Recommended Heroic / Sword & Sorcery fantasy books

The sword and sorcery sub-genre become very popular in the 1950's with the Conan the Barbarian novels by Robert E. Howard. In these novels the hero's are usually atypical and are far from perfect and walk a fine line between doing good and serving their own self interest. This page features the works of the late, great David Gemmell and the magnificient Steven Erikson.

Recommended Reading

The Malazan series is a towering achievement: Brave, ambitious and skilfully executed. This is history. Fiction unlike anything we’d ever encountered. Sure, Glen Cook had gone before and done something similar, and decades earlier than that J. R. R. Tolkien had come along and given us a complete world, languages and archaeology included. But Erikson went that one step further. He took what he’d learnt from both Cook and Tolkien, and then ran with it, bringing along moral inquisitiveness and a mirror to humanity as he went.

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 is an extraordinary writer. I read Gardens of the Moon with great pleasure. And now that I have read it, I would be hard pressed to decide what I enjoyed more: the richly and ominously magical world of Malaz and Genabackis; the large cast of sympathetically-rendered characters; or the way the story accumulates to a climax that hits like machinegun fire. My advice to anyone who might listen to me is, treat yourself to Gardens of the Moon. And my entirely selfish advice to Steven Erikson is, write faster." Stephen Donaldson

"I stand slack-jawed in awe of The Malazan Book of the Fallen. This masterwork of imagination may be the high water mark of epic fantasy. This marathon of ambition has a depth and breadth and sense of vast reaches of inimical time unlike anything else available today. The Black Company, Zelazny's Amber, Vance's Dying Earth, and other mighty drumbeats are but foreshadowings of this dark dragon's hoard." Glen Cook

Is the Living Blade real or just a legend? With it... Prince Bashan could win back his kingdom. Master Telen Diaz can free himself of the burden from his past. Owen Smith sees a once-in-a-lifetime chance to gain untold knowledge... but for Noraya Smith, the Living Blade will bring nothing but suffering and sorrow.

"Touch of Iron is an adult fantasy that’s stark, at times a little shocking and wonderfully written. I can’t wait to read the second book in the series, On the Wheel."

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

Darkness wars with darkness as the hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must. They bury their doubts with their dead. Then comes the prophecy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more...

"With the Black Company series, Glen Cook single-handedly changed the face of fantasy - something a lot of people didn't notice, and maybe still don't. He brought the story down to a human level, dispensing with the cliche archetypes of princes, kings and evil sorcerers. Reading his stuff is like reading Vietnam fiction on Peyote" Steven Erikson

"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." Fantasy Book Review

On the world of Kuf, the Macht are a mystery, a seldom-seen people of extraordinary ferocity and discipline whose prowess on the battlefield is the stuff of legend. For centuries they have remained within the remote fastnesses of the Harukush Mountains. In the world beyond, the teeming races and peoples of Kuf have been united within the bounds of the Asurian Empire, which rules the known world, and is invincible. The Great King of Asuria can call up whole nations to the battlefield. His word is law. But now the Great King's brother means to take the throne by force, and in order to do so he has sought out the legend. He hires ten thousand mercenary warriors of theMacht, and leads them into the heart of the Empire.

"A terrific writer, one of the best working in epic fantasy." SciFi.com

"But that is nothing compared to the overarching splendour that is The Ten Thousand. Kearney captures all the best parts of fantasy - the young nobodies destined for glory, the gathering of a team, mercenaries, and exotic races and places - and combines them together with grit and realism and enough blood to drown a horse." Fantasy Book Review

Army Officer. Fugitive. Sorcerer. Across the country and in every nation, people are waking up with magical talents. Untrained and panicked, they summon storms, raise the dead, and set everything they touch ablaze. Army officer Oscar Britton sees the worst of it. A lieutenant attached to the military’s Supernatural Operations Corps, his mission is to bring order to a world gone mad. Then he abruptly manifests a rare and prohibited magical power, transforming him overnight from government agent to public enemy number one. The SOC knows how to handle this kind of situation: hunt him down–and take him out. Driven into an underground shadow world, Britton is about to learn that magic has changed all the rules he’s ever known, and that his life isn’t the only thing he’s fighting for.

