Friday, February 22, 2013

Where to Start: Epic Fantasy

My comics newbie status has been exposed to the world, much to my benefit. My post from Monday was re-posted on and from that I have gotten a plethora of recommendations from comics veterans. And I have truly appreciated it. My comics reading list is now extremely long and I'm excited to start diving into it.

Since comics vets have done me such a great service, I thought I would return the favor. Epic fantasy novels are my true love when it comes to fiction, and it's possible that some of you out there are unfamiliar with the genre and have an interest of getting into it. And it's possible that you've looked at the shelves in bookstores and seen these crazy fourteen book series or hear about waiting ten years for the next book*, and you feel overwhelmed. Epic fantasy might seem like this impossible genre full of long, long, long series that require a level of commitment you're not comfortable giving to something you've never tried.

Well I'm happy to tell you that is not the case. And if you're interested in dipping your toes in epic fantasy, I have some recommendations for you! (And thus begins my first ever "Where to Start" guide for an entire genre!)

The first question is probably: what do I mean by epic fantasy? Epic fantasy, also known as high fantasy, generally takes place on a world other than our own. It also involves stakes of an "epic" scale, as in the end of the world or something huge and monumental that's going to affect multiple nations. To be clear, this is not quite the same as "sword and sorcery" fiction, which generally deals with more personal goals and adventures. To be epic you have to have a truly legendary story line. And that's why a lot of epic fantasy series are a bajillion books long.

The Lord of the Rings is, of course, the classic example, the defining example. However, it should be noted that epic fantasy does not require non-human characters. Though LOTR is chock-full of them, something can be epic and only humans be involved. It just has to be an epic story line. Got it? No? Well, then check out Wikipedia's article.

Because of the large scope of the genre, it can be daunting to get into. But below is a list of short, complete** series. All of the recommendations are going to be proceeded by a short "are you looking for" sort of question. You'll see what I mean.
  • Are you looking for no commitment? Just one book, no sequels, but still epic?
  •  Stories of gods and men?
  • Do you like ninja assassins? (Who doesn't like ninja assassins?)
  • Thieves & the ultimate heist & secrets?
    • The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson (First book: Mistborn)****
  • Do you need a strong romance subplot?
    • The Rhapsody Trilogy by Elizabeth Haydon (First book: Rhapsody)
    • Threshold by Sara Douglass
  • You want to read the classics?
    • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (to be clear, I don't actually recommend this at your first epic fantasy book. Tolkien is like the opposite of accessible)
    • The Belgariad by David Eddings (First book: Pawn of Prophecy)
  • Want to just dive into the most epic complete fantasy series out there?
  • Need a first person narrative?
This list is just a short sampling of epic fantasy, but it's a good starting point if you're new to the genre. There is plenty more epic fantasy out there (especially if this list was extended to include more unfinished series). But these are generally the books I recommend to people who are new to the genre. 

If you're an epic fantasy reader, what other books do you recommend to new readers?  

*I'm looking at you, George R.R. Martin. (I admit 10 years is an over exaggeration. It was only six.)
**There is one exception. But it's a good exception.
***This is also a great series for starting kids in epic fantasy as the main character is 14.
****This may not be the most accessible trilogy though. It plays a lot on the tropes of fantasy though you don't need to know that to still enjoy the story.
*****And this is our exception. The Name of the Wind is fantastic. It's amazing and beautiful. But the third book in this series is not out yet.  But it's the only first person narrative, amazing epic fantasy series that I know of. And even if you have to wait for the third book, you won't regret it.


  1. It's really funny that you posted this today; I literally thought upon waking up this morning, "I just want to read more epic fantasy". I've been reading a lot of YA dystopian, so some epic stories sound good to me right now.

    Now, I'm certainly not on the same level as you when it comes to epic fantasies, but I'm not a novice either. I know it's not important, but I linked to B&N because you linked there.

    As for recommendations, I don't really have many of my own (because you've already mentioned them or I just wouldn't want to recommend it in the first place). I do want to second your recommendation for The Night Angel Trilogy, though. That was the best series of book I read last year. I've recently started Weeks' new Lightbringer Series because I enjoyed them so much. Only two of books in this series are out, though, so it doesn't really match your criteria (just thought I'd throw it out there anyway as I think it's going to be good). And The Kingkiller Chronicles is also a very excellent choice for anyone.

    I haven't finished it (I've read two and have started the third), but Joe Abercrombie's The First Law Trilogy (first book: The Blade Itself) is pretty decent. It's also simple, not containing lots of hard to pronounce names or crazy new languages. I don't know how to emulate your one sentence interrogative as it's pretty standard fantasy (people from different backgrounds group together to save the world from the big-bad, god-like person). It is complete.

    Another complete series I'm actually surprised you left out is Jim Butcher's Codex Alera Series (first book: Furies of Calderon). I've not actually read the series, but I know several people who have, and they come highly recommended.

    I don't know if you would classify The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini (first book: Eragon as epic fantasy. It's certainly not on the same scale as some of the others mentioned here, but it might be a good starting point for some people. And Dragons!

    That's all I can really think of at the moment. I'll probably pick up some of series you mentioned that I haven't read.

    1. Phillip, I <3 Brent Week's stuff. I really wasn't expecting to like The Night Angel Trilogy based on the blurb, but once I started reading them I devoured them. They really are good. And yes, I'm totally reading The Lightbringer Series too, and you're right that I didn't include it because it's not complete.

      I actually haven't rad The First Law Trilogy but since you're like the third person to mention it to me I think I'll have to check it out!

      And I didn't include the Codex Alera because I haven't read it and only know one person who has and he didn't like it very much. I do plan to read it eventually, it's just pretty low on my list. But if you've heard good things about it, I may have to renegotiate it's status in my "To Be Read" list. :)

  2. I love the First Law Trilogy myself, would highly recommend that. One of my personal favorite fantasy series that doesn't get nearly enough love is Matthew Stover's "The Acts of Caine" series. It should be noted that it's extremely violent and the main character is rather foul mouthed, but the series is incredibly thoughtful and philosophical. It's not a celebration of violence, as it might appear, but a study of it.