From the Taoist beliefs of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books to the complexity of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. From the ambition of Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books to the beautifully written Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb. These are the top fantasy book series that you simply must read. We have listed our recommendations below and we have also listened to the many suggestions made – hence the larger selection!
The criteria? For the purpose of this list we have decided that a series must consist of at least four books. So no trilogies, that is deserving of a page all of its own. So without any further ado, here are our recommendations, beginning with Ursula Le Guin.
Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson
Arguably the best fantasy series ever written. This is of course subject to personal opinion and fans of Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire and Robin Hobb’s trilogy of trilogies (Farseer, Liveship and Tawny Man) are quite able to put a very strong case forward for their favoured works but few can deny that the quality and ambition of the ten books that make up A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen are unmatched within the genre.
“Erikson is an extraordinary writer… my advice to anyone who might listen to me is: treat yourself to Gardens of the Moon.” Stephen R. Donaldson
“I stand slack-jawed in awe of The Malazan Book of the Fallen. This masterwork of the imagination may be the high watermark of epic fantasy.” Glen Cook
George R. R. Martin is a wonderful writer and his fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire is so popular because it is extremely good. This not a finished series, only five of the seven books have seen the light of day so far (but those who have watched the HBO series will have a good idea of what is coming next). I have read that these books are heavily inspired by The War of the Roses, the English civil war of the fifteenth century. What can you expect from this series? Wonderful storytelling, which is excellent throughout; a massive cast of characters that demand your attention; a narrative that shows that all humans of capable of being both cruel yet kind, intelligent yet foolish, brave yet cowardly. Yes, you’re able to read a lot of criticism of Martin, but in the main this comes from readers who actually love the series and either a) want it finished or b) want him to treat characters they care about more kindly. The Game of the Thrones HBO series has become so big that it’s easy to forget the source material it sprung from is the among the best the genre has to offer. My advice to someone who has yet to read this series is this: Forget the hype, try to forget the HBO series – read A Game of Thrones on its own merit and I hope you revel in the experience. It’s rather good you know.
“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 venomous they could eat the Borgias” The Guardian
A saga filled with unforgettable characters and a world steeped in rich history and legend. If you truly love the fantasy genre, passing up a chance to read The Eye of the World would be an unbelievable mistake.
“With the Wheel of Time, Jordan has come to dominate the world that Tolkien began to reveal” New York Times
Is all the hype about the Harry Potter books justified? In a word, yes, the books are a joy to read and possibly the most rewarding young adult’s book since The Hobbit. Hogwarts is a truly magical place, not only in the most obvious way but also in all the detail that the author has gone to describe it so vibrantly. It is the place that everybody wishes they could of gone to when they where eleven. This book is highly recommended to anybody between the ages of 8 and 80.
“One of the greatest literary adventures of modern times” Sunday Telegraph
Ursula Le Guin has a reputation for exploring psychological and sociological themes within her books and this collection is no different. These novels can be read by children and enjoyed from the perspective of magic, wizards, adventure and the beautifully imagined world of Earthsea. They can also be appreciated by adults for the thought-provoking elements that the book conjures. This is a collection that makes you think and leaves you thinking. 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
Robin Hobb is an author of rare skill and imagination and the books (13 and counting) that make up her Elderlings series are among the best the genre has to offer. She writes beautifully and her characters are so real you can almost touch them.
“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
Duncton Wood is a truly breathtaking and enchanting read that reminds us how savage yet full of love the animal kingdom truly is. It is unfortunate that these works must be compared to Watership Down but that is the only book with which I can really compare it to in terms of story line and excellence. This is a book for adults and is at times as dark as it is uplifting, first published in 1980 and has since become a best-selling novel. A story of courage, loyalty and the power of love… inspired by the shadows and light of England’s most beautiful countryside.
Read our review of Duncton Wood, the first book in the Duncton Chronicles.
