What epic book should I read next?
August 22, 2011 4:37 PM   Subscribe

What epic book should I read next?

Yes, I know there are many "recommend a book" questions, but this one is mine. I just finished the fifth "Game of Thrones" book and I'm looking for something to tide me over until Murakami's 1Q84 comes out in October.

I love epic stories, but I confess to being a bit of a literary snob. I love Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones because I feel like they hold up as literature, not just "good for their genre." I can't hack most other sci-fi or fantasy, but if there's someone out there who writes as well as Tolkien or Martin, I'd love to know about them. I already read The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman (loved both); same goes for the "His Dark Materials" books. No interest in Harry Potter.

I also enjoy books about adventure and exploration, fiction or non-: I heard about Dan Simmons' The Terror from another thread and loved it (Not really a "horror" fan but the horror/exploration/history combo worked for me). Also loved Shantaram. Everything by Jon Krakuer is amazing too.
posted by drjimmy11 to Media & Arts (74 answers total) 147 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Bonus question: Are there other George R.R. Martin books of comparable quality/tone to the "Song of Fire and Ice" series?
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:39 PM on August 22, 2011

Stephenson's Baroque Cycle? it's huge, long, missing most of his annoying quirks, and is basically "Lets do an adventure story pastiche where I try to explain to THE ENTIRE PLANET during the 1th century." The first is the best, but it actually has an ending, which is more then you say for his other books.
posted by The Whelk at 4:39 PM on August 22, 2011 [11 favorites]

You could read Dan Simmon's Drood.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:40 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Man on the Moon, the real life story of the Apollo space program, its triumphs and disasters, as seen through the eyes of its astronauts.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:42 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Little, Big
posted by Daily Alice at 4:46 PM on August 22, 2011 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Drood sounds good, ordering from Amazon now- but please keep more ideas coming!
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:47 PM on August 22, 2011

Fionovar Tapestries- I have similar taste and while not as good as LOTR, they are epic adventure and well written.
posted by Equiprimordial at 4:47 PM on August 22, 2011

Seconding the Baroque Cycle. (Disclaimer: I am only two-thirds of the way through it.)
posted by madcaptenor at 4:47 PM on August 22, 2011

Daily Alice would say that, but Little, Big is one of the best fantasy novels ever written. It is an intensely compact epic, dense and brilliantly constructed. Everyone should read yjis book. It is that good.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:50 PM on August 22, 2011

Have you ever read any Olaf Stapledon [previously]? He wrote the first thing you could call a 'space opera' except it's not. It's epic on scales that make Lord of the Rings look like a hair's breadth (we're talking the entire lifetime of the universe epic):

First and Last Men & Star Maker

...are exponentially related, like one universe nestled in another (the 1st makes the billions of years of the 2nd seem insignificant). Check them out...
posted by 0bvious at 4:50 PM on August 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Thirding the Baroque Cycle and I devoured that shit. The Bonanza book out of that series is one of my top 5 desert island/nuclear holocaust/whatever books.
posted by griphus at 4:51 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

...that should be: the 2nd makes the billions of years of the 1st seem insignificant
posted by 0bvious at 4:52 PM on August 22, 2011

Shogun sounds like it fits the bill.
posted by Specklet at 4:52 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm currently reading A Game Of Thrones while waiting for the third Kingkiller Chronicle to come out.
posted by meese at 4:54 PM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

(Oh and cause you mentioned fantasy-ish books in your question, The Baroque Cycle isn't fantasy, but it does take place in the 16-17th century so it might as well be, one character is suspected of being immortal and the speech in the 2nd book about the implications if "Sanatic Magic" actually exists pretty much sold me on reading the NEXT thousand pages)
posted by The Whelk at 4:56 PM on August 22, 2011

Apparently Joe Abercrombie's stuff is pretty good. I have Best Served Cold sitting at home but have yet to delve.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:57 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

You've read Dune, right? You might also like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell or An Instance of the Fingerpost or Stones Fall by Iain Pears
posted by fshgrl at 5:05 PM on August 22, 2011

Are the classic epics on the table? Paradise Lost, The Faerie Queen, Beowulf, The Aeneid, The Iliad, The Odyssey?

A lot of the Arthurian stuff should work, too.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:10 PM on August 22, 2011

Three Musketeers?

posted by jpeacock at 5:12 PM on August 22, 2011

Nthing Baroque Cycle.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:13 PM on August 22, 2011

The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
Imajica by Clive Barker

though both are by horror authors, they're solidly fantasy. and both involve towers, oddly enough
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:14 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy. I tore through it over a couple of weeks, cramming in what reading I could during work, and my spouse is gallumphing through them now.

