Top 25 Best Fantasy Books of the 90's

The Best Fantasy Books Published in the 1990's
Top 25 Best Fantasy Books of the 1990s

Ah the 90's. Bad fashion, bad hair and Nickelback.

If fashion and hairstyles (and arguably music) took a hit, fantasy certainly did not. The 90's saw the emergence of some of the best fantasy ever written, with giants like A Song of Ice and Fire, The Wheel of Time and The Malazan Book of the Fallen born.

The Movement of Fantasy in the 1990's 

If we could define the 90's fantasy trend in one world, it would be 'epic.' 

Epic is the name of the game -- epic fantasy evolves with authors taking some of the classic epic fantasy trends formulated in the 70's and 80's and makes them bigger, thicker, and a hell of a lot more convoluted.

Many of the most popular fantasy series were of the epic fantasy mold. But you can't have 'epic' without a 'series' and the 90's showed us the supersized version of the fantasy series -- long, long multi volume spanning works covering a single story, usually with years between each new book.

The behemoth that is A Song of Ice and Fire started its long march towards pop culture legend by the end of the 90's, merging the likes of a Shakespearean tragedy with historical fiction and epic fantasy, ushering in a new era of fantasy. Heroes dies, villains win, and the seeds of a award winning TV show were planted, coming to fruition over a decade later.

By the mid 90's, the idea of modern fantasy is fully formed and released upon the masses. If the 80's took the classic fantasy developed in the 50's, 60's, and 70's and made it more complex, more gritty, more self-reflective, then the 90's started the long trend of subversive fantasy.

We have A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings released, proving that heroes can die with the story machine churning onward without a stutter.

We have His Dark Materials subversion of the Narnia tale. And we have Malazan Book of the Fallen which merges the epic vastness of the Greek classics with a harsh vision of fantasy that gleefully ignores expectations.

We also see the forward progression of the 'fat fantasy' movement, carried onward by the likes of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time -- a bestselling train that moved deep into the next decade, proving the eager readers are more than willing to put up with a story that spans 10,000 pages.

This fat fantasy trend is seen with many of the fantasy released during the 90s: A Song of Ice and Fire, The Wheel of Time, Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Sword of Truth, and more.

If you haven't read some of the best of the 90's fantasy, you have a very large gap you need to fill. The 90's was another golden age for fantasy and set about paving the way for fantasy to conquer the mainstream in the 2000's.

With practically every new TV series a fantasy one, fantasy authors who have become celebrities and social media personalities, you might forget that fantasy wasn't always mainstream. The 90's planted the seeds that would sprout a decade later.

And fantasy...TV...and pop culture would never be the same.

Welcome to the 90's -- one of the best fantasy era's ever.

How We Picked the Best Fantasy Novels of the 90's

This is our selection of the best of the best fantasy books of the 1990s. It wasn't easy making this list and curating the picks. But we feel these are all books (or series) that were published between 1990 and 1999. And by 'best' we mean the fantasy works that stood out above the rest and, in some cases, completely changed the fantasy genre for good.

Other Best of ERA Fantasy Recommendations

Make sure you check out our other historic fantasy best book lists, which cover nearly a century of fantasy books.Best Pre-Tolkien FantasyBest Early Modern Fantasy (1930's to 1950's)Best Fantasy of the 60's (post Tolkien fantasy finds it's footing) Best Fantasy Books of the 70's (fantasy finds complexity)Best Fantasy Books of the 80's (the golden age)And with the 90's out of the way, bring yourself into the modern fantasy with our Best Fantasy Books Since 2010.

Disclaimer: Your opinion matters to us. Feel free to disagree with us, but be prepared to defend your position. If you feel we've missed something, let us know your recommendation in the comments.

Because, duh, it was going to be on here somewhere. I almost feel as if it isn't worth writing an entry on this one, because everyone knows it so well, but here goes.A Game of Thrones was the forerunner of the modern grimdark fantasy movement, and popularised the sort of gritty realism that is present in so many fantasy books today. Without it, it's likely that many of the other books on this list would exist. However, as the series progresses it does become bloated, and it's concerning that the series doesn't seem to be nearing completion anytime soon, but I digress. The first book is amazing, and if you haven't read it, you can't rightly call yourself a modern fantasy fan, you peasant. George R. R. Martin wasn't afraid to break with convention and just kill the shit out of his protagonists, or maim them in the most horrible ways, and coming from the eighties and nineties where most fantasy books were decidedly clean and heroic, that was a big deal. Thanks George.Read this if: you are a human being with eyes.

Books in A Song Of Ice And Fire Series (7)

The Wheel of Time is known for its extraordinary characterization and epic plot, but it also features some of the best elemental magic. It integrates classic and unique components, crafting a detailed and cohesive system. At its core is the One Power, which splits into saidin and saidar, which can be used by males and females, respectively. Channelers can access up to five flows; air, fire, earth, spirit, and water, which can be woven to produce different effects. Weaves are similar to their textile counterparts, enabling a channeler to hold it, or knot it, in turn allowing it to persist when the user leaves. However, thanks to gender separation of the Power, there are further nuances. Saidin and saidar are likened to different halves of the same coin, meaning men cannot see women’s weaves, and vice versa. At the same time, they can cooperate. Men usually have a larger power pool than women, while females are gifted with more dexterity. Working together, they can overpower many of the same sex, leading to a natural dynamic. Unfortunately, there are other subtleties that make that difficult. A powerful entity has put a taint on saidin, meaning that men who touch it are likely to go mad and cause unparalleled destruction. As a result, male channelers are hunted down by women and cut off from their power, resulting in severe depression. Nobody is exempt, not even the Dragon Reborn, the most powerful channeler in history, and this well-known fact propels many of the series intricate sub-plots.

