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Top 25 Best Fantasy Books

Love fantasy novels? Hate wasting time reading trash? Then read this definitive guide to the top 25 Fantasy books in the genre. Updated 2015
Top 25 Best Fantasy Books | BestFantasyBooks.com

This is a list of books that are the crème de la crème of the fantasy genre. I've carefully chosen the top 25 fantasy books from among hundreds of series and thousands of books. In my 20 or so years of devouring fantasy books, certain fantasy books have really stood out far above the rest. This is a list of those books.

The Top 25 Fantasy Books list selects from among a wide range of fantasy, from epic fantasy to detective fantasy, from well-known fantasy to obscure fantasy, and from old "classic" fantasy books to the best of later year's (2014) fantasy releases. The goal of this list is to present as broad a selection of the best fantasy literature from different fantasy subgenres -- cult hits, best sellers, critically acclaimed, and classics. This is the web's number one fantasy list, visited by millions of readers over the seven years it's been kicking around.

To include is to exclude, and alas, this list is short, and the number of fantasy books out there is huge. If my omission of your favorite author offends, my apologies, but you can’t please everyone. For each fantasy book recommendation given, I try to give some compelling reasons why the book stands out as one of the best fantasy books in the genre, rather than just saying "this is one of the best fantasy books ever." I acknowledge that judging books is like judging beauty: it's in the eye of the beholder. Some people may like a book, while others do not.

2015 Update

It’s been several years since I have updated this list, and now I bring the 2015 perspective to this update.

A lot has changed in the two years since this list has been updated. Fantasy has continued to grow up and gotten much more…complicated. 

"Black and white fantasy'? So…last decade! Grim dark is vogue and antiheroes now the rage. And speaking of fantasy heroes, when they are not generally facking shit up and being all anti-heroish, then they better have a serious flaw or twelve. 

And hey, who wants just an regular old evil villain when we can have a sympathetic baddie that can still tug on those old heart strings while also filling in part time as a malicious serial killer – you know, that mass murdering dark wizard who takes a breather between murders to feed soup to orphans then goes back to ravaging women and killing puppies.

There has of course been an endless deluge of the written word: new books, sad books, good books, bad books – but mostly bad books. Supposedly, there’s a publishing revolution, of sorts, with Amazon’s push into self-publishing. While this has resulted in a vast flood of new indie books, the reality is that for every self-published gem that gets picked up and made into the next best thing, there’s a veritable mountain of horrid prose, painful typos, and dreadful plots to sift through first.

After You Read the Top 25

For more recommendations, read the (new) Top 100 Fantasy Books list that directly continues where the Top 25 List finishes...at #26 and ending at #100. 

For an overview of the fantasy genre with our recommendation picks for the BEST book of each subgenre and category, check out our new Best of the Fantasy Genre list. It's a great supplement to the Top 25 List and perhaps even a different way of picking the RIGHT fantasy book that suits your tastes.

For a modern list of the best fantasy books to come out since 2010 (past 5 years), check out our new Best Fantasy Books Since 2010 list.

Be sure to read the brand new, uber huge, Top 50 Stand Alone Fantasy Books list (just updated end of 2014). 

Then take a look at the Best Fantasy Series list to top it off.

If you want a humorous take on MY worst fantasy books picks in the genre, read MY Worst Fantasy Books list.

And don't forget to visit our very active and always helpful Fantasy Book Forum full of awesome members and plenty MORE book recommendations and great fantasy book discussions. 

And hey while we are on the topic books, if you want some quality science fiction book recommendations, be sure to visit our brand new sister site that's all about science fiction books: BestScienceFictionBooks.com -- the web's most detailed science fiction book recommendation site! Start with our The Top 25 Science Fiction Books Ever list, then work your way through the other subgenre recommendations. The site is still in development, so stay tuned the fully functional site on a brand new layout coming in the first part of 2015.

View OLDER versions of The Top 25 list here

While Martin's epic contains a lot of brutality towards women, it also shows how women, surviving in a man's world, can use their cunning, charm, and looks to run the show. There are few fantasy fans who have not read the books by now and a significant number the of the general public has followed along with this series through the TV series.Now the TV series puts more emphasis on female heroines than do the books, but this does not take away the cast of strong heroines present in the series who, over the five books, carve out positions of strength and power.Martin can be brutal in his treatment of women but given the realities of the era (a fantasy version of the War of Roses period in English history) it's a true take on the role and treatment of women. But it's also fair in that women, often, indirectly can garner power.

Similar Recommendations

The First Law trilogy

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

Prince of Thorns

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

Acacia

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

Elric

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

The Godless Word Trilogy

Another series that had a somewhat similar feeling to Martin's work is The Godless World trilogy -- there are some shared elements between the works or at least the gritty, dirty feel of A Song of Ice and Fire is shared by both works. The Godless World is actually more like a cross between Martin and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I did find the quality of the series dipped by the end of the trilogy, but it's still a good enough read.

The Dagger and the Coin

Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series. Rich characterization with characters you dislike who eventual grow on you as the story progresses; oh my god -- plot twists and turns, and magic that's not at all present until the story progresses. Not as much action and drama, but a more character driven saga.

Sword of Shadows Saga

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

The Black Company

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

The Farseer Trilogy

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

Malazan Book of the Fallen

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

The Darkness That Comes Before

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

The Grim Company

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

Monarchies of God

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

Shadowmarch

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

A Land Fit for Heroes Trilogy

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

Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

Because...like Martin himself recommends Howard's masterpiece. What more could you say to that?

Lies of Locke Lamora

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

The Amber Chronicles

The Amber Chronicles by David Zelazny. Take a royal family who can walk into different realities. Gray characters, squabbling siblings, alternate realities, a prince in exile.

The Gap Cycle

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

If you haven't heard of The Kingkiller Chronicles by now, you'll want to pick it up as soon as possible. Rothfuss' award-winning series took the genre by storm in 2007 with its expertly crafted take on a traditional story. On the surface, the series doesn't seem to offer anything particularly new. It's a story of an orphan boy and his bid to enter a prestigious magic school. However, Rothfuss proves that a good story is not just in the idea, but the execution. He crafts an incredible, unreliable narrator, clever, yet flawed and broken. Kvothe opens his story with a hook – how he fell from grace as a powerful wizard to a humble innkeeper. Along the way, Rothfuss introduces incredible characters, who manage to be quirky yet realistic, bringing emotion and nuance to the tale. All of this is tied together with beautiful prose. It manages to be vivid, yet precise, integrating with several plot strands that give the feeling of an epic, but incomplete story. The second book leaves you listlessly waiting for the third, which has been six years in the making. Read if you like: Unreliable narrators, clever protagonists, music in fantasy.

