Top 25 Best Fantasy Books

By: nonstickron

Jun 12 2012

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Top 25 Best Fantasy Books

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


This list lists books that are the crème de la crème of the fantasy genre. I’ve carefully chosen the top 25 fantasy books from 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 list contains these books.

The Top 25 Fantasy Books list selects from 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.

To include is to exclude, and alas, this list short and the fantasy books out there many. 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 the best fantasy book.” 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 how they liked or dislike the books. You might also want to check out the new Web 2.0 Community Book Review section. You can view fellow peer reviews on fantasy books, movies, and games; submit new book review suggestions of your favorite book and write small amazon-style reviews that will appear on the site!

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 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 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.



(Updated April 2011)

The list has been updated again with old books and new books (including a few new authors) and the ranking reordered. Each description I’ve written of each book on the list has been updated as well with new information.

I’ve also completely overhauled the similar recommendation sections of every book on the list with even more recommendations. I’ve added a comment page for reader’s to share their personal Similar Recommendations as well! I hope you enjoy the update — it’s taken a weeks of serious work to update this list.

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Comment on this List

#1:   A Game of Thrones (George R.R. Martin)

   Comments (281) | Community Book Review


This brilliant series starts with A Game of Thrones. What can I say about this series other then read it! It’s well-regarded as the best fantasy series. Martin’s books have been 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 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. It’s that good.

And in case you’ve been hiding in a rock somewhere, Martin’s series is currently being developed into a full blown mini series by HBO (and it looks to be a winner). So if you haven’t read the series, READ IT NOW.

Song of Ice and Fire Saga:

Novels of the Malazan Empire                      Malazan Novellas
stoneweilder malazan                                      

Books Similar to Malazan Book of the Fallen

                                        Reader Similar Recommendations (1)

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 that 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 by 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 the fantasy circles, which is a pity.

Also give James Barclay’s Cry of the Newborn a whirl which is similar in style and content (though less epic) to Erickson. It’s an example of a Fantasy military fiction done right. Barclay also knows how to write damn good battles scenes, giving even Erikson 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.

For 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 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, read 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).

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

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 underappreciated 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 25 Best Epic Fantasy Series books list — the best of the best epic fantasy series are detailed in it.


#3:   The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)

   Comments (116) | Community Book Review Description

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) 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 with the next (last) book is 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 the past couple years. So read it.

The Kingkiller Chronicle
. 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 ends: the hero has conquered the evil and sets out to claim the prize only to find out having everything is not as swell as it’s made out to be.

And for 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.

#4:   Lord of the Rings (J.R.R Tolkien)

   Comments (58) | Community Book Review


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.




About Tolkien’s Books

Tolkien’s spent his life writing in the Lord of the Rings world. Tolkien pretty much has four “novel” type stories 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

Tolkien’s Middle Earth Novels (Chronological Order)

Books Similar to The Lord of the Rings

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

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 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 under 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 books since books 5-6. This year (2011) will mark the final completion of the series when A Memory of Light, the final book, will be 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 Jordan 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 fantasy series.

If you want a book that’s like Lord of the Rings but longer, has strong female characters, and very strong characterization (FAAR better than Jordan’s), read Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn saga, another classic.

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) that brings back 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 starkly realized cast of grey characters, read Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy.

#5: The Black Company (Glen Cook) NEW

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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 Mazalan series.

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

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 too-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 morays). 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 would might be able to show Tolkien’s Sauron a new trick or two.
So for an action packed military fantasy series that was genre busting way back before gritty fantasy was popular, The Black Company takes the cake. This came out in the early 90’s, but despite it’s age, it still beats most of the other “epic” fantasy out there today.


About Glen Cook’s Series

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 stand alone 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.


Glen Cook’s Fantasy Series (by chronological order)

The Black Company (Chronological Order)
Books of the North Black Company

the silver spike

books of the south black company

the return of the black company

the many deaths of the black company glen cook

Instrumentalities of the Night

the tyranny of the night glen cook

lord of the silent kingdom

surrender to the will of the night


Books Similar to The Black Company

                                        Reader Similar Recommendations (1)

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.

For another “dark” military fantasy, you should read Mazalan 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.

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 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 bad ass super hero, while Sanderson’s work is more heroic in nature as is the character.

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.

#6   Gormenghast (Mervyn Peake)

   Comments (9) | Community Book Review


Description (Book)

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 yet, this is a 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 deserving 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 me. 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 changed forever.


Books Similar to Gormenghast

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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 that’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.


#7:   The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie)

   Comments (49) | Community Book Review


Description (Amazon)
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 to the fantasy genre and book 1 of the First Law trilogy. Joe Abercrombie takes all the classic fantasy conventions and spins them into something new. 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.


