Monday, April 29, 2019

MY 10 FAVORITE FANTASY SERIES OF ALL-TIME!

Last week I was totally crushed by the news that legendary Fantasy author Gene Wolfe had passed away.  I feel a special connection with certain books and writers for a number of reasons (mostly because I read them during different stages or moments in my life).  In Gene's case, I read his Book of the New Sun series when I was a younger man and working as a bookseller at Borders.  I remember how much it affected me in a good way and also how mesmerized I was by the prose.  It served to further ignite my passion for reading Fantasy books.  At that time I hadn't read much Fantasy and I didn't think that Fantasy writing could be done with both intelligence and excitement in equal measure.  

I hope that doesn't sound too snobby, I was a stupid kid after all.  I've since learned better, having read oodles more Fantasy books over the past twenty five years or so of my life, but The Book of the New Sun has always remained one of my favorite series of all-time.  Naturally, I then began to ponder what a list of 10 series that I would put as my all-time favorites would look like.  Admittedly, there were some that were easy and jumped right out at me.  I just knew that they had to be included.  The rest were a little more difficult to pick, but I think that I have compiled a pretty accurate account of the ones that, for whatever reason, just sit on a higher shelf than all of the others I have consumed in my life.


And so with that, here are MY 10 FAVORITE FANTASY SERIES OF ALL TIME!  (In descending order, because I have to create some drama right?)






10. DEVERRY by Katharine Kerr - This series is not for those who are looking for a straightforward and cozy read.  I say this because it is a long series that is separated by three different arcs.  In addition to that, the characters in each of the books are different reincarnations of themselves at different time periods in the history of Deverry.  There is quite an involved grid at the front of each book showing who is who at any given time period.  Having said all of that, if you want to read a Fantasy series that will reward you like no other if you choose to put in a little work, this is the one to read.  It is a mythical Celtic Fantasy that has a very comfortable feel to it and should appeal to anyone who enjoys classic Fantasy done incredibly well.  So definitely check this one out if you have the time and patience to commit to it.




9. RAI-KIRAH by Carol Berg - Most people have never heard of this series and that is a real tragedy.  Carol Berg is one of the best Fantasy writers out there without question.  This series in particular showcases that fact so beautifully.  Centering on a young man from a conquered race who is enslaved and sold into servitude to an entitled and arrogant prince, this series tackles a number of sensitive issues such as racism, discrimination, and sexual identity at a time when this wasn't happening a lot in Fantasy.  That alone should make it essential reading.  Aside from the social issues, this is also a phenomenal Fantasy tale just teeming with magic, foul demons, court intrigue, and brutally bloody battles.  I highly recommend RAI-KIRAH and it will always be one of my favorites.





8. DIVINE CITIES by Robert Jackson Bennett - One of two fairly recent series on this list, DIVINE CITIES is world-building taken to a ludicrously high level.  I remember picking up an advance copy of City Of Stairs a few years ago and being so impressed by the history that Robert Jackson Bennett constructed and the mythical dead gods that are at the center of this amazing Dark Fantasy.  And boy is it ever dark!  But it is also a series that stands out in my opinion and is so engrossing that you need to keep turning the pages feverishly.  The fact that this is Bennett's debut series is all the more impressive because I believe it to be one of the best Fantasy series of the past 25 years and definitely ranks in my top 10 all-time.  I feel like more people should read it and I hope it eventually gets the proper accolades that it deserves.





7. WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW by Janny Wurts - I have been a huge fan of Janny Wurts ever since I read her collaboration with Raymond E. Feist on the Empire trilogy.  That series made me want to check out more of Janny's writing and so I was drawn to her stupendous WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW.  The first thing that I immediately noticed upon reading the first book The Curse of the Mistwraith was the writing and the characters.  The prose is so different from many other Fantasy books out there.  It is written in a classic Fantasy style very reminiscent of Tolkien.  Some have said that the writing is too dense but I could not disagree more.  The writing lends a charm and beauty to the story that carries through the entire series.  And then there are the fabulous characters.  The story centers around two brothers who could not be any more different and who both possess magical powers beyond imagining.  At times you don't know whether they are friends or enemies and their paths take some interesting and unexpected turns as they attempt to fulfill their individual destinies.  There is also an interesting timeline that alternates and keeps you paying attention to every detail and every chapter.  Just a phenomenal series.





6. THE FAITHFUL AND THE FALLEN by John Gwynne - This is the other fairly recent series that I felt without a doubt had to be included in my 10 all-time favorites.  This series captivated me from the opening scene in the first book Malice.  I'm a sucker for a deep and interesting history as part of my Fantasy reads.  This series has exactly the type of rich history that is the backbone of any great Fantasy story.  And the battles are so incredibly intense, so much so that you can feel every blow and spear thrust.  The series gets better with each book and when you finally get to the last page of Wrath, you will come to the realization that you have just read a monumental series the likes of which do not come around very often.  I'm happy to say that the utter goodness continues in John's brand new series set in the same world titled Of Blood and Bone.  If you have never read anything by John Gwynne I would recommend that you do so.  He's one of the best writers out there and just continues to churn out five-star book after five-star book.  You are really missing out of you don't pick up THE FAITHFUL AND THE FALLEN as soon as possible and read it.





