Top 25 Best Fantasy Books
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 brand new fantasy releases. The goal of this list is to present a broad 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 I simply 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.
If you want to hear what other people are saying about these fantasy books, check out the comment link above each book. From time to time, people weigh in on the book and give their own opinion regarding what they liked or disliked about the books. You might want to comment on the list itself or read the 1000+ comments other readers have made. For more recommendations, read the Great Fantasy Books list for must-read Fantasy books that almost made the Top 25 Fantasy Books list. If you've read everything on the Great Fantasy Books list, then check out the Good Fantasy Books list. Be sure to read the brand new, uber huge Top 25 Stand Alone Fantasy Books list. Then take a look at the Best Fantasy Series list to top it off.
These four lists contain the names of some of the best fantasy books out there. But there's also a ton of subgenre recommendation lists for you to peruse as well! And for another treat, check out the Worst Fantasy Book section to see what books to avoid. If you want to become part of our growing fantasy community, feel free to join the fantasy book forums.
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 for a LOT of new science fiction lists.
You can view the crowd-ranked version of this list and vote on the entries at the bottom of this page.
This 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. Martin's books have been at the top of this list for years, and despite his delayed release of the 5th in the series (Dance for Dragons), his works still stand out as some of the best in the genre. You owe it to yourself to read this series. The good news is the Dance of Dragons is finally coming out. HBO is also producing a TV series starting with the first book, A Game of Thrones. Really, if you haven't read the series yet, DO SO.
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. It's 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.
Does He Still Have the Magic?
There’s been a lot of controversy about the quality of Martin’s work, 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, and the grinding length of time it's taking Martin to complete new books (I think we are starting to average 4-5 years between each new book).
Martin received a hell of a lot of flak for not moving the plot along very far in the last two books. Small things happen in the last two books, but very rarely anything major. Book 5 was an improvement over Book 4, but not nearly as much happened plot-wise to satisfy the fans. What’s worse is that Martin has even started introducing a few new major characters, even in book five.
I will say that things do look good for the next book; the pieces are in position and the storm has finally arrived.
Despite the past few hiccups, Martin still remains a master storyteller with sharp prose and a fascinating world that’s gripped millions of readers. 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 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. If he drops the ball again in Book 6, he will lose his spot however.
You may have seen the wonderful HBO adaption of A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings; keep in mind that the TV series are vastly condensed versions of the books with a significant portion of stuff taken out. You should absolutely read the books before watching the TV series – the TV series, good as it may be, lacks the full flavor of the books.
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.
If you like Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga, try David Anthony Durham's Acacia . It's to a somewhat similar feel to A Song of Ice and Fire. The series wasn't as good as it initially promised to be, 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.
And of course, you should watch the HBO mini-series based on Martin's books. At the time of writing, A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings have been completed. Storm of Swords will be released over two seasons (since the book is so darn big).
Another series that's shaping up to be something like A Song of Ice and Fire is Ken Scholes' Psalms of Isaak series, which is projected to be 5 books, of which 3 have been written. It's got that grand narrative infused with magic, science, and world-ending events, and a cast of compelling, complex characters. It's sort of a mix between A Song of Ice and Fire and Kay's The Lions of al-Rassan. The setting itself is quite interesting, a sort of post-apocalyptic steampunk fantasy setting; overall the setting is pretty unique and makes the story and events even more interesting.
Another series that had a similar feeling to Martin's work is The Godless World trilogy -- there are some similar elements or at least the gritty, dirty feel of A Song of Ice and Fire is present in the books. It's actually more like a cross between Martin and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
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.
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. The focus of the series centers around a company of soldiers.
You might also give Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind a gander; it's also one of my top picks, and if you like Martin, I'll bet money you'll also appreciate Rothfuss's book. The sequel 'A Wise Man's Fear' is also out now, and delivers a pretty good punch -- Rothfuss has ensured the series is NOT a one-book pony. I won't say that The Name of the Wind is similar to Martin's work in form, style, or setting, so don't think you are going to be getting A Song of Ice and Fire 2.0 here. It's a completely different work, one that's far more the personal and concentrated story of one man than a cast of characters battling to save their world -- but it's another great example of some of the best fantasy out there.
The Way of Kings might be another epic fantasy you should look at if you like the grand scope and vision of Martin's work. It's more of a standard fantasy tale (magic plays a huge part, there are fantastical landscapes, etc) than Martin's work and the heroes tend to be straight out "good guys". However, not everything is gray -- there are some bad characters that are sympathetic. As only the first book is out, we are still waiting to see where things go. This is probably the best standard epic fantasy tale so far that follows some of the more traditional epic fantasy conventions in the style of say, Jordan and Tolkien.
If you like reading about Jon Snow, you might give Farseer a read. It's 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.
Of course, 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.
Also read Greg Keyes' The Briar King , the first in his (now completed) quadrilogy which features delicious prose, gritty realism and an enticing plot. It starts with a bang and ends with a whimper though -- but this aside, it's a good read if you are looking for one of those "the world is ending and we must save it" epic fantasy reads.
You can also 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 also a heck of a lot more philosophical too, which may or may not be something you like.
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.
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.
Give Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy a read. 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.
Another new recommendation on this list: The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick. Oh man, this series is lovely to read. It’s a dramatic fantasy stuffed with complexities: politics and kingdoms clash in an end-of-the-world struggle that takes place on the vessel of a single ship, where characters big and small, powerful and weak struggle against each other.
Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he's on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian - leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies. Nobleman, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, Captain Jezal dan Luthar has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules. Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it. Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he's about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glotka a whole lot more difficult.
Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood. Unpredictable, compelling, wickedly funny, and packed with unforgettable characters, The Blade Itself is noir fantasy with a real cutting edge.
The Blade Itself is a rousing new entry in 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.
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.
Because the quality of the man's writing has only been getting better and better over the years and every new book is fabulous, I've moved this to the number two spot on the list. He's really one of the top fantasy authors writing in the genre right now. He's 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.
Joe Abercrombie has 4 books written as of July 2010, the First Law trilogy (consisting of the Blade Itself and the two sequels). Best served cold is a very good standalone set in the same world, as is The Heroes, which has yet to be released at the time of writing.
The Blade Itself is a new style of Fantasy that's gaining swift momentum. The quality level demanded of a good Fantasy novel is now very high. Readers are no longer satisfied with the dark lords versus farm boy conceit. This new style of Fantasy 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.
If you like this 21st century upgrade to the Fantasy genre similar to Abercrombie, check out:
Read Abercrombie's other standalone books set in the same world as First Law: Best Served Cold and The Heroes. His newest work, Red Country, is set for a late October 2012 release.
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.
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.
Michael Stover's Cain series. A lot of dark, sarcastic humor in all the books; plenty of grittyism; heroes die and suffer;intelligent plots and fantastically sharp prose.
George R.R. Martin. His A Song of Ice and Fire is as gray and gritty -- maybe even more so. Really, I've talked enough about him here. Just read him, dammit!
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.
