try R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before, which features superlative prose, a unique, but fascinating storyline, and the gritty realism that Martin exhibits. It's got that world is ending element to it as well. It's also a heck of a lot more philosophical too, which may or may not be something you like. On a whole Bakker's work is sort of like Tolkien's Mordor invades Martin' Kingdoms and stirs up a lot of shit. Throw a fantasy wizard Jesus with kung fu abilities and stuff the prose subtext full of philosophy. On the surface it's a head-case trippy mix, but there is a certain power to this series.

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Another series that had a somewhat similar feeling to Martin's work is The Godless World trilogy -- there are some shared elements between the works or at least the gritty, dirty feel of A Song of Ice and Fire is shared by both works. The Godless World is actually more like a cross between Martin and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I did find the quality of the series dipped by the end of the trilogy, but it's still a good enough read. Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series. Rich characterization with characters you dislike who eventual grow on you as the story progresses; oh my god -- plot twists and turns, and magic that's not at all present until the story progresses. Not as much action and drama, but a more character driven saga.

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Elements are similar. You have incest, kingdoms on the cusp of decline and ruin, pacts made with monstrous powers. The landscape is dour and the heroes are partly villains.

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Sword of Shadows is pretty close to Martin in terms of the setting and the portrayal of gruesomeness. The setting is a cold, brutal, Arctic-ice world. It's not as "grand" or "epic" as Martin and the cast of characters is not as morally ambiguous. Still a pretty damn good read, though the author is taking her sweet time finishing the damn series already.

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I would be doing you a disservice if I did not recommend Glenn Cook's The Black Company series. It's gritty military fiction with a cast of grey characters, and great battle scenes -- something that Martin focuses on in his books. The focus of the series centers on a company of soldiers.

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Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is a must-read, and it's a finished 10 books long. There are some elements that are similar to Martin's work: it's got gritty and intense battle scenes, a cast of ambiguously grey characters, main character deaths, plenty of brutality that characters inflict on each other, and unpredictable (and utterly massive) plots. It's quite similar to Martin in the way that the line between villain and hero is quite blurred. You often end up rooting for characters on both sides of the war. No one is really "the hero" and every character is either trying to maintain their power status quo, or steal it from someone else. However, the work, as a whole, is a LOT MORE disjointed than Martin's work (even counting for the fact that Martin has lost his way a bit)

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If you like reading about Jon Snow, you might give The Farseer trilogy a read. There are some shared story elements (though the plot and world is NOTHING at all alike mind you). Farseer is pretty much the story of a young king's bastard who grows up in a castle full of intrigue. He doesn't have a lot of options and struggles to survive, and in the process gets tangled up in a series of political schemes. The main character also has a special relationship with wolves (he can speak to them mind-to-mind via a magical skill called the 'Wit') so you might read this one if you like the whole Stark and Direwolf thing. Some of the best characterization in the fantasy genre. Be warned: Jon Snow is a lot more bad-ass of a hero though.

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It's witty, intelligently plotted, the characters are all grey, and there's a ton of brutal action in the books. Abercrombie writes some of the best fight scenes in the genre, and his portrayal of war and battle is spot on (especially in his later books like The Heroes) and will make you really think about the ultimate cost of war. One of the best series that's come out in a few years -- one that actually tries to do something new in the genre. Even better, with every new book added to the series (or universe), Abercrombie gets better and better. It's similar to Martin's work in the sense that there is really a moral compass -- good and evil are just both sides of the same coin. Heroes are not made out to be noble paragons: they are just straight out meaner, stronger or more conniving than the rest. If you like the grittiness of Martin where the boundary between heroes and villains is thin, Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns is an interesting take on the Anti Hero. This is the singular tale of a hero on a quest for revenge and glory (which eventually involves saving the whole world) but the flawed humanity present in Prince of Thorns channel the shades of Martin's brutal take on a fallen and immoral knighthood.

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The First Law trilogy

It's witty, intelligently plotted, the characters are all grey, and there's a ton of brutal action in the books. Abercrombie writes some of the best fight scenes in the genre, and his portrayal of war and battle is spot on (especially in his later books like The Heroes) and will make you really think about the ultimate cost of war. One of the best series that's come out in a few years -- one that actually tries to do something new in the genre. Even better, with every new book added to the series (or universe), Abercrombie gets better and better. It's similar to Martin's work in the sense that there is really a moral compass -- good and evil are just both sides of the same coin. Heroes are not made out to be noble paragons: they are just straight out meaner, stronger or more conniving than the rest.

If you like the grittiness of Martin where the boundary between heroes and villains is thin, Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns is an interesting take on the Anti Hero. This is the singular tale of a hero on a quest for revenge and glory (which eventually involves saving the whole world) but the flawed humanity present in Prince of Thorns channel the shades of Martin's brutal take on a fallen and immoral knighthood.

Acacia

Try David Anthony Durham's Acacia . It's has a somewhat similar feel to A Song of Ice and Fire. The series wasn't as good as it initially promised to be by the end of it, but it's still good enough to read; the author pulls some interesting plot threads out of the blue by the end of book 2. My major complaint about the series was that I never really found the characters all that interesting.

Elric

Elements are similar. You have incest, kingdoms on the cusp of decline and ruin, pacts made with monstrous powers. The landscape is dour and the heroes are partly villains.

The Godless Word Trilogy

Another series that had a somewhat similar feeling to Martin's work is The Godless World trilogy -- there are some shared elements between the works or at least the gritty, dirty feel of A Song of Ice and Fire is shared by both works. The Godless World is actually more like a cross between Martin and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I did find the quality of the series dipped by the end of the trilogy, but it's still a good enough read.
Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series. Rich characterization with characters you dislike who eventual grow on you as the story progresses; oh my god -- plot twists and turns, and magic that's not at all present until the story progresses. Not as much action and drama, but a more character driven saga.

Sword of Shadows Saga

Sword of Shadows is pretty close to Martin in terms of the setting and the portrayal of gruesomeness. The setting is a cold, brutal, Arctic-ice world. It's not as "grand" or "epic" as Martin and the cast of characters is not as morally ambiguous. Still a pretty damn good read, though the author is taking her sweet time finishing the damn series already.

The Black Company

I would be doing you a disservice if I did not recommend Glenn Cook's The Black Company series. It's gritty military fiction with a cast of grey characters, and great battle scenes -- something that Martin focuses on in his books. The focus of the series centers on a company of soldiers.

The Farseer Trilogy

If you like reading about Jon Snow, you might give The Farseer trilogy a read. There are some shared story elements (though the plot and world is NOTHING at all alike mind you). Farseer is pretty much the story of a young king's bastard who grows up in a castle full of intrigue. He doesn't have a lot of options and struggles to survive, and in the process gets tangled up in a series of political schemes. The main character also has a special relationship with wolves (he can speak to them mind-to-mind via a magical skill called the 'Wit') so you might read this one if you like the whole Stark and Direwolf thing. Some of the best characterization in the fantasy genre. Be warned: Jon Snow is a lot more bad-ass of a hero though.

Malazan Book of the Fallen

Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is a must-read, and it's a finished 10 books long. There are some elements that are similar to Martin's work: it's got gritty and intense battle scenes, a cast of ambiguously grey characters, main character deaths, plenty of brutality that characters inflict on each other, and unpredictable (and utterly massive) plots. It's quite similar to Martin in the way that the line between villain and hero is quite blurred. You often end up rooting for characters on both sides of the war. No one is really "the hero" and every character is either trying to maintain their power status quo, or steal it from someone else. However, the work, as a whole, is a LOT MORE disjointed than Martin's work (even counting for the fact that Martin has lost his way a bit)

The Darkness That Comes Before

Try R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before, which features superlative prose, a unique, but fascinating storyline, and the gritty realism that Martin exhibits. It's got that world is ending element to it as well. It's also a heck of a lot more philosophical too, which may or may not be something you like. On a whole Bakker's work is sort of like Tolkien's Mordor invades Martin' Kingdoms and stirs up a lot of shit. Throw a fantasy wizard Jesus with kung fu abilities and stuff the prose subtext full of philosophy. On the surface it's a head-case trippy mix, but there is a certain power to this series.

The Grim Company

There are elements of Martin in this work, which I was very impressed with as debut novels go. It's very much so a dark fantasy, with brutal violence, death, magic, and some compelling characters who are all flawed. You'll feel right at home if you are a Martin lover.

Monarchies of God

Monarchies of God -- a vastly under-appreciated series. If you like the epic struggle between kingdoms, fierce battles, strange unexplored lands across the sea, and life aboard a ship. Paul Kearny writes a compelling tale here. Elements of grim dark too.

Shadowmarch

You might also like Tad Williams newest fantasy saga: Shadowmarch which has some similar plot elements (strange fey creatures coming down from the north behind a wall of magic mist, trying to take over the world). There's a rich cast of characters scattered across the world in completely different lands (much in the way that Martin features characters living in the frozen north, characters living in exotic deserts, and so on). The creatures the north, the Quar, are similar to the Others, but more developed as mysterious, yet somewhat sympathetic entities, rather than the zombie-making horrors that Martin makes the Others to be. You might say this is the story of "The Others" and how they came to be so damn pissed off at the world of men.

A Land Fit for Heroes Trilogy

The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan, of Science Fiction fame. Marin can write villains as heroes and heroes as villains, but if you want to read about a dour world without a shred of goodness, check out Morgan's foray into the fantasyscape. Its a dark and blood and cold as ice, but there's a shit load of brutal action.

Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

Because like Martin himself recommends Howard's masterpiece.

Lies of Locke Lamora

Elements of ASoIaF's gritty and dark but at times hilarious. Well written. Think a book made up of the Tyrion chapters, centering around a band of thieving scoundrels in an Ocean 11 fantasy plot.

The Amber Chronicles

Take a royal family who can walk into different realities. Gray characters, squabbling siblings, alternate realities, a prince in exile.

The Gap Cycle

The Gap Cycle by Donaldson. This is science fiction NOT fantasy and in no way is there any similar plot elements or themes, but Gap Cycle is darker than dark and features heroes who have more in common with villains. If you like the bleak outlook on flawed humanity taken up by Martin, Gap Cycle won't disappoint your disappointment in the human race.

View Listiverse Recommendations

02

The Name Of The Wind

(Kingkiller Chronicle)

(Patrick Rothfuss)
Jan 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.

Books in Kingkiller Chron... Series (3)

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Without a doubt, The Blood Song, a recent remarkable debut by Anthony Ryan. This is about as close in style and form to The Name of the Wind. Instead of Kvothe apprentice wizard in training, we have Vaelin, a warrior monk in training. The format of both stories is very similar recounted in an after-the-fact manner by the protagonist. Both are coming of age stories about young men in a school setting. And both books had a (somewhat) disappointing sequel. If you like The Name of the Wind, then read The Blood Song.

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A character-driven epic fantasy would be Tad Williams' classic Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Though I warn you, it can take a while before the plot gets rolling in a Tad Williams novel!

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A good old-school fantasy tale that's managed to age very well is A Wizard of Earthsea. A pretty compelling hero character.

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For a gushy heroic old school fantasy that kind of channels the heroic aspect and lyrical prose of The Name of the Wind, read the Riddle Master of Hed series.

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Science Fantasy, but there are some similarities. Both are wonderfully written, lyrical works where to emphasis is just not on what is said but how it is said. Words are not just functional entities, but creatures of beauty and both Rothfuss and Wolfe are master wordsmiths. Both tales are recounted by an now world-weary protagonist (in first person) and the tale told by the narrator may not be completely reliable and just might be embellished in the recounting.

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And probably the best fantasy novel I've read about a "hero" would be Michael Stackpole's Talion: Revenant. It's one of the best books I've read, period.

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Some might also like Brent Week's Night Angel Trilogy which is a sort of gutter-rat to badass assassin story. Weeks' Lightbringer series is better on all regards. However, you still might want to read this one as well if you like The Name of the Wind. The story really follows the main character closely; there are a lot of over-the-top heroics and magic (especially the main character who becomes super-powerful) combined with an interesting hero character which makes the book somewhat reminiscent of The Name of the Wind. Name of the Wind is better written, and the magic is more mysterious and toned down with complex characterization (Weeks falls really short here as his characters are pretty simplistic I feel), but the over-the-top heroic antics of the main character/s does bring to mind some of Kvothe's exploits.

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You might also like Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man -- a book (part of a series, of course, with book three already out) that delivers on action. Brett does a good job creating the hero, from village boy to badass fighter/warder. A good book with an interesting hero character (especially following the whole coming-of-age conceit of a young boy growing into his destiny). This book gets my vote as one of the most exciting fantasy books I've read. Trust me, once you start the book, you are not going to want to stop reading it. However, book 2 and 3 really disappointed. Worth reading? On the strength of the first book, yes.

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The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Another tale constructed around the whole "kids go to magic school to become a wizard" conceit. There's a vast difference in the way the stories are told and the characters however. Grossman's tale is a (depressive) postmodern take on the fantasy genre with references to literature and pop culture while Rothfuss's is a celebration of the classic fantasy tale. Grossman's characters are all flawed and psychologically complex -- if not completely broken individuals devoid of heroism. And that's the beauty of the whole tale. The characters thing they are heroes but find they are not. And over the three books that make up the fabulous series, there's a reckoning and growing that takes place with the characters. One of my favorite fantasy series ever. It's series that some who love the more traditional fantasy might not get or like, but if you want a deeper sort of fantasy, this is some of the best out there.

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If you like The Name of the Wind, the closest you get to a similar series in feeling is Robin Hobb's The Farseer. Though the authors have a different style and radically different plots, both authors really delve deep into the mind of the protagonist. And both series are coming-of-age stories in which the narrator is looking back at their youthful life. Through each series, you really get to know the hero. Both stories are about the rise of a no-name boy into something great.

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I would also suggest you read Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora. Like The Name of the Wind, Lies of Locke Lamora jumps back and forth between the present and the past of the main character. Both are also coming-of-age stories. This book is something special, and the protagonist (it's a story about a master thief) is an absolute blast to read about. Book two has been out for a while and the third book is coming out this year (2011).

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Daniel Abraham's The Long Price Quartet is another fantasy series that you might like -- there's some really good characterization going on in the series, though it's not really your standard "epic fantasy."

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If you want a good adventure yarn, The The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick (book one of 5) delivers for part of the series. What's the plot about? There are two great empires clashing, crazy god kings set on world domination, and a medley of different characters sharing a ship (including talking rats, miniature people, evil mages, princesses, assassins, and ship boys) all fighting over a powerful talisman that could destroy the world. It's a complex, dramatic, and mostly wonderful new fantasy series. However, the series goes downhill after the third book, but I feel it's still worth a read.

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Want an action-packed story of a gifted orphan boy who goes to magic school (and martial school) to become a great wizard/warrior. Want a detailed magic system about colors? Want plenty of coming of age angst? Absolutely read The Lightbringer Series, Week's best work so far.

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The Blood Song

Without a doubt, The Blood Song, a recent remarkable debut by Anthony Ryan. This is about as close in style and form to The Name of the Wind. Instead of Kvothe apprentice wizard in training, we have Vaelin, a warrior monk in training. The format of both stories is very similar recounted in an after-the-fact manner by the protagonist. Both are coming of age stories about young men in a school setting. And both books had a (somewhat) disappointing sequel. If you like The Name of the Wind, then read The Blood Song.

The Farseer Trilogy

If you like The Name of the Wind, the closest you get to a similar series in feeling is Robin Hobb's The Farseer. Though the authors have a different style and radically different plots, both authors really delve deep into the mind of the protagonist. And both series are coming-of-age stories in which the narrator is looking back at their youthful life. Through each series, you really get to know the hero. Both stories are about the rise of a no-name boy into something great.

