I received a massive response to my previous post that attempted to showcase some less well-known and under-appreciated fantasy series. Infact I received so many great comments with people recommending their favourite series that I decided to create a definitive list of great fantasy series (stay tuned for that one, it is coming in the next few weeks). But since it is a pretty big job to compile such a list (I already have well over 80 series on the list and it is still growing), I thought I would create this little list of 10 MORE under-appreciated fantasy series in the meantime.
This list incorporates some of the great suggestions made by readers in the comments on my previous post. These are excellent fantasy series that I, for one, enjoyed tremendously and yet most of these still went unmentioned in the comments to my previous post, despite the fact that it received tens of thousands of visitors with people recommending dozens of great series. This should give you an idea of how under-appreciated these series are.
Once again this list will not include, Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” or Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” (you will have to wait for the definitive list to see these) since they have received more than their fair share of spotlight. Without rambling on for too much longer, here is the list of 10 more fantasy series you may not have heard of.
10. Initiate Brother by Sean Russell
There aren’t many mainstream fantasy series that take place in an oriental setting (the only other one I know is number 6 below). So, this series is truly a breath of fresh air. The setting is the Empire of Wa (a sort of amalgamation of Japan and China) and the title character is Brother Shuyun a young Botahist Monk, with a destiny, sent to serve Lord Shonto as a new spiritual advisor. Lord Shonto is probably the main character and we follow his journey as he navigates the plots and intrigues of the imperial court, trying to stave off the wrath of an emperor bent on destroying him and his family.
The scope of the book is epic; there is plenty of politics and plots as well as some nice action thrown in here and there. The dialog is truly magnificent and the author succeeds admirably in creating a sense of mystery around the setting and the people involved. It has been years since I read this, but I have some fond memories that I am now re-reading it :), so read along with me.
9. Dragonlance Legends by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
This series often goes unmentioned as most of the spotlight inevitably goes it its more famous prequel The Dragonlance Chronicles. However, in my opinion this series more than holds its own when compared to Dragonlance Chronicles (just between you and me, I personally enjoy this one more).
The story takes place two years after The War of The Lance as Raistlin Majere sets events in motion to challenge Takhisis (the goddess of darkness) and become one of the gods of Krynn. Without giving away too much of the plot, most of the heroes from the previous trilogy make an appearance here (Tasslehoff, Tanis etc.), with the Majere twins being the main characters. With an adventure that spans multiple time periods in Krynn’s history (Raistlin is a powerful mage after all) this series pits brother against brother in a battle that will decide the fate of the world. This is much more standard fantasy fare, but no less brilliant for being such. This series is pretty much the best of Dragonlance. Highly recommended!
8. Chronicles of the Cheysuli by Jennifer Roberson
This is another series that I read a long time ago and haven’t heard anything about since. This series reminded me a little bit of “The Belgariad” by David Eddings in that there is a prophesy that underpins the lives of all the characters in the series. (Note: this series was recommended by reader Erin in a comment on my previous post)
The idea of this series is that there are 3 races in the world, humans, Cheysuli and Ihlini. The Cheysuli are shape-shifters, each bonds with a particular animal when they come of age and from that point on can transform into that animal. The Ihlini are magic users and are mortal enemies of the Cheysuli. Although there are certainly main characters in the books, the conflict between the races is what drives the series. (Hint: the Cheysuli are the good guys, the Ihlini are the bad guys :)).
The series was originally meant to be a trilogy and so the first three books are a bit better than the last 5, but the whole series is certainly original, fast paced and exciting. It is also suitable fare for teens who are into fantasy although, fair warning, there are scenes of extreme graphic violence in these books (i.e. torture). A great read and highly underrated.
7. Deryni Chronicles by Katherine Kurtz
I would say this is one of the series that helped launch the fantasy genre to the heights of mainstream appeal that it enjoys today. Yet, when people go on about the virtues of Tolkien or even Edgar Rice Burroughs I never hear them mention Katherine Kurtz and this series.