Books in The Wheel Of Time Series (14)

Similar Recommendations

You can literally recommend the entire epic fantasy genre if you like The Wheel of Time. Here's my guide to some of the most similar books to The Wheel of Time, or at least books I feel you will probably like if you enjoyed Jordan's work.

Classic Epic Fantasy with Magic, Swords, and Action Galore


The Way of Kings

If you loved The Wheel of Time, you absolutely must read Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings, first book in his Stormlight Archive saga (a 10-book epic fantasy saga). Way of Kings is Sanderson at his best. This is HIS version of The Wheel of Time (and the man's certainly got the resume to write it, having directly penned the last 3 Wheel of Time books). This is the closest you'll find to Jordan's series, hands down, but updated for the 21st century. For another epic fantasy with a very interesting magic system, where a company of heroes fight against an evil god kin, read Mist Born by the same author (Brandon Sanderson).

The Death Gate Cycle

You might also try Tracy Hickman & Margaret Weis's The Death Gate Cycle, a monolithic seven book saga that's reminiscent of Jordan's style: heavy on the magic, tension and action, but unique enough not to be a banal hack. By far it's the best stuff both authors have done up to this day (they usually write the sort of hack fantasy that I rail against on this site).


You might also try Raymond E. Feist's Magician (and the direct sequels), as he writes in a style and flavor similar to Jordan (heavy on politics, action, and magic). It has a callow youth vs end of the world plot (eventually).

A Man of His Word

For a high-fantasy series that's criminally under-appreciated, read Dave Duncan's classic A Man of His Word (starts with Magic Casement). The basic premise sounds pretty hackneyed, but it's far from that. Duncan takes many of the classic fantasy conventions and puts a unique twist on everything. Some of the best classic epic fantasy in the genre.

Codex Alera

Jim Butcher's Codex Alera is also another magic-packed, plot-driven, epic fantasy feast of a series you might like. It's got a really unique magic system and it's fantasy set in an alternate Roman Empire where magic actually works.

The Briar King

You can read The Briar King series by Greg Keyes for an epic "save the world" fantasy that starts with a big big bang but ends in a bit of a whimper. Despite the somewhat disappointing ending, it's a very well written series that's better than your average epic fantasy.

The Rune Lords

If you are hunting around for more action- and magic-heavy series, you might give The Rune Lords series. It probably has one of the more unique magic system I've seen; the story itself is pretty standard fare though, as are the characters and writing.

Chathrand Voyage

For an interesting epic fantasy that's big on adventure and exotic characters and landscapes and one that takes place on the sea aboard a giant ship, give the Chathrand Voyage series by Robert VS Redick a read. I was not a fan of the very last book, which I felt was a letdown, but the first few books are great reads. Wheel of Time on a boat of sorts.


Also read Amber (the first half) by Roger Zelazny. Not the same plot, but there are some similar things I feel. Better written, however. Its epic overall and combines modern elements with the fantastic. Really, this is a classic you should read.

The Belgaraid

If you like classic village boy vs dark lord fantasy of the 80's and 90's, then read David Eddings The Belgaraid.


You might try Dragonlance if you like action and magic and plenty of shallow characters. I'm not a fan, but there are quite a few. You might just like Dragonlance if you love The Wheel of Time.

Slow-Paced, Character Driven Epic Fantasy


If you are looking for epic fantasy that's not necessarily driven by pure action and magic and battles, these are some recommendations to look at

The Sun Sword

Try Michelle West's The Sun Sword, another large epic fantasy saga (six books) that shares some similarities with Jordan's Wheel of Time. West's writing style is drastically different that Jordan's, however -- far more subtle, and often ponderous. If you are an action freak, The Sun Sword pacing will probably be a bit too slow for you. Good for lovers of fine writing where every plot is meticulously woven together over a long period of time and characters are slowly built up. NOT for the action freaks.

The Wars of Light and Shadow

For a slower-paced, character-driven epic fantasy, give Janny Wurts "The Wars of Light and Shadow" a read. It's a huge epic fantasy that concerns itself with the actions of two opposing "heroes", one that's on the light side and one that's on the dark side. Much slower paced and more character driven and better plotted than the Wheel of Time -- which some will love and some will hate. But hands down, the prose is much superior.


Tigana by Guy Gaverial Kay. One of the best writers in the genre. This was his first series and it's a flawed one. But there's a lot to love. Some similar elements to Wheel of Time (dark lord, group of heroes fighting) but plenty of non-similar elements too (heroes are from our world transported to a magical world and it's actually WELL WRITTEN). Not as much action and magic as Wheel of Time though.

