Epic Fantasy Series: Our Top 5
Epic fantasy is a huge genre. Authors range from giants such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien to newcomers like R. Scott Bakker and Joe Abercrombie. Even the roots of epic fantasy range back thousands of years to the Anglo Saxon epic Beowulf and Homer’s the Iliad and the Odyssey.
With such a proliferation of material and writing styles, it can be overwhelming for newcomers and veteran fantasy readers alike to find an author and series that they can really appreciate. Skimming titles in the aisles of your local Books-A-Million becomes a black hole. And before you know it, the store is closing and you still haven’t made a choice.
Whether you’re just exploring the vast breadth of epic fantasy literature or finishing a classic series, there’s no need to be anxious. We’re here to help.
Here is a look at our top 5 epic fantasy series to help your next book search.
Of course the inspiration for the hit HBO series Game of Thrones is on this list. If you thought otherwise, we’re sorry to disappoint.
Regardless of whether you’re oblivious to the show or actively waiting for the next episode, this is a must-read series. Martin is a masterful storyteller. He flawlessly creates a vast world with a rich history and multidimensional characters.
His thousands of pages offer a more in-depth look into a beautifully fleshed out world than the television show can explore.
Martin’s ability to create characters with flawed, real personalities is nearly unmatched. With the internecine power struggles between the multitude of noble houses, kings, and power brokers in the series, characters are put to the test in the compromising area between good and evil with real consequences. He creates a cast of characters you will quickly learn to love or hate.
It’s substance from the start. And the best part is it doesn’t take long for readers to get their bearings, which can often be difficult as readers are forced into fully-developed fantasy worlds.
Erikson is a masterful storyteller in his own right. He seamlessly blends a massive cast of the good and the bad over a vast landscape and through a massive timeline. Where Martin’s world of Westeros is one recognizably based in Medieval Europe, Erikson builds a completely new world filled with unique cultures, landscapes, settings, technology, and magic. With a cast of grey characters and complex motivations, the books spin a tale of personal adventure while keeping it clearly in the scope of the larger world events taking place.
Erikson’s Malazan books can be a little confusing for the uninitiated, and it does take time for readers to get their bearings. But with constant action in the role of battles, sieges, and schemes, even the newest epic fantasy fan can find a way to sojourn on.
R. Scott Bakker is a lesser known author than the two previous entries. However, that doesn’t reduce the quality of his work.
The Prince of Nothing trilogy is set in one of the most impressively built fantasy worlds in the genre. With some real world historical influences, Bakker builds staggering cultures and civilizations that may even be judged as on par with or better than Tolkien.
Even more impressive is the way he weaves religion, philosophy, and magic into the storyline. The plot, characters, setting, and even the metaphysics of Bakker’s universe are impossible without the creation of unique philosophical positions featured throughout the novels.
However, Bakker doesn’t allow the reader to be completely swept up into the epic reality he has created. With a small cast of main characters, it’s easy for readers to anchor themselves to the plot twisting around the enigmatic Anasurimbor Kelhus and his closest followers.
For those of you looking for a book that takes the most common fantasy tropes and throws them on their head, think again. You may be interested to find, though, that this is more about adapting those tropes into a new and original story.
Moon spins a tale that differs from most traditional fantasy epics, her main character is a young woman escaping an arranged marriage. Throughout the series, the young female lead makes difficult choices, loses friends, acquires enemies, and sets down the path of a religious holy warrior.
Throughout all the action and events influencing the wider, vibrant world, readers are focused on one woman. A woman who gradually transforms into a powerful individual not due to magic or destiny, but because of her strength of character and the lessons, trials, and tribulations of life.
Unlike the other epic fantasy series in this list, Glen Cook writes his The Black Company series completely in the 1st person. No viewpoint changes here. And that means that the most charismatic character in the series is the one telling the story, in this case Croaker.
While the world is unique, the plot is character driven, primarily through the dialogue, antics, and situations involving the Black Company. The location and history featured throughout the series often serve more to further build the characters and guide the plot.
While still epic in scope, readers are able to see the bonds created by the various characters as they fight and die for both sides across various conflicts. And there’s no denying that the Black Company casually move across the moral spectrum. The characters even admit they don’t conform to the labels of good or evil, instead fighting for money and pride.
Morality, politics, and ethics are all irrelevant to the Black Company.
Choosing a new epic fantasy series can be difficult. With so many titles, readers can be left scratching their heads in confusion and indecision. Starting with one of these immensely readable titles will help readers find a classic series to sink their teeth in.
Header image by Artiom Ponkratenko under Creative Commons 2.0 License