About Abercombie’s Series

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 is not yet released.

The First Law trilogy
It’s a new fantasy series that’s fresh and innovative, 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.



#8:   The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson) NEW

   Comments (36)


Fantasy has a new face with this novel. This is a hugely epic series that’s casting an eye on the Mazalan 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 in 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 you 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 next book you read.


About Sanderson’s Books

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 trade mark 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.


Mistborn Trilogy



Stormlight Archive


Books Similar to The Way of Kings

                                        Reader Similar Recommendations (0)

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.” Mazalan 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.




#9:   The Farseer (Robin Hobb)

   Comments (62) | Community Book Review


Description (Publisher)

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 Fantasy genre. Her characters are vividly real, leaping out of the pages into our minds as living characters. She has no qualms about allowing her 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 the 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.

About the Farseer Series

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.

The Farseer trilogy
Liveship Traders trilogy

Books Similar to Lies of Locke Lamora

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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 this year.

Give The Name of the Wind a try for another book with a very strongly characterized protagonist.

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

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 Skyes’ Tome of the Undergates.


#11:   The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan)

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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 a 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 if nothing more than the enormous contribution the man has made to the fantasy genre itself. You can call the WOT pulp fantasy or not, you can endless 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 Tolkien, and weaves together a massively complex tapestry of politics, kingdoms, and magic. You won’t find another author that breaths 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 in the market now. Love him or hate him, you owe it to yourself to at least read the first book.

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 you ignore some of his later flaws (and his handling of relationships between men and women for one), 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 book 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 . 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 know (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.


#14:   The Etched City (K.J. Bishop) NEW

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Those weary of the traditional fantasy can find respite in KJ Bishop’s The Etched City. Bishop writes with a style that’s all her own. There are no spoon-feeding of answers here, no easy-to-follow character quest. Rather, it is a novel that just IS.
Certain words come to mind when reading this novel: lush, decadent, grotesque, dark, and baroque. It’s a novel that’s not easy to define or even understand, but it’s a book that’s even more rewarding simply because of that.

And the characters, oh my. The characters themselves refuse to fit into the standard cutout that most fantasy characters abide by. Killers may be honest, and gentle, and caring; yet they will still kill with ruthlessness. Characters that are caring and compassionate on the surface are empty.  If I had to cast the characters into a category to describe them, I would say they are anti-heroes.

This is a novel of both substance and style, a dark journey through a strange world. Many people have described this work as a combination between Stephen King’s Dark Tower and China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. Like the Dark Tower, there’s a gunslinger character who moves through a desolate, magical, and dark wasteland. But it’s also more than that too, the environment is just a means to an end and not the end itself. It’s a decadent place that’s an interesting place to find yourself in.

So if the thought of village boys and dark lords makes you sick and you want a change of pace from the normal fantasy fodder, you can’t find anything more different (and wildly imaginative) than KJ Bishop’s The Etched City. I’m only sad that this is the ONLY novel the author has come out with.


Books Similar to The Etched City

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You should read works by China Mieville. Mieville writes in what’s called the fantasy “New Weird” subgenre. The Etched city is influenced by Mieville’s works. I would recommend starting with Perdido Street Station.

You’ll also probably like Jeff Vandermeer, also another “New Weird” writer. Start with his City of Saints and Madmen.

And for yet another writer who writes in this New Weird style, give M. John Harrison’s Viriconium a go.

Steph Swainston’s The Year of Our War might fit your taste too.

For an atmospheric mishmash of steampunk, fantasy, and fairies, give Michael Swanwick’s Iron Dragon’s Daughter a read — I’ve got a feeling you’ll love it if you like KJ Bishop.

And for more books with atmospheric and dreamlike settings that make for intelligent reads: Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake, Michael Moorcock’s Gloriana, Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, Edgar Allen Poe, Lord Dunsany, and J.G. ballard of Vermillion Sands.

If you want more suggestions for New Weird/Literary fantasy, take a good look at the new Best Literary Fantasy Books list.



#15:   A Sword of Shadows (J.V. Jones)

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Description (First Book)

As a newborn Ash March was abandoned–left for dead at the foot of a frozen mountain. Found and raised by the Penthero Iss, the mighty Surlord of Spire Vanis, she has always known she is different. Terrible dreams plague her and sometimes in the darkness she hears dread voices from another world. Iss watches her as she grows to womanhood, eager to discover what powers his ward might possess. As his interest quickens, he sends his living blade, Marafice Eye, to guard her night and day.

