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Personal Top 5 Fantasy Books

Philip Overby

Article Team
(Excuse me if there is another thread like this. I searched and didn't see anything that directly matched.)

I like lists. Particularly countdown lists. You see them everywhere. I would be interested in doing a number of these lists (top 5 settings, series, characters, dragons, ninjas, blah blah) because I think you can learn a lot about a writer by what kind of books they like. My list is a countdown with a brief explanation of WHY this book is on my list.

Let's keep it to books only (not series).

5. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie: My introduction to Abercrombie's great style. His visceral, gritty, pulls-no-punches, basically the anti-Tolkien (in every good way). If you like dirty, mud in your mouth fantasy, this is at the top of my list.

4. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville: Inventive world. Strange characters. Bizarre plot. Mieville takes fantasy and as I've said in other threads "dumps it on his its head." If you want something new, fresh, and weird in your fantasy, it can't hurt checking out Mieville. His writing can be dense, but if you hang with it, it's really awesome.

3. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: Seems weird to place this in the middle of these other books. Because this book used to be one I wanted to avoid like the plague. However, I would gladly rank it in my top 3 now that I've read it. It's a story that really lets you enter a world and just ride it out (except the lengthy intros of the dwarves, ugh). Tolkien is a divisive figure in fantasy, that's for sure, but the man knows how to write. And pretty much everything you're reading now in fantasy comes from someone inspired by Tolkien.

2. The Legend of Huma by Richard A. Knaak: This is a really strange choice. Simply because the book probably doesn't read as it good as it did when 15 years ago. Yet this book means a lot to me. It was my first intro into fantasy, birthed years of D&D playing, and basically set the course for my entire life. Big enough impact? It's a rather simple tale, but it lured me in all those years ago. I dare to say this book probably wouldn't crack most people's Top 5, let alone Top 100. But I love it, for nostalgic reasons. That's good enough for me.

1. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin: Go read it if you haven't. If you haven't heard of it, geez...

That's my personal fav 5!
5. The Rogue by Trudi Canavan. I could not put this book down, it literally took only 4 days for me to read the whole thing!

4. The Magicians' Guild by Trudi Canavan (... hmm). This one is a page turner too, the setting and plots are very nicely blah blah I really love this book.

3. Voice of the Gods by Trudi Canavan (I'm starting to notice a pattern...). This is a really good cap to the Age of the Five trilogy. I really rather enjoyed Auraya, Mirar and the other Wilds final struggle against the oppression of the gods and their twisted game.

2. (is it another Canavan book?) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien. Obvious choice is obvious.

1. The High King's Tomb Tru... I'm sorry I mean Kristen Britain. It. Is. Epic. It is also damn good story, green rider series, check it.
I've thought about this since you posted, and I just can't do it without talking about a series; CAN'T I SAY! But, I'll give it a go and see what happens trying to mix or scale down the series talk.

5: Harry Potter and the Whatever: I prefer adult/epic over YA, but good god, the HP series is amazing and this cannot really be denied to any degree. I began reading these in college, right around the time the first film came out, and like many I became quickly addicted. I particularly love the later, darker books. If I have to pick just one, I think 6 is my favorite...but who the hell knows.

4: Game of Thrones: I only recently began the series and just finished book 2. Although at times, readers might get drowned in names of people and places, this just reinforces the grand-scale epic quaility of Martin's works. There is so much intrigue and plot twists, all mixed within an amazing fantasy world. Loyal to the middle-ages-esque fantasy thread, I would like a bit more originality in world-building, but this really isn't all that important as the world is complex. As a writer, Martin is thorough, creative, and talented.

3: The Way of Kings: This is Brandon Sanderson's newest novel, and first in a new series. Holy crap; this IS the best fantasy book I've ever read in terms of the epic genre (though it didn't make the top of the list for reason that I include in #s 1 and 2). It's long (1000 pages) and so intricate that it indeed takes patience and talent as a reader to complete the journey. The system of magic at play here is wholly unique and well-developed. The landscape is even used to creative ends the likes of which I've never seen. I love the characters and couldn't wait to turn the page to find out what happened to them next. I cannot wait for subsequent novels in this series.

2: Mistborn: Screw it...the whole series. I have never read a trilogy that had such an impact on me as a reader and writer as this one. Sanderson is easily my favorite fantasy author and I have to say that his rule of magic in Mistborn are the most unique and creative magic system in ANY fantasy work I've ever read. It was refreshing. The Koloss are wonderfully and cleverly wrought monster creations. The way the series ends reinforces the fact that Sanderson is an absolute genius who seemed to know every detail about the whole series when he penned the first words.