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R Donaldson
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever are a series of fantasy novels with tremendous scope and a psychological depth that had never before been attempted. They are very complex pieces of work but at heart you’ll find a good old-fashioned tale of epic fantasy. The series can not be read without the reader’s constant concentration, it is adult fantasy fiction and the casual fantasy reader may need a period of time in which to become accustomed to this – there are no lovable hobbits to ease you into the story, here you have a man that has lost everything, a man who is angry, bitter, an outcast from the life and the world he knew. But the effort spent in reading this series is rewarded ten-times over and I recommend that every fantasy fan read this seminal work.
Read our review of Lord Foul’s Bane, book one in the First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.
You could say that if Ursula Le Guin and The Sixth Sense merged then the outcome may be as good as The Spook’s Apprentice. I would heavily recommend The Spook’s Apprentice to young adults looking for a fantastic series. Chilling, memorable, full of wonderful characters and written in a fluid style that makes the narrative accessible to all ages.
A great combination of humour thriller, science-fiction, detective and fantasy,. In my opinion this book really takes the fantasy fiction genre further. I know I am going to repeat myself but this series is how Thursday would have said it: “mad as pants”. It combines some great elements that truly make this book comes to life in more than one dimension. Combining funny and witty dialogues but also numerous literary ideas with the bookworms and names of several of the characters make this a terrific read and should be compulsory for everyone.
The Dark Tower boasts some of the best characters in fantasy and the first instalment introduces to us the obsessive and lonely gunslinger, Roland of Gilead, and the innocent yet world-weary Jake of New York. And as we read they form a tender and loving relationship that is pivotal to all that follows. From the beginnings in the desert and through events and flashbacks we then visit the doomed town of Tull, visit Gilead, see the New York of Jake’s when and finally travel through the mountains to the moment when Roland faces the most difficult decision of his life.
There are no larger than life characters to be found in The Black Company, all contain frailties and failings that are found in all humans. This book is beautifully amoral and contains no two-dimensional characters. As I’ve already mentioned, The Black Company is a wonderfully amoral book, often dark and containing violent battles and fantastic characters. Glen Cook changed the face of the fantasy genre forever – and for the better.
Read out review of The Black Company, book one of the Chronicles of The Black Company.
The Black Company – Books of the North
Shadows Linger – Books of the North
The White Rose – Books of the North
Shadow Games – Books of the South
Dreams of Steel – Books of the South
Bleak Seasons – Books of the Glittering Stone
She Is The Darkness – Books of the Glittering Stone
If you gain any enjoyment whatsoever from reading fantasy then this is a series that you simply cannot afford not to read. Understandably, this is one of the highest regarded fantasy series of all time.
Read our review of Magician, book one of the Riftwar Saga.
A book by David Gemmell is about morally grey heroes, who fight for what they believe in, and regularly get kicked in the nuts by fate. A Tavern brawler who selflessly stands up when faced with injustice. A Drunkard that, without a moment of hesitation, sacrifices his life in favour of an innocent family. A Burly woodcutter that travels to all corners of the world to rescue his captured crush. A pacifistic priest forced to slay numerous enemies. These tales tell of honour and glory, duty and loyalty, courage and resolve, all coated in a wonderful blend of action, black humour and suspense.
When you put your mind to considering some of the greatest writers of the English language, it is a source of continuing pity that Isobelle Carmody’s name is not up there along with some of the greats like Tolkien, Lewis and Hemingway. Though some of her work has been criticized, writing science fiction, fantasy, children’s and young adult literature, Carmody is probably most well known and praised for her work on the Obernewtyn Chronicles.
Read our review of Obernewtyn, the first book in the series.
In Einarinn, the secret of magic is known only by an elite few. They live in deliberate isolation, under the watchful eye of the Archmage. But nothing last for ever. Livak is a part-time thief and a full-time gambler, long accustomed to living by her wits and narrowly avoiding serious trouble. When she attempts to sell a stolen antique to a passing merchant, she finds herself pulled into a new and dangerous world of political intrigue in which the stakes are higher than anyone involved can imagine. For the antique she has acquired dates from a particular period in the history of Einarrin about which little is known, but much has been speculated. And when the truth begins to emerge, Livak decides to take the greatest gamble of her life.
