Fantasy books that stick to quests and exploration
January 5, 2019 4:36 PM   Subscribe

I really enjoy fantasy books that focus on a few characters and their quests. I get bored with stories once the characters get involved in politics, ruling, kings/queen, etc. Can you recommend stories that avoid the story lines involving politics or just staying in one place too long?

Examples, I love GoT when it's a few characters along the kings road, or north of the wall. But can't stand all the intrigue in Kings Landing. I loved big chunks of Wheel of Time where the characters left a city on a journey, but hated anytime the characters stayed in the same place too long. The hobbit was awesome, I was bored by Return of the King, etc.

Bonus points for any audiobooks with a great reader. Double bonus for female readers.
posted by derivation to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Are you familiar with Joe Abercrombie's The First Law series? It's mostly what you like, people on a journey for whatever, but there is some political intrigue going on throughout the series. However, the pace of the books are such that any kingly court intrigue goes by rather briskly.

I remember enjoying the main trilogy quite a bit. It's fast-paced with a bit of character development and it's violent as hell. It's been a few years since I've read the books but some scenes still stand out in my memory.
posted by NoMich at 5:01 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

I just read Tess of the Road and it fits your brief well -- it's about a character who is running away from all the politics and finds a new life on the road. I believe the audiobook has a female narrator, as well.
posted by ourobouros at 5:12 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]

Jack Vance, The Eyes of the Overworld and its belated sequel (published 17 years later, although it picks up minutes after the end of the previous book), Cugel’s Saga. Picaresque fantasy where the roguish hero is perpetually in motion.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:13 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

The Pastel City and it's sequel A Storm of Wings by M. John Harrison (the third one is totally not what you are looking for though).
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:26 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Sabriel by Garth Nix seems like it would work.
posted by gudrun at 5:53 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

You might like this old Ask of mine, for fanasty books of friends adventuring and saving the world.
posted by inevitability at 6:40 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Rosemary Kirstein's The Steerswoman series.
posted by moody cow at 7:00 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]

The Icewind Dale trilogy by RA Salvatore largely fits this bill.

Also the first three Discworld novels by Pratchett.

Finally the first set of David Drake’s Lord of the Isles.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:05 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Seconding 'First Law' - the later books are much better. The less "Evil Gandalf" the better. The followup standalone novels are fantastic.

Weeke's Rogues of the Republic is fun. Each book is a caper. The audiobooks are narrated by Justine Eyre.

Gentleman Bastard is really fun but get progressively worse.

Broken Empire is amazing, never really dwells around in one place. Lots of jumping around sequence wise, too, yet flows well.

I recall enjoying Jim C. Hine's Princess series. Lots of snark. Audiobook is read by Carol Monda.

This is super pulpy but Glen Cook's The Chronicles of the Black Company is ostensibly the Black Company's libriarian's chronicles of the mercenary company's historical record. The librarian changes through the series and sometimes changes back. There some politicking/ruling but that's all mostly in the background.

Crimson Empire follows a retired renowned General as she is drawn back into all that nastiness again against her wishes. Audiobook is read by Angele Masters.
posted by porpoise at 7:08 PM on January 5

Seconding Sabriel, and also would probably recommend The Kingkiller Chronicle for this.
posted by Expecto Cilantro at 7:16 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Seconding Tess of the Road - I just read it (thanks to this semi-recent thread I keep coming back to - it might have other books that could work for you), loved it, and was coming in to this thread to recommend it. Since that's already been covered, how about The Dark Lord of Derkholm? The characters move around quite a bit, there's not much politics, and both the premise and its execution is funny without being wacky (if that matters). Also there are griffins and their family is adorable!
posted by DingoMutt at 7:18 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Tad Williams did a trilogy Memory, Sorrow and Thorn that are pretty much straight quest books. Kind of like a long-winded Hobbit. I know that doesn't sound great but I enjoyed them. Also, he did a sort of cat version of Watership Down called Tailchaser's Song that is a fantasy quest with no politics. Yeah, what about Watership Down?

The Garth Nix suggestion is good. Not just Sabriel, but that whole series.
posted by irisclara at 7:48 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

Although not technically fantasy but rather rollicking pulpy early medieval historical fiction in a part of the world less familiar than many fantasy settings, Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road might suit. No idea if there is an audiobook.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:27 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

I am nthing the Garth Nix series The Old Kingdom or at least the audiobooks in that series (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen) that are narrated by Tim Curry. In my recollection the stories take place during journeys and all the world building details come from what the characters are thinking about. I listened to a lot of audiobooks during a long stretch of sewing/making/ironing and these are the ones that stick in my memory.
posted by Miss Matheson at 8:42 PM on January 5

I just read The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, which is about a badass older female professor who goes off on a quest through the Dreamlands to find one her missing students, who has disappeared with a man from the waking world.
posted by zoetrope at 10:29 PM on January 5

I'm currently reading The Waking Fire (first in the Draconis Memoria trilogy), and while there are some background politics, I'd say the book really just focuses on the quests. Bonus: there are three different quest groups, so it's a three-for-one deal!

It's loads of fun...kind of on the new "I'm dying to be made into a TV series" fantasy side of things, but engaging, well-written (enough), and full of very cool characters.
posted by nosila at 6:58 AM on January 6

Lots of Jack Vance books fit your specifications. In addition to the Cugel books, much of the rest of the Dying Earth series is quests, and the series is part of the roots of GoT. There is also the Demon Princes series, some of the Alastor books, and more.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:47 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]

More Vance: Big Planet.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:06 AM on January 6

Also, Farmer's Riverworld series, if you don't mind King John and other historic monarchs showing up.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:08 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]

The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman is basically nonstop action and chaging places, worlds, problems to be solved. There’s a bit of politics because of the world building but imo it was focused on a group of friends who just travel through different realities and react to what they encounter. When they occasionally achieve peaceful ruling it quickly morphs into some new emergency nobody could have forseen. My only complaint is the characters lack depth but thats probably because the author concentrated on action over introspection.

Refreshingly the females kicked as much ass as the males did in the books.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 11:00 AM on January 6

Any of Terry Brooks' Shannara series books would fit your criteria. I liked various books in the series for a while, but I had the exact opposite problem as you. I get bored when it's just a quest and the Shannara books I read were basically 100% quest, then you get to the next in the series and it's another quest! Very little statecraft type stuff at all. There's a big scary problem, some scrappy folks have to take up the task to become heroes and all that.

> There’s a bit of politics because of the world building but imo it was focused on a group of friends who just travel through different realities and react to what they encounter.

Interesting, I really love the 2 seasons of the show I've seen so far, but there they just have the real world and then the not-Narnia world. Do they go all sliders in the books or is this something that ramps up as it goes on? I should just read them haha
posted by GoblinHoney at 7:54 AM on January 7

Try Lord Valentine's Castle
posted by freshwater at 8:37 AM on January 7

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