Best Stand Alone Fantasy Books

Best Fantasy Novels Not In a Series
Enchanting Realms Unveiled: The Ultimate Guide to Stand-Alone Fantasy Masterpieces

Most of the books listed on this website's top fantasy lists have been part of a series, either because of the financial incentive behind publishing multiple books in the same universe, or because their authors are not inventive and talented enough to write a self-contained one-volume story.

And while some of the best fantasy books are part of a series, not all the best the genre has to offer is. There are certainly some good fantasy books that are standalone, though I will admit that the fantasy standalone is a bit of a "rare" breed these days.

Still, great standalone fantasy books DO exist! This list offers some of the top standalone fantasy novels.

I've draw fantasy books from different fantasy subgenres and from a wide range of different time periods ranging from the previous century to the most recent (2015) to present a balanced overview of the best stand alone books in the genre.

I do my best to present some compelling reasons why each and every book belongs on this list, but I encourage you to read what other people recommend in the comment section and to check out the crowd-ranked version too to see what the public has voted (and submitted) on as the best. You might also check out each book's comment link to see what people have to say about that specific book.

December 2015 Update: This 'best standalone list' has been completely updated. It's been two full years since the last update and a lot of great new stand alone books have been released in that period AND the previous list wasn't as comprehensive and accurate a reflection of the best as I've would have liked. To remedy this, I've changed the Top 25, which was a bit restrictive, to a Top 50 list, added a ton of new recommendations (both older books and recently published), and completely reshuffled the whole list to reflect a more nuanced view of the best books. 

Tigana is both a sweeping epic and a look into human nature – flaws and all. The characters and plot exist in an area of grey where good and evil aren't absolutes. The plot follows a culture that – after an intense war – has lost its identity.Why it made this listThe hallmarks of gritty fantasy are all here: There's sex, violence and gruesome brutality, but what makes it an adult fiction is that nothing in the book is simple. Everything – even the Big Bad – can be explained when viewed from a different perspective. The heroes aren't Frodo-perfect; they're human. And they're capable of doing the worst kinds of things: They can be brutally violent, dispassionately calculating and selfishly ambitious.Other than being so well written, Gavriel Kay's refusal to categorize anything (or anyone) as purely good or evil is at the core of what makes it so special. It's possible to empathize with every character, because we can see ourselves in them – the good and the ugly. It's also a book about the subjugation of a group of people – something that 20 years later, is still an issue we grapple with every day. The best fantasy books are like this one, where the exploration of an issue in a different world exposes possibilities for understanding our own.The intense relationships in the book give us the opportunity to explore the theme of memory and loss for ourselves. It's also told using multiple perspectives, and with each point of view, readers are able to identify a different set of emotions, purposes and views – from inexperienced naiveté to long suffering cynicism.The book is perfectly balanced: The plot moves quickly enough to keep the action going without sacrificing the details of a well-built fantasy world. It's not a light fantasy book by any means and it can be an intense emotional ride, but it is worth it.

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More Books by Kay
Kay has written a good deal of fantasy and all of it's great. If you like the sheer emotion of Tigana, read Sailing to Sarantium . You should also give the The Summer Tree which is the first book in his The Fionavar Tapestry series -- Guy's take on Tolkien's epic fantasy. Expect trademark three dimensional characters and a meticulously drawn world. It's epic fantasy with a heart.
Master Li and Ox â the main characters in this work â are easily some of the most loveable characters in fantasy. Aside from these charming protagonists, the book is a lot of fun to read.Why it made the listHughart's writing is never too flowery or too simple. This book is like a Thai food dish, every element is balanced so that none of them are overpowering, take away from the overall taste or from the eating experience. In Bridge of Birds, the ingredients â action, description, character development and humor â come together in a satisfying literary version of delicious pho.Watching the action through Ox's naïve eyes means that the reader can experience the wide-eyed wonder that he does, when he does. It's a refreshing departure from the more serious titles of the 80s. Hughart is a master of humor. He's not obvious about it like Pratchett, but it is as effective as anything you'll read in the Discworld series.There aren't many fantasy titles where the end feels right. Mostly, they fall flat and leave you disappointed. The conclusion is just like that bowl of pho â it fills you up, warms you up and leaves you with the desire for more like it.

Books in The Chronicles Of Master Li And Number Ten Ox Series (2)

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Coming Soon..
Yes, we're talking about that book about bunnies. No, we haven't lost our minds. Take note: This isn't a children's book, despite it being about fluffy animals. If you've read Watership Down, you'll understand it's on the list. And if you haven't, you're wrong. It's impossible not to be moved by this tale – even if it is about rabbits.Why it made the listThe themes that underpin the plot of this book – of survival, of the influence of storytelling and of man's destructiveness – get deeper as the plot of Watership Down progresses. This is due to the personalities of the rabbits: As you get to know them, you'll not only identify with them, but feel for the things that happen to them. And, while they have some anthropomorphic elements, Adams hasn't erased their animalness in favor of human characteristics. That is to say, there are no bunnies in waistcoasts. Or squirrels smoking cigars. There's never a moment when you forget that you're reading about rabbits, but there's also never a time when you won't be able to identify with them.Adams has created a well balanced novel here: When it gets too dark, he throws in some humor. When the rabbits share their fables, it's because they're relevant to the action at that point in the plot. When the adventure becomes harrowing, there are moments of reflection. It's a rare writing skill, and if it's the only reason you pick up this book, you won't be disappointed.The action never stops moving, which – considering the intense emotions the book will inspire in you – is both a blessing and a relief. Watership Down may not be fantasy in the most obvious sense, but it's a classic and deserves to be on any ‘Best of…' lists.

Books in Watership Down Series (1)

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A beautiful, beautiful tale that will haunt you for the rest of your life. It's a simple story with a hell of a lot of heart. There's a good reason why this novel is considered a classic and has captivated an entire generation of readers. The plot is your typical quest-based one and set in your usual magical landscape. But the characters, oh the characters are outstanding. This novel proudly stands shoulder to shoulder with the other master stories of the genre, including The Chronicles of Narnia and Watership Down.

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Coming Soon...

Neil Gaiman is an ever-popular writer who's branched into cinema, comics, and books. Quite a few people will argue that Neverwhere or Stardust is better than American Gods, but I disagree. American Gods is arguably his best work because it explores some interesting conceits whereas many of Gaiman's other tales are great tales, but don't do anything "new" (other than being really well written of course).American Gods pits the "Old Gods" of the past against the "New Gods" of the digital world.This is not your classic boy wizard versus dark god fantasy tale, but rather a more insightful, intelligent, and deep look into modern and ancient beliefs and the clash that results. It's a whole and whole urban fantasy tale -- a genre in which Gaiman has helped to lead the modern pack. So if you are looking for a stellar standalone fantasy novel, you'll have to search far and wide to do better than American Gods.

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More Books by Neil Gaiman

The obvious recommendation here is more books by this author. Gaiman writes some other worthy standalone fantasy books: Neverwhere and Anansi Boys.Both books are great (Anansi Boys is set in the same world as American Gods) but I prefer Neverwhere which is a good ol' fashion rattlingly good adventure tale. Gaiman's got more great fantasy standalone such as Stardust and The Graveyard Book (the perfect book to read to your kids before bed!) which should not be missed either.

Other Authors...

"For more books about ancient myths coming to life in modern society":

If you like the whole ancient mythical figures coexisting with the modern world theme, give Mythago Wood a read. You'll also want to read Tim Power's The Anubis Gates which incorporates ancient myths coming to life with time travel -- a weird mix but a hell of an entertaining novel. You should also check out Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay which also has a similar theme/plot.

"For more books with a similar "style" to Gaiman"

Honestly, Gaiman is in a league of his own when it comes to HIS style of urban fantasy fiction. However, there are a few other authors that do some interesting stuff in the same fantasy subgenre. Check out China Mieville (start with Perdido Street Station) -- another writer who writes interesting (and oh-so-weird) Urban Fantasy

For a different, darker urban fantasy tale, you might want to give The Magicians by Lev Grossman a gander which has mixed reviews but really does something different with the fantasy genre.

He writes stories where castration, rape, skull-crushing, and child sacrifice are parred for the course. So it should come as no surprise that George R.R. Martin conquered the sub-genre of horror fantasy before he wrote A Song of Ice and Fire. It's much (MUCH) more subtle than the series he's most famous for “something you'll need to keep in mind if you plan to read Fevre Dream. And you should. Why it made the list thanks to Twinkle Toes Twilight and the many vomit-inducing teenage wet dreams it spawned, vampires have lost much of their mythos. Long before that, Martin published a tightly written tale that combines elements of horror with urban fantasy in a thrilling urban fantasy. If you're experiencing the same kind of vampire fatigue as the rest of the intelligent world, you might be tempted to avoid this book. But that fatigue is exactly why you should read it. Because it will erase the memories of Stephanie Meyer's brand of sparkly literary poison. As with all things Martin, you won't find this a comfortable journey. The story is complex and "as always“ the writing is beautiful. You can say two things about Martin: First, that he's a twisted sunnuvabitch, and second, that he has a way with words that few people do. The action doesn't move quickly in Fevre Dream, but that only serves to heighten the suspense. You will experience real frights, but nothing gory enough to limit it to a horror story.

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If you like horror fantasy

you should read Terror by Simmons (also on this list). Delicious and spine-tingling scary. Raymond Feist's Faerie Tale is also another great "scary" standalone "horror tale."