Steven Erickson's Malazan Book of the Fallen -- dark epic fantasy on a grand, grand, grand scale.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
The series is now completed for the most part, but the
of the series has maintained itself throughout the many books. So you
can start this series from the beginning knowing that you WON'T have to
wait years for sequel books to come out. From start to finish, Malazan
Book of the Fallen is one hell of a ride and is a MUST read for any
fantasy fan. It can take a few books to get into the series, but if you
are patient and bear with the world-building in the first couple of books, the
series gets damn good.
Erikson is a prolific writer. The Malazan Book of the Fallen saga comprises 8 books as of December 2008 and has two more scheduled for release. Erikson co-created the Malazan world with Ian Cameron Esslemont. Esslemont's novels, which are set in the same world as Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, are considered as canonical as Erickson's own. Esslemont's novels are called Novels of the Malazan Empire. Erikson also wrote several novellas (short novels) set in his Malazan world. His two novellas follow the storylines of Bauchelain, Korbal Broach and Emancipor Reese, three characters who appear briefly in Memories of Ice. I've listed all books from the Malazan universe. Read Malazan Book of the Fallen first, and if you can't get enough, read the Novels of the Malazan Empire books and the Novellas which follow some of Erikson's characters. Click on the book images to get the Amazon book descriptions.
Similar recommendations: Malazan Book of the Fallen is in a class of its own when it comes to big battles, powerful heroes, and gray 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Also give David Anthony Durham a try. His recent novel, Acacia, is a fantastic read -- big on the epic battles and gritty dark realism of Erickson and Martin with a focus on some heroes. There are some big battles in the series too.
Another series that put a lot of emphasis into tactics and military would be John Marco's Tyrants and Kings.
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 series 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
If all these recommendations are not
enough, take some
time to check out the Top
Epic Fantasy Series books list -- the best of the best epic
series are detailed in it. You'll probably want to read the Best
Military Fantasy Books list too.
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 is! 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.
Rothfuss has (finally) finished the sequel to A Name of the Wind and by all standards, the sequel (The Wise Man's Fear) 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 there are mixed feelings about the book, Rothfuss still gives us a very addictive tale that carries on the strong plot.
We shall see how the series turns out when the next (last)
released. Depending on how good (or bad) the next book is, Rothfuss's
position here may plummet or stay. But based on the sheer strength of
the first novel and its sequel, this book/series deserves an "interim"
3rd place on the list. Without a doubt, The Name of the Wind has
created quite a stir in the fantasy community over the past of couple years. So
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.
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).
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."
You don't want to miss reading The The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick (book one of three) , which is one of the best fantasy books I've read in a while. 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 wonderful new fantasy series.
You might also like Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man -- a book (part of a series, of course, with book two 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. Now, I was quite disappointed with the sequel, The Desert Spear, which messed up quite a bit of the plot threads (though part of the book is still pretty exciting) by making a series of implausible things happen.
Some might like Brent Week's Night Angel Trilogy which is a sort of gutter-rat to badass assassin story. 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.
Also give Brandon Sanderson's new book, The Way of Kings (the first book of his new mega series The Stormlight Archive) a good read. Sanderson does a stellar job with the characters in the book (particularly the hero, Kaladin who the author spends most of the book building up), and the plot looks to be something that's going to rival Jordan in terms of sheer storytelling (not to mention length). Oh yea, and there's a lot of military stuff going on in the novel. You can read my review of The Way of Kings. Overall, The Way of Kings was one of the most enjoyable fantasy books I read in 2010. Of course, you should also check out Sanderson's other big series:Mistborn.
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!
For a standalone fantasy book that's about a hero (with a twist), read Nobody's Son. It's not as well known as many of the other books I've mentioned. The story itself is interesting, because it starts where most fantasy tales end: the hero has conquered evil and sets out to claim the prize, only to find out that having everything is not as swell as it's made out to be.
A good old-school fantasy tale that's managed to age very well is A Wizard of Earthsea. A pretty compelling hero character.
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.
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. 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.
Tolkien spent his life writing in the Lord of the Rings world. Tolkien wrote four "novel" type stories that are pretty much set in Middle Earth. I have listed them below in chronological order. Click on the book picture to get an Amazon book description. The Silmarillion is a prequel to the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. It details the entire history of Middle Earth, how it was formed, describes the history of the First, Second, and Third ages. If you want to really know the history of Middle Earth, and read some of the old tales, read the Silmarillion -- it's sort of the pre-story of the Lord of the Rings, a history of Middle Earth. Children of Hurin is Tolkien's old "new" novel that was recently released by his son, Christopher Tolkien. Christopher edited and completed one of Tolkien's unpublished works. It's a greatly expanded version of Chapter XXI of The Silmarillion, "Of Turin Turambar." and takes place long long before the Hobbit. The Hobbit is the precursor to The Lord of the Rings, and pretty much a must read if you like Lord of the Rings. If you have never read Lord of the Rings, I suggest starting with the Hobbit, then move on to Lord of the Rings. You can then read the Silmarillion and Children of Hurin
What can I possibly recommend if you like Lord of the 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.
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 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 is finishing the series and looks to be doing a good job. In fact, with Sanderson's finishing touch, the Wheel of Time is finally getting back on track; Sanderson's last two Wheel of Time books were some of the best Wheel of Time stories since books 5-6. 2013 will mark the final completion of the series when A Memory of Light, the final book, is released.
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 (first book in the Stormlight Archive saga). If
took up Tolkien's world-building mantle with A Wheel of Time, Sanderson
is picking up that epic fantasy mantle with this generation's new epic
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.
If you like the whole ancient mythos of Middle Earth, the
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.
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. 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. Patricia A. McKillip's Riddle-Master is also another series(trilogy) with similarities to Tolkien's style of writing.
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.
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.
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.
Book Flap Description
Darkness wars with darkness as the hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must. They bury their doubts with their dead. Then comes the prophecy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more….
Before fantasy became gritty, there was gritty fantasy in the form of Glenn Cook’s Black Company – an influential work that can be felt in many "modern" fantasy books.
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.
What’s particularly intriguing about The Black Company is that the characters are not afraid to make “evil” 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 do 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 90s, but despite
its age, it still beats most of the other “epic”
fantasy out there today.
If you are interested in reading his Chronicles of the Black Company, start with The Books of the North, which everyone roundly agrees is his best work. The direct sequel series (called Books of the South) continue the story, though the plot is moved 10 years later. The Books of the South are also a great read -- not quite as good as the Books of the North, but pretty close. There is a standalone book in between these two series (Water Sleeps). After the Books of the South, is the 4 book Glittering Stone series, which most people agree is a bit of a let-down.
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.
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. Stevenson has stated that Glen Cook's books were an influence on his own writing.
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. A good mix of epic and military fantasy with some smart writing and a cast of compelling characters (some which are anti-heroes). If you like Black Company, you'll 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.
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.
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. It's a unique world with some interesting concepts and a whole lot of 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. 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.
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.
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.