The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Another tale constructed around the whole "kids go to magic school to become a wizard" conceit. There's a vast difference in the way the stories are told and the characters however. Grossman's tale is a (depressive) postmodern take on the fantasy genre with references to literature and pop culture while Rothfuss's is a celebration of the classic fantasy tale. Grossman's characters are all flawed and psychologically complex -- if not completely broken individuals devoid of heroism. And that's the beauty of the whole tale. The characters thing they are heroes but find they are not. And over the three books that make up the fabulous series, there's a reckoning and growing that takes place with the characters. One of my favorite fantasy series ever. It's series that some who love the more traditional fantasy might not get or like, but if you want a deeper sort of fantasy, this is some of the best out there.

The Lies of Locke Lamora

I would also suggest you read Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora. Like The Name of the Wind, Lies of Locke Lamora jumps back and forth between the present and the past of the main character. Both are also coming-of-age stories. This book is something special, and the protagonist (it's a story about a master thief) is an absolute blast to read about. Book two has been out for a while and the third book is coming out this year (2011).

The Long Price Quartet

Daniel Abraham's The Long Price Quartet is another fantasy series that you might like -- there's some really good characterization going on in the series, though it's not really your standard "epic fantasy."

The Red Wolf Conspiracy

If you want a good adventure yarn, The The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick (book one of 5) delivers for part of the series. What's the plot about? There are two great empires clashing, crazy god kings set on world domination, and a medley of different characters sharing a ship (including talking rats, miniature people, evil mages, princesses, assassins, and ship boys) all fighting over a powerful talisman that could destroy the world. It's a complex, dramatic, and mostly wonderful new fantasy series. However, the series goes downhill after the third book, but I feel it's still worth a read.

The Warded Man

You might also like Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man -- a book (part of a series, of course, with book three already out) that delivers on action. Brett does a good job creating the hero, from village boy to badass fighter/warder. A good book with an interesting hero character (especially following the whole coming-of-age conceit of a young boy growing into his destiny). This book gets my vote as one of the most exciting fantasy books I've read. Trust me, once you start the book, you are not going to want to stop reading it. However, book 2 and 3 really disappointed. Worth reading? On the strength of the first book, yes. 

The Lightbringer 

Want an action-packed story of a gifted orphan boy who goes to magic school (and martial school) to become a great wizard/warrior. Want a detailed magic system about colors? Want plenty of coming of age angst? Absolutely read The Lightbringer Series, Week's best work so far.

The Night Angel Trilogy

Some might also like Brent Week's Night Angel Trilogy which is a sort of gutter-rat to badass assassin story. Weeks' Lightbringer series is better on all regards. However, you still might want to read this one as well if you like The Name of the Wind. The story really follows the main character closely; there are a lot of over-the-top heroics and magic (especially the main character who becomes super-powerful) combined with an interesting hero character which makes the book somewhat reminiscent of The Name of the Wind. Name of the Wind is better written, and the magic is more mysterious and toned down with complex characterization (Weeks falls really short here as his characters are pretty simplistic I feel), but the over-the-top heroic antics of the main character/s does bring to mind some of Kvothe's exploits.

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

A character-driven epic fantasy would be Tad Williams' classic Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Though I warn you, it can take a while before the plot gets rolling in a Tad Williams novel!

A Wizard of Earthsea

A good old-school fantasy tale that's managed to age very well is A Wizard of Earthsea. A pretty compelling hero character.

The Riddle Master of Hed

For a gushy heroic old school fantasy that kind of channels the heroic aspect and lyrical prose of The Name of the Wind, read the Riddle Master of Hed series.

Talion: Revenant

And probably the best fantasy novel I've read about a "hero" would be Michael Stackpole's Talion: Revenant. It's one of the best books I've read, period.

The Book of the New Sun

Science Fantasy, but there are some similarities. Both are wonderfully written, lyrical works where to emphasis is just not on what is said but how it is said. Words are not just functional entities, but creatures of beauty and both Rothfuss and Wolfe are master wordsmiths. Both tales are recounted by an now world-weary protagonist (in first person) and the tale told by the narrator may not be completely reliable and just might be embellished in the recounting.

If you liked the whole "coming of age talented young nobody who goes to magic school" conceit, you will probably like these:

  • Harry Potter by Rowling. The Black Magician by Trudi Canvas. 
  • The Wizard of Earthsea by Le Guin. 
  • The Lightbringer Series. 
  • Magician Apprentice by Fiest. 
  • Master of Five Magics (the most detailed system of magic system and set of rules I've read in fantasy). 
  • The Wheel of Time by Jordan

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03

The Blade Itself (The First Law) (Joe Abercrombie)
Jan 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.


Books in The First Law Series (3)

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If you like the epic-fantasy-turned-on-its-head that marks Abercrombie's effort, read Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains. Morgan writes some interesting science fiction but has turned his writing chops to the fantasy genre with a new epic fantasy series. Like Abercrombie, Morgan flips some of the standard fantasy conventions on their side (including an openly gay hero). Book 3 is just around the corner as of 2014. This is some of the darkest fantasy works in the whole of the genre.

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Steven Erickson's Malazan Book of the Fallen -- dark epic fantasy on a grand, grand, grand scale.

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If you like the dark cynicism found in Abercrombie's work, you should read some Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series. You might also like his Gap sci-fi.

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You might also want to check out Stephen Deas' fast paced, ultra violent fantasy Memory of Flames. Like some of the books recommended above, there are no real heroes. Everyone is willing to betray another to reach their goals. The story has some great action, though less character development. You can think of this series as a more gritty and unfeeling version of Naomi Termerak.

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Sam Sykes' Tome of the Undergates is another novel in the same vein as the Blade Itself. The book subverts some of the standard fantasy conventions. Overall, I quite enjoyed it as it's a creative and witty take on some of the standard fantasy conventions.

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Grimdark goodness. Kind of a similar style of writing -- a cast of unhappy and tortured heroes on a quest. It reads kind of a lot like First Law.

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A new series on the fantasy scene by Daniel Abraham, one of the most gifted writers in the genre (author of The Long Price Quartet), is The Dragon's Path. It's a fresh and innovative answer to the standard epic fantasy fare, challenging quite a few of the fantasy assumptions that most people take for granted. Definitely up your alley if you appreciate authors like Abercrombie, Bakker, and Lynch. Keep in mind, it's MUCH slower paced and focuses much more on character building for the most part. We are 5 books in now and it's a love or hate sort of series. You can't argue with the writing chops present in the series, though.

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KJ Parker. The Folding Knife. Grimdark, but a different style than Abercrombie. Really, Read anything by this author.

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While it doesn't have the sarcastic, cutting edge wit of Abercrombie, the story is dark and the setting even darker and the characters a bunch of criminal misfits that do a lot of bad just for a pay check. Black Company, arguably, IS one of the major books that started the whole grim dark movement Martin was hugely inspired by Glen Cook's works. You can argue Cook helped influence a major part of the 21 century fantasy movement that's still being felt today with NEW books written in the same sort of style.

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Michael Stover's Cain series. Expect: dark, sarcastic humor; gritty and dirty worlds; heroes die and suffer; intelligent plots and fantastically sharp prose.

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Scott Lynche's The Lies of Locke Lamora. This hero is in fact a thief. And not a thief who steals from the rich to give to the poor, but rather steals from the rich to get rich -- filthy rich. Full of sharp and witty writing, often hilarious with a dark edge to boot as you progress through the book. Probably the closest style of "writing" you'll find to Abercrombie.

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R. Scott Bakker's The Prince of Nothing series. In short, an epic fantasy about a fake Jesus Christ with some of the same powers comes back to "rescue" mankind from evil. But this savior's goals are questionably self-centered. The books are full of raw action, grey characters, with an interesting hero, and a subtle mix of some deep philosophy thrown in too.

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George R.R. Martin. His A Song of Ice and Fire is as gray and gritty -- maybe even more so as Abercrombie's works. Really, I've talked enough about him here. Just read him, dammit!

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The Grim Company. A lot of similarities to Abercrombie's Blade Itself, in fact the book almost channels The Blade Itself in regards to some of the characters. There's a cast of troubled characters including a couple Northern barbarians (read Bloody Nine), there's a cowardly sword fighting fop who bullshits his way through fights, and there's a troubled girl with a dark past. Really, this is probably as close you are going to get to Abercrombie's style in tone and setting sharp prose, witty sarcastic dialogue, troubled characters, and an entertaining if tragically dark story. For part of the novel, I felt like I was reading Abercrombie. Read.

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Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire Trilogy. Mark takes the idea of the antihero, set within the grimdark medium, and brings in something new to the form. It's a compelling tale that really resonates. You will either love or hate the Broken Empire, but if you like Abercrombie, you should read it.

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Kameron Hurley's Bel Dame Apocrypha: God's War. God's War does is a refreshing read, proving that there is still more to Grimdark then you might have thought, nearly a decade after it's become popular.

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Abercrombie's other standalone books set in the same world as First Law: Best Served Cold and The Heroes and Red Country. He has a new YA series out as well called Half a King, with books 2 and 3 out this year (2015).

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If you like this 21st century upgrade to the Fantasy genre similar to Abercrombie, check out: 

Abercrombie's Other Books

Abercrombie's other standalone books set in the same world as First Law: Best Served Cold and The Heroes and Red Country. He has a new YA series out as well called Half a King, with books 2 and 3 out this year (2015).

The Prince of Nothing

R. Scott Bakker's The Prince of Nothing series. In short, an epic fantasy about a fake Jesus Christ with some of the same powers comes back to "rescue" mankind from evil. But this savior's goals are questionably self-centered. The books are full of raw action, grey characters, with an interesting hero, and a subtle mix of some deep philosophy thrown in too.

The Lies of Locke Lamora

Scott Lynche's The Lies of Locke Lamora. This hero is in fact a thief. And not a thief who steals from the rich to give to the poor, but rather steals from the rich to get rich -- filthy rich. Full of sharp and witty writing, often hilarious with a dark edge to boot as you progress through the book. Probably the closest style of "writing" you'll find to Abercrombie.

Heroe's Die

Michael Stover's Cain series. Expect: dark, sarcastic humor; gritty and dirty worlds; heroes die and suffer; intelligent plots and fantastically sharp prose.

A Song of Ice and Fire

George R.R. Martin. His A Song of Ice and Fire is as gray and gritty -- maybe even more so  as Abercrombie's works. Really, I've talked enough about him here. Just read him, dammit! 

The Grim Company

The Grim Company. A lot of similarities to Abercrombie's Blade Itself, in fact the book almost channels The Blade Itself in regards to some of the characters. There's a cast of troubled characters including a couple Northern barbarians (read Bloody Nine), there's a cowardly sword fighting fop who bullshits his way through fights, and there's a troubled girl with a dark past. Really, this is probably as close you are going to get to Abercrombie's style in tone and setting sharp prose, witty sarcastic dialogue, troubled characters, and an entertaining if tragically dark story. For part of the novel, I felt like I was reading Abercrombie. Read.

God's War

Kameron Hurley's Bel Dame Apocrypha: God's War. God's War does is a refreshing read, proving that there is still more to Grimdark then you might have thought, nearly a decade after it's become popular. 

The Broken Empire Trilogy

Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire Trilogy. Mark takes the idea of the antihero, set within the grimdark medium, and brings in something new to the form. It's a compelling tale that really resonates. You will either love or hate the Broken Empire, but if you like Abercrombie, you should read it.

The Black Company

While it doesn't have the sarcastic, cutting edge wit of Abercrombie, the story is dark and the setting even darker and the characters a bunch of criminal misfits that do a lot of bad just for a pay check. Black Company, arguably, IS one of the major books that started the whole grim dark movement  Martin was hugely inspired by Glen Cook's works. You can argue Cook helped influence a major part of the 21 century fantasy movement that's still being felt today with NEW books written in the same sort of style.

The Folding Knife

KJ Parker. The Folding Knife. Grimdark, but a different style than Abercrombie. Really, Read anything by this author.

Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever

If you like the dark cynicism found in Abercrombie's work, you should read some Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series. You might also like his Gap sci-fi.

Mazalan Book of the Fallen

Steven Erickson's Malazan Book of the Fallen -- dark epic fantasy on a grand, grand, grand scale. 

The Steel Remains

If you like the epic-fantasy-turned-on-its-head that marks Abercrombie's effort, read Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains. Morgan writes some interesting science fiction but has turned his writing chops to the fantasy genre with a new epic fantasy series. Like Abercrombie, Morgan flips some of the standard fantasy conventions on their side (including an openly gay hero). Book 3 is just around the corner as of 2014. This is some of the darkest fantasy works in the whole of the genre.

Memory of Flames

You might also want to check out Stephen Deas' fast paced, ultra violent fantasy Memory of Flames. Like some of the books recommended above, there are no real heroes. Everyone is willing to betray another to reach their goals. The story has some great action, though less character development. You can think of this series as a more gritty and unfeeling version of Naomi Termerak. 

Tome of the Undergates

Sam Sykes' Tome of the Undergates is another novel in the same vein as the Blade Itself. The book subverts some of the standard fantasy conventions. Overall, I quite enjoyed it as it's a creative and witty take on some of the standard fantasy conventions.

The Dagger and the Coin saga

A new series on the fantasy scene by Daniel Abraham, one of the most gifted writers in the genre (author of The Long Price Quartet), is The Dragon's Path. It's a fresh and innovative answer to the standard epic fantasy fare, challenging quite a few of the fantasy assumptions that most people take for granted. Definitely up your alley if you appreciate authors like Abercrombie, Bakker, and Lynch. Keep in mind, it's MUCH slower paced and focuses much more on character building for the most part. We are 5 books in now and it's a love or hate sort of series. You can't argue with the writing chops present in the series, though.

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04

Lord Of The Rings (Lord of the Rings) (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Jan 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 fack's sake, let some other writers have a chance at some glory dammit. Where's the fun if Lord of the Rings is 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.

Books in Lord of the Ring... Series (3)

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If you like the whole ancient mythos of Middle Earth, the histories, the tales within a tale, the small stories that Tolkien throws into his world that tell of the "early days" of mankind and of elves and of magic and gods and kings, then you'll find a lot to like in Tad William's Shadowmarch which incorporates a lot of folklore tales of gods and faeries which are directly relevant to the plot and story; there's a lot of mystery and magic to the world created by Williams. And the series is completed.

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Patricia A. McKillip's Riddle-Master is also another series(trilogy) with similarities to Tolkien's style of writing.

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If you want to see some of Tolkien's conventions turned on their heads and enjoy a noir version of a classic high-fantasy tale with a starkly realized cast of grey characters, read Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy.

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Another interesting tale that plays directly on the Tolkien mythos is Jacqueline Carey's The Sundering duology, which takes many of Tolkien's conventions and mixes them up. It's a story told in all that high language, high mythology glory that Tolkien wrote in. Think of it as "Sauron's Tale" as told from the perspective of the bad guys who you find out are more misunderstood than anything else, while the good guys are self-righteous pricks. The whole thing is quite serious (this is by no means a comedy but rather a tragedy) and I thought it was a pretty compelling tale all around.

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Richard Morgan, author of some seriously kick your ass science fiction, brings his talents to the fantasy genre with some pretty damn cool gritty fantasy. In his completed trilogy, he pretty much tries to subvert every sort of Tolkien convention. Take Tolkien, change about every equation and add an unhealhty mix of violence, graphic sex, and disturbing acts of inhumanity, and populate it with a caste of seriously flawed characters and you have something along the lines of a Tolkien gone mad. I'd say this is probably the most grimdark series I've read yet.

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If you want the beautiful, almost lyrical writing of Tolkien and a world in which magic is present but still a grand mystery (i.e. not every character is throwing around magic like kids throwing sand at a beach), Sean Russell's The Swan's War is the answer.

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Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle is also a beautiful tale, full of lyrical, often sad, prose; a tale about a village boy who seeks his destiny.

