Recommend a fantasy novel?
May 22, 2019 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Becoming a bit bored with all the sci-fi - can someone recommend a fantasy novel? (Specific interests inside)

Not looking for a huge epic like GOT or a never ending series. Trilogy or something is okay but nothing with a new book everyday and no end to the story.

Last fantasy I read was probably freshman year of high school when I read LOTR and the Darksword Trilogy - both of which I really enjoyed. Other than that closest to fantasy has been the Darktower series and Ariel.
posted by UMDirector to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
Stephen King (only because of, well, see my user name and your reference to Dark Tower specifically) also wrote Eyes of the Dragon which is firmly set in a fantasy setting and is worth your time I think. It may also be getting a movie/series thing soon? I honestly have trouble keeping up these days. If you want more Dark Tower-ish and less bona-fide fantasy from SK then The Talisman and it's sequel Black House are also in that vein.

The Once and Future King is also interesting but a bit odd.

This is coming from a non-hardcore fantasy reader if that helps.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:30 AM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy got me back into fantasy after avoiding it for years.

I also enjoyed The Gentleman Bastards from Scott Lynch.
posted by qldaddy at 9:38 AM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

I really, really enjoyed the Lightbringer Series (Brent Weeks). It's a planned 5 books, 4 are published, 5th coming this year. It's not tiny, but it's a very action packed and enjoyable story, and not ridiculously epic by any stretch.

Also check out The Traitor Baru Cormorant (Seth Dickinson, 4 books, 2 published). It's even less epic, but is more unfinished. Extra points for a queer female protagonist (IMO).

For actually epic and unfinished, The Stormlight Archive (Brandon Sanderson). I know that's not what you want, but I think it's my favorite series of all time. Sorry, couldn't not mention it!
posted by so fucking future at 9:39 AM on May 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Fantasy is my jam, so I'm trying to strictly limit my number of recommendations so as not to be overwhelming. I will second N. K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy and Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy, and will add:

Individual books:
Plain Kate by Erin Bow
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Little, Big by John Crowley

Non-endless series:
The Divine Cities trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett
The Riddle-Master trilogy by Patricia McKillip
The Elemental Logic tetralogy by Laurie J. Marks
The Trial of Blood and Steel tetralogy by Joel Shepherd
posted by kyrademon at 9:43 AM on May 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

The Tad Williams trilogy Memory Sorrow and Thorn is complete and great, influenced a lot of the best current writers. The first book is Dragonborn Chair.

For a recent singleton that awesome and powerful, check out The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. It’s a fantastical alternate history deal in 20th century China, featuring martial arts and Shamanistic magic.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:49 AM on May 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

I quite liked The Raven Tower by Anne Leckie, who you may know from her SciFi work.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:50 AM on May 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy by Tad Williams. The trilogy is a bit older, but another trilogy called The Last King of Osten Ard is being published these days.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of fantasy novels, but I loved The Lord of the Rings, and the books by Tad Williams come close to it in my humble opinion.

(On preview, seconding SaltySaticid.)
posted by amf at 9:51 AM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Garth Nix does YA fantasy, but is really good.

Brandon Sanderson is amazing.

I really enjoyed Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders

And Nevernight by Jay Kristoff if you are ok with teenager assassins.

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files urban fantasy. His Codex series is fantasy, but not quite as good in my opinion
posted by Jacen at 10:02 AM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
posted by terretu at 10:03 AM on May 22, 2019 [10 favorites]

The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe is one of my favorite fantasy novels. It is eerie and strange and harks back to early fantasy novels.

Lud-In-The-Mist is another, also eerie and strange.

The Last Unicorn, which apparently basically launched the "cheesy eighties unicorn" thing, is a fantastic quest story that is very wittily written and beautiful.

If we can stretch things a point and include a graphic novel (available free online!) A Redtail's Dream A Redtail's Dream is a beautiful and engaging Finnish quest fantasy about Hannu and his dog Ville and some squirrels and a really annoying fox spirit and a bunch of dream-like happenings. I liked it so well that I paid one gazillion American dollars for a special hardback copy sent from Finland itself.
posted by Frowner at 10:04 AM on May 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series is great if you don’t mind a bit more sexuality in your fantasy. (The main character is a courtesan/spy.) There are actually three sets of trilogies, set in the same world, each following a different main character. Each book has a self-contained complete story, you don’t have to read all of them to get an ending. They have a good blend of mythology, magic, and political intrigue.

Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor is good and is a stand-alone.