The Farseer

Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. Another classic fantasy that's character driven. Not as epic in scope (it's the tale of a bastard boy who becomes entwined in politics and eventually has to save the kingdom).

The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. High fantasy, not epic fantasy. But man, an astounding read. One of my favorite books of all time. Not the same as The Wheel of Time, but in regards to the magic system, a very systematic breakdown of magic (like Wheel of Time) usage and a wizard school setting (WOT features this in quite a few of the later books).

Modern Dark and Gritty Epic Fantasy


Fantasy has evolved the past 10 years. Now dark, gritty and sarcastic is in vogue. If you want a more complex fantasy where characters are often shades of gray and heroes are more anti-hero than hero, where heroes sometimes die and no good deed goes unpunished, these series are the best.

A Song of Ice and Fire

Give George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire a try. It's a massive epic like Jordan's The Wheel of Time (but not as long), and it's universally held in the highest esteem, a sort of paragon of what all Fantasy books should strive to be. You thought those "Dragonlance" books were good? Feast on Martin for a taste of what Fantasy books should be like.

The Mazalan Book of the Fallen

For a different style of epic fantasy, you may want to give Malazan Book of the Fallen a read. It's also a massive series like WOT, spanning 10 books and it's completed as well, so no waiting around for the sequel books. The series has a huuuuge cast of characters, magic galore, and features large-scale battles that are as vicious as they are exciting to read. But don't expect the WOT; Malazan is a different sort of fantasy that provokes strong feelings -- you will love it or you will hate it.

Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series. It's an epic series with different races, peoples, magic, and a dark lord. But for all the elements that are the same as Wheel of Time, there are as many differences. This series is arguably a subversion of the fantasy genre.

The Dagger and the Coin

A new fantasy series that's been making some pretty big waves in the fantasy world is The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham. It's sharply written with a cast of complex, grey characters. In the background, it has many of those epic fantasy conventions (world ending darkness coming into the world, many different races and creatures, mysterious magic, etc). It's not your typical epic fantasy though -- think of it as epic fantasy 2.0.

The Black Company

For a darker less "epic" fantasy where all the characters are completely grey (and evil is not necessary evil), give The Black Company by Glen Cook a read. There are a number of books in the series, but I recommend reading the (best) first series (called "The Books of the North") of the Black Company followed by the next best series (The Books of the South).

The Prince of Nothing

For a different take on the whole epic fantasy movement, one that's darker and more gritty where heroes are not always heroes or good guys, you might look at Scott Bakker's The Prince of Nothing series. Epic fantasy, wars, brutality, heroes and philosophy? If you love epic fantasy that does something different, read this one.

The First Law

In the same vein, check out Joe Abercrombie's The First Law series. And for a real subversion on the whole epic fantasy genre, give Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains a read. These recommendations are a more modern, "adult" take on the classic epic fantasy that Jordan wrote

The Dark Tower

And for my final "epic fantasy recommendation," read Steven King's The Dark Tower. It's a 7-book monstrosity that's taken King several decades to finally finish. In fact, many of King's books indirectly tie into the The Dark Tower in some way or the other. It's sort of like a cross between the western genre, the post-apocalyptic genre, and the fantasy genre. Well worth reading for a different take on the whole epic fantasy thing.

The Red Knight

You may find you like The Red Knight (Traitor's Son Cycle). Lots of action, lots of magic, a large cast of heroes, monsters to kill, lots of war, castles, knights, and ladies. This was one of my favorite reads of 2013. Book 2 came out this year.

Sword of Shadows

Sword of Shadows series. Classic Jordan style fantasy with a darker and grittier edge. Only, it's not finished and I can't remember when J.V. Jones wrote the last book. There are 4 of 5 books out.

For more epic fat fantasy recommendations in the vein of The Wheel of Time, check out the Best Epic Fantasy Recommendation list.

How could a story about the apprentice of an assassin not be grimdark? It couldn't, that's how. This first entry sparked off three trilogies about the one protagonist, which contain some of the best characterization ever. The story is about FitzChivalry, the bastard son of a prince, who, an outcast from the court, decides that the best option for him is to sneak around killing people for a living. The book actually never strays into the 'edgy', and is a dark, morally complex tale about a boy whose very existence causes embarrassment for half the court, and as such they hate the poor kid. We're given Fitz's tight point of view from childhood to adulthood, and his complex relationships with those around him, and his growth as a character, lend this book a depth that few have. It's not a book about epic battles, but the growth of an unwanted boy into a man. This extends into eight more books about Fitz, and reading them is like making a life-long friend. One of the best aspects of grimdark fantasy is the morally ambiguous, complex characters, and this is one of the best examples, released before 'grimdark' was even a thing, but possessing all of the required qualities. Read this book if you want to get to know one of the deepest characters in fantasy. Or if you think assassins are cool (which they are).

