Top 10 Epic / High fantasy books
Epic fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy; often cross-referenced with high fantasy. This sub-genre includes not only Tolkien but also those original classics, such as Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and various other ancient epics. This page features recommended titles, ranging from the classics including The Lord of the Rings, The Earthsea Saga and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to those destined to be referred as such: A Song of Ice and Fire, The Liveship Traders and Mistborn. And don't forget to check out the hidden gems to the right.
- The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb
Wizardwood, a sentient wood. The most precious commodity in the world. Like many other legendary wares, it comes only from the Rain River Wilds. But how can one trade with the Rain River Traders when only a liveship, fashioned from wizardwood, can negotiate the perilous waters of the Rain River? A liveship is a difficult ship to come by. Rare and valuable, it will quicken only when three family members, from succesive generations, have died on board. The liveship Vivacia is about to undergo her quickening, as Althea Vestrit's father is carried to her deck in his death-throes. Althea waits with awe and anticipation for the ship that she loves more than anything in the world to awaken. Only to find that her family has other plans for her... And dark, charming Kennit, aspiring pirate king, also lusts after such a ship: he well knows the power of wizardwood, and has plans of his own...
"Hobb is one of the great modern fantasy writers! what makes her novels as addictive as morphine is not just their imaginative brilliance but the way her characters are compromised and manipulated by politics." The Times
"The Liveship Traders trilogy has it all - intricate plot, realistic characters and a sense of magic." Fantasy Book Review
- Earthsea Saga by Ursula Le Guin
As a young dragonlord, Ged, whose use-name is Sparrowhawk, is sent to the island of Roke to learn the true way of magic. A natural magician, Ged becomes an Archmage and helps the High Priestess Tenar escape from the labyrinth of darkness. But as the years pass, true magic and ancient ways are forced to submit to the powers of evil and death …
Ursula Le Guin's creation, Earthsea - an ancient world of wizards, magic, darkness and light, and an ever-shifting balance of power - is an acknowledged masterpiece.
"One of the major works of fantasy in this century." Observer
"Stunning, thought-provoking fantasy." Fantasy Book Review
- Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson's epic fantasy trilogy overturns the expectations of readers and then goes on to tell the epic story of evil overturned in a richly imagined world. A thousand years ago evil came to the land and has ruled with an iron hand ever since. The sun shines fitfully under clouds of ash that float down endlessly from the constant eruption of volcanoes. A dark lord rules through the aristocratic families and ordinary folk are condemned to lives in servitude, sold as goods, labouring in the ash fields. But now a troublemaker has arrived and there is rumour of revolt. A revolt that depends on criminal that no-one can trust and a young girl who must master Allomancy - the magic that lies in all metals. A word of mouth success in the states the Mistborn trilogy has, this year, broken onto the New York Times Bestseller list.
"If you want to read one of the best fantasy books published in the last decade, then this definitely has to go at the top of your list. With two books you can read immediately after, characters that jump off the page, and a story that continues beyond this book but still leaving you fully satiated, Mistborn: The Final Empire is a must have for any reader of good fantasy." Fantasy Book Review
- The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
Author Jonathan Stroud delivers such a potent and unforgettable mix of magic, history and intrigue with The Amulet of Samarkand, the first part of his compelling Bartimaeus Trilogy, that it is difficult not to want to read the next novel immediately. Undoubtedly the shortest 480 pages you'll ever read, The Amulet of Samarkand is a superb novel of revenge and adventure with the most original central character for years. Bartimaeus is a wisecracking Djinni (pronounced "Jinnee" we're reliably informed) unlike no other. Summoned from some otherworldly place to do the bidding of a pipsqueak trainee magician called Nathanial, he sets about his given task reluctantly but with aplomb. Nathanial is after revenge and that makes him dangerous. Previously humiliated by a powerful magician called Simon Lovelace in front of his impotent master, Nathanial has spent every waking hour for years cramming knowledge of the highest magic into his head so that he can exact his own special kind of vengeance. Bartimaeus is charged to steal a precious and powerful object--the Amulet of Samarkand--from Lovelace's residence, which the Djinni achieves but not without angering a few old mates on the same astral plane and having to spend the night annoyingly disguised as a bird. Bartimaeus, despite being bound to Nathaniel, discovers the boy's real name--a tool he can use to his own advantage. But he is constantly outwitted. Then an overriding danger becomes apparent that threatens the whole fabric of society and they must work together to combat it. Stroud's fantasy world is familiar, yet fascinatingly different. It's almost Victorian London, yet Magicians hold overall power and inhabit parliament. The writing is captivating, the story intelligent and mesmerising. It's difficult to imagine a more scintillating collection of characters and situations. Unmissable.
