I saw a top 25 list of fantasy books today and it got me really mad. I don't know who did it, but the person had so many bad books (and Tolkien was listed 4th! Heresy!) while leaving off no-brainers like Ursula Le Guin or Fritz Leiber. I just had to do my own list. Now for the disclaimer so no one gets mad at me: I'm only able to judge those that I have read. There are many on my bookshelves that I know I will love, but I just haven't had the time to get to them all yet. So, no Steven Erikson, China Mieville, Robin Hobbs, and so forth. I imagine I will like them, but give me time and I'll get to them.
So, here are my top 10 fantasy books or series, based upon the many that I have so far read. I'm sticking with ten because the post would go too long otherwise!
1. J.R.R. Tolkien -- It should go without saying. He's the grandmaster of all fantasy. Everything that I love about fantasy began with him. The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and the Lord of the Rings are the greatest group of fantasy novels out there. Period.
2. George R.R. Martin -- That someone would even come close to being as great as Tolkien is amazing, and it's good fortune for us fantasy lovers that Mr. Martin has done so. His A Song of Ice and Fire series (starting with A Game of Thrones, which you may have seen as a fabulous HBO series) has all the elements I love in fantasy, but does them in the gritty, realistic manner that I have always preferred. I think there is a rule that you can only be amongst the demigods of fantasy if your middle initials are R.R.
3. Robert E. Howard -- His Conan novels alone would lodge him firmly in this spot, but he also wrote many other fabulous characters, from Bran Mak Morn to Kull to Solomon Kane. Sword and Sorcery at its finest.
4. Ursula Le Guin -- You wouldn't have the wonderful Harry Potter books, I don't believe, without Le Guin's Earthsea books. Boy who has no idea about his special wizard powers? Check. Goes to a school for young wizards? Check. If you haven't read A Wizard of Earthsea and its sequels, you really must.
5. Fritz Leiber -- After Conan the best sword and sorcery stories are Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories. Gorgeous prose and even better characters. Read them!
6. J.K. Rowling -- Harry Potter. What a splendid plotter Rowling is. Enough said.
7. Katherine Kurtz -- I get the feeling many of you out there haven't even heard of her Deryni Chronicles. That's a shame, because they are terrific.
8. Thieves World novels -- No author name here, because this is a shared world series, where many famous writers contributed stories based in the city of Sanctuary. You could pick up these books cheap these days if you get them used, so why not check them out and see why I love them so much?
9. Dennis McKiernan -- Dennis did what I have long dreamed of doing: he wrote a sequel to Lord of the Rings. No one is allowed to do that and get away with it, right? Well, his stories were so well done that he got an agent who actually attempted to convince the Tolkien estate to publish McKiernan's books. They said no, of course, because they are grumps, so Dennis had to massage his stories until they stood alone. I'm glad he did, because I reread them every so often. That's how much I love them. They are called The Iron Tower trilogy and The Silver Call duology. I'm not taken with his later books. Oh, and he also had amazing cover art on the original versions of these books done by Alan Lee. The second series also had art that looked like Lee's, but it was done by another artist, hired to mimic Lee's brilliant work.
10. Terry Brooks -- Another author who directly stole elements from Tolkien, but I still loved The Sword of Shannara. I can do without the rest of the Shannara books, though some aren't so bad, but the first one is a must read, in my opinion, especially if you love Tolkienesque fantasy the way I do.
Honorable mention for authors who come close to the top:
Philip Jose Farmer's Dungeon series; Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastard series; Patrick Rothfuss's Kvothe series; Patricia McKillips's Riddlemaster series; Michael Moorcock for his Corum, Hawkmoon, and Elric sets; Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series (as well as my favorite ever short story The Burning Man); Lawrence Watt-Evans for The Lure of the Basilisk; R.A.V. Salsitz for the Where Dragons Lie books; Andre Norton for Quag Keep; Joe Abercrombie for his really grim works; and I'll stop there because I'm becoming overwhelmed!