Recommended epic fantasy books

An image depicting the  fantasy sub-genre category

What is epic fantasy? Well, the word epic is defined as an exceptionally long and arduous task or activity and this helps to understand what an epic fantasy might contain. In The Lord of the Rings we have Frodo's journey to Mordor, in The Farseer Trilogy we have Fitz and the Fool's destiny to bring dragons back to the world. But it is not just about the journey, the quest or the task. It can also be the theme - The Malazan Book of the Fallen is epic both in scope and events. There is no correct way to define epic fantasy but in our opinion, the fantastic books and series below belong to it. Read and enjoy.

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings cover image Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo

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

Read our full review

Read 118 reader reviews (84% positive)

A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson
A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen cover image Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo

Bled dry by interminable warfare, infighting and bloody confrontations with Lord Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii, the vast, sprawling Malazan empire simmers with discontent. Even its imperial legions yearn for some respite. For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his Bridgeburners and for Tattersail, sole surviving sorceress of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, still holds out - and Empress Lasseen's ambition knows no bounds. However, it seems the empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister forces gather as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand...

Steven Erikson has no peer when it comes to action and imagination and A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen has established itself as the most significant work of epic fantasy since Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Erikson is the master of lost and forgotten epochs, a weaver of ancient epics drawing upon fantasy to recreate histories and legends as rich as any found within our culture.

"The kind of epic narrative that will have you scrambling for more. Steve Erikson afflicts me with awe... his work does something that only the rarest of books can manage: it alters the reader's perceptions of reality" Stephen R. Donaldson

"The Malazan series is a towering achievement: Brave, ambitious and skilfully executed." Fantasy Book Review

Read our full review

Read 91 reader reviews (67% positive)

The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson
The Stormlight Archive cover image Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo

According to mythology mankind used to live in The Tranquiline Halls. Heaven. But then the Voidbringers assaulted and captured heaven, casting out God and men. Men took root on Roshar, the world of storms. And the Voidbringers followed . . . They came against man ten thousand times. To help them cope, the Almighty gave men powerful suits of armor and mystical weapons, known as Shardblades. Led by ten angelic Heralds and ten orders of knights known as Radiants, mankind finally won. Or so the legends say. Today, the only remnants of those supposed battles are the Shardblades, the possession of which makes a man nearly invincible on the battlefield. The entire world is at war with itself - and has been for centuries since the Radiants turned against mankind. Kings strive to win more Shardblades, each secretly wishing to be the one who will finally unite all of mankind under a single throne. On a world scoured down to the rock by terrifying hurricanes that blow through every few day a young spearman forced into the army of a Shardbearer, led to war against an enemy he doesn't understand and doesn't really want to fight. What happened deep in mankind's past? Why did the Radiants turn against mankind, and what happened to the magic they used to wield?

"The Way of Kings is epic in every sense. Sanderson has built a world that leaps to life, a cast of varied characters and a vast history that slowly unfolds. While Sanderson cuts from the familiar cloth of fantasy, his narrative impetus and meticulous world building bode well for future volumes." The Guardian

"It is, in every sense of the word, an epic beginning to what I can only guess (and hope) will be an epic story told over, apparently, ten books with the second one nowhere near being published. In essence, Sanderson has just begun the next Wheel of Time-like series." Fantasy Book Review

Read our full review

Read 50 reader reviews (94% positive)

The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb
The Liveship Traders cover image Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo

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

Read our full review

Read 11 reader reviews (82% positive)

Earthsea Saga by Ursula Le Guin
Earthsea Saga cover image Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo

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

Read our full review

Read 22 reader reviews (77% positive)

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
Mistborn cover image Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo

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

Read our full review

Read 34 reader reviews (79% positive)

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
The Farseer Trilogy cover image Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo

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

Read our full review

Read 36 reader reviews (78% positive)

A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin
A Song of Ice and Fire cover image Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo

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

Read our full review

Read 230 reader reviews (45% positive)

The Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemisin
The Inheritance Trilogy cover image Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo

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

Read our full review

Read 6 reader reviews (83% positive)

Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen Donaldson
Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever cover image Amazon.co.uk logo
Amazon.com logo

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

Read our full review

Read 30 reader reviews (70% positive)

View all epic fantasy reviews

Recommended reads by sub-genre

Select a sub-genre below to see which books which highly recommend.

Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw book cover image
Spotlight: Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw

Winner 2015 CIPA EVVY awards for Fiction/Fantasy
#1 Bestseller in Epic, Historical and Coming of Age Fantasy
When a high-ranking officer gallops into the quiet Mistyvales, he brings a warning that shakes the countryfolk to their roots...