("I am not gallumphing. I do not gallumph.")
posted by Etrigan at 5:14 PM on August 22, 2011

Pillars of the Earth? There's a follow-up book as well.
posted by humboldt32 at 5:19 PM on August 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It's not SF or fantasy, but 1349 riveting pages about four families in post-partition India. Things happen and there's a real ending.
posted by maudlin at 5:19 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another non SF/fantasy but Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace was a pretty epic experience for me and a few friends who also read it. Be ready, you need to read about 350 pages to really get into the story, but it's one of my all time favorites.
posted by goggie at 5:23 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ilium, by Dan Simmons, is really, really good. It got robbed by the Hugos (and I say that as someone who loves Paladin of Souls). The sequel (Olympos) is not quite as good.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:25 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Beowulf. It's surprisingly easy reading in the Seamus Heaney translation, and it's about vikings fighting monsters pretty much cover to cover. Somehow you also get to look like a sophisticated intellectual while you read it.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:26 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

While we're on a Dan Simmons kick, might I recommend his Hyperion quartet: Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion and Rise of Endymion? These are great!

I am also recommend (seconding?) Drood and Terror. Kali, while not an epic, was fun as horror. I recently finished Simmon's Ilium and Olympos and found them merely okay.

How about the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever by Steven R. Donaldson?

The Lilith's Brood trilogy by Octavia Butler is quite nice.

I enjoyed Anne McCaffrey's Freedom trilogy so much I thought of it when I heard Libya needs to build a new society.

Also nice along the society-building line is Steven King's The Stand.
posted by rw at 5:27 PM on August 22, 2011

War and Peace is mostly known for being long, but it is also really, really great.
posted by dfan at 5:38 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

A Glastonbury Romance. It will do things to you.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:38 PM on August 22, 2011


perhaps Banks' Culture novels.

Yeah, "Dune" (the first, perhaps not the follow ons)
posted by edgeways at 5:41 PM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nthing "First Law" trilogy.

Also, it's pretty "hard" sci-fi, but Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy is definitely epic and definitely hacks it as literature.
posted by eugenen at 6:00 PM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I like Stephenson a lot, didn't like The Baroque Cycle that much (yes, I read all 3), loved Anathem.
posted by yerfatma at 6:07 PM on August 22, 2011

Orlando furioso! Good idea. And why not another Italian epic, Gerusalemme liberata by Tasso. Although both are set in recognizable historical contexts they have lots of fantasy elements as well. Also the Long Ships, an excellent Viking novel first published in 1941 and recently brought out by NYRB and introductioned by Michael Chabon. Lots of globe-crossing, head-removing, mead-quaffing, bone-crushing fun.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 6:13 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wolfe, of course. The books of the New Sun, Long Sun and Short Suns are what he's best known for, but the Soldier series (Momento in Mythic Greece) and the Knight & Wizard pair are probably more what you're looking for.

Crowley`s Aegypt cycle.

Tim Powers, inparticular The Anubis Gates and Last Call. Declare is good too.

Finally, if you liked Lev Grossman, you need to read Susanna Clark's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
posted by bonehead at 6:14 PM on August 22, 2011

Finally, if you liked Lev Grossman, you need to read Susanna Clark's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

posted by The Whelk at 6:15 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was about to say I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Gormenghast yet, but on non-preview I see it did finally get a mention. Well then, seconding that!

And adding David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. At 528 pages I guess it might be on the cusp of "epic" depending on what your definition is, but I found it deliciously immersive, and its intertwining stories cover a span of time from the 1850s to some point in the post-apocalyptic future ... the part of me that loves epic stories absolutely loved it.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:20 PM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also recommend Little, Big.

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 6:21 PM on August 22, 2011

I'm surprised that Patrick Rothfuss' King Killer Chronicles hasn't been mentioned yet. It's a three-parter and the first two books have been published--The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear.
posted by angelchrys at 6:23 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gene Wolfe - The Book of the New Sun (far, far future SF)
Lois McMaster Bujold - Vorkosigan Saga (SF with a military bent)
Steven Brust - his Dragaera series; The Khaavren Romances (fantasy Dumas pastiche) and Vlad Taltos books (fantasy with a hardboiled/Chandler influence)
posted by N-stoff at 6:28 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Try Patrick Leigh Fermor's masterpieces of travel - A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water
posted by gudrun at 7:33 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