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For another epic fantasy with an end-of-the-world plot and a coming-of-age (sorta) story, read Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings. Words of Radiance, book two was released this year and for the most part carried the torch passed from the first book. The series is now THE epic fantasy saga everyone talking about. If Jordan took up Tolkien's world-building mantle with A Wheel of Time, Sanderson has replaced Jordan by building an even BIGGER world with this generation's new epic fantasy series. And he's a better writer than Jordan.

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For a 12th-century version of Middle Earth set in a stark (English) European landscape that's as cold as the world is gritty and brutal where main characters can die at any moment, read George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga tale. Besides, everyone is now calling Martin 'The American Tolkien.' What more can I say there?

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If you want a book that's like Lord of the Rings but longer, has strong female characters, and very strong characterization (FAAAR better than Jordan's), read Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn saga, another classic. The series is older, yes, but it has aged remarkably well. And the writing is top notch, and good prose and good characters never age.

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Magic, Tolkien style fantasy races, multiple worlds, powerful sorcerers, necromancers, and lost magic. More along the lines of a D&D style story, but elevated. The series ends horribly, but the journey is pretty good. If you like Tolkien AND Wheel of Time, you'll dig it.

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If you like Tolkien, read Eye of the World by Jordan. This man, when he was alive, claimed Tolkien's world-building mantle: Jordan created a massive world, richly developed cultures, and a well-defined magic system. When you read Jordan, you explore an ancient world full of secrets. I have to throw out a disclaimer though: Wheel of Time is far far from perfect; Jordan becomes lost in his own world as it grows too big even for him; (some of) his characters devolve into caricatures, and Jordan's handling of romance between characters is puerile to say the least. However, many people still find the books great fun, and if you like Tolkien's epic style, Jordan is a must read. Jordan died a few years ago, but the talented Brandon Sanderson finished the series. It's now completed and Sanderson did a good job at finishing it. Overall, I was disappointed with the series though, even if Sanderson did his best. This is one of those series that started out strong but started to die around book 5 or 6. It's still worth reading though, especially if you like heroic epic fantasy that is absolutely epic in length and scope.

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What can I possibly recommend if you like Lord of the Rings? 'Rings' is the progenitor of an entire genre and one can recommend almost anything. Regardless, I'll try to suggest a couple of books based on the "feel" of Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien has always been about the world in which his characters live, never about the characters which live in his world. He created a world full of myth and legend, starkly real and full of mystery. There is always some strange power deep in a mountain, or some magical glade in the heart of a forest. There are worlds deep in the world, and worlds high in the heavens. It's a land full of wonder, a world too large to explore; it's an earth that still has mysteries and unknown lands.

There are several authors who recreate this type of world -- but with stronger characters and more meaningful relationships. Tolkien's characters were always too perfect, too evil; their motivations are at best unclear and at worst, unrealistic. Modern fantasy has taken the roots created by Tolkien and grown them into full trees and in some cases grafted those roots to new trees completely.


Be sure to check out our Best of the Tolkien Clones list.

For Epic Fantasy like Tolkien but Bigger, Louder, and Broader...

The Wheel of Time

If you like Tolkien, read Eye of the World by Jordan. This man, when he was alive, claimed Tolkien's world-building mantle: Jordan created a massive world, richly developed cultures, and a well-defined magic system. When you read Jordan, you explore an ancient world full of secrets. I have to throw out a disclaimer though: Wheel of Time is far far from perfect; Jordan becomes lost in his own world as it grows too big even for him; (some of) his characters devolve into caricatures, and Jordan's handling of romance between characters is puerile to say the least. However, many people still find the books great fun, and if you like Tolkien's epic style, Jordan is a must read. Jordan died a few years ago, but the talented Brandon Sanderson finished the series. It's now completed and Sanderson did a good job at finishing it. Overall, I was disappointed with the series though, even if Sanderson did his best. This is one of those series that started out strong but started to die around book 5 or 6. It's still worth reading though, especially if you like heroic epic fantasy that is absolutely epic in length and scope.

The Way of Kings

For another epic fantasy with an end-of-the-world plot and a coming-of-age (sorta) story, read Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings. Words of Radiance, book two was released this year and for the most part carried the torch passed from the first book. The series is now THE epic fantasy saga everyone talking about. If Jordan took up Tolkien's world-building mantle with A Wheel of Time, Sanderson has replaced Jordan by building an even BIGGER world with this generation's new epic fantasy series. And he's a better writer than Jordan.

A Song of Ice and Fire

For a 12th-century version of Middle Earth set in a stark (English) European landscape that's as cold as the world is gritty and brutal where main characters can die at any moment, read George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga tale. Besides, everyone is now calling Martin 'The American Tolkien.' What more can I say there?

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

If you want a book that's like Lord of the Rings but longer, has strong female characters, and very strong characterization (FAAAR better than Jordan's), read Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn saga, another classic. The series is older, yes, but it has aged remarkably well. And the writing is top notch, and good prose and good characters never age.

The Deathgate Cycle

Magic, Tolkien style fantasy races, multiple worlds, powerful sorcerers, necromancers, and lost magic. More along the lines of a D&D style story, but elevated. The series ends horribly, but the journey is pretty good. If you like Tolkien AND Wheel of Time, you'll dig it.

For beautiful, lyrical Writing and a world full of mysterious magic and mystery and ancient mythos seeping through the fabric of the story...

The Wizard of Earthsea

Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle is also a beautiful tale, full of lyrical, often sad, prose; a tale about a village boy who seeks his destiny. 

The Swan's War

If you want the beautiful, almost lyrical writing of Tolkien and a world in which magic is present but still a grand mystery (i.e. not every character is throwing around magic like kids throwing sand at a beach), Sean Russell's The Swan's War is the answer. 

Riddle Master of Hed

Patricia A. McKillip's Riddle-Master is also another series(trilogy) with similarities to Tolkien's style of writing.

Shadowmarch

If you like the whole ancient mythos of Middle Earth, the histories, the tales within a tale, the small stories that Tolkien throws into his world that tell of the "early days" of mankind and of elves and of magic and gods and kings, then you'll find a lot to like in Tad William's Shadowmarch which incorporates a lot of folklore tales of gods and faeries which are directly relevant to the plot and story; there's a lot of mystery and magic to the world created by Williams. And the series is completed.

A Song of Ice and Fire

For a 12th-century version of Middle Earth set in a stark (English) European landscape that's as cold as the world is gritty and brutal where main characters can die at any moment, read George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga tale. But, you've probably already read it, right?

For subversions of the Tolkien conceits... 

First law Trilogy

If you want to see some of Tolkien's conventions turned on their heads and enjoy a noir version of a classic high-fantasy tale with a starkly realized cast of grey characters, read Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy.

The Sundering

Another interesting tale that plays directly on the Tolkien mythos is Jacqueline Carey's The Sundering duology, which takes many of Tolkien's conventions and mixes them up. It's a story told in all that high language, high mythology glory that Tolkien wrote in. Think of it as "Sauron's Tale" as told from the perspective of the bad guys who you find out are more misunderstood than anything else, while the good guys are self-righteous pricks. The whole thing is quite serious (this is by no means a comedy but rather a tragedy) and I thought it was a pretty compelling tale all around.

Land Fit For Heroes 

Richard Morgan, author of some seriously kick your ass science fiction, brings his talents to the fantasy genre with some pretty damn cool gritty fantasy. In his completed trilogy, he pretty much tries to subvert every sort of Tolkien convention. Take Tolkien, change about every equation and add an unhealthy mix of violence, graphic sex, and disturbing acts of inhumanity, and populate it with a caste of seriously flawed characters and you have something along the lines of a Tolkien gone mad. I'd say this is probably the most grimdark series I've read yet.

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05

The Magicians (Magicians Trilogy) (Lev Grossman)
Jan 2015

Description (Amazon)

Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn't real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn't bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends stumble upon a secret that sets them on a remarkable journey that may just fulfill Quentin's yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than they'd imagined. Psychologically piercing and dazzlingly inventive, The Magicians is an enthralling coming-of-age tale about magic practiced in the real world-where good and evil aren't black and white, and power comes at a terrible price.

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 clich'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), Les 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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8 Similar Recommendations by Readers

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Recommendations Recommend This

The Secret History by Donna Tart. Not specifically fantasy persay, but the writing and tone and characterization is somewhat similar. A young group of students at a college discover another way to think about their life and the rammifications of this change everything about how they live.

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Anathem by Neal Stephenson. A science fiction story about a young boy whos a sort of monk and finds out the wider world is a complicated place.

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(Amazon)
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The Magicians alludes to a number of popular fantasy classics. Alice in Wonderland is one such work and The Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, one of the major focus of all the Magican books are about a postmodern version of Narnia.

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Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaimen. One thing I love about The Magicians is it moves the simpler children's fiction into the adult realm with an adult perspective. It's Narnia for grown ups.One book about that perfectly captures the child realm but transforms it for adults is Gaimen's Ocean at the End of the Lane. Thematically, Gaimen does the same thing as Grossman. While both works are completely different in scope and plot, they do take a child's perspective but remake it for an adult which changes it.

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If we are going to follow that rabbit down the rabbit hole into the dark and murky literary past, seeking the origin of boy-goes-to-magic school to become a wizard, we might as well get to one of the sources. If Potter made it a pop culture thing, then Ursula Le Guine helped bring it alive like no other author. Yes, Im talking about The Wizard of Earthsea. Before there was Harry Potter, there was Ged.

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For another novel about Magicians in training, you might like The Night Circus. It's about two young magicians locked in deadly conflict trying to outperform the other who are both part of a magical circus. Its a rich and intoxicating read most decidedly literary and one of the best fantasy books of 2011.

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Harry Potter. Yes, if you like The Magicians, read Harry Potter the titular character who is deconstructed by Grossman and reformed into a far more complex and troubled and fallible version as the character Quinton.

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You might want to give Susan Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell a read. Like Less Grossman's The Magicians, it's a story about magic in a world that supposedly has no magic. Both novels veer from the usual fantasy conventions, weighing in as more than just "fantasy." I like to call these "literary fantasy." This novel, however, heralds back to the Victorian era and features a more conventional sort of story (that borrows heavily from the likes of a Jane Austen novel in language an description) and is NOT a postmodern take on the fantasy genre that The Magicians is.

Recommended by Admin (Ben... Report This

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

You might want to give Susan Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell a read. Like Less Grossman's The Magicians, it's a story about magic in a world that supposedly has no magic. Both novels veer from the usual fantasy conventions, weighing in as more than just "fantasy." I like to call these "literary fantasy." This novel, however, heralds back to the Victorian era and features a more conventional sort of story (that borrows heavily from the likes of a Jane Austen novel in language an description) and is NOT a postmodern take on the fantasy genre that The Magicians is.

The Night Circus

For another novel about Magicians in training, you might like The Night Circus. It's about two young magicians locked in deadly conflict trying to outperform the other who are both part of a magical circus. It's a rich and intoxicating read, most decidedly literary and one of the best fantasy books of 2011.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter. Yes, if you like The Magicians, read Harry Potter  the titular character who is deconstructed by Grossman and reformed into a far more complex and troubled and fallible version as the character Quinton.

The Wizard of Earthsea

If we are going to follow that rabbit down the rabbit hole into the dark and murky literary past, seeking the origin of boy-goes-to-magic school to become a wizard, we might as well get to one of the sources. If Potter made it a pop culture thing, then Ursula Le Guine helped bring it alive like no other author. Yes, I'm talking about The Wizard of Earthsea. Before there was Harry Potter, there was Ged.

Ocean at the End of the Lane

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaimen. One thing I love about The Magicians is it moves the simpler children's fiction into the adult realm with an adult perspective. It's Narnia for grown ups.One book about that perfectly captures the child realm but transforms it for adults is Gaimen's Ocean at the End of the Lane. Thematically, Gaimen does the same thing as Grossman. While both works are completely different in scope and plot, they do take a child's perspective but remake it for an adult which changes it.

The Secret History

The Secret History by Donna Tart. Not specifically fantasy persay, but the writing and tone and characterization is somewhat similar. A young group of students at a college discover another way to think about their life and the ramifications of this change everything about how they live.

Anathem

Anathem by Neal Stephenson. A science fiction story about a young boy who's a sort of monk and finds out the wider world is a complicated place.

Narnia & Alice in Wonderland

The Magicians alludes to a number of popular fantasy classics. Alice in Wonderland is one such work and The Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, one of the major focus of all The Magican books are about a postmodern version of Narnia.

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06

Discworld (Discworld) (Terry Pratchett)
Jan 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 you finished the reading.

Books in Discworld Series (41)

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1 Similar Recommendations by Readers

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Comedic, takes the usual "types" of characters in fantasy novels (the elderly wizard, the young apprentice who's got more talent, the demon familiar etc) and turns them on their ear, amazingly fun storylines

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07

Lies Of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastards) (Scott Lynch)
Jan 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 dimension rogue/thief conceit 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 2014 with the fourth on the way. 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 and prose was top notch, even if the plotting and structure and characterization, 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.

Books in Gentleman Bastar... Series (7)

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15 Similar Recommendations by Readers

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Recommendations Recommend This

Another recommendation you might find interesting is Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser if you are a fan of the Gentlemen Bastards books. Jean is a much less raunchy version of Fafhrd and Locke is a far more risk taking and reckless version of Gray Mouser.

Recommended by Admin (Ben... Report This
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Along the lines of gritty fantasy made into a non-epic fantasy, read Sam Sykes' Tome of the Undergates.

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If you like Lies of Locke Lamora, you are almost sure to like Among Thieves (Hulick's work is first person while Lynch does 3rd person). It features that sort of roguish misunderstood man with a chip on his shoulder vs the greater world theme of Lynche's books. The protagonist, Drothe, is a low level criminal in a sort of thieves guild. His best bud is a master swordsman. You should start to see some parallels here. The city setting itself mixes the baroque with the filthy, with the city sort of a Ventian reflection of Lynch's Camorr.

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A broken world with remnants of a more advanced civilization scattered about. An anti-hero character who ends up on the wrong side of justice. Witty and sarcastic dialogue. You may just like reading about Honorable Jorg Ancraft if you are a fan of Locke.

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The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is an absolute classic of literature, but if we are going to talk about rouges becoming gentlemen for a mission of revenge, this book has to be mentioned. And hey, if you have never read this book, then shame on you. Start. The count is the original Locke.

Recommended by Admin (Ben... Report This
(Amazon)
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Sometimes art imitates life and life imitates art. I'm not sure which is the case here, but this is a TRUE story about a gentleman rogue, a real life version of Locke.

Recommended by Admin (Ben... Report This
(Amazon)
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You might also like the Mark Charan Newton's Nights of Villjamur for a similar style of fantasy (in tone, not plot).

Recommended by Admin (Ben... Report This
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If you like the whole "band of merry adventurers against the world" sort of thing, then you might give Tigana a try; it's the story of a band of musicians who double as revolutionaries seeking to overthrow and evil sorcerer.

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If you like the dry, sarcastic tone of the narration and dark humor of the Locke books, you should give Joe Abercrombie's novels a read -- both the trilogy and the stand alone books. Probably the closest you'll find that matches the style and pacing found in Lynch's books, though Abercrombie is darker.

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Give The Name of the Wind a try for another book with a very strongly characterized protagonist. The protagonist is not a scoundrel type, however.

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You might enjoy Michael Sullivan's The Crown Conspiracy which is the story of a falsely accused criminal trying to set his name right. It's a light-hearted, over-the-top fantasy tale about a pair of roughish thieves; not as dark as Scott's books and Sullivan is not as talented a wordsmith as Lynch. A fun romp though and Sullivan is one of the more active authors on forums, reddit, and social media platforms.