"As a military officer myself, I feel like I can really relate with Cole and the book he has written. It is a book that accurately portrays military life on a military base, while enhancing it using the fantasy elements I love to read about. Whether you are a military buff or not, this is an entertaining book packed full of intense action sequences – a modern interpretation of the fantasy genre that you should have no hesitations in reading." Fantasy Book Review

"In my pantheon of literary greats, David Gemmell stands alone. I read his first book, Legend, when I was fourteen and knew even then that I had found the kind of writer I wanted to be. Like Julius Caesar himself, Gemmell wrote with a spare elegance, racing along with characters and events until I found it was dawn and I had to get up for work. Gemmell is the only writer who ever stole my nights in such a way. I read Ghost King when I was at university. I was studying Arthurian literature at the time and somehow missed the references to Gian Avur and the Lancelord. It's difficult to recall a last line of any book that was more of a shock to me than that one. Gemmell was superb at endings. Some of them were so powerful that I could only stare at the ceiling with tears in my eyes." Conn Iggulden

"In short, 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 favor 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 honor and glory, duty and loyalty, courage and resolve, all coated in a wonderful blend of action, black humor and suspense." Fantasy Book Review

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising. But surprises aren’t always good. Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school. For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away... Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

"Simply put, R.F. Kuang’s “The Poppy War” is a towering achievement of modern fantasy. Kuang writes in a descriptive and narrative style that presents many sides of an issue without trying to persuade the reader into thinking which path is the “correct” one, if one such exists. As the book descends into its bleak final act, the connection we’ve built with Rin and her companions is put to the test. It is a testament to Kuang’s skill as a writer to establish such a strong connection with her protagonists that the impact of the events in third act hit as hard as they do. There aren’t any real complaints I have about this book, which is wholly impressive considering how early it is in the author’s young career. This story weaves recent Chinese history into an emotionally chaotic, brilliantly-told grimdark fantasy that is impossible to forget. Read it."

Inquisitor Glokta, a crippled and increasingly bitter relic of the last war, former fencing champion turned torturer extraordinaire, is trapped in a twisted and broken body - not that he allows it to distract him from his daily routine of torturing smugglers. Nobleman, dashing officer and would-be fencing champion Captain Jezal dan Luthar is living a life of ease by cheating his friends at cards. Vain, shallow, selfish and self-obsessed, the biggest blot on his horizon is having to get out of bed in the morning to train with obsessive and boring old men. And Logen Ninefingers, an infamous warrior with a bloody past, is about to wake up in a hole in the snow with plans to settle a blood feud with Bethod, the new King of the Northmen, once and for all - ideally by running away from it. But as he's discovering, old habits die really, really hard indeed... especially when Bayaz gets involved. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he's about to make the lives of Glotka, Jezal and Logen a whole lot more difficult...

"Abercrombie's talent for developing believable characters and changing the tone and voice of each chapter according to the point of view is a joy to read. Although he takes familiar fantasy staples, he manages to avoid coming off as a cheap hack reinventing Tolkien." Fantasy Book Review

The Estorean Conquord has stood for 850 years. Its Advocate, Herine Del Aglios, knows that she presides over the greatest civilisation in history. But she wants more. And in Estorea's recently conquered territories dissent is brewing. Forced to fight old friends and neighbours in the cause of the ever-growing Conquord, they face brutal choices and savage demands for money and men to be fed into Estorea's wars - demands made by Paul Jhered, head of the Gatherers and the iron hand of the Advocate, With Jhered by her side, Herine believes that nothing can go wrong. Until a disastrous and bloody reversal in the war to overrun the Kingdom of Tsard puts Estorea's armies on the back foot and has Tsardon troops flooding into the Conquord. As the empire trembles, far from the war four unique children are discovering their powers. They are the first true Ascendants, in touch with the elements, able to shape the world. An empire descending into war is about to discover the wonder and terror of magic...

