Fantasy Favourites: series (updated)
Although I've talked about plenty of fantasy novel in my reviews over the past few months, it's been a long time since I've given you an update on my fantasy-favourite. A comprehensive review of all my current favourites, if you will. Today I'm here to talk about my 10 favourite fantasy-series, as off this moment in time, as well as 5 honourable mentions and 5 series on my short-term TBR that I hope will feature in the my next favourite-list. As a bonus, I'll also talk shortly about some of my fantasy-favourites from other medial, including TV, film and videogames.
The following list is created in roughly the order I read them in, as I couldn't be asked to pick a favourite amongst my darlings...
1. The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle might be a risky one to put in first place, as it's recieved so many mixed responses over the years from fantasy-readers. I've heard it called anything from "equivalent to a modern-day Tolkien" to "the most bloated, box-standard fantasy ever written", and I can sort of see the truth in all these points of view. To me however, The Inheritance Cycle will always have a special place in my heart, as it was my personal introduction into high-fantasy. For many fellow-readers the Harry Potter Series fills that role, but as a middle-schooler/pre-teen I really wasn't into that series. Instead, my best friend and I became slightly obsessed with Eragon and his adventures. I have many treasured memories talks with her about these books, playing the (pretty awful) Gameboy-game adaptation together, and later even dragging our mums into reading these books with us. Those memories make it deserving of a spot on this list, even though I'll most likely never reread the series as I don't want to risk it not holding up.
Most of you will probably be familair with the story, but Eragon follows the titular farmboy, who discovered a mysterious blue stone in the forests around his village. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon soon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself. Eragon is thrown into his own unexpected hero's journey from thereon out, as he must develop into the role of the legendary dragon-rider he'll become.
Equally formative in my years as a younger reader was the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, which I also read together with my mum, and have many happy memories of discussing with her. Where Eragon was all about the fantasy-world and the dragons for me, His Dark Materials shone in its character-work and deeper ideas behind it. Lyra is still one of my favourite fantasy-protagonists to this day, and watching her growth throughout the series was a joy. Another contrast to Eragon is my conviction that this series holds up completely upon reread. Just don’t make the mistake of continuing the later spin-off series Secrets of the Commonwealth… Let’s all pretend that cash-grab didn’t happen.
Set in a world quite similar to our own, except where a fragment of each person’s soul exists outside of their bodies in the form of a sentient animal, we follow Lyra; a smart, passionate and feisty orphan, who grew up in the care of the Oxford college’s Master. One day, she picks up hints of conversations among the academics about a controversial elementary particle known only as “Dust”, that’s seemingly more attracted to adults than to children. Soon she finds herself in over her head, in a plot involving parallel worlds, aletiometers, witches of the north and a quest to save her missing best friend from a faith worse than death.
For a reader/reviewer who’s known to cringe at any sickly sweet, or god forbid, angsty romance subplots in her fantasy, you might be surprised to see this series make an appearance. With a number of tropes that I usually wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, Laini Taylor is proof that in the hands of a true master anything can work.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone drew me in with its mystery (yes, I do recommend going into this series as blind as possible), and kept me hooked with its lovable and memorable characters, it’s stunning atmosphere and setting, and of course Taylors trademark lyrical writing. Don’t be like me, and let the tropes (or the alternative, blue-haired protagonist) fool you into thinking this is “just another YA-urban fantasy”. There is so much more to this story than first meets the eye, and I devoured this series with ravenous appetite.
As mentioned, I want to recommend anyone to go into this series blind, so I won’t give anything away as far as the synopsis is concerned. Instead, I’ll simply quote the backflap of the book, in case you want a bit more of an idea.
Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in 'Elsewhere', she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole.
Sticking to YA-urban fantasy, I have to mention The Diviners. Similarly to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I wasn’t expecting to love this series as much as I did, but I fell completely in love with the atmosphere, the cast of characters and their “found-family” friendship. The Diviners also was the first to introduce me to something important I had never seen before in an urban fantasy: representation. Specifically, representation of gay- and disabled characters, in a way that didn’t cast them to be the villains, victims or “someone to be saved”. Seeing these characters stand on their own, ánd being accepted into this found-family for everything they were (and not despite their orientation and/or disability), was incredibly powerful to teen-me.
The Diviners to this day, still has one of my favourite casts of colourful characters, representative of many minorities without ever feeling like it’s just “a bunch of token-characters”. Every single one of them feels unique, real and well-rounded, and I came to love all of them over the course of these 4 books.
