My Favorite High Fantasy Series (Adult)
High fantasy: Epic stakes, magical powers, chosen ones, and prophecies. Creatures of the non-human variety, medieval warfare, royalty, and feuds. It is, in a word, SWEEPING.
I love high fantasy, and since childhood, it has been my go-to genre in the adult reading world. As such, I thought I’d lay out a few of all time my favorite series for adult high fantasy, and in turn, maybe YOU can tell me yours.
Now, in no particular order….
Witches of Eileanan by Kate Forsyth is probably the least well-known on my list, but it’s definitely one of my favorites. Lots of characters, creatures, layers, and scope, this series will suck you in and have you zooming through it (I think there are 7 books in total).
In the Celtic land of Eileanan, witches and magic have been outlawed, and those caught for practicing witchcraft are put to death. It is a land ruled by an evil Queen, where sea-dwelling Fairgean stir, and children vanish in the night. But in a valley deep in the mountains, young Isabeau grows to womanhood under the guidance of an elderly witch, and must set out on a quest, carrying the last hopes of the persecuted witches.
Though Isabeau is declared the main character, the overall cast of characters (whose POVs we all follow) is enormous. And though the world is described as “Celtic”, it’s much broader–from the sea-folks to the ice-dwellers to the witches to the regular old people like you and me, these books cover a huge, rich world that has stayed firmly in my memory as one of my favorites.
Be warned: I think this book is out of print, so it might be a bit hard to find a copy. If you can, though, it’s SO worth it!
Favorite character: Gabe (swoon)
Favorite book in the series: Skull of the World
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin is of course insanely good. Everyone knows that now thanks to the HBO show…but, of course, the books are better. Epic, sweeping, and VIOLENT, these books will transport you to medieval warfare.
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.
Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.
Look, these books are amazing. Just…just read them, okay? I feel like they should be required reading for all writers–it’s a PhD in character development.
But, keep in mind that the series is finished. 🙁 There are still 2 books due out…well, no one can really say for sure.
Favorite Character: tie between The Hound and Jaime Lannister
Favorite book in the series: A Storm of Swords
Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb is the first in a trilogy…and that trilogy is the first in a three-trilogy series (so 9 books total). I cannot possibly express to you how good these books are. How much SCOPE this world has or how much the characters in it grow.
The illegitimate son of the noble Prince Chivalry, is ignored by all royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has had him tutored him in the dark arts of the assassin. He has barely survived his first, soul-shattering mission, and returns to the court where he is thrown headfirst into the tumult of royal life. With the King near death, and Fitz’s only ally off on a seemingly hopeless quest, the throne itself is threatened. Meanwhile, the treacherous Red Ship Raiders have renewed their attacks on the Six Duchies, slaughtering the inhabitants of entire seaside towns. In this time of great peril, it soon becomes clear that the fate of the kingdom may rest in Fitz’s hands–and his role in its salvation may require the ultimate sacrifice.
We follow Fitz in the first trilogy, and it’s EPIC and WONDERFULLY heart wrenching (I have literally, to this day, never cried as much over a character’s death as I did in this series). If you enjoy high fantasy, then you must, must, must, absolutely MUST read this book.
Favorite Character: Nighteyes
Favorite Book: Assassin’s Quest
Despite my adoration for the Farseer Trilogy, it’s the middle trilogy–the Liveship Traders series–that I actually favor the most. The characters in that middle series are so complex, grow so very much (not always for the better), and are all so deeply intertwined, I was left with my head shaking in awe.
Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships–rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. The fortunes of one of Bingtown’s oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship Vivacia.
For Althea Vestrit, the ship is her rightful legacy unjustly denied her–a legacy she will risk anything to reclaim. For Althea’s young nephew Wintrow, wrenched from his religious studies and forced to serve aboard ship, Vivacia is a life sentence.
But the fate of the Vestrit family–and the ship–may ultimately lie in the hands of an outsider. The ruthless pirate Kennit seeks a way to seize power over all the denizens of the Pirate Isles…and the first step of his plan requires him to capture his own liveship and bend it to his will….