I’ve been seeing a lot of recs for Kate Elliott’s books in the wake of GoT, especially her Crown of Stars series, but I haven’t read them yet. They sound like they lean more toward the endless epic side.

I’ve also enjoyed Garth Nix’s books, especially the Abhorsen series.

I also really love Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora series about a group of conmen and thieves. There are currently three books, and the series may never be finished, but they are worth reading anyway.
posted by catatethebird at 10:07 AM on May 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Elizabeth Bear is one of the best fantasy writers working right now. Her Eternal Sky trilogy (Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, Steles of the Sky) is fantastic and has a well-contained story. Her other stuff is great too.

I also just started reading Ann Leckie's The Raven Tower, and am enjoying it immensely!
posted by lmindful at 10:12 AM on May 22, 2019

Maybe a little more obscure than others here, but I'd recommend the Coldfire Trilogy by CS Friedman. Absolutely fantasy, but with a sci-fi background - they got to the place they are through space travel, and discovered that their technology doesn't work on the planet they ended up on. As of the beginning of the story humans have been on the planet for a thousand years or so and their civilization has grown around the 'rules' of the planet they're on.
posted by markslack at 10:26 AM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

I loved Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry, which is a trilogy. It's a bit older now, but I've reread it at least twice. The vibe is a bit Tolkienish: it's pretty serious, well-written literary fantasy, but with characters you really get invested in, and wonderful world-building. It is a what I'd call "high fantasy" in the sense of having elves, dwarves, orcs, mages, that sort of thing.

Kay has also written a bunch of standalone novels, and a series of two books called The Sarantine Mosaic, that are historically based fantasy. It's a recognizable version of our world, where the fantastical elements are basically what people in that place and time period would have believed in. There are novels set in (fantastical equivalents of) Moorish Spain, Renaissance Italy, Tang and Song Dynasty China (two unrelated novels), Byzantium, the British Isles during the Viking invasions, medieval France... maybe that's it? He does extensive historical research for each one (with major sources listed in the afterword), so each one really has a strong atmosphere of time and place.

I also strongly recommend NK Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy, for something pretty different from traditional fantasy novels.
posted by number9dream at 10:44 AM on May 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

If you like old-school fantasy, the Lyonesse Trilogy or the Dying Earth series by Jack Vance are quite good.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:45 AM on May 22, 2019

Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson). The first book in the series is the Eye of the World. Best thing? It's 13 books and the series actually ends.
posted by Draccy at 10:46 AM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’ve been seeing a lot of recs for Kate Elliott’s books in the wake of GoT, especially her Crown of Stars series, but I haven’t read them yet. They sound like they lean more toward the endless epic side.

Crown of Stars isn't literally endless - it was ended, quite nicely, within 7 volumes. But it is very looong - so if that's not what you feel like right now, give it a pass. (I liked it the first time I read it; on a more recent re-read, I tapped out partway. GoT fans, on the otherhand, may very much enjoy it).

Lois McMaster Bujold (known for her SF Vorkosigan series) also has an excellent series of stand-alone fantasy novels (same world, separate stories), of which the first is The Curse of Chalion. I sell people on this book by telling them that, like all Bujold, the character work is brilliant - and also that it's the most profound thing I have ever read about humans, the divine and free will (theology included).

From Guy Gavriel Key's many fantasy novels, my favourite is still Tigana. It's more fantasy and less history than most of his books.

I would also second (third? fourth?) The Goblin Emperor - which might be a nice twist on LoTR for you (it involves Elves, but not the kind of Elves that you might expect - more like hypocritical, class/race-biased Victorian Elves).
posted by jb at 10:56 AM on May 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

Naomi Novik has two standalone books, Uprooted and Spinning Silver (I would especially recommend the first one if you've ever been involved with trying to grow or control plants. On preview that's a much stronger recommendation than it probably sounds...) She also has a series about naval battles in a world with dragons. I've only read the first book, but it's good.

I haven't read a lot of fantasy but in much of what I have read there's been a theme of journeys or quests that take a long time to fulfill or vast and highly populated worlds and so forth. If you want something different, try NK Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I thought it was very atmospheric, and the atmosphere was something different than usual.
posted by trig at 11:16 AM on May 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

I just finished The Misenchanted Sword, by Lawrence Watt-Evans. There are a few other books in that universe but they're not really connected and you can pick and choose if you want. It's a really good book and is very different than a lot of fantasy.
posted by Slinga at 11:19 AM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell when I read it. It's a brick, but a complete story. There's enough material in the footnotes to provide the basis for another novel, however.