The main hero in this series is Alaric Morgan a Duke and mentor to the new king Kelson Haldane. Alaric is also half Deryni a powerful race possessing magical powers. This however is not an advantage as the influential Church condemns the magic users and the Deryni are persecuted throughout the land. If this sounds like a pretty generic plot to you, consider that this series was written almost 40 years ago, so the only reason this kind of plot has become generic is because this series and others like it helped make it so.
This series is an extremely fun read, the good guys are really good and the bad guys are really bad, but don’t let that fool you there is plenty of intrigue and suspense and the action never seems silly or contrived. Have a look at this if only to see where some of today’s big names got their ideas and inspiration from.
6. Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn
As I mentioned previously this is one of only 2 fantasy series that I know with an oriental setting. (Note: this series was recommended by reader Zach in a comment on my previous post).
This series is set in a fantasy land clearly based on Japan and tells the story of Otori Takeo a youth who is also one of the “Hidden” a people persecuted throughout the kingdom for their beliefs. When Takeo’s village is destroyed, he is rescued by Otori Shigeru a Lord of the Otori Clan and is eventually adopted by him. Takeo also falls in love and finds out he is one of a group of people called “the tribe” who have special abilities and demand that he join them. When Shigeru is betrayed and killed Takeo must decide which path he will follow.
This series introduces some unique settings and characters and provides a great blend of high fantasy wrapped up in oriental sensibilities. If you love fantasy but are tired of dragons and trolls, then give this series a try, satisfaction guaranteed!
5. Mancer by Don Callander
I found this series accidentally a few years ago while browsing around my local library and it was one of the most fun reads I’ve ever had. The writing reminds me a bit of Robert Asprin or perhaps even Pierce Anthony, the most interesting thing is that this series is virtually unknown. Try browsing around the web for it and you will find that the information is very sparse.
These books tell the story of Douglas Brightblade who comes to be an apprentice Pyromancer when he sees an ad by an older Pyromancer Flarman Flowerstalk. Douglas learns about the mysteries of fire magic and as the series continues meets his future wife, Myrn Manstar an apprentice Aquamancer, as well as his familiar a talking otter named Marbleheart, while having all sorts of adventures. There are also talking kitchens and magic is not only used to battle evil but also to cook supper and wash underwear :).
These books are a real gem, they are light hearted and fun. The dialogue is often humorous and the bad guys are bumbling buffoons at best. There is no drama and subtle plot twists here and it is certainly not epic in scope. But these are the kind of books that make you feel good about reading them. I very highly recommend these, a relaxing read and a refreshing change of pace. They are however hard to find.
4. Fencer Trilogy by K J Parker
This is an awesome trilogy, a bit rambling at times but it doesn’t detract too much from it. This is a story of Bardas Loredan a fencer-at-law, living in Perimadeia a city that is the merchant capital of the known world. Law cases here are settled using swords rather than words and Bardas is one of the best. When Perimadeia is about to be invaded it falls to Bardas to organise the defence of the city.
One of the things that really struck me about these books is the level of detail and knowledge that Parker puts into describing the sword battles that take place in the book. They are so vivid that you almost feel like you’re part of the action. Another interesting thing is that as a series progress things change quite radically, to give away a little bit of the plot, Bardas changes professions in the second book and lets just say that Parker seems to know a lot about making bows and is somehow able to make it interesting for the rest of us. This one gets my vote and then some.
3. Runelords by David Farland
I love series that have an innovative magic system and this series certainly delivers in that regard. I must confess, the only reason I picked this one up was because of the cover of the first book, but when I started reading, I couldn’t tear myself away.
Farland creates a massive world with an epic conflict, but the magic system is the real star here. The idea is that people is this world can gift other people with physical and mental attributes, so that a person can give another person their strength which means one person will have the strength of 2 while another becomes as weak as a baby. The person who receives the gift is then obligated to take care of the other.
