We’ve had a lot of rain this week, so I’ve had some extra reading time, which I just adore. I’m currently reading book three of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and I’ve added it to the list of my all-time favorite epic fantasy series. Which made me think, hey, have I ever shared my list? Well, then, here they are, for your reading pleasure. I’ve sorted them into categories, just for organization’s sake.
To me, there are three founding authors who jump-started the epic fantasy genre. The most obvious one is J.R.R. Tolkien, whose The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have inspired countless authors over the years. For those who love magic and wizardry, Ursula K. Leguin’s The Earthsea Cycle is another set of books upon which so many fantasy series rest. And The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis is the third series I would include in this category. He gets kudos for developing such amazing alternate worlds for his stories.
The books I’m reading now, in the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, are key to the epic fantasy genre, though I’ve only recently discovered them (thanks, Curt!). The classic hero’s quest, intriguing characters of varying ethics, and the display of the true costs (and horrors) of war make the series fascinating. Perhaps my favorite epic fantasy author, though, is Tad Williams. I loved his saga Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, and I’m still reading his latest series, Shadowmarch, which is just as good (on a side note, check out his series Otherland, too, which is more on the sci-fi side but is outstanding). He too has the hero’s quest thing down, and his flavors of magic and dream versus reality are incredibly creative. And then there’s Katharine Kerr, whose Deverry series is delicious, heart-breaking, and thought-provoking. Oooh, and then there’s Robin Hobb. I started with the Farseer trilogy, but I love everything she’s written (I think there might be a couple I haven’t read yet, but she has a huge list, and I’ve devoured most of them). She’s top-notch when it comes to complex characterization. Roger Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles are on the list of favorites, too, though they cross over a bit into sci-fi (not a problem, for me). The implications of the world system of Amber is mind-boggling sometimes.
I recently read the first three books in Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series, and while they were very entertaining, I hesitate to put them up there with what I’d call the classics. I didn’t feel the writing was as of high a quality as the others. I feel the same way about The Sword of Shannara series by Terry Brooks. Entertaining, but not ultimately fulfilling. I haven’t read the Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan (et al) yet, though I’ve heard good things. The only drawback I’ve heard is that the series is just too darn long. But I’m a fast reader, and sheer number of pages has never bothered me. I do plan to delve into them at some point. I’ve also never read the Anne McCaffrey series Dragonriders of Pern, but Quester tells me it belongs on this list, so I had to put it somewhere.
Not Just for Kids
Despite all the commercialism, I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling has written a fine and well thought-out epic series, and the use of magic is unique and fun. I think there are several authors in the “young adult fantasy” niche whose works are interesting to adults as well. Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series is a fabulous, fun, and well-designed one, especially if you’re a fan of strong female protagonists – and I am. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far of Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle, and his writing has improved over the series. Another favorite in this category is the Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke (and her other books are great reads, too). She’s got a lot of fresh and creative ideas, and I love how she’s combined storytelling with magic.
There are a couple of writers who are either new or not quite as well known (yet) who I also wanted to mention. Lynn Flewelling, who I heard about because she was my neighbor when I lived in central Maine, is an excellent fantasy author who’s not afraid to tackle controversial subjects. Her Nightrunner series is on par with my other favorites. And I just discovered Patrick Rothfuss about a year ago, and gave the first book in his Kingkiller Chronicles to all the fantasy-loving readers on my Christmas list based purely on his excellent writing. I haven’t read the second book yet, which just came out this spring, but I look forward to it.
Well, that’s the list as it stands now. I haven’t included links to all of the authors, because I’m sure you can Google them for yourself. Please add your comments if I’ve forgotten any series or if you can recommend some I haven’t heard of yet!