It’s Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly bookish meme hosted by the broke and the bookish. Each week, there’s a different topic. Come up with your list of top ten, post it, and then add to the link at b&b’s masterpost, then bounce around and see other people’s lists.
This week’s theme was Top Ten Books for Every X to Read. Naturally, I picked fantasy books, seeing as I love spec-fic and tend towards the fantasy end of the spectrum. But I went further than that and picked Epic Fantasy because I’m feeling the love for those right now.
Please keep in mind that not everyone agrees on what is true Epic Fantasy as compared with High Fantasy, so this list is probably at least a little subjective. If you want the definition of the difference, as I understand it, see the end of this post (marked with an *)
1. The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
I’m not actually a huge fan of Tolkien’s writing style – I find it a bit boring, honestly, even though I do like the story – but if you want to know where modern-day (Western) epic fantasy is coming from, you have to read at least one of his books.
2. The Belgariad by David and Leigh Eddings
While not my favorite of the Eddings’ works and, in hindsight, not the best series I’ve read, either, this is another classic fantasy series that greatly contributed to the tropes we used (and overused) today.
3. The Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch
A newer addition to epic fantasy, if you like thievery and hijinks – and don’t mind a lot of cursing – this is a fun read, with more books forthcoming.
4. The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher
Codex Alera started as a challenge to the author, who claimed he could take a couple of ‘bad ideas’ and make them into a great story. Pokemon meets the Lost Roman Legion, this is a fun read, although without the stakes other epic fantasy books include.
5. Raven’s Shadow by Anthony Ryan
Another newer series, the Raven’s Shadow trilogy drew me right in with its engaging characters and fascinating setting. The use of a framing device was certainly interesting, and I have to wonder if the story I read is the same as the story that was told. One day I’ll finish this trilogy, I swear.
6. The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny
Even if you only read the first five books (Corwin’s story) and ignore Merlin’s (the second pentology), this is a fun read with very interesting world-building and some interesting rules for the book’s universe.
7. The Symphony of Ages by Elizabeth Haydon
My nostalgia (I read this series in high school) might be coloring my remembrances of this particular series, and I definitely remember a couple of issues with it, but, overall, I remember this as a masterful saga about the end of the world and an attempt to change the future.
8. The Mage Storms trilogy by Mercedes Lackey
Not all of the Valdemar sub-series are what I would call epic fantasy, as most would simply fall into high fantasy, but this one is definitely epic fantasy as warring nations have to come together to save the world from the titular mage storms. If you’re looking for a good example of the difference between epic and high fantasy, read this sub-series after you’ve read any of the other sub-series, but it compares best with The Arrows of the Queen trilogy or The Last Herald-Mage trilogy, where it is the fate of Valdemar at stake, not all of Velgarth.
9. Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
Another new series that isn’t finished yet. I know there’s a lot of talk of love triangles and what-not, but that’s actually fairly easy to ignore if that’s not your thing. Again, not a perfect series, but a fascinating new entry into the epic fantasy genre.
10. The Malazan World by Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont
Of course my list of epic fantasy wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the world of Malaz. It’s a hefty investment if you want to read it, but it’s such a good entry into the epic fantasy genre (IMHO at least), so if you like epic fantasy, this is a good, long series that isn’t ending any time soon.
*Epic Fantasy vs High Fantasy (for the interested):
Both take place in another world separate from our own, usually medieval but sometimes can cross over with steampunk-era technology (the Grisha trilogy/Six of Crows, for example). Both typically have lots of magic and often there are mythical creatures, sometimes but not always elves, dwarves, dragons, a phoenix, made up creatures, etc.
But the main difference is that high fantasy focuses on the individual’s life -or the fate of a kingdom – while epic fantasy is about the fate of the world. In my opinion, all of the above series manage to fall into that second category.For a really good post about Epic vs High Fantasy, check out this post by Eclectic Little Dork – she puts it much better than I can.