And of course, I should recommend other vampire fiction. There's a million vampire books out there, but there are a handful that stand out above the rest. Here's my recommendations for other vampire fiction worth reading: Dracula by Bram Stoker -- the book that launched a thousand imitations -- is a must read. Salem's Lot by Steven King ties together the classic King-style horror (small town where residents are disconnected from each other where pockets of evil can fester and hide, a few good people who band together to fight evil,etc). I Am Legend by Richard Matheson which is sort of survivor meets Dracula. And Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons -- a good book by a damn good author. For a Vampire book that does something new with the genre, read Peeps by Scott Westerfield.

'Unique' is a vastly overused word. It has about as much meaning as Kim K's twitter feed. But in the case of Mythago Wood, it's warranted. Firstly, Holdstock tells the story from the protagonist's point of view – in first person journal entries – with intermittent letters from the other characters to add an extra layer to the narrative. This style could be overly self-aware and nothing could be more irritating than reading self-involved diary entries from a whiny character. (Can you imagine Frodo's diary?) Luckily, the writing is clear and doesn't sacrifice pace in favor of internal processing. (Bella Swan, this means you.) The reason it works so well is that you can't help but be pulled into this world. The book explores philosophical elements and, through Steven's diary entries, the reader is forced to confront them. Why it made this listIt's not often that a book manages to capture the imagination, while giving the audience the space to consider tougher questions – without forfeiting any of the plot. It's a fine balancing act that Holdstock has achieved. None of this takes away from the beauty of the forest environment he's created. It manages to be a well paced mythic fantasy that asks a lot of the reader, without it being emotionally exhausting. Maybe if Stephen Donaldson wrote The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant with as much care, fewer people would use his books as stairs for mini-labradoodles and hamsters.

Books in Mythago Wood Series (9)

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The Acts of Caine series takes adventure fantasy and drags it sixteen miles through the mud, and then tortures what's left. In a dystopian future, humanity has discovered a way to travel to parallel dimensions. One of those worlds just happens to be a pretty close approximation of the stereotypical fantasy world, and our protagonist, Caine, is sent there to get into as many cool fights as possible, which is then all broadcast back to Earth as entertainment. Caine is essentially a gladiator, and the book, beyond being a pulse-pounding, adrenaline-fueled adventure filled with violence and testosterone, questions why we are so entertained by depictions of violence. Somehow, the book manages to be both pulpy entertainment and a crash-course in philosophy at the same time. It's insanely dark, and Caine, a bare-knuckles brawler, comes up against armoured, sword-wielding opponents and dismantles them by breaking their bones, tearing their tendons, or just popping a handy knife through an eyeball. He's a fantastic anti-hero, and will discuss the moral implications of violence even as he tears through a contingent of guards. The 'heroes' of the story, on the whole, totally fuck up in their seemingly selfless endeavours to play hero. The fantasy world is completely lacking in any of the idealism or wonder that makes lighter fantasy books so wondrous, and the dystopian sci-fi world Caine comes from is far, far worse. Read this book if: you want your 'elves' running brothels, your 'orcs' figuring out how guns work, and your hero with his hands inch-deep in some poor bastard's chest cavity.

Books in The Acts Of Caine Series (4)

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

Caine Sequels

The sequels of course! There are 3 of them as of 2014 and it's more of the same with Caine's story fleshed out more and more. Each book does something new though. The books are all good, but the first books is the best and the second book nearly as good. There rest may be a dissapointment though, depending. The direct sequel to Heroe's Die is The Blade of Tyshalle.

The Steel Remains

The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan. Some elements of Heroes Die here: you have a dark and unforgiving world with a misunderstood hero who's not afraid of being a serious bad ass to those who fuck him over. This is one of the darkest fantasy books you'll read. But oh so good and something unique in the grim dark genre. It's a trilogy with the final book released by the end of 2014 making this trilogy a complete one.

The Heroes

The Heroes. When all villains are really just misunderstood heroes and heroes turn out to be villains. Abercrombie's best book so far, which is saying a lot since every book he's written is some of the best works in the genre. Tons of action, awesome and compelling characters, and vicious battles. Abercrombie is one of the best writers of violent scenes that just pop out of nowhere. If you love the action and blood of Heroes Die and you like the character of Caine, I think you'll like The Heroes. Note Heroes is more of a subversion of the idea of heroes, politics, and war. Heroes Die is more of a straight bad-ass anti-hero guy murdering everything around him rather than a sly statement about the state of humanity.

The Night Angel Trilogy

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

Prince of Thorns

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

The Farseer Trilogy

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

The Folding Knife 

The Folding Knife by KJ Parker's might just be up your alley. Dark, gritty, filled with flawed heroes with realistic motivations. Not everyone appreciate's Parker, but if you want a slower-paced 'rich' fantasy that's all about the characters, man Parker knows how to do it right.

The Red Knight

The Red Knight. Knight heroes, monstrous elves, and damsels in distress all clash in this remarkable book released in 2013. The tale is a different one than your normal fantasy with a highly detailed and realistic medievil world built by the author who is a legit medievil historian. There's a huge cast of characters (though the focus remains on The Red Knight, the titular hero of the story and series) rather than a single one. However, like Heroes Die there's a lot of sizzling energy to this series, with brutal action, action, and lots of war. You'll probably like it if you like gritty violence and lots of fighting.

Talion: Revenant

Talion: Revenant is the best work by prolific fantasy author Michael A Stackpole. Heroic fantasy with a lot of energy. One of the best 'boy becomes a man and then a hero' tales I've read and certainly Stackpool's best work.


Legend, the book that made Gemmell's career and certainly his career defining work about what it means to be a hero. He also explores the same idea in many works -- including a couple books about a bad-ass assassin turned hero (Waylander).

The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss -- just about one of the best fantasy books in the genre. Another sort of heroic fantasy, but a tale that focuses on a character-driven narrative about the life of a hero. This is not a subversion of the heroic tale, but an expansion of it. It's frame story that's told after-the-fact, and we are never sure if the tale of Kvothe, a larger than life hero, is truth or exagerration. The writing is lyrical and gorgeous -- showing itself to be a perfect intersection between a powerful narrative and strong writing.

An unforgettable story and a tale that never gets old. It's not as broad in scope as Lord of the Rings which is not really a standalone, nor does it have the depth that The Silmarillion has (which is really just a travelogue) but it's a wonderful story in its own right and an absolute must read. If you've never read Lord of the Rings before, the Hobbit is the perfect segue into Tolkien's Middle Earth.

In creating this world, Powers borrowed ideas from all over the place. Mythology, Ancient Egyptian theology, quantum theory, and classical literature“ they're all used in The Anubis Gates. It's a ridiculous combination of ideas, but it's the reason why this book is so entertaining. Why it made the list It's clear that Powers is an ambitious writer. He has zero qualms about chucking whatever he can into the mix. He doesn't even seem concerned about it making sense. And yet, it does. With the diverse concepts thrown around in the book, the plot is complex. But you'll never feel lost it in. It's a testament to his talent that he's able to create clarity out of chaos. This is also a title that comfortably sits between many genres, without veering too far in any direction. There's just enough humor to keep it entertaining without turning it into a Pratchett-style spectacle. There are enough thrilling moments to keep you entertained without it becoming a (pre-born-again) Anne Rice novel. While the characters in The Anubis Gates aren't the well drawn, the plot is excellent, and unpredictable and will keep you guessing until the end“ where the loose threads are pulled together into a tight “and satisfying“ conclusion.

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If you like

the rip-roaring adventure of The Anubis Gate, another tale that comes to mind is On Stranger Tides which is another awesome standalone novel by Time Powers (and the source material for the new-upcoming 4th Pirates of the Caribbean movie). You can also give Powers' other novels(all standalone) a shot too. They're always a mix of the fantastic and the tangible with a good dose of (sometimes weird) adventure thrown in. And if you like the whole "mythical elements coming to life" aspect of The Anubis Gate,then read Mythago Wood which is a novel about ancient myths coming to life. Neil Gaiman's American Gods and his excellent Anansi Boys are two other books in which anthropomorphized ancient myths struggle to coexist with modernity.

Fantasy has never been so clever or funny as it is in the brilliant Good Omens.Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimen form a super team and pen one of the funniest and best comedic tales out there. The premise is simple: the world is ending, the Apocalypse is coming. The only problem is the angels and demons who are supposed to be ushering in the apocalypse decide they rather like humans and each other and maybe Armageddon is a bad idea after all. The book is a not so subtle satire on just about everything and anything, lampooning everything from Elvis sightings to televangelists and the destruction of the universe. It's good stuff, hilariously funny stuff. A must read. A good stand alone book? I'll do one better, it's one of the best fantasy books ever written, period. Good Omens also made our Top 25 Best Fantasy Books list. So if you haven't read this remarkable book, don't waste any more time on this list. Make Good Omens your next read!