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You might give Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series a read. Like Locke, the main character is a criminal, and the setting the action takes place is an urban one. All the supporting characters are well developed -- something that Lynch does well when writing about Locke's sidekicks.

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Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy trilogy is also coming-of-age story which features some of the same conventions used by Lynch, such as a strong protagonist, flashbacks to younger years, a troubled childhood, the journey from nothing to something, etc. The plot is completely different, however.

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Give Chris Wooding's Retribution Falls (Book 1 of the Tales of the Ketty Jay) a read; it's got some of similar elements: a motley crew of somewhat unsuccessful sky pirates, interesting characters, adventure fantasy on the high seas (or shall I say, high skies), and wise-cracking characters. Similar in a lot of ways to Scott Lynch's work, though not as dark. The plot follows the crew of the Ketty Jay, a down-and-out sky ship to which fate has not been kind -- both the captain and the crew are running from past demons of some sort. When the captain schemes to commit a robbery that will make them all rich, things take a turn for the worse when it all goes horribly wrong; the crew and captain find themselves running for their lives with only once chance only: to find the pirate city of Retribution Falls.

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Of course, it's a given that you should read the sequel books to Lies of Locke Lamora. The third book Republic of Thieves was released in the later part of 2014 and book four is due sometime this year (2015).

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The Sequel Books


Of course, it's a given that you should read the sequel books to Lies of Locke Lamora. The third book Republic of Thieves was released in the later part of 2014 and book four is due sometime this year (2015).

The Name of the Wind

Give The Name of the Wind a try for another book with a very strongly characterized protagonist. The protagonist is not a scoundrel type, however.

The First Law Trilogy

If you like the dry, sarcastic tone of the narration and dark humor of the Locke books, you should give Joe Abercrombie's novels a read -- both the trilogy and the stand alone books. Probably the closest you'll find that matches the style and pacing found in Lynch's books, though Abercrombie is darker.

The Crown Conspiracy

You might enjoy Michael Sullivan's The Crown Conspiracy which is the story of a falsely accused criminal trying to set his name right. It's a light-hearted, over-the-top fantasy tale about a pair of roughish thieves; not as dark as Scott's books and Sullivan is not as talented a wordsmith as Lynch. A fun romp though and Sullivan is one of the more active authors on forums, reddit, and social media platforms.

Vlad Taltos

You might give Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series a read. Like Locke, the main character is a criminal, and the setting the action takes place is an urban one. All the supporting characters are well developed -- something that Lynch does well when writing about Locke's sidekicks.

Retribution Falls

Give Chris Wooding's Retribution Falls (Book 1 of the Tales of the Ketty Jay) a read; it's got some of similar elements: a motley crew of somewhat unsuccessful sky pirates, interesting characters, adventure fantasy on the high seas (or shall I say, high skies), and wise-cracking characters. Similar in a lot of ways to Scott Lynch's work, though not as dark. The plot follows the crew of the Ketty Jay, a down-and-out sky ship to which fate has not been kind -- both the captain and the crew are running from past demons of some sort. When the captain schemes to commit a robbery that will make them all rich, things take a turn for the worse when it all goes horribly wrong; the crew and captain find themselves running for their lives with only once chance only: to find the pirate city of Retribution Falls.

The Farseer

Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy trilogy is also coming-of-age story which features some of the same conventions used by Lynch, such as a strong protagonist, flashbacks to younger years, a troubled childhood, the journey from nothing to something, etc. The plot is completely different, however.

Tigana

If you like the whole "band of merry adventurers against the world" sort of thing, then you might give Tigana a try; it's the story of a band of musicians who double as revolutionaries seeking to overthrow and evil sorcerer.

Nights of Vilijamur

You might also like the Mark Charan Newton's Nights of Villjamur for a similar style of fantasy (in tone, not plot).

Tome of the Undergates

Along the lines of gritty fantasy made into a non-epic fantasy, read Sam Sykes' Tome of the Undergates.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

Another recommendation you might find interesting is Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser if you are a fan of the Gentlemen Bastards books. Jean is a much less raunchy version of Fafhrd and Locke is a far more risk taking and reckless version of Gray Mouser.

Among Thieves

If you like Lies of Locke Lamora, you are almost sure to like Among Thieves (Hulick's work is first person while Lynch does 3rd person). It features that sort of roguish misunderstood man with a chip on his shoulder vs the greater world theme of Lynche's books.  The protagonist, Drothe, is a low level criminal in a sort of thieves guild. His best bud is a master swordsman. You should start to see some parallels here. The city setting itself mixes the baroque with the filthy, with the city sort of a Ventian reflection of Lynch's Camorr.

Prince of Thorns

A broken world with remnants of a more advanced civilization scattered about. An anti-hero character who ends up on the wrong side of justice. Witty and sarcastic dialogue. You may just like reading about Honorable Jorg Ancraft if you are a fan of Locke.

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

Sometimes art imitates life and life imitates art. I'm not sure which is the case here, but this is a TRUE story about a gentleman rogue, a real life version of Locke.

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is an absolute classic of literature, but if we are going to talk about rouges becoming gentlemen for a mission of revenge, this book has to be mentioned. And hey, if you have never read this book, then shame on you. Start. The count is the original Locke.

View Listiverse Recommendations

08

The Way Of Kings

(The Stormlight Archive)

(Brandon Sanderson)
Jan 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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Another epic fantasy series with two books out so far as of 2014. One of my favorite series and a different take on the genre. It merges medieval Arthurian settings and peoples with epic fantasy that's about a grand battle between monsters and men, sorcerers and heroes. There's a lot of zing to it with tons of action, magic, massive battles, military strategy, and an glorious amount of medieval detail.

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Flintlock 'Gunpowder with Grit' epic fantasy. Gods, gunpowder mages, and sorcerors all go at it in this one. A heady mix of unique magic, complex troubled heroes, and troubled landscapes.

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Colonial military fantasy with a lot of action, squad combat, violence and complex heroes. After two books we are still seeing where this series is good, but is some of the best stuff out there in the past couple years.

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This series was probably my favorite epic fantasy debut last year in 2013. A remarkable release and a true epic fantasy with the word epic. The style of this fantasy is very much in like with Tolkien, Jordan, and The Stormlight Archive with big strange landscapes, a cast of many characters, strange magic, a dark threat coming, powerful heroes with personal stories, etc.

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And for a fantasy series that doesn't focus as much on magic and dark lords but more on character relationships and complex politicking (and some epic sword battles), Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire should be read.

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For more rolling epics in the high fantasy style of The Way of Kings, The Wheel of Time is probably the closest you'll find in terms of "style" and plot and setting. Keep in mind that Sanderson did write the last 3 books in the Wheel of Time to complete Jordan's massive series, so it should come as no surprise The Stormlight Archive is Sanderson's own version of The Wheel of Time.

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Malazan Book of the Fallen is also another huge epic fantasy series, but the characters are more gray (and there are a lot more of them). Still, it's one of the best epic series out there right now.

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Lots of magic and action in this one. And 7 big big novels in the series. An interesting setting and an interesting magic system. It's an older fantasy (a couple decades old) and not as complex as the more modern epic fantasies to come out in the 2000's, but it's a fun read, even if the final book is a huge letdown.

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Sanderson has written a lot of other good epic fantasy that you should read. The Mistborn Trilogy series is a given. His Elantris stand alone is also great. Warbreaker, I wasn't too fond of. The last three Wheel of Time books have been finished off by him as well.

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Mistborn

Sanderson has written a lot of other good epic fantasy that you should read. The Mistborn Trilogy series is a given. His Elantris stand alone is also great. Warbreaker, I wasn't too fond of. The last three Wheel of Time books have been finished off by him as well.

The Wheel of Time

For more rolling epics in the high fantasy style of The Way of Kings, The Wheel of Time is probably the closest you'll find in terms of "style" and plot and setting. Keep in mind that Sanderson did write the last 3 books in the Wheel of Time to complete Jordan's massive series, so it should come as no surprise The Stormlight Archive is Sanderson's own version of The Wheel of Time.

Mazalan Book of the Fallen 

Malazan Book of the Fallen is also another huge epic fantasy series, but the characters are more gray (and there are a lot more of them). Still, it's one of the best epic series out there right now. 

The Death Gate Cycle

Lots of magic and action in  this one. And 7 big big novels in the series. An interesting setting and an interesting magic system. It's an older fantasy (a couple decades old) and not as complex as the more modern epic fantasies to come out in the 2000's, but it's a fun read, even if the final book is a huge letdown.

A Song of Ice and Fire

And for a fantasy series that doesn't focus as much on magic and dark lords but more on character relationships and complex politicking (and some epic sword battles), Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire should be read.

There's a been a number of very interesting new epic fantasy series released the past five years since The Way of Kings was first released -- and since this list was last updated almost two years ago in 2013.

The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne

This series was probably my favorite epic fantasy debut last year in 2013. A remarkable release and a true epic fantasy with the word epic. The style of this fantasy is very much in like with Tolkien, Jordan, and The Stormlight Archive with big strange landscapes, a cast of many characters, strange magic, a dark threat coming, powerful heroes with personal stories, etc.

 The Traitor's Son Cycle

Another epic fantasy series with two books out so far as of 2014. One of my favorite series and a different take on the genre. It merges medieval Arthurian settings and peoples with epic fantasy that's about a grand battle between monsters and men, sorcerers and heroes. There's a lot of zing to it with tons of action, magic, massive battles, military strategy, and an glorious amount of medieval detail.
 

The Powder Mage Trilogy

Flintlock 'Gunpowder with Grit' epic fantasy. Gods, gunpowder mages, and sorcerors all go at it in this one. A heady mix of unique magic, complex troubled heroes, and troubled landscapes.

The Shadow Campaigns 

Colonial military fantasy with a lot of action, squad combat, violence and complex heroes. After two books we are still seeing where this series is good, but is some of the best stuff out there in the past couple years. 

For more epic fat fantasy recommendations, check out the Best Epic Fantasy Recommendation list.

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09

Assassin's Apprentice (The Farseer) (Robin Hobb)
Jan 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.

Books in The Farseer Series (3)

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For a book with a young, scrappy female protagonist/assassin, you can't do better than Maria V. Snyder's Poison Study.

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For some of the best fantasy about a badass assassin (not the bitch version of an Assassin that Fitz is), you must read the Heroes Die series by Matthew Stover. Some of the best stuff written in the Fantasy genre, and there are no other books as viscerally action-packed. Caine, the hero, takes violence to a whole new universe. It's not all just violence though. The Caine novels are sharply written and the plot is strong as steel.

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And for a fantastic low-fantasy series with some of the best characterization I've seen, read Jennifer Fallon's Second Sons trilogy.

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The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan tells a light fantasy adventure tale about a thief falsely accused of being an assassin. It's a much lighter read and the characterization is not as well done, but worth a read if you want an adventure romp involving a pair of irascible rogues.

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You may also like Mistborn by Sanderson -- the main character in the first book is sort of like a badass magical assassin/thief/terrorist who kicks ass.

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Have a look at Sword of Shadows by J.V. Jones. This is more of a modern sword and sorcery than Farseer, but the characterization is outstanding and both stories involve a coming of age with a young man (eventually) cast out of his home into the greater world and forced to find his place in the world. Both feature male protagonists with unique magical powers. Both characters suffer greatly. The authors of both books are female as well. The only problem is, well, Jones has NOT yet finished the series we are still waiting (it's been almost 5 years since the last book).

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The Bone Doll's Twin. Dark magic, mystery, coming of age, a kingdom in turmoil and gender issues? Sounds like a hit, and it is. The Bone Doll's Twin is the first book of the Tamir Triad (which is completed) and one of the most underrated fantasy books out there. Strong, compelling characters, a strong plot, and superbly written. The voice and tone of the author are somewhat similar to that of Hobb.

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And finally, read any The Book of Jhereg by Steven Brust. They are a different, but still pretty straightforward pulp fantasy fiction series: there's a ton of humor with a strong anti-hero. Don't expect the level of complexity of some of the other recommendations, but the series is a full adventure to follow.

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For an epic military fantasy with some serious characterization, I recommend John Marco's Tyrants and Kings series. The series is about a man who abandons his kingdom and betrays an empire and turns traitor for the love of a woman who's an enemy of his country. I felt Fitz Chivalry and Marco's protagonist, Richard, had some similarities. Both books are heavy on characterization, politics, and angst.

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For less "epic" fantasy recommendations, try Rai-Kirah by Caron Berg which is a very well written character-driven fantasy. Give the Sevenwaters books by Juliet Marillier a good look. It has some deep characterization of the protagonists; you may also give the Kushiel books by Jaqueline Carey a read.

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Also read Blood Song by Anthony Ryan's got a first person narration like the Farseer, a coming of age story, and strong characterization. If you like The Name of the Wind and Farseer, I'd be shocked if you didn't love Blood Song.

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The Name of the Wind is a good read if you like the compelling characterization of the protagonist.

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Guy Gaverial Kay's Tigana. This book is packed with emotion. If you like the emotional intensity and pathos of Hobb, you will love Tigana.

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Also, if you are bedazzled with the Assassin mythos of her world, try reading Brent Weeks The Way of Shadows. Weeks is a new force on the fantasy scene with his Night Angel trilogy. With all the action, magic, and adventure, Weeks is like the John Woo of the fantasy scene, but with a grittier edge. I can't say the books are really "deep" by any means, but if you are looking for a series that's a bit dark with over the top action, magic, romance, and a teen hero full of angst, read it.

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Prince of Thorns is another series that features an assassin protagonist. This is some dark anti-hero fantasy that's written in first person (like Farseer). However, the protagonist does some pretty horrific things to achieve his goals -- unlike Fritz, who for most of the story, acts like everyone's favorite doormat. If you want to read a much darker, amoral and selfish version of Fritz, one who's not afraid to seize what's rightfully his and damn anyone or anything that stands in his way, this might be one to take a good look at. It's some of the best fantasy that has come out recently, and is a must read if you like your fantasy gray and gritty; if not, skip this recommendation.

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For an emotionally weighted story about a down-and-out soldier who becomes involved with politics (and saving a young woman who's part of that court), give Lois McMaster Bujold's Curse of Chalion a read. It was a Hugo nominee. The sequel, Paladin of Souls, won a Hugo. Both books are written in a style similar to Hobb's Farseer and the characters are complex and deep -- especially the protagonist. The relationships between characters is also very well done. Well recommended for anyone who likes character-driver fantasy tales.

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For a non-fantasy book that will have you emotionally involved in the protagonist, you might want to give Ender's Game a read. Being science fiction, there is nothing similar about the plot itself, but it's also a detailed look at the struggle of a young boy who doesn't have a lot of options and who must struggle to survive in an unfriendly world where the odds are stacked against him. A superlative science fiction novel all round.

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Try reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K Jemisin. The protagonist is female and it's written in first person with a good amount of emotional weight. There are a few similarities -- both protagonists were related to powerful families and were, for the most part, abandoned by their family line. Both are stories about a rise from obscurity to importance in a place where royal intrigue and power struggles are part of the norm.

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It's a no brainier to read her other books set in the same universe: Live Ship Traders trilogy (set in the same world, but with a different protagonist), and Tawny Man trilogy (direct sequel to the Assassin trilogy). Also try her Soldier's Son Trilogy ; it has a feel that's similar to (yet different from) her Farseer series (less well received by fans and reviewers though).

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Sequel Books

It's a no brainier to read her other books set in the same universe: Live Ship Traders trilogy (set in the same world, but with a different protagonist), and Tawny Man trilogy (direct sequel to the Assassin trilogy).  Also try her Soldier's Son Trilogy ; it has a feel that's similar to (yet different from) her Farseer series (less well received by fans and reviewers though). 

Tigana

Guy Gaverial Kay's Tigana. This book is packed with emotion. If you like the emotional intensity and pathos of Hobb, you will love Tigana.