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 most well-drawn characters ever to grace the Fantasy scene.
Fantasy has a new face with this novel. This is a hugely epic series that’s casting an eye on the Malazan throne for “epicness”. With an opening 1000+ page novel in a purported 10 book series, The Stormlight Archive is about as epic as they come. Not only epic, but also good. This is one of the best fantasy books of 2010, 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 will blow the competition out of the water. 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 Way of Kings is Sanderson's best work so far, which is why I've replaced Mistborn with it.
If you have not yet read The Way of Kings, this should be the
book you read.
Sanderson has been a prolific author since he was published only a few years ago. Elantris was his first book -- a book I was thoroughly impressed with and highly recommend. It's actually on the Top 25 Best Stand Alone Fantasy books list. His Mistborn trilogy is a completed epic fantasy series. Warbreaker is another (possibly standalone but with a definite sequel) novel set in a different world, with the trademark unique magic system that Sanderson is becoming famous for with each new series/book. In my opinion, Sanderson's newest book, The Way of Kings (Book 1 of the Stormlight Archive) is hands down his best work to date. It's got an awesome hero, an end-of-the-world plot, different races, a great magic system that's unique and detailed (Sanderson has a knack for creating well-thought-out magic systems), and some heart-pumping action once you get into the book.
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.
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." 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. 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.
For more epic fat fantasy recommendations, check out the Best Epic Fantasy Recommendation list.
Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father's gruff stableman. He is treated like an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz's blood runs the magic Skill--and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family. As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.
Hobb is one of the best characterization writers in the
genre. Her characters are vividly real, leaping out of the pages into
our minds as living characters. She has no qualms about allowing her
protagonist to suffer. If her protagonist falls into a pit, no Dues Ex
Machina breaks the fall -- the protagonist will break both legs -- and
likely both arms too. Her Farseer books are full of fantastic characters
and an interesting, mysterious world to explore. Toss in a gripping
plot, and these books make for some fantastic reads. Hobb's The Farseer
trilogy is perhaps her greatest work (and she has written quite a few
books). Even now with the fantasy genre being moved in new directions
with the likes of Bakker, Martin, and Lynch, Hobb's works are still
worthy to be on anyone's Top 10 fantasy book list.
Hobb has written 4 trilogies set in the Farseer world, which are listed below (click on the appropriate image to get an Amazon book description). The Tawny Man trilogy is a direct sequel to the Farseer trilogy. Liveship Traders takes place in the same world as Tawny Man and Farseer, but in a different country. There is one character present in Liveship Traders that is present in the two Fritz trilogies. The Rainwilds Chronicles is Hobb's newest series and her latest foray into the Farseer world. It's a new story set in the Liveship Trader's part of the Farseer world with a new cast of characters (and some guest appearances). She also has a different series, Soldier's Son, which was less well received than her Farseer work.
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).
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 is a good read if you like the compelling characterization of the protagonist.
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.
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.
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.
For a non-fantasy book that will have you emotionally involved
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.
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.
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.
And for a fantastic low-fantasy series with some of the best characterization I've seen, read Jennifer Fallon's Second Sons trilogy.
For some of the best fantasy about a badass assassin, 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.
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 by Michael J. Sullivan tells a light fantasy adventure tale about a thief falsely accused of being an assassin.
You may also like Mistborn by Sanderson -- the main character in the first book is sort of like a badass magical assassin/thief/terrorist.
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.
Sometimes you need a break from the regular fantasy. Sometimes you might want to lose yourself in a rich fantasy tapestry
Abraham builds an impressively realized world in this series with unique characters and a truly imaginative setting. This is not your standard fantasy fare – those looking for The Wheel of Time Part 2, look elsewhere.
Seedy docksides come to life, impressive noble houses sparkle and glitter with wealth and raggedy beggars roam the streets begging for coin. This is a world that’s alive folks, a world that beckons. And it’s a world that you want to lose yourself in – utterly.
And I’m just describing the author’s skill with building a living world. The plot and story are equally enthralling too. It’s a story that’s not about dark wizards trying to take over the world and reluctant farmhands stepping up to prevent them. No there are a different set of heroes here and a completely different sort of “threat” if you can call it that. There’s a marvelous cast of sympathetic and realistic characters – each imbued with a realism that will leave you breathless. The people, like the world, are fully fleshed out, rather than simple cardboard characters with the verisimilitude of real life. Characters are not just shoved into the plot merely to advance it. Motivations and relationships are realistic and malleable and changing.
If you want to read a truly unique (and surely one of the
fantasy series to debut in the past couple of years, read A Shadow in
Summer (first book of The Long Price Quartet). All four books have been
released now and they are all great.
You may want to check out Abraham's newest fantasy series, The Dragon's Path. Quite a few people are saying it's nearly as good as his The Long Price Quartet series and it's a more "standard epic fantasy" which many of you are used to by now (dragons, elder gods, trolls, magic).
If you like the whole economic aspect of The Long Price Quartet, you should take a hard look at KJ Parker's works. Start with his Colours in the Steel. Both JK Parker and Daniel Abraham both write what's called economic fantasies -- fantasy that deals with economics in some major way.
Description (Book Flap)
Lies of Locke Lamora is a grand adventure following
of master thief and fraud, Locke Lamora. Leader of the Gentleman
Bandits, Locke's flamboyantly carefree life of grand larceny comes to a
crashing halt when someone who covets his talents forces Lamora to put
his life on the line to protect all he holds dear...
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.
Two books out with the third taking its sweet, sweet time. Word
the third book will be released sometime in late 2013!
Of course, it's a given that you should read the sequel books to Lies of Locke Lamora. The newest one (third book), Republic of Thieves is due out in 2013 after having been delayed for several years now.
Give The Name of the Wind a try for another book with a very strongly characterized protagonist.
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. Probably the closest you'll find that matches the style and pacing found in Lynch's books.
You might also like the Mark Charan Newton's Nights of Villjamur for a similar style of fantasy (in tone, not plot). Along the lines of gritty fantasy made into a non-epic fantasy, read Sam Sykes' Tome of the Undergates.
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.
A doomed lord, an emergent hero, and a dazzling array of bizarre creatures inhabit the magical world of the Gormenghast novels which, along with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, reign as one of the undisputed fantasy classics of all time. At the center of it all is the seventy-seventh Earl, Titus Groan, who stands to inherit the miles of rambling stone and mortar that form Gormenghast Castle and its kingdom, unless the conniving Steerpike, who is determined to rise above his menial position and control the House of Groan, has his way.
First, this isn’t fantasy that you are used to. This is not
Robert Jordan. This is not George R.R. Martin. This is not Steven
Erikson. But this novel deserves -- no, needs -- to be read.