"There are many delights to savour in this series." Independent on Sunday
"Bartimaeus: The Amulet of Samarkand is a novel which successfully bridges the divide between children’s and adult fiction. The story of an ambitious young demonologist and an ancient and exasperated demon, it is a challenging and sophisticated read for young readers of perhaps 12 years and upwards and a witty entertaining and fast-moving adventure story for adults." Fantasy Book Review
- The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
A glorious classic fantasy combining the magic of Ursula Le Guin's The Wizard of Earthsea with the epic Mastery of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Now reissued in gorgeous new livery. Fitz is a royal bastard, cast out into the world with only his magical link with animals for solace and companionship. But When Fitz is adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and learn a new life; weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly. Meanwhile, raiders ravage the coasts, leaving people soulless. As Fitz grows towards manhood, he will have to face his first terrifying mission, a task that poses as much risk to himself as it does to his target: for Fitz is a threat to the throne ! but he may also be the key to the future of the kingdom.
"Hobb is one of the great modern fantasy writers ! what makes her novels as addictive as morphine is not just their imaginative brilliance but the way her characters are compromised and manipulated by politics." The Times
"The Farseer Trilogy weighs in at over 2,000 pages and is a rewarding and immensely enjoyable read. Not only fans of the fantasy genre could enjoy these books as there is such a large human element to them that they appeal to all. The three books improve upon each other and Assassin's Quest is a perfect conclusion to an absorbing tale." Fantasy Book Review
- A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin
George R R Martin's glorious high fantasy tells the tragic story of treachery, greed and war that threatens the unity of the Seven Kingdoms south of the Wall. Martin unfolds with astonishing skill a tale of truly epic dimensions, thronged with memorable characters, a story of treachery and ambition, love and magic. Set in a fabulous world scarred by battle and catastrophe over 8000 years of recorded history, it tells of the deeds of men and women locked in the deadliest of conflicts and the terrible legacy they will leave their children. In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. And in the bitter-cold, unliving lands beyond the Wall, a terrible winter gathers and the others - the undead, the neverborn, wildlings to whom the threat of the sword is nothing - make ready to descend on the realms of men. Fantasy literature has never shied away from grandeur, but the sheer mind-boggling scope of this epic has sent other fantasy writers away shaking their heads... Its ambition: to construct the Twelve Caesars of fantasy fiction, with characters so venemous they could eat the Borgias.
"A Game of Thrones grabs hold and won't let go. It's brilliant." Robert Jordan
"I have only come across two authors who have come close to envisioning and successfully carrying out their literary creations to match Tolkien; Steven Erikson and George R. R. Martin." Fantasy Book Review
- The Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemisin
Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky - a palace above the clouds where gods' and mortals' lives are intertwined. There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother's death and her family's bloody history. But it's not just mortals who have secrets worth hiding and Yeine will learn how perilous the world can be when love and hate - and gods and mortals - are bound inseparably.
"A story that manages to be both fantastically grand and very personal. Definitely recommended." Waterstones Books Quarterly
"N.K. Jemisin has written a book that is at times smart, at times funny, and at times downright heartbreaking, all wrapped up in one of the most original stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading." Fantasy Book Review
- Shadowmarch Quartet by Tad Williams
As shadows threaten to consume the kingdom of Southmarch, Barrick Eddon, heir to March throne, battles his way across the sinister Shadowlands. He must journey through this dangerous, inhuman realm to fulfil a pact ? as this may be all that can prevent the atrocities of a full-scale war with the Twilight people of Qul-na-Qar. Princess Briony, Barrick's twin sister, finds herself in no less danger at the court of Tessis in Syan. When those close to her fall dead from poisoning, she is to learn the true extent of the betrayal surrounding her. Her only option is to flee, as all those in Tessis turn against her? All, that is, except for one important ally. Meanwhile, the assault upon Southmarch has truly begun. Yasammez, the formidable head of the Qar army, has ordered the attack, believing that the pact between humans and Qar has been broken. Unless Ferras Vansen, Captain of the Southmarch Royal Guard, can convince her otherwise, the humans are sure to meet the dark end that has been promised to them...
"Skilfully merges world-building description with intriguing plots ... a sublime piece of storytelling' SFX 'A page-turner full of character, atmosphere and action." Starburst
"This is an epic story which has many twists and turns, which puts the characters in peril time and time again and yet is so gripping you have to continue reading just to know if they will survive." Fantasy Book Review
- Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen Donaldson
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever are a series of fantasy novels with tremendous scope and a psychological depth never before attempted. Written by Stephen R. Donaldson the Chronicles reveal the existence of another Earth, and recount the otherworldly adventures and struggles of a human from our Earth, Thomas Covenant.
"Something entirely out of the ordinary... you'll want to go straight through Lord Foul's Bane, The Illearth War and The Power that Preserves at one sitting." The Times
"A very complex piece of work that can not be read without full attention and concentration. The effort is extremely rewarding." Fantasy Book Review
- The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell are the creators of the hugely successful Edge Chronicles, which have sold over two million copies and have been translated into over thirty languages worldwide.
