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So You Want to Read Epic Fantasy: Here’s Where to Start

 

Cover detail from To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams. Art by Michael Whelan.

The epic has been the foundation of fantasy for a long time.

From Beowulf and the tales of King Arthur all the way up to The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, epic fantasy has been in the roots of Western culture a long time. It was really the Oxford professor’s story of Frodo Baggins and the One Ring that began modern day epic fantasy, the trilogy bestsellers worldwide. By the time Terry Brooks published The Sword of Shannara in 1977—a book most would consider epic fantasy at the time—Tolkien readers were already craving more of the same.

But as with all things, epic fantasy has evolved over the decades since Brooks wrote his original Shannara trilogy. I talked about this two weeks in So You Want To Read High Fantasy: Here’s Where To Start. Epic fantasy once meant large books with an everyman-type of lead character against a dark lord. But to me, the epic fantasy that has been written in the last three decades are not only large in size and scale of story but also feature numerous point of view characters and several storylines that are separate but are also intertwined.

To talk about and recommend epic fantasy, it requires an epic list. These are the books I recommend people start with if they want a truly epic reading experience.

Happy reading!


rawn-dragonprinceDragon Prince (1988)
by Melanie Rawn

In this unsettled world, the death of the ruler of the desert princedom becomes the catalyst for power games of magical treachery as rival factions – from the evil High Prince to the leader of the Sunrunners to the newly crowned Prince of the Desert – seek to alter the course of their world.

williams-dragonbonechairThe Dragonbone Chair (1988)
by Tad Williams

Having inspired authors like George R. R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss, The Dragonbone Chair is the story of Simon, a boy who is sent on a quest that offers the only hope of salvation for Osten Ard, a deadly riddle concerning long-lost swords of power. Compelled by fate and perilous magics, he must leave the only home he’s ever known and face enemies more terrifying than Osten Ard has ever seen, even as the land itself begins to die.

jordan-eyeoftheworldEye of the World (1990)
by Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go. When The Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs—a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts— five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light.

martin-gameofthronesA Game of Thrones (1996)
by George R. R. Martin

Sweeping from a harsh land of cold to a summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, A Game of Thrones tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Unparalleled in scope and execution, A Game of Thrones is one of those rare reading experiences that catch you up from the opening pages, won’t let you go until the end, and leave you yearning for more.

elliott-kingsdragonKing’s Dragon (1997)
by Kate Elliott

Set in an alternate Europe, a world where bloody conflicts rage and sorcery holds sway, both human and other-than-human forces vie for supremacy. In this land, Alain, a young man seeking the destiny promised him by the Lady of Battles, and Liath, a young woman gifted with a power that can alter the course of history, are about to be swept up in a world-shaking conflict for the survival of humanity.

erikson-gardensGardens of the Moon (1999)
by Steven Erikson

The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations. For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game of war and conquest. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand . . .

brett-wardedThe Warded Man (2009)
by Peter V. Brett

For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards—symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile. It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms, but those days are gone. Night by night the demons grow stronger… and three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible.

Way of KingsThe Way of Kings (2010)
by Brandon Sanderson

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them. And one such war rages…


There you go. A great list of recommendations from early books in epic fantasy to newer. There will be some disagreement with the definition I’ve used—and even some series that haven’t been listed here—but these books are a great place to start reading epic fantasy.

So get to read. Because these are large books and require your full attention!

Happy reading!