Books in The Kingkiller Chronicle Series (2)

Similar Recommendations

The Blood Song

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

The Farseer Trilogy

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

The Magicians

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

The Lies of Locke Lamora

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

The Long Price Quartet

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

The Red Wolf Conspiracy

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

The Warded Man

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

The Lightbringer 

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

The Night Angel Trilogy

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

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

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

A Wizard of Earthsea

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

The Riddle Master of Hed

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

Talion: Revenant

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

The Book of the New Sun

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

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

  • Harry Potter by Rowling. The Black Magician by Trudi Canvas. 
  • Master of Five Magics (the most detailed system of magic system and set of rules I've read in fantasy). 

Abercrombie's work has become synonymous with the growing sub-genre of grimdark fantasy Naturally there's a lot of crossover between grimdark fantasy (which subverts the tropes of traditional heroic fantasy) and dark fantasy (which is more adult fantasy that takes elements from horror). The Blade Itself fits both categories, and the First Law trilogy that it belongs to is an amazing read. When perhaps the most sympathetic character of the trilogy is a horribly disfigured master-torturer, you know you've got something special. The books feature cannibal wizards, twisted monstrosities, demonic magic that acts like radiation in that it causes cancerous symptoms in those exposed to it, a barbarian with an Incredible Hulk-style split personality, and more. The series arguably began the current grimdark movement by systematically subverting every trope of fantasy, not the least of which is the tendancy of heroic fantasy to be light and innocent. It's positively dripping with darkness, horror and violence, and every now and then Abercrombie will catch you off-guard with things like half-eaten human skins left in bushes, or equally fucked-up things like that. Thanks Joe. Read this book if:you want to read a book that follows a similar structure to The Lord of the Rings, but written by the criminally insane.

Similar Recommendations

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

Abercrombie's Other Books

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

The Grim Company

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

The Scourge of the Betrayer

The Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards. Oh man, shockingly good. I have to say, as of 2015, Salyards is one of my new favorite authors. Absolutely read this good good grimdark if you love Abercrombie. While it's not necessarly the same in style (The Scourge of the Betrayer reads more like of a cross between say The Black Company and Prince of Thorns), it's some of the best grimdark I've had the pleasure of recently reading. The sequel, The Veil of the Deserters, is even better than the first book. Really, pick this one up right away. Be wary though, it's grim as fuck.

The Broken Empire Trilogy

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

The Black Company

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

Mazalan Book of the Fallen

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

The Steel Remains

If you like the epic-fantasy-turned-on-its-head that marks Abercrombie's effort, read Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains. Morgan writes some interesting science fiction but has turned his writing chops to the fantasy genre with a new epic fantasy series. Like Abercrombie, Morgan flips some of the standard fantasy conventions on their side (including an openly gay hero). Even better, the trilogy is now completed with the last book (and best!) released the end of last year (2014). This is some of the darkest fantasy works in the whole of the genre.

The Prince of Nothing

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

The Lies of Locke Lamora

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

Heroe's Die

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

A Song of Ice and Fire

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

God's War

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

The Folding Knife

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

Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever

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

Memory of Flames

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

Tome of the Undergates

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

The Dagger and the Coin saga

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

If you like gritty, grimdark fantasy, we suggest you check out our Best Grimdark Fantasy Books list.

Steven Eriksen has been both lauded and criticized for his extreme detail, and that extends to his magic system. In Malazan, magic comes from warrens, a realm from which mages and shamans can draw their power. Some are associated with the world’s various races, locked behind rituals and blood bonds. Humans can draw from those known as paths, as a source of power, opening them to healing, sea, fire, land, light, and mind magic. From them, they can place protective wards, weave the spells of multiple users together, and travel. Though the system doesn’t sound entirely new or complex, the detail the author imbues makes it interesting. Through the course of his ten-book epic, Eriksen dives into far more than can be held in this small description, regaling histories and gods, exceptions and drawbacks. If you can get past his thick pockets of information, he will take you on a journey of magic unlike any you’ve seen.

Similar Recommendations

A Song of Ice and Fire

George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga also features an epic scope and the grey characterization that Erikson so loves. Martin's work is smaller in scale though and tends to be more focused, plot wise. 

The Darkness That Comes Before

You can also try Scott R. Baker's The Darkness That Comes Before saga, which is an alternative history saga, where the Roman Empire has never fallen and magic works. Oath of Empires is epic, featuring massive magical battles and huge opposing armies (Persian and Roman) clashing so hard you can hear the horses scream. 

The Cry of the Newborn

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

Acacia

His recent novel, Acacia, is a fantastic read -- big on the epic battles and gritty dark realism of Erikson and Martin. At it's core, 

The Black Company

The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a military fantasy; you might want to read Glen Cook's classic Black Company series. It's dark, gritty, and has a hell of a lot of battles. It's the book that has forever defined military fantasy.

The Broken Empire

Mark Lawrence's delicious gritty anti-hero military fantasy. If you like large battles, underdog heroes, and a full scale invasion of the dead into the land of the living, well, The Broken Empire is what you need to read. One of the more interesting heroes in the genre and featuring superbly written prose.

The Bloodsounder's Arc

Starts with Scourge of the Betrayer. Some new 2014 military fantasy in a good grimdark tradition. Reminds me of Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence mixed with The Black Company by Glenn Cook.

The Thousand Names

The Thousand Names came out 2013 with a serious bang. Detailed military campaign and squad tactics/warfare as several companies of foreign colonial soldiers must make their way through an inhospitable desert to escape hostile locals trying to kill them.

The Traitor's Son Cycle

Starts with The Red Knight. Plenty of medieval warfare here - tactics, sieges, and fierce battles against men and monsters.

There's so much about this wonderful series that's right. From a thrilling Robin Hood caper story (think a magical Oceans 11), compelling and complex characters, deep and expansive world-building, fascinating mythology and lore, and a gripping tale. This is epic fantasy meets underworld fantasy, with the stakes the fate of the world and the heroes a band of brilliant thieves.With four books out now and some of the books uneven (the first couple books are the best), Lynch has managed to weave together a compelling tale that starts off rather straightforward with a  band of thieves in a single city with a single, yete simple goal, but becomes complex and empire spanning a few books in.The strength though is in the brilliant prose, the strong characters, and compelling characterization. And of course, the over-the-top robberies the characters inflict upon those who deserve it.Look, if you haven't read this series yet, do it. It's not only one of the best assassin/rogue / thieve tales in the genre, it's one of the best fantasy stories/books in the entire genre. We are all still waiting for the release of the 4th book in the series, which has been delayed for at least a year and a half.