"A richly inventive fantasy . . . one of the most exciting collaborations between a writer and illustrator for a long time." The Literary Review
"One of the most original fantasy series available today. So don your crushed funnel hat, comb your neck beard, lick your eyes and prepare yourself for the experience of a lifetime." Fantasy Book Review
- The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth still it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell, by chance, into the hands of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. From his fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor, Sauron's power spread far and wide. He gathered all the Great Rings to him, but ever he searched far and wide for the One Ring that would complete his dominion. On his eleventy-first birthday, Bilbo disappeared, bequeathing to his young cousin, Frodo, the Ruling Ring, and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom. The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the wizard, Merry, Pippin and Sam, Gimli the Dwarf, Legolas the Elf, Boromir of Gondor, and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider...
There's no salvation for a fantasy fan who hasn't read the gospel of the genre. The influence of The Lord of the Rings is so universal that everybody from George Lucas to Led Zeppelin has appropriated it for one purpose or another. Not just revolutionary because it was groundbreaking, The Lord of the Rings is timeless because it's the product of a truly top-shelf mind. Tolkien was a distinguished linguist and Oxford scholar of dead languages with strong ideas about the importance of myth and story and a deep appreciation of nature. His epic, 10 years in the making, recounts the Great War of the Ring and the closing of Middle-Earth's Third Age, a time when magic begins to fade from the world and men rise to dominance. Tolkien carefully details this transition with tremendous skill and love, creating in The Lord of the Rings a universal and all-embracing tale, a justly celebrated classic.
"Amongst the greatest works of imaginative fiction of the twentieth century." Sunday Telegraph
"It is hard to put into words the happiness that can be felt when reading a fantasy book as good as this and anybody who has never read it should set aside some time to do so." Fantasy Book Review
- The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
First published in 1937, The Hobbit is one of the few real classics of English children's literature. A story to stand beside Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows and Watership Down. And while the book recently voted the most popular of the 20th Century might need no introduction, The Hobbit nevertheless is one to The Lord of the Rings, for that novel is the epic sequel to this, smaller, simpler, but no less enjoyable tale. Here are the first steps where "roads go ever ever on", until one day we come to journey's end, changed forever by JRR Tolkien's enchanted way with words. Really, every child, of every age, should own one.
"A flawless masterpiece ... One of the most influential books of our generation." The Times
"The Hobbit is quite simply a must read, a real delight." Fantasy Book Review
- Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson
The gathering forces of the Dark Powers threaten the world of man. The legions of Faery, aided by trolls, demons and the Wild Hunt itself, are poised to overthrow the Realms of Light. Holger Carlsen, a bemused and puzzled twentieth-century man mysteriously snatched out of time, finds himself the key figure in the conflict. Arrayed against him are the dragons, giants and elven warriors of the armies of Chaos, and the beautiful sorceress Morgan le Fay. On his side is a vague prophecy, a quarrelsome dwarf and a beautiful woman who can turn herself into a swan, not to mention Papillon, the magnificent battle-horse, and a full set of perfectly fitting armour, both of which were waiting for him when he entered the magical realm. The shield bears three hearts and three lions - the only clue to Holger Carlsen's true identity. Could Carlsen really be a legendary hero, the only man who can save the world?
Our reviewer Ross Kitson says: "This is a classic of the genre by an excellent writer, a major influence for the half a century since it was created. It would be a great book to shove under the noses of those who think fantasy is all Tolkien-derivatives. It was a book out of its time in many ways."
- The Silvered by Tanya Huff
I really enjoyed the time I spent with the characters and even though the narrative can be quite grim and dark in places the characters still shine so that you hope that there will a glimmer of a happy ending for them. It is also good that although the main characters are Mirian and Tomas we are shown many other characters' perspectives, such as the captured Mages and what they are going through and their will to survive and Emperor Leopold, who is forever trying to expand his Empire by whatever means necessary. Each character has a distinct personality, from the lowliest of townspeople to the mightiest of men.
- Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
There is little, nay nothing, that I can find negative with this book. Abercrombie is certainly a master at work, and I eagerly look forward to the next instalment in the series.
- The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle
This is the story of the last unicorn on earth. She has lived contentedly alone for hundreds of years, and would have continued to do so, believing that there were others of her kind somewhere in the world, had she not heard a huntsman say that she was the last of her kind. Afterwards she could have no peace of mind until she left the safety of the enchanted wood and searched for another unicorn. Once she leaves the wood she is exposed to the covetous gaze of men and there is danger at every turn.