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The best Stephen King in a decade, and even a coin toss for his best work yet. King takes a well-known historical event, the Assassination of JFK, and does something wonderful with it. It's a time travel story about an English teacher, Jake Epping, who stumbles onto a wormhole to the 50s. Armed with the knowledge of future events, Jake decides to change the course of history and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It's a creepy thriller, a love story, a science fiction tale, and any number of things. But what it sure as salt isn't is a boring read. This is a book that once you pick up, you won't be putting down anytime soon. Banish any thoughts that this is some old re-hashed time travel tale. It's fresh, invigorating, and totally captivating in a way that few books are. This is King at his best in a long, long time, maybe his best ever.It's thrilling how King gives the entire tale an ominous feel, a creepy feeling keeps a sense of suspense through the story our hero is only ever one mistake away from a fatal mistake because the past itself is his enemy and does not like to be changed.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is an epic tale of the rebirth of magic in nineteenth-century England. Taking place among the regular historical occurrences of the time, the main difference between this world and ours is that magic is real and works. Rather – it did work, until everyone began to study the theory of magic instead of doing magic.But then, to everyone's great surprise, emerges Mr. Norrell, a magician who can do magic. He takes society by storm when he brings a young woman back from the dead and becomes one of the main reasons Napoleon hasn't overrun the British navy. Then, Jonathan Strange shows up. Another gentleman, who also practices real magic, he becomes the pupil of Mr. Norrell. Magic is disputed, and two great magical minds fight against a background of evil fairies, high kings, and the spirit of sorcery in England.Why it's on the listSusanna Clark managed to write an entirely enjoyable novel. Her expert use of diction helped create a unique tone that makes any reader consume the book as fast as possible.Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has it all: memorable and richly drawn characters, vivid setting, poignant atmosphere, action, adventure, humor, horror, and writing that is pitch perfect on every page. You will also like the fact that it's long - when a story is this enchanting you want the experience to last a while.This novel defies comparison to any other novels; it's in a class by itself. But if someone was to compare it to something else it'd probably be most accurate to compare it to something written in the 19th century, like Dickens. The story ends in a satisfying way and in one that's true to its internal logic, but Clarke leaves just enough unfinished to provide the perfect premise for a future novel.

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Fantasy about Magicians and Magic Schools...

The Night Circus

For a poignant story about competing magicians with a similar feel to it in tone and writing, read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Fantastic book and perhaps the CLOSEST similar read to Susanna Clarke's work that I've found. Definitely literary in tone and style. 

The Magicians 

A remarkable trilogy by Lev Grossman that subverts many of the fantasy tropes. It also features a precise and detailed breakdown of a magic system that's internally consistent. If you like the emphasis on learning magic following consistent rules, with a captivating story, awesome prose, and many deep themes explored, then The Magician is the best you are going to find. Arguably labeled as literary fantasy, though not so high brow that you can't enjoy it if you like more low-brow style fantasy (i.e. Sanderson books).

Moontide Magic Rise

Want more good books about 'magicians'? You may also find that you like Sean Russell's Moontide Magic Rise duology. It's kind of the same premise: magic has vanished from the world, a couple of people are trying to bring magic back to the world, etc. In my opinion, this is the closest book/series that you'll find to Susanna Clarke's work. 


Magician by Raymond E. Feist. If you want to forego all the literary aspects of fantasy and just opt to a straightforward classic style fantasy about a coming of age with a young boy becoming a powerful magician, then you could also read the standard epic village boy to might magician in Feist's Magician.

Literary Fantasy (fantasy with deep themes and beautiful writing):

The Golem and the Jinni

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

Tooth & Claw

TOOTH & CLAW by Joe Walton. Dragons living in a Victorian Society? I dare you to try it! Read if you like the rich Victorian fantasy setting present int Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.


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

Good Omens

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


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

Lord Dunsany

For the rich use of the English language, read Lord Dunsany's magnificent The King of Elfland's Daughter. This is one of those proto-fanasy classics in the genre that few have read.

Dying Earth

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

The Stolen Child

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

There are two types of fantasy readers. Those who feast on action-packed epic struggles for kingdoms, glory, and maybe to save the world from certain destruction from inimical forces. And there are fantasy works that focus on the human story. The Night Circus is one such story. There's a magical completion. There's two magicians locked in a competition by mysterious sponsors.â There's the requisite romance. There's betrayal and anger. There's resolution. But most of all, there's The Night Circus itself, a setting that's evocative and utterly captivating  a magical place that will have you running away and joining the circus (because who didn't dream of doing just this when you were a kid). This is one of the better fantasy novels to come out the past few years; it's a book that has quite captivated the mainstream. There's a reason for this, but you have to read it to find out!

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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

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

The Prestige

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

The Golem and the Jinni

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

The Magicians

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

Harry Potter

Ah Harry Potter. Is there any fantasy fan who has not read it? Not at all the same type of story, but there is a magical school setting and students of magic. If you are looking for this, then Harry Potter is your book, though an entirely more juvenile story and with poorer writing. 

The Sorcerer's House

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

The Troupe 

The Troupe by Robert Bennett Jackson. Mysterious, magical, beautiful. These are worlds that describe this masterpiece. It has somewhat of a similar feeling as The Night Circus, but the magic here with both books featuring a company of performers where the performances are magical. On that note, if you want mysterious and strange, also read Robert Jackson's American Elsewhere.

Harry Potter did the English magician story very well, but it also overshadowed some incredible books with similar settings. Will is a chosen one of sorts, one of the few that can battle the powers. His mentor is an old, kind wizard, seeking to end the cycle of light and dark. It sounds quite familiar, but other than the setting, that's really where the similarity ends. Arguably, Cooper is a better writer than Rowling, stepping away from a cheery style and into a darker tone. Where JK's story is a mashup of different myths, Cooper's is a careful construct of Celtic and Arthurian legends. That makes for some very clear imagery and some fantastic conflicts. Will narrates the story from two perspectives, his young, content self, and his wise, magical self. As a narrative tool, it highlights the cost of power and the changes of adulthood. It's not an easy journey, and Cooper weaves in heavy themes of loss, unwanted destiny, and darkness. Read if you like: Harry Potter, King Arthur, English settings.

Books in The Dark Is Rising Series (9)

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Let's base this strictly on other good Arthurian works of fantasy. You should read The Mists of Avalon if you are even remotely interested in Arthurian fiction. Even if you aren't, read it. Stephen Lawhead's excellent The Pendragon Cycle will fill your Arthur craving with a solid number of compelling books in the saga.

You'll probably like The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart as well, which is another retelling of the Arthur myth but this one is about Merlin. If you want to read the Arthur myth in a different light (some might even argue "a whole new light" even) from a historical fiction light rather than a fantasy one, give Jack Whyte's The Camulod Chronicles a read.

The Neverending Story is a perfect example of how badly a film version of a beloved book can go. For people who hadn't read the book, the film was probably enchanting. For everyone else, it's confusing. (Can we please talk about the luck dragon that was less dragon and more a flying puppy?) But the book is a complex exploration of power and how it corrupts even those with the best intentions. Why it made the list It's not often that you'll read a book where the integrity of the character you root the most for is as annihilated as it is in The Neverending Story. You'll have read about characters that fall from grace, but more often than not, it's a result of an external force. In this book, it's Bastians' good intentions that drag him down. And that's what will get you. Because we assume that, should we be given the power to change things, we'd do it for the better. But when you have that power and can have anything, how do you keep your moral compass intact? It's translated from a German Text, so the language isn't always the smoothest, but the creatures you encounter as you're reading are full of life. Ende has an imagination that could rival Green Lantern's, and it's clear on every page.

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If you are

a fan of The Neverending Story (you know, those sort of magical books you loved as a "kid" that were full of adventures where heroes always win and the boy always saves the girl and the unfairness of life is eventually balanced out by the end of the novel; that is,until you grew up and got a job and realized that never really happens), The Princess Bride would appeal to you. The Chronicles of Narnia, though not a standalone, are another set of books that delight the inner child. Shall I also mention the obvious Harry Potter series? And let's throw out The Hobbit while we're at it.

Oh this is a clever one. The premise is that God and Satan make a bet, a bet they have made countless times. But this time, the cards are stacked way in the devil's favor. The target of this cosmic bet is Joby, a young unassuming boy of 9 with a zest for life and future of limitless potential. That is until Lucifer starts messing thing up and Joby endures a world of pain.Yes, Joby is full to the brim with dark and horrible things and Joby is blindly unaware of the cosmic bet going on between God and Lucifer at his expense. Everything and anything just seems to go wrong for the poor guy. Despite this, not all is lost! There is pleasure with the pain here and a ray of hope in the form of love and friendship, and a bit of reincarnation to even the scales.Take the biblical book of Job, modernize the story for the 21st century, add in a twinkle of reincarnation, throw in a couple of angels, sprinkle in an Arthurian legend or two, and you have The Book of Joby! This is a fantastic novel and a new take on an age old story. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a non-standard fantasy tale that will have you cringing with despair and crying with delight by the end of it.
You might also call this one The Lord of the Rings of horror books -- a somewhat apt description that describes what this is. It's not a book that will appeal to everyone (fans of easy-to-read epic fantasy where all the cards are laid out on the table by page 10 probably won't), but what I will guarantee is that Imajiica is a feast of the senses and the imagination. Not all 'epic fantasy' is derivative of Tolkien or Jordan. Imajiica is an epic fantasy with a new face -- rather than an all-consuming struggle against an implacable and unstoppable outside force of evil, it's a struggle to save mankind from itself. This is a monster of a book at almost 1200 pages, but it's a book that will have you captivated the whole way through; there is no useful filler, only laser-sharp plotting and even sharper prose. The setting is quite unique -- a mystical fantasy universe, Imajiica, made up of 5 worlds/dimensions (called Dominions). The 4th Dominion, our world, has been separated from the other 5 worlds. The last great attempt to reconcile our world with the other 5 backfired, and nearly all the metaphysically talented people died (Shamans, Magicians, etc.). But now, things are again ripe for another attempt, and this time if the worlds are not reconciled, mankind will certainly destroy itself in the future. Barker is famous for writing his stories where there is another world underpinning the reality of our own, just a pin prick away, if one knows exactly where to prick. This makes for a creepy, atmospheric setting, much in the way of a Lovecraftian novel. The quality of the writing is high too with beautiful atmospheric prose.