Similar Recommendations

The Sequel Books

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

The Name of the Wind

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

The First Law Trilogy

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

The Crown Conspiracy

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

Vlad Taltos

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

Retribution Falls

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

The Farseer

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

Tigana

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

Nights of Vilijamur

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

Tome of the Undergates

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

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

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

Among Thieves

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

Prince of Thorns

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

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber -- a book that's as shocking as it is true. Sometimes art imitates life and life imitates art. I'm not sure which is the case here, but this is a TRUE story about a gentleman rogue, a real life version of Locke.

The Count of Monte Cristo

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

Do I even need to discuss it? The father of modern fantasy, the recreation of the English myth, an apex of English literature; Lord of the Rings is more than mere Fantasy, it is both myth and a fictional history so real, so enticing, that it can be read as "real". Peter Jackson's movies capture the imagination of the books with astounding clarity -- yet at the same time, the books deliver a different, yet equally satisfying experience.Without a doubt, Lord of the Rings is a transcended work of art. It's a trilogy born from years of hard research, channeling everything from Tolkien's linguistics background, to his years in the muddy trenches of World War I, to his love of English mythology all forged into an indelible modern myth that's spawned an entire literary genre.If we look at the sheer contribution these books have made to the genre, the series would rank #1. If you have not yet read this series, it's time to get it over with. And no, the movies are NOT the books.Why Lord of the Rings is NOT ranked number one on this list is the most often asked question left in the comments. The reason? While Tolkien has influenced the genre, his books are also more than 50 years old and the genre has radically evolved since Lord of the Rings was first written. You are firmly stuck in the past if you don't yet realize this. Tolkien's works are classic and are rightly regarded as masterworks, but are they the best in light of 2016? I firmly state they are not and will vehemently argue the genre has evolved quite a bit since the 1950's. You simply just have to look at how characterization (in the genre) has evolved, how women are not mere pretty perfect window dressings but actually real (and flawed) characters now, how heroes are flawed creatures with a bit of villain in them and villains are not all bad who may even have a bit of the heroic about them too.Fantasy has grown up folks and become more nuanced -- far more complicated than Tolkien's simple dichotomy of good and evil. And, for fuck's sake, let some other writers have a chance at some glory dammit you selfish people :p -- where's the fun if Lord of the Rings is always at the top spot on every single damn list?Because of Tolkien sheer influence on the genre and the spectacular world building and mythology created, I've put him at #4. Is Tolkien now in 2016 the best in the genre? I say no, he's not. There are better modern fantasy works -- works influenced and built on the backs of literary giants such as Tolkien, but more refined works. Is Tolkien one of them most influential -- even up to the present? I say definitely yes! But, the fantasy genre has moved on since the 1950's, so give Tolkien's magnificent work the recognition it deserves (and trust me, the series has been getting it's recognition for about 60 years and counting now), but let's not all get fixated only on past glories and instead look to the future. If this argument doesn't sway you by now, I suggest you look at our Most Influential Fantasy List INSTEAD of this Top 25 List and treat that as your own Top 25, as you're mood won't be improved as you continue down this current list which has an eye firmly set on the modern rather than the past.

Similar Recommendations

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

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

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

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

For Epic Fantasy like Tolkien but Bigger, Louder, and Broader, and more modern ideas:


The Chronicles of the Unhewed Throne

Starts with The Emperor's Blades. This is a new epic fantasy (out in 2014), but takes a lot of the Tolkien ideas (sweepingly large worlds, a cast of heroes, mysterous ancient magic coming to life, different cultures, etc) and updates it with modern writing, great writing, well developed female characters, an epic storyline, and an ending-of-the-world conflict.

The Wheel of Time

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

The Stormlight Archive

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

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

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

The Deathgate Cycle

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

For beautiful, lyrical writing and a world full of mysterious magic snf ancient myths seeping through the fabric of the story:


The Lyonnesse Trilogy

Jack Vance's Lyonnesse trilogy -- a highly influential and absolutely wonderfully written series that channel's the same feelings that does Tolkien. These, like Lord of the Rings, are classics, steeped with English and Irish myth. The closest 'pure' epic fantasy that you'll find to Tolkien in style. However, this is HIGH fantasy, and not epic fantasy with a band of heroes seeking to overthrow a dark lord. Did I mention this has some of the most vivid and beautiful prose in the entire genre?

The Chronicles of Prydain

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. Welsh myths and epic fantasy by an influential writer who's often compared with the likes of Tolkien. If you like Lord of the Rings, well, you need to read these classics. I would define these as written for Young Adults and kids, but like Harry Potter and the Hobbit can absolutely be appreciated by adults just as much.

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. 

The Swan's War

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

Riddle-Master

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

Shadowmarch

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

For subversion of the Tolkien conceits:


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. This is Lord of the Rings with all the black vs white cut into strips of grey and where the bad guys are just as complex as the good guys.

Besides, everyone is now calling Martin 'The American Tolkien.' What more can I say there?

First Law Trilogy

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

A Land Fit For Heroes trilogy

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

The Sundering

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

Hobb is one of the best characterization writers in the Fantasy genre. Her characters are vividly real, leaping out of the pages into our minds as living characters. She has no qualms about allowing her protagonists to suffer and she readily avoids Dues Ex Machina (at the cost of drawing out her stories, which is not a bad thing). Her Farseer books are full of fantastic characters and an interesting, mysterious world to explore. The world occupied by Fitz is arguable almost a character in its own right. You'll come to know The Six Duchies like you do your own living room. You'll hear the cries of fish mongers, smell the dirt and decay, and practically feel the cobble stones beneath your feet as you journey with Fitz Chilvary through this intoxicatingly crafted word.Toss in a gripping plot and fantastic prose and these books make for some glorious reads. The books are also home to the most hated villain ever to grace the pages of fantasy.Hobb's The Farseer trilogy is perhaps her greatest work; she's carried on with the character is two direct sequel trilogies as of 2016 and two tie-in trilogies set in the same world, but with different characters and in different locales. And even now with the fantasy genre being moved in completely new directions with the likes of Martin, Abercrombie, Lynch, Lawrence, and Sanderson, Hobb's works are still worthy to be on anyone's top fantasy book list. She's like that good old fashioned dinner you visit there's nothing particularly new on the menu, but you know what you get and it's always delicious.The Farseer world is vast, spanning over 15 books now. The chronological order goes like this with two of the trilogies TIE-IN series that don't feature the characters in The Farseer.The Farseer Trilogy The Liveship Traders Trilogy (tie in series)The Tawny Man Trilogy (direct sequel trilogy)The Rainwilds Chronicles (tie in series)The Fitz and the Fool Triology (direct sequel trilogy to The Tawny Man)

Similar Recommendations

Sequel Books by Robin Hobb

It's a no brainier to read her other books set in the same universe: Live Ship Traders trilogy (set in the same world, but with different characters), and Tawny Man trilogy (direct sequel to the Assassin trilogy).  Her newest trilogy Fitz and the Fool, taking place years after the Tawny Man trilogy, with book one released late 2014 (and to awesome reviews). Also try her Soldier's Son Trilogy; it has a feel that's similar to (yet different from) her Farseer series (less well received by fans and reviewers though). 