Books in Farseer Series (2)

A sushi-loving angel, a gearhead demon and Death as a gamer nerd. Do we even need to be a plot?Why it's on this listSometimes fantasy (and its audience) takes itself too seriously. After you've been bogged down in yet another 500 page long description of a singing willow tree, it's refreshing to pick up a book that has humor at its heart. This is Pratchett's gift to the genre, and this book is one of his best. It's obvious that the two authors enjoyed writing this book as much as people enjoyed reading it and if that's the only reason you pick it up, then we'll call this a win.A novel written by these two legends of fantasy is like Darth Vader marrying a Klingon. It could've been a disaster, but who wouldn't want to see Lord Vader brandishing a Bat'leth lightsaber?As with all Pratchett books, all the best-laid plans go to hell in a hobbit hole and chaotic hilarity ensues. The best thing about these books is that it, in poking fun at fantasy, we have the chance to laugh at ourselves – and at a genre that can be stuffy and overly serious. You should read it because it's laugh-‘til-you-vomit funny, because it's considered a cult novel and because it combines the best writing of two legends to create one of the most original fantasy books of the 90s.
Sometimes the best – and most unique – new fantasy comes from the Young Adult section. Before Twilight reared it's sparkly head, Garth Nix created a world that explores our beliefs about death, the responsibilities of growing up with tragedy and the impact of grief.Why it's on this listBecause it's just so different. It's well written and well thought out – with just enough humor to provide relief from the intense subject matter. And that's one of the main reasons you should read this series: It gives you the chance to confront your own feelings about grief, loss and the possibility of an afterlife, without being too confrontational about it. If you can walk away from a book having learnt something new about yourself, or about the world around you, it's a good day at the office.In the never-ending search for something new in a genre that's full of stereotypes, tropes and traps, the books that create a unique system of magic will stand out. If you haven't read this series, you'll be surprised to learn that the magic in this series comes from a set of bells. Yes, those ones. Of the ding-dong persuasion. It makes for an interesting alternative from the sorcerers, sword-wielders and staff-bearers, and it's intriguing enough to keep you entertained for four books.And if you weren't already sold, there's only one word left to convince you: Zombies.

Books in Abhorsen Series (4)

Tad Williams' series was the source of inspiration for many of the titles on the listand some outside of it. Authors like R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, and more all cite The Dragonbone Chair as a turning point in fantasy. That's part, in thanks, to the epic nature of the series. Williams uses the popular tropes in 1980s fantasy: elf-like creatures, trolls, magic, and more. However, the incredible detail of his world and political system combines with an intelligent subversion of those stereotypes in one of the most underrated coming of age stories. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn tells the tale of Simon and his journey from kitchen boy to magician, and from magician to legend. Despite this, our protagonist is not the willing, genius hero that we've come to expect. Simon is reluctant, self-pitying and often doesn't understand the full picture. Though this makes the character sound undesirable, Williams' writing simply makes him feel real. Simon's feelings seem like a natural reaction to his circumstances, and the subtle growth as the series progresses makes his journey all the more satisfying. It's joined by a plot that arches across three novels of up to 1000 pages and two other companion novels. The author slowly lowers you into the history and world of Osten Ard until you loath to leave it. Read if you like: Tolkien, Game of Thrones, epic fantasy.

Books in Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn Series (2)

Similar Recommendations

I'm going to give my recommendations on works of similar "style" to Williams. Williams writes with an almost pedantic eye -- every little detail is lovely detailed -- to practically everything. This includes characters, settings, and even pots. Everything down to the minutest detail is lovingly rendered into prose. It can take a long while before things happen in a Tad Williams book, which may turn off those who love instant action with no patience for slow pacing.


Moontide Magic


For a series (and author) who's often a bit slower paced with an attention to beautiful, sometimes lyrical prose, give works by Sean Russell a read. I would start with his Moontide Magic Rise duology. 

The Initiate Brother

 If you like his work, give his The Initiate Brother (an Asian fantasy) a go. 

The Swan's War

For a high fantasy in the tradition of Tolkien with gorgeous and lyrical prose, read Swans' War.

Lord of the Rings


You should read Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien, if you have yet not. Tolkien is a writer who loves to write. The pacing is quicker than Memory, Sorrow, Thorn, but the language is gorgeous as is the setting portrayed by Tolkien

The DragonCrown War Cycle

Another book that shares some similarities with Memory, Sorrow, Thorn is Michael A Stackpole's The DragonCrown War Cycle , which features an epic, black & white struggle, struggle between good and evil. Also, read William's new fantasy saga Shadowmarch. Wonderful prose and a strong plot.


I also recommend reading Tad William's other works. His Shadowmarch series is really good (and completed). His other series, Otherland is a stellar read too. It's science fiction, but there are quite a few fantasy elements too; it's kind of like the Matrix. Otherland is of the best Science Fiction books, IMHO.

Fionavar Tapestry

Read Guy Gaverial Kay's own conversation with Tolkien's Rings with his Fionavar Tapestry trilogy. Another take on the Lord of the Rings concept and like Williams, wonderfully written though less pedantically paced.