I've enjoyed everything by Robin Hobb that I've read. She writes self-contained trilogies (and one four book series) all set in the same world. Some of the trilogies follow the same characters, but others are unrelated.

I'm not a fan of Stephen R. Donaldson's Covenant books, but I did enjoy his Mordant's Need, which was broken up into two books: The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through.

Stay away from David Eddings, unless you are a big fan of Extruded Fantasy Product (tm). OTOH, if you like Extruded Fantasy Product, you could do a lot worse.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:22 AM on May 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

Also this might not be what you're looking for but Terry Prachett's Small Gods might fall sufficiently on the fantasy side (as opposed to the humor side) for you and it stands alone pretty well.

And if you want a classic in children's literature there's The Neverending Story, which I think also comes from a slightly different place than most British/American fantasy.
posted by trig at 11:35 AM on May 22, 2019

Another vote for Jemisin's Broken Earth books. And another for Jack Vance's Dying Earth books, which partly inspired Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, another common recommendation on here.

Steph Swainston's Castle series is fantasy with bits of science fiction, mythology and general weirdness interwoven. I enjoyed them far more than I expected to.

None of the above are conventional swords-and-sorcery type fantasy (except perhaps Vance, although he subverts the genre in other ways).
posted by pipeski at 12:01 PM on May 22, 2019

If you liked Lord of the Rings I think you will like the Riddle-Master Trilogy by Patricia A. McKillip. It's the kind of fantasy world that I just want to sink into and explore at my leisure, and I am so sad when it ends.
posted by muddgirl at 12:23 PM on May 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

Seconding Naomi Novik's Uprooted! A very solid stand-alone work.

If you've never read Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books, you should check them out. The first one is almost like the distilled essence of a fantasy novel, and then the subsequent ones kind of turn that on its head.

If you liked The Dark Tower, you might like the 70s/80s era Chronicles of Amber series by Roger Zelazny. Lots of multidimensional shenanigans. I've only read the first five, which are short enough to feel like two, and they tell a complete story. Imperfect, but full of fascinating ideas and images that have stuck with me for a long time.

Finally, kind of an outside recommendation, but I have always held up Watership Down as a note-perfect fantasy quest novel. It takes place in the real world, except rabbits can talk and sometimes they have psychic visions, but the universe of the rabbits is so alien that it really does feel fantastical. And, again, psychic visions.

(I'll also dissent on a couple recs above: the Broken Earth trilogy feels to me much more like a sci-fi/fantasy blend, which might not tick your boxes right now; and I frankly found The Goblin Emperor to be super boring, but YMMV of course!)
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:23 PM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'll drop a suggestion for Gladstone's Three Parts Dead, and Two Serpents Rise although the series becomes distinctly less self-contained the further you go into his Craft Sequence. The big idea: What if magic was the commodity behind industrialization and you bought it by selling pieces of your soul? What if the corporations that made all that work were gods or had the power of gods?

I'll also take a bit of a twist and go meta here: does a ton of excerpts and reviews for new work. I have a backlog on their free ebook of the month club. For feminist and queer reviews, Liz Bourke has turned me on to some great new work. Bogi Takacs has been doing LGBTQ classics. Strange Horizons does a fair bit of work on diversity in fantasy. I just renewed a subscription to Lightspeed, which provides a nice sampling of how broad the genre is right now. I think one road into fantasy is to sample short works to find what kinds of authors and styles you like.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:55 PM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Depending on what you're in the mood for, I loved Brian Staveley's Skullsworn for its non-edgelord worshipers of death in fantasy Bangkok, Madeline Miller's Circe is a beautiful feminist re-envisioning of Greek deities and myth, Robert Jackson Bennett's Foundryside involves magic that's very akin to hacking/programming and a charming thief, and V. E. Schwab's Shades of Magic trilogy has several parallel universe versions of Georgian London that the characters travel between but does lean more YA-ish, if that's an issue.

Echoing the recommendations above for Tigana, Uprooted, Spinning Silver, the Divine Cities trilogy, and Lies of Locke Lamora.
posted by tautological at 12:58 PM on May 22, 2019

Also check out the awards shortlists: Hugo, World Fantasy, and Locus.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:46 PM on May 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you don't take your fantasy too seriously, Mary Gentle's _Grunts_ is a fun attempt to twist the genre.
posted by hanov3r at 2:00 PM on May 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Regarding Vance's excellent Lyonesse Trilogy: be aware that it starts rather slowly. I believe this was intentional, as it reflects the situation of Suldrun's situation: confined to a walled garden. Once she escapes this prison, the story really takes off and you discover more and more of the greater world outside. Also note that Vance spends a lot of time talking about what the characters are eating. This is rather grand, as the variety and plausibility of the regional diets adds a solid grounding to an otherwise fantastical story.
posted by SPrintF at 2:10 PM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I will add praise for Guy Gavriel Kay. He is expert at satisfying 1 or 2 book fantasy stories that have complete character arcs. The Lions of Al-Rassan is my favorite, but i have read all of the others mentioned more than once.