It’s bizarre, haunting, joyless, Gothic in the extreme and oh-so-rich in character and detail. The sheer sustained and imaginative power
of this novel, the incredible attention to detail, and the stifling
rigidity of the castle and cast of characters supersede pretty much
every other work in the English language. Peake has been compared to
Tolkien and even Charles Dickens – Gormenghast is literature in
the purest sense, but it’s also another side of the fantasy coin
and deserves to be on the list as both one of the great works of the
English language, and a dizzyingly bizarre novel that refuses to be
defined by any one genre. If you have a short attention span, having
been weaned on the likes of magic-rich, action-heavy books like Feist
and Jordan, you might not appreciate the richness of these novels. This
description of the novel does seem ambiguous, but like the series
itself, words cannot capture what it is. There are three novels in the
series and the 3rd novel is disappointing, but the first two are like
rich custard: delicious and sweet, leaving you hungering for more. But if
you value yourself as a true fan of the fantasy genre, the incredibly
odd and totally endearing world of Gormenghast has to be experienced
once. You will never, ever forget the characters. Read it and be
For a modern version of fantasy weird, give China Mieville a try. It's not in the same vein as Gormenghast, but Mieville is the head of one of the "new" schools of fantasy that aims for the weird and the bizarre. Oh, and he's a superbly talented author too. You might start with his Perdido Street Station. In fact, Mieville has publicly stated that his Perdido Street Station novel was influenced by Gormenghast.
Another author who's been heavily influenced by Peake is Jeff Vandermeer (read his book Ambergris). You might as well read The Etched City by K.J. Bishop, another book that shares some of the Gothic weirdness of the Gormenghast series.
For another series that's baroque in description, alien in setting and just about as beautiful a series as Gormenghast is Gene Wolf's The Book of the New Sun series. It's a visual feast of the imagination. It's not strictly fantasy, but more of a "science fantasy."
And if you want another literary fantasy series with a rich narrative, dry humor, and a compelling story, all written in flowery language, read Jack Vance's Lyonesse trilogy. For many older fantasy readers, this series is often compared with The Lord of the Rings and Dune in literary scope. Those weaned on filler fantasy of the likes of Brook, Eddings, and Salvatore, may not appreciate the scope and beauty of this work, but for those who love literary fantasy in the epic fantasy tradition, read it.
If you want more suggestions for a similar style of fantasy, take a good look at the new Best Literary Fantasy Books list.
The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow...
I can truthfully say that Jordan is the King of Fantasy, if not in complexity, then in page count. This monstrously big series spans over 13 massive books (each at least 700 pages). Including "A Wheel of Time" on this list invariably riles certain people and it's probably, for some, the most controversial addition to this list. Why? The past several years a new type of fantasy has come to the fore of the genre: gone are the hopefully optimistic village boys wielding magic swords on a quest to defeat the impossible; in their place, a gritty fantasy has arisen; a stark genre where the very conventions of what it means to be a hero are challenged: worlds are made of gray not black and white; heroes may be both villain and savior; love is powerful, but ultimately ephemeral; heroes die and villains live. It's complex stuff that is often genre blending.
Robert Jordan harkens back to the old school days where village boys and dark lords chase each other endlessly across a landscape. However, I (still) strongly feel that Jordan still deserves a place amongst the top of the genre for, if nothing more, the enormous contribution the man has made to the fantasy genre itself. You can call the WOT pulp fantasy or not, you can spend hours debating whether Jordan's efforts fell to pieces part way through the series, you can moan about how typecast some of the characters become. It's all moot! Jordan, whether you like him or not, had a profound impact on fantasy.
Jordan takes the classic fantasy trappings laid out by
weaves together a massively complex tapestry of politics, kingdoms, and
magic. You won't find another author that breathes as much life and
depth into a fictional world. In many ways, Jordan, like Tolkien, has
defined (for better or worse) one aspect of the modern fantasy tale.
And he's perhaps one of the most popular fantasy writers on the market
now. Love him or hate him, you owe it to yourself to at least read the
Yes, this book is still on the Top 25 list, despite the vehement protests left by people attacking or defending Jordan in the comment section for this book (some of the comments are quite humorous).
Jordan has left a lasting legacy on the fantasy genre and if
ignore some of his later flaws (and his handling of relationships
between men and women for one and his derailed plot threads from books
5-10), has written a worthy epic fantasy tale. The good news is that
Brandon Sanderson has done a very good job of wrapping up Jordan's
series (for those 2 people who don't know, Jordan died a few years ago
leaving the series a few books short of complete) with the last two
Wheel of Time releases that he's penned. The final book, A Memory of
Light, will be released this year and the Wheel of Time series will, at
last, be completed.
If you are a fan of audiobooks (I am, I prefer audiobooks over reading!) you will definitely want to check out the Audiobook version (Eye of the World). I bought them and the Wheel of Time came alive an a whole new way.
Classic Epic Fantasy with Magic, Swords, and Action Galore
If you loved The Wheel of Time, you absolutely must read Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings, first book in his Stormlight Archive saga (a 10-book epic fantasy saga). Way of Kings is Sanderson at his best. This is HIS version of The Wheel of Time (and the man's certainly got the resume to write it, having directly penned the last 3 Wheel of Time books). This is the closest you'll find to Jordan's series, hands down. For another epic fantasy with a very interesting magic system, where a company of heroes fight against an evil god kin, read Mist Born by the same author (Brandon Sanderson).
You might also try Tracy Hickman & Margaret Weis's The Death Gate Cycle, a monolithic seven book saga that's reminiscent of Jordan's style: heavy on the magic, tension and action, but unique enough not to be a banal hack. By far it's the best stuff both authors have done up to this day (they usually write the sort of hack fantasy that I rail against on this site).
You might also try Raymond E. Feist's Magician, as he writes in a style and flavor similar to Jordan (heavy on politics, action, and magic).
For a high-fantasy series that's criminally underappreciated, read Dave Duncan's classic A Man of His Word (starts with Magic Casement). The basic premise sounds pretty hackneyed, but it's far from that. Duncan takes many of the classic fantasy conventions and puts a unique twist on everything. Some of the best classic epic fantasy in the genre.
Jim Butcher's Codex Alera is also another magic-packed, plot-driven, epic fantasy feast of a series you might like. It's got a really unique magic system and it's fantasy set in an alternate Roman Empire where magic actually works.
You can read The Briar King series by Greg Keyes for an epic "save the world" fantasy that starts with a big big bang but ends in a bit of a whimper. Despite the somewhat disappointing ending, it's a very well written series that's better than your average epic fantasy.
If you are hunting around for more action- and magic-heavy series, you might give The Rune Lords series. It probably has the most unique magic system I've seen; the story itself is pretty standard fare though, as are the characters and writing.
For an interesting epic fantasy that's big on adventure and exotic characters and landscapes and one that takes place on the sea aboard a giant ship, give the Chathrand Voyage series by Robert VS Redick a read.
Slow-Paced, Character Driven Epic FantasyIf you are looking for epic fantasy that's not necessarily driven by pure action and magic and battles, these are some recommendations to look at.