The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind is a good read if you like the compelling characterization of the protagonist. 

The Blood Song

Also read Blood Song by Anthony Ryan's got a first person narration like the Farseer, a coming of age story, and strong characterization. If you like The Name of the Wind and Farseer, I'd be shocked if you didn't love Blood Song.

The Way of Shadows

Also, if you are bedazzled with the Assassin mythos of her world, try reading Brent Weeks The Way of Shadows. Weeks is a new force on the fantasy scene with his Night Angel trilogy. With all the action, magic, and adventure, Weeks is like the John Woo of the fantasy scene, but with a grittier edge. I can't say the books are really "deep" by any means, but if you are looking for a series that's a bit dark with over the top action, magic, romance, and a teen hero full of angst, read it.

The Prince of Thorns

Prince of Thorns is another series that features an assassin protagonist. This is some dark anti-hero fantasy that's written in first person (like Farseer). However, the protagonist does some pretty horrific things to achieve his goals -- unlike Fritz, who for most of the story, acts like everyone's favorite doormat. If you want to read a much darker, amoral and selfish version of Fritz, one who's not afraid to seize what's rightfully his and damn anyone or anything that stands in his way, this might be one to take a good look at. It's some of the best fantasy that has come out recently, and is a must read if you like your fantasy gray and gritty; if not, skip this recommendation.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Try reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K Jemisin. The protagonist is female and it's written in first person with a good amount of emotional weight. There are a few similarities -- both protagonists were related to powerful families and were, for the most part, abandoned by their family line. Both are stories about a rise from obscurity to importance in a place where royal intrigue and power struggles are part of the norm.

Ender's Game

For a non-fantasy book that will have you emotionally involved in the protagonist, you might want to give Ender's Game a read. Being science fiction, there is nothing similar about the plot itself, but it's also a detailed look at the struggle of a young boy who doesn't have a lot of options and who must struggle to survive in an unfriendly world where the odds are stacked against him. A superlative science fiction novel all round.

Curse of Chalion

For an emotionally weighted story about a down-and-out soldier who becomes involved with politics (and saving a young woman who's part of that court), give Lois McMaster Bujold's Curse of Chalion a read. It was a Hugo nominee. The sequel, Paladin of Souls, won a Hugo. Both books are written in a style similar to Hobb's Farseer and the characters are complex and deep -- especially the protagonist. The relationships between characters is also very well done. Well recommended for anyone who likes character-driver fantasy tales.

Rai-Kirah

For less "epic" fantasy recommendations, try Rai-Kirah by Caron Berg which is a very well written character-driven fantasy. Give the Sevenwaters books by Juliet Marillier a good look. It has some deep characterization of the protagonists; you may also give the Kushiel books by Jaqueline Carey a read.

Tyrants and Kings

For an epic military fantasy with some serious characterization, I recommend John Marco's Tyrants and Kings series. The series is about a man who abandons his kingdom and betrays an empire and turns traitor for the love of a woman who's an enemy of his country. I felt Fitz Chivalry and Marco's protagonist, Richard, had some similarities. Both books are heavy on characterization, politics, and angst.

Second Sons

And for a fantastic low-fantasy series with some of the best characterization I've seen, read Jennifer Fallon's Second Sons trilogy.

Heroes Die

For some of the best fantasy about a badass assassin (not the bitch version of an Assassin that Fitz is), you must read the Heroes Die series by Matthew Stover. Some of the best stuff written in the Fantasy genre, and there are no other books as viscerally action-packed. Caine, the hero, takes violence to a whole new universe. It's not all just violence though. The Caine novels are sharply written and the plot is strong as steel.

Poison Study

For a book with a young, scrappy female protagonist/assassin, you can't do better than Maria V. Snyder's Poison Study.

The Crown Conspiracy

The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan tells a light fantasy adventure tale about a thief falsely accused of being an assassin. It's a much lighter read and the characterization is not as well done, but worth a read if you want an adventure romp involving a pair of irascible rogues.

Mistborn

You may also like Mistborn by Sanderson -- the main character in the first book is sort of like a badass magical assassin/thief/terrorist who kicks ass.

The Book of Jhereg

And finally, read any The Book of Jhereg by Steven Brust. They are a different, but still pretty straightforward pulp fantasy fiction series: there's a ton of humor with a strong anti-hero. Don't expect the level of complexity of some of the other recommendations, but the series is a full adventure to follow.

The Bone Doll's Twin

The Bone Doll's Twin. Dark magic, mystery, coming of age, a kingdom in turmoil and gender issues? Sounds like a hit, and it is. The Bone Doll's Twin is the first book of the Tamir Triad (which is completed) and one of the most underrated fantasy books out there. Strong, compelling characters, a strong plot, and superbly written. The voice and tone of the author are somewhat similar to that of Hobb.

Sword of Shadows

Have a look at Sword of Shadows by J.V. Jones. This is more of a modern sword and sorcery than Farseer, but the characterization is outstanding and both stories involve a coming of age with a young man (eventually) cast out of his home into the greater world and forced to find his place in the world. Both feature male protagonists with unique magical powers. Both characters suffer greatly. The authors of both books are female as well. The only problem is, well, Jones has NOT yet finished the series we are still waiting (it's been almost 5 years since the last book).

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10

Gardens Of The Moon

(The Malazan Book of the Fallen)

(Steven Erikson)
Jan 2015

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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.

Books in The Malazan Book... Series (10)

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A good heroic stand alone fantasy book about a girl who becomes a legendary military leader is Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarrion. There is a great deal of military detail present in the book (fans of The Black Company may be especially interested).

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For a different take on the whole military fantasy subgenre, you could read Naomi Navik His Majesty's Dragon. It's sort of old-style naval military fiction, but replace the ships with talking dragons. The first book has garnered some impressive reviews over the past couple of years -- it's well worth reading if you are in the mood for something different. Note, only the first couple books are great -- the series collapses after a few.

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Another series that put a lot of emphasis into tactics and military would be John Marco's Tyrants and Kings. A rather unknown book/series, which is a pity it deserves far more recognition.

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For a standalone fantasy book that's ALL military fantasy, check out Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes and his other standalone, Best Served Cold.

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A couple more suggestions for those of you who love military fantasy fiction (I know I do). Paul Kearney's The Monarchies of God could be considered military fantasy. I personally don't care what you call it, this series is one of the most under-appreciated fantasy series out there. Don't make the mistake of not reading it! You should also check out his new novel, The Ten Thousand which is military fantasy at its best. A must read if you like Glen Cook or the Malazan novels.

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And finally, if you are still scrounging around trying to find some good military fantasy books, check out books written by Chris Bunch (The Seer King series and Dragon Master series especially). He's a mixed bag in terms of quality, but you can expect a LOT of military strategy, tactics, and graphic sex in his books. Don't expect more from the author -- he died a few years ago.

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Also give Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series a go. It's a coming-of-age story set in a roman-inspired fantasy milieu. Lots of action, magic, military tactics, struggles against overwhelming military odds and so on.

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Also give David Anthony Durham a try. His recent novel, Acacia trilogy was hailed as the next best thing several years ago -- big on the epic battles and gritty dark realism of Erickson and Martin with a focus on some heroes. Unfortunately, the series fell flat by the end and disappointed. But it's still a decent read. More similar to Game of Thrones than Mazalan, however.

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Also give James Barclay's Cry of the Newborn a whirl. It's similar in style and content (though less epic) to Erickson's work. It's an example of a Fantasy military fiction done right. Barclay also knows how to write damn good battle scenes, giving even Erickson a run for his money.

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For a big big EPIC fantasy, Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive is your best bet. The story spans the ages (from what we've seen so far) and involves huge armies clashing in a fantasy version of no man's land with monsters. Big on magic, big on battles, big on magical heroes who kick ass.

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The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a military fantasy; you might want to read Glen Cook's classic The Black Company series. It's dark, gritty, and has a hell of a lot of battles. It's the book that has forever defined military fantasy and it's probably the "closest" you'll find to Malazan in terms of style and feeling. His recent series (starts with The Tyranny of the Night) is also a military fantasy series -- a series that pits men against ancient demon creatures.

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If you are after the EPIC in epic fantasy, Wheel of Time. Lots of battles, lots of characters, lots of intrigue, and lots of angry fans after Jordan derails the series around book 6 and dies before he gets it back on track. It took Sanderson to get the series back on track and to finish it off. But if you like Mazalan, read WOT, you will probably like it.

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For a "different" sort of gritty military fantasy, you might also want to give Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky a read. Some pretty novel concepts in the book and series and theres a lot of books.

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Oath of Empires might be something you could try out; it's an alternative history saga, where the Roman Empire has never fallen and magic works. Oath of Empires is epic, featuring massive magical battles and huge opposing armies (Persian and Roman) clashing so hard you can hear the horses scream. It's never become "popular" in fantasy circles, which is a pity.

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You can also try Scott R. Baker's The Darkness That Comes Before saga, a series which has big battles and the black grittiness pioneered by Martin. It's a smart fantasy too with a philosophical twist (some hate this, some love this). Think Jesus Christ decides to take over the world through war and deceit, and that pretty much sums up the series.

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George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga also features an epic scope and the gray characterization that Erickson so loves. Martin's' work is smaller is scale though and tends to be more focused, plot wise. The battles take a while to build up, but when they happen, oh boy.

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Malazan Book of the Fallen is in a class of its own when it comes to big battles, powerful heroes, and grey morality. There's simply nothing out there quite like it...yet. But here are a few recommendations that you should try out, if you love this series and are a big fan of epic battles, grey characters, genius heroes facing huge military odds yet somehow winning, and huge plots with a specific focus on war.

A Song of Ice and Fire

George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga also features an epic scope and the gray characterization that Erickson so loves. Martin's' work is smaller is scale though and tends to be more focused, plot wise. The battles take a while to build up, but when they happen, oh boy.

The Black Company

The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a military fantasy; you might want to read Glen Cook's classic The Black Company series. It's dark, gritty, and has a hell of a lot of battles. It's the book that has forever defined military fantasy and it's probably the "closest" you'll find to Malazan in terms of style and feeling. His recent series (starts with The Tyranny of the Night) is also a military fantasy series -- a series that pits men against ancient demon creatures.

The Stormlight Archive

For a big big EPIC fantasy, Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive is your best bet. The story spans the ages (from what we've seen so far) and involves huge armies clashing in a fantasy version of no man's land with monsters. Big on magic, big on battles, big on magical heroes who kick ass.

The Wheel of Time

If you are after the EPIC in epic fantasy, Wheel of Time. Lots of battles, lots of characters, lots of intrigue, and lots of angry fans after Jordan derails the series around book 6 and dies before he gets it back on track. It took Sanderson to get the series back on track and to finish it off. But if you like Mazalan, read WOT, you will probably like it.

Empire in Black and Gold

For a "different" sort of gritty military fantasy, you might also want to give Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky a read. Some pretty novel concepts in the book and series and theres a lot of books.

The Darkness That Comes Before

You can also try Scott R. Baker's The Darkness That Comes Before saga, a series which has big battles and the black grittiness pioneered by Martin. It's a smart fantasy too with a philosophical twist (some hate this, some love this). Think Jesus Christ decides to take over the world through war and deceit, and that pretty much sums up the series.

Oath of Empires

Oath of Empires might be something you could try out; it's an alternative history saga, where the Roman Empire has never fallen and magic works. Oath of Empires is epic, featuring massive magical battles and huge opposing armies (Persian and Roman) clashing so hard you can hear the horses scream. It's never become "popular" in fantasy circles, which is a pity.

Cry of the Newborn

Also give James Barclay's Cry of the Newborn a whirl. It's similar in style and content (though less epic) to Erickson's work. It's an example of a Fantasy military fiction done right. Barclay also knows how to write damn good battle scenes, giving even Erickson a run for his money.

Arcacia

Also give David Anthony Durham a try. His recent novel, Acacia trilogy was hailed as the next best thing several years ago -- big on the epic battles and gritty dark realism of Erickson and Martin with a focus on some heroes. Unfortunately, the series fell flat by the end and disappointed. But it's still a decent read. More similar to Game of Thrones than Mazalan, however.

Tyrants and Kings

Another series that put a lot of emphasis into tactics and military would be John Marco's Tyrants and Kings. A rather unknown book/series, which is a pity it deserves far more recognition.

His Majesty's Dragon

For a different take on the whole military fantasy subgenre, you could read Naomi Navik His Majesty's Dragon. It's sort of old-style naval military fiction, but replace the ships with talking dragons. The first book has garnered some impressive reviews over the past couple of years -- it's well worth reading if you are in the mood for something different. Note, only the first couple books are great -- the series collapses after a few. 

The Deed of Paksenarrion

A good heroic stand alone fantasy book about a girl who becomes a legendary military leader is Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarrion. There is a great deal of military detail present in the book (fans of The Black Company may be especially interested).

The Heroes

For a standalone fantasy book that's ALL military fantasy, check out Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes and his other standalone, Best Served Cold.

The Monarchies of God

A couple more suggestions for those of you who love military fantasy fiction (I know I do). Paul Kearney's The Monarchies of God could be considered military fantasy. I personally don't care what you call it, this series is one of the most under-appreciated fantasy series out there. Don't make the mistake of not reading it! You should also check out his new novel, The Ten Thousand which is military fantasy at its best. A must read if you like Glen Cook or the Malazan novels.

Codex Alera

Also give Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series a go. It's a coming-of-age story set in a roman-inspired fantasy milieu. Lots of action, magic, military tactics, struggles against overwhelming military odds and so on.

The Seer King

And finally, if you are still scrounging around trying to find some good military fantasy books, check out books written by Chris Bunch (The Seer King series and Dragon Master series especially). He's a mixed bag in terms of quality, but you can expect a LOT of military strategy, tactics, and graphic sex in his books. Don't expect more from the author -- he died a few years ago.

If all these recommendations are not enough, take some time to check out the Top 25 Best Epic Fantasy Series books list -- the best of the best epic fantasy series are detailed in it. You'll probably want to read the Best Military Fantasy Books list too.

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11

American Gods (American Gods) (Neil Gaiman)
Jan 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. Ive 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 heres the thing: American Gods is Neil Gaimans finest work. And one of the finest works in the fantasy genre, a transcendent novel that helped redefine fantasy in the 21st century.

Hes 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 thats 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 mans ever fluid boundary of conflicting beliefs that form changing culture, has been rendered clich 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 its nearly impossible to write something new about the subject. 

Why read American Gods? Because its one of the most profound, transcendent fantasy novels of the 21st century. The story and characters may not be everyones cup of tea (there are better, even among the authors own body of work). But theres 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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You should read Anansi Boys by Gaiman -- features one of the same characters from American Gods and is about the same sort of story. Really though, any of Gaiman's novels are good. His next best recommended is probably Neverwhere. Many people will tell you that Gaiman's best work of his career is his The Sandman graphic novels -- which are probably the best graphic novels ever written, IMHO.

For other Fantasy concerned with myth and legends coexisting (or struggling) with the modern world, read Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood. Kay's very good Ysabel also deals with a similar theme. You will also enjoy Tim Power's The Anubis Gates which is a rip-roaring adventure that incorporates some of the same themes (myths coming to life). Another (quite funny) take on the same theme is Marie Phillips' Gods Behaving Badly.

Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child is another book that grapples with the reality of folk tales' (fairies') effect on the modern world. It's also a deep look into a man's search for his identity. China Mieville also explore the same theme (old myths living amongst and struggling with today's realities) in his novel, Kraken. Another popular author that also likes to juxtapose myth and modern society is Charles de Lint. Myth existing in today's world does seem to be a common them with the Urban Fantasy subgenre, but the above books are the best written that feature myths living in the modern world.