Starts with A Cavern of Black Ice. Gritty, cold fantasy, with a flair for the gruesome. This fabulous series is jam packed full of goodness. Characterization is great, and Jones, like Robin Hobb and George R. Martin, is gives no quarter to her heroes. Plot, too, is superlative. This is Sword and Sorcery the way it’s meant to be. Jones has really come into her own the past few years and Sword of Shadows is her masterpiece. This series seems to be underrated for some reason; it certainly does not get the attention it deserves. Yes, some really good fantasy books have been released the past couple years, but Sword of Shadows can hold it’s own. This is one of my favorite epic fantasy series; if you like the gritty flavor of a A Song of Ice and Fire, you owe it to yourself to read this series.


J.V. Jones’ Series Information

There was an awful five year wait between her second and third book, however, she’s resumed writing at a normal pace now. The fourth book was released this year and is every bit as good as the previous three. Book 5 (the final one) should be out this year sometime. The Sword of Shadows series is set in the same world as Book of Words, though it’s in a different place and there are completely new characters. Book of Words is inferior to Sword of Shadows, but it’s a decent fantasy series, better than most in fact.

Sword of Shadows
). It’s not as good as Sword of Shadows, but a good series nonetheless.

Steven Erikson’s Mazalan Book of the Fallen is also a gritty epic fantasy series, though it’s more epic in scope than Sword of Shadows. I would also recommend the Acacia series.

Give Sanderson’s Mistborn series and his Stormlight Archive series a read — less “dark” of a fantasy series than J.V. Jones, though darker than many of the other series out there. Both series are some of the best epic fantasy out there with well realized heroes (I prefer Stormlight Archive’s heroes over the Mistborn ones, however).

And if you want the standard fantasy series that everyone recommends when the word epic comes up, read The Wheel of Time.

You might also like James Enge’s Blood of Ambrose which features grim prose and a dark world — something you might appreciate if you enjoy the Sword of Shadows.

#16:   Acacia (David Anthony Durham)

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Book Description (from book flap)

Leodan Akaran, ruler of the Known World, has inherited generations of apparent peace and prosperity, won ages ago by his ancestors. A widower of high intelligence, he presides over an empire called Acacia, after the idyllic island from which he rules. He dotes on his four children and hides from them the dark realities of traffic in drugs and human lives on which their prosperity depends. He hopes that he might change this, but powerful forces stand in his way. And then a deadly assassin sent from a race called the Mein, exiled long ago to an ice-locked stronghold in the frozen north, strikes at Leodan in the heart of Acacia while they unleash surprise attacks across the empire. On his deathbed, Leodan puts into play a plan to allow his children to escape, each to their separate destiny. And so his children begin a quest to avenge their father’s death and restore the Acacian empire?this time on the basis of universal freedom. ACACIA is a thrilling work of literary imagination that creates an all-enveloping and mythic world that will carry readers away. It is a timeless tale of heroism and betrayal, of treachery and revenge, of primal wrongs and ultimate redemption. David Durham has reimagined the epic narrative for our time in a book that will surely mark his breakthrough to a wide audience.

George R.R. Martin, take heed, you have a new challenger for the throne of kingdoms! David Anthony Durham. The new kid on the fantasy block has some new moves that may even impress the old timers. Durham, a well known historical fiction author, brings his writing prowess to the fantasy genre. And what an effort it is! Acacia has all the elements that make A Song of Ice and Fire so compelling. Unpredictability? Check. Mysterious magic? Check. Fantastic world building and myth? Check. Political maneuvering? Check. Massive Battles. Check. Great characterization. Check. Fantastic writing? Check. A plot that grips and won’t let go? Check. Should you read it? Double Check.

The sequel (The Otherlands) has been out for a bit now and is every bit as good as the first book. The perspective of the book changes and some of the characters are rather unlikable, but it’s all worth it for the ending! I can’t wait to see what’s done in book 3 as the author has opened a serious can of worms with the plot.

The Acacia series has not gotten as much attention as it rightly deserves in my opinion. So if you like epic fantasy that follows (but doesn’t copy) in Martin’s footsteps to some degree, Acacia and it’s sequel are exactly what you are looking for.

Acacia Series


Books Similar to Acacia

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Acacia is written in the epic Fantasy tradition that Tolkien pioneered. Epic Fantasy is probably the most popular type of Fantasy and the real “poster boy” for the Fantasy genre (something that I personally believe should not be the case).

If you like Acacia, then it’s a sure bet that you will love these other series.

You should definitely read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, which is the best epic fantasy series currently out there (and my top pick) and probably the closet series you’ll find to Acacia (royal kids forced to flee their kingdom because of treachery). Both series are sophisticated, gritty, and realistic. Characters, rather than straight “good” and “bad” are shades of grey.

