In my literature related internet journeys I’ve seen the same scenario time and time again. People have finished reading “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings” or are simply just getting into fantasy and are looking for something interesting, asking for advice from the more experienced fantasy readers. Unfortunately the names they are given are always the same:
- Jordan (“The Wheel of Time”)
- Martin (“The Song of Ice and Fire”)
- Goodkind (“The Sword of Truth”)
Don’t get me wrong those are all great authors and great series, but there are many other series and authors that get overlooked when august names such as those start getting thrown around. I love reading fantasy and science fiction I’ve read dozens of different series and hundreds (or possibly even thousands) of individual books. So, I thought I’d make a small list of series’ that never seem to make it into other top 10 lists despite being well written, entertaining, different and in some cases no less epic than “Lord of The Rings”, “Wheel of Time” and others. So, strap yourself in for my list of less well known and under appreciated fantasy series’. Some commentary is included to whet your appetite :).
10. “Farside” by John Dalmas
I had to put this in since it almost never gets mentioned by anyone and it certainly should. The story is mainly about Curtis Macurdy who we meet for the first time as a young boy in pre-depression US. We follow Curtis on his journey to another world where he fights a war and then back to ours where he eventually gets involved in WW2.
I don’t want to give away the plot, but here are a few teasers :). There is magic, but noone ever has god-like powers, all magic is believable and in many ways subtle and blends in well with our world and the other world that is involved in the story. The story has a very low entry barrier, the plot is fairly uncomplicated, the good guys and bad guys pretty well defined (although there are some surprises). The books draw you in almost from page 1 and make you comfortable with the storyline very quickly. I’ve read the series twice, once when I was only getting into fantasy and again very recently. I enjoyed it both times :).
9. “Stones of Power” by David Gemmell
David Gemmell is a brilliant author, in my opinion. Say what you will, but he always tells an excellent story, fun from the very first word and always with plenty of action. This series is like 2 series in one, all five books are tied together with a common theme (i.e. the stones of power), but the first 2 books and the last 3 stand alone as separate series.
The last three books are a real treat as far as I am concerned. They tell the story of Jon Shannow a.k.a. “The Jerusalem Man”. It is set in a post apocalyptic Earth and there are guns involved, but the books are nevertheless well and truly fantasy. I found Shannow to be an extremely likeable protagonist, someone you always find yourself rooting for. Once again the barrier of entry is extremely low and the books draw you in from the very first page, highly recommended for budding fantasy enthusiasts as well as veterans.
8. “Incarnations of Immortality” by Piers Anthony
These books are not your average fantasy series. The main idea is that there are certain concepts in the world that have guardians that are the human “incarnation” of that particular concept (i.e. Death, War, Nature etc.). Each of the books in the series deals with a particular person and how they become an incarnation of a particular concept. The first book for example is about a man and how he becomes the physical incarnation of Death by replacing the previous holder of the office. Book six is about a man becoming the incarnation of Evil (i.e. the devil).
The premise of the books is extremely clever. The world is not your typical fantasy world, but is a mirror of our world where things developed differently. As you go through the series you start to meet protagonists from previous books, already holding the offices that they obtained in their volume. Thoroughly enjoyable, but the barrier of entry is a little higher, the books don’t draw you in for a while so you have to give them a chance (i.e. don’t give up in the first few pages).
7. “Tales of Alvin Maker” by Orson Scott Card
An excellent series by the man who brought us ”Ender’s Game”. The setting is, once again, not what you would expect from a fantasy series, as the action takes place in pre-civil war US. The idea is that in this world, things we would consider superstition, such as hexes are real. Most people have “knacks” which give them almost supernatural ability with a particular aspect of day to day existence (e.g. some might have a knack for cooking or joining wood, dowsers really can find water etc.).
The story’s main character is Alvin, who was born the seventh son of a seventh son, which is extremely auspicious as you might imagine :). Alvin has extremely powerful knacks, and the books are about his journey to fulfill his destiny as a Maker. Along the way he meets many historical figures of that period (such as Abraham Lincoln). I found this series to be a real page-turner, it is worth reading simply to experience the authentic language used throughout the books. Be warned though, this series is still unfinished, and will leave you with a massive case of “wanting more” :).
6. “The Deed of Paksenarrion” by Elizabeth Moon
Another trilogy that I’ve never heard mentioned along side the greats and it certainly deserves a place. This is more along the vein of traditional fantasy (i.e. swords and sorcery). There is not a lot of “sorcery” in these books as most supernatural powers are divinely bestowed (the books have a highly developed pantheon of deities and saints).
The story follows the journey of Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter. We meet Paks as a country girl escaping an arranged marriage to join a mercenary company. We stay with her as she becomes a veteran soldier and continues on her way to becoming a paladin.
The books are page turners from the very first page and I found it extremely rewarding for some reason to see Paks develop from a virtual country bumpkin into an educated and confident warrior for good. In a refreshing twist to books where the protagonist is a girl, there is no handsome price that sweeps our hero off her feet at some point in the series. Two thumbs up.
5. “Lion of Macedon” by David Gemmell
This is almost not a series as it is only two books, but I simply couldn’t resist including it even if it meant that David Gemmell makes a second appearance on the list. In usual Gemmell style, the action starts from the word go and doesn’t let up. These books are the story of Parmenion, a boy who grows up in Sparta and eventually becomes one of the most trusted generals to Alexander of Macedon.