It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, rakish pickpockets, and something more dark altogether. Evie O’Neil is ecstatic to have exchanged her small and boring hometown for the bustling streets of the Big Apple, ready to mingle with the modern crowds. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult. When the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes that she may be the only one with the means to solve the mystery, by ways of the supernatural power she’s tried to keep hidden all this time. As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. Other stories involving other characters with potential occult powers of their own.
From hereon out, we reach my more recent reads, including some where the online book-community made me aware of their existence. As much of a sensation Locke Lamore and its sequels were in the UK and US, it didn’t seem to catch on in the Netherlands in the same way. I’ve never seen a Dutch translation of it in bookstores, and the English mass-market paperbacks seem to be banished to the bottom shelves everywhere they appear. Well it’s our loss as Dutchies for sleeping on this series, because I absolutely loved it for its combination of humour and heart, and its wonderful portrayal of a loving friendship between the two main characters.
The Lies of Locke Lamora follows Locke, a quick-fingered orphan living on the streets of the island city of Camorra. Life is often short and treacherous for a street urchin, and requires thieving and schemes in order to survive. Luckily, that’s exactly what Locke does best.
Over the years, Locke gathers a band of fellow-misfits and thieves around him, and grows to be the leader of the cities most infamous thieves-guild known as the Gentlemen Bastards; civilized thieves specialising in high-stakes cons. Rather than relying on brute-force, each heist is a carefully planned game of chess, with Locke as its gamemaster. All seems well, until Locke encounters a worthy foe to match his schemes, and gets wrapped up in a game that is about more than money alone.
Similar to the previous entry, we have another epic fantasy series with a thieving street-urchin as its protagonist and a heist-plot at its core. What can I say; it’s my favourite fantasy-trope. That is largely where the similarities end however, as the other elements of these books (including my reasons for loving them) are quite different. Where the Gentlemen Bastards series is very light on the magic and heavy on the three-dimensional-chess levels of thinking, Mistborn goes in on the magic. Brandon Sanderson is one of my favourite fantasy authors when it comes to unique and well-thought out magic-systems, and this one is perhaps his greatest of all. The magicsystem of Mistborn focusses around Allomancy; the power to harvest magical powers from ingesting precious metals. Each metal gives the consumer a distinct ability (until of course, it is burned out), and each person has an affinity to only one type of metal. Except for the few individuals known as “Mistborn”, who have the innate ability to consume all metals and hone their powers.
It's a magic-system with such clear rules and limitations, that it feels more like a science than anything supernatural, making it easier for rational-me to suspend my disbelief completely, and fall head-over-heels into the story.
In a post-apocalyptic world, where The Dark Lord has won and ash fell from the sky for thousands of years, the Skaa-people have been subjected to slavery and misery for centuries. Vinn was one of them, until she was picked off the streets by the mysterious Kelsier, one of the last remaining Mistborn and leader of an underground rebellion, who sees within her the potential for magic. Can Vinn hone her powers, and change the future of the Skaa for good?
I will often recommend Mistborn and The Founders Trilogy in tandem, as they have a similar vibe to me, and I love them for much the same reasons. Compared to Mistborn though, people are still sleeping on this series, so I hope my recommendation will change that for at least a few of you. The Founders Trilogy too has a very unique and science-based magic system with a basis in Alchemy and changing an ordinary objects material properties. Don’t let me spoil any more of it though, as part of the fun is in figuring out this magic alongside our protagonist Sancia.
Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. Her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is seemingly nothing her unique abilities can’t handle. But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. This object could change the power dynamics of the Merchant Houses of Tevanne, and change the inhabitants way of life forever. Outlawed, and with a high bounty on her head, Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies and learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, if she wants a chance to survive, as well as prevent a magical-disaster of apocalyptic proportions from happening.
No fantasy series on this list has brought me as much unashamed joy as Kings of the Wyld did. Mixing action-packed fantasy, a lovable cast of characters and actually laugh-out-loud humour, I’ve described this series before as “A DND-campaign on crack, but in the best way possible”, and I stand by that description. Kings of the Wyld (as well as its sequel Bloody Rose) is one of the few fantasies that takes itself serious enough to deliver a story with edge-of-your-seat-action and genuine heartfelt character-moments that had me tearing up, but also not serious enough to avoid taking the piss at classic fantasy-tropes.