If you are looking for more epic gritty fantasy, then read Steven Erikson’s Mazalan Book of the Fallen. If you want epic Fantasy that’s brings new meaning to the word “epic” them Erikson’s works are the best you’ll find. They are also pretty gritty. And if you want some gritty epic Fantasy that really breaks or twists in some way most of the standard conventions of epic Fantasy, read Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law Trilogy.

I have a suspicion you’ll like Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, which is not exactly a traditional epic fantasy, it certainly meets the “gritty” requirements.


#17:   Elric of Melinbone (Michael Moorcock)

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Description (Amazon)

It is the color of a bleached skull, his flesh; and the long hair that flows below his shoulders is milk-white. From the tapering, beautiful head stare two slanting eyes, crimson and moody… He is Elric, Emperor of Melnibone, cursed with a keen and cynical intelligence, schooled in the art of sorcery and the hero of Michael Moorcock’s remarkable epic of conflict and adventure at the dawn of human history.


Be prepared for a real treat if you have not yet read this series. Without a doubt, Elric of Melnibone is an outstanding fantasy, truly one of the “great” works up there with Rings, Gormenghast, and Martin. So, why should you give this series a chance? This is a dark fantasy through and through where things don’t happen the way you think they should. The characters are complicated, multidimensional, easy to love but far too often, easier to hate. The brooding hero Elric is perhaps one of the most complicated and fascinating characters in the fantasy genre. The plot never drives in a straight line, keeping you on your toes. And this, folks, makes the Elric novels delicious. This is another book on this list that tends towards the literature side of things, but for those with short attention spans, there is plenty to love for you. It’s rare to find a fantasy book that can satisfy those intellectual types and those pop-corn chewing readers who love action. This is one of the most unusual and philosophical fantasy series written. It’s also one of the greatest. This series is not as “popular” as some of the so called big names of fantasy. But don’t make the mistake of letting that fact that you’ve probably never heard of this author stop you from reading this book. If you want complex, non-traditional high fantasy, read Elric. It’s good. Damn good.

Books Similar to Elric of Melinbone

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For similar recommendations, check out the Best Literary Fantasy books list.


#18:   The Darkness That Comes Before (R. Scott Bakker)

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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.


About Scott Bakker’s Series

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 your 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.

The Prince of Nothing trilogy
Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

Mordant’s Need the mirror of her dreams

a man rides through stephen donaldson


Books Similar to Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

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If you like his Donaldson’s First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever, then you should read his Covenant trilogies listed above. His new trilogy (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever) is a riveting 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 into something interesting anti-heros here are some recommendations. You may like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire; there are some detestable main characters (anti-hero types) that 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 wholly an 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 that 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 an 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 that takes drugs to kick ass. He’s the emperor of a dying kingdom, and his power comes for a bunch of evil demons. In any other series, Elric WOULD be the bad guy.

#21:   American Gods (Neil Gaiman)

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Description (Amazon)

Released shortly after his wife’s death, Shadow finds himself 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 today’s realities.

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. It’s 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 series. The narrator does a superb job and the tale seems even more scary.

Abhorsen Trilogy & Other Tales


Books Similar to Abhorsen Trilogy

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A classic series kids around the world have grown up reading is The Chronicles of Narnia. While Narnia is very clearly a Christian allegory, it can be enjoyed without reading too deep into the Christian subtext. The writing is decent and it’s a great magical adventure for both kids and adults.

You should also read Garth Nix’s newest series, Keys to the Kingdom, is also a great read, both for the kiddies and adults, one of the better series for kids.

Don’t forget to read Jonathan Stroud’s very impressive The Bartimaeus Trilogy. It’s an action packed thrill ride about a magician’s apprentice who manages to summon a powerful genie (Bartimaeus). Bartimaeus is less then pleased with this turn of events and tries to sabotage his young master at every opportunity. Hilariously funny, at times very dark, with great writing, a great cast of well-developed characters, and an interesting world, Bartimaeus is a must read series (for both kids and adults).

You might want to take a gander with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. It’s uber famous and with good reason.

For a great steampunk fantasy for young adults/kids, read Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan. I’m not usually into YA fantasy, but some of the concepts and the action present in the book had me hooked.

You absolutely must read Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. It’s a fantasy tale set in a Japanese milieu. It’s got all you want in an epic fantasy WITH the addition of samurai’s, ninja’s, and magic!

And finally, Harry Potter. I won’t bother explaining why. If you are specifically looking for books your kid might like, i suggest you visit to angel green tower

Shadowmarch Series

shadowheart tad williams

Books Similar to Memory, Sorrow, Thorn

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I’m going to give my recommendations on works of similar “style” to Williams. Williams writes with almost a 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 that 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.