Try Michelle West's The Sun Sword, another large epic fantasy saga (six books) that shares some similarities with Jordan's Wheel of Time. West's writing style is drastically different that Jordan's, however -- far more subtle, and often ponderous. If you are an action freak, The Sun Sword pacing will probably be a bit too slow for you. Good for lovers of fine writing where every plot is meticulously woven together over a long period of time and characters are slowly built up. NOT for the action freaks.
For a slower-paced, character-driven epic fantasy, give Janny Wurts "The Wars of Light and Shadow" a read. It's a huge epic fantasy that concerns itself with the actions of two opposing "heroes", one that's on the light side and one that's on the dark side. Much slower paced and more character driven and better plotted than the Wheel of Time -- which some will love and some will hate. But hands down, the prose is much superior.
Modern Dark and Gritty Epic Fantasy
Fantasy has evolved the past 10 years. Now dark, gritty and sarcastic is in vogue. If you want a more complex fantasy where characters are often shades of gray and heroes are more anti-hero than hero, where heroes sometimes die and no good deed goes unpunished, these series are the best.
Give George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire a try. It's a massive epic like Jordan's The Wheel of Time (but not as long), and it's universally held in the highest esteem, a sort of paragon of what all Fantasy books should strive to be. You thought those "Dragonlance" books were good? Feast on Martin for a taste of what Fantasy books should be like.
For a different style of epic fantasy, you may want to give Malazan Book of the Fallen a read. It's also a massive series like WOT, spanning 10 books and it's completed as well, so no waiting around for the sequel books. The series has a huuuuge cast of characters, magic galore, and features large-scale battles that are as vicious as they are exciting to read. But don't expect the WOT; Malazan is a different sort of fantasy that provokes strong feelings -- you will love it or you will hate it.
A new fantasy series that's been making some pretty big waves in the fantasy world is The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham. It's sharply written with a cast of complex, grey characters. In the background, it has many of those epic fantasy conventions (world ending darkness coming into the world, many different races and creatures, mysterious magic, etc). It's not your typical epic fantasy though -- think of it as epic fantasy 2.0.
For a darker less "epic" fantasy where all the characters are completely grey (and evil is not necessary evil), give The Black Company by Glen Cook a read. There are a number of books in the series, but I recommend reading the (best) first series (called "The Books of the North") of the Black Company followed by the next best series (The Books of the South).
For a different take on the whole epic fantasy movement, one that's darker and more gritty where heroes are not always heroes or good guys, you might look at Scott Bakker's The Prince of Nothing series. In the same vein, check out Joe Abercrombie's The First Law series. And for a real subversion on the whole epic fantasy genre, give Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains a read. These recommendations are a more modern, "adult" take on the classic epic fantasy that Jordan wrote
And for my final "epic fantasy recommendation," read Steven King's The Dark Tower. It's a 7-book monstrosity that's taken King several decades to finally finish. In fact, many of King's books indirectly tie into the The Dark Tower in some way or the other. It's sort of like a cross between the western genre, the post-apocalyptic genre, and the fantasy genre. Well worth reading for a different take on the whole epic fantasy thing.
For more epic fat fantasy recommendations in the vein of The Wheel of Time, check out the Best Epic Fantasy Recommendation list.
A different sort of fantasy, but one that’s extremely refreshing, disturbing, and entertaining – one of the best fantasy reads of 2011. This one is full to the brim with gritty, amoral, cynical dark humor.
Now I haven’t been this impressed with a fantasy novel since Abercrombie. 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 what I mean.
Lawrence had 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 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.
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.
The setting of the world is interesting too, a sort of post-apocalypse “world gone to hell” world that’s in the vein of 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 great – I haven’t been so entertained by first person narration in ages. This is some of the best stuff since Farseer and The Name of the Wind.
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.
Book 2, King of Thorns, has been released as well to high praise that lives up or even surpasses the first book.
The Coldfire trilogy tells a story of discovery and battle against evil on a planet where a force of nature exists that is capable of reshaping the world in response to psychic stimulus. This terrifying force, much like magic, has the power to prey upon the human mind, drawing forth a person's worst nightmare images or most treasured dreams and indiscriminately giving them life. This is the story of two men: one, a warrior priest ready to sacrifice anything and everything for the cause of humanity's progress; the other, a sorcerer who has survived for countless centuries by a total submission to evil. They are absolute enemies who must unite to conquer an evil greater than anything their world has ever known.
This is epic fantasy with a different face. Think a mix of epic fantasy, Gothic, horror, and mystery. I like to call it dark fantasy. 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 crafts the very essence of reality. Of course, human imagination being what it is, instead of a paradise of the mind, the world is rather a vivid and starkly real nightmare. Only men of supreme will are able to bend the world -- and their imagination -- 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.
I can't recommend anything directly similar to The Coldfire Trilogy -- it's a unique series. It's a dark fantasy world with a strong anti-hero and many elements of "horror" to it. But I'll try to make a couple of suggestions.
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.
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.
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 prowing the landscape and killing any humans not behind special wards. You might also look at The Abhorsen Trilogy as the world portrayed is one with dark creatures haunting the landscape practically in every nook and cranny of the landscape. Also read Joseph's Delany's Spook's Apprentice series which is a YA story about a a young apprentice who works as a sort of exorcist in a landscape filled with creatures of the night.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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).
Finally, if you like the whole partial "vampire" aspect of the main hero, you might want to read George Martin's stunning Fevre Dream.
A compelling work that’s so good I had to list it here. The Troupe is a perfect blend of horror, fantasy, science fiction and romance. It touches on so many genres it’s hard to pin down just exactly what this book really is.
The story starts off simple: young George Carole has a penetrating desire to find his father that he’s never known, a man who he believes is the leader of the Silenus Troupe, a troupe of vaudevillian travellers. To uncover the mystery of the man he suspects may or may not be his father, George joins the merry band of travellers and finds out there’s something more to the Troupe – and Silenus – than initially meets the eye.
Once you get into the novel, you start to realize it’s not about what you first thought it was. Then you start finding out just what’s really going on. There’s a couple of different things going on in this novel – a couple of layers if you will. First there’s the classic tale of a boy looking for his father and his own identity. And beyond the magical mystery adventure tale, there’s also a grand mythic theme too to the whole, with the Troupe being a symbol for the dying magic that was once but is now no more, and the search for the mystery behind the Troupe a strong metaphor for seeking something larger than life that we’ve once had but now lost. There’s some deep stuff going on here and if you read between the lines, you’ll find plenty of themes bubbling from beneath the surface waiting for you to explore them.
This is one of those books that keeps you turning the pages to find out just what the hell is going on. And when things click, they really click.
Try reading American Gods. Both this and the Troupe touch on an alternate reality that’s hidden behind the real world. Both novels are steeped in myth. Both novels feature a young protagonist trying to find his way with the guidance of a gruff older man helping to show him the way. There are some overlaps between Silenius from the Troupe and Mr. Wednesday from AG. Both characters exhibit a mystery that encompasses the entire narrative structure of the book.
You may want to give Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere a read too -- there are some stark similarities to it in some ways. Chances are if you liked Neverwhere (and also American Gods), you’ll enjoy The Troupe.