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Coming Soon...

List more than a few entries on this Top 100 list, Talion is a completely underrated fantasy book. Stackapole is a prolific author, writing everything from Star Wars novels, video game stories (he was part of the writing team for the recent 2014 Kickstarter-backed Wasteland 2 PC game), to fantasy.Talion, however, is his best book. And not only is it Talion's best book, it's also one of the best heroic fantasy books in the genre. What's remarkable is that it's Stackapole's first fantasy book. What sets Talion apart from other similar books is the heavy dose of pathos pervading the novel. It's not a "happy" type novel; there is a deep sadness that rings through the prose the whole way through. But the characterization of Nolan, a young man forced to choose between love and honor, is fantastic. You literally can't put the book down until the last page. So for a top notch heroic fantasy, Talion: Revenant must be read.

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The majority of

the fantasy books out there feature some sort of "Hero" of the story. But there are a few books that really do the hero conceit some real justice, either looking at the price of heroism or just telling an outright killer story. I've recommended a few books here that will suit your taste if you like the flavor of Talion.

Michael Stackpole's

Once a Hero is another book that focuses on the cost of being a so called "Hero." It's a great read and while not as good as Talion: Revenant, should certainly be read if you enjoy Stackpole's book. 

If you like vicious fantasy with a lot of focus on a bad-ass main character, Heroes Die fits that particular bill. The protagonist is about as deadly as they come and, like Talion: Revenant, combines vicious action with an addicting plot. Another heroic fantasy tale worth reading is David Gemmell's Legend. Legend really sets you in a brutal world where only one man can make it right -- Druss the aging and retired hero. Quite a few of Gemmell's other books explore the idea of heroism quite extensively as well, so if you want more of the same, look at his other work.

Another must read

For a fantasy that centers around the exploits of a hero (a trilogy though and not a standalone) , check out The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This book has been lauded by critics and readers alike for years as one of the best heroic fantasy tales in the genre.

This fantasy fiction novel will suck you in. Elantris is one of the best standalone fantasy books in the genre. It's about addictive as chocolate and a whole lot healthier! .Normally, I prefer to avoid novelizations of myths such as Arthur or Atlantis. This book is no rewrite however. I didn't stop reading this one till my eye skimmed the last page. Sanderson's newer works are better in some ways, but Elantris, his debut novel, has quite a few wow movements. If you are tired of picking up yet another fat fantasy saga and want a well-drawn tale that's completed in one book, you won't go wrong reading Elantris. Apparently, Sanderson will be writing a sequel to Etlantris -- according to one of his 2014 blog posts.

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The obvious choice

if you like the "style" of writing in Elantris is to read Sanderson's other books (which sadly are NOT standalones, but series). He's got quite a few now. You could give his Mistborn series a go which features a very strong heroine like the one found in Elantris. For a more "end of the world" mega fantasy series in the vein of Robert Jordan, his new Stormlight Archive series (starts with The Way of Kings) looks like one of the most promising fantasy tales I've read to date.

For a somewhat

similar feel to Elantris (though a much more intricate and complicated tale than Elantris) in setting, you might look at Daniel Abraham's A Shadow in Summer (part of the Long Quartet series). There are some rich characterization, intelligent plotting, and some really ambitious ideas (literally and pun totally intended -- read the book to see what I mean).

This book makes the list for its unique focus on psychology inside of the sub-genre. Connolly tells the story of a child so lost in books and darkness that he can no longer tell the difference between the real world and fantasy. There's no doubt that this is a character-driven novel, and David is the perfect conduit. Instead of the fairy tale world that's often present, his thoughts are marred by his depression, turning his fantasy into a terrifying, malice-filled world. As he develops from the age of twelve, he begins to mature, learn the meaning of morality, and the pain of love. More than that though, it's a story of overcoming monsters. The ones in David's world, and therefore the ones in his head. It's a touching, dark journey that mirrors the difficult process of grief. Read if you like: Creepy stories, dark fantasy, fairy tales.
It was in the 80s that the subgenres of fantasy we know today started. One of these – urban fantasy – owes much of its development from War for the Oaks, which was one of the titles that pioneered it. If this is the only reason you decide to give it a try, you'll find it's time well spent.Why it made the list Some authors get so caught up in their own worlds that they can't bring themselves to the level of the reader when explaining the details of their creation. When this happens, the explanations they provide can seem patronizing. Bull never does this to the reader. Instead, she gives you enough information to understand the War for the Oaks universe, but trusts that you have the intelligence to fill in the blanks. In doing away with the overly condescending and lengthy descriptions that many fantasies are plagued with, action and character development are given all the attention.Bull's writing style is uncomplicated but not overly simple, making it easy to read. She's an excellent storyteller and – maybe because she draws on things that she experienced in real life – the magic elements feel as much a part of our reality as her tales about being in a rock band. Can you really think of anything more entertaining than a rock musical with faeries? That's what Bull has created here.You should already be convinced that this deserves some attention. But if you need another reason to do so, then the characters in War of the Oaks are it. Eddi, the main protagonist, is easy to like but it's the faerie Phouka – a shape changing, mischievous Prince lookalike – that makes this book so much fun to read.

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What can I

possibly recommend for faerie-related novels. Quite frankly,there's a zillion fantasy books about fairies, from romantic ones to dark horror ones, to sappy Twilight teeny-bopper series. I'll recommend the best I've stumbled across.

For the closest book

I've read that's similar to War for the Oaks, give Holly Black's Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale a good read. It's an edgy, intensely gritty modern faerie tale that should satisfy Emma Bull fans who those who want a darker sort of story. Ostensibly, it's a YA book (the protagonist is 16), but it's so dark and jaded, I don't see how that's the case.

For another

girl-versus-urban-faeries-and-finds-self-empowerment tale, you can give the Wicked Lovely series a read. This one is less dark than Holly Black's Tithe and it's several books long. Women who love romance will especially like the series.

If you like

that deal with individuals getting caught up in Faery court wars, Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files feature a wizard who keeps getting mixed up with Faerie politics (especially the fourth book in the series, Summer Knight, which is only about Faerie politics and intrigue).

For an interesting

take on the whole Faerie mythos (about a boy who is stolen away from his parents and forced to live with Faeries) read Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child.

Martha Wells is best known for her Books of Raksura series, but this nebula nominated book is one of her best by far. Despite its publication in the late nineties, Wells' writing has a classic feel to it, and not least because of the Victorian-esque setting. It has elements of old detective novels, though admittedly it's a lot darker.The story follows Nicholas Valiarde, adopted son of a necromancy-convicted noble. On the outside he's your typical noble, but his second life is as the master thief Donatien. Needlessly to say, he's not happy about his father's fate, not least because it was a setup. Angered, Valiarde seeks revenge while staying one step ahead of a legendary detective.Wells' story is augmented with incredible attention to detail, which extends to the characters. Traits and back stories are revealed naturally, and romance isn't overdone. It also throws in magic, necromancy, and Fey to create a suspense-filled tale that doesn't hold back on gore.Read if you like: Sherlock Holmes, Victorian settings, revenge stories.

Books in Ile-rien Series (5)

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Sherlock Holmes for the Victorian era and the master criminals

The famous (or infamous, depending how you view the New Weird movement) novel is generally considered one of the founding pillars of the New Weird genre. This novel meets many of the criteria of Steampunk as well, with steam-powered technology the driving technological force in the novel. The sequels, The Scar and Iron Council, would also be considered Steampunk, being set in the same universe. Mieville’s newest novel, RailSea, a post-apocalyptic steampunk world, might fit the mold as well. While Perdido Street Station is not a novel for everyone (it is classified as New Weird and it’s no accident that this subgenre features “Weird” as part of the description), it’s an astounding novel in many ways, and certainly a compelling steampunk vision of the future. The novel took home a slew of awards, including the august Arthur C Clark Award and the Derleth Award.

Books in New Crobuzon Series (2)

A blend of sci-fi and fantasy, Frank Herbert's Dune created a foundation for many of the themes in modern genre fiction. Its exploration of ecology, pacifism, and mysticism pairs with a story of destiny to remain relevant fifty years after its publication. However, underneath that apt commentary lies a powerful coming of age story. The story follows Paul Atreides, the heir of a family that controls the planet of Arrakis. In a layered, complex world of religion and politics, Paul becomes a hero and messiah. This happens not in a sudden rush of circumstance but slow and painful progress through training. Throughout it, Herbert weaves an expertly adapting mental state. The protagonist comes to understand the meaning of equality, love, and most importantly, time. Dune is not an easy read. It's wordy, jargon-filled, and examines difficult but important concepts. But if you can get past Herbert's initial learning curve, you'll find a rich world that's only overshadowed by its use of character. Read if you like: Epic sci-fi, philosophy in fiction, dense reads.

