In the increasingly tedious real world, many of us love to escape to their favourite fantasy worlds just to seek some solace. A place where nothing is impossible and all sorts of mythical beings exist. Aside from sufficing our cravings for fantasy, books also extend our imagination beyond the realm of obvious.
If you joined fantasy crowd after watching The Lord of the Rings movies or The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey or the current pop culture phenomenon Game of Thrones TV series then you are not alone.
Fortunately there are hundreds of great fantasy books from which to choose. Unfortunately it also makes it hard to pick and choose your favourites. Nevertheless I somehow managed to come up with a list of 10 books which, in my opinion, are the crème de la crème of the fantasy genre.
For the sake of giving lesser-known books a place on the list, I’m going to omit names that everyone knows; The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, A Song of Ice and Fire and of course, The Harry Potter series.
10. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Imagine Sherlock Holmes with his entire detective prowess and…. magical powers! The Dresden Files are Jim Butcher's first published series, telling the story of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago's first (and only) Wizard P.I. (Private Investigator). Purists might argue that it's pulp fiction and shouldn’t join these ranks. But I’m here to tell you that Dresden books are some of the most entertaining fantasy books I’ve ever read. Almost all books of this series are full of sorcery, ridiculously good explanations of magical entities and above all, unpredictable mysteries.
The best thing about this series though, is that every book is almost like a stand-alone novel, so you don’t have to start from the beginning.
Best book in the series: #10 Small Favor (2008).
9. The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brook (1977)
When an ancient evil ruined the world, it also forced mankind to form an alliance with gnomes, trolls, dwarfs and elves. But the only weapon to fight against the foreboding darkness is the Sword of Shannara, only usable by a true heir of Shannara.
Classic plot for a fantasy epic, this series can claim more than a little credit to the genre’s enduring popularity. This series drew heavy criticism for its alarming similarities to The Lord of the Rings books. Although sometimes formulaic, it is, nonetheless, thoroughly entertaining.
8. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
This first book of British writer Susanna Clarke is an epic story of alternative history and magicians, told in a behemoth 1006 pages. The book is an account of the 19th century England around the time of Napoleonic Wars when most people believed magic to be long dead only to witness its return in the form of two men: Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange.
Clarke’s style has frequently been described as a pastiche, particularly of nineteenth-century British writers such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and George Meredith. This hauntingly beautiful piece of fantasy may not be for everyone’s palate but it can suffice both fantasy and literary cravings alike.
7. Earthsea Cycle series by Ursula K. Le Guin
When her publisher asked Ursula K. Le Guin to write a book “for older kids”, this series was the end-product. Set in the fictional archipelago of Earthsea, the series is about the life and education of a young magician named Ged under the tutelage of his aunt (who also happens to be a witch), as an apprentice to a wizard, at a school of wizardry, and finally through a quest of self-discovery. Check out the reviews here.
Best book in the series: #01 A Wizard of Earthsea.
6. The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
The series was chiefly inspired by the poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" by Robert Browning and incorporates themes from various genres like fantasy, science fiction, western and horror. The story depicts Roland Deschain, the last member of a knightly order known as Gunslingers, in a feudal society which shares most of its characteristics with American Old West but is also magical. At the start of the series, Roland’s motives and goals are unclear but as the series progresses some light is shed on these mysteries.
No other author can compete with Stephen King’s style of mixing horror with fantasy and his style resounds throughout the series, which has been spanning now for about a quarter of a century. Even he himself considers this epic work of fantasy as his magnum opus.
Best book in the series: #02 The Drawing of the Three (1987).
5. Dying Earth series by Jack Vance
This series, comprising of four books originally published 1950 to 1984, is basically a collection of interrelated short stories written by the American author Jack Vance.
Set millions of years in the future, our civilisation is almost forgotten and only few remaining humans inhabit the relics of a ruined landscape, which is lightened by a dim red sun. The stories themselves have a certain eerie and mythical quality. Though seminal in its day, this series still remains a fascinating read.
Best book in the series: #01The Dying Earth.
4. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
American Gods is a perfect blend of fantasy and various strands of modern and ancient mythology. It was the book that made Neil Gaiman one of the top modern fantasy writers.
After being released from prison, Shadow was returning home to his wife’s funeral when he met the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday who claims to be a former God and the king of America. Shadow eventually accepts working for Mr. Wednesday and together they embark on a cross country journey/adventure.
The tale is dark and sometimes disturbing but gripping nevertheless and the tales-within-tales are also very compelling. The book won the 2002 Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Bram Stoker Awards, all for Best Novel.
3. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
Written by American author James Oliver Rigney, Jr., under the pen name Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time series is a tale of epic fantasy. In the series’ fictional mythology, a deity known as the Creator forged the universe and the Wheel of Time, which, as it turns, spins all lives. The Creator imprisoned its antithesis, Shai'tan (or Dark One), at the moment of creation. However, in a time called the Age of Legends or the Second Age, an Aes Sedai experiment inadvertently breached the Dark One's prison, allowing his influence into the world.
The author died in 2007 while working on what was planned to be the final volume in the series, although he had prepared extensive notes so another author could complete the book according to his wishes.
Best book in the series: #01The Eye of the World (1990).
2. Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson
When it comes to modern fantasy writers, only a few are as recognised as Brandon Sanderson. After the death of aforementioned The Wheel of Time series author Robert Jordan, Sanderson was selected to complete the final book in the series. But it was the Mistborn series that established Sanderson as one of the top modern fantasy writers.
The Mistborn series consists of four high fantasy novels (one of them is a short stand-alone novel). The series primarily takes place in a region called the Final Empire on a world called Scadrial. The land is ruled by a dark lord and ordinary folk work as slaves. All of that is about to change as a revolt is about to happen, but its initiation depends on an untrustworthy criminal and a young girl who must master Allomancy, metal magic.
Best book in the series: #01Mistborn: The Final Empire.
1. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
This 1973 fantasy romance book has everything for everyone. Swashbuckling heroes, pirates, giants all comes together in this classic tale that exposes and analyses the genre at every page.
The story is a classic tale of love and adventure as the beautiful young woman Buttercup, engaged to the odious Prince Humperdinck, is kidnapped and held against her will in order to start a war. It is up to Westley (her childhood beau) to save her. On the way he meets, an accomplished swordsman and a super strong giant, both of whom become Westley's companions in his quest. The narrative is incredibly absorbing with tongue firmly in cheek. If you ever wanted to convince someone to get into fantasy, this is the book to recommend.
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Where’s Malazan Book of the Fallen it is a great fantasy series by Stevan Erikson? I personally found it better than Tolkien of Robert Jordan. And you have mentioned GRR Martin. Such a loser who can’t even finish the series. And what a drab the last published book Dance of the Dragons of the series ASOIAF was. Hopeless indeed.
Steven Erikson has written some great fantasy books undoubtedly, but I had to give priority to other major fan favorites such as The Wheel of Time series. But surely, The Malazan Book of the Fallen deserves a place in any top 15 fantasy books.
The Earhsea Cycle even has an animated movie made based on it. The Tales of Earthsea, directed by Miyazaki Goro
🙂 Nice to see it on your list.
I’m glad you liked the compilation. I almost didn’t put The Earthsea Cycle in the list, but thanks to the editor for reminding me.
The Dark Tower series by Stephen, the invincible I must say in horror, suspense and action genre based stories, worth to read!
Thanks for the recommendation Kashif…