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12

A Wizard Of Earthsea

(The Earthsea Cycle)

(Ursula K. Le Guin)
Jan 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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The Broken Sword. Another classic from the same era as Earthsea. Also one of the most underrated fantasy books and often ignored by the younger generation these days. The plot and structure is not the same, but I have a feeling if you love Earthsea, you'll enjoy The Broken Sword. For another coming of age tale with plenty of angst and the same boy goes to magic school to become a wizard theme,read The Name of the Wind. It's also a beautifully written tale. I'd say that The Name of the Wind is the closest you are going to get to The Wizard of Earthsea. Harry Potter. Boy goes to school to become a wizard. It's less fantastical and less well written than The Wizard of Earthsea and it lakes that mythos and deep history that pervades Earthsea.

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The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain #1) .Coming of age story for the ages. Your children will love it. Lots of folklore and myth tossed in.

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I also recommend Phillip K. McKillip's wonderful Riddle-Master trilogy,which features similar prose and a similar, though at the same time, very different, story. You might also try Sean Russell's The Swans' War which is a modern update of The Wizard of Earthsea and The Lord of the Rings, in a way. The prose is gorgeous -- Russell is one of the best wordsmiths in the genre.

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J.R.R.Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.Both Lord of the Rings and Earthsea really develop the world. Middle Earth practically brims with it's own history, peoples, and mythos. Earthsea does as well (though not as developed as Tolkien's world, but it's still there and present and you feel it when you read)

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The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R.Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.Both Lord of the Rings and Earthsea really develop the world. Middle Earth practically brims with it's own history, peoples, and mythos. Earthsea does as well (though not as developed as Tolkien's world, but it's still there and present and you feel it when you read)

Riddle-Master of Hed

I also recommend Phillip K. McKillip's wonderful Riddle-Master trilogy,which features similar prose and a similar, though at the same time, very different, story. You might also try Sean Russell's The Swans' War which is a modern update of The Wizard of Earthsea and The Lord of the Rings, in a way. The prose is gorgeous -- Russell is one of the best wordsmiths in the genre.

The Chronicles of Prydain

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain #1) .Coming of age story for the ages. Your children will love it. Lots of folklore and myth tossed in.

The Broken Sword

The Broken Sword. Another classic from the same era as Earthsea. Also one of the most underrated fantasy books and often ignored by the younger generation these days. The plot and structure is not the same, but I have a feeling if you love Earthsea, you'll enjoy The Broken Sword.

For another coming of age tale with plenty of angst and the same boy goes to magic school to become a wizard theme,read The Name of the Wind. It's also a beautifully written tale. I'd say that The Name of the Wind is the closest you are going to get to The Wizard of Earthsea.

Harry Potter. Boy goes to school to become a wizard. It's less fantastical and less well written than The Wizard of Earthsea and it lakes that mythos and deep history that pervades Earthsea.

13

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)
Jan 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.

BUT.

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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If you like the slow pedantic pace of Clarkes work, the intense focus on characters and descriptions which almost seem to the point of excess but (finally) a fully realized magical world and with a gripping plot by the end of it, look no further than the majestic Gormenghast books.

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For the rich use of the English language, read Lord Dunsany.

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Jack Vance Dying Earth series. Science Fantasy, but oh god the use of the English language.

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Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet. There's a lot of Brtiishness to this novel that you might just like if you liked Clarkes work.

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Want more good books about 'magicians'? You may also find that you like Sean Russell's Moontide Magic Rise duology. It's kind of the same premise: magic has vanished from the world, a couple of people are trying to bring magic back to the world, etc. In my opinion, this is the closest book/series that you'll find to Susanna Clarke's work. For a grown-up book about the cost of being a magician, look at Lev Grossman's The Magicians. It's not your usual fantasy fare and a refreshing change and also one of the best books/series in the fantasy genre. Even better, the trilogy is completed with the last book having been released this year (2014). Of course, you could also read the standard epic village boy to might magician in Feist's Magician, a classic style fantasy tale.

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The Golem and the Jinni. Another book you may just enjoy if you like fantastical tales that are touching and incredibly well written.

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TOOTH & CLAW by Joe Walton. Dragons living in a Victorian Society? I dare you to try it!

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For an epic fantasy series about fairies, you could read Shadowmarch by Tad Williams. There's lots of little folklore tales about fairies and elder creatures scattered throughout the story -- something that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has in abundance.

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For a poignant story about competing magicians with a similar feel to it in tone and writing, read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Fantastic book and perhaps the CLOSEST similar read to Susanna Clarkes work that Ive found.

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Are you a fan of fairies in a fantasy tale? Another book that deals with old fairy folk tales is Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child. A novel about the search for identity, The Stolen Child makes for a compelling read. The Stolen Child, like Susanna Clarke's work, is very well written. These books are sort of your "out of the box" fantasy. It's quite refreshing to see the fantasy genre has more to it than epic fantasy.

The Night Circus

For a poignant story about competing magicians with a similar feel to it in tone and writing, read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Fantastic book and perhaps the CLOSEST similar read to Susanna Clarkes work that Ive found.

The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni. Another book you may just enjoy if you like fantastical tales that are touching and incredibly well written.

Tooth & Claw

TOOTH & CLAW by Joe Walton. Dragons living in a Victorian Society? I dare you to try it!

Shadowmarch

For an epic fantasy series about fairies, you could read Shadowmarch by Tad Williams. There's lots of little folklore tales about fairies and elder creatures scattered throughout the story -- something that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has in abundance.

Moontide Magic Rise

Want more good books about 'magicians'? You may also find that you like Sean Russell's Moontide Magic Rise duology. It's kind of the same premise: magic has vanished from the world, a couple of people are trying to bring magic back to the world, etc. In my opinion, this is the closest book/series that you'll find to Susanna Clarke's work. For a grown-up book about the cost of being a magician, look at Lev Grossman's The Magicians. It's not your usual fantasy fare and a refreshing change and also one of the best books/series in the fantasy genre. Even better, the trilogy is completed with the last book having been released this year (2014). Of course, you could also read the standard epic village boy to might magician in Feist's Magician, a classic style fantasy tale.

Good Omens

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet. There's a lot of Brtiishness to this novel that you might just like if you liked Clarkes work.

Gormenghast

If you like the slow pedantic pace of Clarkes work, the intense focus on characters and descriptions which almost seem to the point of excess but (finally) a fully realized magical world and with a gripping plot by the end of it, look no further than the majestic Gormenghast books.

Lord Dunsany

For the rich use of the English language, read Lord Dunsany.

Dying Earth

Jack Vance Dying Earth series. Science Fantasy, but oh god the use of the English language.

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14

The Black Company

(Chronicles of The Black Company)

(Glen Cook)
Jan 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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But its a very dark and grim world featuring an anti-hero character and side kick heroes that are all flawed individuals. One of the best fantasy books in the genre. Youll probably like it, even if its about a couple characters solving a quest rather than a military band caught up in incessant warfare.

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This is a new series that came out in 2013 with two books out so far (the last one was out a few months ago, mid 2014). If you like large scale battles and the story of a squad/company facing extreme survival odds in a foreign country, youll love this series. Its one of the better fantasy books to come out the past few years. And its certainly one of the best military fantasy series since Eriksons Mazalan. If you like Black Company, youll love this series.

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A classic, but one all about a hero fighting an endless war against endless odds. Theres something of beauty in this heroic treatment ofwella hero.

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This was one of my favorite reads of 2013. Theres a lot of military battles and squad/company warfare against foes with superior numbers. Its not as dark, on a whole, as The Black Company, but its a stellar read. If you like might and magic and battles and warfare, this is one for your.

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Ah, grimdark epic fantasy at its best, but not your standard epic fantasy this shit is deep and philosophical. Lots of wars and grand military battles and dark gods taking over the world. Theres nothing else quite like it to be honest, but ignoring all the philosophy sprinkled between the chapters, theres a hell of a lot of bloody action, gratuitous sex, character development, and political intrigue to keep you turning the pages. Oh and theres a world-ending apocalypse coming.

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Dark and gritty world. Check. An anti-hero character who ends up working for the bad guys most of the time? Check. Explosive and brutal action? Check. Strong characterization. Check and Check. Heroes die is MORE about a singular hero than a company of characters, as is The Black Company, but theres enough that youll probably love it if you like Glenn Cooks work.

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It's more epic in scope than The Black Company, but there are enough similarities that you'll find yourself right at home. Steven Erikson has even stated that Glen Cook's books were an influence on his own writing, so there you have it.

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You may want to give Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series a good go at it. Books one and two are out and they are seriously good -- some of the best epic fantasy that's come out. Abrahams work is a good mix of epic and military fantasy with some smart writing and a cast of compelling characters (some which are anti-heroes). Both are character driven, though Black Company has a hell of a lot more action and angst while The Dagger and the Coin is far more about the characters. It can be somewhat plodding and slow at times. However, if you like Black Company, and military fantasy with strong characters, you may just like this series.

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Paul Kearney's The Ten Thousand is a superb military fantasy by a much underrated author. If you like Black Company, you'll dig this one hard.

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The main character (Kaladin) has a few basic similarities to The Black Company main character (Croaker). Both are retired physicians who've given up their profession to become soldiers. Both lead a squad of men (and there is the squad dynamics). Cook's work is more gray and his style more dry, however. The narrator (Croaker), is not a crazy badass super hero, while Sanderson's work is more heroic in nature as is the character. So don't get the idea that The Way of Kings is anything like The Black Company as a whole, but as stated there are some similarities.

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It combines an ancient evil coming-back-into-the-world plot, a military genius hero, plenty of conflicts between worldly powers, political scheming, all filtered through Cook's military narrative. The closest you'll find to The Black Company in style and form. And duh, its by the same freaking author. How much closer CAN you get?

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If you like Black Company, you should definitely read his other fantasy series, The Instrumentalities of the Night. It combines an ancient evil coming-back-into-the-world plot, a military genius hero, plenty of conflicts between worldly powers, political scheming, all filtered through Cook's military narrative. The closest you'll find to The Black Company in style and form. And duh, it's by the same freaking author. How much closer CAN you get?

For another "dark" military fantasy, you should read Malazan Book of the Fallen. It's more epic in scope than The Black Company, but there are enough similarities that you'll find yourself right at home. Steven Erikson has even stated that Glen Cook's books were an influence on his own writing, so there you have it.

You may want to give Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series a good go at it. Books one and two are out and they are seriously good -- some of the best epic fantasy that's come out. Abraham's work is a good mix of epic and military fantasy with some smart writing and a cast of compelling characters (some which are anti-heroes). Both are character driven, though Black Company has a hell of a lot more action and angst while The Dagger and the Coin is far more about the characters. It can be somewhat plodding and slow at times. However, if you like Black Company, and military fantasy with strong characters, you may just like this series.

Paul Kearney's The Ten Thousand is a superb military fantasy by a much underrated author. If you like Black Company, you'll dig this one hard.

Sanderson's awesome The Way of Kings is also another book you might want to read (it's first in the Stormlight Archive series). The main character (Kaladin) has a few basic similarities to The Black Company main character (Croaker). Both are retired physicians who've given up their profession to become soldiers. Both lead a squad of men (and there is the squad dynamics). Cook's work is more gray and his style more dry, however. The narrator (Croaker), is not a crazy badass super hero, while Sanderson's work is more heroic in nature as is the character. So don't get the idea that The Way of Kings is anything like The Black Company as a whole, but as stated there are some similarities.

Heroes Die by Mathew Woodring Stoover. Dark and gritty world. Check. An anti-hero character who ends up working for the bad guys most of the time? Check. Explosive and brutal action? Check. Strong characterization. Check and Check. Heroes die is MORE about a singular hero than a company of characters, as is The Black Company, but there's enough that you'll probably love it if you like Glenn Cook's work.

The Darkness that Comes Before. Ah, grimdark epic fantasy at it's best, but not your standard epic fantasy: this shit is deep and philosophical. Lots of wars and grand military battles and dark gods taking over the world. There's nothing else quite like it to be honest, but ignoring all the philosophy sprinkled between the chapters, there's a hell of a lot of bloody action, gratuitous sex, character development, and political intrigue to keep you turning the pages. Oh and there's a world-ending apocalypse coming.

Black Sun Rising is a different sort of work. But it's a very dark and grim world featuring an anti-hero character and side kick heroes that are all flawed individuals. One of the best fantasy books in the genre. You'll probably like it, even if it's about a couple characters solving a quest rather than a military band caught up in incessant warfare.

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler. This is a new series that came out in 2013 with two books out so far (the last one was out a few months ago, mid 2014). If you like large scale battles and the story of a squad/company facing extreme survival odds in a foreign country, you'll love this series. It's one of the better fantasy books to come out the past few years. And it's certainly one of the best military fantasy series since Erikson's Mazalan. If you like Black Company, you'll love this series.

Legend by David Gemmell. A classic, but one all about a hero fighting an endless war against endless odds. There's something of beauty in this heroic treatment of an old washed up hero who's pressured by the need of his people to come back from retirement to kick some ass.

For a very medieval fantasy with magic and monsters and knights, Miles Cameron's The Red Knight. This was one of my favorite reads of 2013. There's a lot of military battles and squad/company warfare against foes with superior numbers. It's not as dark, on a whole, as The Black Company, but it's a stellar read. If you like might and magic and battles and warfare, this is one for your.

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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.

Books in Acts of Caine Series (4)

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I don't know what it is, but Parker's work might just be up your alley. Dark, gritty, filled with flawed heroes with realistic motivations. Not everyone appreciate's Parker, but if you want a slower-paced 'rich' fantasy that's all about the characters, man Parker knows how to do it right.

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The Red Knight. Knight heroes, monstrous elevens, and damsels in distress all clash in this remarkable debut last year (2013). The tale is a different one and there's a huge cast of characters (though the focus remains on The Red Knight, the titular hero of the story and series) rather than a single one. However, like Heroes Die there's a lot of sizzling energy to this series, with brutal action, action, and lots of ware. You'll probably like it.

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Heroic fantasy with a lot of energy. One of the best boy becomes hero tales I've read and certainly Stackpool's best work.

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David Gemmell's career defining work about what it means to be a hero. He also explores the same idea in many works -- including a couple books about a bad-ass assassin turned hero (Waylander).

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Also read Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy -- an epic tale about an assassin-in-training in a fantasy landscape, but with one of the best drawn characters ever to grace the Fantasy scene. As for being bad-ass, Fitz has nothing on Caine though and if you are expecting a heroic amount of violence and kickass-ness on the part of Fitz, expect to be disappointed. The whole kick ass that happens is to Fitz who gets ass whooped over and over. Really, he's kind of a bitch. But fabulous read, nevertheless.

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For some compelling anti-hero reading about an assassin king, you should read Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. Right up your alley if you like the violence and amorality of Stover's Caine character. Honorable Jorg Ancraft, the hero villain of Prince of Thorns, is an immoral and vicious bastard. Even so, you can't stop rooting for him to win.

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The Steel Remains. Some elements of Heroes Die here. You have a dark and unforgiving world with a misunderstood hero who's not afraid of being a serious bad ass to those who piss him off. This is one of the darkest fantasy books you'll read. But oh so good and something unique in the grim dark genre. It's a trilogy with the final book released a few months ago (end of 2014) at time of this updated list.

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The Heroes. When all villains are really just misunderstood heroes and heroes turn out to be villains. Abercrombie's best book so far. Tons of action, awesome and compelling characters, and vicious battles. Abercrombie is one of the best writers of violent scenes that just pop out of nowhere. If you love the action and blood of Heroes Die and you like the character of Caine, I think you'll like The Heroes.

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If you like the Assassin factor of Heroes Die, read Brent Weeks' The Night Angel Trilogy. It's a good read and Weeks is a rising star in the Fantasy world. The series is much, much lighter reading than the Acts of Caine, and the prose is not half as good. Good for light reading though.