The Legend. Druss, Captain of the Axe: the stories of his life were told everywhere. Instead of the wealth and fame he could have claimed, he had chosen a mountain lair, high in the lonely country bordering on the clouds. There the grizzled old warrior kept company with snow leopards and awaited his old enemy death. The Fortress. Mighty Dros Delnoch, protected by six outer walls, the only route by which an army could pass through the mountains. It was the stronghold of the Drenai empire. And now it was the last battleground, for all else had fallen before the Nadir hordes. And hope rested on the skills of that one old man…
The Raven are an elite. Formed of six men and an elf, they’re swords for hire in the wars that have torn their land apart. For years their only loyalty has been to themselves, and to their code. But that time is coming to an end. The Wytch Lords have escaped and The Raven find themselves fighting for the Dark College of magic, on a mission which soon becomes a race for the secret location of Dawnthief. It’s a spell – one created to end the world – and there’s a danger that someone is going to use it…
Karigan G’ladheon always seemed to be getting into a fight, and today was no exception. But as she trudged through the forest, using her long walk home to contemplate her depressing future – and the expulsion it was bound to hold – a horse burst through the woodland and charged straight for her. The rider was slumped over his mount’s neck with two arrows embedded in his back. Wherever his horse was taking him, he would be dead before they got there. There’s nothing Karigan can do, as the young man lies dying on the road. He had sworn to carry out his mission as a Green Rider – one of the legendary messengers of the king – and he has a life or death message that must reach King Zachary. Karigan may be unable to save him, but she can deliver his message. He makes her swear to it, to keep it secret and, with his last breath, he warns her to ‘beware the shadow man…’ Pursued by an unknown assassin, following a path only her horse seems to know, and accompanied by the silent specter of the original messenger, Karigan is going to become a legendary Green Rider herself. Caught up in a world of deadly danger and complex magic, compelled by forces she cannot understand, her simple promise to deliver a letter is about to become a race against time… and a race for her life…
One man, Richard Cypher, holds the key to the fate of three nations, of humanity. But until he learns the Wizard’s First Rule his chances of succeeding in his task are slim. And his biggest problem is admitting that magic exists at all…A novel of incomparable scope and brimming with atmospheric detail: in a world where heart hounds stalk the boundaries for unwary human prey, blood-sucking flies hunt on behalf of their underworld masters, and where artists can draw more than your likeness, there is no place to hide, nowhere safe. Here magic makes love twice as sweet, betrayal and loss twice as bitter.
Seven days. Seven keys. Seven virtues – and seven sins. The moment Arthur meets sinister Mister Monday, the world turns inside out. The next seven days will bring seven fearful challenges – and a billion grisly ways to die. As his world is attacked by a plague of hellish creatures, Arthur retreats into a mysterious house , a house that only he can see. Inside, unlikely hero Arthur must unravel the secrets of the Seven Keys, battling monsters and treacherous Denizens in a bid to save his world…
Once a fabled Blade of Namara, Aral Kingslayer fought for justice and his goddess alongside his familiar, a living shadow called Triss. Now with their goddess murdered and her temple destroyed, they are among the last of their kind. Surviving on the fringes of society, Aral becomes a drunken, broken and wanted man, working whatever shadowy deal comes his way. Until a mysterious woman hires him to deliver a secret message – one than can either redeem or doom him.
A battle is coming… And in that battle shall be decided the fate of the world. Myths tell of the ancient wars of Gods and men, and a powerful object – the Orb – that ended the bloodshed. As long as it was held by the line of Riva, it would assure the peace. But a dark force has stolen the Orb, and the prophecies tell of war. Young farm boy Garion knows nothing of myth or fate. But then the mysterious Old Storyteller visits his aunt, and they embark on a sudden journey. Pursued by evil forces, with only a small band of companions they can trust, Garion begins to doubt all he thought he knew…
It has lain lost and forgotten for fifteen hundred years in the ancient heartland of England – a scrap of glass and metal melded by fierce fire. It is the lost core of a flawless Sphere made by the greatest of the Anglo-Saxon CraeftLords in memory of the one he loved. Her name was Spring and contained in the very heart of this work is a spark from the Fires of Creation. But while humans have lost their belief in such things, the Hydden – little people existing on the borders of our world – have not. Breaking the silence of centuries they send one of their own, a young boy, Jack, to live among humans in the hope that he may one day find what has been lost for so long. His journey leads him to Katherine, a girl he rescues from a tragic accident – it’s a meeting that will change everything. It is only through their voyage into the dangerous Hyddenworld that they will realize their destiny, find love and complete the great quest that will save both their worlds from destruction.