For something that’s completely different yet has some similar qualities, try Gene Wolf’s The Sorcerers House. Like the Troupe, it’s one of those novels you can read a second time over to try and pick out the narrative clues and hints dropped which foreshadow the twist of an ending.
Tired of sword-and-sorcery epics and dark lords and farmboy heroes? If you are becoming jaded to all that stock formulaic epic fantasy out there, then this one will shock you out of your lethargy. These are very different sorts of books. Rather than a flat out epic save the king and the world story, these are more character-driven novels with a compelling world that’s intricately built up with some refreshing twists.
First off, this is low fantasy – there are no magic spells, pointy-haired elves, or anything like that. Just a feudal world with some machinery. What there is, however, is a deep story that intelligent and philosophically-minded readers will enjoy. There’s also a really compelling story that will keep the pages flying as well.
Parker’s world-building is top notch and the world created is something you’ve never seen before. She creates a society here where engineers are more highly regarded than anyone else – the sort of social elite. It may not make a lot of sense at first, but once you start to get into the workings of the story, it makes perfect sense. This is really the "thinking man's fantasy" and those who appreciate intelligent fantasy that's more about character and plot than action fast pacing, you'll find this series the perfect feast to sink your teeth into,
KJ Parker’s works are vastly underappreciated and unknown by the standard “epic fantasy crowd.” So if you are looking for a deeper and different sort of fantasy from the usual fare (and bonus points here if you are an intelligent reader who enjoys smart writing), do give The Engineer Trilogy a read.
In a world saturated by religious fanaticism, Maithanet, enigmatic spiritual leader of the Thousand Temples, declares a Holy War against the infidels. Ikurei Conphas, military genius and nephew to the Nansur Emperor, embarks on a war to conquer the known world in the name of his emperor...and himself. Drusas Achamian, spy and sorcerer of the mysterious northern sorceries, tormented by visions of the great apocalypse, seeks the promised one, the savior of mankind. Anasurimbor Kellhus, heir to the shattered northern kingdom, whose ruins now lay hidden in the deepest north, a place now desolate, home to only the No-Men. Gifted with extraordinary martial skills of hand and foot, and steering souls through the subtleties of word and expression, he slowly binds all - man and woman, emperor and slave - to his own mysterious ends. But the fate of men--even great men--may be cast into ruin. For in the deep north, the hand of the forgotten No-God stirs once more, and his servants tread the lands of men...
Those looking for more of the "boy becomes wizard and defeats dark lord" books that litter the bargain bins of any bookstore, look elsewhere; The Darkness That Comes Before (and the two sequels) is fantasy for grownups. Gritty and cerebral to its core, The Darkness That Comes before is a new type of fantasy -- a philosophical meandering about existentialism. Oh, and it has enough action and bloodletting that even Rambo fans would appreciate. Combining the gritty realism of George R.R. Martin and epic scale of Steven Erikson, The Darkness That Comes Before will grip you harder than a vice. Rest assured that the two sequels, The Warrior King and The Thousandfold Thought maintain the excellent standard set by the first book. Scott Bakker has established himself as one of the genre's top fantasy authors.
There is a sequel trilogy in the works that follow twenty
after the events of The Prince of Nothing trilogy. Two of the
three books have been released and they both continue the high quality
of the first trilogy.
Bakker has completed the two sequels to the Darkness that Came Before. He's currently working on a sequel trilogy, Aspect Emperor, of which TWO book has been released (the second being out by the time you read this). The new series shows a lot of promise and is a great continuation to the Prince of Nothing series. It's less philosophical and more "plot" and story which I found refreshing. There is still plenty of what made Prince of Nothing a good read, however.
Also try George R.R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, which is very epic and very gritty but way less philosophical. I'd also say it's more "character driven" as a whole than is The Darkness that comes before.
Another series that does that is Abercrombie's First Law series (starts with The Blade Itself) and Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains.
I'd say you'll also probably find Acacia by David Anthony Durnham a good read too -- there are gray characters, an exotic landscape, and world-ending powers at play in the background.
For another fantasy about war, look at John Marco's Tyrants and Kings trilogy. It's a great read with a cast of grey characters.
Another gritty military fantasy you'll probably like (though it's less cerebral than The Prince of Nothing) is The Black Company by Cook.
The Godless World series by Brian Ruckley is dark, atmospheric and very gritty, though it lacks some of the polish of the other series, it's a rough-cut gem still.For a deep character-driven fantasy you might try Daniel Abraham's The Long Price Quartet.
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. A complete reimagining 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. 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
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!
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.
For an epic fantasy series about fairies, you could read Shadowmarchby 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.
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. Of course, you could also read the standard epic village boy to might magician in Feist's Magician.
He called himself Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever because he dared not believe in the strange alternate world in which he suddenly found himself. Yet he was tempted to believe, to fight for the Land, to be the reincarnation of its greatest hero....
Stephen R. Donaldson changed the face of fantasy in 1977 with the publishing of Lord Foul's Bane (book one in The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant). It took the world by storm. Hailed as a masterpiece of fantasy literature, TC went on to sell over 6 million copies. And for good reason. Donaldson's magnum opus is regarded as one the most emotionally compelling fantasy works ever created. Covenant is through and through an antihero. From anti-hero to hero, from tragedy to victory, this is one man's quest to save The Land from Evil and in the process, find his own redemption. If you love fantasy, READ THESE BOOKS. Donaldson is one of the best characterization writers ever. Donaldson is not afraid to explore the darker side of humanity, however. If you're looking for a saccharine fairy tale that brings a feel-good smile to the table, look elsewhere. If you want a riveting, darkly realistic tale about a flawed man's quest for redemption, you won't do better than Thomas Covenant.
This is one of those you love or you utterly hate series --
very rarely any middle ground. If you don't want to read about a
brooding anti-hero that takes a good while to grow on you, you might
want to consider skipping this series. The major complaint people have
is the protagonist himself; however, the point of the whole series is
to watch the protagonist evolve from a selfish anti-hero into a genuine
hero who commits acts of selfless sacrifice to save many over the
course of the entire story.
Stephen Donaldson has three Thomas Covenant series: First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and the recent series, the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Each series is chronological and follows the exploits of Thomas Covenant. I've listed the series by chronological order. Click on the pictures to read the Amazon descriptions.
If you like his Donaldson's First
Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever, then you should
his Covenant trilogies listed above. His new trilogy (The
Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever) is a
read that will please both old and new fans. Thomas' old lover, Linden,
returns to The Land, only to find it changed beyond recognition... And
Thomas the Unbeliever? Read the books to find out! Also read his Mordant's
Need duology -- some people argue it's his best work.
If you like the characterization of Thomas Covenant, you may like Tad William's epic fantasy Memory, Sorrow, Thorn saga which really follows the transformation of the protagonist over the course of the series. Read Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy for another story with magnificent characterization set in a fantasy landscape (though Farseer is not exactly epic fantasy). Donaldson is unique in fantasy because his character is whole and whole an anti-hero instead of a hero. For another fantasy tale about a doubting hero (he's way less of a selfish jerk than Thomas, however), you can read Brandon Sanderson's magnificent The Way of Kings.