Brandon Sanderson has also been mentioned above, both for the Stormking Archives (awesome but unfinished) and as being the man who finished the Wheel of Time. His strength is plausible magic, meaning he takes the time to give some explanation to the magic elements in his stories, and they benefit from that. I will plug the Mistborn books. I think it was originally a trilogy, but then he went back and added some stories. His books are paced really well and are quick reads despite their size.

I hated Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell with a white hot passion. It's 700 pages too long and sooooooooo dull. but YMMV.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:10 PM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed the Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher - they read very quickly and there are two books in the series.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:13 PM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Richard Morgan (of Altered Carbon) wrote an awesome fantasy series which is collectively known as A Land Fit for Heroes. I generally loathe fantasy but I love these books, I've read the whole series several times.

(CW: violence, sex)
posted by biscotti at 2:17 PM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

A friend asked me this on Facebook just yesterday so I'll just repost what I said there with some notes to fit your specific requests:

Check out The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan for some fantasy with dragons that has both queer characters that get to have other traits beyond their queerness and an even bleaker take on human nature than GoT.

Check out The Black Company by Glenn Cooke for a story told by the army of darkness. GRRM often cites it as an inspiration for his own work. The series is long and has spinoff novels, but they're contained in anthologies and the ending works.

Read Gene Wolfe's Book Of The New Sun without anyone telling you anything about him. The tlchallenge of being confused and then teasing out what he was talking about is both more clever and more well realized than Burgess could have ever accomplished.

N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy is great and does weird things with narrative voice that is a lot of fun. I so really like it's magic system and I generally don't care of magic systems as a thing to spend much time worrying about.

The Bel Dame trilogy by Kameron Hurley is another great series about women who bounty hunt men for Resons. Nix is amazing. She's a female protagonist that Frank Miller might write is Frank Miller didn't despise women.

The Long Way Down by Craig Schaefer starts a crazy multiple-series world that he manages to keep spinning even after some of the big questions he introduced get answered. This one runs up against your "please no, Dresden Files" request and so the sword-and-sorcery Revanche Cycle (starting with Winter's Reach) is a self-contained four book series with little easter eggs for people who follow the big sprawling epic. You will totally understand what's going on without reading any of those, I promise.

I'd also be remiss to neglect Marlon James's Balck Leopard/Red Wolf which is slightly breaking the rules because only the first book in the trilogy is out, but it's very, very good (I'd argue one of the best books of the year so far) and there is every reason to think we'll see all three. People have taking to calling it "the African Game of Thrones" but that's not accurate beyond that it's fantasy steeped in African as opposed to European mythology. Do you like unreliable narrators? You'll like this.
posted by East14thTaco at 2:48 PM on May 22, 2019

Kate Elliott's "Crown of Stars" series is very long, but it is complete. Her "Crossroads" trilogy is complete at 3 novels (start with Spirit Gate), as is the "Spiritwalker" trilogy (start with Cold Magic), and the YA trilogy that starts with Court of Fives.

Elliott is great: she can plot, write compelling characters with varied backgrounds and agendas, world-build, and address important themes like colonization, oppression, and culture clashes. Plus, she comes up with cool concepts like giant magic eagles of justice, and dinosaur lawyers. Right now she's working on a gender-swapped Alexander the Great space opera, which I cannot wait to read.

Martha Wells is worth reading, if you want something pretty unusual: her Raksura novels are set in an imaginary world with dozens or hundreds of sentient species, fairly low-technology, but with magic embedded in nearly everything. The lead characters are shape-changing flying polyamorous dragon-people. She writes excellent action sequences and strong emotional characters.

Robert Jackson Bennett's "Divine Cities" series is one of my favorites of the last few years, although I find it hard to describe. It deals with colonialism and oppression, and what happens when the losers finally overturn their oppressors; and divinity and magic; and espionage and industrialization. The first one in particular, City of Stairs, feels like an Alan Furst novel set during the Cold War. They're really something else, and I like them a lot.

