Top 5 Fantasy Series

This is not a definitive listing. It is merely a list of the series I consider to be the best of the ones I have read, my selections will be different by the end of the year. 

  1. The Wheel of TimeRobert Jordan

WoT01_TheEyeOfTheWorldThis fantasy is not for the faint of heart, several of the entries take extreme will power to slog through. However, the series is one of my favorite due to its sheer complexity. Jordan weaves a tale about good and evil that is unparalleled in its length. There are over 3,000 characters introduced over the course of 14 books. And some of the most unlikable characters are cast as the heroes/heroines. Also, Jordan depicts women in a rather misogynistic light, almost all the women come across as power hungry harpies. After a while it becomes incredibly frustrating. Most of the romances progress in such a way that they are either “Stockholm syndrome” or “love at first sight.” None of the relationships seem to progress at a normal rate. Furthermore, Jordan draws a lot of parallels to well-known fantasy sagas, especially the Arthur legend. Yet, the world building in The Wheel of Time series is incredibly epic and the strongest part of the series. When Brandon Sanderson took over after Jordan died, the characterization and plotting improved dramatically. Not that Jordan was a bad writer, but Sanderson is better at cutting down the philosophizing and focusing on action. Despite its drawbacks, this remains one of my favorite series because I think it is an intriguing read.

Reading Order:

  1. A Song of Ice and FireGeorge RR Martin A-GAME-OF-THRONES-new-HC

I would like it known that I read the books before the television series made it everyone’s favorite fantasy. There is no other series out there quite like the one created by Martin, he is fearless in his dedication to sacrifice characters in order to move the plot forward. Martin uses split point-of-view narration in order to explore the politics and relations of several different aristocratic families. However, do not become overly attached because you never known when the characters’ end will arrive. Unlike other high fantasy series, Martin limits the supernatural elements in his series. Magic is a laughable concept to the majority of the characters, only a small subset believes in the fantastical. Instead, this is a gritty world with rough grey edges and political/economical complexity. There are no magic spells or prophesized messiahs to pull out at the last second to save the day.  I think this series has becomes such a phenomena because of its innate sense of uncertainty. Each book brings an unexpected twist and makes the future seem more unstable. Martin wanted to create a fantasy series based upon the real world War of the Roses. The result is a treacherous tale set in a violent world rift with political rivalries and rivers of blood. Be warned, a lot of the violence is directed towards the young and innocent. This is not a sanitized tale, but is a worthwhile read.

Reading Order:

  1. Imager Portfolio­­-LE Modesitt, JrImager

Modesitt has penned several excellent science fantasy series: The Saga of Recluce, The Corean Chronicles, and Timegod’s World. These series focus more the science fiction side of the science fantasy genre. However, The Imager Portfolio is probably Modesitt’s strongest foray into the fantasy genre. While magic is a dominant feature in the series, the narrative focuses more on human conflict than the typical “defeat the newest uprising of evil” plot popular amongst fantasy authors. The series begins by introducing a naïve young man who manages to rise through the societal ranks and becomes a political powerplayer. It helps that he is a brilliant strategist and has concealed magical abilities. There are two separate narratives in the Portfolio, the story of Rhennthyl and Quaeryt. Their stories are separated by several hundred years, so there is not a lot of continuity between the two narrative arcs. This is not the greatest or most original series written, but Modesitt has created an intriguing world. The main characters have to fight against a biased and socially rigid world that is driven by class politics. Both the main characters are expertly crafted and well developed. However, Modesitt sometimes overly focuses on the spiritual dilemma faced by the characters and this derails the flow of the action. All the books have at least two chapters full of nothing but internal spiritual debates. Which detracts from the main narrative.

Reading Order:

  1. The Earthsea CycleUrsula K Le Guinearthsea

Technically this is categorized as a Young Adult fantasy series. But it is complicated enough to appeal to a wide variety of age groups. Le Guin is a wonderful writer and her style is incredibly lyrical. However, the books are told in an omniscient narrative, which makes it a little difficult to connect with the characters. Also, Le Guin introduced everyone to a magical academy long before Hogwarts was unleashed onto the world. Her world building is fantastic and integrates magic into every aspect of life in Earthsea. The Cycle focuses on the story of a young village boy who becomes the most famous wizard of the age. And Le Guin has some of the best depictions of dragons. They are beautiful, mighty, sad, selfish, and terrifying all at the same time. There are a couple problems with the series though. All the books are quite short, so the Cycle does not have the complexity of other series. There were several instances where I thought the story needed slightly more exposition. A majority of the ethics and morals practiced by the characters are based upon Taoism. As a result, some of their decisions are rather odd in my opinion.

Reading Order:

  1. The Nine KingdomsLynn Kurlandkurland

Is this series complicated? No. Is it groundbreaking? Also no. However, it is an excellent mix of drama, humor, sarcasm, magic, and charismatic characters. Kurland began her writing career as a romance author, so all the Nine Kingdoms books contain a strong romantic element. But her romances do not feel forced or overly contrived, everything just flows together. Which I think is the mark of a great writer. Several years ago a dark mage began his assault on the kingdoms. Everyone assumed that his children died on the day he called forth an evil power. But in this world of magic, mages,and dragons nothing is as it appears. The series is divided into three separate trilogies that are all loosely connected. Each trilogy follows two characters who are thrown together in interesting ways. The stories are rather thin on the world building, I would love some more complexity. Also, the backstory is rather thin on some of the main secondary characters. Which can make some of the stories rather frustrating because the depth is non-existent. This is a light and airy fantasy series, do not expect any gruesome or dark magic sequences. But all the characters are well-written and really jump off the page. While the books are on the short side, the stories are amazing and excellently plotted.

 Reading Order:

2 Comments on “Top 5 Fantasy Series

  1. This is a great list with classics and I particularly appreciate that you pointed out the problematic elements and which order to read the books in (I have started in the middle of too many a series stumbled upon at the library). I havent read the earth sea yet, but I intend to make it a top priority!

    -chebk

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Week in review, week ending 1/4/15 | Random thoughts of 210Darryl

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