If you like fantasy series that take "bad guys" and turn them
interesting anti-heroes, here are some recommendations. You may
like George R.R. Martin's A
Song of Ice and Fire; there are some detestable main
(anti-hero types) who become more agreeable as the series progresses;
You see a slow evolution of these characters. You should also read The
Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman. The main character is
anti-hero who sometimes does bad, bad things.
Donaldson also has a very interesting (and dark dark) science fiction series (Gap) that you will like if you liked the antihero aspect of Thomas Covenant.
The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie features some pretty interesting antihero characters: you've got a torturer with a heart of gold, a bloody barbarian who hates killing yet is infamous for his bloody murders, a wizard who looks and acts like Gandalf, but is worse than Sauron, and a "hero" who's really a coward.
Gene Wolf's The Book of the New Sun features a rather interesting anti-hero. Severian, the "hero" of the story has a rather dubious occupation: he tortures people.
And for the antithesis of every standard sword and sorcery hero you've read, Elric of Melinbone takes the crown here. He's a physical weakling who takes drugs to kick ass. He's the emperor of a dying kingdom, and his power comes from a bunch of evil demons. In any other series, Elric WOULD be the bad guy.
Released shortly after his wife's death, Shadow finds
adrift without ties. Things change when Wednesday, trickster and wise
man who just may or may not be a god, convinces Shadow to be his driver
and errand boy. They journey from place to place, across the rural
landscapes of America, rounding up Egyptian deities, Norse gods, and a
host of other entities in preparation for what will be the Last Battle
-- a battle between the old gods who have found themselves in America
over the past 10,000 years and the new gods of the digital age. Shadow
finds himself drawn into a world where myth and legend coexist with
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, American Gods is quest to find the American identity. During the novel Gaiman captures the quintessential American truth: every person in America has roots from somewhere else.
A crossover fantasy, American Gods is also a literary triumph.
also more than just an intelligent novel about a bunch of homeless
gods, but rather a cerebral fantasy that's also a damn good tale. If
you want some well-written, addictive fantasy that digs into the fabric
of American society, American Gods delivers.
I suggest the Audiobook version of the story. The narrator does a fantastic job of bringing Gaiman's creation to life.
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.
In a genre that’s collapsing under the weight of cloned Tolkien worlds, hackneyed plots, and stick-thin characters, it’s hard to find something new and interesting. That is until you read Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus, a clever and superbly witty take on the young adult fantasy genre.
While the books are geared towards Young Adults, don’t be fooled by this label – the book will appeal every bit as much to adults as it does to kids.
Bartimaeus is a much darker work of fiction than others in the genre. The protagonist, Nathaniel dwells in a world where magicians are the ruling class of society and who maintain power by harnessing the power of enslaved spirits (genes, imps, etc). Everyone (including the protagonist) is driven by the unquenched thirst for absolute power, wealth and revenge and will do anything and everything to achieve it.
Despite the darkness of the world and the characters, Stroud manages to create a compelling world and cast of characters fighting to survive – and even prosper – in it. The plot is very strong with this one and the pacing moves along very fast. You won’t ever get bored. Plenty of action, mystery, and twists to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Bartimaeus touches on several other works in the genre including Harry Potter, Lord Darcy and Atemis Foul; but the tale is fresh. This series is a classic in the making and stands in as perhaps the best young adults fantasy series out there, going head to head with other greats like The Abhorsen, The Dark is Rising, and The Amber Spyglass
If you thought Harry Potter was a dark read, you’ll be hiding in the closet after reading this one – Bartimaeus makes Harry Potter seem like a light Jane Austen novel.
Memory, Sorrow, Thorn is William's answer to Lord of the Rings. But his answer in not a clone, but a challenge. Get ready to explore a vivid world and journey to the far yonder. William's characterization is top notch; you follow the journey of young Simon from boy to man, from kitchen scullion to hero. The plot is thick and often crawls at a snail's pace, but the series is an undisguised jewel. A must for any fantasy aficionado! There is a reason why after so many years, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn remain near the top of many fantasy lovers' list. Read it to find out why!
Tad's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series has been completed for many years. It's four books long and over 1600 pages collectively. He's completed another epic high fantasy series called Shadowmarch which is epic fantasy in all the ways I like. Well recommended (and moves at a faster pace than his Memory, Sorrow, Thorn saga). For another series that's science fiction with some fantasy aspects, read his Otherland series.
I'm going to give my recommendations on works of similar "style" to Williams. Williams writes with an almost pedantic eye -- every little detail is lovely detailed -- to practically everything. This includes characters, settings, and even pots. Everything down to the minutest detail is lovingly rendered into prose. It can take a long while before things happen in a Tad Williams book, which may turn off those who love instant action with no patience for slow pacing.
For a series (and author) who's often a bit slower paced with an attention to beautiful, sometimes lyrical prose, give works by Sean Russell a read. I would start with his Moontide Magic Rise duology. If you like his work, give his The Initiate Brother (an Asian fantasy) a go. For a high fantasy in the tradition of Tolkien with gorgeous and lyrical prose, read Swans' War.
You should read Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien, if you have yet not. Tolkien is a writer who loves to write. The pacing is quicker than Memory, Sorrow, Thorn, but the language is gorgeous as is the setting portrayed by Tolkien
Another book that shares some similarities with Memory, Sorrow, Thorn is Michael A Stackpole's The DragonCrown War Cycle , which features an epic, black & white struggle, struggle between good and evil. Also read William's new fantasy saga Shadowmarch. Wonderful prose and a strong plot.
I also recommend reading Tad William's other works. His Shadowmarch series is really good (and completed). His other series, Otherland is a stellar read too. It's science fiction, but there are quite a few fantasy elements too; it's kind of like the Matrix. Otherland is of the best Science Fiction books, IMHO.
This is a fantastic series with a cast of compelling and interesting characters. Recommended if you like fantasy with intricate politics. The setting is quite interesting – a sort of honor-bound feudal society that’s a fantasy version of Japan set on another world with exotic races and creatures. It’s a complete standalone set in the wider Riftwar Saga universe.
Some of the standard fantasy conventions such as Magic, Action, and World-Ending events are not part of this story; it’s more about one woman’s struggle to manipulate her way into power against all odds, navigating through the various pitfalls and traps set before her by her enemies and maybe at the same time, find love. If you want the epic fantasy tale set in the Midkemia world, along the lines of Jordan’s WOT, then you’ll have to read Feist’s Magican. This tale, however, does not concern itself with the destruction of the world by dark forces, but rather a personal character-driven tale.
While this is some strong “female fantasy” there are also some compelling male characters as well – so don’t let the female bent sway you from reading this if you are a man.
On the whole, this is the best of all the Midkemia books, vastly superior to every single one with only the original duology “Magician” coming anywhere close.
