The Most Jaw-Dropping Epic Fantasy Recommendations to Keep You Hooked
If you only read 10 fantasy books this year, read these.
Wikipedia defines “fantasy fiction” as a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe, often inspired by real-world myth and folklore. When it comes to fantasy, most of my friends have only read Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, or A Song of Ice and Fire. These are great books, no doubt about that. However, to be a true aficionado of this genre and appreciate its beauty in all its formats, one needs to broaden their reading horizon and diversify their tastes. This article is a list of the ten best fantasy fiction books I have read. Do read on; you might find your next favourite book among these.
1. Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud (3 books)
A young-adult fantasy set in modern-day London, these books are the perfect cure to anyone suffering from what I call the “HP hangover” (“The Harry Potter series is the best I have read and I am sure nothing will ever come close to being as awesome!”)
What makes these books delightful are the characters. My favourite among them is Bartimaeus, the protagonist and part-narrator of the trilogy. Bart is a middle-level djinni with (in his own words) ‘more resourcefulness and guile (Not to mention mindless optimism) in his toenails than all other porridge-brained spirits together.’ Bart is funny, sassy and wise from his 5000+ years of experience on earth. He has no corporeal body of his own, but can take up any form he wishes to, from dangerous demons spitting venom to beautiful maidens with golden hair running down their backs in ringlets. His favourite guise, however, is that of a fourteen-year-old Egyptian boy wearing a white loincloth and a golden pendant on his bare chest.
The best part about these books is that the story does not take place in a separate world/planet, as is the case in other fantasies. The events that happen to our djinn influence the real world as well and the consequences make the story even more fun to read. A well-thought-out plot with a sarcastic demon for a narrator — would any reader want to miss out on such awesomeness?
2. Nevernight Trilogy by Jay Kristoff (3 books)
I have read very few fantasy novels begin with such an interesting premise: a girl killing a man and a girl bedding a boy both shown simultaneously using the same words. Jay Kristoff is a master storyteller, gentle friends, you have to give him that. He knows how to reach into the depths of your consciousness and keep you hooked throughout his story.
The female lead, Mia Corvere is not a sweet, innocent 16-year-old as most protagonists in YA fantasy are. She is a seasoned killer with vendetta clouding her vision. Her growth through the story is gripping, made more vivid by her interactions with the side characters, shining brightest are Shadiid Aleya, Tric, Ashlinn, and the mysterious shadow daemon, Mr Kindly. What I liked the most about Mia is that she isn’t PERFECT like other heroes in fantasy. She has got some pretty dark shades to herself and doesn’t hesitate to cheat or lie to have her way. Also, she isn’t a master of swordsmanship (although she is pretty bloody good), instead, resorting to poison craft and guile to win her battles. Her bisexuality unfolds beautifully throughout the trilogy. We definitely need more fantasy books with queer main characters (Be warned, though: if graphic sex scenes are not your cup of tea, you might consider proceeding with caution).
The first and second books are brilliant, with the stakes rising higher and higher with each chapter. The third book is somewhat of a letdown, but still, with the grand plot and kickass fight scenes, this series is definitely a must-read for lovers of fantasy.
3. The Farseer Trilogy by Robbin Hobb (3 books)
A story spanning multiple societies built on differing moral boundaries and traditions, this series is fascinating in its complexities. With compelling characters and interwoven histories, the ultimate redemptions make the whole journey worthwhile. The world-building is fantastic, and the strife of politics, including poison, assassination, and turmoil leaves the reader on their toes till the very end of the trilogy. The author deserves praise for masterfully creating such intricate worlds and parallel universes.
The writing style is a little different, and the first-person narrative is somewhat hard to digest in the beginning, but trust me, it grows on you. The characters are totally believable and entertaining; the protagonist, Fitz, being someone I would love to know in real life. The magic system is original and intertwined beautifully with the story, which makes the series wildly entertaining.
4. Skyward by Brandon Sanderson (4 books)
Status: Ongoing (2/4 books out)
This series has everything you would expect from a great sci-fi/fantasy novel: brilliant world-building, fantastic character arcs, fast-paced edge-of-the-seat action, and incredible dialogue. The characters are amazingly relatable: the angsty, brave misfit Spensa, the calm and dependable Jorgen, the brave and loveable Cobb, the witty sentient space ship M-Bot and the adorable Doomslug. Plus points to Sanderson for writing a book series I JUST COULDN’T PUT DOWN.
Here is what I wrote at 5 am, after a binge-reading session exceeding three hours:
When you finish a set of books so good, you have goosebumps all over your body and shivers down your spine. I was at 71% of book two when I started reading. It was 2 AM then. I intended to read a few pages and then sleep. But the climax was so well-crafted, the narrative so airtight, that I HAD to finish reading. There was no option. My heart is still beating hard from the impact Sanderson’s story had on me. After that cliffhanger, I need to read the next book soon!
5. The Faithful and the Fallen by John Gwynne (4 books)
The grand scheme of things might be hard to digest at the beginning. It sure takes some time for the reader to settle into this world with several characters and time-jumps the author uses to keep the story going. But half-way through book one (Malice), the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall into place and the casual reader is converted to a loyal fan.
This is a classic good-vs-evil story that uses all the tropes of fantasy — an unwilling chosen one, meddlesome gods, hardworking, but poor gentlefolk, veteran swordsmen & women, honourable warriors whose oath is more sacred than their blood, students who outsmart their masters, royal bastards, and intelligent animals who dole out pearls of wisdom. Yes, we have seen all these before, but even then, the intelligent writing and plotting make the books refreshing to read. John Gwynne does a fantastic job writing relatable characters and building a world so dark and gritty, that you would keep turning pages frantically to know more about it. The fight scenes have an edge-of-the-seat tension and the gore is sometimes too much, but if you trust the author, he will take you on a wild journey through a well-thought-out world of epic fantasy that will make you fall in love with the series once you’re done.