ASH: A Secret History, by Mary Gentle. Prickly, bloody, brain-twisty.
Nthing Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, as well as any Tim Powers (starting with Anubis Gates, Last Call, or perhaps Declare, if you like classic spy novels also.) Powers writes stand-alone, but the books will sweep you off your feet.
I love the Fionovar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay, but know that it has its detractors. So if it seems too LOTR-ish, try Tigana, the two Sarantine Mosaic books (Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors) or The Lions of Al Rassan.
Bujold, the Vorkosigan series and also the Chalion books.
posted by PussKillian at 8:01 PM on August 22, 2011

I like Brust a fair bit, but would not put his works in the "epic" category, with the possible exception of Freedom & Necessity, written with Emma Bull.
posted by edgeways at 8:25 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I thought Les Misérables was pretty damn epic.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:37 PM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

As well as ASH, I'd also include Mary Gentle's A Sundial in a Grave. Similar to the Stevenson Baroque Cycle books.
posted by bonehead at 8:51 PM on August 22, 2011

Seconding Obvious - First and Last Men is one of the greatest books I have ever read.
posted by brownrd at 8:55 PM on August 22, 2011

I can't believe no one has mentioned Steven Erickson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. 10 books, actually finished ( take that, Martin-I love you but am losing hope here). Complicated, well-written, creative and incredibly dense. Huge Martin and LoTR fan here, but this is by far my favorite epic series.

Rothkuss doesn't do much for me-seems very same old, same old, but of course, YMMV. I like Abercrombie a lot, but it's not in the same league-pretty simple, missing that Epic feel.
posted by purenitrous at 9:11 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Malazan Book of the Fallen - I'm four books in to a reread in prep for the last book that's been sitting on my shelf for months (while I reread ASoIaF, of course) and it's more complex than the Martin stuff by far. The first book isn't awesome, the second is mindblowing, the third left me literally in tears (and on a reread!) and... well, the fourth reminds me why I don't love military fantasy (namely, it's written by men, for men.) But I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:31 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, well I can't believe I'm the only one who ever mentions Tad Williams' Otherland. Do people find it terrible? I find it pretty damn engrossing, and with four fat books it is quite epic. Admittedly there are a couple strands of the story that I tend to skim, but overall I think it's a pretty great read.
posted by Glinn at 9:40 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you read Michael Chabon's work? They aren't extremely huge doorstoppers, but I liked The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and some of his other books.

Not fantasy, but the Aubrey-Maturin books by O'Brian are Napoleonic War crack in 20 complete volumes.

Seconding the recs for Tigana and the Lions of Al-Rassan. Also, Imajica was very engaging to me.
posted by dragonplayer at 9:42 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

You would be a crazy person to not read Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. You would be a person who misses out on a great titanic epic book. Do not be this person. Read this book. You will love it.
posted by xmutex at 10:05 PM on August 22, 2011

yes to Jonathan Strange, which is awesome, the Kingkiller Chronicles, and also Malazan Book of the Fallen. The Chain of Dogs story alone in Malazan is one of the best epic stories ever told, imho.

(Glinn, I like Tad Williams' Otherland as well, but it's not that well known, I think.)

How about some historic fiction? Pillars of the Earth has been mentioned, but I also recommend The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell for a pretty epic Arthurian fantasy.
posted by gemmy at 10:37 PM on August 22, 2011

... and if we're mentioning historical fiction, I'm going to recommend Dorothy Dunnett again: the two relevant series are the House of Niccolo and the Lymond Chronicles. They stand a reasonable chance of hitting both your "epic" and "adventure" buttons.

Also historical, and on the exploration front, perhaps you would like Matthew Kneale's English Passengers, which is set mostly in Tasmania in the early to mid-nineteenth century.

Other people beat me to Neal Stephenson, Tad Williams, Susanna Clarke, Mary Gentle and David Mitchell, but I don't see Robin Hobb suggested yet. I think she writes splendidly. Her fantasy series are not as gritty as Game of Thrones or as archetypal as Lord of the Rings, but they're rich and atmospheric and pretty epic in scope. Try Assassin's Apprentice or Ship of Magic.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:57 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm happy to be the third person to recommend the Gormenghast triology. I can't abide fantasy novels generally, but the Gormenghast series is excellent - particularly the first novel.
posted by Ted Maul at 1:29 AM on August 23, 2011

How about the Chung Kuo series by David Wingrove? It gets progessively more incomprehensible, but it's fun while it's lucid.
Or the Empire series by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts?
posted by conifer at 2:20 AM on August 23, 2011