Books in Dune Chronicles Series (8)

Big Brother is Watching You
Winston Smith rewrites history. It’s his job. Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, he helps the Party, and the omnipresent Big Brother, control the people of Oceania. Winston knows what a good citizen of Oceania must do: show his devotion for Big Brother and the Party; abstain from all vices; and, most importantly, possess no critical thoughts of their own. The new notebook he’s begun to write in is definitely against the rules – in fact, the Thought Police could arrest him simply for having it. Yet, as Winston begins to write his own history, a seed of rebellion begins to grow in his heart – one that could have devastating consequences.In George Orwell’s final and most well-known novel, he explores a dystopian future in which a totalitarian government controls the actions, thoughts and even emotions of its citizens, exercising power through control of language and history. Its lasting popularity is testament to Orwell’s powerful prose, and is a passionate political warning for today.Review‘His final masterpiece … enthralling and indispensable for understanding modern history’ New York Review of Books‘A profound, terrifying and wholly fascinating book … Orwell’s theory of power is developed brilliantly’ The New Yorker‘A prophet who thought the unthinkable and spoke the unspeakable, even when it offended conventional thought’ Daily Express‘Brilliantly constructed and told’ Guardian‘There is not a smile or a jest that does not add bitterness to Orwell’s utterly depressing vision of what the world may be in 35 years’ time’ TIME 

Books in this sub-genre focus almost entirely on magic, but Red Rising stands in stark contrast to that. Part dystopia, part sci-fi fantasy, Red Risingfocuses on the story of a relatively ordinary citizen who seeks to overthrow an evil regime. Living in a futuristic Mars colony, Darrow is a ‘Helldiver’, digging underneath the surface to try and make the planet hospitable. However, picked up by a resistance group, he quickly learns that he hasn’t been told the whole truth, and there’s only one way to get his voice heard. Thanks to genetic manipulation, Darrow finds a place in the Institute, a school that produces all the top members of society. Balancing the anxieties of being discovered with harsh, Hunger Games-like training, Brown creates an incredible page-turner with great emotional depth. The world presented is a dark one, filled with psychopaths and leaders who rule like gods. It’s brutal in every way, making you question how it gets categorized as young adult. Even so, it’s rendered in stunning detail, tying in political philosophies and class systems while also unfolding a satisfying revenge story.

Books in Red Rising Trilogy Series (4)

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Not 'strictly' a LitRPG novel, but Ready Player One has a lot of elements that make up an LITRPG book, those being the in-game sequences. This is not only a LitRPG (partially) but a fantastically, brilliantly funny science fiction read. It's hands down one of my favorite books of all time. While there are flaws, there is just so much that's great about the book you can't but help love it.Definitely, a must read, whether you love LitRPG or not. I would easily put this on a Top 25 Best Science Fiction Book list; and in fact, if you check out that link to our sister site, I did just that.The protagonist is one a quest to solve a mystery inside of a massive multiplayer RPG (MMRPG). The game world, fictional as it is, ties into the real world because the in-game 'money' is used as a real-world currency. The game prize is ownership of the entire game world.Ready Player One is not just a LITRPG, it's an outstandingly fun read. While I can't say it's a hardcore LITRPG, it's certainly a novel that can be enjoyed by just about anyone. Unlike traditional LITRPG, it lacks some of the hardcore gaming elements that you may or may not like.So if you liked Ready Player One and the gaming elements affecting reality, then you may just like LITRPG, which takes gaming and make it THE focus of the story (usually by trapping people/gamers into a game world and killing them off in horrible ways)

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If you loved Ready Player one, then read Clines other book - Armada. It's not nearly as good as Ready Player One and quite a bit of the magic is gone, but it's still a good enough read, especially if you love LitRGP and the style of book that is Ready Player One.
Book Flap Description  One of the great masterworks of science fiction, the Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov are unsurpassed for their unique blend of nonstop action, daring ideas, and extensive world-building. The story of our future begins with the history of Foundation and its greatest psychohistorian: Hari Seldon. For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. Only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future--a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire--both scientists and scholars--and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation. But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. And mankind's last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and live as slaves--or take a stand for freedom and risk total destruction.  Arguably the greatest work of science fiction ever written (it's a toss up with Frank Herbert's Dune). Those who love science fiction with grand ideas and epic storylines, pick this one up. Note: this book is for people who are into deep science fiction. Grand concepts and vision carry the weight of this story, but characterization is not the focus of the novel. For those who want an entertaining "thinking" read, the Foundation series will provide that.

Books in Foundation Series (4)

Possibly the most, well-recognized world of fiction in history. The Lord of the Rings is the third best-selling novel ever written, with over 150 million copies sold. This high fantasy novel follows the adventures of Frodo, a mild-mannered and innocent hobbit, and his elven friends. The band of adventurers find themselves caught up in an age-old struggle featuring wizards, the evil mage Sauron, horrifically evil orcs and the poor twisted soul, Gollum, who desires the return of his most precious possession. Why it's on the listTolkien's characters, both virtuous and foul, are identifiably human, and the realism is accentuated by the glorious details of this fantastic world he imagined. Inspired by his Christian beliefs and influential Anglo-Saxon depth of knowledge – The Lord of the Rings is a story that any reader will find enjoyable.Read if you likeTo understand what a true master is capable of. Reading Lord of the Rings is the only way to grasp how original and brilliant these legendary authors were.
Mark Lawrence's newest 2014 release in his new The Red Queen's War trilogy, set in the same world as his Broken Empire trilogy. This time around he focuses his efforts on a different sort of anti-hero, a prince who is a cowardly fool. For the most part, Lawrence's effort works. The anti-hero is interesting and empathetic and funny to read about. This is no comedy though -- it's grimdark in the style of Lawrence's Broken Empires, though with more humor.Absolute a must read if you want some awesome antihero stuff.

Books in The Red Queen's War Series (4)

Yep, had to include it. Most people have probably read this series and even more authors have written hackneyed copies of it, but this series is the original father epic fantasy and deserves to be read. To the two people who haven't read it: just go ahead and get it over with. If you want to factor in significance to the genre of fantasy, Tolkien ranks at the #1 spot. However, most people have read him so I've put him at a lower spot to give other authors a chance at some recognition. 

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

Tolkien has always been about the world in which his characters live, never about the characters who 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.

The Wheel of Time


If you like Tolkien, read Eye of the World by Jordan. This man, when he was alive, claimed Tolkien's world building mantle: Jordan created a massive world, richly developed cultures, and well-defined magic system. When you read Jordan, youexplore 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.

The Way of Kings

For another epic fantasy with an end-of-the-world plot and a coming of age (sorta) story, read Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings (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.

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn


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


The Swan's War

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


Earthsea Cycle

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. 

Riddle Master 

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


A Song of Ice and Fire


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

First Law

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

The Dark Defiles is best of the series. Morgan built a fascinating world, dirt and all, and populated it will heroes that were also real people. Morgan dissects the idea of hero and looks at it from every angle. Our three protagonists aren't anti-heroes they are just flawed. While they deal with their flaws they realize that in the end heroes don't get to live happily ever after. (Buzzy Mag)
From Publishers WeeklyThe breathless third installment of Farland's second Runelords quartet opens with the cliffhanger from 2007's Sons of the Oak: flameweaver wizard Fallion Orden, son of the Earth King, is trapped by fiendish Lord Despair in a savage new world Fallion himself had made by melding two realities. Fallion has rejected endowments, transfers of power or skill that leave the donor drained of the attribute they bestow on the recipient, but his lover, Rhianna, her foster sister, warrior maiden Talon, and Talon's noble idol, the Emir Tuul Ra, accept numerous endowments, vowing to pay any price to rescue Fallion from Rugassa, where torture is an art. Oscillating between lurid depictions of blood-soaked vistas and heroic tales of noble adolescent saviors, Farland attempts to leaven the violence with enchanting parallel-world landscapes and charming minor characters, but the atmosphere overall is unrelentingly gloomy. Nonetheless, this series promises to continue as long as stalwart-stomached readers can keep turning its grisly pages. (Sept.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.From School Library JournalFallion Orden, the son of the hero Gabon, discovered a way to unite two alternate realities into one world. Now he is imprisoned in the world of his creating, tortured by a creature calling itself Lord Despair, who is raising an army of wyrmlings for a war of conquest. Fallion's allies face the daunting task of freeing him before he is broken and forced into the service of the forces of evil. Farland's latest installment in his popular Runelords series continues where Worldbinder left off, following the fate of Fallion and his allies as they seek an end to the evils that terrorize their world. Strong storytelling and vital characters as well as an ingenious system of magic make this a good addition to most fantasy collections.Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Books in Runelords Series (8)

This book and the Prince of Nothing trilogy, as well as the other books that follow, are so dark that you'll need a shower after reading them. And therapy. This bad-boy was nominated for the Locus Award for Best First Novel. It's a deep, philosophical read that demands your full attention, rather than being a light, pacey read like, for example, some of the young adult entries on this list. The prose is deep and enthralling, thick as rich chocolate but with the mental nutritional value of, like, kale or something. , the content of the book is deeply philosophical and intellectual, not in an 'everyone sits around and discusses the meaning of life' way, but in that the underpinnings of the characters and plot draw from eastern and western philosophies. The plot is epic and with many threads that play out across the series. Both monstrous and human entities within the book are horrifying, and the way magic-users operate is particularly unsettling. Read this book if: you like more intellectual novels, but don't want to miss out on all the sex and violence either.

Books in The Prince Of Nothing Series (6)

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Mazalan Book for the Fallen

The vast scope of The Darkness That Comes Before is very redolent of Steven Erickson's Malazan Book of the Fallen saga, though the characters are less gray, and the story more focused.

A Song of Ice and Fire

Also try George R.R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, which is very epic and very gritty but way less philosophical. I'd also say it's more "character driven" as a whole than is The Darkness that comes before.

The Steel Remains

Another series that does that is Abercrombie's First Law series (starts with The Blade Itself) and Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains


I'd say you'll also probably find Acacia by David Anthony Durnham a good read too -- there are gray characters, an exotic landscape, and world-ending powers at play in the background.