Tigana

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

The Tamir Triad

In terms of style of prose and storytelling, the closest you'll find to Hobb is in my opinion Lyn Flewing. You can start off with her Nightrunner series, about a thief type character OR you can read her best work, The Tamir Triad, which is a magnificent trilogy -- completely character driven, horrific, dark and disturbing. And it's a series you can't put down. It brings to mind the Farseer trilogy when you read it -- not in plot, but in the way the story is told, the horrific things that happen, the wonderful writing, and the intense focus on the characters that drive the story forward rather than pure action.

The Name of the Wind

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

The Blood Song

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

The Way of Shadows

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

The Prince of Thorns

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

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

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

Ender's Game

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

Curse of Chalion

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

Rai-Kirah

For less "epic" fantasy recommendations, try Rai-Kirah by Caron Berg which is a very well written character-driven fantasy. 

The Sevenwaters Trilogy

Give the Sevenwaters books by Juliet Marillier a good look. It has some deep characterization of the protagonists and a very strong romantic bent to it (if you liked Hobb's Liveship Traders, then absolutely read this one).

 For another character-driven (kinky) romantic fantasy series, you may also give the Kushiel books by Jaqueline Carey a read.

Tyrants and Kings

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

Second Sons

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

Heroes Die

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

Poison Study

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

The Crown Conspiracy

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

Mistborn

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

The Book of Jhereg

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

The Bone Doll's Twin

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

Sword of Shadows

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

School fantasy is often aimed at children, and it's very successful at hitting that market. It's much harder to appeal exclusively to adults, and that's where The Magicians shines. Rather than the typical twelve-year-old protagonist, it tells the story of a high-school student not yet aware of his powers. Quentin Coldwater is obsessed with fantasy books, an outcast, and somewhat depressed. When given the opportunity to study magic, he jumps on it, but quickly learns it’s not as fun as it seems. In The Magicians, spells are hard. Learning magic is tedious and requires background knowledge of language and history. Quentin finds himself frustrated at his progress, no longer the prodigy he used to be. From there, the book only gets darker. The antagonist has no mercy, magic can kill simply through accidents, and drug use is rife. Lev Grossman stands in stark defiance of convention, refusing to sugar-coat magic and creates a tense and compelling story as a result.

Books in The Magicians Series (2)

Similar Recommendations

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

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

The Night Circus

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

Harry Potter

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

The Wizard of Earthsea

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

Ocean at the End of the Lane

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

The Secret History

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

Anathem

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

Narnia & Alice in Wonderland

The Magicians alludes to a number of popular fantasy classics. Alice in Wonderland is one such work and The Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, if you dig down a bit, The Magican books are a postmodern version of Narnia with the friendly animals revealed to be monsters.

In an era when fantasy was about honorable farm boys with magic swords and a noble destiny, Glen Cook said 'fuck that mess; let's have some amoral pricks doing bad deeds in a dark world, that's way cooler'. And you know what? I believe he may just have been right. The Black Company is about the titular band of mercenaries simply doing their jobs and, well, killing people for coin. It just so happens that the person supplying said coin is the sort of dark lord that, in any other story, would be the arch-villain. But why should the Black Company give a shit? They get paid either way. The writing is unremarkable and to the point, which reflects the points of view of the grunts whose stories we follow. None of the characters are nice, and the combat is never glorified. It's all in a day's work for these sorry bastards, and the epic conflicts of the god-like figures they fight for and against are far above their pay-grades. Gritty humour also abounds, and reading the book is entertaining, and fun, even if the characters are having the most miserable times of their lives. The world is dark as hell, and made darker by the exploits of the Black Company and their masters. Read this book if: you're pissed about fantasy heroes always taking down the dark lord and leaving thousands of good, hard-working grunts unemployed.

Similar Recommendations

Instrumentalities of the Night

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

Bloodsounder's Arc

Starts with Scourge of the Betrayers. About as close as you are going to get to Cook -- the narrator is even an archivist and the tale is told in first person. There's a LOT of similarities and the Bloodsounder books are gritty gritty grimdark dark. Delicious and some of the best fantasy to come out the past couple years. Do NOT pass this series by if you want something similar to The Black Company. It's the best of the similar recommendations I can give.

Malazan Book of the Fallen

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

The Dagger and the Coin

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

The Ten Thousand

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

The Way of Kings

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

Heroes Die

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

The Darkness That Comes Before

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

The Coldfire Trilogy

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

The Thousand Names

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

Legend

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

The Red Knight

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

Today, Ursula K. Le Guin’s magic system may not sound exceptional. Like many, it uses the knowledge of true names to control elements, creatures, and even humans. Consider, however, that this book was published in 1968, yet remains the most interesting execution of the concept. In Earthsea, every magical action has a consequence. Learning it is as much a practice in ethics as it is names, as even the smallest spell can change the world. Stop rain in one part of the world, and another may be hit with terrible storms. As a result, mages must have a deep understanding of the world. Learning an item’s name isn’t enough; the caster must understand how it fits into the bigger picture. As a result, wizards usually specialize. There are healers, enchanters, summoners, and illusionists. Each much consider the balance of the world so as not to upset it unnecessarily. Through the protagonist, Ged, the reader learns what can happen if that warning isn’t heeded. His overconfidence unleashes a terrible shadow upon the world; one that he must learn to both accept, and then defeat.

Similar Recommendations

The Lord of the Rings

Similar recommendations: J.R.R.Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

Riddle-Master of Hed

I also recommend Phillip K. McKillip's wonderful Riddle-Master trilogy, which features similar prose and a similar, though at the same time, very different, story. 

The Swan's War

You might also try Sean Russell's The Swans' War .

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

This book is a classic with a complex heroine and plenty of subversions. The author is from the same mold as Le Guine.

Lyonesse Trilogy

The Lyonesse Trilogy by the great Jack Vance. Plays quite a few of the same notes as does The Earthsea Cycle: beautiful, poetic writing, well developed complex characters, a magical world steeped in welsh/Celtic mythology that you want to move into, and some deep themes explored.

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

Starts with The Dragonebone Chair. From boy to man and from man to hero, this is a remarkable tale that's brimming with detail. It's a story where the journey's end is not the ultimate destination, but the journey itself is.

The Curse of Chalion

The Curse of Chalion won the World Fantasy Award and the author has won Hugos and Nebula awards already for her other series. Beautiful writing, complex characters, deep themes. Something about this book brings to mind A Wizard of Earthsea, even if the plot and story are not at all the same.

