I have been an epic fantasy fan pretty much since day one. Epics in general seem to be something I have always been drawn too, and maybe that is partially because the first book my mother read to me when she brought me home from the hospital was War & Peace because that's what she was reading at the time (Although if we're following that logic how do we explain the fact that I can't stand Tolstoy, Chekov, Dostoevsky et al.?); epic fantasy is especially close to my heart though. Some of my fondest memories from my childhood are from my grade 4 class, we had the most amazing teacher, a wonderful Scotsman who at the end of every school year would lead the entire student body around the block with his bagpipes. But that's not the reason I brought him up, he read to us every day for at least 30 minutes, he read us really good books like everything by Roald Dahl and also Lord of the Flies, but my favourite thing that he read to us was The Hobbit, and he didn't just read it, he breathed life into it, he gave every single character their own distinct voice. His reading of that book has spoiled me, I can't read it on my own any more because it's just not as good as when he read it to us.
So in honour of Mr. McNaught, the love of epic fantasy that he instilled in me, and his brilliant reading of The Hobbit I present my list of 5 Epic Fantasy Series That You May Have Missed:
1. The Fionavar Tapestry (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, The Darkest Road)
First published in 1984 by Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay, this series, according to my Tolkien & Fantasy Professor, is one of the definitive examples of the epic fantasy genre, and especially of Tolkienian fantasy. I am inclined to agree but I also always felt like this trilogy had just as much in common with Lewis's Narnia, Rowling's Harry and even Carroll's Wonderland to a certain extent, so I am really glad to see that the curriculum for the Tolkien & Fantasy course has been updated to include some of those authors as well, but that's a digression! Fionavar is a secondary world example of epic fantasy. Young Adults from "present day" Toronto are taken into a secondary, separate fantasy world. Once in the fantasy world they encounter many of the races the audience expects of a high fantasy world, and also the celtic gods of earth mythology. Classic battle of good vs. evil for the fate of the world ensues, some of the magic spills back out into the primary world. Any epic fantasy fan knows what the end will be, the end isn't the point, it's all about getting there.
2. The DragonKeeper Chronicles (DragonSpell, DragonQuest, DragonKnight, DragonFire, DragonLight)
When the author herself cites her biggest literary influences as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien you really can't NOT include her on a list about epic fantasy series. This series is relatively new to the market, the first book was only published in 2004 and the conclusion appearing 4 years later in 2008. As is tradition in the realm of epic fantasy you have one main character, Kale in this case, who ends up on a quest and in that quest ends up surrounded by an unlikely group of allies and the fate of the world ends up resting on their shoulders. The particular fantasy series has decidedly Christian undertones, but it's easy enough to ignore those should you be so inclined, they're not in your face but they are there if you know what you're looking for. That being said if you love dragons this series is FILLED with dragons, from teeny tiny pet dragons that are more like shih tzus than they are dragons, to larger riding dragons (like in Eragon), to ANTHROPOMORPHIC DRAGONS!!! Sorry but I had a little bit of a geek out there as I am want to do every time I think about how awesome that is.
3. The Farsala Trilogy (Fall of a Kingdom, Rise of a Hero, Forging the Sword)
Hilari Bell has written a fair few novels and fantasy is definitely her thing. This is her epic fantasy trilogy, it debuted in 2003. Fall of a Kingdom was her 5th book to be published even though it was the 15th book that she wrote. As with the above 2 mentioned series, I have yet to find someone else who has actually read these books let alone heard of them. That disappoints me because these are very good, and wonderful examples of epic fantasy. There's prophecy, good vs. evil, good old fashioned sword to sword combat, magic, hard to pronounce city and character names, and a mysterious metal that appears to be indestructible and unbeatable. The characters in this series are my favourite kind, super complex and well developed. This series is less about archetypal good and evil and more about the lesser of two evils and the balance between the people and the power. It's epic to be sure but there's also a lot of subterfuge and subtle working against a besieging enemy that you don't always expect from an epic high fantasy series.
4. The Abhorsen Series (Sabirel, Lirael, Abhorsen, Across the Wall, Clariel)
I am insanely, insanely excited right now! I loaded the GoodReads page for this series so I could link to it and discovered that the 4th book Clariel has been confirmed! I didn't even know Garth Nix was planning another book for this series! I thought he was calling it done after the trilogy! Nix is one of my favourite authors, I love everything by him that I've read but the Abhorsen series has to be one of my all time favourites of any author. And it's going to be a prequel! I LOVE prequels, must have ALL the back stories!! Sorry, I'm geeking out again, please forgive me? Abhorsen opens with Sabriel which is the name of the title character, who happens to be the Abhorsen-in-waiting. the Abhorsen is a special type of necromancer, and in the world of the Old Kingdom and free magic the role of the Abhorsen is of vital importance. She's at boarding school in Ancelstierre when the big bad starts to cause problems in the Old Kingdom that only she can fix, so in the grand tradition of epic fantasies she sets off and picks up a set of companions along the way all while learning to truly harness her amazing powers. Lirael introduces the Clayr who are of course a race of clairvoyants, because even though she thought she'd beaten the big bad in the first book, of course she hadn't or it wouldn't be an epic fantasy series, she had only beaten his second in command. This series is a definite must read.
5. The Prince of Nothing (The Darkness That Comes Before, The Warrior Prophet, The Thousandfold Thought)
Another Canadian series, this one by R. Scott Bakker (who came to my Tolkien & Fantasy class back in 2009 to give us a lecture about the series.). This series is the heaviest one on this list. I still haven't managed to get through the entire trilogy and not for lack of want. The books in this series are extremely complex, filled with philosophy and intensity. There's a lot to get through. They do not read fast, at all. But if you're willing to put in the time and effort to read it they are DEFINITELY worth it. Everything you would expect from an epic fantasy series is in these books, as one of the titles shows you've got a religious prophet who is also a warrior, there's dark magic, good magic. Like I said I haven't read them all yes, but I did work my way through the first book and I was insanely impressed.
So have you read any of these series? Did you enjoy them or not? Let me know! And do you have any other epic fantasy series to recommend?