Unlike the previous entries on this list, The Band is a series in the looser sense, in that you can read each as a standalones, but some characters will make a reappearance. I highly recommend you to read them in order however, as some of the cameo’s in Bloody Rose will have more of an impact if you know the events of Kings of the Wyld.
Be aware before you start this series that the final book Outlaw Empire isn’t out yet, and is set for release for late 2023.
Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best: the meanest, dirtiest, most feared crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld. Now their glory days have long past, and Clay and his friends have grown into old, fat, drunk (or a combination of all) dads, enjoying their homey-retirement. When one of their daughters goes missing however, the band must pull themselves together for one final adventure.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is “just a comedy at the expense of DND-archetypes grown old” though. What these characters lack in physical prowess and youth, they make up for in maturity, experience and being completely attuned and familiar with each other over the years, making them a force to be reconned with.
Some fantasy-series take some time and investment to get into. In contrast, there are books like Black Sun that grab you from page one and don’t let you go until the last word. Between Earth and Sky is a fantasy-series that takes inspiration from pre-Colombian American mythology, and weaves a tale of different races and civilizations, forbidden arcane magic, and dead Gods. From its vivid setting, to its diverse cast characters, each with their unique set of magical skills; this felt like the epitome of everything I love in epic fantasy, whilst also being something completely unique and original.
As an additional bonus: the main cast features a blind character, as well as several queer characters and POC’s. All of these minorities deal with stigma’s and prejudice against them on page, and all of it is phenomenally handled in my opinion.
Our story begins in the holy city of Tova, on the cusp of the Winter Solstice. What is usually a time of celebration, is overshadowed by a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world by a yet unknown force.
Meanwhile a ship docks the Tovan shores, captained by a disgraced and outlawed Teek (a sea-people known for their ability to calm the waters, as well as the worth of their bones on the black market). She carries a single passenger, a blind man, cloaked in mystery and the weighted down by the destiny that he to plunge the world into a new era.
Last but not least is The Alchemical Journeys by Seanan McGuire; a series that has as of today 2 books out, with an unknown number still to come. It might be good to note that, similar to The Band, you can read all entries as standalones, but some characters from previous books will make cameo’s within the sequels.
This series has been hit or miss for many especially since it’s a far departure from her most popular series The Wayward Children. I’ve seen many reviewers like one and dislike the other, and the same was true for me: I didn’t vibe with The Wayward Children, but completely fell in love with the mind-bending and slightly absurdist Alchemical Journeys.
In Middlegame, we follow Roger and Dodger, twins who grew up in separate foster families, but have always had an almost supernatural connection to each other. They don’t know it quite yet themselves, but Roger and Dodger aren’t quite human. It may explain his unlikely affinity with words and languages, and her understanding of the structure of the world through maths and numbers. When Roger and Dodger meet up as adults, they find themselves wrapped up in an plot years-long in the making. One that involves alchemical creations, impossible cities and the possibility of Godhood to be attained…
My first honourable mention has to go to a very recent read, namely The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne. I couldn't justify giving it a full spot on my favourite list already, as I've only read book 1, but if the series continues to be as good as that one, I have high hopes. It might also be good to mention that this series isn't completed yet; the first 2 books are out, with a predicted release-scedule of 1 book per year for the rest of the series... In a norse-mythology inspired world where the Gods have driven themselves to extinction following an age of constant infighting, we follow three characters, searching for their place in the world amongs the wreckage of a fallen age.
Speaking of series that aren't completed... This one is going to hurt. I truly loved The Name of the Wind when I first read it, and I liked A Wise Man's Fear well enough to be extremely excited to see how this trilogy would end. Unfortunately, I don't think we'll ever find out, hence why this is an honourable mention as well. You have to be okay with the possibility that this series will never be completed, before you get into it.
The Name of the Wind was published in 2007, with A Wise Mans Fear following a little under 4 years later. Now, 11 years have passed and there is no sign of Doors Of Stone yet. Rothfuss has spoken out about his severe writers-block concerning, so although I want to remain optimistic, my hopes are slowly dwindling.
The Kingkiller Chronicles follows the ambitious life-story of the titular character, Kvoth, as he recounts it over the course of three nights at a bar. Adventures for the ages, mysteries, and perhaps a bit of an unreliable narrator make this story one you won't be able to forget soon.
