Top 25 Fantasy Books of the 80's

The 80s, Also Known as the Golden Decade for Fantasy
Top 25 Fantasy Books of the 80s

The 80s wasn't just a period of Hammertime(!) and big hair. It was also a revolutionary decade for fantasy. a revolution in the marketplace that helped make fantasy the pop culture hit that it is today. The 80's also gave us some of the best fantasy books ever written -- books that are STILL widely considered landmarks in the genre.

The 80's also showed that fantasy was big business. Proving that books in the genre could be major bestsellers, authors like David Eddings and Terry Brooks wrote popular series using The Lord of the Rings as a blueprint. 

These books – as formulaic as they seem to us now – invigorated the genre by showing that, even with a niche audience, fantasy could make serious bank. If it weren't for these achievements, we might not have the pleasure of watching petulant dragons rebel against their white-haired human mothers.

The other development to come out of the 80s is a darker, grittier fantasy, which would evolve into the creatively named subgenre of grimdark fantasy. Today it's epitomized by George R.R. Martin and his passion for violent limb removal.

So, check out this list of greats among greats for a decade of fantasy that's widely hailed as a golden age of fantasy and arguably one of the best decades the genre has ever seen. 

Make sure to check out our other Best Decade Lists

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 90s
If you were to open a copy of Lyonesse and give it a good shake, a bunch of (very annoyed) fairies would fall out. Because they're everywhere in this book. It sounds hella cheesy but it's actually a good thing. When reading this, magic is almost tangible â due mostly to Vance's exceptional ability to bring a fairytale world to life.Why it made the listBefore you're put off by the word âfairytale', you should know that this is definitely not a children's bedtime story. Unless creating deranged offspring is your thing. The plot is enchanting and you'll be totally engrossed, but it's also haunting and tragic. There are no friendly neighborhood fairy godmothers in Lyonesse and the beings that inhabit this world can be â and often are â nasty pieces of work.Vance is a skilled enough writer that he's managed to combine elements of the Arthurian legend with fairytale creations that are flawed and, as a result, feel real and accessible.There's a little bit of everything here â quests, mystery, romance, lust, myth, betrayal and magic. This wealth of fantastical elements and thematic material could spin off into batshit-crazy territory, but Vance manages to keep it tight and well balanced.

Books in Lyonesse Series (5)

This was one of the first gritty fantasies to hit the shelves. To appreciate this work fully, imagine what it must have been like to encounter the kind of dark fantasy that we're used to reading now. Now imagine that you've only ever read novels where good is perfect and bad is more evil than a Lucifer/Donald Trump wrestling team up.Why it made the listOther than its status as a revolutionary title, it's also impossible to put down. This is a book about survival, about trying to make the right decision in a world where there is no clear division between right and wrong. There are no heroes here, just mercenaries fighting to maintain their place in a world gone dark.The characters in the book are survivalists. No, not the kind that enjoy rattlesnake sushi a la Bear Grylls. The life and death types that are caught in a war where there are no good choices and to survive, they do what they must. The kind of moral ambiguity that this creates is the reason for the pervading darkness of the series. Despite this, Cook makes sure that we see the world through the eyes of the Black Company – where each individual has a reason to be doing what they think is the best. Even if it's one we'd consider bad.Considering the darkness that surrounds the characters, their interactions are the most enjoyable aspect of the series. There's a cast of many different people and each is treated with equal importance and serves a purpose.

Books in Chronicles Of The Black Company Series (12)

Lord Foul's Bane begins the epic Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, a series in which a leprosy-stricken man in the real world is transported to a stereotypical fantasy world. However, what ensues isn't a cutesy Narnia-like adventure, but something far… less cutesy. To say the least. The darkness in this book isn't primarily in the world, or the action, but in what an utter son of a bitch the protagonist it. Thomas Covenant isn't like other anti-heroes in that he's a bastard with a heart of gold. He's a bastard through and through, and utterly unlikeable. Despite this, he's a well-drawn character grappling with the crippling disease of leprosy, refusing to believe that the fantasy world he's found himself in is even real. Covenant is so despicable at times, that on my first read of the book, I found myself doing something that I haven't done before or since; putting the book down because I was too appalled to continue. Offsetting this is the flowery, poetic, old-fashioned way in which the book is written. Lord Foul's Bane isn't fun to read, nor will it probably be your favourite book, but it's an experience important to fantasy as a genre. Read this book if: you like classic fantasy but hate goody-two-shoes protagonists. Or even protagonists that aren't complete assholes.