Though it says Althea is the MC, she’s really not–there are many POVs in that series, and they’re all perfectly executed. Like George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb has an amazing ability to craft unique characters and weave them together flawlessly.
Favorite Character: tie between Brashen and Malta
Favorite book in the series: Ship of Destiny
Inda by Sherwood Smith is the most recent on this list to draw me in–and man, did it draw me in!
Indevan-Dal is the second son of the Prince and Princess of Choraed Elgaer, destined to become his elder brother Tanrid’s Shield Arm-his military champion. Like all second sons, he is to be privately trained at home by Tanrid, the brother whose lands he will one day protect.
When the King’s Voice comes to summon Inda to the Military Academy, he might well feel foreboding, or even fear-war is imminent-yet youthful Inda feels only excitement. But there are things that Tanrid hadn’t prepared him for, and Inda will soon learn that the greatest threats to his safety will not come from foreign enemies, but from supposed allies within his own country.
Like Hobb and Martin, Sherwood Smith manages to create a mind-bogglingly vast cast of characters, a world as expansive as it is unique, and a plot so layered that the resonance in some places (when little details dropped earlier come back to bite with huge significance) that I don’t know how Smith did it. Seriously, I have no idea how she crafted these books so well and so quickly!
Also, I just want to emphasize how deep and convincing her characters are. No two are alike, they all have their secrets and pasts and stories to tell.
Favorite Character: Savarend (“Fox”)
Favorite book in the series: The Fox
So, if you’re ever in the mood for some high fantasy of the multi-booked, SUPER EPIC variety, then be sure to pick up these series!!
You tell me: Have you read any of these series? Or do you have another high fantasy series you love?
April 23, 2012 @ 3:52 pm
A Game of Thrones is AMAZING! The show got me started on the series, but the book was definitely better! Almost done with ACoK and looking forward to next one. I was a bit upset with the second book after what happened to Renly Baratheon (my favourite until then) though. His interactions with everyone and all the ~secret subtext~ between him and Loras just kept me grinning like a fool.
April 27, 2012 @ 11:36 pm
Yeah, I prefer the books. 🙂 My husband got into the books from the show too, and he agrees. I’ve heard the second season isn’t as good, so I haven’t even bothered to watch. I’ve got KORRA to keep me happy.
(OMG DID YOU SEE THE LAST EPISODE? THE EPIC CANNOT BE CONTAINED!)
April 23, 2012 @ 4:21 pm
Haven’t read any of these but I LOVED the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. There’s eleven of them–the last one came out about three years ago–so you can rip through them all without stopping! So good. Sososo epic.
April 27, 2012 @ 11:37 pm
I’ve heard great things about that series, and I’ve been meaning to pick it up for years. I’m glad the series is done–I HATE waiting. 😉
April 23, 2012 @ 7:23 pm
Those are ALL popping onto my Goodreads to-read list. I like high fantasy but I’m very very picky about it (and consequently don’t read much of it), so it’s awesome to get recommendations from someone who does have a lot of experience in the genre. Thanks!
April 27, 2012 @ 11:38 pm
You’re so welcome! I used to read only high fantasy (there was a period in college where I don’t think I touched anything else), and there is a lot of good out there…and a lot of bad. Like any genre, of course. 😉
April 23, 2012 @ 7:46 pm
I haven’t read any of those! How sad is that? Some of my favorite adult high fantasy series are MISTBORN (Brandon Sanderson), THE SPELLSONG CYCLE (L.E. Modesitt Jr.), and THE NAME OF THE WIND (Patrick Rothfuss). So good!
April 27, 2012 @ 11:38 pm
Oh, Sanderson and Rothfuss–those are newer, aren’t they? I’ve heard wonderful things about them, so I’m definitely gonna have to add them to my TBR list!
April 23, 2012 @ 10:06 pm
Looks like you could dive into these and not reappear for years… in the good way! I don’t know most of them but WOW, they look amazing!
April 27, 2012 @ 11:40 pm
Seriously, though, I was looking at SHIP OF MAGIC yesterday (to reread), and it has >800 pages. At ~250 words a page (though I think there’s more; the print is TINY), that’s >200,000 words!! LIKE O_o WHOA. Yet, when I read those books in college, they never once felt too long.