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

Similar Recommendations

More Books by Kay
Kay has written a good deal of fantasy and all of it's great. If you like the sheer emotion of Tigana, read Sailing to Sarantium . You should also give the The Summer Tree which is the first book in his The Fionavar Tapestry series -- Guy's take on Tolkien's epic fantasy. Expect trademark three dimensional characters and a meticulously drawn world. It's epic fantasy with a heart.
This series is challenging. Not because it's badly written or because there's a complex world to understand, but because it asks the reader to consider their beliefs and question everything they base their principles on.Why it made this listFantasy often draws on ideas from religion. There's obvious religious symbolism. There's obvious religious influence. And then there's Phillip Pullman. His Dark Materials is a blatant in its cynical view of organized religion – with the Church often playing the part of the villain. This shouldn't put you off though; the series weaves theory-heavy subjects including physics, parallel universes, quantum theory and theology with the personal themes of loyalty, family, love and friendshipEven though it was marketed as a children's series, the themes are equally intense for adults. It's an engrossing tale, with well-written characters and an intriguing plot. But, more importantly, it's an opportunity to think about our own preconceptions. Pullman questions everything in this series – theology, spirituality and knowledge. And he challenges the reader to do the same.It's always impressive when an author can combine fantastical elements like a talking bear with concrete aspects similar to those in our world. Pullman does this flawlessly. The magical aspects of the book are the devices through which he challenges our beliefs and knowledge.It's easy to empathize with the journey of the main protagonist – Lyra Belacqua – as she moves from childish innocence to adulthood and the sense of loss that comes with this growth is something we all experience. That she is such a strong female character is just another reason to pick up this series.
Starting this series is like being thrown into a tornado. Strapped to a cow. With a lightning rod attached to your head. It's chaotic and you'll find yourself confused but exhilarated. And it gets better from there.Why it's on this listThe key word when starting this series is perseverance. Erikson doesn't spoon feed the reader. You enter the world with no cues or explanations and are expected to keep up until the answers to your many thousands of questions are answered. And they do get answered; you just have to be patient. This is part of what makes this series so exceptional – without being bogged down by excessive explanations about the world that he's built, Erikson just gets on with the action and yanks you into the plot with force.The genius of the confusion felt by the reader is that it mirrors what the characters are experiencing: They also don't have all the information and must put together pieces of the puzzle until they have a full understanding of their circumstances. It's a unique thing to encounter in fantasy because, most of the time, the characters have some kind of weird author-provided omniscience that allows them to know the exact path they need to take to reach their destiny.With every title, Erikson's writing improves almost as much as his attention to detail. Many characters enter and exit this world as the plot progresses and each one is as well written and realised as the next.The battles between the characters in this series are epic in the truest sense of the word. These are people with incredible skills – from strategic brilliance to god-like power. There is nothing better than watching the mammoth showdown that happens between beings of such power.Most significantly though, neither the confusion felt nor the epic nature of the characters overwhelms the emotional aspects of the plot. There's tragedy here – the kind that is both beautiful in its intensity and devastating in its sadness. This is the power of good fantasy: To combine elements of magic with emotional depth so that when you put down a book, you feel a deep sense of loss at having finished it.

Books in The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series (11)

The Acts of Caine is another series that takes traditional fantasy and turns it upside down. The books take us away from boring clichés and blends sci-fi, dystopia, and fantasy in a way that actually works. A futuristic earth pairs with the fantastical, parallel 'Overworld' to create a combined setting that is entirely dark and unique.It's a story of rage, gore, and justice that leaves you questioning morality. Caine is a calculated killing machine that tears through anything in his way. His journey is from a piece of entertainment to caste breaking hero seeking to save the woman he loves. The covers really don't do justice to the incredible depth of character, world, and plot found in this story. It manages to touch on issues still relevant in society today. Part of this is an imitation of the very thing it's trying to disparage – the obsession with violent entertainment.Read if you like: Westworld, Dark fantasy, badass characters, sci-fi.

Books in The Acts Of Caine Series (4)