The Chronicles of Narnia have enchanted millions of readers over the last fifty years and the magical events described in C.S. Lewis’s immortal prose have left many a lasting memory. For here is a world where a witch decrees eternal winter; where there are more talking animals than people; and where battles are fought by Centaurs, Giants and Fauns.
Sometimes there is very good reason to be afraid of the dark… Eleven-year-old Arlen lives with his parents on their small farmstead, half a day’s ride from the isolated hamlet of Tibbet’s Brook. As dusk falls upon Arlen’s world, a strange mist rises from the ground; a mist that promises a violent death to any foolish enough to brave the coming darkness, for hungry corelings – demons that cannot be harmed by mortal weapons – materialize from the vapours to feed on the living. As the sun sets, people have no choice but to take shelter behind magical wards and pray that their protection holds until the creatures dissolve with the first signs of dawn. When Arlen’s life is shattered by the demon plague, he is forced to see that it is fear, rather than the demons, which truly cripples humanity. Believing that there is more to his world than to live in constant fear, he must risk leaving the safety of his wards to discover a different path. In the small town of Cutter’s Hollow, Leesha’s perfect future is destroyed by betrayal and a simple lie. Publicly shamed, she is reduced to gathering herbs and tending an old woman more fearsome than the corelings. Yet in her disgrace, she becomes the guardian of dangerous ancient knowledge. Orphaned and crippled in a demon attack, young Rojer takes solace in mastering the musical arts of a Jongleur, only to learn that his unique talent gives him unexpected power over the night. Together, these three young people will offer humanity a last, fleeting chance of survival.
Here is the tragic tale of the rise and fall of Camelot – but seen through the eyes of Camelot’s women: The devout Gwenhwyfar, Arthur’s Queen; Vivane, High priestess of Avalon and the Lady of the Lake; above all, Morgaine, possessor of the sight, the wise, the wise-woman fated to bring ruin on them all…
In the desert colony of Khandar, a dark and mysterious magic, hidden for centuries, is about to emerge from darkness. Marcus d’Ivoire, senior captain of the Vordanai Colonials, is resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost, when a rebellion leaves him in charge of a demoralised force in a broken down fortress. Winter Ihernglass, fleeing her past and masquerading as a man, just wants to go unnoticed. Finding herself promoted to a command, she must rise to the challenge and fight impossible odds to survive. Their fates rest in the hands of an enigmatic new Colonel, sent to restore order while following his own mysterious agenda into the realm of the supernatural.
A warrior with nothing to fight for is paired with a thieving assassin with nothing to lose. Together they must steal a treasure that no one can reach. The Crown Tower is the impregnable remains of the grandest fortress ever built and home to the realm’s most valuable possessions. But it isn’t gold or jewels the old wizard is after, and this prize can only be obtained by the combined talents of two remarkable men. Now if Arcadius can just keep Hadrian and Royce from killing each other, they just might succeed.
When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in… For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.
Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon. Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage. The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars. High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.
Dragonlance novels by Margaret Weis and Laura and Tracy Hickman
Every generation can point to a fantasy book or series that defines their teenage years. Currently, that would likely be Harry Potter; for those now edging towards or into their 40s it would be Dragonlance. Weis & Hickman’s core six books took the 70s and early 80s concept of Dungeons & Dragons and pulled it firmly into the big-haired, techno-pop world of the late 80s and early 90s in a manner that enthralled a generation as much then as Potter does now.
For a full list of Dragonlance novels, visit Wikipedia.
Are you agreeing with the selection of top fantasy book series? If you do, do not, or if you have any further recommendations then please let us know by leaving a comment below. Thank you, we hope you enjoyed reading our list.