Tyrants and Kings

For another fantasy about war, look at John Marco's Tyrants and Kings trilogy. It's a great read with a cast of grey characters.

The Black Company

Another gritty military fantasy you'll probably like (though it's less cerebral than The Prince of Nothing) is The Black Company by Cook.

The Godless Word

The Godless World series by Brian Ruckley is dark, atmospheric and very gritty, though it lacks some of the polish of the other series. The series never full lives up to it's potential, however.

The Long Price Quartet

For a deep character-driven fantasy you might try Daniel Abraham's The Long Price Quartet.

Monarchies of God

For a gray fantasy with lots of politics, different kingdoms going to war, a cast of ambiguous characters, adventure and magic, check out Paul Kearney's Monarchies of God.

The Broken Empire

Like pointed philosophical bits about the state of mankind thrown out by the hero? Try Mark Lawrence's The Broken Empire trilogy. It has a gritty and dark world it's probably the closest in theme and style you'll find to Bakker's works.

Not a standard fantasy. This is one of those books that puts the onus on the readers to understand the story, characters, and setting. But if you put in the work, you may find the whole thing enormously enjoyable. The prose is deliberately ponderous, slowly peeling away at the plot one onion skin at a time. Yes, there are dragons here in this novel, ruthless sentient creatures used as weapons of mass destructions by the elven lords that command them. It’s a simple story on the surface featuring a human who works in a dragon factory. She’s a changeling – a human who can manifest different forms. She’s contacted by an ancient dragon who suggests a means by which she and he might escape the factory prison. Thus begins the complex relationship between Jane and the dragon – a relationship that underpins and directs much of what happens in the novel. Read this one for a good mix of steampunk and fantasy and a non-standard tale that with a bit of work, you will enjoy.
Yes, everyone has probably read this. In fact, these these may have been the books that got you started reading fantasy in the first place. These books do make for a good read and as the series progresses, the plot gets darker and darker. Read the books, you'll enjoy them. They are not what I consider the best of the best in the fantasy genre, but they are a far cry from the worst! Highly recommended reading for those looking for a nice introduction into the fantasy genre.
The Golden Key is the only book on this list with multiple authors (and three of them at that), perhaps because such works have a tendency to be disjointed, a result of the difficulty caused by attempting to meld multiple authors' differing styles. This isn't the case here, with each author writing one section of the three part book (Jennifer Roberson wrote the first, Melanie Rawn wrote the second, and Kate Elliott wrote the third). Tying the three stories together is a unifying plot, following two forever interconnected families whose histories are recorded using paintings instead of words. The Grijalva family of gifted painters guide events around them according to their desires, while the royal do'Verradas rule Tira Virte, the story's country of focus, a country which is in many ways an alternate version of Spain. The novel spans multiple generations over the course of 400 years, but mostly follows the main characters, Sario and his beloved cousin Saavedra, both gifted members of the Grijalva family. Creative readers will love this intricately woven story where art is magic, and the protagonist is in fact an antihero who often goes too far in the pursuit of what he wants. While each of the three authors intended to write another novel in this world, only Melanie Rawn has done so in her book The Diviner, a prequel to The Golden Key which was published in 2011. Read if You Like: art, magic, complex characters and relationships, family sagas, deep world-building, antiheros
The title is a bit tongue-in-cheek, as Abercrombie himself describes it this way: "Three men. One battle. No heroes." It was designed to be a standalone novel, but is set in the world of The First Law. The entire novel transpires during a three-day battle between the North and the Union.  In true Abercrombie style, The Heroes is a bloodbath full of wit and dark humor. Far from the typical heroic fantasy, good doesn't prevail over evil; in fact I'm not sure any of these dudes could really classify as "good," but you are invested in them either way. This rough, thrilling ride features realism done well. Full of jealousy, revenge, and recklessness, we follow their adventures, exposing the gory truth of both war and human nature.

Books in First Law World Series (6)

One of the more complex fantasy works on this list, The Folding Knife is another one of those epics that don't initially made the standard epic fantasy criteria until you start digging down deep to find the bones of it.The Folding Knife is an example of an epic fantasy that lacks many of the epic fantasy qualities that you are familiar -- like magic while still maintaining the high stakes involved in an epic.The Folding Knife is an epic that focuses on the ethics of things -- specifically on the making of difficult ethical decisions. There's a lot going between the pages and while there is no standard evil dark lord to slay or a detailed magic system, but it's a story about a man's willingness to do anything and everything strengthen the kingdom he comes to lead.This novel is probably the most eclectic of the books on this list (especially added to an Epic Fantasy list), but don't just it and give it a read. You might find there's a real power The Folding Knife and become a life long fan of one of the best -- and most underrated -- authors in the genre.
A powerful coming of age tale about a rejected half-goblin, half-elven prince who comes unexpectedly to power when an accident kills his father, the emperor, and half brothers. It's a tale about a young prince who finds the confidence to lead his people as emperor and perhaps that he's even good at the job.Addison's world is fascinating -- complex, richly drawn, with regal customs, regulations, and social orderings. It's a strange foreign hierarchy bound by even stranger social norms, from rituals to language patterns. But it all works together to form a highly detailed setting that you just never want to leave.Unlike much of the other modern fantasy being released that's always grim and dark with unlikable amoral heroes, The Goblin Emperor returns to some of the older fantasy classic norms with good heroes you can really get behind and root for -- heroes who always take the high road, even though they have suffered through many injustices. It's thoroughly refreshing and sorely missed in a genre now mostly populated with unhappy.This made our Top 25 Best Fantasy Books of 2014 list and we consider it one of the best fantasy books of 2014.

The Etched city was formed from the love union between Stephen King and China Mieville. If you want a more complex fantasy novel with a good dose of the bizarre, a sprinkle of noir, and a dash of pathos, The Etched City is it. You'll find a lot of comparisons with King's The Dark Tower, as both novels feature a dark, brooding hero tromping through a wasteland of a world. But the stories, in terms of similarities, end there.Bishop is a strong storyteller with a keen knack for crafting characters that don't fit into the normal mode. You won't find those canned fantasy characters such as the spoiled princess, the dumb hero, the evil dark mage, etc. Rather, you will be presented with a cast of (sometimes despicable) characters, human warts and all.Let me emphasize that if you are looking for standard fantasy (village boy discovers secret power, gathers up companions including a beautiful princess in disguise, and sets off to fight a dark lord), you should look to other authors. But if you want an entirely different kind of fantasy, a dark, dirty, sensual fantasy where the norms are still yet undefined, where you can root for evil to win and the wretched to victory. Yes, it's that kind of novel. Don't think you can fit The Etched City into your standard fantasy. Reading this book is like going on a trip and experiencing something bizarre -- it's likely the experience may not be entirely comfortable when it's happening, but afterwards you wouldn't trade it for the world. The Etched City is not always a comfortable read, nor is it a casual read. Concentration and attention on your part is required, but if you are prepared to put in the effort of reading the novel (and it's not such an effort as you might think), there is a potent and wonderful story to lose yourself in.It's unfortunate that even as of 2015, the author has not written anything else. Not only is this a Stand Alone book, it's the ONLY book written by Bishop.

Similar Recommendations

Anything by China Mieville 

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. This author writes strange, twisted, genre-blending fantasy. 


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

The Dark Tower

It's weird but reminiscent The Dark Tower by Stephen King. Some elements are similar -- horror and darkness, though King's work is a more traditional heroic tale while Parker's work is...not.


Ghormenghast. Not exactly fantasy, but with rich, evocative language, atmospheric settings, and indelicate characters, and a strange almost dreamlike landscape and world, you can't but help feel some similarities, though Parker's world is darker and more undefined.

City of Saints and Madmen

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

The Year of Our War


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


Iron Dragon's Daughter


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: 


  • Michael Moorcock's Gloriana
  •  Jack Vance's Dying Earth
  • Writings by Edgar Allen Poe
  •  Works by Lord Dunsany
  •  Vermillion Sands by J.G. Ballard 

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

The story revolves around Smoky Barnable, a nebulous sort of bloke, who falls in love with a tall and delicate woman. Completely besotted, he chooses to suspend his beliefs in order to follow her. He considers himself the luckiest man alive when he marries her and enters her enchanted home in the woods. The narration drifts backward and forward in time to eventually include six generations of the Bramble, Drinkwater, Cloud, Mouse, Hawksquill, and Barnable families. What becomes evident is that the fairy kingdom is manipulating the entire family. Some believe this more than others, but no-one knows how this fantastical tale will end.Why it's on the listLittle, Big is more of an experience than a book. It feels slow at first, but it certainly rewards you for your patience. You will fall in love with Barnable and his extraordinary marriage into a unique family. Beneath the surface of this gentle lark beats the heart of a magically amazing story that is part parable for how to enjoy a healthy and fulfilled life. This is one of those timeless, eternal, stories that take on new meanings each time you read it. From the first word, you are caught up in the oddly modern yet nostalgic feeling that Little, Big brings - a wonderful sense of timelessness. John Crowley has managed to create a story that doesn't feel like fantasy – it is truly literary fiction that happens to have fantastical elements.Read if you likeModern Fantasy, Fairie Tales.
In Wecker's debut novel, two very unusual immigrants arrive, separately, in 19th century immigrant New York. These two characters are (unsurprisingly) a golem named Chava, created by a Jewish rabbi in Poland, and Ahmad, a jinni originating in ancient Syria. Their chance meeting ends up sparking an unusual yet believable friendship of polar opposites, and the strength of the novel is undoubtedly their conversations on a variety of subjects including free will, desire, and of course their differing reactions to dealing with the isolating struggles of being inhuman in a human world. The resulting story is a multiple award winning novel where magic exists in a historical space, a novel where the characters grow and change as result of select incidents and resulting introspection. For example, Chava is an unusual character in that she is a woman containing decidedly (for the time) unwomanly characteristics such as strength and the ability to protect others around her. Her time and circumstances limit her ability to use these powers however, and she must learn to live within these societal restrictions so as not to draw attention to herself. Any female reader will easily emphasize with her struggle.Fans of the book will be please to know that Wecker recently announced a sequel, due out in 2018.Read if You Like: mythology, historical fiction, immigrant stories, romance, folklore

