# 1: Game of Thrones (George RR Martin)

This brilliant fantasy series begins with A Game of Thrones. What can I say about this series? Then read it! It is well regarded as one of the best fantasy series. This is a novel that leaves most other fantasy books in the dust. It’s the best of the best, la crème de le crème. It’s brave, brutal, not for the faint of heart, and so damn addictive.

Martin has created something special with this book. The vast scope of its plots spans continents and, like an onion, each plot hides beneath the other. The author does new things with the fantasy genre: no character is safe from the author’s rope; at any moment the main characters can die. This seemingly ties together various plots in twisted tangles, but Martin is the trickster master and deliberately weaves the arcs of the story into something even stronger. It is almost impossible to predict the plot lines. What’s also interesting is that the author takes funky characters and slowly remakes them, throughout the series, into incredibly interesting, even likable personalities.

If you’re new to the genre and looking for the best of the best, read Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (begins with Game of Thrones) for an enchanting journey into the fantastic world of fantasy. This is a novel that shows how good fantasy books can be!

# 2: Malazan’s Book of the Fallen (Steven Erikson)

Fantasy these days has been pretty stagnant, at least in the epic fantasy genre, since Tolkien. Fortunately, Erickson remakes the genre into something radically different, something unique and compelling. Erickson’s work is enormous in scope, joining dozens of story lines into a coherent whole. No other author can write battle scenes like this man. When he writes battle, you see it. If you want some fantasy where the action is so sharp that you can feel the blade cutting through the skin, battles so loud that you can hear the lance crash against the shield, then go for this amazing series. This book is redefining the genre and is without a doubt one of the best fantasy books you can read.

# 3: The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)

An impressive debut, The Name of the Wind has one of the most compelling stories you will ever read. Everyone who has recommended this book is enthusiastic about it. And I’m willing to bet that you will too. Rothfuss takes some standard fancy conventions and recasts them into a wonderfully addictive mix. Excellent writing, a very compelling plot, fantastic characterization, and a well-drawn world make this book one of my top fantasy book recommendations. This is a fantasy book for women, men, and children alike. All I can say is: read this fantasy novel!

# 4: Tigana (Guy Gaveriel Kay)

Kay is the best character writer in the fantasy genre. He writes fantasy books that are not so much about the “fantasy” aspect as they are about character. And what character does he have. You won’t find cookie cuttings in his world. This man is a master word writer. His prose is beautiful and his plot is always tight. Tigana is perhaps the most emotional fantasy book I have ever read. If you want to experience the full range of human emotions, read this hauntingly beautiful novel. As a bonus, this is a standalone novel, proving that independents can clash with epic big boy fantasies too. This is a fantasy book that will make you cry. I guarantee it.

# 5: Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien)

There is a saying that is quite close to reality: “The world is divided into two groups: those who have read The Lord of the Rings and those who have not.” If you consider yourself a fan of fantasy, you owe it to yourself to have read The Lord of the Rings. He is the father of all fantasy, a book that spawned a genre and a masterpiece of the English language.

Tolkien has always focused on the world his characters live in, never on the characters that live in his world. He created a world full of myths and legends, starkly real and full of mystery. There is always some strange power deep in a mountain, or some magical clearing in the heart of a forest. There are worlds deep in the world and worlds high in the heavens. It is a land full of wonders, a world too big to explore; it is a land that still has mysteries and unknown lands.

# 6: The Sword Itself (The First Law: Book One) (Joe Abercrombie)

An enthusiastic entry into the fantasy genre. It’s action packed, clever, twisted, funny, and so addictive it should be illegal. This is “The Lord of the Rings”. The Blade Itself is a new kind of fantasy. It takes the standard fancy conventions and turns them into something entirely new. Those who are fed up with how trivial and clichéd the fantasy genre has become will feel a hurricane of fresh air from this book. It’s probably one of the most remarkable books to come out in a long time and it has rejuvenated the fantasy genre. One of the best fantasy books, hands down.

# 7: The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan)

I can honestly say that Jordan is the king of fantasy, if not in complexity, in number of pages. This monstrously large series encompasses over 13 massive books (each at least 700 pages). Including “A wheel of time” on this list always irritates certain people. In recent years, a new kind of fantasy has come to the fore in the genre: Gone are the optimistic town boys wielding magic swords on a quest to defeat the impossible; instead, a stark fantasy has arisen; a raw genre where the very conventions of what it means to be a hero are challenged: worlds are made of gray, not black and white; heroes can be both a villain and a savior; love is powerful, but ultimately ephemeral; heroes die and villains live. They are complex things that are often a mix of genres.

The Wheel of Time is a cornerstone of the fantasy genre. It’s virtually impossible to navigate the fantasy section of any bookstore without stumbling across a half dozen of Jordan’s books, all taking up a prodigious amount of shelf space. Jordon’s monstrosity, and yes, it’s an eyesore, it weighs 12 books so far, enough to break more than one.

While the quality of the second half of his series declined dramatically as Jordan lost himself in his own world, the final book is scheduled to be released next year. Jordan passed away this year, but Brandon Sanderson is completing the novel.

As a whole, The Wheel of Time is a fast-paced adventure that will engulf you. It’s huge in scope, but the world is meticulously drawn, the characters (mostly) well drawn, and a highly addictive plot spanning over a dozen very large books. With the impact these books have had on the fantasy genre, you should at least read the first book. It’s a great fantasy book and a lot of fun!

# 8: The Clairvoyant Trilogy (Robin Hobb)

Hobb is one of the best characterization writers in the fantasy genre. His characters are vividly real, jumping from the pages to our minds as living characters. He has no qualms about allowing his protagonist to suffer. If your protagonist falls into a well, no Dues Ex Machina breaks the fall, the protagonist will break both legs, and probably his arms as well. His Farseer books are full of fantastic characters and a mysterious and interesting world to explore. Add an exciting plot, and these books make fantastic readings.

Hobb is perhaps the best character writer in the fantasy genre. For meticulously drawn characters and a world full of wonder and mystery, read these books. Hobb never stoops to using Dues Ex Machina in his novels; its characters suffer and suffer a lot, which makes them even more compelling. Those looking for a hero who can survive any situation without a scratch by bringing out a new superpower, look elsewhere. There is something deeply compelling about the world he creates in this series. Maybe it’s the mysteries promised by your world, the far away places that promise secrets, or maybe it’s the vivid characters that jump from the same sheets of paper into our minds and real, living characters. Whatever it is, this novel has it.

I highly recommend that all fantasy readers read this trilogy. It is a fantasy masterpiece and one of the most emotional fantasy books in the entire genre.

# 9: The Darkness That Comes Before (R. Scott Bakker)

Fantasy books with real philosophy, who would have thought? Those of you looking for more of the “town boy defeats the dark wizard presumption”, look elsewhere. Those who want a brutal, gritty, and twisted story that’s as cerebral as it is action-packed, read this book / series. This is a fantasy series that does new things with the genre and I highly recommend it as one of the best fantasy books in the genre.

# 10: Mythago Wood (Robert Holdstock)

Myth and reality coexist in this powerful and beautiful novel by Robert Holdstock. With a slightly similar theme to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Mythago Woods is a treat you’ll enjoy. If you’re bored with all that epic fantasy that permeates the shelves these days, well, pick this wonderful complete and different fantasy novel.

Go to the Best Fantasy Books website to view a more detailed and expanded version of this list.

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