Neil Gaiman is Neil Gaiman. Picking which of his books should be on these lists is kind of like picking the best Queen song. They're (mostly) brilliant, so it comes down to taste. But The Sandman is one of those compulsory fantasy reads – even if it is a graphic novel.Why it's on this listThe artwork is unlike anything else you'll find in a comic book. Sometimes it's difficult to make out, but every page enhances the story in a way that text-only titles can't. If you're not able to appreciate the skill behind the art, you're as wrong as Donald Trump's toupee.The Sandman isn't for everyone, but any true fan of the genre (and how far it can stretch the imagination) should at least give it a try. Fantasy fans are dreamers. Whatever we're reading has the potential to overwhelm the real world and pull us into an imagined one. And this is the theme at the center of The Sandman. It's a story about stories and about our relationship to the tales we experience – real or imagined.If none of that gives you the burning desire to own a copy, then Gaiman's masterful blend of horror and fantasy should do it. It's not gory horror, but it's thrilling. And books that can inspire any kind of thrill – whether it's spine chilling or something else – are why we read anything to begin with.
It's one of the bestselling series of all time. If you've managed to avoid reading the books or seeing the movies, you're probably dead. Yes, they're for children. They're also charming, well written and easy to read. Why it's on this list Considering its popularity and sales numbers, there's no way the series wasn't going to be on this list. But why should you read them? Firstly, even though the last books big volumes, they're quick reads. They're not bogged down with terminology or worldbuilding details. It's one of Rowling's greatest skills: The ability to describe an idea we've never encountered in the most succinct way. Non-fantasy readers are often put off with overly descriptive writing, which is one of the reasons this series is the perfect introduction to fantasy. The themes in the book – family, love, loyalty, friendship and sacrifice – are there, but Rowling doesn't dwell on the concepts for too long – preferring to show rather than tell. Complex fantasy is great, but sometimes it's a relief to experience a narrative where good is only good and evil is pure. There aren't many gray areas in the series. And Voldemort is as big a Big Bad as any. Even though the series was aimed at children, Rowling does an admirable job of developing her characters as they go from wide-eyed to battle-hardened – without losing the essences of their personalities. She's also written a strong female protagonist, the kind that you'd want your daughters aspiring to. Remember when you dreamed of being someone extraordinary and fully believed it was possible? It's probably been a while since then, but the Harry Potter books tap into that period in childhood where anything was possible. If you've been reading gritty or dark fantasy, then this series is the perfect way to take a break from grim realism and enjoy a few hours in the kind of world that your inner child longs for.
Patricia McKillip is one of the most eloquent fantasy writers in modern fantasy. She combines great characters with epic adventures to create books imbued with mystery. Why it's on this list It's fortunate that McKillip is as eloquent as she is because it allows her to create whole worlds in small volumes. Creating something that feels epic in such a concise way is one of the reasons why her work is a pleasure to read. In contrast to the gritty realism of many fantasy books written post-Red Wedding, The Book of Atrix Wolfe has a fairy-tale feel to it. There are some great themes underpinning this work – the power of words and language, like the quest to find understanding and acceptance and the destructive nature of war– but McKillip isn't heavy-handed about exposing them. The narrative mystery provides the reader with just enough thematic content to draw personal conclusions. Read this book for the descriptions of food alone. While each one is full of symbolism, they're so vividly described that it doesn't overwhelm the images conjured in your imagination. The characters she's created here are nothing unfamiliar – they fit standard fantasy tropes – but they're true individuals. The tropes fade in the face of such strong personalities. For anyone looking for something that is still recognizable as part of the fantasy genre while giving providing you with something fresh and interesting, then The Book of Atrix Wolfe is ideal.
Martha Wells is best known for her Books of Raksura series, but this nebula nominated book is one of her best by far. Despite its publication in the late nineties, Wells' writing has a classic feel to it, and not least because of the Victorian-esque setting. It has elements of old detective novels, though admittedly it's a lot darker.The story follows Nicholas Valiarde, adopted son of a necromancy-convicted noble. On the outside he's your typical noble, but his second life is as the master thief Donatien. Needlessly to say, he's not happy about his father's fate, not least because it was a setup. Angered, Valiarde seeks revenge while staying one step ahead of a legendary detective.Wells' story is augmented with incredible attention to detail, which extends to the characters. Traits and back stories are revealed naturally, and romance isn't overdone. It also throws in magic, necromancy, and Fey to create a suspense-filled tale that doesn't hold back on gore.Read if you like: Sherlock Holmes, Victorian settings, revenge stories.

Books in Ile-rien Series (5)

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Sherlock Holmes for the Victorian era and the master criminals

Deverry Cycle is a twelve-book series, but don't panic, it's broken up into "cycles," so every four books or so you get a satisfying ending. The heavy Celt flavor is delicious, and its unique, non-linear style is pelted with flashbacks as Kerr tells the story of souls reincarnating through time, sometimes reborn into a different gender. At its core, it's about Nevyn working to set things right for Jill, not Jill as a driving force in her own future, so it's not high on the list. Being written in the early 90's it has some irritating stereotypes that persist, and the women are constantly tossing their heads in annoyance, but there are some strong heroines at times. Lady Gweniver, warrior of the goddess is fantastic. The dweomer magic, the Wildfolk, the Westfolk, and the dwarves are a nice comfort fantasy element, themes of incest, incidents of pedophilia and gay rape pop up, so it's definitely adult material.

Books in Deverry Series (14)

A disclaimer: If you're not a Dungeons and Dragons aficionado and have read extensively within the genre, you might be tempted to avoid The Dark Elf Trilogy. This is because it seems like a very simplified, conventional fantasy. Don't!Why it's on this listBecause the main protagonist – Drizzt Do'Urden – is a fantastic character. He's a legend in the D&D mythos. He's the kind of character that reminds you that the basic requirement for a hero is that he/she be intrinsically good – even in the face of overwhelming evil.The culture of the world in this series is fascinating because – from the beginning – it's clear that it's an evil place. Hatred, anger and resentment are the main emotions ruling Drizzt's world. It's a challenging premise: Can you imagine a world where everything and everyone is bad? Difficult to picture? Now, imagine writing a character strong enough to break the chains of this society to become something unheard of in that world – something good. Intrigued? Good. Because it's admirable both in terms of concept and content.It's true that everyone loves an underdog. And Drizzt is an underdog in the truest sense of the word. Being along for his journey from downtrodden to hero is endlessly compelling. You can't help but love this character.The reasons this book is on this list is because it's easy to read, easy to get lost in and easy to enjoy. For those looking to read fantasy but not sure where to start, it's a great starting point.
The Death Gate Cycle has been praised endlessly for its world-building, so it’s no surprise that an incredible magic system backs it up. Humans are split into two races, the Sartan and Patryns. Following a nuclear war, Earth was split into four worlds, each representing an element. The Sartans created a fifth for the Patryns, a prison known as the Labyrinth. Both possess different ways of harnessing magical power. Sartans cast with their hands and with song, drawing runes in a hexagonal grid, linking them together for powerful and devastating effects. Patryns have runes tattooed onto their skinand combine their power by pressing one body part to another. Magic itself comes from the manipulation of ‘probability waves’. Users are able to view all of the possible outcomes of an action and select which one they wish to occur. The more unlikely the outcome is, the harder the spell is to cast, and the greater the consequence of doing so. Each spell has an equal and opposite reaction, meaning that raising the dead, for example, will result in an early death elsewhere. The combination of this with a number of worlds, warring races, and an excellent plot makes for a highly entertaining classic fantasy series.