As you might have gathered, this is a historically based series; it nevertheless falls firmly into the realms of fantasy. The interesting thing about this series is that the “Stones of Power” from the other Gemmell series that I mentioned on this list, also make an appearance a few times in these books. It is pretty awesome how two unrelated series can be tenuously tied together like this. A cool hero to root for, plenty of action plus all the other trappings of an excellent fantasy series, this is one you shouldn’t miss.
4. “Soldier Son” by Robin Hobb
Unlike some of the other series in this list, this one has a much higher barrier of entry. It is not really one that draws you in from the first page, but then none of Robin Hobb’s books are. Having said that, if you do stick with it for a while, you will discover an author and a series that you will fall in love with. Hobb’s characterisation and narrative are second to none and this series is deep and engaging. It is different in that the “good guys” and “bad guys” are not really well defined. The main character is not “super-human” and in some situations is at the mercy of events (which is a lot more like real life).
The story is about Nevare, who is the second son of a “new” lord. In this world, the second son of a lord is destined to become a soldier and Nevare looks forward to this as he grows up. However events beyond his control conspire to keep him from this goal, but his journey is no less interesting for the lack of fighting.
If you want a series that makes you think, where the world is not black and white and where even main characters are fallible and all too human, this series is definitely for you.
3. “Codex Alera” by Jim Butcher
There was a point where I thought that I had surely tried every flavour of fantasy that could possibly exist and then I discovered this series :). In these books just about all people have some control over elemental powers that are called “furies”. The only person who seems to be weak and powerless in a world of mages is the hero, Tavi. We follow Tavi as he uses his ingenuity to get along in the world without any supernatural abilities, but will he be this powerless forever? I just can’t help but root for the underdog :).
This series drew me in straight away and I found myself reading continuously until I finished the first book (this doesn’t happen often to me any more). The world Butcher paints is vibrant and alive (even if it is based on Rome which is pretty standard fare for fantasy). As you can imagine the magic in these book is particularly well thought out and integrated into the fabric of the world.
The only disappointing this about this series is that it is unfinished with 2 more books still to be written. I for one can’t wait.
2. “Prince of Nothing” by R. Scott Bakker
I had to include this one because once again I don’t often hear it mentioned along with others that are considered great, and in this case I really don’t understand it, since it is easily as good if not better than most. Fair warning, this is not for those who are expecting an easy read. I started the first book of this series twice before I got into it as it doesn’t really draw you in until well into the story. But once it does, it is absolutely unbelievable.
This series is epic in every sense of the word. The world is truly enormous even if it doesn’t seem so at first and the scale of events that takes place is truly mind boggling. There are many characters who are central to the story but the main character would have to be Anasurimbor Kellhus, a Dunyain monk descended from a line of kings who is in search of his father. For centuries the Dunyain monks have been bred for intellect and trained to predict the effect of their actions and manipulate those around them in any way they wish. This makes Kellhus as near to superhuman as someone can be.
At the same time, a Holy War is called in the city of Momemn, the Consul – an ancient evil is once again stirring, the sorcerous schools and the church are manoeuvring to gain advantage. I have to stop :), there is too much going on to easily describe in a short paragraph. Suffice to say that this is fantasy not for the faint hearted. If you really appreciate events of epic scope, political intrigue and a profusion of character viewpoints, you will appreciate this series, I certainly did.
1. “Saga of Recluse” by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
I had to put this series in first place for it truly is a saga. It currently stands at 15 books and there may be more forthcoming. Don’t be put off by the length however, this series is not chronological and doesn’t follow the same characters. Rather, this series is set at different stages in the history of the same world. What ties this series together is the set of natural laws that govern the world where it is set. This series is in fact multiple series as well as several stand-alone books that are all set in the same universe. However, the world is so rich and well represented in every book that it well and truly becomes another character and this is what makes all of these books a series and ties everything together so well.
The idea is that there exists a world where two natural forces are in constant opposition, Order and Chaos. Order very loosely represents “good” and Chaos “loosely” represents evil, order is black and chaos is white, which turns your thinking topsy-turvy for a bit until you realise that, there is no good and evil since order and chaos are just natural forces. Order and chaos acts in the world through mages that have control over the powers of their particular natural force, as well as through foci, who are extra powerful mages.
The books are not written in chronological order and jump back and forth in the timeline of the world to tell the story of significant events that have happened. The books can be read in chronological order as well, but the author recommends reading them in the order they were written and so do I.
This series is truly brilliant, with every book read you get more and more of an appreciation of how detailed and well thought out the world actually is. In addition the characters are all likeable and you can really identify with their story no matter what their affiliation, order or chaos (although you do lean towards favouring order :)). Modesitt has a very distinct writing style that I for one find extremely appealing. Not only do you get to look at the characters from their eyes, but also from the eyes of those around them as well as those far away who are affected by what the characters set in motion. I can’t recommend this series highly enough.
Well, I hope you pick up some of these great books and give them a go; I promise you won’t be disappointed. The only thing I feel bad about is all the authors and series’ that didn’t make it on this list (there were many), perhaps another list is in order simply to give them a fair go.
Do you know and a love a fantasy series that is perhaps not well known or under-appreciated by the rest of the world? Do leave a comment and tell me what it is and perhaps it may make it onto the next list, or even bump one of the entries off this list :).
You can now see my list of 10 MORE Awesome Fantasy Series That Are Not Potter or LoTR.