Books in The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever Series (9)

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The Sequel Books

If you like his Donaldson's first trilogy, then you should read his Covenant trilogies listed above. His new trilogy (Last Chronicles ) is a riveting read that will please both old and new fans. Thomas' old lover, Linden, returns to The Land, only to find it changed beyond recognition... And Thomas the Unbeliever? Read the books to find out! 

Mordant's Need
Starts with Mirror of Her Dreams. Oh yes, read this. Not as anti-heroish as the Thomas Covenant, but some strong characterization and a well developed world. I'd say it's arguably his funnest read without all the sorrow and misery of his Covenant books. 

Gap Series

Donaldson also has a very interesting (and dark dark) Science Fiction saga (Gap) that you will like if you liked the anti-hero aspect of Covenant.

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

If you like the characterization of Thomas Covenant, you may like Tad William's epic fantasy Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn saga which really follows the transformation of the protagonist over the course of the series. 

The Farseer

Read Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy for another story with magnificent characterization set in a fantasy landscape (though Farseer is not exactly epic fantasy). Donaldson is unique in fantasy because his character is whole an whole an anti-hero instead of a hero. You may like 

A Song of Ice and Fire

George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga; there are some detestable main characters (anti-hero types) that become more agreeable as the series progresses; You see a slow evolution of these characters. 

If You Like the Anti-Hero Aspect of this book, check out our Best Anti-Hero Fantasy Books list.

Gavriel Kay's Fionavar is an ode to J.R.R. Tolkien, building on his life as an editorial assistant to his son, Christopher. Kay was instrumental in the publication of the legend's posthumous works, and the echoes of those themes shine through in this series. It carries many of the elements of classic heroic fantasy, complete with a rising evil and an unlikely hero. Kay's execution, though, is entirely different. The series follows five students from the university of Toronto as they find themselves in a magic world. While Tolkien blends many mythologies, this setting has a Celtic style that makes it feel incredibly unique. Kay keeps the lengthy, lyrical prose, but surpasses many in his characters and plot. It's not a journey to Mordor – it's complex, winding, linked and intricate. That describes his characters too, to an extent. The series has a huge number of them, yet they manage to promote real depth and emotion. The five each have their own flaws which they must overcome, and that makes for a great story of power, forgiveness and free will. Read if you like: Tolkien, high fantasy, heroic fantasy.

Books in The Fionavar Tapestry Series (3)

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

Books in Mythago Wood Series (9)

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Considering the theatrical title of the book, this is a light and easy to read fantasy that manages to be equal parts refreshing and enchanting.Why it made this listWe love fantasy because it gives us a chance to immerse ourselves in a different world to our own. Sometimes it's not a better world. Would you like to live in Westeros? But fantasy authors can – if they decide to – create a world that's better than ours. When they're able to imagine somewhere that's free of some of the most entrenched issues in our society – racism, homophobia and sexism – they take the audience for a ride; one where we can see how our own reality could be better. And Kushner has used Swordspoint to do this.Don't panic yet! This isn't a deep read – it doesn't require you to examine the world around you too intensely, but the inclusion of bisexual characters does propose an alternate reality where some form of equality has evolved beyond that of our society.It's not necessary to delve into those depths, though. This is a book about a master swordsman – complete with well-planned episodes of swashbuckling and lots of stabby action. Kushner is never over the top, her writing is precise and the pace of the action is perfect, making it easy to read and even easier to enjoy.
Before famous director, Hayao Miyazaki turned Howl's Moving Castle into an animated film, it was an enchanting novel written by Diana Wynn Jones. This novel follows the life a young girl who is destined, as the eldest of three daughters, to fail if she ever pursues success. In a world where the tropes of most modern fairy tales are accepted ways of life, Jones' protagonist, Sophie, must learn to shape her surroundings instead of being shaped by them. Initially, Jones' Howl's Moving Castle appears to be clichéd. Sophie is cursed by an evil witch before stumbling upon a living, breathing castle inhabited by a wizard called Howl, on the outskirts of the magical Kingdom of Ingary. While this narrative may stay true to many classic tropes of the fantasy genre, such as magic witches and talking objects, Jones' novel features a memorable setting, unique characters and a striking plot. The subtle, Victorian prose, similar to that of novels like Jane Austen, allows the reader to establish a vivid and in depth image of each character. Furthermore, the magical Kingdom of Ingary is perfectly developed, with Jones giving just enough information to build a mental picture while still allowing her readers to run their imaginations wild. While Miyazaki's film and Jones' novel follow the same premise, they differ greatly in plot and characterization, making them almost two entirely different stories. If you've enjoyed either version of this tale, you'll likely enjoy the other as well.