#24:   Magician: Apprentice and Magician (Raymond E. Feist)

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This book (you can also get it as two separate books, Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master) are the books that launched the career of super popular fantasy author Raymond E. Feist.

And this book is classic fantasy at its best! You’re not getting anything new here (like the efforts of Steven Erickson, Susanna Clark, or Scott Bakker), but what Magician does, it does superbly well: the classic transformation tale of village boy to powerful magician. Yes, it’s cliche. Yes, every author since the dawn of sword carrying barbarians and pointy-haired elves has used the village boy conceit. But despite this, Magician stands out above all the rest of the wannabies.

What hurls Magician above the rest of the pack is the really compelling plot and world, tons of action, and a cool butt kicking hero. The book is just so damn fun to read. So if classic fantasy is the apple of your eye, and you are weary of the gritty realism creeping into fantasy and long for some of the “good old stuff”, then this book is your fix.

I have what I consider two “classic” fantasy tales on this list: Wheel of Time and Magician. If I had to pick between the two, Wheel of Time gets my vote for its sheer scope. But for those who still love those old fantasy conventions without the requisite reading of 10+ volumes, Magician is heartily recommended.

Note: If you don’t want to muck around with this “classic fantasy stuff”, then go straight for Feist’s BEST work (co authored with Janny Wurts) which is the “Empire Trilogy.” The writing, plot, and characterization really does make the Magician series seem amateurish by comparison — I kid you not. It’s my “favorite” work by Feist. It lacks the boy-becomes-man-and-kick’s-serious-ass superheroness of the Magician series (which is what some readers love to see), but it’s a damn good story and just flat out better written. And that’s my plug for the Empire series.


About Raymond Feist’s Midkemia series

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:

  1. Read his Riftwar Saga (it’s the best he’s wrote).
  2. Read his Empire Trilogy cowritten with Janny Wurts (it’s the best he’s going to ever write).
  3. Read his Conclave of Shadows trilogy
  4. All the rest of his books: skip

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.


Riftwar Saga Empire Trilogy shadows of a dark queenrise of a merchant prince Conclave of Shadows Demonwar Saga
rides a dread legionat the gates of darkness
The Chaoswar Saga a kingdom besieged

Books Similar to Magician

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Feist’s books always emphasize the heavy use of magic (some might say over the top use of magic) and loads of political tensions. If you like Feist’s style of storytelling and his use of heavy magic, read Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. Jordan’s books are rampant with magic use.

Also give Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s The Death Gate Cycle a whirl. it’s a good story (better than anything else they’ve written) with lot’s of tension, lots of mystery, and lot’s of powerful magic in the vein of Jordan and Feist. Hickman and Weis are responsible for populating the fantasy genre with the worst sort of fantasy tripe (Dragonlance), but surprisingly, their Death Gate Cycle is a much much better effort — the best of their work and likely will stay that way.

If you really like Magician, try Feist’s other novels of Midkemia. All of them are set in the same world, though most of them fail to match Magician. The one exception is his The Empire Trilogy, coauthored with Janny Wurts. The Empire Trilogy is a fantastic read, and I whole heartedly recommend it; the quality of the prose (perhaps due to Wurt’s influence) is far superior to Magician.

Also read the The Runelords series by David Farland. Same style of writing as Feist (lots of magic, lots of powerful characters, lots of action, not that much characterization), but with a more interesting magic system. The problem with Feist is that he tends to make his character’s too powerful and Feist is forced to find ridiculous ways of handicapping them.

And for another epic fantasy series with some sweet magic, an awesome hero, huge world building, and some kick ass action scenes, read Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings

And of course, how can you go wrong with some traditional sword & sorcery from Robert E. Howard’s Conan The Barbarian. These are the tales that started the entire Sword & Sorcery genre and influenced writers like Robert Jordan AND Raymond E. Feist.

#25:   Dresden Files (Jim Butcher)

   Comments (23)| Community Book Review


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


Jim Butcher’s Series Information

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.

The Dresden Files
summer knight

Codex Alera Series

academ's fury


Books Similar to The Dresden Files

                                        Reader Similar Recommendations (0)

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. It seems to be a series with the sequel to Sandman Slim already out.

You should also check out Simon Green’s Nightside — a series very similar to The Dresden Files, though much more over the top and far less “dark.” The hero is sort of a supernatural private detective and operates in London where the supernatural coexists right alongside the natural world. Both of these series will be right up your alley if you enjoy The Dresden Files.