"The large scale battles are detailed and exhilarating. Cry of the Newborn is a satisyingly self-contained fantasy blockbuster.. set against a more thoughtful, realistic background." SFX

"With his Raven series, James Barclay made himself a cult hero. With the Ascendants of Estorea, Barclay stepped away from the action adventure realm and settled into a very fantasy style book. More character focus and interestingly enough styled after the Roman Empire, Cry of the Newborn - the first in the series - makes for an interesting introduction to a new realm for Barclay to play in." Fantasy Book Review

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...

"In my pantheon of literary greats, David Gemmell stands alone. I read his first book, Legend, when I was fourteen and knew even then that I had found the kind of writer I wanted to be. Like Julius Caesar himself, Gemmell wrote with a spare elegance, racing along with characters and events until I found it was dawn and I had to get up for work. Gemmell is the only writer who ever stole my nights in such a way." Conn Iggulden

"The is the kind of book that the term fire-side reading was invented for. This book is far from perfect, this was Gemmell's first foray into the realm of writing fantasy and his skills are from as honed as they would later become. But this is where it all began, the book in which Gemmell stamped his trademark on the fantasy genre. This showed just how enjoyable heroic fantasy could be and in Druss, invented an unforgettable figure able to overcome insurmountable odds." Fantasy Book Review

A score of years after he first walked into the histories of Men, Anasurimbor Kellhus rules all the Three Seas, the first true Aspect-Emperor in a thousand years. The masses worship him as a living god, though a few dare claim he's a walking demon. With Proyas and Saubon as his Exalt-Generals, he leads a holy war deep into the wastes of the Ancient North, intent on destroying Golgotterath and preventing the Second Apocalypse. His wife and consort, Esmenet, meanwhile, remains in Momemn, where she struggles to rule not only his vast empire, but their murderous children as well. And Achamian, who lives as a Wizard in embittered exile, undertakes a mad quest to uncover the origins of the Dunyain. But Achamian, of all people, should know that one must be very careful what one seeks...

"This first book is a very strong lead in to the second trilogy of Eärwa. I believe it is meant as a standalone series, but I feel that if I hadn't read the first series The Prince of Nothing, I would really have had a lot of questions and not enjoyed my reading as much. So I was happy that I didn't have to drag through the first hundred page recap where everyone talked about what happened last week, but felt that a new reader may have been a bit lost." Fantasy Book Review

When a scrawny, unwanted child - so lowly that she does not even have a name - is sold into slavery, a chain of events is set in motion that will have a profound impact on all the civilised world. Naming herself 'Hekat' (after a slaver's observation that she is quite the hellcat), the girl is taken in chains to Mijak's largest city, but makes a bargain with a ruthless god and escapes her captors. After she saves the life of a warlord, he takes her in and teaches her ways that an orphan might use to prosper in an uncaring world. When the warlord's family dies, the way becomes clear for Hekat to carve a dynasty out of infidelity and betrayal...

"Top-notch fantasy. With excellent use of language in a well-told story... a masterclass writer." SFFWorld

"Anyone who liked Kingmaker and Kingbreaker will love this book. It is a very hefty read at 688 pages but it rarely felt like a chore, which can happen sometimes with long books." Fantasy Book Review

The Raven have fought together for years, six men carving out a living as swords for hire in the war that has torn Balaia apart, loyal only to themselves and their code. But when they agree to escort a Xesteskian mage on a secret mission they are pulled into a world of politics and ancients secrets. For the first time The Raven cannot trust even their own strength and prowess, for the first time their code is in doubt. How is it that they are fighting for one of the most evil colleges of magic known? Searching for the secret location of Dawnthief; a spell that could end the world? Aiming not to destroy it but to cast it...

