I’ve been regularly reading the fantasy novel since as early as I could read. At the same time, I love those “best of” lists, but I think “best” is a bit of a tricky word.
Rather, I’ll go with my favorites, and one I just can’t stand.
Look forward to similar lists for horror and science fiction.
Also, for this list, I’m focused on high fantasy and heroic fantasy, as well as a bit of modern fantasy. I’ll also do a separate list for sword and sorcery.
My fifth favorite fantasy novel – Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
I’m a huge fan of Gaiman, and admittedly, Neverwhere falls more in the realm of modern fantasy. Richard Mayhew finds himself journeying with Door, a resident of “London Below.” What ensues is one of the most original, creative tales I’ve ever read in my life. I think my favorite part is how the story shows the names of stops on the Tube and exactly where those names came from. So much fun!
My fourth favorite fantasy novel – The First Swords, Fred Saberhagen
I was pretty young when I read The First Book of Swords, The Second, and The Third, which are now available in this single edition. The series hit me in the mid-1980s, a couple years after release, and as I was search for anything – ANYTHING – that would instill the sense of wonder and excitement in me like Lord of the Rings had. Fred Saberhagen’s original Swords series definitely scratched that itch. Admittedly I’ve not read subsequent Swords books beyond the first three and am always curious why this series doesn’t make more lists.
My third favorite fantasy novel – The Belgariad series, David and Leigh Eddings
This series of five novels, starting with Paw of Prophesy, does draw some criticism and I can see why. However, the story about a boy named Garion, his sorceress Aunt and Wizard Grandfather, and their unique set of traveling companions is flat-out fun. I read the series twice toward the end of the 80s and couldn’t read it fast enough. I recently listened to the series on audiobook, and the criticisms – a story that is a bit shallow and sometimes clichéd, and maybe some racist tendencies – are valid. But my goodness it was still loads of fun.
My second favorite fantasy novel – The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss.
This is the first book in the Kingkiller series, and admittedly The Name of the Wind is the only one I’ve read so far. Kovthe is a young boy who grows into a powerful wizard. It is a fascinating journey as he tells his tale to a scribe in a tavern. I could not put this book down and while Rothfuss has some detractors (seems to stem from how long it takes him to write a book), the man sure knows how to tell a story.
My favorite fantasy novel – The Blade Itself, Joe Ambercrombe
The Blade Itself features one of the most unique cast of characters you’ll every encounter. Ever. This is an extremely entertaining and darker fantasy novel that is a well written story that drug me in for a day or so where I ignored hygiene, my children, work, and just about everything else. Looking forward to reading the next installment in the series.
Left out: Look, my favorite series of all time remains The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Did I really need to include them?
A fantasy series I did not like
Shannara by Terry Brooks is very popular, and I certainly liked elements of the book. I read Elfstones first, then went back and read Sword of Shannara, and tried Wishsong of Shanara but put the book down. I know the series is popular, and some of it is quite good, but in the end, I struggled through each book I read, and was unable to finish the third one.
There are some books/series not included but they fall under sword and sorcery, and I thought to write a separate list for that. Look forward to it!
Don’t forget, my mini-short story collection, The Shack and Other Stories, is available for Kindle and in paperback on Amazon, or available from your favorite e-retailer everywhere. Hope you’ll buy about 20 copies!