The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin is one of those series that haunts me. "The one that got away" amongst my favourites, if you will. Out of all the works on this list, it's the one I probably wanted to love most, but have also struggled with the most. The Broken Earth series boasts one of my favourite plots, in one of my favourite worlds, with some of my favourite characters, written in my least favourite styles. It's a problem I've had with all of N.K. Jemisins works so far: I love her ideas, but her writingstyle just doesn't work for me, which keeps her books from being favourites of mine. That being said: I love anything else about this series, and had it written in a different style or format, it might have topped this list easily.
Set in a world, where earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and natural disasters are constantly taking their toll on the earth and its people, we follow three characters, earch trying to survive this hostile enviroment. All the way helped ánd hindered by their heritage of being Orogene; an oppressed race of people with the powers to manipulate the natural forced around them.
My final two honourable mentions didn't make the main list for the same reason: they're both duologies and therefore didn't quite belong here, nor on the standalone list. Both duologies were written for a YA-audience, but could work great for any adult readers trying to dip their toes into the genre. Six of Crows is set in the same world as Leigh Bardugo's previous and most well-known series The Grisha-verse. Six of Crows narrows the scope to Ketterdam, a Ravkan city known for its trade (both legal and illegal). We follow a ragtag group of six misfits, banding together to pull off the most ambitious heist in history.
From the cold Russian/Amsterdam inspired canals of Ketterdam, we move towards the desert city of Weep, where Laini Taylors Dreamers duology is set. It all begins with a dream: a young librarian is fascinated with the theoretical research of a mythical lost city called, of which even it's name is lost to time. He is ridiculed by his fellow scholars for his "fancyful hobby", until one day a group of explorers requests is expertise. The lost city of Weep might be more real than anyone has predicted, and this team of explorers is determined to unearth it.
Fantasy in Other Media
Although books are the meat-and-potatoes of this blog, I personally love when other reviewers tie in some other media in their recommendations as well. I wanted to do something similar, by including some high-fantasy films/TV-series and videogames. Although the latter was easier than I thought, the former proved a bit of a struggle, so I’m hoping to get some recommendations from my audience as well.
Videogames: First off, I have to mention my favourite game,-series with one of the most extensively in-depth worlds in gaming-territory out there: The Elder Scrolls. Most gamers will be familiar with this series, for its most recent entry Skyrim, as well as the MMO-RPG The Elder Scrolls Online. I’m personally partial to the single-player games, but have to admit that I’ve spent hours reading up on the in-depth lore of this series as a whole, as the worldbuilding and magic-systems are incredible. When it comes to environmental story-telling, and lore, other games should take note. Similarly I have to mention the Witcher-games, based on the books by the same name. I personally was never able to get into the books, but I adored the games, specifically The Wild Hunt. Again: storytelling, worldbuilding and character-work are on point, and if you want bang for your buck when it comes to content: The Witcher 3 and its DLC are the way to go. Lastly, I want to mention a very unique and underrated fantasy game-world; namely that of Greedfall. Because of its AA-status and mixed reviews, it flew under the radar for many, but I feel like its world is absolutely worth a shout-out. Instead of your typical “fantasy-fighter”, Greedfall is more of a “Fantasy-colonial-simulator”, as it was described by some reviewers. We play as De Sardet, a noble from the Merchant Congregation, sent out to the seemingly paradisial island of Teer Fradee, in order to establish a new colony there. They soon discover the island is already rich with culture, mysticism, nature-based magic and monsters beyond anything they could’ve anticipated. It’s up to you to bridge alliances between the different cultures, as well as find a cure for the Malichor (a supernatural curse that’s plagued the island ánd the mainland for years now) in the process. The land of Teer Fradee, the magic-system and the in-depth relationships between the different factions are what makes Greedfall worthy of a place on this list. If you enjoy high-fantasy storytelling, especially with some political intrigue, this game might be exactly what you’re looking for. Films and TV: This is where I have a confession to make, and a question for you all… I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big TV-girl, and that I’ve missed out on many of the most popular shows from recent years. Part of that was a lack of time and interest, and part of that was that I didn’t own a TV, cable-subscription or streaming-service throughout my student-years, mainly for financial reasons… Therefore I don’t have anything recent to recommend here, other than the films mentioned in my 2019-series on Book-to-movie adaptations that don’t suck. If you have any recommendations for fantasy TV-shows or series; feel free to send them my way? Of course, book recommendations are always welcome as well.
If you want more recommendations from my side, stay tuned for part 2 of this post about my favourite fantasy Standalones, and my follow-up posts on different genres. Until then, happy reading and see you soon.