1. The Lord of the Rings–JRR Tolkien
I am assuming most people know the plot by now, so I will not include a synopsis. I was ten years old when the first Lord of the Rings movie debuted. My mother would not let my brothers and I see the films until we had read the books. I read all three in about four days. I saw The Two Towers and The Return of the King in theaters. Also, I have seen all the animated films. A year ago I re-read the books and appreciated the nuance I missed on the first rush reading. This trilogy is the right mix of high literature and solid storytelling. Tolkien managed to create a fantastical world that continues to captivate and fascinate years after publication. Many authors have attempted to be the next Tolkien and few have succeeded. The Lord of the Rings is a great read and all fantasy fans should flip through it at least once.
2. The Kingkiller Chronicle–Patrick Rothfuss
Follow the adventures of Kvothe the famous adventurer, magician, and musician. He is the hero and villain of a thousand tales and this is his autobiography. The books have two sections, the modern interlude and the past. The “modern” parts are narrated in the third person and the “past” sections are first person. The narrative is rich in description and characterization. Each book peels back a new layer on the characters. There is adventure, mystery, murder, fae folk, doomed romance, and magic weaved throughout the narrative. I think this trilogy is one of the better fantasy books written/published in recent years. Rothfuss just published a novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, which explores the back-story of one of the secondary characters. I am desperately awaiting book 3.
3. The Song of Albion–Stephen R Lawhead
This trilogy follows Simon and Lewis as they tumble into a parallel universe. Everybody has a destiny and sometimes that destiny is fulfilled in a different world. Using a combination of Celtic mythology and fantasy, Lawhead creates a compelling narrative about two college students in a fantastical realm. This trilogy remains one of Lawhead’s most popular works and for good reason. The narrative moves quickly and the characters are highly relatable. Each installment builds upon the next and leaves you craving more. Lawhead is one of my favorite fantasy authors because his stories seem to jump off the page. You feel like you are walking side-by-side with the hero and fighting his battles. Even if you never pick up another one of his books, The Song of Albion is worth reading.
4. Mistborn: the Original Trilogy –Brandon Sanderson
Sanderson is a wonderful writer; I have thoroughly enjoyed every book he has written. The Original Mistborn Trilogy is imaginative, highly enjoyable, and a great story. The series takes place in the Final Empire located in the Scadrial. About one thousand years before the first book begins, the king of the Final Empire gained access to a divine power at the Well of Ascension. Utilizing this power, he remade the world and everything in it and this is the state of things when the first book begins. This trilogy has elements of the steam-punk genre influencing parts of the narrative. However, this adds some exotic flair to the story and sets it apart from more traditional fantasy narratives. Sanderson calls this a “trilogy of trilogies” and plans on writing more stories set in this world.
5. The Sevenwaters Trilogy–Juliet Marillier
This is a historical fantasy series set in 9th century Britain and Ireland. The original trilogy mainly takes place in ancient Ireland. The series follows several generations of the Sevenwaters family, who enjoy a special relationship with the Otherworld. Each book focuses on battles between the Irish Celts and the Britons, internal conflicts between neighboring landholders, and interference from members of the Otherworld. Also, each book has a strong romance arc. A young female member of the family narrates each book. The first installment, Daughter of the Forest, is a retelling of the The Six Swans, a classic fairytale. Marillier captures the tone of 9th century Ireland by weaving in the conflict between Celtic paganism and early Irish Christianity. While the books tend to focus more on romance than fantasy, the trilogy is a grownup folktale filled with appealing and powerful characters. Marillier has expanded the original trilogy to include the stories of the women of the next generation.