Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Top 10 Fantasy Novels or Series

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!


  1. After JRR, Leiber and Moorcock were my gods. Also liked Piers Anthony, Roger Zelazny and Jack Vance.

    Moody Writing
    The Funnily Enough

  2. I have Jack Vance on my bookshelf to be read, and they look like good books. I didn't like Anthony's or Zelazny's stuff much. We just have different taste!

  3. Mostly I'm talking about my teenage tastes, I don't read fantasy anymore (not very often). Something about the fatalistic and hereditary nature of power seems foolish. The idea you're born to be a leader/special because of your bloodline, well, the evidence would seem to not bear that out. That whole mindset feels childish to me now.


  4. I agree with that, though that element doesn't really come into play in what I love about fantasy. I'm looking at different aspects. Also, we still have semi-hereditary power even today, which is why we get so little done in Congress. If they had no reelections, they might actually do their job!

  5. Don't read a lot of fantasy. Notice the bloated wheel of time is absent. You may want to look at a book title "The Name of the Wind." It is pretty good.

  6. Budd, I have The Name of the Wind listed there, in the Honorable Mention section. I suspect Patrick Rothfuss will move up the list as he produces more, as I do like his stuff so far.

    I liked the first couple books of Wheel of Time, but then it just got tiresome to me. The characters never grew; they made the same mistakes and displayed the same characteristics over and over and over and...

  7. You liked the first couple books of Wheel of Time but only the first book of Shanara. I would think that would be enough to swap the two in the order.

    I never read the Wheel of Time books because friends told me it went downhill after the fourth book. I don't like starting a series that can't finish properly. I tried reading the Shanara books. I made it seven pages and put it down.

    I would kick that to the curb. There's Bujold's Sharing Knife series and Glen Cook's Black Company, both of which I think are superior to Brooks.

    There are a couple on the list that I've heard of elsewhere and never taken the time to read. I think I'll add their samples to my nook and give them a try. Thanks.

  8. I like the later shannara books as opposed to the earlier stuff. The earlier stuff just copied Tolkien to closely. I also read McKiernan's stuff as a kid. It was good. I liked the villain Modru.

    I especially like how Brooks went back and explained the history behind the two witches that lived in the vale in Elfstones...I liked how he went back and we got to see the Forbidding from the other side, etc. It's all good stuff.

  9. Joseph, the difference is that the first books of WoT were okay, while I really love The Sword of Shannara. It's my taste in fantasy, almost as good as Tolkien for what I want to read.

    Michael, see we are opposites. I liked them when they were closer to Tolkien and lost interest when he moved away from it. We all have different tastes!

  10. And I disagree - the earlier Shannara books are better. Those would be really high on my list.
    I enjoyed the Forgotten Realms series as well. And Narnia, even though those are for kids.

  11. Man. I'm so busy with A to Z I'm missing some great posts from you!