Someone else you might want to check out is Matt Ruff. Everything he writes is different from everything else he writes. Some of it is SF, some is horror, some fantasy, some alternate history. It may not all work, but it's all pretty damned interesting.
posted by suelac at 3:02 PM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Perhaps The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley would be a good read for you. A telling of the Arthurian legend from a female, pagan viewpoint.
posted by AliceBlue at 3:51 PM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fantasy's not at all my thing and I adored The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge.
posted by jocelmeow at 3:58 PM on May 22, 2019

I love The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop but its very dark, including a lot of sexual violence and children in harm. However its a rich and beautifully conceived world with wonderful characters.
posted by supermedusa at 5:36 PM on May 22, 2019

John Bellairs' The Face in the Frost is short, funny, quite haunting in bits, and a good read.
posted by zadcat at 5:41 PM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Circle of Magic quartet by Tamora Pierce (YA) was one of my favorites growing up.

Seconding The Clockwork Boys above by T. Kingfisher (penname for Ursula Vernon), but The Raven & The Reindeer (retelling of the Snow Queen fairy tale, leans heavily more traditional than Frozen) has been my absolute favorite so far.

In fact, Ursula Vernon and Tamora Pierce both have plenty of works in their fantasy repertoire, and I recommend them on the whole.

Sabriel by Garth Nix, part of the Old Kingdom series but absolutely fine as a standalone. I actually liked Lirael much more.
posted by lesser weasel at 6:09 PM on May 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

On reread, and since I forgot it in my previous post, giving another recommendation for the Naomi Novik recommendations above.
posted by lesser weasel at 6:11 PM on May 22, 2019

Response by poster: Great stuff here’s thanks!

Forgot to add also enjoyed years ago the magic kingdom for sale-sold series. Obviously light and silky but enjoyable.
posted by UMDirector at 7:06 PM on May 22, 2019

Yeah Naomi Novik's dragon series was rather entertaining mainly because I like alternate historical fiction.

It's an account of the Napoleonic wars in the 19th century where the world is largely the same, except there are dragons. They're basically like working dogs - numerous distinct breeds used for specialized work, the smaller ones around 3-4 tonnes in size for mail courier / VIP transport, while the larger ones of 20+ tonnes used for combat and some even have the ability to breathe fire or spit acid. It also prevents colonialism from becoming dominant, as native populations also had dragons as a force equalizer even if they did not have steel and gunpowder. With the ability of air transportation Napoleon could invade Britain, etc.

What was interesting is that the story contrasts the cultural treatment of dragons in Europe with how they are treated in China - where in Europe they are monsters to be feared, at best a beast of burden that can be tamed, in China dragons are venerated and given equal rights as citizens.
posted by xdvesper at 7:10 PM on May 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Seeing that Jack Vance is mentioned, I could recommend a lot of his stuff, which is often a kinda fantasy/Sci-fi fusion, set on strange worlds with an emphasis on characters & situations, and not so much on concept or technology. 'The Demon Princes', 'Alastor', 'Durdane', 'Planet of Adventure', etc, are all fun page turners with understated dry wit.

Michael Moorcock wrote some interesting sword & sorcery earlier in his career, especially 'The Eternal Champion', and the 'Dorian Hawkmoon' series.
posted by ovvl at 9:06 PM on May 22, 2019

My go-to series rec: The Rogues of the Republic trilogy by Patrick Weekes. It's The Wizard of Oz meets Leverage meets Firefly. So freaking good. Many things have disappointed me lately in one way or another. The only disappointing thing about that series is that I finished it.
posted by greermahoney at 9:48 PM on May 22, 2019

I'm loving the Book of the New Sun tetraology.
posted by nosila at 5:32 AM on May 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun.
posted by Max Power at 7:29 AM on May 23, 2019

Really can't go wrong with Terry Prattchet's Discworld novels. Maybe start with Guards! Guards! or Small Gods.
posted by SPrintF at 12:41 PM on May 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Unhewn Throne series by Brian Stavely (starts here)

Powdermage Series by Brian McClellan
posted by lazaruslong at 1:31 PM on May 23, 2019

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is wonderful and full of dragons.
posted by =^^= at 9:24 PM on May 23, 2019

The Book of the Dun Cow.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 3:30 PM on May 25, 2019

2nding Terry Pratchett's Discworld, it's really fun stuff! 2nding SPrintF's suggesting to start in the middle and work out from there (the early books are kinda gawky, the later ones benefit from context, but you could start anywhere and it would be okay. There's a fuzzy Arc but it's not a big deal;)
posted by ovvl at 6:44 PM on May 27, 2019

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