1: Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends - Best fantasy characters ever! And this is one of the main reasons I read in the genre. Also, these books were what truly developed my love for fantasy. Who can't love Tanis, Kit, Caramon, Raist, Flint, Tika, Riverwind, Goldmoon, Tas, and more!??? The writing is good, though not at the level of Sanderson or Martin. But Weiss and Hickman get #1 as masters of world development, the godparents of a whole mythology of fantasy that has produced over a hundred novels. And I own all of them. It was an absolute pleasure as an adult to read the annotated Chronicles and Legends; nothing really compares. These two series just do it for me.

Philip Overby

Article Team
@Rheadin: Wow, Trudi Canavan must be pretty good. I'll give her a look.

@Map the Dragon: It's interesting that you mention two Sanderson books I own but haven't read. After reading rave reviews about The Way of Kings, I got it for Christmas. I honestly wish I would have waited until I bought my Kindle, because this door-stopper is annoying to carry around. What I've read of it so far, I really like. It's a bit difficult to get into though. I can see that it's going to be awesome from the Prologue (and man, what a prologue) but when I got to the first chapter I was like, "Hmm...this slowed way, way down." But since we seem to have similar tastes, I'll give it another go. Same for Mistborn. I bought it for cheap and liked what I read, but just other things took precedence I suppose.

And Dragonlance. Oh, Dragonlance. Suffice it to say, we come from the same camp. That's why I was sad to kill off Caramon in the tournament. But TWO Conans died! So Kull had to suffice. Big, big Howard fan, so had to give him some love (if he wrote a full-length book he would have made my list).
she is an awesome author, I've read all 9 of her current books. I can't wait for the last installment of the traitor spy trilogy (I've got the first 2 in first editions! and hope to get them signed one day)!!
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Hmm. My list is probably going to look very different from everybody else's, simply because I don't start new authors very often (part budget, part not wanting to take chances). I'm also going to have to cheat a bit–by listing series–so that I don't have to try to pick one book out of the set… or fill the list with only one or two authors.

(5) Bloodstone, Karl Edward Wager. Here's the one no one else will recognize… for whatever reason, Wagner never became a "household name" (as much as any fantasy author can, at least): it's possible that more people will have seen his name on Robert E. Howard books he's edited than on his own work. This is the best of his "Kane" books… and the only instance out of the various "series" where it was an easy choice: the rest of the books are great, too, but this one stands out. While I'd prefer to avoid spoilers, this is only a slight one: the title character is the Kane–with only very minor accommodations for a fantasy world: the "god" who cursed him is only referred to in passing. The curse? Immortality. He's been around as long as humanity has, is as jaded as a human can get, has a moral compass that more closely resembles the Antikythera mechanism than anything anyone else uses for guidance (complete with tarnish and missing parts)… and is still a compelling, heroic figure; the best "antihero" I've ever seen. Especially when you know that, due to his immortality, he will eventually "lose," no matter what it is he sets himself to or how successfully he does it–time, if nothing else, will undo whatever he's wrought. Yet he keeps going. Better still, Wagner manages to make pulp-style Conan fluidly modern, without losing any of what made the pulps great. (He's also done two of the best Lovecraftian "Mythos" stories I've ever seen.) Absolutely worth tracking down–all his books are out of print–especially for those longing for good old fashioned "sword-and-sorcery" fantasy.

(4) Chronicles of Amber, Roger Zelazny. It really hurt to put Zelazny at #4… but I had to be honest with myself. If I were ranking these in order of which I'd rather pick up and reread any given day, he would have been a point higher. Scintillating, natural prose that is nonetheless almost poetic–that's not only my assessment: "poetic" is the adjective most often applied by other writers to what it is that distinguishes all Zelazny's writing, not just his fantasy, from his peers–and abundant sardonic or oblique humor (one of his other novels spends the entire book setting up one pun), combined with a completely unique setting, which, in this case, I won't provide a spoiler for: find Nine Princes in Amber and encounter it yourself. It's one of those literary experiences you'll never forget.

(3) Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien. Duh. Not as "fun" a read as Zelazny, but I couldn't deny the brilliance and depth of the text. If you haven't read this… then what are you doing reading this?