"Every now and again you come across an author who manages to write unlike any other. This is not something that will happen often, and I've personally only ever come across a handful (Tolkien, Pratchett, Hobb and Erikson). But one author who manages to write such a compelling story that you never want to put the book down is James Barclay." Fantasy Book Review

"Sparhawk is the best-realized hero in modern fantasy" Daily Telegraph

"Eddings has a marvellous storyteller style" Anne McCaffrey

"It is a fantasy book of the old school, with its sword fights and magic, but it is more than that. The novel changes direction many times: from action to politics, magic to a buddy road movie. These changes keep the reader interested, and you’re never quite sure what is going to happen next." Fantasy Book Review

After a long spell of exile, Sparhawk, Pandion Knight and the Queen's champion, returns to his native land to find it overrun with evil and intrigue - and his young Queen grievously ill. Indeed, Ehlana lies magically entombed within a block of crystal, doomed to die unless a cure can be found within a year. But as Sparhawk and his allies -- who include Sephrenia, the ageless sorceress, and Flute, the strange and powerful girl-child - seek to save Ehlana and the land, they discover that the evil is even greater and more pervasive than they feared!

A score of centuries has passed since the First Apocalypse and the thoughts of men have turned, inevitably, to more worldly concerns... A veteran sorcerer and spy seeks news of an ancient enemy. A military genius plots to conquer the known world for his Emperor but dreams of the throne for himself. The spiritual leader of the Thousand Temples seeks a Holy War to cleanse the land of the infidel. An exiled barbarian chieftain seeks vengeance against the man who disgraced him. And into this world steps a man like no other, seeking to bind all - man and woman, emperor and slave - to his own mysterious ends. But the fate of men - even great men - means little when the world itself may soon be torn asunder. Behind the politics, beneath the religious fervour, a dark and ancient evil is reawakening. After two thousand years, the No-God is returning. The Second Apocalypse is nigh. And one cannot raise walls against what has been forgotten...

"I found Mr. Bakker's writing style to be extremely satisfying. When I was finished a reading session I felt like I had just exercised or jogged a couple miles. This is not light weight reading my friends, but it is also not a Mervyn Peake. Except for my occasional name problem, I found the philosophical bent and the very personal emotional descriptions to be captivating. Not only is Drusas Achamian one of the most tortured heroes I have come across, every character is given the same respect, if not depth. There are no one dimensional advance the plot and disappear characters in this series. Enjoy them all." Fantasy Book Review

The elves have fled to Calius, seeking to escape the overwhelming power of the demonic Garonin. A desperate last stand in their own dimension saved the race, at the cost of 100,000 elves lost to the Garonin. The elf who led that fight, Takaar, is blamed for the losses and has gone into hiding. Now the weakened elf race is tearing itself apart in civil war, human mercenaries have arrived in Calius and are ripping the continent apart. Only one elf can unite the elves. And only one elf believes in him. A young warrior named Auum sets out to bring back the shamed hero and save the elven race.

"I loved this book. I loved the characters and the journeys that they took and are to take, and I love the hints of what will come; things that we'll know of in passing and get to see in full and other things which are totally new. Barclay has managed to return to the world of Calaius and not leave us disappointed. Barclay is back and he might very well be better than ever." Fantasy Book Review

Tomas Piety has been many things: soldier, priest, gangster...and spy. As Tomas's power grows, the nobility better watch their backs, in this dark and gritty epic fantasy series.

People are weak, and the poorer and more oppressed they are, the weaker they become--until they can't take it anymore. And when  they rise up...may the gods help their oppressors. 

When Tomas Piety returned from the war, he just wanted to rebuild his empire of crime with his gang of Pious Men. But his past as a spy for the Queen's Men drew him back in and brought him more power than he ever imagined. 

Now, with half of his city in ashes and the Queen's Men at his back, the webs of political intrigue stretch out from the capital to pull Tomas in. Dannsburg is calling. 

In Dannsburg the nobility fight with words, not blades, but the results are every bit as bloody. In this pit of beasts, Tomas must decide once and for all whether he is truly the people's champion...or just a priest of lies.