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The sequels of course! There are 3 of them as of 2014 and it's more of the same with Caine's story fleshed out more and more. Each book does something new though.

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For similar recommendations, I'm give books that fuse action, blood, grittiness, flawed humanity, and anti-heroes. Some books may also feature assassins. All these books also explore the idea of 'the hero.'

Caine Sequels

The sequels of course! There are 3 of them as of 2014 and it's more of the same with Caine's story fleshed out more and more. Each book does something new though.

The Steel Remains

The Steel Remains. Some elements of Heroes Die here. You have a dark and unforgiving world with a misunderstood hero who's not afraid of being a serious bad ass to those who piss him off. This is one of the darkest fantasy books you'll read. But oh so good and something unique in the grim dark genre. It's a trilogy with the final book released a few months ago (end of 2014) at time of this updated list.

The Heroes

The Heroes. When all villains are really just misunderstood heroes and heroes turn out to be villains. Abercrombie's best book so far. Tons of action, awesome and compelling characters, and vicious battles. Abercrombie is one of the best writers of violent scenes that just pop out of nowhere. If you love the action and blood of Heroes Die and you like the character of Caine, I think you'll like The Heroes.

The Night Angel Trilogy

If you like the Assassin factor of Heroes Die, read Brent Weeks' The Night Angel Trilogy. It's a good read and Weeks is a rising star in the Fantasy world. The series is much, much lighter reading than the Acts of Caine, and the prose is not half as good. Good for light reading though.

Prince of Thorns

For some compelling anti-hero reading about an assassin king, you should read Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. Right up your alley if you like the violence and amorality of Stover's Caine character. Honorable Jorg Ancraft, the hero villain of Prince of Thorns, is an immoral and vicious bastard. Even so, you can't stop rooting for him to win.

The Farseer Trilogy

Also read Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy -- an epic tale about an assassin-in-training in a fantasy landscape, but with one of the best drawn characters ever to grace the Fantasy scene. As for being bad-ass, Fitz has nothing on Caine though and if you are expecting a heroic amount of violence and kickass-ness on the part of Fitz, expect to be disappointed. The whole kick ass that happens is to Fitz who gets ass whooped over and over. Really, he's kind of a bitch. But fabulous read, nevertheless.

The Folding Knife 

I don't know what it is, but Parker's work might just be up your alley. Dark, gritty, filled with flawed heroes with realistic motivations. Not everyone appreciate's Parker, but if you want a slower-paced 'rich' fantasy that's all about the characters, man Parker knows how to do it right.

The Red Knight

The Red Knight. Knight heroes, monstrous elevens, and damsels in distress all clash in this remarkable debut last year (2013). The tale is a different one and there's a huge cast of characters (though the focus remains on The Red Knight, the titular hero of the story and series) rather than a single one. However, like Heroes Die there's a lot of sizzling energy to this series, with brutal action, action, and lots of ware. You'll probably like it.

Talion: Revenant

Heroic fantasy with a lot of energy. One of the best boy becomes hero tales I've read and certainly Stackpool's best work.

Legend

David Gemmell's career defining work about what it means to be a hero. He also explores the same idea in many works -- including a couple books about a bad-ass assassin turned hero (Waylander).

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16

The Prince Of Thorns (The Broken Empire) (Mark Lawrence)
Jan 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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Flintlock fantasy with a bang. Not the same style story, but full of violence, blood, and grit. Youll probably like it. I do.

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Caine, a bad-ass antihero assassin. Dirty world without hope. Lots of death and violence. Great writing. Read it and be wowed.

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Yea, I had to drop this in. The gritty setting, the troubled characters, the struggle for power among kingdoms. The undead coming back to haunt the living. See some of the similarities here?

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Among Thieves (Tales of the Kin, #1) . One of the best assassin/thief/spy fantasy books right now. Its got the ghettos and grittiness of Prince of Thorns, though the hero is not an antihero. I suspect you will like this series if you like Prince of Thorns.

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Give Elric of Melinbone by Michael Moorcock a read. A classic thats criminally ignored. One of the original fantasy antiheroes, way back decades ago. Dark fantasy, lyrical prose, and a bad ass hero whos partly a villain.

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A similar kind of vibe dark and gritty dilapidated world that feels like its dying. A cast of morally gray characters (though on the darker shade of gray) who do bad shit over and over becausethey like it. And a company of mercenaries. See some of the similarities? I would hazard a guess here and say Lawrence was heavily inspired by Cook.

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Joe Abercrombies books, oh yes very similar. Start with First Law trilogy. Gritty world, sharp, witty, and sarcastic prose with the same type of characters. Abercrombies protagonists are more heroes though than villains, for the most part, though you can find a few that fit the role of an antihero. Best Served Cold and Heroes are books that feel the closest in style and tone, with Best Served Cold featuring a band of mercenaries seeking to overthrow a government somewhat similar of a plot to Prince of Thrones.

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We cant talk about antiheroes in a fantasy world without mentioning The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. The series is older (a few decades) but a fantasy classic, with one of the original fantasy antiheroes who just does bad shit part of the time and is a general dick. Then he gets better with time.

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The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

We can't talk about antiheroes in a fantasy world without mentioning The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. The series is older (a few decades) but a fantasy classic, with one of the original fantasy antiheroes who just does bad shit part of the time and is a general dick. Then he gets better with time.

The Black Company

A similar kind of vibe: a dark and gritty dilapidated world that feels like it's dying; a cast of morally gray characters (though on the darker shade of gray) who do bad shit over and over because 'they like it'; and a company of mercenaries. See some of the similarities? I would hazard a guess here and say Lawrence was heavily inspired by Cook. It's a guess that was wrong. Mark Lawrence recently tweeted us saying he's not yet read Cook. Either way, if you like The Black Company, you'll find yourself at home with Lawrence's The Broken Empire books. 

Scourge of the Betrayer 

This one by Jeff Salyards takes a lot of the same gritty tendencies of Lawrence's work. There's a company of amoral solders on a quest to just fuck shit up in other kingdoms on orders from their emperor. This book is the closest I've come so far to Lawrence's style of story telling. Salyards is one of my new favorite authors and a rising star in the genre. Absolutely read him if you love Lawrence's Broken Empires.

First Law

Joe Abercrombie's books, oh yes very similar. Start with First Law trilogy. Gritty world, sharp, witty, and sarcastic prose with the same type of characters. Abercrombie's protagonists are more heroes though than villains, for the most part, though you can find a few that fit the role of an antihero. Best Served Cold and Heroes are books that feel the closest in style and tone, with Best Served Cold featuring a band of mercenaries seeking to overthrow a government -- somewhat similar of a plot to Prince of Thrones.

Elric of Melinbone

Give Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock a read. A classic that's criminally ignored. One of the original fantasy antiheroes, way back decades ago. Dark fantasy, lyrical prose, and a bad ass hero who's partly a villain.

Among Thieves

Among Thieves (Tales of the Kin, #1) . One of the best assassin/thief/spy fantasy books right now. It's got the ghettos and grittiness of Prince of Thorns, though the hero is not an antihero. I suspect you will like this series if you like Prince of Thorns.

A Promise of Blood

Flintlock fantasy with a bang. Not the same style story, but full of violence, blood, and grit. You'll probably like A Promise of Blood. I do.

Heroes Die

Caine, a bad-ass antihero assassin. Dirty world without hope. Lots of death and violence. Great writing. Read it and be wowed. Heroes Die is some of the best fantasy you'll read.

A Song of Ice and Fire series

Yea, I had to drop this in. The gritty setting, the troubled characters, the struggle for power among kingdoms. The undead coming back to haunt the living. See some of the similarities here? 

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17

Under Heaven (Guy Gavriel Kay)
Jan 2015

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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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Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. One of the best written, well plotted historical fantasy tales. This one is set in the 18th century and follows the story of Jonathan Strange, the last magician of his time. Well written, dense, and a superb story. If you like Kay, you will absolutely love this one.

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A recent work but a phenomenal one. If you like the beautifully written Under Heaven with the rich themes about what it means to be human than you'll like this very different, yet equally enthralling work. The Golem and the Genie is a work you should read.

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A completely different type of story than Kay's Under Heaven yet both are stories where the way words sounds are just as important as the story itself. Both are very much lyrical works, full of beautiful words and, if you dig, complex themes. If you like well written lyrical works, you'll like The Name of the Wind.

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Alma Alexander's The Secrets of Jin-shei takes place in a similar mythical Chinese setting and centers on a princess and her friendship with a lower class servant. It explores friendship and class systems in a changing world. An interesting read.

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Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. This 5 book series starts with a bang. It centers around an alternate Feudal Japan where magic works and stars ninjas, Samurai's, and warlords as the main characters. Kind of a fantasy version of Shogun.

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If you like the whole fantastical mythical Asia, you should read Sean Russel's Brother Initiate. Russell in a lot of ways is similar to Kay both are outstanding writers who relish beautiful prose. Russell's work is more along the lines of a traditional fantasy, just using the trappings of ancient Chinese culture for the tale. The hero of his tale is a fighting monk and the tale is more heroic about heroes with amazing abilities who impact the fate of a kingdom.

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The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham, another series with a huge emphasis on literary types being the heroes of the day. This series is very much unique, the prose and characters are rich. It's a series that's not for everyone (if you are looking for traditional action heavy epic fantasy in the vein of Sanderson or Jordan, you probably won't like this series), but if you like to read and enjoy rich characters and a different setting and a different sort of fantasy than your usual run-of-the-mill, read it.

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The Folding Knife by KJ Parker. A series rich on details and characterization. Not so much on action. Parker is an author you love or hate. But if you enjoy Kay and a different style of fantasy, you'll enjoy Parker.

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Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. In many ways Under Heaven stands next to this great masterpiece on equal footing. Both are historical fiction with outstanding narratives.

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More Books by Kay

For other alternative history with the same lyrical style and emphasis on historical detail, though altered to fit a fantastical version of them, check out Kay's other books. You absolutely want to read the direct sequel to Under Heaven, River of Stars. which was released this year (2014). It's not as masterful as the first, but a very good read indeed and more of the same. The Fionvar Tapestry, Kay's version of Lord of the Rings. Last Light of the Sun is Kay's foray into Norse history and culture and an outstanding read. Lions of Al Rassan is a tragic yet powerful tale about a painter who's get caught up with the affairs of an Empire (Kay's take on Roman history). Song of Arbonne is a beautiful and haunting tale about two jongleurs. Ysabel is Kay's YA version of American Gods.

The Name of the Rose

Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. In many ways Under Heaven stands next to this great masterpiece on equal footing. Both are historical fiction with outstanding narratives.

Brother Initiate

If you like the whole fantastical mythical Asia, you should read Sean Russel's Brother Initiate. Russell in a lot of ways is similar to Kay both are outstanding writers who relish beautiful prose. Russell's work is more along the lines of a traditional fantasy, just using the trappings of ancient Chinese culture for the tale. The hero of his tale is a fighting monk and the tale is more heroic about heroes with amazing abilities who impact the fate of a kingdom. 

The Long Price Quartet

The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham, another series with a huge emphasis on literary types being the heroes of the day. This series is very much unique, the prose and characters are rich. It's a series that's not for everyone (if you are looking for traditional action heavy epic fantasy in the vein of Sanderson or Jordan, you probably won't like this series), but if you like to read and enjoy rich characters and a different setting and a different sort of fantasy than your usual run-of-the-mill, read it.

The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox

Master Li series by Barry Hughart. One of the best Asian fantasy series ever. It doesn't get the recognition it deserves. Not your standard fantasy novel, but it's a hell of a read and funny as hell.

The Folding Knife

The Folding Knife by KJ Parker. A series rich on details and characterization. Not so much on action. Parker is an author you love or hate. But if you enjoy Kay and a different style of fantasy, you'll enjoy Parker.

Across the Nightingale Floor

Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. This 5 book series starts with a bang. It centers around an alternate Feudal Japan where magic works and stars ninjas, Samurai's, and warlords as the main characters. Kind of a fantasy version of Shogun. 

The Secrets of Jin-Shei

Alma Alexander's The Secrets of Jin-shei takes place in a similar mythical Chinese setting and centers on a princess and her friendship with a lower class servant. It explores friendship and class systems in a changing world. An interesting read.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. One of the best written, well plotted historical fantasy tales. This one is set in the 18th century and follows the story of Jonathan Strange, the last magician of his time. Well written, dense, and a superb story. If you like Kay, you will absolutely love this one.

The Golem and the Genie

A recent work but a phenomenal one. If you like the beautifully written Under Heaven with the rich themes about what it means to be human than you'll like this very different, yet equally enthralling work. The Golem and the Genie is a work you should read.

The Name of the Wind

A completely different type of story than Kay's Under Heaven yet both are stories where the way words sounds are just as important as the story itself. Both are very much lyrical works, full of beautiful words and, if you dig, complex themes. If you like well written lyrical works, you'll like The Name of the Wind.

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18

City Of Stairs (Robert Jackson Bennett)
Jan 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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19

The Nightwatch (Sergei Lukyanenko)
Jan 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, it's a damn refreshing change and like a powerful shot of vodka, it warms you 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 i'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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20

Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser

(Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser)

(Fritz Leiber)
Jan 2015

Often referred to as the greatest fantasy author youve 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 Howards Conan stories, hes 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 todays 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, harkening 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 its 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 Leibers remarkable prose prose that many modern writers would do well to ape. Despite the age of these stories, its clear Fritz Leiber is 10x a better writer than a number of modern popular fantasy writers. Theres a certain cadence to the way Fritz Leiber tells his tales, its 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, youll feel right at home in his wonderfully crafted worlds.

Not Modern fantasy you say? Meh, this stuff is better than 95 percent of the new fantasy thats 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. 

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Sword and Sorcery set in a Norse world. A deep novel and highly underrated.

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Military Fantasy with a lot of Sword and Sorcery. I won't say much here that I haven't already said a million times in other recommendations, but...if you haven't read The Black Company and you like Sword and Sorcery, military battles, strategy, and plenty of anti-hero characters, read it.

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Some good sword and sorcery by Fred Saberhagan. The premise centers about god swords that fall to earth -- mortals who find them are given great power. Of course, humanity being the flawed species that it is, problems ensue. On the surface this may sound like a standard fantasy tale, but it's surprisingly deep as you get into it. Sword in Sorcery that's much better and much deeper than your usual shallow stuff.

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For a modern take on Sword and Sorcery, you might look at J.V. Jones The Sword of Shadows.It's more of an epic fantasy, but it does hearken back to some of the classic sword and sorcery conventions -- it's set on an icy world, the characters are dark and troubled, there's violence and nastiness, and plenty of magic and mayhem.

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For the modernized version ofclassic sword and sorcery, made edgy, dark, and disturbing themes that allmodern grim dark fantasy touches on read Elric of Melinbone by MichaelMoorcock. Hes that man who took sword and sorcery and made it depressing and deep.

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Classic sword and sorcery but often left unmentioned, unlike the other greats like the Conan books. Kane delivers exactly what it promises: swords, sorcery, madness, revenge, loyalty, and plenty of violence. It may be old, but it's absolutely worth reading especially if you want some outstanding Sword and Sorcery.

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Read the classic Conan stories byRobert Howard. Together with Fritz Leiber, both authors pioneered Sword andSorcery and influenced countless writers.

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Conan the Barbarian

Read the classic Conan stories byRobert Howard. Together with Fritz Leiber, both authors pioneered Sword andSorcery and influenced countless writers.

Elric of Melinbone

For the modernized version ofclassic sword and sorcery, made edgy, dark, and disturbing themes that allmodern grim dark fantasy touches on read Elric of Melinbone by MichaelMoorcock. Hes that man who took sword and sorcery and made it depressing anddeep.