These gifts are called endowments and people with many endowments are called Runelords. The scope of this system is enormous and the series deals with moral and ethical issues around purchasing endowments and taking care of the givers as well as the implications of having too many endowments and becoming almost super human. Of course all this weaves around a plot with factions and invasions and princesses and supernatural entities. You’ll just have to pick it up and give it a read if you want to know more :).
2. Dragoncrown War Cycle by Michael Stackpole
This series is another epic struggle (you can probably tell I am partial to epic struggles :)). The four books are not really a series but are rather one book followed by a trilogy. The first book is a prequel and tells the story of Tarrant Hawkins as he transitions from boyhood into adulthood and is in the process swept up in events of great significance. The world Stackpole creates is not your standard fantasy setting, I don’t know quite how to describe it; suffice to say it is different, vibrant and alive. You really identify with Tarrant as the book progresses and feel the injustice that leads into the trilogy very strongly towards the end.
The trilogy itself introduces a host of other characters, a powerful but immature mage, a warrior princess who is the hope of her people, a street urchin who is the fulfilment of a prophesy and Tarrant is still there, but not as you remember him. The characters are well developed and the story moves along at a nice pace. Stackpole is also one brave author in that he is not afraid to kill off a main character or two along the way, (you don’t really believe it or expect it until it happens). If you like epic fantasy you will definitely enjoy this series.
1. The Darkness Series by Harry Turtledove
Those of you who like alternate history know that Turtledove is a master of that genre and in this series he brings that expertise to a fantasy setting with a twist. This series is hard to describe. Imagine you were living in a world where society progressed by improving and refining magic rather than inventing technology. Imagine that this world parallelled ours in development and reached a stage where we were around the middle of the 20th century and then a world war broke out, just like it did on our world. This is a story of that time. This series is literally all about a world war fought through magical means and is based very closely on the Second World War. If you are a history buff you will be able to match the countries in the books to their real world counterparts, which from personal experience is pretty cool.
This series is told from a multitude of viewpoints of people who are tied up in the events. There is really no main character here. You will identify with some characters more than with others, but there are way too many to successfully keep track of all of them. The idea of this series is not to tell the story of any particular person, but to almost be a historical account of this fictional war.
This series truly is something completely different in fantasy. Dragons are formed into an air force, tanks are rhino-like creatures and orcas are used like submarines. The weapons do not used bullets but must be charged by magical means. Mage scientists work on great magical weapons that can turn the course of the war overnight. A whole race of people are being rounded up and exterminated and their energy used for magical experiments. At the same time it never seems like individuals can have a major impact on the events (unlike regular fantasy), but are rather moved by events while trying to preserve their lives and struggling to survive.
I will be the first to admit that this series is not for everyone, it is so different from any other fantasy series that it is not possible to make a valid comparison. I will say that if you enjoy reading history you will probably like this. If you like truly epic events and a great story is what you’re after than once again you will probably enjoy this. If however you’re looking for a hero to ride in with a magic horse/sword/ring/wand and save the day for everyone than you will not find that here. I for one would not pass up a chance to read this if I were you if only to experience the different possibilities that the fantasy genre has to offer.
Alright, One More As A Bonus – Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
This is not really a series. Besides being set in the same world, there is really no common theme, although some of the characters in the books are related to the characters from the other books. However, these books are brilliant. (Note: “The Curse of Chalion” was recommended by reader Kosigan in one of the comments on my previous post). I also heartily recommend these books. “The Curse of Chalion” has won the Mythopoeic Award and was recommended for multiple others while “Paladin of Souls” has won both a Hugo and a Nebula.
If you like Lois McMaster Bujold’s sci-fi series (e.g. “Vorkosigan Saga”) you will definitely enjoy these books. A great quasi-series by a master of sci-fi and fantasy.
Stay tuned for my Definitive List of Great Fantasy series which I am compiling right now, subscribe to my feed to be the first to know when it’s up and how you can help make it better.
In the meantime, if you liked these suggestions don’t forget to visit my first post for 10 more great fantasy series you should take for a spin. Once again don’t be afraid to leave a comment if you know an awesome under-appreciated fantasy series that deserves a mention.