They say that there’s nothing like a good book and a cup of coffee to take you to places faraway and make you forget the mundane for a while. I say that there is nothing like a good fantasy book to get you there. Not everyone is into fantasy, but I reckon that if everyone would give these books a try, they will realize just how much fun fantasy books are. If you are new to fantasy, or you are trying to convince someone to try the genre out, here are the top 10 books you ought to start out with (in no particular order). You can’t go wrong with them.
Disclaimer: technically, this list contains more than 10 books, as many of the items are series. In each series, you’ll find at least two books (with more in the offing). Bookworms rejoice – you won’t lack for reading material!
1. A Song of Ice and Fire
This series is written by George R.R. Martin, and is dubbed as high fantasy. High fantasy simply means that the setting of the story is in an invented world – a parallel world, if you wish. The Song of Ice and Fire series currently has four books: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows. The fifth book, A Dance with Dragons is in the works. The plot is as thick as can be, with countless layers of complexity underneath. The cast of characters cannot be described in black and white – much like in real life. The good have bad sides, and the bad have their endearing sides. Martin writes in a very straightforward – even brutal – manner, not sparing any details, really. Forget your happy endings. So far, the mini-endings have been nothing but!
2. The Wheel of Time
Author Robert Jordan is synonymous with his Wheel of Time Saga. He passed away several years ago, but he had the plot laid out before his death. He was able to write 11 books before he passed away, but fans should not fret about the ending. With his extensive notes and the ending determined, we should still see the last book (which has been cut up into three) written and published by Brandon Sanderson, who has been chosen to finish the series. Be warned: each book is several hundred pages long, and you’ll spend many sleepless nights devouring the pages.
The Wheel of Time follows a simpler plot than George R.R. Martin’s work, but it is no less enticing. A young “woolheaded sheepherder” from a small village is the reincarnation of the savior of the world. The Dark One chases him all over the place. He grows up real quickly and saves the world (maybe, we don’t know the end yet). Simple, but the beauty is in the details.
3. Earthsea Cycle
Ursula Le Guin is the grandmother of fantasy, and rightly so. With this series, she introduces us to the world of wizards and schools of magic. She focuses on the characters and writes about them like no other author. While reading, you’ll feel a wide range of emotions – all of them beautiful – thanks to the writing prowess of Le Guin. There are six books in this series.
4. The Chronicles of Narnia
Widely regarded as books for children, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis has captured the hearts of adults the world over. I was introduced to the world of fantasy through this series, and for that I am forever grateful to this wonderful author. The good and the bad are clearly outlined, and many lessons can be learned from the stories. Indeed, C.S. Lewis was right in saying that a good children’s story should be appreciated by adults as well.
5. The Name of the Wind
This book is part of The Kingkiller Chronicle, which is yet to be completed. The Name of the Wind is the first book written and published by Patrick Rothfuss, and is considered to be one of the best debuts ever. The story focuses on the life of Kvothe, a boy who eventually turns out to be the greatest wizard that ever lived. Fans are longingly awaiting the sequel, Wise Man’s Fear.
6. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Who doesn’t know about J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece? After all, it has been made into movies by Hollywood. As good as the movies are, I have to say that the books are still better. That’s because you get to create the world in your own head – and nothing beats that! Even if you’ve seen the movie and you know the story by heart, I suggest getting yourself the real deal.
7. The Farseer Trilogy
Robin Hobb’s style is very personal – you get to go deep into the mind of the hero, and that’s what I like best about The Farseer Trilogy. In a sense, it follows the usual “dark horse rises to fame and glory” formula, but the way the author lays out the story is very touching. Fitz is the name of the main character, and he is the bastard son of the king. The series tells us about his coming of age and how he learns all about loyalty and trust. Definitely a good read.
Terry Pratchett is pretty well known as fantasy authors go, but his Discworld books do not have as large a following as the others on this list. One thing I can tell you – these books (all 37 of them, and more to come perhaps) will crack you up. You may think fantasy and parody strange bedfellows, but Prachett masterfully weaves his stories that you simply cannot help but laugh, while enjoying the elements of fantasy at the same time.
9. The Malazan Book of the Fallen
If you think The Wheel of Time is enormous, then you should give The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson a try. This massive series revolves around more than the usual fantasy plot. Tactical minds will enjoy the attention to military activities. The characters are as complex anything. There is the main series, and there are other books, which are offshoots.
10. Harry Potter
I had to engage in an internal debate as to whether to include J.K. Rowlings’s work or not in the list. Common sense paid off – there is no denying that Harry Potter has gotten so big that it cannot be ignored. While the plot is nothing revolutionary and the characters quite predictable, Harry Potter is an easy and enjoyable read. Indeed, it might be a good start for those who want to dabble in fantasy literature.
James Gray has a life-long interest in politics, travel, the environment, and global affairs. He works in IT but his heart truly beats for the written word.