As a teenager I adored epic fantasy, it was pretty much all I was reading and it is the genre that turned me on to genre fiction in general. As an adult I get a bit bored with some of the clichés and tropes of the genre. A trope that really annoys me is “the chosen one”, so that is included in a story it has to be otherwise freaking amazing. I enjoy stories with strong female protagonists, as you have probably figured out by now, so expect a predominance of those. But I still love a good epic fantasy story, so thought I would share the ones that I recommend with you.
I have divided the books into the adult books first and the young adult and children’s book afterward. If I have already reviewed a book I will link to my review, but most have not been mentioned on the site yet. As always I do not summarise plots, I link to Goodreads so go read the blurb if a book sounds like something you would like.
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
Series: Phèdre’s Trilogy
This is very much an adult story. Phèdre nó Delaunay grows up in a country where the courtesans are priestess and revered in the society. She has been turned over to one of the houses who trains the courtesans as a child and is training to become one. That sounds cheap sleazy doesn’t it? Well it isn’t! The world building is solid and the plot is captivating. Phedre is a very strong character who has so much power without being a warrior. There are some rather hard s/m scenes in the book, so if you are squeamish about that kind of thing, this is not for you. I very much enjoyed the book and I strongly recommend it. The first book is especially good and can be read on its own.
The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan
Series: The Black Magician Trilogy
The protagonist Sonea is an extremely magically gifted young woman who gets drafted into starting at the magic academy that is run by the Magicians’ Guild. Once she starts at the school she is an outsider from the get go and a talented one at that with teachers who are uncomfortable with her level of power. The plot is twisting and turning and playing with the reader along the way. The series is extremely good and satisfying. A number of my friends has read it as well and so far everyone has liked it, so perhaps you will like the series as well. And no it isn’t just a darker Harry Potter.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Series: The Inheritance Trilogy
This really is an epic story on the gods level of power. Yeine Darr is an outsider coming to the capital of the hundred thousand kingdoms – coming into the palads no less. Finding herself surrounded by gods and power plays inside power plays she tries to navigate this strange place. The people surrounding her is apparently family, but they do not feel or act like family – they act like power players – drunken with power. Jemisin have done some really impressive world building in this book. Not only have she build a world and a whole mythology, she have also told her story in a truly enjoyable way.
The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller
Series: Kingmaker, Kingbreaker
The two books in this series both adhere to a lot of genre convention and at the same time feel very fresh and different – at least the did to me. The protagonist, Asher , is a young man who isn’t a very sympathetic character on the surface but that is part of the interest in this book. I found myself rooting for him anyway. He is magically gifted in a land what needs it but where it is forbidden. He is also the son of a fisherman and very much a rough character. The books are funny, dark, with good dialog and enjoyable. Unlike so many epic fantasy books the plot don’t get slowed down by endless descriptions or too much exposition. To me it was one of those books that was just hard to put down. Be aware that there is an evil cliffhanger so get the next book before getting to the end or you will be frustrated.
The Diamond Throne by David Eddings
Series: The Elenium
Let me start by saying that this book has some rather problematic bits – looking back at it as an adult. However, this was one of my favourite books as a teenager. I adored the series. It is funny and clever and has some over the top very entertaining characters. Some of my first role-playing characters were modeled on top of this bunch. The stakes are high, the plots moves at a good clip and it is full of magical artifacts, magic, priestess, gods, trolls and people. It is the action movie book of the batch. Do not expect great literature but do expect to be entertained.
Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
Series: Farseer Trilogy
Young Fitz living on the edge of the society in the royal castle when he becomes the assassin’s apprentice. At first it kind of a game to him, but it quickly becomes very real and Fitz struggles with the moral aspects of his new career. The book had a huge emotional impact on me, it frankly made me weep so many times. At the same time I was unable to put it down. It sucked me in and kept me reading even when I was on vacation with friends, they had to drag me away from the series. Robin Hobbs is a master at spinning political plots and intrigue. This a grim fantasy, perhaps on the edge of the grim dark subgenre. Fitz is quite young at the beginning of the first book but it is not a children’s book.
The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks
Series: Night Angel
A more contemporary take on the idea of an assassin’s apprentice as the protagonist is The Way of Shadows. Unlike Fitz, Azoth seeks to become an assassin because he wants to become so dangerous that nobody will ever dare to bully him ever again. The first book is both about his training, about him living with having the skills he earned and about the political games that gets him mixed up with. At the same time he is still a young man, who wants what most young men wants, friends, a girlfriend to have fun, to relax. To have a life. But being one of the most dangerous men in the region means that you earn yourself some enemies and like in any superhero story that puts his dear ones in danger. This is not just gratuitous violence, the book very much deals with the consistencies of wanting to be a ninja. The characters are not likeable from the get-go, but the action kept me interested and the characters does develop. The book kept me up all night reading more than once.
Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts
Series: Creature Court Trilogy
This book does not adhere to the classic tropes of fantasy. It is set in a city that feels a lot like an Italian renaissance city, but also have a lot of modern elements. It is quite it’s own and different. It is complicated, poetic and beautiful. The protagonist is very talented dressmaker living with her two good friends. The book is also about the “creature court” that defend the city against an ongoing attack from somewhere else. The court is full of power play between the members who were all taken in a children and who never really had any adults to socialize them. It is a savage place and our young dressmaker will have to learn how to navigate it. The book is on the edge of weird all the time, flirting with the it. Which is part of what makes it work but also part of what makes it almost impossible to explain. If you are tired of stock fantasy, this might be one to pick up.
The Accidental Sorcerer by K.E. Mills aka Karen Miller
Series: Rogue Agent
There are not a lot of funny books on this list, but this one is definitely funny. It is a humorous fantasy in the vain of Discworld. This is another epic urban fantasy book. Gerald Dunwoody is a not very competent wizard who gets involved in a huge plot to take over the world – which he of course tries to stop in his own bumbling manner. It is entertaining and it plays with the tropes of the genre while still keeping with in them. There are some kick ass female secondary characters who tries very hard to outshine poor Gerald. It isn’t shelved as young adult, but I don’t see any reason younger readers couldn’t enjoy this series.
Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin
Series: Raine Benares
This is another of those urban epic fantasies. The setting is more in the vain of a modern roleplaying fantasy world than what you find in your traditional epic fantasy book. The cities are huge, with nightclubs, theaters and schools of magic. The world is interesting, the action is good, the story is not too see-through or complex. It feels very much like a great roleplaying campaign with the best game master ever. The heroine is competent, funny, sexy and gets to have a ton of fun but is in constant danger. The writing style is describing enough to let you imagine what the world looks like without bogging you down with page long descriptions of everything and it’s cat. There are no boring traveling sections wondering though mashes or anything like that. It is fast paced and funny.
The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling
Series: Tamír Triad
This book had my hypnotized. I read it as an audiobook and even though it didn’t really pick up until half way though I just kept listening, making up excuses to sit down and listed. It is a very dark book. It kind of have the feel of a Greek tragedy where someone is trying to manipulate fate and thereby making it come true. Tobin one of the royal princes is really a princess magically put into a male body. The book deals with some really interesting gender issues. Tobin is destined to save the kingdom from horrible mismanagement (the land is dying) in classic epic fantasy style, but all the tropes are warped and strange. And I don’t think I have ever read something where the price to pay to fulfill the destiny was quite so high. If you want to read an epic fantasy book that is really different, then this is one for you.
Young adult and middle grade books
Mio, My Son by Astrid Lindgren
This is one of the very first real fantasy books I remember reading as a child. I have chosen to show the Danish cover because that is the cover that made me pick it up as a 10 year old, the English one seems too childish. It is a classic portal fantasy. Mio is transported into another world. It is a pretty dark story but it is also a story full of love. I remember it being really scary and very at the time but also so exciting. I think I have listed to it at least ten times. I have however not re-read it as an adult so I don’t know how it holds up. But it is a classic and Lindgren’s books tend to appeal to adults as well as children. They are always deeper than they seem and they deal with real problems that isn’t confined to the time when they were written. Mio is missing the affection of his father in his own world but gets transported into to a magical but dangerous fantasy world where his father loves him. That is a fantasy so many children have. The book is packed with emotion and is one of the books I count as the ones that turned me into a genre reader.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Series: Graceling Realm
This is kind of fantasy with people with superpowers . There is more than one protagonist in the series. The series is about growing into your skill and learning to work with what you got. It is also about fighting the good fight rather than the easy one. It is a series about finding friendship in unlikely places and making the best of a sucky situation. About taking hand of your own destiny. It has been a while since I read the first book so I can’t say much more other than it is really good. This series definitely gets stronger as it progresses. So far book 3 is the the book that has turned me back to epic fantasy.
Sandry’s Book (or The Magic in the Weaving) by Tamora Pierce
Serie: Circle of Magic
Young adult/middle grade
If you follow me, you might have picked up on the fact that I am a Tamora Pierce Fan. I pretty much adore anything she writes, but among my favorites is her second world the Circle of Magic books. The world building is much more developed than in the Totall books, so this is why I recommend these first. The series is about four twelve-year-old children (three girls and a boy) who is taken to a temple where they study magic. While this is a magic school book series, it feels nothing like Harry Potter. The problems they help solve are much more real and dire. There are however room for them to be children as well. They do however grow into teenagers pretty quickly and they are quite mature. The books are all about friendship, owning your own agency and knowing your limits. The book opens up to a series of around 12 books by now. Each book deepens and develops the world, their characters and their relationships with each others and with the adults in their live. Quite a few of the characters are queer by the way – not that is apparent in the first book but it becomes important as they grows older. Read my full review
First Test by Tamora Pierce
Series: Protector of the Small
This book is set in Pierce’s Tortall universe which is a classic fantasy world, it is not the first book in the universe, but I like this one better as an adult reader. If you are 12 you might like Alanna better – go for it. The book is about Keladry who wants to become a knight in a world where only one other woman has done that in 200 years and the other woman disguised as a boy to make it. Keladry wants to train as a knight with the boys. It is very much about determination, about not accepting the glass ceiling, about working within a hostile organization, about fighting bullies. It is also a book about friendship and about a teenage girl with male friends who she is not romantically involved with. Keladry is focused and determined and so freaking kickass.I will have to write a review to do it justice, but so far you will have to make do with my whole heartedly recommendation. I love this book and this series.
Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
Series: Pern: Harper Hall
This is another one of my favourites from my teenage years. The book is very much about following your passion for art and escaping the pressures of a small-town traditional society. Menolly is very musically talented to the point of progeny but her father is enough of a traditional to think that she as a girl should not pursue a man’s art like music – that it would be a shame for the family if anyone from outside found out that she was doing something as unfeminine as that. He is also violent but to Menolly that is secondary to his oppression of her musical talent. The book is set in the amazing sci-fi/fantasy world Pern where dragons fight to keep their world save with fire and where fire lizards fly free along the coastline. It is another book about a strong female protagonist but instead of fighting with a sword, she works through song and music. It is very much a book about gender roles and about a cosmopolitan attitude vs. a traditional attitude towards the world.
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
This book is set in a steampunkish version of London where the city is ruled by wizards who is working with djinns under their control. The protagonist Nathaniel is training with one of the wizards and gets wrapped up in political plots and intrigue together with one of the djinns. I love the awkwardness and self-confidence of Nathaniel. He is very much a teenage boy with all that entangles but he is also a quite capable young man. The book has a very strong sense of place, which means that it is sometimes shelved as urban fantasy but the scope of the story puts it in the realm of epic fantasy to me. He is trying to save the realm after all. It at the same times feels very different and very familiar. It is a book that made me smile and think.
The Shamer’s Daughter by Lene Kaaberbøl
Series: The Shamer Chronicles
It is quite rare that I get to mention one of the wonderful Danish fantasy authors that I really enjoy but Kaaberbøl is sneaky enough to translate her own books into English (or in some cases she starts by writing in English translating into Danish). It also happens to be a really good and quite unique book. Dina has the power to make other people feel shame for their actions. She is also an isolated teenage girl living in the countryside mistrusted by her peers because of her powers. Her mother gets involved in a murder case and Dina gets dragged in as well. It has been quite some time since I read it but I remember being quite angry that book two wasn’t out then I finished and I think it was the first book I put on hold in my local library before it came out. For a young adult book it is quite grim dark but it do have dragons…
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Series: Discworld – Tiffany Aching
Not every epic fantasy book is about saving the world, right? Good when we agree. I couldn’t make this list without putting a Discworld book on here. To me The Wee Free Men is one of the best Discworld books, simply because I find the Wee Free Men hilarious. I can strongly recommend getting it on audiobook, unless you are really good at reading accents course they are a big part of the humor. Tiffany Aching is a witch though she may not know it when the book starts out and in the Discworld universe being a witch is all about getting things done. It is all about attitude and about having the right kind of headgear. The Wee Free Men is a good entry point to the Discworld series if you don’t want to drag you self though the first Pratchett books that frankly are not all that amazing, they are good, but not compared by some of the later ones. Speaking of I also recommend Monstrous Regiment.
Storm Glass by Maria V. Snyder
This is not the first book in Snyder’s universe, but it is the sub-series in the universe that I like best so far. Opal can work magic in glass and glass making plays a major role in the series. I like craft in books and I love to be inside the head of artists or craftsmen – seeing the world through their eyes. Opel is attending a magic academy (again totally unlike Harry Potter) and struggling to fit in. It is a fast read and an entertaining one. The book is full of political intrigue, mystery and there is a romance in there as well and the magic system is really interesting.
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Young adult/middle grade
I have not reread this one since I was around 14. I loved it as a young teenager. Other than Alanna it was one of the few books I had read at the time where a girl kicked ass. It is such a normal thing in fiction today, but back then it wasn’t. Aerin is no good at girly things such as sewing so when she decides to go fight dragons on her own. It goes poorly and she copes, gets better and gets back up on the horse. Her kingdom is terribly poor (she has to fix her own socks and paper is precious), which is also a really unusual detail but was quite normal in 15-1600s Europe in the smaller kingdoms.
That was all of them. I hope you find a book you like. You might be thinking where is Lord of the Rings, where is Narnia or a million other book. I have not included the obvious classic epic fantasy books for two reasons: Firstly you know of them already. You do not need me to tell you to go read Lord of the Rings. Secondly, I have not read quite a lot of the classic ones because they were not translated into Danish when I was the right age to read them.
I have included books that still resonate with me today years after I read them or books that I have enjoyed as adult. I hope I have included a good mix of funny, entertaining, dark, light, deep, older ones, contempory, slow paced and fast paged books in here. I hope you find something that speaks to you.
Please let me know if you read something because of this list 🙂