"The plot is a classic quest structure-an impossible goal, a motley company, heroes, villains, monsters, magic, desperate chances, bittersweet success. The last unicorn in the world sets out from her enchanted wood to discover the fate of her kin In the process she becomes, briefly and agonizingly, human What makes The Last Unicorn unique is the way Mr. Beagle transcends the ordinary fantasy quest trope with his incomparable storytelling skill. The book is a triumph The writing is as precise and beautiful as mosaic tiles, as coloured glass backed by gold, sharp and glittering. Part of the wonder is the effortless way Mr. Beagle combines fairy-tale imagery with matter-of-fact modernity. He slides easily from a heroic fantasy to laugh-out-loud funny: a sorcerer confronts an enemy with demons, metamorphoses, paralysing ailments and secret judo holds; a prince rides home singing in harmony with the severed ogres head lashed to his saddle. The story has an intimacy and immediacy that captivates the reader. You dont read this with the futile wish that such things would happen to you-you read it and believe, at once, that they could." The Green Man Review
- Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud
Listen then, and I'll tell you again of the Battle of the Rock. But none of your usual wriggling, or I'll stop before I've begun . . .
Halli loves the old stories from when the valley was a wild and dangerous place - when the twelve legendary heroes stood together to defeat the ancient enemy, the bloodthirsty Trows.
Halli longs for adventure but these days the most dangerous thing in the valley is boredom. He tries to liven things up by playing practical jokes. But when one of his jokes goes too far, he reawakens an old blood feud and finds himself on a hero's quest after all. Along the way he meets a ruthless thief, a murderous rival, and a girl who may just be as fearless as he is . . .
"Written out of a deeply felt world, and with a taut, disciplined voice that knows its Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as well as its Harry Potter, Jonathan Stroud's new book is, quite simply, stunning." The Guardian
"It has been quite a long time since I have enjoyed a book this much. Although this may be my first encounter with Stroud's work it will certainly not be the last. An enthralling tale told by a master storyteller." Fantasy Book Review
- Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
Liga raises her two daughters in the safe haven of an alternative reality, a personal heaven granted by magic as a refuge from her earthly suffering. But the real world cannot be denied forever and when the barrier between the two worlds begins to break down, Ligas fiery daughter, Urdda, steps across it
"Tender Morsels never once tries to show that life has a happily ever after ending. It shows that life is full of hardship; you will experience hurt, you will watch loved ones die and you will often be afraid. It also shows that live can be full of love, caring and kindness and that it is better to experience something, be it good or bad, than to experience nothing at all." Fantasy Book Review
- The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
Rollrock island is a lonely rock of gulls and waves, blunt fishermen and their homely wives. Life is hard for the families who must wring a poor living from the stormy seas. But Rollrock is also a place of magic - the scary, salty-real sort of magic that changes lives forever. Down on the windswept beach, where the seals lie in herds, the outcast sea witch Misskaella casts her spells - and brings forth girls from the sea - girls with long, pale limbs and faces of haunting innocence and loveliness - the most enchantingly lovely girls the fishermen of Rollrock have ever seen. But magic always has its price. A fisherman may have and hold a sea bride, and tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she is. He will be equally ensnared. And in the end the witch will always have her payment.
"The Brides of Rollrock Island is a dark, brooding and windswept tale of longing and despair in which Lanagan' s writing is as beautiful is ever. Indeed, the best compliment I can give it is that had I have stumbled upon it and knew nothing of its publication date I would have guessed it to have been decades if not centuries old, such is its timeless nature. It reads like a classic. It is a wonderful book and it is unlikely that many better will be published in the genre this year. Existing fans of Lanagan should rejoice and I strongly suggest that those who have not already read her work, do so." Fantasy Book Review
- Blood Of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski
For more than a hundred years humans, dwarves, gnomes and elves lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over and now the races once again fight each other - and themselves: dwarves are killing their kinsmen, and elves are murdering humans and elves, at least those elves who are friendly to humans... Into this tumultuous time is born a child for whom the witchers of the world have been waiting. Ciri, the granddaughter of Queen Calanthe, the Lioness of Cintra, has strange powers and a stranger destiny, for prophecy names her the Flame, one with the power to change the world - for good, or for evil... Geralt, the witcher of Rivia, has taken Ciri to the relative safety of the Witchers' Settlement, but it soon becomes clear that Ciri isn't like the other witchers. As the political situation grows ever dimmer and the threat of war hangs almost palpably over the land, Geralt searches for someone to train Ciri's unique powers. But someone else has an eye on the young girl, someone who understand exactly what the prophecy means - and exactly what Ciri's power can do. This time Geralt may have met his match.
"Moving effortlessly between moments of wrought emotion and staggeringly effective action, to lengthy periods of political discussion and war stratagems, Sapkowski addresses every aspect of a good fantasy novel eloquently and with ease." Fantasy Book Review
Reviews by sub-genre
Click on the links below to access reviews, interviews, latest news and the greatest books of all time in your chosen sub-genre.