The books take place around the same time frame as the Magician books but the whole war on Midkemia is rarely mentioned and most of the events take place on Kelewan, centering on Tsuranuanni politics and clan political feuding. You don’t have to have read the Riftwar Saga, though if you have, you’ll understand a bit more of the backstory and tie in events (it’s not at all necessary to do so though).
Feist has got a ton of books out, however, several stand out above the rest.
Feist has so many series, it's downright confusing where to start. He's been getting worse and worse as he writes, I'm sad to say.
So I'll make it simple for the average fantasy reader with a guide to what Feist is actually worth reading:
Ok, if you are really a fan of his Midkemia world, then read his Serpentwar, followed by his Conclave of Shadows, followed by his Darkwar, followed by his Demonwar saga, then followed by his newest series, Chaoswar. Whew, done.
Raymond Feist's Series by Chronological Order
I've listed his Midkemia books in chronological order by series. Each series is set in the same world that Magician is and are sequels, sort of. Feist has even more books, but I've only listed the series that I feel are actually worth reading. His best by far are the two Magician books and his Empire Trilogy as I've stated about 10 times now.
Conclave of Shadows
The Darkwar Saga
The Chaoswar Saga
Description (Taken from Butchers website)
The Dresden Files are Jim's first published series, telling the story of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago's first (and only) Wizard P.I.
Harry Dresden, a Sherlock with kick-ass attitude and wizard powers. This is some damn addictive detective fantasy. The series contains everything a fantasy book lover could want: magic, action, mystery, adventure, love, and sorrow. It also gets pretty damn dark by the later part of the series. Get ready to meet vampires, werewolves, wizards, fairies, and angles. Dresden is what Anita Blake should be.
I'm not usually a reader of urban fantasy, but Butcher has converted me with this stunning series.
Yea, yea, some of you will tell me that Dresden is only pulp fiction and shouldn't join the ranks of this august list. Pulp fiction or no, The Dresden Files are great reads. They may not be literary in the sense of a China Mieville novel, but heck, sometimes you don't WANT to think when you read. Pulp or not, Dresden represents another aspect of the fantasy genre: paranormal hardboiled noir fantasy.
Many readers wonder why I don't put Butcher's other fantasy
Codex Alera on the list. Well, simply put, there are 25 spots and I
don't want to shove in the same author twice. Simple. So, read this as
my endorsement for Butcher's Codex Alera series -- it's a great epic
fantasy series with a Roman flavor that you should read. I personally
prefer having The Dresden Files on this list since there's enough epic
fantasy on this list already.
The whole Butcher series is listed in chronological order, from left to right. Click the book image to see the details. Note, Welcome to the Jungle is a prequel novel. Butcher has also created an epic fantasy series called Codex Alera. I highly recommend you read it -- it's gotten rave reviews across the board, features a unique magic system, an interesting plot, a Romanesque fantasy setting, action galore, and a likable protagonist.
Read Mike Carey's Felix Castor series (start with The Devil You Know). It's very similar to The Dresden Files (in the same genre) and I would argue as close as you are going to get to The Dresden Files without being a complete rip-off. You've got the hardboiled detective thriller story merged with the supernatural. The hero is a freelance exorcist in the vein of Harry Dresden though with a lower power level.
Another series that's got a lot of similarities to The Dresden Files, one that's got a lot of dark humour and visceral action is Sandman Slim. Like Dresden Files, it combines hardboiled detective fiction noir with the supernatural. The main character himself has a lot of comparisons to Dresden. The series is darker than Dresden.
You should also check out Simon Green's Nightside. - a series very, very similar to The Dresden Files, though much more over the top in terms of powerful characters. It's comparatively as dark, however, with more elements of horror in the story. The narration has that sarcastic edge that Butcher imbues into The Dresden Files. You might think of the protagonist John Taylor as a British version of Harry -- probably the most similar in terms of characterization to Harry Dresden I've seen yet and there's a lot of humor in the books. The hero is sort of a supernatural private detective and operates in London where the supernatural coexists right alongside the natural world.
Finally, if you want to venture out of the urban fantasy setting and into the epic fantasy zone, check out Butcher's Codex Alera.
A Game of Thrones (George R.R. Martin)
The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie)
The Malazan Book of the Fallen (Steven Erikson)
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)
Lord of the Rings (J.R.R Tolkien)
The Black Company (Glen Cook)
Heroes Die (Matthew Woodring Stover ))
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson)
The Farseer (Robin Hobb)
A Shadow in Summer (Daniel Abraham)
Lies of Locke Lamora (Scott Lynch)
Gormenghast (Mervyn Peake)
The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan)
Prince of Thorns (Mark Lawrence)
Black Sun Rising (C.S. Friedman)
The Troupe (Robert Jackson Bennett)
The Engineer Trilogy (KJ Parker)
The Darkness That Comes Before (R. Scott Bakker)
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)
Lord Foul's Bane (Stephen R. Donaldson)
American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
The Amulet of Samarkand (Jonathan Stroud)
Memory, Sorrow, Thorn (Tad Williams)
Daughter of the Empire (Feist & Wurts)
Dresden Files (Jim Butcher)
Books Moved From Top 25 List
A facinating novel that breaks many of the fantasy norms. However, there were some strong contenders from some new fantasy books that offer something similar to the genre.
Series started out pretty strong and looked to be something like A Song of Ice and Fire. However, last book in the series was a bit dissapointing and the characterization was a bit off -- it was hard to really care deeply about any of the characters as that emotional connection with them was missing.
One of my favorite YA books, but slightly edged out over the superior Bartameus books by Jonathan Stroud which are on a whole darker, more unique and evince a bit more depth than do Garth Nix's work.
While this is some pretty good classic epic fantasy in the vein of Robert Jordan, it's vastly eclipsed by the much superior fantasy series set in the same universe, The Empire Trilogy by Janny Wurts and Raymond Feist. I've been chirping a long time about how much better Empire is over any of the other Riftwar books including Magican: Apprentice and Master. I finally decided to just replace the spot with the Empire books. If you do want the classic callow castleboy to heroic magician story, this is one of the best offerings out there, however.
Some of the best dark sword and sorcery out there but vastly underappreciated by the modern fantasy crowd. Nothing wrong with this series but I had to make an extremely difficult cut or two to showcase some great new fantasy picks.
A stellar epic fantasy with some gritty similarities to A Game of Thrones. However, the author has been taking a long long time to complete the series (4 books written so far) and it remains unclear when she's ever going to.
And For More Recommendations...
Don't see your "favorite" fantasy book on this list? Be sure to check out the Great Fantasy Books list for books that were bumped from the Top 25 over the last couple years. This is the next list you should look at if you are seeking to read more of best fantasy books out there.
Also look at the Good Fantasy Books for even more recommendations.
Check out the Top 25 Best Stand Alone Fantasy Books list.
Look at the Top 25 Best Epic Fantasy series list for the best of that type of fantasy.
Look at the Best Fantasy Series for a broad list of the best fantasy series ever written