Iain M Banks' 'Culture' novels

Neil Stephenson - Anathem
posted by mairuzu at 4:04 AM on August 23, 2011

Oh, I have to echo the recommendation(s) above for Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth and the sequel World Without End. Magnificent stories, and I defy you to not want to read each of the mammoth things in one sitting (well, two separate sittings). Genuinely gripping good vs. evil stuff, with cathedrals and horsebread!
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:15 AM on August 23, 2011

Oh, and yes, I'd easily put Follett's writing on par with Martin (actually, I'd elevate Follett above Martin, since Follett not only writes well, but he knows how to handle the scope of the story he wants to tell, which Martin plainly does not). I admit I've not read Tolkien and, unfortunately, no longer feel that I need to.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:17 AM on August 23, 2011

Also The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:23 AM on August 23, 2011

I second the recommendation of Gene Wolfe's series Book of the New Sun. It's science fiction as if written by TS Eliot (in his Four Quartets mode). I think it's right up your alley.
posted by Philemon at 6:09 AM on August 23, 2011

Ian McDonald's "River of Gods" was quite a ride. I have heard that Eric Flint's "1632" is also good, but I haven't read it myself.

Don't read "The Name Of The Rose": it's a trap!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:42 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

1632 definitely pushes some of the same buttons, but it's pure low-grade wish-fulfillment pulp. (I like it, and several of its sequels, and you can get the first two free online, but I would not mention them in the same breath as even Wheel of Time.)
posted by restless_nomad at 8:34 AM on August 23, 2011

I just read Carsten Jensen's We the Drowned, which was amazing and pretty epic. It's about Danish sailors and begins in the island town of Marstal in 1849, and ends in the same place at the end of WWII, but in between travels with three different main characters all over the world. I loved that book.
posted by apricot at 8:37 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you find yourself enjoying Infinite Jest and Neal Stephenson's stuff, check out Thomas Pynchon. Try Gravity's Rainbow. It's definitely not to everyone's tastes, so maybe start with The Crying of Lot 49 just to see if you like Pynchon's work.
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:39 AM on August 23, 2011

perhaps Eduardo Galleano's Memory of Fire trilogy.
posted by ifjuly at 10:15 AM on August 23, 2011

I third Jonathan Strange. Re-reading it now and daydream about getting back to it when I'm at work.
posted by bikergirl at 10:30 AM on August 23, 2011

Definitely Guy Gavriel Kay--seconding Fionavar Tapestry for epic fantasy. Have you tried Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind?

How about Orson Scott Cards's Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow series?

If you're willing to step away from fantasy, Gone with the Wind is a surprisingly rich historical epic and not as cheesy as one might think based on the movie.
posted by lirael2008 at 2:54 PM on August 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I am going with Drood first, but will come back here and try to read as many as I can!
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:48 PM on August 23, 2011

The Dark Tower series by Stephen King

Gee, I dunno. I found it pretty difficult to read (not in the sense of being complicated, more in the sense of wanting to continue). Imagine Stephen King writing pretty much how he always does, now imagine him high. Now take out pretty much all the scary bits. Maybe some of the books are better than the others, but the two books I struggled through weren't worth it.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:54 PM on August 23, 2011

If you think Tolkien and Martin are great, you'll definitely want to read Jack Vance's Lyonesse Trilogy. Many people prefer Vance's prose to Tolkien's and think that Lyonesse is on par with Lord of the Rings. And Jack Vance is perhaps George R. R. Martin's favorite author. If you'd ask George R. R. Martin what fantasy series to read next, chances are that one of his recommendations would be Lyonesse.

If you decide to read Lyonesse I suggest that you buy this omnibus edition of it. It's of archival quality and there's only a single typo to be found in the entire book.
posted by GlassHeart at 12:53 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thirding Otherland by Tad Williams. I still have dreams set in the world which was completely covered by an enormous, gothic house.
posted by lucyleaf at 8:22 PM on August 24, 2011

Many people prefer Vance's prose to Tolkien's and think that Lyonesse is on par with Lord of the Rings.

I respectfully disagree, but YMMV.

There's also Stephen King's 'The Stand', which sorta walks between fantasy and horror and is very epic.

I usually champion Micheal Moorcock, but most of his books are pretty short. If you get one of the big collected Elric editions, though, you should be set.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:41 PM on August 24, 2011

I would go for Orson Scott Cards' Ender's Game and read the whole series! I can only agree to @lirael2008 since this is probably the best series around. I very much read all you mention but Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game is top of my list!
posted by TolkienLibrary at 3:16 PM on August 27, 2011

Let me add a fourth vote for The Book of the New Sun. I've read and enjoyed a lot of the books in this thread but uhhhhh that's the best one.
posted by grobstein at 12:27 PM on September 9, 2011

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