Finally, if you want to venture out of the urban fantasy setting and into the epic fantasy zone, check out Butcher’s Codex Alera.


Books Moved From Top 25 List


Mistborn: Great epic high fantasy series, but I’ve replaced it with The Way of Kings, which although is only the first book in Sanderson’s newest mega fantasy series, is by far his BEST work. It’s also over 1000 words and is easily 2 books worth of material.


The Warded Man: Fantastic action high fantasy, but the sequel was a bit disappointing (though still an exciting read). Some of the plot movements in the second book didn’t make a lot of sense. We shall see what book 3 does to the series…


The Magicians: Great book, but I’ve received a backlash of comments about this book not deserving to be on the list, so I’ve bowed to popular consensus here. Too bad, it’s really a great book if you want a more adult fantasy tale with some depth.


The Way of Shadows: A great action series by an upcoming author, but it’s really pretty simple stuff. Week’s has a HUGE following, so I’m sure quite a few people will be upset with this series/book’s removal. But overall, while the series is action packed, it’s pretty standard stuff. I’d say give Heroes Die a read or The Warded Man a read over Night Angel. If there is enough pressure to bring this back on the list, I’ll think about it.

All these books have been moved to the Great Fantasy Books list.


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.

And be sure to look at our various fantasy subgenre recommendations.

And finally, why not join the discussions on our fantasy forum? Meet fellow fantasy fans, find out what’s new fantasy books are good, and get all the fantasy help you could want!


Disagree with my picks? Have your own best fantasy recommendations? Or simply want to argue with fellow readers? Leave a comment below or maybe even visit our forum!

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1-25 of 1019 Comments
June 09, 2012 – 23:23

 | #3660


Subject: Missed one that I feel deserves serious consideration

Mickey Zucker Reichert
Last of the Renshai

June 08, 2012 – 17:02

 | #3656



I think His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman and The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini is pretty good too!! And when talking about fantasy i can never let go of Harry Potter, maybe because I grew up with that! Love your collections and I’ll definitely read the books I haven’t read from the list.

June 06, 2012 – 04:19

 | #3646


Subject: Runelords anyone?

David Farland-The Runelords series is some of the best fantasy out there IMO. The Night Angel Trilogy deserves a spot back on your list also, although there is a fair amount that i haven’t read on here.I agree w/ your WOT assessment, but it was the first fantasy series i read after LOTR and the Hobbit so it always will have a spot in my heart.

June 04, 2012 – 15:07

 | #3641


Subject: Chronicles of Amber

First I want to thank you for this list! I look foreword to seeing which ones I like the best. But secondly I would like to add that I believe Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber books are fabulous. One of the eat series I have read.

June 02, 2012 – 17:47

 | #3633


Subject: The Way of Shadows

Overall a great list although Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings should be much higher on the list!

Also The Way of Shadows should be back on this list. At least the first book.

Me Me Me
May 30, 2012 – 09:48

 | #3617


Subject: My 2 cents and no sense.

Although not renowned as a fantasy writer the Dark Tower series by Stephen King or even Drenia series by David Gemmell worth a mention!

May 24, 2012 – 21:54

 | #3593


Subject: the book of joby

the book of joby is one of the best i have read and i bet one million dollars that this dude has not read it. but READ IT NOW you will not be disappointed READ IT READ IT READ IT. the book of joby by mark ferrari

May 17, 2012 – 19:59

 | #3571


Subject: Great list – missing

Fabulous list. I hail your hard work, reading, researching and posting.

However, missing from here is K J Parker, who MUST be included as one of the finest ‘fantasy’ writers ever. Her writing is mesmerizing and subject matter is intoxicating.

Please explore her work and see if there is a place for her.

Thank you again.

May 16, 2012 – 23:32

 | #3568


Subject: Thank you

Thank you for the list, there were many I agreed with and many I have not read. So thanks for publishing.

BTW have you read David Gemmel. Specifically Legend? It may not be on the list, but some of his legend related novels for me were as enjoyable as many on your list.

Tony Clarinski
May 16, 2012 – 21:55

 | #3567


Subject: Your taste…

Your taste is all in your mouth, fella. Just because you “devour” fantasy books in no way makes you an expert on the subject. For the most part what you list on these pages is mindless drivel lacking in any real depth. In most of them, trade tech for magic and you have the same story. The best fantasy operates and resonates in the subconscious and the best fantasy authors realize that. Pullman, Gaiman, Le Guin, to name a few (not that there are many out there).