(2) Black Company series, Glen Cook. Now we get to the ones where personal enjoyment does trump "literary quality." Of all the people still writing in the field (the previous three, sadly, are deceased), Cook may be the best one I've read in terms of telling gritty, believable stories, no matter how fantastic the world around them is. And it gets pretty fantastic: the "title character," a mercenary company, gets co-opted into supporting an Empire built around a short dozen immortal–and generally perceived to be "evil"–wizards… the series follows the Company's activities and their moral development (or lack thereof) relative to their employers. Keeping in mind that this is a mercenary company we're talking about: not most people's notion of high moral standards… and they're written that way. A great prolonged discussion of what counts as "evil," and if it's ever possible for a "lesser" evil to be good. Not that this gets preached: that's just the character development portion underlying the most realistic and detailed military fantasy I'm aware of. If you want to pick up some nasty tricks for your own stories–or to use on your players (or GM!), if you're an RPGer–this is required reading. Especially if you need tips on how normal soldiers can cope with ultra-powerful mages. The first book, The Black Company, is arguably the best, but in large part that's because it sets the stage for all the rest. (At any rate, don't read the others before you read the first one… you'll be missing a lot if you do. And this is coming from someone whose introduction to Amber was the fifth and last book in the first series.) Easy to find in SFBC omnibus edition: Annals of the Black Company contains the first three books.

(1) Taltos series, Steven Brust. Brust began as a very conscious disciple of Zelazny–and succeeded. Not as far as "poetic" goes (or at least not as intensely so, in this series: for a good example of how close he can come, read his one-off To Reign in Hell… complete with a forward by, yup, Roger Zelazny)–but in every other way, as good or better, especially in terms of sustained levity throughout completely serious stories: they are just flat-out fun to read. You'll want to start with Jhereg and Yendi–in either order, really: they're the first two books written, but the second precedes the first in action, and holds a surprise that reading them in the "correct" order will give away; the rest of the series jumps around chronologically anyway, so the order they're read in matters slightly less, but you'll want the character development in the first two before encountering the characters in other settings. (I can provide the "real" order, for those who wish to avoid spoilers.) These books read so smoothly you'll wonder where the rest of it went when you hit the back cover: you're certain you must have skipped something somewhere to have finished it that fast. In spite of which, the plotting is as tight, well-developed and involved as the best mystery novels… which these often resemble: the title character, Vladimir Taltos, always ends up needing to untangle amazingly intricate convolutions to extricate himself from whatever it is he's gotten himself into (that last being his stand-out skill…). Another good source for how to use magic, and what to do when you're up against people who can work it… in this case, because everybody–literally–can work magic, to at least some extent… Vlad rather less than most of those he's surrounded by. The most magic-saturated series I've seen… and yet, far from ruining the stories, it helps drive them. Quite well. Oh: Vlad's also an assassin. But for an assassin, he's a real sweetheart. ;)

Honorable Mention: The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser; the Alice books, Lewis Carroll. The first isn't exactly what I pick up when I want a light read (a hardback edition could be used effectively for home defense…), but if you want to know where high fantasy came from, this is where "mythology" makes that transition. The second, on the other hand, is precisely what I pick up when I want a light read: they never get old, and I nearly always find something I hadn't noticed before in the past few dozen reads. Which may be the highest praise any book could receive.
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Ouch you're going to make me pick Phil? I hope the book gods don't curse me! Here goes...

In order...

5) Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan - a YA series makes my top 5! They are well written and have good storylines that are sometimes cliche or formula but John always puts his spin on things and makes them interesting. This series gave me the core idea for my new and first series I'm working on - Dark Archers.

4) Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson - a great unique fantasy series! Brandon throws it all in there with this one - kung fu (check), evil overlord (check), unique magic system requiring burning metals by eating them (check), great characters (check) and a "gothic volcanic ghostly setting" (check). What he does with them is brilliant especially how the "heroes" decide we don't need a stinking prophecy we got these here people and we're gonna do this overthrow the evil overlord thing! I'm eagerly waiting the new book. I've yet to read Stormblight Chronicles but I will soon!

3) Guards, Guards by Terry Pratchett - Vimes... need I say more? My introduction that fantasy can be totally fun, uniquely un-new, and the characters were all great! First Pratchett I read and still my favorite!

2) First Law trilogy (or anything by Joe Abercrombie) - I just love his gory filled battle scenes and great twists that he puts on fantasy. I think he's a future grandmaster of fantasy.

1) Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay - I just love the whole setting, dilemma, plot, characters and the more grounded epic quality of it. It also mixes my loves of fantasy and China together. It's been out for just about 1 year and I've read it 3 times and enjoyed it more each time. The unique situations he places his protagonist in are brilliant when he receives a gift of 100 horses which is his world are enough to topple and empire. A simple premise handled with political intrigue, action, mystery and class.

Damn you Phil for making me think at 9am on my day off!! ;) I have a headache now... where's my coffee...


Oh good, because, oddly, that's the only one I could think of. I hate not being able to look at my books. ::sniff::

Philip Overby

Article Team
@Ravana: I know Wagner but I have no idea how to get any of his stuff. I've wanted to read the Kane series for a long time but the only editions you can find are 100 bucks or something. Sorry, but to me, at this point in my life, no book is worth 100 bucks. I still want to read this series, but I'll wait until someone releases editions that aren't the "super leather hardback collector's Necronomicon" version.

@pskelding: I'm very interested in reading more of Kay's writing. Under Heaven sounds great. I really want to read Tigana, but they don't have Kindle version (I'm trying to dramatically limit my print books now, after amassing over 3,000).


1. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch: This is the book I would give everything to write. It's a detailed world, loveable characters, exciting yet followable plot and just... guh. Lovely.

2. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss: Utterly amazing. High quality world, background information, characters and you almost feel like you could travel to it.

3. Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb: Picking a favourite Robin Hobb book was hard, but this would have to be it for things you only realise once you've read her others - once you see everything she's 'hidden' away in this one.

4. Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts: Just really enjoyable. Maybe not as deep or high as other fantasy, but the kind that you can't put down and you really wish you were part of in some way.

I really can't pick a fifth without saying my first four have to be series instead. I'm trying to read Abercrombie at the moment but either I'm too sick/grumpy all the time to enjoy it, or it's just been hyped up too much...
I have Tad Williams waiting to be read also, but I think I'll wait until I've enjoyed some random book, just in case it's my mood that's spoiling Abercrombie - I don't want Tad Williams spoiled for me also...

I could have also said Feed by Mira Grant, but I think that's more sci fi than fantasy.


@Ravana: I know Wagner but I have no idea how to get any of his stuff. I've wanted to read the Kane series for a long time but the only editions you can find are 100 bucks or something. Sorry, but to me, at this point in my life, no book is worth 100 bucks. I still want to read this series, but I'll wait until someone releases editions that aren't the "super leather hardback collector's Necronomicon" version.

Heh. No, they're good, but they're not that good.

On the other hand, I just looked at Amazon, and Bloodstone is available as a used paperback for $3.94… which is totally worth it. Though there's also Gods in Darkness, which collects the Kane novels, starting at $40 for used; a bit pricey for three novels, perhaps (and, sadly, it doesn't include the "short story"–mostly novellas, actually–collections, Night Winds and Death Angel's Shadow); but it is a hardback, and if you're willing to pay $13 for a novel under other circumstances, I highly doubt you'd be disappointed here.

I'd also check ebay periodically: at the moment, there aren't any good one-book offers, but there is a lot of four out of the five Kane books starting at $9.99, with no bids on it yet. At that price, it wouldn't even matter if they were falling apart, so long as all the pages were there–and the photo provided by the offerer actually shows very clean, good-condition books. Give it a shot… if someone else goes higher than you're willing to bid, oh well.
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New Member
My top 5 fantasy books would be:

1. The Name of the Wind. Phenomenal book, really catches your attention and locks you in.

2. Game of Thrones. Not much to say. Awesome.

3. First 5 books of the Wheel of Time series.

4. LOTR.

5. Harry Potter/ Malazan book of the Fallen.


I am really fond of YA books so most of my books are... Young Adult.. (especially compared to your lists.... I should definitely try to read more mature books)

5. Incarceron
4. Percy Jackson series
3. Stardust
2. Hunger Games series
1. Harry Potter series


mine are geez toughy:

1. Spellfire trilogy from Ed Greenwood
2. Abhorsen
3. Harry Potter
4. Artemis Fowl
5. ermm well since you said fantasy you didn't specify so I'd have to say Kresley cole immortals after dark series :)


The question, "what is your favourite books?" is a question I can only answer with, "what day is it? I tend more towards Mieville on Tuesdays, but if it's closer to the end of the week, I might pick something by Valente." Nonetheless, these five are frequently my favourite, in no particular order:

