Epic fantasies. Awesome multi-part fantasy books of epic proportions – or with epic characters, stories, and worlds. There are an awful lot of good fantasy series out there – but which are the best? Now, obviously, Lord of the Rings should be on this list – Tolkien is the granddaddy of contemporary fantasy – but I’m deliberately leaving him off, because he’s included on every list related to good fantasy there ever was – particularly since he went all “mainstream” with the production of the films. The same goes for George R.R. Martin with his A Song of Ice and Fire. As much as I love the dark, gritty emotional rollercoaster that is this truly epic fantasy, it doesn’t make an appearance here. Both Tolkien and Martin – or more specifically their epic works – belong on a list like this. It goes without saying. Hence they don’t appear here – just know that we love them and recognize their greatness as fantasy masters.
6. The Earthsea Cycle (Ursula K. Le Guin)
Yes, the Earthsea Cycle is something of a coming-of-age epic – but it’s a great read. It’s relatively fast-paced and features engaging characters. There’re a few plot twists that keep you hopping, and the not-always-black-and-white characters. You’ll quickly be rooting for Ged, who must overcome a number of ordeals. The Earthsea Cycle, the first of which was published in 1968, deals with the human condition and features sociological and psychological themes throughout – but it’s just as engaging as it was when it was first written. This epic is a good gateway for young adults into the realms of epic fantasy, and it’s a nice, easy read for adults, too.
5. The Sword of Truth (Terry Goodkind)
This epic fantasy has a mix of hardcore fans and hardcore haters. It is a coming-of-age epic – but it has far more adult themes, and it’s darker – at times, verging on the painful, gritty fantasy. Goodkind is criticized for the politics and preaching evident in parts of this series and the repetitive themes that occur throughout the 11-book series. However, the characters are generally well thought out – and nobody can fail to smile at Zedd’s antics – and Adie. Perhaps 11 books was a few too many – but overall, this series deserves a spot on the list of epic fantasies. In spite of its issues, it’s engaging and enjoyable, and has everything you need in a historical fantasy – sword fights, magic, dragons, really bad people, a righteous protagonist and his friends on a quest to save the world from said really bad person, a random old wizard (who is possibly the best character in the series), and a little bit of romance. What more could you ask for?
4. Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson)
This one really is epic. 14 big books. It’s a beast of a series. Sadly, Robert Jordan passed away before he could finish it, and books 12 to 14 were penned by Brandon Sanderson. It has its detractors, as well as hordes of fanatical fans. And it is a fairly amazing coming-of-age epic. It starts out like every other novel in the coming-of-age fantasy genre – a boy from a small village in the middle of nowhere must leave to harness his powers and save the world, along with his two best friends. But it gets more complex than that – it flows well, generally speaking, and the main characters, at least, are interesting. It’s dark in places and intriguing in others. Yes, the series loses its way a little in the middle – the plots are a little chaotic, as there’s such a big cast – but it eventually gets back on track and delivers. Robert Jordan was one of those writers who paved the way for the breakthroughs in the genre. Yes, some of his female characters are a little wooden, and yes, Jordan was, at times, a little obsessive over minor details – but as one of the forefathers of modern fantasy, Jordan and his Wheel of Time epic are unforgettable.
3. Deverry Cycle (Katharine Kerr)
Its gritty, it’s complex, it’s mammoth. Kerr’s Deverry Cycle is outstanding. Yes, Martin creates a complex world for GoT, but Kerr creates a fast-paced, intricately detailed extravaganza that confuses and compels you. Follow these characters through multiple incarnations, and try not to get too confused while you’re at it. These intelligent books will keep you guessing and will make you work. They aren’t the best choice for a light read. But if you want something that makes you really think, that you can get emotionally invested in, and that gives you plenty of mental stimulation (not forgetting magic, battles, and romance), then the Deverry Cycle is the epic for you.
2. The King Killer Chronicles (Patrick Rothfuss)
Now, we’re only two books in the series and a standalone into this epic so far – but it’s pretty awesome. So far, it’s not an epic world or multiple confusing plots and quests – it’s the story of one man – Kvothe. But boy is he an epic character. He’s instantly fascinating. He’s complex, tragic, dark, and dangerous. He’s also enormously likeable. Rothfuss is a fairly new author, but he’s fab. He makes you root for Kvothe and conjures up a fantastical but believable world. The other characters, even the minor ones, are just as compelling as Kvothe. I literally could not put these books down – I was exceptionally tired the entire time I was reading them – which is always the sign of a truly awesome series. I cannot wait for the next one.
1. The Valdemar Universe (Mercedes Lackey)
The Valdemar books make the top of our epic fantasy lists because a) they’re so good and b) there’s so many of them! It’s an enormous collection written over four decades – and it’s not over yet. Lackey just keeps on adding new tales to her Valdemar universe. This epic consists of standalones, trilogies, chronicles, and multi-part series, some of which are epics in their own right. Together, they tell the tale of several thousand years of history of the world of Valdemar. The characters are compelling, and there’s lots of twists. While there’s plenty of light heartedness, some of the stories have exceptionally dark and sadistic elements, so these books are not for the faint-hearted.