(My) Top 10 Epic Fantasy Series

I love lists. They are all over the Internet and most are click-bait for bloggers trying to make a few bucks with advertisers. I love lists but I hate clicking NEXT to get little bite sized bits of what could have been interesting information.
So, I decided that I would make my own lists of purely subjective information. I also promise to not break up the list into pages with next buttons in a lame attempt to drive up clicks.

So the first list…

My Top 10 List of Epic Fantasy Series

First off I am going to bring up a couple of “series” that I am intentionally leaving off the list. First Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s epic while one of my favorites was never meant as a series and should be viewed as a single novel. I might someday come up with a list of Epic Fantasy novels and that will be number 1. Also, I am not including George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” not because it is not a series or epic but because I am afraid that the author has grown bored with the writing of the series and might abandon it before it is complete. I could be wrong but that is my opinion until I see otherwise.

So, one with the list.

10. “Book of Words” by J.V. Jones

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J.V. Jones’ series the “Book of Words” contains The Baker’s Boy, A Man Betrayed and Master and Fool. It is structured like a typical fantasy trilogy and seeing that it was published in the 90s (before the onslaught of series 8 books or longer) the books blended into the shelf pretty well and can been seen as a decent stepping off series for those new to the genre. You could say that they are a good series to introduce to someone new to fantasy and not be afraid to scare them off. The classic tropes are all there, “farm boy”, “out of reach love”, “evil wizard” and “evil prince/king” and to make things even better for the fantasy newbie the majority of the names are pronounceable. I mean one of the protagonists is named Jack, easy to bridge that gap with Jack.
The fact that I would consider the series approachable is not the only reason that it is on my list. There is a rich world to be found within the pages of this well written series. The characters are well developed and the writing style makes it an easy and enjoyable read.

9. “Belgariad” By David Eddings

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This five book series, containing Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician’s Gambit, Castle of Wizardry and Enchanters’ End Game, is a classic story published in the 80s. A modern reader might find the story a tad cliche and there is a good reason for that, Eddings was one of the first to the table with farmboy hero stories that follows the classic mythology hero journey template. Cliche doesn’t always mean bad.
There are five books but they are very quick reads while still having a deep story that is engaging. Each book is an independent journey for the characters while pulling a common theme of “saving the world”.

8. “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson

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This series (for me) is all about the magic system. Sure there is saving the world from an evil centuries old tyrant with a twist here and there; but the magic system is why it is one of the best epic fantasies. The idea of people ingesting flecks of metal that impart magical abilities is pure genius as far as I am concerned.
There are three books in the main thread of the series (The Final Empire, Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages), Sanderson has been writing more books in the same universe but the original series are the ones to start with. What also makes this series special is that the main protagonist is female. While there are other series that have main characters that are female, those girls are usually secondary to the “chosen ones”, but here Vin is the key to the story and the other characters are there to support her.

7. “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” by Tad Williams

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Technically a trilogy (Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower) but today it is sold in four volumes. When I read them the final book To Green Angel Tower was published in a single hard cover, when it was published in mass market paperback the publisher split the book into two. The ebooks follow the paperback model.
Of the series so far this is the first truly dense story. Williams built out a complex world that feels familiar while very foreign. Simon one of the protagonists grows up over the course of the series and goes from pitiful to heroic without it seeming forced.
Taking on this series is not for the faint hearted, this is a long ride (worth every moment) so be prepared to dig into these for a long read.

6. “Lightbringer” by Brent Weeks

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A newer series that is still in progress, as of this writing there are 3 books: The Black Prism, The Blinding Knife, and The Broken Eye. The series has a great magic system that is tied to the color, frequency of light that the wielder can see. There is also a bit of romance that has an interesting twist with a Man in the Ironmask like plot line.
The writing style is approachable and the world building is excellent and in someway very unique.

5. “Prydain Chronicles” by Lloyd Alexander

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A true classic. The tale of Taran the assistant pig keeper is not as long (in terms of word count) as the others on this list but it is no less magical. There are 5 novels that make up the core of the series, The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer and The High King. Each book holds its own plot while allowing the reader to continue to follow beloved characters. There is a grounding in the series that is unique across fantasy, the main character grows into being a hero, nothing is handed to him, he is required to walk a very long path and realize that heroes are forged through adversity.
The target audience are younger readers but that should not scare away adult readers (come on you know you read Harry Potter). My son started reading these in 2nd grade, he even dressed up as Taran for Halloween that year.

4. “Farseer Trilogy” by Robin Hobb

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A great assassin, save the kingdom, and heart wrenching story. I grew so attached to the characters in these books that I found myself having to put the book aside because of emotional twists. Kind of a magic lite world/setting but there was enough to have it feel “fantasy”. Great, great characters and easy writing style makes this a fun read.
The trilogy contains the following novels: Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, Assassin’s Quest. I am especially fond of the ending where there is real lose and not the happily ever after that one might expect.

3. “Demon Cycle” by Peter V. Brett

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Demon’s rule the night and mankind is forced to hide behind magic that is until someone figure out how to fight back and through the world in chaos. That is the story that is on going with this series. Currently there are 4 novels: The Warded Man, The Desert Spear, The Daylight War and The Skull Throne.
Within the series there is a unique system of magics and characters that are driven by their own wants and desires that might not always be what you think they are. There are betrayals that are heart wrenching and yet they fight on.

2. “Riftwar Saga” by Raymond E. Feist

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Have you ever played a role-playing game, like Dungeons and Dragon, and had a campaign so rich and alive that it feels like you are playing a novel itself? Well this series is that game! Some people will scoff and look down their noses at the idea of reading somebody’s “game night”. The novels: Magician: Apprentice, Magician: Master, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon are deep and detailed adventures that draw the reader into a world that is both familiar and different, that magic is not just a silly deus ex machina.
Go to the bookstore and buy these books and read them. You owe it to yourself.

1. “Wheel of Time” by Robert Jordan

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A fourteen novel series that was almost not finished due to the untimely death of the author. Luckily, Robert Jordan planed well and there was enough material that Brandon Sanderson was able to finish the last three books and thus the best epic fantasy series ever written. It is not as bloody or “real” as Game of Thrones and the modern reader might struggle with the innate goodness of some of the characters. There is though an incredibly deep and complex plot that is played out in great detail.
There are those that complain that the books are too long and that the series is too long or artificially bloated. I will admit that some of the novels are not as strong as others but together they make a series that has no rival in scope.
It is a classic good vs evil story with a strong sense of mythology. If you have not read the series or finished it go out, get the books and start reading.

Here are the books in the series:

  • The Eye of the World
  • The Great Hunt
  • The Dragon Reborn
  • The Shadow Rising
  • The Fires of Heaven
  • Lord of Chaos
  • A Crown of Swords
  • The Path of Daggers
  • Winter’s Heart
  • Crossroads of Twilight
  • Knife of Dreams
  • The Gathering Storm
  • Towers of Midnight
  • A Memory of Light
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