There are few things harder to control than emotion and this makes magic in The Cold Firetrilogy immensely difficult. The planet Erna is controlled by a force known as the fae, which makes humans subconscious emotions and fears real. Often, it’s as much a fight against magic as it is with it. After centuries, people’s thoughts have manifested strongly enough to create the planet’s own gods, but also to create demons and faulty technology. The fear that tech won’t function correctly has knocked its inhabitants back to the medieval days, but there are also some who can control the fae. Fae manifests in four ways. Earthcomes from the planet’s seismic activity, Solar from the sun’s light, Tidal from its moons, and Dark from those places devoid of light. By using symbolism and sacrifice, sorcerers have learned to manipulate these forces, with some able to see and shape it instinctively. The intelligent way C.S. Friedman has built the world means magic is prevalent in every aspect of the story. It blends fantasy, sci-fi, and horror,while suggesting thatlimitless imagination isn’talways a good thing.

Books in The Coldfire Trilogy Series (3)

Similar Recommendations

Magister Trilogy

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

The Crooked Letter

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

The Warded Man

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

The Abhorsen Trilogy

Look at The Abhorsen Trilogy; the world portrayed is one with dark creatures lurking in practically every nook and cranny of the landscape. 

Spook's Apprentice

Also read Joseph's Delany's Spook's Apprentice series which is a YA story about a young apprentice who works as a sort of exorcist in a landscape filled with creatures of the night.

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

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

The Prince of Thorns

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

The Black Company

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

The Warded Man

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

The First Law trilogy

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

A Song of Ice and Fire

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

The Talisman

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

The Scar

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

Fevre Dream

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

Solaris

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

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.

Similar Recommendations

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

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.

On paper, this is the perfect setup for a grand fantasy novel: Guy Gavriel Kay (Tigana, The Fionavar Tapestry, Lions of Al-Rassan) applies his considerable literary talent to crafting an alternate fantastical China, loosely based on 8th century China during the Tang Dynasty. This is the China you’ve always dreamed of: deadly ghosts that haunt battle fields, ninja assassins and brutal warriors, conniving kings and traitorous royal families. From start to finish, Under Heaven is an epic journey of one unremarkable man who becomes something remarkable. It’s haunting, beautiful, and a tale that will stick with you after you’ve turned the last page. Kay is one of the best wordsmiths in the fantasy genre; every book he puts out features delicious prose; this man knows how to write beautiful English prose and Under Heaven keeps with his high standards of writing. Highly recommended.

Books in Under Heaven Series (1)

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More Books by Kay

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

The Name of the Rose

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

Brother Initiate

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

The Long Price Quartet

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

The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox

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

The Folding Knife

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

Across the Nightingale Floor

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

The Secrets of Jin-Shei

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

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

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

The Golem and the Genie

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

The Name of the Wind

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

What would a list of best fantasy books be without mentioning Terry? Not that Brooks dude who wrote an entire series about glowing pebbles. The other one. The funny one. Everyone has an opinion about what the best Discworld book is and, even if you don't think this is it; you'd be hard pressed to find a more inventive title in the series. Why it made the list As always, Pratchett has written something that's easy to read because it's both short in length and endlessly funny. There are see-through dragons, an upside down swordfight and the strangest trolls you'll ever read about. Despite the amount of silliness Pratchett manages to fit into this short book, it's smart. Sometimes the humor is dry and at other times it's ridiculous, but it's always entertaining. It's obvious that Pratchett was aware of the elements of high fantasy – he's a master of the genre – and he doesn't turn them upside down in an effort to prove a point, he just takes them to the extreme. His imagination is endless, and so is the joy you'll get while reading this book.

Similar Recommendations

Good Omens

Good Omens is a brilliance of the combined mental powers of Neil Gaimen and Terry Pratchett. If you love Discworld, then this should be your next read.

Myth Adventures

Myth Adventures series by Robert Aspirin. Funny and clever, but mostly funny. Do read if you love to laugh at self-aware, bumbling fantasy tropes doing absurd thing.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adam's The Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy. The famously funny parody of science fiction, life, and the universe itself. The equal to Pratchett in the science fiction world and a book that's transcended into pop culture itself.

Bridge of Birds

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart. 'Funny' alone does not describe this. It's a masterpiece of character driven comedy set in an alternative Chinese landscape that won't disappoint.

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.

Similar Recommendations

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 

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.

Shadowmarch

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

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.

Gormenghast

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!

Similar Recommendations

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.

Mark Lawrence doesn’t use an abundance of technical explanations and diagrams, but that doesn’t make his magic system any less interesting. In fact, it lets him focus on his astonishing world-building and its unusual elements. The world in this series is, in essence, a never-ending cycle. Reality is created by what citizens believe in. Their beliefs create gods, and those gods influence their beliefs, altering them once more. This hole, in reality, lets humans influence the world and use magic. Traditional magic users appear. Those who can control fire, necromancers and seers; but all have a price. Each time magic is used the barrier between life and death gets weaker, potentially opening the floodgates. However, despite these elements, there are hints of a relatively normal past. Lawrence’s world is just as compelling in its discovery as it is its execution, and his magic system is a huge part of that.

Books in The Broken Empire Series (2)

Similar Recommendations

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

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

The Black Company

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

Scourge of the Betrayer 

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

First Law

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

Elric of Melinbone

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

Among Thieves

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

A Promise of Blood

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

Heroes Die

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

A Song of Ice and Fire series

Starts with A Game of Thrones. Yea, I had to drop this in. The gritty setting, the troubled characters, the struggle for power among kingdoms. The undead coming back to haunt the living. See some of the similarities here? Word is though, book 6 is coming out 2016 NOT 2015.

Often referred to as 'the greatest fantasy author you've never read' by some. And sadly true.But if you've read any modern sword and sorcery with dark themes, complex characters, strong world building, you've felt the far-reaching influence of Leiber.Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser is a fantasy most of you probably have not read, due to its age and the criminal lack of recognition given to the series over the years. The impact on the genre Fritz Leiber cannot be understated. Together with Conan stories and Lord of the Rings, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were some of the most influential books in the fantasy, helping to define the boundaries of the genre and impacting generations of writers. Fritz Leiber actually coined the term Sword and Sorcery and together with Howard's Conan stories, he's credited as the father of Sword and Sorcery.The familiar trappings expected by the modern fantasy reader are all present in the stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: evil wizards, abundant thieves, roguish swordsmen, princesses in distress. But all these elements are used in such a way that the stories are fresh; indeed this older series is very much readable by today's standards of fantasy. The cities are well developed, the landscapes are filled with a rich tapestry of history, the characters complex and realistic, thoughtful and at times dark. And the writings is sweet, hearkening back to a time when to be a writer meant to be a wordsmith, where the minimum of words are used with great skill to express so much.Read this not only because it's one of the books that fostered an entire genre of writing, but for the phenomenal world building, the compelling characters, the deep relationships and exciting adventures all told with Leiber's remarkable prose -- a prose that many modern writers would do well to ape. Despite the age of these stories, it's clear Fritz Leiber is 10x a better writer than a number of modern popular fantasy writers. There's a certain cadence to the way Fritz Leiber tells his tales -- a subtle but powerful, like a monastic chant that soothes the soul, and very much present in all of his works. You have to read his stories to get the feeling of it, but once you do, you'll feel right at home in his wonderfully crafted worlds.Not a 'Modern' fantasy you say? Meh, this stuff is better than 95 percent of the new fantasy that's published these days. Leiber is right up there with the modern greats like Martin, Abercrombie, and Lynch and was undoubtedly a huge influence in their own writings.If you want to read sword and sorcery fantasy that focuses every bit as much on the relationship between characters as it does on the violence and action, this is a series you want to absolutely read. 

