The latest season of Game of Thrones is coming to an end this weekend, which means that you’re going to need to get your epic fantasy fix somewhere else, possibly until 2019. You could go back and re-read the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series, but you could also take the time to discover an entirely new fantasy world.
Fantasy literature has a long history, and there are tons of excellent books that you might not have come across. Here’s 8 epic fantasy novels that kick off an entire series that you should check out, which should be more than enough to keep you occupied while we wait for the final season of Game of Thrones.
The Black Company by Glen Cook
Long ago, a rebellion overthrew an evil wizard known as The Dominator, who can turn his enemies into loyal servants. He and his companion, The Lady, along with their followers, were imprisoned, only to escape centuries later, and rebuild their former empire. Cook’s series follows an elite mercenary unit known as The Black Company as they serve in the company of The Lady, and when they learn of a prophecy concerning a reborn god, they begin to question their loyalties.
Cook’s series has become a classic since it was first published in the 1980s, blending together epic fantasy and military action. While not quite as notable these days, the series made a splash for its darker take on the fantasy genre. There is also more to look forward to: a new installment of the series (the first since 2000), Port of Shadows, is scheduled to come out next year, and a TV show is currently in development.
Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy — starting with Assassin’s Apprentice in 1995 — introduced readers to an assassin named FitzChivalry Farseer (also known as Fitz), in a traditional, medieval European-styled fantasy world. Fitz is a bastard son with special abilities, who finds himself targeted by his uncle Regal, who is also waging a war with his kingdom’s neighbors.
Hobb uses the trilogy and successor novels to showcase Fitz’s journey and growth as a character, coming to terms with his own abilities as he seeks revenge. The series has earned Hobb legions of fans, and she’s still playing with the character: she recently concluded her Fitz and the Fool trilogy with Assassin’s Fate back in May.
Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
Arrows of the Queen introduced readers to Talia, a runaway chosen to join the ranks of an elite guard that protects the Queen. As she trains, a conspiracy looms that will threaten the stability of the kingdom, as well as the Queen’s heir. Over the rest of the trilogy, Talia comes to terms with her own powers as she works to protect the realm.
When I told my wife that I was putting together a list of epic fantasy novels, she immediately pulled out a huge stack of Lackey’s books for me to look at. Arrows of the Queen is the first of a sprawling series called the Valdemar series, which contains literally dozens of novels that explores the history and backstory of the world she created. That series isn’t over, either: Lackey is kicking off a new trilogy set in the world next year.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1968 novel A Wizard of Earthsea was one of the original tales of a young boy going off to an academy to learn about magic, decades before J.K. Rowling cooked up Harry Potter. Set in a fantastical archipelago, Le Guin follows Ged, a young magician who accidentally releases a shadow creature, and must journey across the islands to track it down and destroy it.
Ged’s story is one that explores the use of power and its cost, set alongside a coming-of-age story. Le Guin uses the series to look at the formative years of a typical wizard, trying to understand how they got to the point where they were older and much wiser.
His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
In this alternate, Napoleonic Wars-era world, soldiers take to the skies atop mighty dragons. When a British warship boards and captures a French frigate, Captain Will Laurence unexpectedly finds himself the chosen rider for its cargo: a newly-hatched dragon. He’s reluctant to leave the luxuries afforded by his status as an officer, but he develops a deep bond with the dragon that he names Temeraire.
Novik’s 2006 novel is the first of her Temeraire series, which ended last year with League of Dragons. Readers follow Laurence and his dragon as they fight against French forces and travel across the world, and at its heart, the series is about the deep friendship that forms between man and dragon.
Fortress Draconis by Michael A. Stackpole
Michael A. Stackpole might be best known for his Star Wars or BattleTech tie-in novels, but he’s written a bunch of other standalone novels of his own. One is Fortress Draconis, the start of his DragonCrown Cycle. The 2000 novel follows an orphaned thief named Will who steals a particularly valuable prize from a group of elves, and finds himself smack in the middle of a prophecy as an evil sorceress named Chytrine threatens the entire world.
The novels fall somewhere between the Wheel of Time and Lord of the Rings quest-style storylines and the grittiness of A Song of Ice and Fire. There is a lot packed into them: a quest, prophecies, dragons, quite a bit of action, and more. The trilogy (which includes When Dragons Rage and The Grand Crusade) has a prequel novel, The Dark Glory War, which is also worth picking up, but it stands alone on its own.
The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley
In Brian Staveley’s 2014 debut novel, the Emperor of the continent-spanning Annurian Empire is assassinated, leaving his three children to scramble to figure out who was behind the attack and how to take control of an Empire.
The trilogy has all the trappings of a traditional, alternate-world fantasy, but with some modern twists: there are epic battles, but also black-ops special forces soldiers that ride giant birds. But it’s the world that Staveley has created that makes this trilogy worth picking up. It’s immersive, with a deep history loaded down with a range of vibrant cultures. There is enough room for other adventures as well: Staveley’s latest book is a standalone adventure, Skullsworn, which further deepens and enriches this world.
The Shadow of the Torturer / The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe is one of the genre’s heavyweight authors: he earned prestigious Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award in 2013, and the work that he’s best known for is the four-volume The Book of the New Sun novel, which begins with 1980’s The Shadow of the Torturer. The books are presented as an in-universe manuscript, which follow a journeyman torturer named Severian, who is exiled. The story is set in a far-future world, and adheres to Arthur C. Clarke’s idiom, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
The novel (and its sequels, The Book of the Long Sun and The Book of the Short Sun) contain many of the tropes found in science fiction — like time travel, aliens, technology, and robotics — alongside myths, divine creatures, and a world set so far in the future that the world feels like magic to its inhabitants.