Once again I find myself between book reviews and thinking about all things Science-Fiction and Fantasy.  More specifically I have been pondering my favorite SFF series that not a lot of people may be familiar with.  This doesn't mean they are any less impactful or high in quality, it just means that for whatever reason, these series don't get the notoriety that I think they so richly deserve.  I came up with a top 10 list of my all-time favorite lesser-known SFF series and ranked them in descending order from 10 to 1.  I hope that if you haven't had a chance to read any of these, that you will give them a shot because every one of them is a tremendous read in my opinion.  And if you have read some of these or have heard about them, great!  You are already ahead of the curve.  Anyway, here they are:

10.  EMPYRION (1985 -1986) by Stephen Lawhead:  Stephen Lawhead is known primarily for his fantasy writing, mostly steeped in Celtic folklore and Arthurian themes.  But what many people don't know is that he did write some really good science-fiction.  One of those SF series is Empyrion and it is one of my favorites by him.  Empyrion tells the story of a man named Orion Treet who is charged with a mission to discover what happened to a group of colonists sent from Earth to a distant planet centuries earlier.  All communication with the colony was suddenly terminated (on their end) and Treet must discover whether a tragedy has befallen them or if the colony simply desires to be free of the ties to their former home planet.  What Treet finds when he eventually gets there is astounding and just serves as a reminder that the desire for a grand Utopia has many pitfalls and hurdles that may not be overcome so easily.  Great science-fiction that I really recommend checking out. (Books in this series: The Search for Fierra, The Siege of Dome)

9. THE GODLESS WORLD (2006-2009) by Brian Ruckley:  Winter is coming.  Or in the case of Brian Ruckley's Godless World series, winter is already here and it ain't leaving anytime soon!  Numerous clans battle for supremacy in this harsh and gritty series that is very reminiscent of Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence.  Thrown into the chaos of the clan wars is the awakening of the long dead gods who are hungry for blood and aren't especially interested in choosing sides.  Set against an icy and desolate backdrop, this is one of the more bloody and gruesome fantasies that you will come across.  But the writing really carries the day and lends a depth that mere grimdark bloodbaths can only dream about.  One warning, there are many clans and characters to keep track of, so being able to disseminate who is who is vitally important to your understanding of the overall story.  Great stuff though!  (Books in this series: Winterbirth, Bloodheir, Fall of Thanes)

8. ARTHURIAN SAGA (1970-1983) by Mary Stewart:  Mary Stewart's beautiful retelling of the Arthurian legend is definitely one of my favorites along with The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Stewart's series is much more comprehensive and covers Merlin as a child all the way to adulthood and his relationship with King Arthur.  The writing is simply on another level and I feel like this series is off many people's radar for some reason.  It may be because the books keep going in and out of print but should you be able to get your hands on this series, you should read it in its totality.  Such an amazing retelling filled with vivid descriptions and wonderful characters.  (Books in this series: The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, The Wicked Day)

7.  INITIATE BROTHER (1991-1992) by Sean Russell:  Sean Russell is one of those authors who I never understood why wasn't more popular than he is.  The Canadian author writes unbelievable fantasy books and series and he's always been among my favorite "must-read" writers.  The Initiate Brother series is his first and very best in my opinion.  The series has a heavy Asian influence which I think gives it a uniqueness in a genre chock-full of medieval European themed tomes.  Talk about gorgeous writing, this series is especially for those who love their prose rich and complex.  There are no wasted words here.  Monks who are gifted with magic must find an answer to a horrible plague that is devastating the kingdom of Wa.  A young monk who shows amazing promise may be the answer to everyone's prayers, but barbarian invaders seek to take advantage of the weakened kingdom for their own benefit before this can happen.  This is one series not to be missed.  (Books in this series: The Initiate Brother, Gatherer of Clouds)

6.  WINDS OF THE FORELANDS (2002-2007) by David B. Coe:  This is a series that you should love if you enjoy traditional epic fantasy in the mold of Robert Jordan and Robin Hobb.  Why this series never took hold and became a huge hit is beyond me.  The magical Qirsi race was almost completely eradicated in the Qirsi wars.  Now the few who remain serve as advisors to the various kings and queens of the numerous countries located within the Forelands.  When the king of one of the more prominent countries is assassinated in cold blood, suspicion quickly turns toward the Qirsi who many think may be plotting in secret to overthrow the kingdoms and avenge their brutal defeat and forced subservience those many years ago.  The Qirsi maintain their innocence but could a small sect of rebel Qirsi be hellbent on restoring their former glory?  Just an amazing series that gets better with every book.  Run out and read it as soon as you can because it is one of the best fantasy series I have ever read.  (Books in this series:  Rules of Ascension, Seeds of Betrayal, Bonds of Vengeance, Shapers of Darkness, Weavers of War)