May 15, 2012 – 02:40

 | #3564



Gotta say the seventh time a chick in the Martin books talked about not knowing who had the c**t and who had the c**k; my interest started to slip. Not to mention that Martin has two character types: grey and dead. Now, moral greyness can be interesting, sure, but it also you know, needs to be counterbalanced. If this guy is a rapist, killer, then the fact is that he probably isn’t going to be winning the best dad award, he just isn’t. Bad people usually are pretty bad in most aspects of their life. This idea of a “grey” man who rapes and murders, but is also a gentle hero sometimes, is sophomoric at best and intentionally dishonest at worst.

Meh, I mean, we can argue all day about whether a dude who bangs his own sister and then throws an eight year old out a four-story window (incidentally, this creep is one of the most well written characters in the series) is a bad guy or just misunderstood, but the fact remains that doing evil stuff pretty much makes you evil. You can’t change that by writing in some BS excuse for why it’s okay for him to do it, or by simply expecting me to “understand” his reasons.

And to be honest, grey to grey is not a very interesting character development. When your characters keep being one-dimensional no matter how many +1-good and +1-evil (gotta keep ’em morally ambiguous!) things they do, you should probably take a long look at how you view people in general. And zombifying someone doesn’t add depth.

In closing, I found Martin’s series to have started out very strong, only to lose itself in it’s own vision and eventually fall into becoming a caricature of itself. Characters have illicit sex for the umpteenth time because A Song of Ice and Fire is fantasy with illicit sex. Main characters die, not to advance the plot, but to reinforce the image that everyone is expendable. One eventually has to ask if the series and events themselves are not also expendable. It’s final and fatal flaw is that it’s concept is not exactly innovative. One can find “gritty” fantasy, and one can find fantasy where the good guy is a bastard (both literally and figuratively), one can even find fantasy that gives us a nice porn scene every chapter or two. Combining all these elements into one big meaty tale doesn’t change them from being cheap stereotypes of bad fantasy. Let’s just say that I find it fitting that HBO is doing the miniseries.

May 14, 2012 – 15:30

 | #3562


Subject: hit and miss

Thank you so much for THe Blade I tself – fabulous! But so far Malazan is a miss for me. I am trying to trust it will get better. The Redick books too – the story started out as one of the freshest I ‘d seen in ages but the second book has deteriorated into standard fare, like the originality was edited out in service to the plot. I’m debating whether to read the third.

Lastly, I hope you realize your list slhould be called the best of “heroic” fantasy. There are other kinds!

Reply to barbrey
June 10, 2012 – 16:46

 | #3663


Subject: Re: hit and miss

I am trying to read the first malazon book and I can not get through it, just to boring. I don’t know why every one loves it? I may skip to the blade itself

Michael Sway
May 10, 2012 – 22:32

 | #3550


Subject: Thanks!… Wait What?!

Hey guys for all the books to read!! However, as I was looking at the books removed from list I was shocked to see that not only the warded man was removed but a book from the Night Angel trilogy as well. As an avid reader of fantasy, dark and not, I can confidently assert that all the books in the trilogy are some if not the best fantasy books that I have ever read. So, I would love to see them on this list again.

May 09, 2012 – 00:06

 | #3539


Subject: Terry Goodkind on the worst list?

This list is horrid. I understand it’s completely one person’s opinion, but it’s horrid. I’ve tried reading a myriad of the books from this list. Most are down- right horrible. Actually, I don’t think I’ve found one to be even close to pleasing. The Blade Itself was one of the worst books I’ve ever attempted to read. The over detailing of the most boring situations and irritatingly slow to start the plot makes it the best thing to listen to if you are trying to fall asleep at night. And the fact that you put Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series on your worst list, while trying to bash his ingenious plot, is laughable. What, you needed him to over-simplify paragraphs and make is characters more boring? Not one of these books on this list are even worth reading. Oh, you dropped L.O.T.R. on here, REALLY?! It was one of the most under-read fantasy series there was, thus why Tolkien had to sell the rights to Jackson to make SOME kind of money off them. Anyone taking this list seriously, don’t waste your time spending money on any of these books. They all have horrible authors, whom couldn’t pass a third grade language arts class, with the most under-thought plots and characters. Go read Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series and laugh at this kid’s “best fantasy books” web page. Can’t believe you would purchase a domain for this bullshit. Lmfao. (Watch as this kid deletes this comment, due to not getting his way with his shit opinions..)

Reply to Vicious
May 09, 2012 – 10:22

 | #3542


Subject: Re: Terry Goodkind on the worst list?

What are you talking about? Tolkien died in the 70’s and lord of the rings is one of the best selling books of all time.

Reply to Vicious
May 09, 2012 – 17:09

 | #3545


Subject: Re: Terry Goodkind on the worst list?