Similar Recommendations

For stories about myths and legends come to life and interacting with humans:
  • American Gods by Neil Gaimen
  • Mythago Wood
  • The Anubis Gates by Tim Power
  • Ysabel by Guy Gaverial Kay
  • American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson
For beautiful, poignant literary fantasy with deep themes, strong writing, and complex characters:
  • The Night Circus
  • The Stolen Child
  • Ghormenghast
  • Tigana
  • The Wizard Knight 
  • Rise of Moontide and Magic
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
  • Perdido Street Station
See our Best Literary Fantasy Books for more of the literary type fantasy recommendations
For a Fair Tale well done, look no further than Tad Williams' The War of Flowers. It makes the classic 'man-goes-into-the-fairy-realm' tale proud. Williams is really a talented writer, having churned out Memory, Sorrow, Thorn saga, the Otherland saga, and his recently finished Shadowmarch series (an epic fantasy tale about fairies!). What am I saying? The man's got a pedigree in fantasy and knows how to write pretty damn interesting books. Williams usually spends a LOT of time building up his books and it can take some time to really get into the meat of the story (like a few books into a series), but since The War of Flowers is a standalone, you don't have any of Williams' usual ponderous world building to wade through; basically, you get his excellent storytelling compressed into 500 words. It's a win win for any fantasy fan who's tired of epic stacks of fantasy book sagas to wade through. So, if you like fair tales, romance, and adventure, then you are going to love The War of Flowers. You can also feel proud that you've saved the environment by not supporting the killing of excess trees while you are at it.
Wow, what a novel -- supremely rich of imagination. Kadrey is often compared to the likes of Neil Gaiman, but more of a blue color version of him. Kadrey tackles topics with more grit and dirt than does Gaiman, infusing his writings with Judeo Christian legends while Gaimen's writings are more influenced by Celtic, Scandinavian, and Native American mythology.This book basically is one LSD trip through an afterlife populated by monsters, angels, and demons. It's a strange and twisted world that the hero of the tale gets caught up in. And it's one hell of a motorcycle ride though hell.
Brandon Sanderson proves his expertise in magic once more with Warbreaker, a story of two princesses, separated and each trying to prevent a war. In theShardworld of Nathis, every individual is born with a single breath, similar to a soul, which provides a sixth sense and can be gifted to others. The breath can also be used for BioChromatic magic, which comes in several different forms. Those with multiple Breaths gain ‘heightenings’ like disease resistance, the ability to sense auras, and even agelessness. These all help magic users to gain more breaths over time, which can be used in other ways. Breath allows users to raise the dead, bring objects to life, and more. Use of breath is illegal in the country of Idris, where the princesses were born, creating a fascinating power dynamic and culture differences. Topping it off is Sanderson’s overarching lore that ties many of his novels together. As well as Breaths, Warbreakerhints at use of Stormlight, though in a very different way to what can be found inThe Stormlight Archive. As well as its ingenious action sequences, the magic system propels an overarching threatthat drives an engaging plot.

Books in Warbreaker Series (2)

Heaven and Hell books are a semi-popular fantasy genre. My pick for one of the more exciting books is God's Demon by Wayne Barlowe. Lucifer, rather than being that despicable guy everyone loves to knock as being the evil force is good. He loses the battle for heaven and gets kicked out of heaven and into hell, then dies. Well, all the fallen angels kind of go psychotic except for fallen angel Sargatanas who doesn't want to play at being a demon anymore. After being separated from God and heaven for countless eons, he decides to mount a revolt against Lucifer's regent, Beelzebub, in a desperate attempt to get back to Heaven.God's Demon is an interesting thing and it does something completely new with the classic heaven and hell conventions. It poses the question: can evil find redemption? Those who like military fiction, action, heroes, and just thrilling reads will find it hard to put this book down.

Similar Recommendations

There are a few other interesting books that fictionalize the whole Heaven and Hell, Angels and Demons, God and Satan dichotomies. Probably the best written one I can recommend is Mark J. Ferrari's The Book of Joby. A marvelous (and long!) book about a contest between God and Lucifer with some poor schmuck (Joby) who's used as the experiment. Yes, anyone who has studied the bible will see the connections between Joby and Job. I'm just glad I'm not that poor schmuck.

For one of those afterlife gone completely to hell stories, where (one) of the main characters dies and finds out the afterlife is really shitty place to go, a place where new souls are basically hunted down and fed to some dark monstrous god, read The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams. It's a dark and twisted tale that sucks you in and scares you at the same time.

For a new 2014 release about a subverted afterlife, read The Waking Engine.

Of course, you can't forget the classic Riverworld by Philip Jose Farmer.

If you want a sort of twisted, erotic, dark fantasy version of hell where Satan is good and God is the bad guy where torture and rape are common, read Anne Bishop's The Black Jewels. It sounds pretty twisted, but it's actually pretty entertaining.

If you want one of those sappy romance novels with good plotting and characterization about Archangels falling for pretty human girls, read Sharon Shinn's Samaria trilogy.

My final recommendation for a good "Heaven gone wrong" page turner is The Shivered Sky by Matt Dinnaman.

You either love him or hate him (and if you do hate him, it's probably because every second sentence is a ridiculous metaphor), but there's no denying that Stephen King deserves a spot on this list. Even if it's only because he's the Stephen King. Something to keep in mind before you pick this up: There are two versions of The Stand. One set in the 80s and one in the 90s. King rewrote the 80s version to reflect 90s pop culture and add things that he'd left out of the initial publication. It probably depends on when you grew up as to which of the two you'll find most horrifying, but if you do read the original version, remember that it was written post-Vietnam and during the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. Why it made the list While there are many comments sections devoted to arguing over which of his books is the best, The Stand is almost always listed near the top. This is because, of all of them, this is the most quintessentially KING. There's no one better at making the reader feel so uncomfortable. This doesn't happen as a result of the horror genre aspect of his books, it happens because he takes the real world and then distorts it so that the world we're familiar with becomes one of horror. There are elements of this book that are simplistic to the point of immaturity (the obvious delineation of good and evil is a good example), but – as always – the strength of the book is in the way King uses a (very) large canvas to allow the characters to grow. Every one serves a purpose, whether it's to move the action along or to provide an extra shade to the greyness of human morality. It's a long read. But it's one of the greatest examples of dystopian fantasy. And the length King goes to in order to show the breakdown of civilization after most of humanity is killed puts The Walking Dead to shame.

Similar Recommendations

The Talisman is my other King recommendation. A novel about a small boy, Jack, who will travel into parallel worlds to save his dying mother. The Shining is another classic King novel; and how can I possibly leave out The Dark Tower series. All of those books share the same universe (a place of parallel universes). 

If you are a King fan, you should give Dean Koontz a read too. Both authors put a lot of time into characterization. If you try Koontz, give Odd Thomas a go. I feel it's his best work.