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Conan the Barbarian

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

Elric of Melnibone

For the modernized version of classic sword and sorcery, made edgy, dark, and disturbing; for themes that all modern grim dark fantasy touch on, read Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock. He's that man who took sword and sorcery and made it depressing and deep.

Kane Books

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

The Witcher

A modern update (translated from a Polish author) on some of the classic Sword and Sorcery with complex themes, deeply trouble characters, and strong world building. The Witcher has taken the western world by storm -- you may have heard of these books through the awesome Witcher video games which are based on the books. If you have not yet picked up The Witcher books just yet, you are in for the treat -- it's really some of the best NEW fantasy out right now, and very much different than your typical western-influenced fantasy as these books were penned by a Polish author and as such feature a different perspective than you'll find in typical Tolkien-inspired fantasy.

Sword of Shadows

For a modern take on Sword and Sorcery, you might look at J.V. Jones Sword of Shadows saga.It's more of an epic fantasy, but it does hearken back to some of the classic sword and sorcery conventions -- it's set on an icy world, the characters are dark and troubled, there's violence and nastiness, and plenty of magic and mayhem. Not quite grimdark, but definitely gritty.

The Book of Swords

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

The Broken Sword

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson, an absolute classic in the genre and arguably highly influential when it came out decades ago. This is Sword and Sorcery set in a Norse world and a very deep novel and highly underrated.

The Black Company

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

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

American Gods by Neil Gaiman won the 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novel. 

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Anansi Boys

You should read Anansi Boys by Gaiman -- features one of the same characters from American Gods and is about the same sort of story.

Really though, any of Gaiman's novels are good. His next best recommended is probably Neverwhere. Many people will tell you that Gaiman's best work of his career is his The Sandman graphic novels -- which, really, are probably the best graphic novels ever written, IMHO.


Myths and Legends Co-Existing with the Modern Age:

 

Mythago Wood

For other Fantasy concerned with myth and legends coexisting (or struggling) with the modern world, read Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood.

The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni: Two legends from myth -- Arab myth and Jewish myth -- find themselves left over and out of place in the modern world and find they need each other to survive.

Ysabel

Ysabel by Guy Gaverial Kay. Kay's very good Ysabel also deals with a similar theme.

The Anubis Gates

You will also enjoy Tim Power's The Anubis Gates which is a rip-roaring adventure that incorporates some of the same themes (myths coming to life).

God's Behaving Badly

Another (quite funny) take on the same theme is Marie Phillips' Gods Behaving Badly.

American Elsewhere

American Elsewhere by Robert Bennet Jackson. A damaged woman inherits a house and moves back after a midlife crisis only to find there's something odd about the town and she the center of it all. His newest work, City of Stairs, also explores the idea of old extinct God's coming back to haunt the modern world, though City of Stairs is more pure fantasy than urban fantasy.

The Stolen Child

Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child is another book that grapples with the reality of folk tales' (fairies') effect on the modern world. It's also a deep look into a man's search for his identity.

Kraken

Kraken by China Mieville also explore the same theme (old myths living amongst and struggling with today's realities) in his novel, Kraken.

Works by Charles de Lint

Another popular author that also likes to juxtapose myth and modern society is Charles de Lint. Myth existing in today's world does seem to be a common them with the Urban Fantasy subgenre, but the above books are the best written that feature myths living in the modern world.

The unusual Moscow setting of Night Watch is echoed by its magic system. Lukyanenko’s contemporary world is inhabited by both humans and ‘Others’, supernatural beings who can attune to Dark or Light. These beings keep watch, one group during the day, the other at night, using their powers to maintain the balance. They exist in a magical realm known as the Twilight and began long ago as shamans and wisemen. Their attuenment depends on their emotional state when they entered it, and this also determines which powers they can access. Thus, Lukyanenko creates a world filled with sorcerers and vampires, healers and magicians. Each side recharges its powers through human emotion; dark through the negative ones, and light through the positive. Feeding on bad emotions heightens them, while positive emotions are dulled, creating a system where light is forever overshadowed by darkness. Lukyanenko’s strength is in the detail he renders each power, but he also uses it as a tool. His magic system exists not just for excitement, but to explore concepts of good and evil, and that makes it one of the best around.
Robert Jackson Bennett is one of the most talented writers in the genre but who has, for whatever reason, been mostly overlooked by the average reader. His best book (in a string of awesome books) is his newest book City of Stairs which will hopefully bring him the acclaim and recognition he rightfully deserves.City of Stairs was one of the best fantasy books of 2014 -- a sharp, startling, and wonderful mix of epic fantasy, mystery, and good old fashion adventure.It's a work that combines a fiercely unique setting with some outstandingly realized characters and a sharp plot that starts slow but picks up some serious steam partway through the book. While the basic elements of the story are not necessary unique it's how the author perfectly blends everything together -- story, characters, setting -- into a something special. Bennett has also managed to create my favorite fantasy character of all time with his delightful Sigrid who absolute steals the show with some of the very, very best scenes ever in a fantasy book.Serious action. Check. Magical and mysterious setting. Check. Indelible characters that will stay with you long after you finish the book. Check. Check and double check.My only complaint with the novel is that it can take over one hundred pages before the story unfolds and things get kicking, but hell, once it does, hold on tight for the ride!If you pick up one book this year, make it this one. 

Books in The Divine Cities Series (1)

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More Works by Robert Jackson

City of Stairs is Jackson's best work, but check out his next best American Elsewhere and his wonderfully written The Troupe. His other books are a dime too, rich in deep themes and exploration (through fantastical tale) about the American dream.