Books in Howl’s Moving Castle Series (2)

In the 80s, a variety of subgenres, new directions and styles evolved. Some were gritty and mentally taxing – requiring some emotional work on the reader's part. Luckily, Dave Duncan was on hand to provide some relief.Why it made the listSometimes the most important thing fantasy can bring to a reader is a few hours of pure escapism. And that's why The Reluctant Swordsman is one of the greatest series of its time – it's an adventure story. And it's a great one.It's not an emotionally tiring read, but it's not shallow either. It does explore the nature of faith and the possibility of miracles. It also touches on issues like slavery, rigid caste systems and how justice should be served. But first and foremost, this is all about the hack 'em and slash 'em. The best thing to do before you pick up this book is keep two things in mind: Firstly, don't expect great female characters. Unless your kind of woman is a robotic blow up doll. Second, don't read it if you're looking for a work of great scope. This is more of a character piece than an epic tale.This is an ideal series for the metro ride – you won't embarrass yourself by laughing out loud, crying at the death of a beloved character or ripping it to pieces in frustration. What it will do is provide you with an excellent way to escape the horror of halitosis and body odor.
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.

Books in Discworld Series (72)

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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.

I can't do a list of the top 50 fantasy novels with strong female leads without including The Mists of Avalon. Considered one of the great classics of modern fantasy literature, it won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel the year it was published, topped Best Sellers lists for years thereafter, and has continued to transform perspectives for decades. Bradley won critical acclaim with this novel by taking the whole body of Arthurian legend and re-spinning the tale from the perspective of the women in Arthur's life. The Avalon of the title is the island home to a sect of Goddess worshippers attempting to hold back Christianity's growing influence over Arthur and the country at large. This world of mysticism and spirituality frames the life of Morgaine, not an evil sorceress here, but priestess of Avalon and Arthur's half-sister. She rides the tide of self-doubt and confidence as we span her life from practically birth to death. Here lives a haunting Camelot. A visceral, real Camelot that is simultaneously ethereal and mystical. It's not action-packed, but an emotional and compelling legend of adventure, prophesy, romance, betrayal, and witchcraft. The women here are complex, intriguing, loving, and manipulative. They live in a male-dominated world, so behind the scenes they are forever pulling strings, standing close to center stage, but never stepping a foot onto it, weaving their magic in the shadows. If the life of the author matters to you when reading a novel, know that Bradley has some skeletons that have thrown shade over her work.

Books in The Mists Of Avalon Series (2)

Master Li and Ox â the main characters in this work â are easily some of the most loveable characters in fantasy. Aside from these charming protagonists, the book is a lot of fun to read.Why it made the listHughart's writing is never too flowery or too simple. This book is like a Thai food dish, every element is balanced so that none of them are overpowering, take away from the overall taste or from the eating experience. In Bridge of Birds, the ingredients â action, description, character development and humor â come together in a satisfying literary version of delicious pho.Watching the action through Ox's naïve eyes means that the reader can experience the wide-eyed wonder that he does, when he does. It's a refreshing departure from the more serious titles of the 80s. Hughart is a master of humor. He's not obvious about it like Pratchett, but it is as effective as anything you'll read in the Discworld series.There aren't many fantasy titles where the end feels right. Mostly, they fall flat and leave you disappointed. The conclusion is just like that bowl of pho â it fills you up, warms you up and leaves you with the desire for more like it.

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

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This collaboration proves that you don't have to wade neck-deep in magic to make a great fantasy. This series showcases the other side of Feist's Riftwar Saga, which is a great read, but pretty standard as far as fantasy lore goes with the typical magician, orphan, dragon, elf, combo. Empire is something entirely different. Set in Asian-inspired Kelewan, we ditch the medieval European landscape for once, and enter a world where Akoma Honor drives the politicking of the ruling class. Mara is the new empress after her father and brother are killed, and learns to navigate these deadly waters with alacrity driven by need. She is one of the most multidimensional and fearless characters I've read, rising from precariously clinging to her title to a truly powerful contender. The synergy between these two masterful authors yields up something richer than either alone. Even seemingly small characters have big ambitions and impact the story in surprising ways. Intrigue, murder, fantastic creatures, fervent love, and battle; Empire is everything that makes fantasy worth reading.

Books in The Empire Series (2)

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Books set in an Asian fantasy landscape are pretty rare. If you liked the sort of mystical Asian landscape portrayed in this series, you might Find Sean Russell's Brother Initiate and Gather of Clouds a good read as well. Guy Gavriel Kay also has a new book, Under Heaven, that's sort of an alternative version of China (with elements of magic to it).