Books in The Death Gate Cycle Series (6)

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Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. 


Magician books.

Considering that fantasy gives authors the opportunity to create entirely new cultures, it's surprising that so few erase the negative aspects of our own society – sexism, racism, and homophobia – in favor of something better. The Nightrunner Series is one of the few epic fantasies that feature a m-m couple as protagonists. Two things: If you are uncomfortable with that idea, don't be put off. The romance is a subplot and is very subtly referenced. Also, it's not the only reason you should pick up this series. Why it made this list It's not just that the characters in this series are so well fleshed out, it's that the cultures they're a part of are cleverly distinct from each other. Flewelling's characters' motivations are always clear and always part of a gradual path of development. There's no part in this series where you wonder why anyone is doing something that seems out of character. Patriarchy isn't present in these books either – women are capable of the same things as men. Even though the plot centers around two men, the female characters are interesting, and are given as much depth as the men. The greatest thing about this series? It's all about the plot. What this means is that the action is unrelenting and moves at a good pace. Whenever there is emotion, it's used exclusively to move the story along. It sounds like an obvious thing to say, but in a genre where internal processing and world building are often given too much plot time; it's refreshing to read something purely to see what happens next.
The Facts of Life is set during and after World War II in Coventry, England. The novel begins with a young girl, Cassie, and her newborn baby, Frank. Cassie was simply unable to give Frank up to a foster mother. This failure leads Cassie and Martha, her mother, to have a discussion whose tone sets the scene for the balance of the story. Martha and her daughters make the realization Cassie is in no way fit to raise a baby. The solution is simple, Frank should be cared for by all of them. Frank is then exchanged from Martha and Aunt Beatie Vine's supervision to his aunts Ina and Evelyn, and even to Uncle Tom and Aunt Una's farm. During all of this it starts to become apparent that Frank is exceptional and has some unusual and unique abilities…Why it's on the listThe Facts Of Life is one of the most intensely and perceptively written cast of characters. Just seeing what happens next to these people is enough driving force of the book, and the time and place that they live is evocative and compelling enough - almost to make you feel like you are there, laughing and crying along with them.Joyce has a real talent for descriptive language. The sheer feeling of emotion that is portayed through these pages is astounding. It isn't important whether you buy into the extraordinary qualities he gives the principal characters, he translates it across to the readers in such a manner that it feels almost commonplace. He takes everyday expereinces and infuses it with an extraordinary reality.Read if you likeHeart-warming stories with a healthy dash of eccentricity.
Soon to be a major motion picture starring Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba An impressive work of mythic magnitude that may turn out to be Stephen Kings greatest literary achievement (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), The Gunslinger is the first volume in the epic Dark Tower Series.A #1 national bestseller, The Gunslinger introduces readers to one of Stephen Kings most powerful creations, Roland of Gilead: The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which mirrors our own in frightening ways, Roland tracks The Man in Black, encounters an enticing woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the boy from New York named Jake. Inspired in part by the Robert Browning narrative poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, The Gunslinger is a compelling whirlpool of a story that draws one irretrievable to its center (Milwaukee Sentinel). It is brilliant and freshand will leave you panting for more (Booklist).

Books in The Dark Tower Series (15)

This intricate retelling of the Celtic Swans fairy tale takes an enchanting story and embellishes it with depth, believable backstory, ancient magic, and great characters.  It is painfully dark, at times horrifying, but also offers elements of hope, devoted love, and healing. One criticism is that while its rape scenes are incredibly graphic, actually loving consensual sex scenes are all but fade-to-black absent. Despite this, Sorcha is simply radiant as the heroine who accomplishes the fantastic tasks required to set things right. She is beloved by and shares a unique bond with her brothers, and while no warrior, her strength is in healing and in quietly (you have no idea how quietly) going about what needs doing with fortitude and courage. Despite her burdens, she is able to see the beauty in the world, and that takes a special kind of magic. Again, folks tend to shelve anything related to fairytale literature as YA or even Juvenile… Daughter of the Forest is definitely ill suited for children, due to the graphic abuse mentioned above. As Sorcha matures, she grows into her strength and intelligence, meeting each painful task with diligence and unfailing love. It is a beautiful story highlighting the power of small and simple things.

Books in Sevenwaters Series (6)

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Sequel Books by Juliet Marillier
Once you finish the Sevenwaters Trilogy, look at her other follow up books after the trilogy ends which is a sequel Trilogy called 'Sevenwaters'. The first book is Heir of Sevenwaters, the second is Seer of Sevenwaters, and final is Flame of Sevenwaters.