The Mirror Empire 

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley explores some of the same themes as does City of Stairs; it's not the same type of narrative or story, but there are some loose overlap in  themes. Both do explore themes of colonialism and power and of the oppressed becoming the oppressors

American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaimen. Recommended because besides being quite literary in theme, it's about old vanished god's fighting for their survival, sort of mirroring the old dead god's coming back idea of City of Stairs.

The Grim Company

The Grim Company is, I fully admit, not at all similar in style to City of Stars being a gritty grimdark in the style of Joe Abercrombie, but the themes of overthrowing and killing the gods only to find out such an action has had catestrphic consequences after the fact, does mirror loosely the theme of old dead gods coming back into the world explored in City of Stairs

The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne

Starts with The Emperor's Blades. On the list here, this is the most traditional epic fantasy tale, but it does explore the idea of dead vanished gods coming back into the world of men as a very bad thing.

If you like stories about grand heroes who stand up for the downtrodden, who fight for a righteous cause, then Legend is a shining beacon of this sort of fantasy. Gemmell was a prolific writer and a good one at that. His books are always fascinated with the concept of heroism and the individual sacrifice required to be a hero. Indeed, the concept of 'the stoic hero' always play a key theme in pretty much every single one his (many) novels.Expect bloody battles, glorious last stands, magic, love, valor, sacrifice, honor, horror, and all that good stuff that makes you weep with joy. Come read about men who refuse to sacrifice their values no matter what the cost. This is not a tale about doing evil for the greater good, but doing good always no matter the cost. It's the fantasy fiction version of Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, Fury and any and every one of those movies about war, death, and courage and heroism where a band of men (and women) face insurmountable odds and certain death, but refuse to. Gemmell absolutely delights in telling the story of a broken man (often a man past his prime who just wants peace) who tries to find meaning through sacrifice.With 'modern' fantasy celebrating tales where heroes are villains and villains are heroes, where the idea that the villain and hero are simply two sides of the same coin, the works of Gemmell stand out as a pillar that repudiates this idea. Gemmell's works are very much dichotomous. Words created of black and white rather than shades of the same colors. The Hero, then, is a hero in the true sense and villains are villainous.Gemmell does not try and wow you with lyrical words, twisted political plots, or complicated narrative structure, but rather, he spends his energy writing action packed, emotionally enthralling heroic tales.Gemmell is more of a storyteller than a writer and it shows in his rather simple, mostly utilitarian prose. His early works (like Legend) are rough around the edges, stylistically, but the passion and the heart of the story shine even beneath the roughness. His later works, however, like his Troy series, show a drastic improvement in his ability as a writer of prose with the final book in the trilogy (finished by his wife after he died), the best of the bunch with a far more refined writing style that Gemmell lacked.While 'Legend' is standing in for all of Gemmell's Drenai books, I feel his best work was in fact his final work before he passed away, his magnificently written Troy Trilogy (starts with Lord of the Silver Bow), which cleverly re-invents the Greek story of Troy.In this version of the Best Fantasy Books list, I've finally added Gemmell to the top list, in no small part due to his enormous contribution to the genre, specifically, to Heroic fantasy. There are perhaps more clever, better written books out there -- even among the author's own body of work --  but Gemmell was a pioneer. And by the end of his career he really was a master of his specific craft.So come all ye who are weary of anti-heroes and dastardly heroes. Legend is your salvation.

Similar Recommendations

Troy Trilogy

The Troy books are David Gemmell's best works and his last writing before he passed away (his wife had to finish the series since Gemmell died before finishing it).

Talion: Revenent

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

Mistborn

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. A band of heroes take on a dark lord to save the land and the people from endless tyranny. Sounds like a Gemmell novel? Well, it is, and features some of the best battle scenes in the genre and one of the most interesting magic systems.

Dawnthief 

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

The Lightbringer 

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

The Red Knight

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron. Heroic fantasy with lots and lot of action, powerful heroes, even more powerful villains, deadly magic, and people to save. If you like the raw action and greater than life heroes of Legend, you'll probably like this one.

Prince of Thorns / Prince of Fools 

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

The Heroes

Abercrombie's best work and his specific treatment of the idea of a hero -- filtered through his patented style of fantasy subversion. You could also give his First Law trilogy a read s well here -- it's heroic fantasy, but subverted.

A Land Fit For Heroes

Starts with The Steel Remains. Heroic fantasy in the tradition of Sword and Sorcery, but with just about every subversion under the sun written into this intoxicating trilogy. Expect lots and lots of brutality, bloodshed, and raw action perpetuated by a cast of very troubled heroes.

Harry Dresden is a wizard. He has decided to use his power to solve minor crimes to make a living, so he opens up his own private eye firm, the only one in Chicago that has its own wizard. When the police have a case that involves black magic, they come to Harry, who quickly agrees to take it on since business stinks. However, Harry has forgotten that magic requires a wizard and black magic requires a powerful black arts wizard, who is already aware of Harry and his reputation. Given that Harry has already crossed the mob and been put on a sort-of magical probation, the private eye's troubles are just beginning. This series is a great mix of the class private eye fiction along with the supernatural, magic arts.Why It Made the List The Dresden Files are a much beloved series which had a short stint on TV. While the television show bombed, the series of books keeps getting better and better. Nothing like starting with the first in the series. The character is well-drawn with a strong voice. Definitely recommended.'Read It If You Like'private eye novels, magic, wizards

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There aren't a lot of private eye wizards, but there are a number of books in this series

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The Stormlight Archive has for better or worse become the poster-boy for where (classic) epic fantasy is going. It's the evolution of the Tolkien-style fantasy -- a fantasy that was very much expanded and added to by Robert Jordan with The Wheel of Time. And now Brandon Sanderson is rebuilding epic fantasy in his image, updated for modern readers. It's a fantasy very much divergent from the style of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire which embraces the gritty conceit. Sanderson's style of epic fantasy strides the middle ground between Tolkien and Martin -- a bit of each, but not too much of either. The Stormlight Archive (2 massive books into the whole 10 series) is a hugely epic series that's casting an eye on the Malazan throne for epicness. The first book pulls out all stops and makes a grand statement with the page count alone, being only a mere first 1000+ pages in a purported 10 book series. You can see why The Stormlight Archive is about as epic a fantasy as they come.  But not only epic, but also damn good. This is one of the best fantasy books to come out in the 2000's and certain one of the best fantasy of the past five years, hands down.The Way of Kings does everything right as an epic fantasy. There's a world-ending plot in the backdrop, a cast of interesting characters that are starkly realized, a unique magic system, different races with a lot of tension between them, huge and epic battles, and some of the best action in the fantasy genre.Characterization is also fantastic. Sanderson has done a particularly well job at building up the character of Kaladin, who spend the majority of the novel enduring the fantasy genre's worst Dirty Job ever. Through the nightmare that is Kaladin's life (and various flashbacks to his childhood), Sanderson does a great job explaining the character's motivations and present actions. These flashbacks are also used to great effect as a way to throttle up the dramatic tension as the story progresses. The action, when it happens, explodes and what a ride it is!So if you are a fan of Sanderson's work, you love epic fantasy, or you just want to read one of the best damn fantasy books out there, The Way of Kings blows pretty much every other 'epic fantasy' competition out of the water, with the exception of Martin's works.All in all, a fantastic start to what's looking to be a great epic series (a series that's looking to be far superior to The Wheel of Time). The sequel, Words of Radiance, was a spectacular read that kept the strength of the first book for the most part. I don't feel it was as good, but there were certainly some very strong moments in the book.If you are looking for epic fantasy, I can't recommend any other series over this right now. Start reading if you haven't already. There have been some excellent epic fantasy series (in the style of Martin, Jordan, and Sanderson) released the past couple years (The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne, The Traitor's Son Cycle, The Powder Mage Trilogy, and The Shadow Campaigns of particular note), but so far Sanderson's series still remains at the top of the pile.