With magic, it’s difficult to craft a system that’s both complex and interesting. Lydon Hardy is a master of that balance, his series inspiring Magic: The Gathering, The Name of the Wind, and even heavy metal songs. He does so while devoting almost the entirety of the book to magic. Character, plot, and world-building, while solid, take a back seat as the protagonist learns about the arts. Alchemy, magic, sorcery, thaumaturgy, and wizardry each make an appearance, and each has stunning logic and complexity. In fact, the systems are so detailed that it would be impossible to fully explain them without writing pages. Suffice to say that each has complex rules and drawbacks, their own rules, items, and more. They require research, well-respected experts, apprentices,and specialists. With many of the systems, Hardy even draws parallels to the modern world. There are hints that they will eventually develop to include medicine, psychology, and advanced chemistry. When all of these techniques combine, Master of the Five Magics feels completely real. Hardy stays well away from hand waving and creates systems with costs and nuance, weaving some of the best to date.

Books in Magics Series (3)

It was in the 80s that the subgenres of fantasy we know today started. One of these – urban fantasy – owes much of its development from War for the Oaks, which was one of the titles that pioneered it. If this is the only reason you decide to give it a try, you'll find it's time well spent.Why it made the list Some authors get so caught up in their own worlds that they can't bring themselves to the level of the reader when explaining the details of their creation. When this happens, the explanations they provide can seem patronizing. Bull never does this to the reader. Instead, she gives you enough information to understand the War for the Oaks universe, but trusts that you have the intelligence to fill in the blanks. In doing away with the overly condescending and lengthy descriptions that many fantasies are plagued with, action and character development are given all the attention.Bull's writing style is uncomplicated but not overly simple, making it easy to read. She's an excellent storyteller and – maybe because she draws on things that she experienced in real life – the magic elements feel as much a part of our reality as her tales about being in a rock band. Can you really think of anything more entertaining than a rock musical with faeries? That's what Bull has created here.You should already be convinced that this deserves some attention. But if you need another reason to do so, then the characters in War of the Oaks are it. Eddi, the main protagonist, is easy to like but it's the faerie Phouka – a shape changing, mischievous Prince lookalike – that makes this book so much fun to read.

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What can I

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

For the closest book

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

For another

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

If you like

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

For an interesting

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

Paks is one of the earlier examples of a strong, realistic female heroine who appeals to men and women. She becomes a badass paladin in her world of dwarves, elves, and gods when an arranged marriage gives her a nudge out of her farmhouse door to join a mercenary band. She is passionate and willing to do whatever it takes to fight for what's right, discovering her talent as a paladin along the way. She never comes off as pompous or self-righteous, she's just out there fighting for her cause; though she does seem to be a bit of a lightning rod for incredible circumstances. She has her flaws, and doesn't always know what's going on as just a pawn in a larger strategy. Moon writes so vividly and clearly that the world is nearly tangible. If you're not into the trappings of high fantasy (good vs. evil, valiant warrior, evil monsters, etc.) you probably aren't going to dig this one. If you enjoy a heroic ride, realistic combat, magic and harrowing adventures, you probably will.

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

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If you like

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

Aerin is shy, clumsy, ugly, and mistrusted by the people she is supposed to rule. She is ridiculed for being the daughter of a witch with none of her witchy powers, and even when she eventually becomes a Dragon-Killer, it is because it is a task that needs doing; the dragons are small and numerous… like rats. It isn't exactly a heroic compliment. Yet her inner strength, her determination and willingness to learn that which does not come easily make her the hero she needs to be. She is tough and proves her worth again, again, and again no matter the obstacles or jeering from the sidelines she endures. While there is romance, it is most definitely on our heroine's terms, and not because she intends to snag him as a way out of her miserable life. It is organic and complex and believable, which is so very lacking in many fantasy novels. Hero and the Crown is still one of the best fantasy novels on the shelves today.

Books in Damar Series (4)

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

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If you like horror fantasy

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

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

The genius of this series lies in the exquisite character development – especially in relation to the hero, Vlad Taltos. We're accustomed to rooting for anti-heroes these days, (Hi, Dexter Morgan! Oh, you're a serial killer? Have an Emmy award!), and Vlad is one of the greatest of them all.Why it made the listMainly because this is the Mr. and Mrs. Smith of the fantasy world. It's always a barrel of fun – you don't need to think too deeply, you can just enjoy the ride. Even though there are ten books in the series, you'll find it easy to read.There's something intriguing about an assassin and there are many fantasy series where a murderer-for-hire is the (un)hero. And Vlad isn't the only well-written character: His wife is as much kickass character as he is.Brust is excellent at keeping things subtle. The humor is dry but low key, the characters well rounded but Brust doesn't seem obsessed with explaining them, and the plot moves quickly enough to keep you needing more. Part of the reason for this is the snark that drips off every page – you won't be able to keep the grin off your face. And you'll probably look like a crazed maniac while reading, but you won't give any kind of a damn.Added incentive: Dragons. Tons of dragons.