5. THE DAGGER AND THE COIN by Daniel Abraham - Known primarily for being one-half of the writing duo behind the tremendous Expanse series, Daniel Abraham has written one of my favorite and unique Fantasy series of all-time.  This series is so under the radar and frankly it is criminal that it doesn't get more recognition.  Unlike most Fantasy series that focus on battles, quests, or some sort of coming of age trope, Abraham centers his series around the economics behind the warring empires and how the economy can be manipulated to defeat the enemy.  That's not to say that there isn't plenty of action and battles, oh there are!  But this is a thinking-person's Fantasy first and foremost and really hits on a theme that not a lot of Fantasy books dare to explore.  The conspiracies and behind-the-scenes sabotage that goes on just make this such a different story than what I had ever read before or after honestly.  I am constantly recommending THE DAGGER AND THE COIN to people who ask me for something that is a really good Fantasy but with a different twist.  The writing is top notch and I think that everyone should read this while they are waiting for the next George RR Martin book.  It's quite similar in tone and feel.  What a wonderful series.





4. THE LIVESHIP TRADERS by Robin Hobb - When most people are asked the question what is their favorite Robin Hobb series, the response is usually The Farseer trilogy.  My favorite series by Hobb though has always been this one.  I feel like Robin Hobb really came into her own as a writer with this series.  The plot is way more complex than Farseer and the characters have a lot more depth to them.  The story centers around a seafaring family who owns a sentient ship that can communicate with its captain and also can self-navigate by use of magic.  There is an internal struggle within the family when the head of the household dies, and we get to see the struggle for ownership of the liveship that ensues between the captain's daughter and his son in-law.  There are also a number of political conflicts going on within the town itself as the economy falters and other families begin to utilize their liveships to engage in the lucrative slave trade to survive. This series is so perfectly constructed, written, and realized and I believe it to be the best series Robin Hobb has ever written.  I just love it and reread it every two or three years, it's that good.  So pick it up and read it, you won't be sorry!





3. THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN by Gene Wolfe - As I mentioned earlier, this particular series is the one that motivated me to create this list.  Gene Wolfe's passing recently made me immediately think of THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN and how much I absolutely adore every aspect of it.  I read this series pretty early on in my Fantasy reading life and have read very few books that are its match in darkness and beauty.  Set on a dystopian planet Earth where the sun is slowly dying, main character Severian is a torturer who is charged with carrying out incredible pain and death on the criminals who are sent to The Citadel of the Autarch.  Then he does the unthinkable by showing mercy to one of his subjects and is banished to journey across a desolate wasteland alone armed only with his awesomely-named sword Terminus Est (translation: this is the end).  This is one of those series that I hold very close to my heart and feel like anyone who claims to be a fan of Fantasy should read at some point in their life.  It is a work of sheer brilliance and genius, with world-building that should be the standard by which every author aspires.  





2. THE FIRST LAW by Joe Abercrombie - This series came so close to being my favorite of all-time but fell just short.  Such an amazing blend of Grimdark and traditional Fantasy.  What I love most about this series though are the vivid characters and the top-notch dialogue.  Nobody writes better dialogue than Joe Abercrombie.  Nobody.  When the characters in this series speak to each other, you feel like you are standing right there with them.  They speak like human beings who are enmeshed in the environment and situations that they find themselves in would speak.  Irreverent, yes.  Snarky and sarcastic, uh-huh.  Downright rude and un-PC, yep!   Yet it is all done masterfully and completely within the flow of an astoundingly great story.  If you love bloody battles, biting humor, dark settings, and flat-out dazzling writing, then you really need to grab all three books in this series and start reading.  It's damn-near perfect and will keep you on the edge of your seat for three meaty volumes.





1. MEMORY, SORROW, AND THORN by Tad Williams - I'm always shocked when people tell me that they've never read this series.  Partly because it is my favorite Fantasy series ever and partly because it's just so freaking fantastic in every way.  Not to mention that it contains my most-despised villain of all-time, Pryrates the evil priest.  For my money there is no better antagonist in not just Fantasy Fiction, but Fiction in general.  I've reread this series about 7 or 8 times and every time I read it I feel like I'm coming home to characters that are familiar companions on a treasured literary journey.  You can have Tolkien, George RR Martin, C.S. Lewis, Robert Jordan, and all of the other well-known Fantasists in the genre, I'll take Tad Williams and MEMORY, SORROW AND THORN any day of the week.  This series is simply the greatest of High Fantasies on the grandest of scales.  Just do me a favor and experience this series for yourself.  I'm sure after reading it that that you will agree it deserves to be ranked right at the top of every single Fantasy list now and in the future.  It's definitely at the top of mine and has been for a long time.



And there you have it!  My 10 Favorite Fantasy Series of All-Time.  Please feel free to comment if you've read any of them or would like to mention a few that you would put on your own list!  I always welcome a discussion about favorite books.  I also hope that reading something about these series may spark a desire for you to read some of them yourselves for the very first time.  As always, thanks so much for visiting and spending some time on the blog.  HAPPY READING!!! - Nick

2 comments:

  1. Only read two of these series! Need to up my game.

    Dragon riders of Pern has to be my favourite ever series though!

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  2. Nice! I've been meaning to read that series but just haven't gotten around to it yet. Some day hopefully. Thanks for the comment!

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