April 24, 2012 @ 1:00 am
Did you know Sherwood Smith just published a new book from the Inda world (but several centuries later)? It’s called Banner of the Damned. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the Inda series, but pretty satisfying…
April 27, 2012 @ 11:40 pm
YES. I bought it instantly. It’s sitting by my computer to be picked up soon.
April 25, 2012 @ 1:03 pm
Thank you so much for all these wonderful recommendations. I love the fantasy genre but can’t say I’ve read a lot of epic fantasy, so I’ve noted down these series on my wishlist. I do already own A Game of Thrones already just haven’t got around to reading it yet. But am loving the tv show already!
Not sure I have much that I can recommend for you. The only epic fantasy I have really read is The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien. I have also read and enjoyed The Sword of Shannara and The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks but I believe there is a lot more in the series now.
April 27, 2012 @ 11:42 pm
The thing about epic fantasy is that you have to be willing to commit, you know? At least for me, once I start, I can’t finish until I reach the last page…so for a 7-book series, that’s a big time commitment!! 🙂 When I read the SONG OF ICE & FIRE series in college, I was *supposed* to be studying for my GREs. I did not, and though I spent the whole week I should have been studying lost in the throes of Westeros, I didn’t regret it at all. GREs? Pffft. Stories that stay with me for life? Those are what matter.
April 25, 2012 @ 10:12 pm
” it’s a PhD in character development.” So true! Theon, Jaime, The Hound and Tyrion. I’d count Cersei, but I don’t think she really changes, we just get a glimpse into her psyche. Jesus, the scene with Lady Merryweather really showed how messed up she is:S
Oh random, do you know any good French or German translated to english books? I’d love to read a French crime or Fantasy:O
The LiveShip Traders trilogy is the best of Robbin Hobb’s bunch, in my opinion.
April 27, 2012 @ 11:43 pm
I think I like that the LIVESHIP TRADERS are in third person and give us so many more POVs. I love Fitz, but I did get a little sick of him. 😉
Re: French/German, I’ll have to ask my hubby. I know RUBY RED is German (I adore that book!), but it’s YA…
April 27, 2012 @ 5:33 am
OMG. I LOVE Robin Hobb’s nine-book series also AND the liveship traders trilogy is my FAVORITE in the set also! I <3 the Fool. I cried so much in the last trilogy.
I always love your book recommendations, and I tend to find to agree with you opinion-wise about a lot of the books we've both read, so I definitely know I need to check out the other two series you recommended! I'm always on the lookout for well-developed high fantasy novels!
April 27, 2012 @ 11:44 pm
I <3 the Fool and Nighteyes. Seriously, do you remember that scene when Fitz runs off with a healthy, happy Nighteyes, and then you realize it's a dream and Nighteyes has finally passed away?? I AM CRYING JUST THINKING OF IT.
April 29, 2012 @ 9:35 pm
ummm yes… SO SAD!!!!!
I love Robin Hobb’s writing like no other, but I always prepare myself emotionally before diving in because I KNOW each book will BREAK me to PIECES!
May 10, 2012 @ 5:54 am
When I think adult high-fantasy I think of Robert Jordan’s THE WHEEL OF TIME series. EPIC!
August 1, 2013 @ 4:34 pm
I love that I can tell you truly are a high fantasy fan by your favourites. Robin Hobb is amazing, although I’m not so much a fan of her newest series with the dragons. Having read this genre for all my life I have some recommendations if you have time. I love anything by trudi canavan-the black magicians trilogy is really good. Terry goodkind is fantastic too but the end of that series is a little disappointing. By far my favourite author is Lynn flewelling-anything that she writes is incredible-beautiful fantasy worlds and stories with a little bit of forbidden love. What else do you need?
August 1, 2013 @ 4:41 pm
I’ve read the Black Magicians trilogy!! OH MY GOSH, so good. And I met Lynn Flewelling and even bought a signed copy of her LUCK IN THE SHADOWS, but I have yet to read it… As for Terry Goodkind, I tried to read that back in college, and I just couldn’t get into it. But that’s just me personally. 🙂
Thanks for the recs!! 😀