For more character driven female-centric fantasy or narratives with strong female characters:

Deerskin by Robin Mckinly 

The Wizard of Earthsea (Book 2 and Book 4 feature lead female characters)

Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb

Also consider looking at our list: Best Fantasy Books for Women
This series is epic in every sense of the word. It takes place over many generations, its world is complex and detailed and the quest at the heart of the plot is the kind that legends are made of.Why it made this listIn a discussion of epic fantasy, it would be a sin to leave this series out. Not only are there multiple worlds and characters to keep track of, but there are also plots within subplots within plots.Considering the scope of the series, it wouldn't have been surprising for it to feel all over the place. But Wurts has managed to keep it tight – each new character, story or plot line serves to add depth to the series. There's nothing that feels gratuitous or redundant – a feat that few authors have done as well as she has.Janny Wurts doesn't simplify language. She expects the reader to keep up with her complex style of writing. The language is dense but it never loses focus and always feels precise – as if she's chosen every word carefully. Despite this, her writing is good enough that you'll never feel out of your depth, even though there are a variety of different magic systems, cultures and worlds.As for the epic nature of the series, there's a siege that could rival anything found in the fantasy genre as well as an intense encounter with black magic. There's an endless amount of people and places to keep you occupied. There's something for everyone in this series – in-depth world building, a mastery of history, legendary battles and clashes, three-dimensional characters and a plot that will keep you guessing throughout.

Books in Wars Of Light And Shadow Series (9)

If there's one thing that can be taken from our own history, it's that that watching monarchies fight for and over power is fascinating. As long as you don't get your head chopped off in the process. It's this kind of intrigue that drives the plot of Crown of Stars and makes it such an enthralling read.Why it made this listThe series requires a serious investment of time – each title is long and needs some energy to get through. Fortunately, it's worth it to spend some time with the characters. They're complex and complicated – with all the motivations, strengths and flaws of people in our own world. For this reason, they feel real and easy to identify with. You can't help but become attached to them.Elliot manages to paint a world that's rich in detail without sacrificing any pace in the action. Not something that's easy to find in long sagas like this one. And it's lucky she's so skilled at it because reading this series becomes and immersive experience – one that would suffer if it got weighed down by lengthy expositions or descriptions.The themes explored in the series are easy to relate to; the kind of things we content with throughout our lives. Through the relationships between the characters, she challenges readers to explore notions concerning the cost of power, the fine line between love and obsession and the complex nature of fulfilling duties in the face of contention.

Books in Crown Of Stars Series (5)

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Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn
Tad William's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn saga. William has beautifully reinterpreted Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (and no it is not in the least bit a clone, and no, there is no One Ring), creating a vast world of mystery and magic. Characterization is top notch.

Liveship Traders
Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders. Romance, adventure, and lots of romantic tension driving the narrative.

The Curse of Chalion
The Curse of Chalion, which has as strong narrative driven by characters. Even more, read the sequel, Paladin of Souls which is from the perspective of a middle aged woman looking for love again.

Symphony of Ages
You might also might like the Symphony of Ages books which is very much driven by romance the whole way through.
Most would argue that this series gets worse with every addition. But Wizard's First Rule is good enough to get the series included on the list. It's probably more of a Spice Girls type of 90s nostalgia than an OK Computer 90s classic, but every now and then its worth yanking out the rose colored glasses of the past.Why it's on this listYou can't miss these books. They're almost as obese as the books in Jordan's Wheel of Time series. In some ways, Goodkind's series is almost an evolution from the Wheel of Time: The characters are more interesting, each book is an event not just a continuation of an event, the world is more realistic and – most importantly – Richard Cypher doesn't sulk about being the hero: He's the hero-est hero to ever hero. And for people that are fans of epic sagas like The Wheel of Time, this series will keep you occupied for ages. Also, the author won't do something as inconsiderate as dying halfway through the final book.
The Saga of Reclucedescribes a constant war between order and chaos, and its magic system is a significant part of that. Where Order is present in the molecular bonds that make up the world, chaos stands for the destruction of that matter. Magic users can choose one, but they must understand the influence of the other to be successful. Black wizards (order) create magic by strengthening or changing the bonds of existing objects. White wizards, on the other hand, break those bonds, creating earthquakes, explosions, and more. Of course, both come at a cost. Using chaos will inevitably lead to further chaos in the White mage’s lives. As a result, they often die younger. Using Order makes it difficult to tell lies, even inside their own heads, and to use objects that destroy, such as knives or swords. Grey mages, meanwhile, try to balance both, but still often age at an accelerated rate. These tangible consequences give a feeling of reality to the system, and the way magic is used adds to that. Rather than being squirreled away in towers and royal courts, wizards use their magic in a way that makes sense to them. Order uses have a liking for engineering and woodworking, while white mages often clean roads, prevent smuggling, or remove bacteria. Despite this, every wizard has unique traits. Like anything else, use of magic is influenced by the user’s perception. Some will see ways to manipulate the world that others won’t, leading to infinite variety and a thorough, realistic system.

Books in The Saga Of Recluce Series (26)