Another action-packed adventure from the new master of fantasy launches Legends of The Raven, a new trilogy starring the cult heroes made famous in Chronicles of The Raven. The Raven travel to a new continent in search of mages to help the ruined college of Julatsa rebuild . . . and find themselves in the midst of an ancient curse - a curse that has unleashed a plague that threatens to wipe out the elven race. Barclay excels with another tale that pitches The Raven against the clock and unseen foes. Full of desperate fights and secret betrayals the story also fills in more of Balaia's history and delves deeper into the ancient emnities between the colleges. Barclay has created a wonderfully appealing group of heroes and with every book their history grows and the land they live in becomes wider and richer. This is landmark fantasy in the making.

"If you like high-fantasy and haven't read James Barclay, you are doing yourself a disservice." Fantasy Book Review 

Conan the Cimmerian: he rose from boy-thief and mercenary to become kingof Aquilonia. Neither supernatural fiends nor demonic sorcery could oppose the barbarian warrior as he wielded his mighty sword and dispatched his enemies to a bloody doom on the battlefields of the legendary Hyborian Age. Collected together for the first time anywhere in the world, in chronological order, are all Robert E. Howard's definitive stories of Conan, exactly as he wrote them, as fresh, atmospheric and vibrant today as when they were first published in the pulp magazines more than sixty years ago.

"There is never a dull moment or wasted moment. Never so much as a modicum of tedium. The writing is fluid, exciting and simple. Robert E. Howard has a style that writes itself, a quality that stands, like his creation, a head and shoulders above the rest. There are times when you feel the bones crunch, the sword sing through the air, the flesh rend under steel. I could go on and on, this is a book like no other. If you love the swords and sandals, style of fantasy then you simply must read this. This is the birthplace of many a hero. Many have tried to write Conan stories but none can hold their own against the might of Robert E. Howard." Fantasy Book Review

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Recommended reads by sub-genre

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

High / Epic fantasy books
High / Epic fantasy

Secondary world with epic characters, themes, and plot
Heroic / Sword and Sorcery fantasy books
Heroic / Sword and Sorcery

Fantasy with heroic adventures
Contemporary / Urban fantasy books
Urban fantasy

Fantasy narrative with an urban setting
Historical fiction / Alternate history books
Historical fantasy / fiction

Historical fiction with fantasy elements
Grimdark fantasy fiction
Grimdark

Bleak subject matter and a dystopian setting
Parallel worlds.
Parallel universe

Fantasy set in parallel worlds
Science fantasy / Speculative fiction books
Science / Speculative

Draws elements from both science fiction and fantasy
Children's fantasy books
Children's Fantasy

Fantasy for ages up to 12
Young adult fantasy books
Young Adult

Fantasy for ages 12+
Adult fantasy books
Adult Fantasy

Fantasy for ages 18+
Dystopian fiction
Dystopian / Post-Apocalyptic

Fiction set in dark, nightmarish worlds
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Monarchy / Empire

Fantasy books with empires at their core
Gothic fiction books
Gothic Fiction

Fiction with elements of fear, horror, death, gloom and romance
Vampire fiction
Vampire Fiction

Fiction with vampiric characters
Werewolf fiction
Werewolf Fiction

Fiction with werewolf characters
Steampunk books
Steampunk

Fiction with steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology
Dragon fiction
Dragon Fiction

Fiction with the legendary, scaled, fire-breathing creatures
Fantasy books featuring dragons
Wizards / Magicians

Fantasy with wizards, witches, magicians, sorceresses...
Lore, Legend and Mythology
Lore, Legend and Mythology

Inspired by ancient folklore and mythology
Fantasy books featuring dragons
Military Fantasy

Fantasy books focusing on mailtary life
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Roman historical fiction

Explore the ancient Roman Empire
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Star Wars

Books exploring the galaxy of the ever-popular franchise
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Animal fantasy books

Fantasy with sentient animals
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The Thief / Assassin

Fantasy books starring the thief or the assassin
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Supernatural

Fiction exploring beyond the laws of nature
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Manga

Japanese comic books and graphic novels
House of Small Shadows
Horror

Liked to be scared? These books will do that...
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Comic Fantasy

For the reader who loves to laugh
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Inspired by Tolkien

Love Lord of the Rings? Now try these...
The Time Traveller's Almanac
Anthologies

The best science fiction and fantasy anthlogies