1. The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison. This one is, perhaps, a bit of a guilty pleasure. It's fantastic, don't get me wrong. Epic, manly fantasy at its finest. But the prose - I bloody love the prose, but goodness, I don't know why. I'm a bit of a minimalist, you know, but Eddison decided to recreate flowery, Edwardian prose (quite well, I should say; he uses his thous and thees correctly) and it just reads like a proper, medieval epic would. And the ending. That is my kind of ending.
2. Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake. Can't critique me over a classic. Still haven't gotten my hands on the mess of notes for the would-be fourth book that came out earlier this year, but I have gotten a look at the illustrated editions and the stuff from Moorcock and done a bit of fangirling over it.
3. The Iron Dragon's Daughter, by Michael Swanwick. My obligatory obscure novel - it's about a girl named Jane and a sort-of magitek dragon-fighter plane, and it is awesome. It's a bit hard to describe it, because part of me wants to call it sci-fi even though there are changelings and dragons and magic, but it's great regardless, and a great deconstruction of fantasy.
4. Iron Council, by China Mieville. Obviously I'd have Mieville somewhere here. I might be one of the only people who would go for Iron Council, though. I think I just happen to agree with him on a lot of things in terms of both writing and ideology, and I think any great disagreement could make this book a bit harder to get through than his others. A quote from the author: "Iron Council is a book in which I can still see various flaws, things I’d tweak, things that may not work, and so on. But at the same time it came up from quite deep in me and expresses some things that matter to me very much in a more intense and unmediated way than perhaps any of the others – and I don’t just mean thematically, but in terms of prose and language. So I think perhaps it means the most to me of all the books."
5. Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente. Mostly, this books just had fantastic language and imagery. I don't know. I really liked it.

Also, honourable mentions to Scott Lynch, Pat Rothfuss, and Ursula K. LeGuin's "Earthsea" Cycle. The first two because their series have not yet finished, so I don't really feel right calling them my favourites, and LeGuin because A Wizard of Earthsea is one of my favourites, but Tombs, Shore, and Tehanu... are okay, I guess.


1. The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison. This one is, perhaps, a bit of a guilty pleasure. It's fantastic, don't get me wrong. Epic, manly fantasy at its finest. But the prose - I bloody love the prose, but goodness, I don't know why. I'm a bit of a minimalist, you know, but Eddison decided to recreate flowery, Edwardian prose (quite well, I should say; he uses his thous and thees correctly) and it just reads like a proper, medieval epic would. And the ending. That is my kind of ending.

I think we've already settled on agreeing to disagree about this one--though I have to qualify that slightly, purely from a linguist's standpoint: he did not recreate Edwardian prose "quite well" (nor any other era's, to the best of my knowledge--I've seen "Jacobean" applied to it, but that's also wrong, certainly in comparison to its major authors), and I can find places within a single paragraph where he makes what at least to me stand out as glaring errors. I don't know why you like it, either, but there's nothing wrong with your doing so: often the most compellingly interesting works violate normal language usage. (Besides, we agree on Peake, which means we have to stick together against the barbarians. :D ) I'll hold out hope for the ending... since I still haven't reached it yet: process seems to be going along the lines of "read a chapter, read two other books, read another chapter, read three more books, read half a chapter, spot-check translations from Leges Henrici Primi, read...." If this book hadn't been so highly praised by people whose opinions I am otherwise inclined to respect (not only your own, so you needn't feel guilty about it--certainly no more than I do in recommending Spenser, which, as I recall, we also agree on), I'd've long since surrendered on it. But, hey, if you can manage my prose, I can manage Eddison's. ;)

(At least to the end of this one. I'll read his other books if I'm stranded on a desert island with only three texts, and those are five of them. And right after I've finished C. S. Lewis' science fiction trilogy. And rendered the Bardo Thodol into a G&S libretto with no aids other than a Euskara-to-Quipu pocket dictionary and a spork. I can do without the spork, if necessary, though some of the orchestration might turn out a bit chancy.)


I've said before, I certainly couldn't blame anyone for disliking Eddison (and, for the record, Ouroboros is without a doubt his best book, so I wouldn't encourage you to read anything else of his), if only for the chapters where he warrants a stone in the wall or a bubbling potion to be worth ten pages of prose. He could beat Oscar Wilde in a battle of needless description, and that truly is saying something.


Heh. You ever read Eco's The Name of the Rose? The description of the monastery doors goes on forever.... :rolleyes: