Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Top Ten Epic Fantasies

Undoubtedly I’ve hit this topic from time to time, but I’m coming back to it now because of my comment in yesterday’s post that Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns series is one of my top-ten picks for epic fantasy. Obviously that leads to the need to do an actual top-ten list, so let me see how close I can come to that.

First: I’m defining epic fantasy thus:

— Multiple volumes

— Multiple pov protagonists

— Large scale, long-running overall story arc, high stakes for the world, not just the characters

— Secondary world setting

— High fantasy tone or something fairly close to that

And no doubt every one of those characteristics could be arguable and plenty of stories would wind up on one edge or another between epic fantasy and something else. Still, those characteristics are the ones I have in mind.

So, with that in mind, here’s a quick attempt at a top-ten list for epic fantasy. In no particular order:

1.The Shadow Campaigns by Django Wexler

Five-book series, hard to beat the first book, the first three or so are each self-contained but definitely not the fourth. Winter is one of my favorite protagonists of all time, and Janos is one of my favorite non-pov protagonists of all time, and well, there you go.

2. Inda series by Sherwood Smith

If you follow the link, you’ll see that I once just defined “epic fantasy” by pointing to this series and saying, There, this is what the term means.

A long quadrilogy. Again, some truly fantastic characters, great writing, really hard to beat.

3. Dead River trilogy by Naomi Kritzer

I’m not listing these series in decreasing order by number of books, it just sort of looks that way. Despite having only three books in the series, and despite perhaps not being quite as world-shattering in scope as some epic fantasy, I would definitely include this series in my top-ten list of the subgenre.

Also, it’s just a practically perfect story in every way. Really top notch.

4. Eternal Sky trilogy by Elizabeth Bear

Complicated, intricate, my biggest problem was that I really wanted the whole story to focus on just one of the many, many wonderful characters.

5. Fortress series by CJC, possibly excluding the fifth and final book. I’m linking a post here in which that some of us argued back in forth in the comments about Fortress of Ice and whether it should be ignored or read and so on. Personally I would treat the first book, Fortress in the Eye of Time, as a standalone, and then the next three as a linked trilogy, and then stop. Regardless, this is a great series — possibly excluding the fifth book.

6. Spiritwalker trilogy by Kate Elliot

The whole thing is in one point of view, so … epic fantasy? Yes/no? The scope is pretty large, we see a whole lot of the (very complicated) world, I’m leaning toward yes.

7. The Rain Wilds books by Robin Hobb

This is honestly the only series by Hobb I really liked. She’s a fine writer in a lot of ways, but protagonist stupidity is a real thing in some of her books and I have a really hard time with that. Anyway, this dragon series starts off rather small-scale, but the scope broadens as the series continues, especially as we find out that dragons are really a dominant species here and now they’re back.

8. ???

9. ???

10. The Lord of the Rings.

The LotR practically defines epic fantasy, so I’m putting it here. I feel no need to comment on its inclusion.

But I’m not sure what to include for the other two spots on this list. There are a lot of series where I read the first book but haven’t gone on with the series — I liked the first book but not enough, or I liked most of it but hated one aspect and didn’t go on with the series, or I admired the first book but didn’t actually like it, or I liked the first book but wanted to re-read it before going on and then just never have, or I don’t know, lots of things.

Here are some of the epic fantasy series where I’ve read only the first book. If you’ve read the whole thing, how do you feel about the work as a whole? Would you tend to include it or not?

— Dark Prism series by Brent Weeks

— The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham

— The Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson

What else? Please toss any fantastic epic fantasy series that ought to be included in a top ten list into the comments.

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12 Comments Top Ten Epic Fantasies

  1. Robert

    This may be nostalgia talking (and I haven’t read it since it was published), but what about the Darwath Trilogy by Barbara Hambly?

    There are later books in the series, but the original trilogy is pretty self-contained.

    Does Patricia McKillip’s Riddle Master trilogy qualify? I think there are only 2 POV characters, though.

  2. Rachel

    SarahZ, I had forgotten about Kushiel’s Dart, a series I liked a lot. If Kate Elliot’s Spiritwalker trilogy qualifies with just one pov, then certainly Kushiel’s Dart must. That’s a very good choice. Beautiful, beautiful writing. Some of the situations in the last book got grim enough I’ve only read the whole trilogy once, but I’d still put it on a top-ten list.

    Robert, I haven’t read the Darwath trilogy for a good long time, but it’s certainly a contender.

    The Riddlemaster trilogy always feels more intimate to me even though it fits all the criteria for epic fantasy. Of these three series in this comment, I’d pick the Kushiel’s Dart series for a Top Ten Epic Fantasy list, even though my favorite is the Riddlemaster trilogy.

  3. Pete Mack

    How about Fall of Ile Rien? I can’t count my rereads on this. And Wells recently published a piece about how it bombed when it came out, after her publisher was bought out and the new one didn’t market it. She nearly quit writing after that. Yikes!

  4. Rachel

    Oh, good one, Pete Mack! Yes, I’ve read that a bunch of times. Absolutely great choice!

    Publisher issues, ugh, so many authors some sort of problem like that. Very ugh.

  5. Allan Shampine

    Huh. I am surprised to find I’ve only read Shadow Campaigns and LOTR, which, even leaving the blanks at the end, is a surprising number of series recommendations. Have ordered first books in each. Thanks for the list!

  6. Rachel

    Wow, Allen, that’ll keep you busy for a while! I am very certain you will find some real keepers on this list, though.

  7. Elaine T

    Darwath doesn’t feel like high fantasy, to me, FWIW. Maybe because the narrators are modern people in their 20s, and read like it. I like it a lot, but it’s not properly high or epic.

    Yeah, Fionavar is epic.

    Is our hostess’ WINTER epic enough? It’s got large enough elements, but stands alone. Which I appreciate, but some definitions of epic/high require multiple volumes. The Griffin trilogy winds up remaking the world, which ought to count.

    Janny Wurts Wars of Light & Shadow.

    Maybe Michelle West’s enormous thing that is still in progress. Lots of high, epic stuff… it’s just the character she’s been focusing on is someone I gave up on as a blithering idiot. (apparently that was the point, and she did have a plan to have her learn better, but I couldn’t take Jewel any more.)

  8. Rachel

    The two I’d pick out of the comments to finish a top ten list would be Kushiel’s Dart and Fionavar. They’ve both got the scope and the tone.

    I’d be happy to have WINTER or The Griffin Mage trilogy included, but WINTER is just one book, so if picking one or the other out for epic, I’d have to say: The Griffin Mage.

  9. mona

    Hmm, I’ve read about half of these. Which leaves plenty to try! You’ve mentioned GGK and Wexler so often, I can hardly admit that I haven’t tried any of their works yet.

    I enjoyed Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy, but it’s been a while since I read it. I can’t recall if it fits your criteria.

  10. Rachel

    Mona, it takes me sooooo long to get to books sometimes, I can’t be surprised when other people also take a long time to get to something! But but but REALLY you should try a sample of The Thousand Names and I bet you will be hooked right away.

    I hardly know what to suggest with GGK. Actually the Fionavar trilogy might be a good place to start with his work. Beautiful writing.

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