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When I was in middle school, one of my parents’ goals at Christmas was to give me enough books to keep me occupied until school started back. In sixth grade, they sent me a not so subtle hint to not wake them up too early by putting a paperback in my stocking and hanging the stocking on my doorknob! Unsurprisingly, I’m always on the lookout for more books to read (and listen to – I adore my Audible membership), so today I decided to share what I’m calling 5 fantasy series to read now that you’re finished with Game of Thrones. Or maybe ‘5 fantasy series to read if you enjoyed Game of Thrones’ would be better?
So what on Earth does that mean? That means these are fantasy series that are more…gritty? I also really enjoy reading ‘young adult’ sci-fi and fantasy, but none of these books would fall into that category. Like GoT, these books have ‘good guys’ that aren’t particularly good, ‘bad guys’ you can empathize with, and some pretty brutal battles. They are also well written with unusual turns of phrase, interesting characters, and unique metaphors that make them really stand out as well-crafted books to me. However, if this style of fantasy really isn’t your thing, I totally understand! I plan to write more more themed book lists in the future, so just check back in later. =)
I’m not going to give much of a summary for each series because you can quickly find a synopsis by clicking over to Amazon, but hopefully what I share is enough to pique your interest. I’ve tried to describe the whole series in a single sentence, then give a little more information about why it’s an interesting read.
The Red Queen’s War by Mark Lawrence. (Prince of Fools is the first book in the trilogy). In a sentence, I’d call them post-apocolptic Renaissance-inspired fantasy with an anti-hero who’s so cowardly he occasionally does the ‘right’ thing because he’s too afraid not to. These books take place in a post-apocolptic fantasy version of our own world. Humans really messed things up, had a nuclear war, and their descendants have created a feudal society and live in the remains of old buildings with bits of scavenged technology. In the world Lawrence creates, people are aware of Shakespeare, Plato, and Aristotle, but have very limited understanding of ‘modern’ technology because the only books that survived were the old, rare ones locked away in vaults – electronic resources and books, journals, etc. exposed at the time of the nuclear war were destroyed. Bonus series: there’s another trilogy in this same universe! The Broken Empire was written before The Red Queen’s War. They’re both stand alone trilogies, just set in the same world. I enjoyed both trilogies, but believe Lawrence was a more experienced/skilled author by the time he wrote the second trilogy and found it a bit more enjoyable.
The First Law trilogy (and other novels set in the same world) by Joe Abercrombie. The Blade Itself is the first novel in the series. They’re difficult to characterize in a sentence, but I’d probably have to go with ‘appearances can be deceiving.’ One of the reasons I enjoyed these books so much is that they revolve around characters who are fantasy stereotypes, but they’re treated in somewhat un-stereotypical ways. There’s a plotting inquisitor, a self-absorbed young nobleman, and a brutal barbarian from the north, but they’re all presented in a new light. The inquisitor finds himself the victim of secret plots, the nobleman discovered that newfound ‘good fortune’ is a cage, and the northman might be one of the ‘better’ people in the books. These books are interesting because of Abercrombie’s writing style and look at the characters as real, complex people in a way that reminds me of Martin’s evolving characters in GoT.
Gentleman Bastards by Scott Lynch. The first three books in the series are available for a really great price (at the time of writing) on Kindle, and the fourth book is due out in March, 2017. In a sentence, I’d say sort of Renaissance Italy + relics of an ancient alien civilization with a pure evil, but still somehow likable, criminal mastermind main character. I put off reading the first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, for a long time because the ancient aliens thing seemed weird to me, but it actually works into the story quite well. The main characters could easily turn into huge stereotypes – the slightly built, but fiendishly clever, orphan their and his large, gentle giant/heart of gold type friend – but there are fun, novel concepts that keep everything interesting. I’m really looking forward to book 4, but also a bit sad because I enjoyed discussing this series with my dad and know he was looking forward to the next installment.
The Cycle of Arawn by Edward W. Robertson (and in progress Cycle of Galand) really grew on me. In a sentence…misunderstood and misrepresented religious minority gets persecuted + persecuted minority bands together with another persecuted group to end slavery. The main character, Dante, starts out as a pretty annoying, whiny adolescent who is just in it for himself, but changes into a fairly conscientious, though prone to galavanting off on his own, leader of a kingdom. The interactions between Dante and his best friend, Blays, are hilarious and very authentic feeling, and there is an interesting race of humanoids who seem somewhat primitive at a glance, but turn out to have a complex and rich society. Because the books deal with religious persecution and slavery/racism and are pretty thought-provoking, not just magic and swordplay.
The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. I really enjoy all of Robin Hobb’s books set in the same world (so also the Tawny Man Trilogy, Liveship Traders Trilogy, and Rain Wilds Chronicles) because they combine traditional fantasy elements with some neat twists. In a sentence, I’d say the Farseer Trilogy is about someone whose life is frequently beyond his own control trying to figure out where he fits in + a underlying theme about persecution/proverbial witch hunts. The Trilogy deals with a boy in a northern kingdom who’s the illegitimate child of the heir to the throne. The boy, who was never given a real real name, is used, manipulated, and, often times, rejected by his father’s family, but disallowed from having a life of his own because of his usefulness to the crown. The books deal not only with intrigue and power struggles, but also with persecution of a group of people for their allegedly sinful ways (for possessing a particular type of magic).
Looking over this list of series and the other related series makes me stop and think about just how many books I read in a year! I’ve read all of these in the past two years, many of them even more recently than that. It’s not like they’ve been the only books I’ve read, either – I also have round ups of some favorite lighter-hearted fantasy books, inspirational works, and travel narratives planned! I’m tempted to draw up a list of ‘fairly interesting books with somewhat disappointing endings,’ but I’m not sure that would be very productive.
Do you enjoy epic fantasy novels? What are your favorite series? Please leave a comment because I’m always on the lookout for more books!
Natasha Núñez is a former classroom teacher with a Masters of the Arts in Teaching. She also is a registered yoga teacher & holds a certificate in natural skincare formulation from the School of Natural Skincare. She shares her passion for education, positive parenting, free printables, and recipes for DIY bath & home products. Learn more about Natasha and where she’s been featured.