“Nobody can get that close to the light and live. Not even the Shadows.”
This series has all the elements to sate a fantasy lover’s heart: forbidden powers, a chosen one narrative, a heart-warming coming-of-age story amid political turmoil and strife, a complicated system of magic that is abhorred and reverted in equal measure by inhabitants of this world, rich and complicated landscapes, wild plot twists, epic fight scenes, and death and finally, an ending that will make the book-lover in you squeal with joy saying — “How did I not see that coming?”
I am not exaggerating when I say, James Islington brought every story arc to such satisfying conclusions in the epic ending, that I had to battle very hard to get out of the hangover this trilogy left me in and start something new.
7. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (3+3 books)
Mistborn Era One is the story of a young girl, Vin, who has lost her family and learned the skills of survival on the streets. Her “normal” life is ripped apart when the suave and ambitious Kelsier finds her and tells her she is an Allomancer — someone who can “burn” metals to fight, fly, run great distances quickly, and influence the decisions of other people. Vin refuses to believe him, of course, but when Kelsier offers to take her in his “crew” and tutor her, she learns of her abilities and takes great pleasure in leaving the hardships of her life on the streets behind. But what she doesn’t know is that Kelsier is planning the greatest insurrection of all time — by overthrowing the Lord Ruler who has been the king of the world for more than a thousand years. The story of Vin, Kelsier, and their crew as they go along with their plan that threatens to upturn the entire planet makes up the story of Era One. The ending is one of the most satisfying climaxes you would have ever read in fantasy — with Sanderson tying up some ends you didn’t even realise were loose.
Mistborn Era Two is set about 300 years after the events of era one. These books have completely different characters (the protagonist duo Wax and Wayne along with their accomplices Marasi and Steris) and their own struggles. The setting of this world is interesting because this is no longer a medieval fantasy. Sanderson’s world has electricity, cars, and even guns. The story works towards uncovering an ancient secret left behind by the Lord Ruler and explores how these modern inventions fare against ancient allomancy. The books of era two are shorter, more humorous, and fast-paced. They make for a great read, but it is advisable to take a break after finishing era one as the change in tone, pacing, and setting can be quite jarring.
8. The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss (2+0.5 books)
Status: Ongoing (3/4 books out)
This is a refreshing book series written with beautiful language and an intricately woven storyline. The story begins as a Chronicler stumbles upon the legendary Kvothe (now Kote) who has disguised himself and taken residence at a village under a false name. The Chronicler insists that Kvothe’s story is worth recording for posterity and gets the man to talk about his life. And thus begins one of the most fast-paced and entertaining book series ever. The story traces the adventures of young Kvothe as he learns the tricks of ancient magic, makes powerful friends (and enemies) and enrols in the University that brings out the best in him. I am sure the back blurb is enough to capture anyone’s attention —
My name is Kvothe.
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.
Status: Ongoing (3/7 books out)
This is one of the rawest, most honest fantasy books I ever read.
Scott Lynch is a genius. The plot, seemingly a simple, albeit ingenious, heist story in Book One, magnificently grew to such epic proportions by Book Three, it leaves the reader gasping for breath at the sheer brilliance of the author.
The Gentleman Bastard sequence is the best fantasy series I’ve read after Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. Yeah, I know it’s too soon to say because only three books are out and there’s no date yet for the fourth, but one can always hope the series will fulfill the promises it delivered to the readers.
Full marks to the author for holding my interest throughout the 1500+ pages. The story was amazing and the characters very real and flawed (which says a lot because the setting is, well, fantasy). Ah, I’m in love with Locke Lamora and Jean Tanmen. Overall, a thrilling, enduring, and gripping series.
Coming from a self-confessed lover of fantasy fiction, the best book series that I have read so far is the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by the Canadian author Steven Erikson.
There are 10 books — each averaging at 1000+ pages — the story spanning hundreds of thousands of years over multiple continents. For an average reader, a look at the dramatis personnae of each book would be the cause of a mini heart attack as this number totals to some 120–150, with each book introducing at least 20 new characters.
And trust me when I say — there are no minor characters.
The story arc, background, and character development of each character is so well-fleshed-out that it leaves the reader in awe. Even the unnamed characters who appear for a few paragraphs leave an impact on the reader.
This series is a huge investment if you consider the time and effort put into reading it, but once you are done, it will leave you changed. It is an emotional journey — a wild ride through terrific ups and heart-wrenching downs that will bring out the rawest form of compassion and empathy hidden deep within your souls.
Erikson does tremendous justice at showcasing the bests in human behaviour — the kindness, the compassion and the pure, unadulterated love. He does not shy away, either, from showing the worst of the human flaws. There is rape, torture, cannibalism, incest, willful maiming, and genocide at such scales as to make one’s stomach roil.
Having said that, the way the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle spread over the 11000-odd pages fit together to make a cinematic, gut-wrenching and hugely satisfying climax is worth every second spent in trying to make sense of where the narrative was going in the earlier books. These books not only brought out the hidden writer in me, but they also helped me deal with some of the darkest times in my life.
Hope you liked this list. I might have missed out on several of your favourite books. Do let me know if there are any more you would like to suggest. For more book reviews, follow me on Goodreads.
If you enjoyed my recommendations, you might like these articles too-