5.  TYRANTS AND KINGS (1999-2001) by John Marco:  File this series under military fantasy the way it should be done.  Sadly John Marco has stopped writing in recent years due to the fact that his publisher just dropped him out of the blue.  It's disheartening really because Marco is a phenomenal writer and this series totally blew me away when I first read it back in the late 90's.  Since then I have reread it about five times, it's that good.  The series follows Richius Vantran, a humble prince who is forced into battle against the forces of the mysterious city of Nar.  Nar is a city that has had an industrial revolution in a land where the remaining continent is still struggling in a medieval horse-drawn society.  There are also whispers that the leaders of Nar have discovered an elixir that grants those who drink it virtual immortality.  Will Nar succeed in dominating the lesser kingdoms and eventually enslaving the entire populace, or can one modest prince stand up to the forces of the behemoth Nar and see his people through the coming darkness?  Awesome series, I highly recommend this one!  (Books in this series:  The Jackal of Nar, The Grand Design, The Saints of the Sword)

4.  RAI-KIRAH (2000-2002) by Carol Berg:  Demons, demons, demons.  If you like demons in your fantasy, this series is right up your alley.  Carol Berg is absolutely one of the most talented writers in the genre who most people don't even know about.  She deserves so much more recognition and praise and her books are some of the best that I've read, quite frankly.   The Rai-Kirah books tell the story of an arrogant prince who has been spoiled since childhood.  As a gift he gets a slave who was once a majestic member of an ancient race, but was sold into enslavement after they were crushed by the ruling class.  The prince is ruthless and abusive to his new toy at first, but when the slave saves his life, a slow transformation begins to happen within the young prince (hence the title of the first book).  And when the demons arrive, the same oppressed race who are now spat upon and enslaved could be the only ones to help the rulers of the kingdom escape certain death.  A truly complex story that tackles a lot of tough and sensitive issues that are prevalent in our own real world today.  This is a series that everyone should read.  (Books in this series:  Transformation, Revelation, Restoration)

3.  THE COLDFIRE TRILOGY (1991-1995) by C.S. Friedman:  Tremendous series about the colonizers of a new planet called Erna that is infused with a natural force element called The Fae.  The Fae controls everything, including people's mental state, so many construct complicated wards to protect themselves from the all-powerful Fae.  Damien Vrice, the main character is a warrior priest who is on a quest to discover the true origins of the Fae. Along the way, Vrice encounters evidence that vampire-like creatures who have been hiding in seclusion on the distant planet for centuries may have emerged from the craggy mountains of the north to potenially prey on the helpless citizens.  One of the more inventive and original series in the genre that many have overlooked.  I really enjoyed this series and Celia Friedman's other works are just as good.  Give them a try!  (Books in this series:  Black Sun Rising, When True Night Falls, Crown of Shadows)

2.  DARWATH (1982-1983) by Barbara Hambly:  This series is my absolute favorite portal fantasy ever.  A woman named Gil is having a dream while asleep in her modern-day apartment.  In this dream she sees chaos and crowds of people running in all directions from an unseen evil.  The people in this dream are all dressed in medieval clothing and the building that they are inside of looks like something out of ancient times as well.  As the dream continues, Gil notices that an old man with a long beard seems to be looking directly at her through the mass of people.  He then begins to slowly walk toward her as if he wants to say something to her.  How can it be that among the chaos, he appears to be able to see her and is the only one to be able to?  Gil wakes up to find the old man in her apartment where he tells her that he needs her help and that she must come with him to battle the demons who are attacking his land.  For she is the chosen one who they have been waiting for he says.  Just a great series that holds up to this day even though it was written in the early 80's.  (Books in this series:  The Time of the Dark, The Walls of Air, The Armies of Daylight)

1.  CHUNG KUO (1989-1997) by David Wingrove:  If you ask me what my favorite science-fiction series of all-time is, this is the one I'm going to respond with every single time, and yet I feel like nobody has ever heard of it.  The tragedy of this series is that it is unbelievably brilliant but because of publisher issues, David Wingrove has struggled to keep it in print.  He has even had to resort to rereleasing the series on his own because a new publisher recently flaked out and abandoned a planned relaunch after only five books.  I really hope the entire series does eventually get released at some point because it is a truly wonderful story that so many readers are missing out on.  The idea is a future Earth that is completely taken over by China.  The seven continents are now under Chinese control and ruled by seven emperors or T'angs.  The Chinese empire has even begun to build tiered cities on top of poorer areas so that the aristocracy does not have to see the dregs of humanity below.  A band of revolutionaries however is plotting to undermine and sabotage the T'angs one by one with the ultimate goal of gaining their freedom and escaping to another planet where they can live in freedom.  What an amazing series.  You can find the books of the original series in various used bookstores or used online marketplaces and I highly recommend making the effort if you can.  Meanwhile, I still wait for the eventual rerelease that seems to be proceeding at a glacial pace.  But I'm keeping the faith!  (Books in this series:  The Middle Kingdom, The Broken Wheel, The White Mountain, The Stone Within, Beneath the Tree of Heaven, White Moon Red Dragon, Days of Bitter Strength, The Marriage of the Living Dark)

And there you have it, 10 series that I love but feel are fairly underappreciated in the genre.  I really hope that you give some if not all of these books a try because you will be rewarded if you do.  As always, happy reading!!!


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