Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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15 books “like Lord of the Rings”

This is a Book Riot post, so immediately I’m entertained by wondering (a) what 15 books the Book Riot author will consider “like” TLotR, and (b) will one of them be Watership Down?

As you can see, as far as I’m concerned, Book Riot is never going to live down that Urban Fantasy post.

So let’s check out the post!

  1. Aurora Rising by Kaufman and Kristoff. Well, that one is an interesting choice. It’s SF, not fantasy; the stakes look, to a first glance, small-scale and personal rather than epic; so the only thing this story has in common with TLotR is a “band of adventurers.” While not as wildly out of place as Watership Down, I have to say, so far I am questioning the criteria used by the author of this post. In fact, if “band of adventurers” is enough to get a book into this list, then Watership Down would actually qualify. That right there should indicate that this single criterion should not be sufficient to do the job. Let’s see what else …
  2. Legend of Drizzt: Homeland, by Salvatore
  3. A Wizard of Earthsea
  4. An Ember in the Ashes by Tahir
  5. The Fifth Season by Jemisin
  6. Sorcerer to the Crown by Cho
  7. The Demon King by Chima
  8. The Deed of Paksennarion by Moon
  9. Sabriel by Nix
  10. Dragonsong by McCaffery
  11. The Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Ogiwara
  12. The Grace of Kings by Liu
  13. Graceling by Cashore
  14. Song of Blood and Stone by Penelope
  15. Thrown of the Crescent Moon by Ahmed

Okay, of those, I have read five. I have started and DNF … let me see … wow, no fewer than five! That is a LOT of DNF entries for this kind of list! Of those DNF, four were books I just did not think were that good, while one just appalled me with the set up and I could not go on with it. That was Jemisin’s, of course, and WHY not pick ONE OF HER OTHER LESS HORRIFYING BOOKS FOR THIS LIST?

The author of the post says things like: “This one is like TLotR because it has an unlikely hero” and “This one is like TLotR because there’s a journey” and I have to say, throwing books or series on this list for reasons of that kind is ridiculous. Practically every book ever written has SOME characteristic that is vaguely similar to something in TLotR. Saying “The plot involves a journey, so if you liked TLotR, you’ll like this one because they are alike!” is just silly.

To actually qualify for a like-TLotR list, I would say a book needs to:

  1. Be epic in scope, literary in tone, and not too gritty.
  2. Have a clear good-versus-evil setup, and good has to win through the heroic efforts of badly outmatched protagonists.
  3. Be really well written, though not necessarily in a Tolkien-esque style; bad knock-offs need not apply.
  4. Be set in a sort of vaguely Tolkien-esque setting.
  5. Have some philosophical depth to it, though not necessarily the same themes that are important in TLotR.

Of the list above, I think one entry qualifies. Wait, two. I’m going to start with those and then go on to build a list of novels that are REALLY LIKE TOLKIEN, as opposed to the list above, where almost none of the entries are remotely like TLotR.

  1. The Deed of Paksennarion
  2. The Wizard of Earthsea
  3. The Longest Road trilogy by Guy Gaviel Kay
  4. The Shadowed Sun / The Killer Moon by Jemisin
  5. The Eternal Sky trilogy by Elizabeth Bear
  6. The Riddlemaster of Hed by McKillip
  7. The Riftwar Saga by Feist
  8. …. and I’m running low on good candidates for this list.

What would you pick for a No-Kidding-Like-TLotR-in-Important-Ways list?

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9 Comments 15 books “like Lord of the Rings”

  1. Elaine T.

    Watership Down, seriously. I remember the writing as very good, and the sense of great history underpinning the surface story being the same.

    Maybe CJC’s Fortress. It’s got the unexpectedness of the hobbits in what Tristan turns out like, as well as depth.
    And that unexpectedness is part of what makes Tolkien what it is. Of your suggestions I see it in #3 (for Darien) and #6 (for the resolution). I don’t remember those I’ve read of the others well enough to say.
    And of everything coming to mind from our shelves I keep coming up with arguments for Not Like.

  2. Alison

    Definitely GGK. Maybe, Kate Elliott’s Black Wolves series? The Sword of Shannarra, kind of a knockoff, tho.

  3. Pete Mack

    I agree with Rachel’s requirement for literary, and thus Shanarra emphatically does not qualify. That is “not a book to be set aside lightly… but to be thrown with great force.”

    And Sabriel doesn’t really qualify, but Lirael+Abhorsen surely does.

    Also, LotR has that whole vibe of *not* seeking–or gaining–power, where again Lirael qualifies better than Sabriel.

  4. Evenstar

    Definitely your #3 and #6. I think I would agree with CJC’s Fortress series, but I haven’t read them in years.
    Maybe Sheri Tepper’s True Game, or some of her other earlier writing.
    Tanya Huff’s Wizard of the Grove, at least in parts.
    Martha Wells’ Fall of Ile-Rien
    Naomi Novik’s Uprooted
    The White Road of the Moon!

  5. Mary Beth

    I would also add Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, which if I recall correctly was inspired by Tolkien in the same way as GGK’s first series. And Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time (okay, the first one at least).

  6. Louise

    Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles comes to mind immediately, most specifically The Castle of Llyr and The High King. Probably The High King in particular, if we’re only choosing one. Though Alexander’s writing tone is more conversational than literary, but he does achieve more distance in the Prydain books than in most of his others.

    I would throw Diana Wynne Jones’ Dark Lord of Derkhelm in there, though again it’s not strictly literary in tone–but while it’s a satire of all the bad LOTR knock-offs, it also manages to achieve a poignancy and philosophical depth all its own.

    Agree about Ile-Rien, and Lirael. I know there’s more I can’t think of right now–this is the bad part about all one’s books being packed away instead of on the shelf where I can easily run my eye over them and say, “ah yes, this one!”

  7. Rachel

    I confess I included the “literary” criterion specifically in order to exclude bad knock-offs like Shannara and The Iron Tower by Dennis L McKiernan.

    But I’d take Prydain despite the less literary tone. I’d forgotten all about those although I read them several times, a long time ago.

    I never read Lirael. Maybe I should!

  8. Mary Catelli

    The thing is what strikes me most about The Lord of the Rings is how it’s a genre defining type. It’s not the stuff in its wake that really reminds me of it.

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