Books in Vlad Taltos Series (26)

There are five books in this series – the first being Pawn of Prophecy. This isn't fantasy with a lesson. Nor is it fantasy with emotional depth. And it doesn't even come close to being a fantasy for intellectual discussion, but it is fantasy for fun.Why it made the listThere's nothing particularly special about this series – we've seen characters and read stories like this before. It's not even the best example of this kind of fantasy. If you're looking for something that is both quick to read and an entertaining piece of fiction, then The Belgariad is perfect for you.It's also an important series for the effect it had on the fantasy genre. This was one of those series that proved that fantasy could appeal to a wider audience. Probably because it doesn't take itself so seriously, it was one of the first big fantasy bestsellers.If you'd like to introduce fantasy to someone who has never read anything in the genre before – especially if they're younger – then David Eddings is a good option. The characters are easy to identify with, the cultures aren't unlike the ones in our world and there's enough humor and adventure to keep anyone entertained. If you can finish these books and not wish you were a thousand-year old cantankerous sorcerer like Belgarath, then there's no hope for you.
Like David Eddings, Feist was one of the first fantasy novelists to have measurable commercial success – the kind that landed him on the bestseller list. It had a lasting impact on the genre itself by bringing in a new – very loyal – audience.Why it made the listIf you're impressed by nothing else in this book, be impressed by how grand the scope is. It takes place over a decade and includes all the elements of an epic saga: Quests to far off lands, devastating wars and heroic adventures. Who doesn't love an epic?Magician isn't complex in terms of character development or dialogue (which is often cheese-tastic). It's also full of standard fantasy clichés. But, because of the amount of different people, lands and occurrences in the book, it feels like a complicated read. The plot is nothing special, but there are enough surprises to keep you entertained.This is comparable to a prescribed book at school. It's mainstream enough to appeal to almost everyone, it's never offensive and is, essentially, a beginner's guide to the tropes, stock characters and basic formulas of fantasy.

Books in The Riftwar Series (3)

When this came out, there was nothing like it. The consensus is that you'll either love the Xanth books or hate them. If you fell into the latter category it would be because it's clear that Anthony doesn't hold women in the highest regard and, if you were to focus on this, you'd find A Spell for Chameloen a painful example of rampant sexism. Despite this, it is possible for you to enjoy this book.Why it made the listThis is the Kubla Khan of 80s fantasy. It's bizarre, random and sometimes doesn't make much sense. But this is part of its appeal – at no point do you need to take anything that happens seriously. You should apply this state of mind to the character of Chameleon most especially.His writing isn't that good - he struggles with descriptions and often resorts to vague redundancies like, “absolutely beautiful,” and his characters are as three dimensional as a pavement, but he is a good storyteller. He knows how to pace the action of a book so that all loose ends are tied up in a tight narrative. You can't help but be impressed by the number of ideas that he manages to cram into each book. Sometimes they're ludicrous, but they're always original.

Books in Xanth Series (38)

If you're a fan of RPG, Icewind Dale will appeal to you. It takes place in the Forgotten Realms – a world in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. Yes, it's dorky. Should you care? No. Because Drizzt wouldn't.Why it made the listIf any of the books in R.A. Salvatore's D&D titles makes it onto a list, it's because of Drizzt Do'Urden – one of the most beloved characters to come out of the 80s. His popularity is probably partly due to his status as an outcast, which is something many of this book's main audience can identify with. The fact that Drizzt is able to overcome the less-than-ideal circumstances of his life has universal appeal.Salvatore's greatest talent as a writer is that he's able to create bubbles of pure escapism. These books aren't complicated and they don't require any kind of deep thought processing, they're meant for one thing: To be read purely for the pleasure of reading. That doesn't mean these books are devoid of substance though. It is possible to take some of the wisdom Drizzt imparts and apply it to everyday situations.Icewind Dale will appeal to readers that like action, because Salvatore writes vivid battle and fight scenes. It will also appeal to readers that look for interesting characters because he writes each one with the same amount of attention, whether they're protagonists or supporting characters.
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)

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.