Kane Books

Classic sword and sorcery but often left unmentioned, unlike the other greats like the Conan books. Kane delivers exactly what it promises: swords, sorcery, madness, revenge, loyalty, and plenty of violence. It may be old, but it's absolutely worth reading especially if you want some outstanding Sword and Sorcery.

Sword of Shadows

For a modern take on Sword and Sorcery, you might look at J.V. Jones The Sword of Shadows.It's more of an epic fantasy, but it does hearken back to some of the classic sword and sorcery conventions -- it's set on an icy world, the characters are dark and troubled, there's violence and nastiness, and plenty of magic and mayhem. 

The Book of Swords

Some good sword and sorcery by Fred Saberhagan. The premise centers about god swords that fall to earth -- mortals who find them are given great power. Of course, humanity being the flawed species that it is, problems ensue. On the surface this may sound like a standard fantasy tale, but it's surprisingly deep as you get into it. Sword in Sorcery that's much better and much deeper than your usual shallow stuff. 

The Broken Sword

Sword and Sorcery set in a Norse world. A deep novel and highly underrated.

The Black Company

Military Fantasy with a lot of Sword and Sorcery. I won't say much here that I haven't already said a million times in other recommendations, but...if you haven't read The Black Company and you like Sword and Sorcery, military battles, strategy, and plenty of anti-hero characters, read it.


See our Best Sword and Sorcery List for more specific S&S recommendations

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21

Black Sun Rising (The Coldfire Trilogy) (C.S. Friedman)
Jan 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, its 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 likeable, this is a tale you should read.

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

It deserves to be read by you.

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I would also suggest Steven King's The Talisman, which is about a young boy who must enter into a dark fantasy world to save his mother. There is a strong delineation between good and evil, but the world itself is pretty dark. Of course, if you like the Talisman, then King's The Dark Tower (which has some dark fantasy elements to it) is a given read too.

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The same goes for Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire -- a huge cast of completely amoral "hero" characters. Good and evil are not clearly delineated.

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If you don't mind novels that are not your standard heroic fantasy, but have a strong element of "Gothic" to them and a cast of bizarre characters you might find in any horror novel, you can check out some of China Mieville works (The Scar).

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Finally, if you like the whole partial "vampire" aspect of the main hero, you might want to read George Martin's stunning Fevre Dream.'

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For a read about a place where people have their desires and whims fulfilled, read the classic Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. It's the same sort of premise (different setting and story of course) as the Cold Fire, just the science fiction version of it on a space craft.

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For another epic fantasy series that's character- and plot-driven with some anti-hero elements and morally ambiguous characters, Abercrombie's The First Law series comes to mind.

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You should also read Glenn Cook's The Black Company books -- I would count these books as dark fantasy. The characters are morally ambiguous and in fact fighting for a side that many would consider "evil" or the "dark lord" (in this case, a "dark lady"). His new series, The Tyranny of the Night, also has some of those dark fantasy elements too -- like the ColdFire world, dark spirits come out at night to attack humans.

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If you like the horror aspect of The Coldfire Trilogy where creatures of the dark wait just around the corner out of sight, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting humans, give Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man a read. Not the same style plot and the writing is not as good, but the world portrayed is quite interesting with demons coming out at night prowling the landscape and killing any humans not behind special wards. Only the first book is good, however; the other 2 books were absolute disappointments.

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Read The Crooked Letter (Book One of the Cataclysism) by Sean Williams for a story set in a horror tinged world with a magic system that's sort of similar to that of The Coldfire Trilogy. It's not the same plot or anything, but it's one of those books that introduces deeper human issues into the fabric of the story and the setting is somewhat reminiscent of the weird world of The Coldfire Trilogy -- a place where monsters and creatures of the dark just lurk around the corner.

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Look at The Abhorsen Trilogy; the world portrayed is one with dark creatures lurking in practically every nook and cranny of the landscape. Also read Joseph's Delany's Spook's Apprentice series which is a YA story about a young apprentice who works as a sort of exorcist in a landscape filled with creatures of the night.

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The Coldfire Trilogy has a very strong anti-hero. For epic fantasy with a strong anti-hero, you probably can't more anti hero than The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

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For a strong anti-hero tale about a prince who decides to take back his throne by fair means or foul (and mostly foul), read The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. Nothing is similar about the plot, but there may be some overlap between one of the anti-hero characters' in both novels, willing to do anything at all to achieve their goal of power.

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You might like Friedman's newer series (Magister Trilogy) which has some darker elements to it (one must suck the life out of a person to use magic). It's not nearly as dark as The Coldfire trilogy though and there is no anti-hero.

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Magister Trilogy

You might like Friedman's newer series (Magister Trilogy) which has some darker elements to it (one must suck the life out of a person to use magic). It's not nearly as dark as The Coldfire trilogy though and there is no anti-hero.

The Crooked Letter

Read The Crooked Letter (Book One of the Cataclysism) by Sean Williams for a story set in a horror tinged world with a magic system that's sort of similar to that of The Coldfire Trilogy. It's not the same plot or anything, but it's one of those books that introduces deeper human issues into the fabric of the story and the setting is somewhat reminiscent of the weird world of The Coldfire Trilogy -- a place where monsters and creatures of the dark just lurk around the corner.

The Warded Man

If you like the horror aspect of The Coldfire Trilogy where creatures of the dark wait just around the corner out of sight, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting humans, give Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man a read. Not the same style plot and the writing is not as good, but the world portrayed is quite interesting with demons coming out at night prowling the landscape and killing any humans not behind special wards. Only the first book is good, however; the other 2 books were absolute disappointments.

The Abhorsen Trilogy

Look at The Abhorsen Trilogy; the world portrayed is one with dark creatures lurking in practically every nook and cranny of the landscape. Also read Joseph's Delany's Spook's Apprentice series which is a YA story about a young apprentice who works as a sort of exorcist in a landscape filled with creatures of the night.

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

The Coldfire Trilogy has a very strong anti-hero. For epic fantasy with a strong anti-hero, you probably can't more anti hero than The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

The Prince of Thorns

For a strong anti-hero tale about a prince who decides to take back his throne by fair means or foul (and mostly foul), read The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. Nothing is similar about the plot, but there may be some overlap between one of the anti-hero characters' in both novels, willing to do anything at all to achieve their goal of power. 

The Black Company

You should also read Glenn Cook's The Black Company books -- I would count these books as dark fantasy. The characters are morally ambiguous and in fact fighting for a side that many would consider "evil" or the "dark lord" (in this case, a "dark lady"). His new series, The Tyranny of the Night, also has some of those dark fantasy elements too -- like the ColdFire world, dark spirits come out at night to attack humans. 

The Warded Man

For one more recommendation that features a world somewhat like the Coldfire one (in that monsters come creeping out of the shadows at night), read The Warded Man.

The First Law trilogy

For another epic fantasy series that's character- and plot-driven with some anti-hero elements and morally ambiguous characters, Abercrombie's The First Law series comes to mind. 

A Song of Ice and Fire

The same goes for Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire -- a huge cast of completely amoral "hero" characters. Good and evil are not clearly delineated.

The Talisman

I would also suggest Steven King's The Talisman, which is about a young boy who must enter into a dark fantasy world to save his mother. There is a strong delineation between good and evil, but the world itself is pretty dark. Of course, if you like the Talisman, then King's The Dark Tower (which has some dark fantasy elements to it) is a given read too.

The Scar

If you don't mind novels that are not your standard heroic fantasy, but have a strong element of "Gothic" to them and a cast of bizarre characters you might find in any horror novel, you can check out some of China Mieville works (The Scar).

Fevre Dream

Finally, if you like the whole partial "vampire" aspect of the main hero, you might want to read George Martin's stunning Fevre Dream.'

Solaris

For a read about a place where people have their desires and whims fulfilled, read the classic Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. It's the same sort of premise (different setting and story of course) as the Cold Fire, just the science fiction version of it on a space craft.

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22

The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)
Jan 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 rivalryand 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 Morgensterns 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. Its cliche to call a bout 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. Its 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, butlike a circus, the Night Circus is an experience that needs to be experienced at least one time in your life. And its 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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The Sorcerer's House by Gene Wolf has the same sort of feeling of mysteriousness, magicand subtle danger. This time its about a magical house and two children who stay there.

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Mysterious, magical, beautiful. These are worlds that describe this masterpiece. It has somewhat of a similar feeling as The Night Circus, but the magic here with both books featuring a company of performers where the performances aremagical.

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Not at all the same type of story, but there is a magical school.

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Lev Grossman's fantastic trilogy. An entirely more depressing, postmodern take on the fantasy genre, but theres a school setting for the magically gifted.

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The Prestige by Christoper Priest is a remarkable novel. You've probably seen the movie, but have you read the book. Two stage magicians battle it out, trying to one-up one another with more and more elaborate tricks. Like the Night Circus, it features a conflict/contest between two magicians, but this one is not played out in a circus but across stage halls. The conflict becomes deadly.

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The Genie and the Golem is a beautiful and poignant character about two characters who are forced together by circumstances. It has the same sort of feeling as The Night Circus, though more character oriented.

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A battle between two rival magicians vying for power and prestige, set during the baroque Victorian period and coated in flowery language. This is probably the closest recommendation I have for similar books to The Night Circus.

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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

A battle between two rival magicians vying for power and prestige, set during the baroque Victorian period and coated in flowery language. This is probably the closest recommendation I have for similar books to The Night Circus.

The Prestige

The Prestige by Christoper Priest is a remarkable novel. You've probably seen the movie, but have you read the book. Two stage magicians battle it out, trying to one-up one another with more and more elaborate tricks. Like the Night Circus, it features a conflict/contest between two magicians, but this one is not played out in a circus but across stage halls. The conflict becomes deadly.

The Genie and the Golem

The Genie and the Golem is a beautiful and poignant character about two characters who are forced together by circumstances. It has the same sort of feeling as The Night Circus, though more character oriented.

The Magicians

Lev Grossman's fantastic trilogy. An entirely more depressing, postmodern take on the fantasy genre, but theres a school setting for the magically gifted.

Harry Potter

Not at all the same type of story, but there is a magical school.

The Sorcerer's House

The Sorcerer's House by Gene Wolf has the same sort of feeling of mysteriousness, magicand subtle danger. This time its about a magical house and two children who stay there.

The Troupe 

 Mysterious, magical, beautiful. These are worlds that describe this masterpiece. It has somewhat of a similar feeling as The Night Circus, but the magic here with both books featuring a company of performers where the performances aremagical.

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23

Legend (Drenai Tales) (David Gemmell)
Jan 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.

Books in Drenai Tales Series (13)

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On the polar opposite end of Gemmell, you have an author like Mark Lawrence who writes about anti-heroes. These characters are pretty much the opposites type of Hero that Gemmell writes about. They are bad people doing mostly bad things for a mix of good, bad, and selfish reasons.

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Brent Weeks writes in the same tradition as David Gemmell, but with more of a modern update on it. Similar themes, gob stopping amount of action, good characterization while still focusing on characters who are for the most part black and white. You could also try his first series, The Night Angel Trilogy which is not as good of a read and far more simpler in style and form, but probably closer to a pure Gemmell book than the Lightbringer.

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Barclay was highly influenced by Gemmell. If you want Gemmell's style of heroic fantasy with lots of action, bands of heroes against uncountable odds, heroes who kick ass, brutality and violence, then give him a read. You won't be disappointed.

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One of the closest books in terms of style and theme to Lend, Talion is a coming of age story that explores the idea of a hero and the cost of being a hero. it's thrilling, visceral, and action packed from start to finish. One of the best heroic tales I've read -- one that grabs you from the beginning and doesn't let go the whole way through.

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Talion: Revenent

One of the closest books in terms of style and theme to Legend, Talion is a coming of age story that explores the idea of a hero and the cost of being a hero. it's thrilling, visceral, and action packed from start to finish. One of the best heroic tales I've read -- one that grabs you from the beginning and doesn't let go the whole way through.

Books by James Barclay 

Barclay was highly influenced by Gemmell. If you want Gemmell's style of heroic fantasy with lots of action, bands of heroes against uncountable odds, heroes who kick ass, brutality and violence, then give him a read. You won't be disappointed.

The Lightbringer 

Brent Weeks writes in the same tradition as David Gemmell, but with more of a modern update on it. Similar themes, gob stopping amount of action, good characterization while still focusing on characters who are for the most part black and white. You could also try his first series, The Night Angel Trilogy which is not as good of a read and far more simpler in style and form, but probably closer to a pure Gemmell book than the Lightbringer. 

Prince of Thorns / Prince of Fools 

On the polar opposite end of Gemmell, you have an author like Mark Lawrence who writes about anti-heroes. These characters are pretty much the opposites type of Hero that Gemmell writes about. They are bad people doing mostly bad things for a mix of good, bad, and selfish reasons. 

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24

The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower) (Stephen King)
Jan 2015

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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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Last Call by Tim Powers. Some similarities I felt when reading it in tone and style to The Dark Tower. You may or may not agree, but give it a read.

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Otherland by Tad Williams. A sprawling epic story with a cast of characters who travel from virtual world to world as part of an overarching quest to find answers. Very much character-driven, but about as epic an adventure you can get. You'll like it.

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His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. Multiple universes, portals to other worlds, dark story that plays out with children as the actors, grand adventures. Youll probably like it if you like Kings work, though this one has an unequivocal anti-theological direction to it.

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Read Hyperion by Dan Simmons. A very dark science fiction tale thats epic. Not the same sort of story and pure science fictionbut, there are elements that you might like IF you like The Dark Tower particularly the tales told by the emotionally tortured pilgrims.

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Riverworld by Jose Farmer. Another science fiction classic, but I feel it has some of the same elements of enigma and adventure of the Dark Tower.

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Read Swan Song by Robert McCammon. Its a post-apocalyptic novel and considered one of the greats. Does have SOME similar elements.

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The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams. Part of a trilogy. Its a dark and twisted tale about an afterlife gone awry. Twins who are connected are separated by murder, one very much alive on earth and cast into an afterlife gone wrong. Their special connection, however, sets a cataclysmic change in reality, pulling together the afterlife realm and the physical realm. There is much of Kings haunted and forlorn world present in the novel as one of the characters struggles his way through an afterlife gone to hell, with monsters and creatures lurking around every corner and twisted versions of humanity preying on visitors. And when the afterlife begins to leak into the real world, a horrific version of reality takes over the world. It does feel very Stephen Kingish in some sections and the world, as stated, could be one of the nightmare worlds visited by Roland during The Dark Tower series.

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Read Steven King's The Talisman, which is another book set in the Dark Tower universe. It's a powerful read about a boy trying to save his mother. Jack Sawyer, a 12-year old boy, sets off on a quest to find a mythical talisman that will save his dying mother. His quest will take him across America and into the heart of a parallel world. I listened to the Audiobook version of this novel and was blown away by the story. Steven King is always at his best when he explores "worlds not our own." Several of his books explore the parallel universe concept. King's Insomnia is another such book (set in the same universe as The Dark Tower) and a great read.

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The Talisman

Read Steven King's The Talisman, which is another book set in the Dark Tower universe. It's a powerful read about a boy trying to save his mother. Jack Sawyer, a 12-year old boy, sets off on a quest to find a mythical talisman that will save his dying mother. His quest will take him across America and into the heart of a parallel world. I listened to the Audiobook version of this novel and was blown away by the story. Steven King is always at his best when he explores "worlds not our own." Several of his books explore the parallel universe concept. King's Insomnia is another such book (set in the same universe as The Dark Tower) and a great read.

Swan Song 

Read Swan Song by Robert McCammon. It's a post-apocalyptic novel and considered one of the greats. Does have SOME similar elements.

The Crooked Letter

The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams. Part of a trilogy. It's a dark and twisted tale about an afterlife gone awry. Twin