I’ve read about 5 books into the series of Terry Goodkinds Sword of Truth Series, and I love it. Thank you for bringing this up!

Reply to Vicious
May 14, 2012 – 10:00

 | #3557


Subject: Re: Terry Goodkind on the worst list?

Yeah! This list is so terrible, I couldn’t stand the complexity of the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire! Why couldn’t the Lannisters be evil without any justification! I mean, I can’t have my bad-guy have any sort of rational motives! I want him to ban things like fire and rape women. It’d be best if he tortured children and never had a sympathetic moment.

And why would I want my plot to center on important things like main characters? I want to read half a book about two kitchen scullions that never do anything and end up dying in utterly unimportant ways. I’d hate to read about characters that are believable and can actually be wrong, pshaw.

And LOTR? What is that? I’ve never even heard of it, I bet it’s a ripoff of D&D and full of fantasy cliches because it was written so recently. They had to get good actors to save those trashy movies.

Yeah, I bet the guy who runs this page is soo mad right now. I’ll go post more opinions about how we should read Stanek and Goodkind on other pages.

In all honesty: I’ve read Goodkind (All of it), and I’m working my way through this list. I don’t agree with everything on here (I’d have put Malazan lower and Dresden a bit higher. I’d have dropped Name of the Wind a few places too. I might have even included Harry Potter.) But one thing that I’m appreciating more and more is that Goodkind deserves his place on the worst author’s list. I picked up his recent Omen Machine and read it like I watch a slasher film – laughing at how bad it is. I only hesitated to reply to this post because I might have missed the sarcasm (I.E. you’re so misinformed and wrong that I can’t wonder if you’re trolling.)

But I decided to try and take the high road and borrow a line from the ASOIAF forum: “Friends don’t let friends read Goodkind.”

Reply to Vicious
Chris P
June 01, 2012 – 10:11

 | #3631


Subject: Re: Terry Goodkind on the worst list?

Wow. Really? I can’t stop shaking my head. Look, I’ve read every book Terry Goodkind has written. Wizard’s First Rule somehow managed to rope me in for the whole series, but I’m hard pressed to think of any more predictable, shallow, and ultimatelly uninteresting main characters than Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell. I won’t say I haven’t enjoyed the series; I have. Usually, though, that is despite Richard and Kahlan, and not because of them. Conversely, George Martin’s characters are almost wholly unpredicatable, and Stephen Donaldson created one of the best anti-heroes ever in Thomas Covenant. I won’t knock anyone for reading Goodkind (I’d be a hypocrite if I did), but to suggest that everything else on this list is crap is to make me wonder if this particular commenter is better suited to lighter fare such as Goodkind and Weiss/Hickman.

Reply to Vicious
June 03, 2012 – 18:42

 | #3636


Subject: Re: Terry Goodkind on the worst list?

You said it right, Terry Goodkind’s Sword of truth series is by far one of the best and most indepth things i have ever read. Also not on this list is Daniel Arenson’s Song of Dragons, and David Danglish’s world of Dezreal (witch inclouds many series to include the Shadow Dance, Half Orcs, and the Palidin’s, just to name a few). If you are going to make a list you should research the matierieal that is to be both praised and degraded.

Reply to Vicious
June 06, 2012 – 18:50

 | #3648


Subject: Re: Terry Goodkind on the worst list?

I agree ,Terry Goodkinds Truthseeker series is freaking awesome. One of the best series of books I have ever read in my life. I would read each book in a matter of hours,,devouring each page and would literally run to the book store every time i finished one book to get the next in the series. The person who wrote him into the worst list must have been to immature to understand the plotlines and how well developed all the characters actually were.

Reply to Vicious
June 07, 2012 – 22:27

 | #3652


Subject: Re: Terry Goodkind on the worst list?

I agree with u. There are only 3 books on this list worth reading and they are Assasins apprentice, magician and Gardens of the Moon.

May 08, 2012 – 22:01

 | #3538



how could you leave off the wizard of earthsea books? Ursula K. LeGuinn is an amazing writer and that series is fantastic…

Reply to yourname
May 09, 2012 – 01:43

 | #3540


Subject: yourname

i know right??? especially the second series, The Tombs of Atuan. my god how good was that!!!!
i would have probably check out some of the book if the earthsea series was in the list, but it wasnt.
on the other hand i suspect this list to be market driven. consider the new release of the game of throne show and the book reserved as number 1. also the fact that LOTR is not on the top of the list is just… sad.

May 08, 2012 – 12:41

 | #3536


Subject: Thanks!!

Just happened upon this list whilst looking for new books to read! Thank you for your work in creating this, I look forward to working my way down the list!

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