Be prepared to be truly terrified with this book! If you've never read Dan Simmons before, you have sinned indeed. Simmons is one of the most talented writers on the planet, an author too talented to be contained in any one genre. He's written fiction, horror, science fiction, and fantasy novels -- and every single one of his books is a gosh darn work of art. His science fiction books are particularly good (his Hyperion series I consider some of the best science fiction ever written).My pick for his fantasy contribution is Terror, which is Simmon's mishmash of Edgar Allen Poe, Patrick O'Brien, and Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. Basically it's a historical fiction meets horror on the open (or icy) sea.The Terror is a complex novel with a lot going on in and a good deal of scare to it. The story itself begins on a bit of a downer: two ships have been stuck deep in the polar ice for over two years. The crew's food is pretty much finished and there's a mysterious Eskimo woman who can't speak -- or won't speak -- living with the crew, feared as a witch. Add to that a strange creature that's worse than any polar bear imaginable -- it's been clawing to get in the ship and stalking the crew as they hunt for supplies, picking them off one by one by seemingly impossible means.Sound interesting? It is. I'm not going to spend another 30 minutes brainstorming on how to convince you to read it. Just take my word and give it a go. Oh, and turn down the lights and pull up a blanket when you do, it's going to get scccccaaaary!
An author who writes mesmerizing fantasy stories with an almost lyrical, dreamlike style. Her prose is always outstanding, top notch and beautiful to read. Deerskin is perhaps her best, most evocative work. The fact that so much emotion and so much journey of self discovery is packed between a few hundred pages in a single story is staggering. McKinley shows you don't need multiple books to tell a poignant story.Well McKinley has many awesome books, Deerskin is one of her darker works. It's the story about a Princess who appears to be happy, but as you dig down into the narrative, find out is in fact miserable and lonely. Very bad things happen to her and her life at the palace is destroyed. It's a story about pain, about sorry, about loss, and ultimately about rebuilding your life from the ashes and finding redemption and maybe even love.This poignant tale is not a happy one and there are moments of intense horror, sorrow, and sadness scattered between the pages, but it's a powerfully intense story about becoming broken and shattered but finding healing and the power to overcome past tragedies and gaining control of your life.Few books will so impact your emotions like Deerskin. One of the best character riven fantasies firmly rooted in reality.
A powerful story that deals with themes of childhood, innocence, and growing up. What's particularly powerful is Gaiman's ability to harness feelings that most of us, as children, have experienced at one time.Ocean At The End of The Lane is an adult fairy tale, short but oh so sweet. It brings to mind those days lived a child, recapturing that childhood wonder and imagination that's lost with adolescence. But this is through and through an adult tale, not a child's one with stark serious themes beneath the childlike veneer used to frame the story surface.It's a story about a young boy who discovers a magical world behind the facade of the lovely English countryside he occupies, a world full of amazing sights, faeries, vivid adventures, and, as our child protagonist finds out, deadly dangers too. Gaiman vividly tells a story where terrible things can and do happen to the very young and the very innocent -- qualities that do not shield from the harsh realities of life.A clever book that juggles the supernatural and the natural, showing a supernatural terror impinging on the natural order of the boy's existence, overturning his former idyllic and carefree bucolic life. But beyond the supernatural threat to the boy's childhood innocence is the stark theme of innocence lost, of families being destroyed, and leaving that tricky space of innocent childhood to find the wider world waiting with all its harsh realities.Basically, it's a bloody good tale that scares as much as it entertains with deep themes beneath. A brilliant stand alone and one of the best books of 2013.
Perhaps the quintessential definition of the 'fantasy of manners' subgenre (sometimes referred to as 'mannerpunk'). It's a book that brilliantly combines elements of court intrigue, unbridled human emotion, and sword fighting.This book, first published in 1987, retains some of those classic fantasy traits with clear distinctions between the good heroes and the bad guys. And in a period where fantasy was mostly stagnated (with the exception of a few breakout works like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series), helped prove fantasy could be elevated above the 'low' reputation it had acquired due to the various Lord of the Rings ripoffs and sexualized Conan limitations that prevailed during this period.Swordspoint can also be given just credit for helping to pioneer the fantasy of manners style of fantasy blended with court intrigue that later authors developed and expanded on (i.e. Jacqueline Cary's works).A classic, but one that should be read.
Sybel is 16 years old, and alone in the world, orphaned by her princess mother and her wizard father. Her only goal in life is to maintain the magical animals left to her by her father and to extend the menagerie through her own magic. Without warning, her world is turned upside down when a baby is brought for her to raise, a child who causes Sybel to become entangled in the human world of revenge, war and love. Now, only her beasts can save her from ultimate destruction.Why it's on the listMcKillip manages to make the books' heroes seem like villains and its villains look almost heroic. In fact, every character in this book is perfectly human, and that's not a simple achievement in a genre so replete with well-worn cliches. You will be awestruck by the richness of this world and its' characters. The author is a master of her craft and if you enjoy fantasy or are intrigued by how metaphysical concepts show up in Fantasy this is a book worth reading. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a quick read, the story is captivating and it feels fresh and appropriate even though it was published nearly 40 years ago. Most refreshing is that the fate of the world is not what is really at stake, but rather the personal relationships of a sorceress, a nobleman, and a lost prince. This book is simply magical, unforgettable, and truly a delight to read.Read if you likeMagic, Intrigue, metaphysical concepts?
Wurts is one of the more underrated fantasy authors in the genre; she's written many book, but perhaps her most fun, most thrilling book is her stand alone To Ride Hell's Chasm, a novel that squeezes in all the qualities that make Wurts one of the most talented writers in the genre without the negative ones (her propensity for creating huge series with thick, ornate prose).Because of this, To Ride Hell's Chasm, while over 700 pages long, is her most accessible work -- and, as the title indicates, is a one fast paced and exciting ride. It's a tale that's fast paced yet still retains depth; a story about man with a tragic failure of a past who is given the chance to right it. And in the midst of it, maybe just save a princess and a land and a kingdom from demons and sorcerers. 
By far the oldest book on this list (published well over a century ago) but a classic of fantasy nevertheless. This is a highly influential work on the fantasy genre as a whole, helping to shape the (then) nascent fantasy genre into what it is today. The Worm Ouroboros inspired the likes Tolkien and Lewis. It's a great work of English literature and a foundation fantasy novel....and it can be a bit hard to read, so be prepared. This is not a work you rush through in a day, but a story and experience to be slowly savored, page by page. It's a work influenced by the highest levels of literature, drawing on the epic traditions laid down by classics such as Homer's Odyssey and Iliad and epic poetry like of Milton's Paradise Lost. The language is rich, the vocabulary vast. The landscape is populated by noble heroes and dastard villains. There's war, love, loss, and betrayal -- grand and noble themes through and though. This book hails from another time, a time when writers were schooled in the classics, a time when writers had large vocabularies and wrote with lush, ornate, and descriptive prose.It's a work that (now) few fantasy readers have read (and few will ever bother to read), but it's one of those great works that leaves an indelible imprint on you after you finish. For one of the greatest fantasy books every written... no, one of the great works of English literature even, read The Worm Ouroboros -- a true classic.
Before famous director, Hayao Miyazaki turned Howl's Moving Castle into an animated film, it was an enchanting novel written by Diana Wynn Jones. This novel follows the life a young girl who is destined, as the eldest of three daughters, to fail if she ever pursues success. In a world where the tropes of most modern fairy tales are accepted ways of life, Jones' protagonist, Sophie, must learn to shape her surroundings instead of being shaped by them. Initially, Jones' Howl's Moving Castle appears to be clichéd. Sophie is cursed by an evil witch before stumbling upon a living, breathing castle inhabited by a wizard called Howl, on the outskirts of the magical Kingdom of Ingary. While this narrative may stay true to many classic tropes of the fantasy genre, such as magic witches and talking objects, Jones' novel features a memorable setting, unique characters and a striking plot. The subtle, Victorian prose, similar to that of novels like Jane Austen, allows the reader to establish a vivid and in depth image of each character. Furthermore, the magical Kingdom of Ingary is perfectly developed, with Jones giving just enough information to build a mental picture while still allowing her readers to run their imaginations wild. While Miyazaki's film and Jones' novel follow the same premise, they differ greatly in plot and characterization, making them almost two entirely different stories. If you've enjoyed either version of this tale, you'll likely enjoy the other as well.

Books in Howl’s Moving Castle Series (2)

Zelazny may be famous in the fantasy world for his Amber series, but his best work may just be his stand alone novel, Lord of Light. It's a work that's complicated yet simple -- a story that blends the medieval fantasy with the futuristic science fiction and does so remarkably well. It's a work that brings to mine great works like Dune and The Dispossessed which while can be classified as Science Fiction, also touch the fantasy sphere too.Few western works dally deep into Eastern mysticism; but Zelazny goes where few writers have gone before (or since) and digs deep into the Hindu pantheon of deities to craft a remarkable story about gods who are just as flawed as the humans who worship them.
A delightful blend of different genres with elements of steampunk, mystery, and Gothic tossed in. It's a unique story that really showcases Well's talents. Death of a Necromancer is Well's best book (some might argue that her Wheel of the Infinite is her best). This is one of those stories that literally drags you along with the non stop action of it, yet still manages to develop complex and empathetic characters.Expect fast paced action, strongly developed relationships between characters, and unforgettable personalities. The author's talent for short yet expressive prose is to be lauded; she has the remarkable ability to paint a complex scene or nuanced dialogue with only a few strokes of her pen; what takes lesser authors a page to do, Well's can do in a few lines.Death Of A Necromancer is fun, dramatic, and one hell of a rip-roaring adventure from start to finish. It's one of the best, most exciting stand alone fantasy books in the genre. If you haven't read it yet, make sure you do.

Books in Ile-rien Series (5)

Drawing heavily on the culture of the ancient Norsemen, Gemmell takes familiar archetypes and crafts them into a well-told tale of sacrifice and dying well. Druss and his once-possessed axe Snaga come out of retirement to shape the men of Drenai into an army that can do the impossible, affirming he really is a legend. While pretty straightforward, Gemmell's prose manages to inspire despite making no effort to downplay the grim tragedies of war. Legend has become a classic standard of the heroic fantasy genre.Gemmell has written an extensive body of work in his lifetime and all of it pretty much classified as 'heroic' fantasy in the truest sense. Legend is perhaps his most well-known book and his breakout read and many would argue some of his other works are superior (my top pick would be his Troy trilogy). However, as Legend is his first and most well-known, we've chosen this book to represent his body of work.But don't think of this as the first and only book, but merely the place you should start when reading his fantasy.
The Broken Sword explores what happens when a human child is exchanged at birth and taken and raised by the elves. It is a solid bit of writing and a masterful story. This dark fantasy borrows strongly from Nordic Mythology and tells of a time when the Norse gods still walked the earth, and elves still maintained their own corner too. Why it's on the list This is a Viking-themed fantasy story, told by a master storyteller. A favorite in the whole "sword & sorcery" fantasy genre. While there are countless excellent authors who can write heroic fantasy or hard science fiction – there are very few who can write both. Poul Anderson was one of the greatest speculative fiction authors. With a degree in physics and a great depth of knowledge about Nordic mythology and ancient languages, Anderson was able to create a true fantasy classic. Read if you like Nordic Mythology. Released at a similar time as Tolkien's novels. This is an excellent example of how similar, yet completely different a Nordic/Romantic/Dark fantasy type book can be.