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

I'm going to go into quite a bit of detail here on recommending the top epic fantasy that's most similar to The Stormlight Archive, or that you may like if you like Sanderson's epic.

 

Big Battles, Good vs. Evil, Strong Magic System, Standard Epic Fantasy:


The Wheel of Time

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

The Death Gate Cycle

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

The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne

Starts with The Emperor's Blades by Brian Stavely. This series was probably my favorite epic fantasy debut last year in 2014. A remarkable release and a true epic fantasy with the word epic. The style of this fantasy is very much in like with Tolkien, Jordan, and The Stormlight Archive with big strange landscapes, a cast of many characters, strange magic, a dark threat coming, powerful heroes with personal stories, etc.

Lord of the Rings

The source from which all epic fantasy is derived. Need I say more here?

If you are looking for more of a Lord of the Rings STYLE of epic fantasy in feeling, writing, magic, and form, then check out our Best of the Tolkien Clones list for books like this.

Shadowmarch

This four book series is William's latest epic fantasy. More of melding of Lord of the Rings but updated for the 21st century. Strong characters, interesting, mysterious magic system, old gods walking the lands, scheming emperor's, magical kingdoms hidden from man, etc. Some elements like The Stormlight Archive, though, again, it's more in line with Lord of the Rings.

The Lightbringer

Tons of action, tons of magic, a unique magic system, a coming of age story, the battle between good and evil, gods and men, kings and soldiers, The Lightbringer series has it all. Book one was ok, Book two was absolute kick ass, Book three in between. If you want a coming of age epic fantasy with some serious POW, this is it.

The Powder Mage Trilogy

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

The Shadow Campaigns 

Starts with The Thousand Names. Colonial military fantasy with a lot of action, squad combat, violence and complex heroes. After two books we are still seeing where this series is going (I preferred book one over book two), but is some of the best new stuff out there in the past couple years. 

The Warded Man

Epic Fantasy, but with a twist -- evil has conquered the world and men are the prey. First book (The Warded Man) was spectacular. The sequels shit. But read the first book for some of the most exciting, heart-pumping epic fantasy. Lots of focus on magic and a unique magic system at that. A coming of age story thrown in with some compelling characters.

Mistborn

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

Codex Alera

Jim Butcher's less famous series, but arguably just as good as his Dresden Files. Codex Alera is epic fantasy with pokemon and set in a Romaneque world. Cool beans indeed. Battles, magic, and stratagems all perfectly blended.  

Darker Epic Fantasy (gritty, grimdark, morally ambiguous heroes, antiheros, etc):


Mazalan Book of the Fallen 

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

The Black Company

The Black Company is another style of epic fantasy with a twist that you should absolutely read. It's more of a gritty, grimdark style and the characters are all morally ambiguous, the narration is first person, but man once you get into this series, you really really get into it. Some of the most interesting gritty epic fantasy in the genre. It's not at all like The Stormlight Archive though, except for the good vs evil conceits of the epic fantasy tradition and the large scale military battles that include a lot of magic in them. This is more similar to Mazalan Book of the Fallen than Stormlight Archive. 

If you want The Black Company style epic fantasy, look at our Best Grimdark Fantasy list for more books like this. Not all are epic fantasy, but there are some epic gritty/grimdark picks on there.

The First Law Trilogy

Starts with The Blade Itself. A complete subversion of lord of the rings. Not at all like Stormlight Archive in tone or style, but you may just like it anyways.

A Song of Ice and Fire

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

The Traitor's Son Cycle

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

More Character driven epic fantasy:


The Wizard of Earthsea

The Wizard of Earthsea. Very much different than the modern epic fantasy that is The Stormlight Archive, but a classic epic fantasy with a compelling story, a deep magic system, and complex characters, and some underlying themes. One of the best classic epic fantasy in the genre and a must read.

The Blood Song

If you like character driven epics, you might just find The Blood Song appealing. It's not so much an epic struggle between good and evil but more of a struggle between factions. And more about martial skills than magic, though magic becomes more important later in the book.

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams. Another remaking of Lord of the Rings and not really similar to The Stormlight Archive other than there are many different lands, different peoples, and scheming nobles tossed into the story. It's far more character driven and far less action orientated. Yet, it's a rich reworking of The Lord of the Rings and one of the best (slow) coming of age stories in the genre -- even decades after it was first published.

War of Light and Shadows

Complex characters and lyrical prose to the point of this series becomes hard to actually read, Janny Wurtz War of Light and Shadowsseries has not received the due acknowledgement it should have received. It's not at all like Wheel of Time or Stormlight Archive, but absolutely better written and far more character driven. Read if you love slow, simmering plots, deep characters with complex motivation. This is one anei-recommendation I'd say if you have a hard on for The Wheel of Time and The Stormlight Archive type epic fantasy, you WILL NOT LIKE IT.

The Sun Sword Saga

High Fantasy meets Epic fantasy in this massive 7 book series. I'm not even sure how to describe this other than procedural epic/high fantasy. It's slow and completely character driven, but oh so wonderfully written. This is another anti-recommendation just like above; I'd say if you have a hard on for The Wheel of Time and The Stormlight Archive type epic fantasy, you WILL NOT LIKE IT.


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

Epic Dark Fantasy in the classic western tradition. This is Steven King's Magnus Opus, a series that's taken him decades to finish. In this huge series, King writes about "worlds other than these." It's a dark journey through a bizarre landscape with equally strange characters. It's a journey through space and time, through worlds not our own in a quest to protect the most precious thing in the universe.

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The Talisman

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

Swan Song 

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

The Crooked Letter

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

Riverworld

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

Hyperion 

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

Last Call 

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

Otherland

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

His Dark Materials

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