Twenty Must-read Finished Fantasy Epics – An Introduction to the Genre

Twenty Must-read Finished Fantasy Epics – An Introduction to the Genre

This list aims to provide an introductory overview of the epic fantasy genre and a resource for those who may be interested in reading an epic series but don’t quite know what is available or what might be worth reading.

For this list, we’re only including finished series. This is partly to narrow down the number of possibilities, and partly because we know that some readers prefer to read a whole series to its conclusion without having to wait for new volumes. A list of unfinished epics will be published in the near future.

For the sake of this list, a finished series constitutes three or more books in a sequence with at least one story arc completed. For instance, a finished trilogy counts even if a sequel or prequel series is yet to be completed.

As there are many worthwhile series and this list only has 20 places, it is by no means all-encompassing; inevitably, some worthwhile series will miss out. This is not meant to be an ordered list of the top 20 best fantasy books of all time, it is just meant to provide a basic starting point that caters to differing tastes.

To ensure variety, a number of different sources were consulted for every book on this list. As a result it is unlikely, though not impossible, that every single book on the list will be equally well suited to any one person. For instance, those looking for a gentle introduction may not want to jump straight into Malazan and may be better off selecting one of the other books to start with. However, we feel confident that if you use this list as a starting point, then look a little further into any entries that sound promising, you will have a decent idea of what might appeal to you.

Books that fit primarily into another genre or category (young adult, historical fantasy, etc.) have been excluded from this list and will most likely be appear in future lists. For the sake of variety we have tried to provide a balance between older classics and new favorites, and have also only included one series per author.

So without further ado, enjoy the list! We hope you find something to satisfy your taste for the epic.

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1. The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson
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To start off we have The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson. Fantasy doesn’t come much bigger or more epic than this ten-volume series, which starts with Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates. Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont have also written a number of  additional stories set in the Malazan Empire. Although this military fantasy may be a little intimidating to newer readers, its complex world, intricate story lines and impressive scope mark it as a must-read for any fantasy aficionado.
2. The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
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The Farseer Trilogy is considered one of the great works of character-driven fantasy, complete with a compelling plot, three dimensional characters, strange magics, and countless shades of grey. It’s hard not to get caught up in the world of the Six Duchies. The first in a number of trilogies set in this world, Farseer primarily tells the tale of royal bastard Fitz Chivalry, a young man endowed with a taboo power known as The Wit, which allows him to communicate with animals. Shunned by society, Fitz is secretly trained as a royal assassin. When the Six Duchies come under attack by sinister raiders, he may just be the kingdom’s last hope.
3. The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny
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Starting with Nine Princes in Amber, The Chronicles of Amber revolve around the concept of parallel worlds in which our version of Earth is just one of infinite possibilities. Fighting for dominion over these alternative realities are the two true worlds, Amber, the world of order, and the appropriately named Courts of Chaos. Those that carry the blood of the royal house of Amber may ‘shadow-walk’ through different realities. However, the current scions of Amber are hardly what you’d call a functional family unit. One of the great fantasy epics, Zelazny’s masterpiece is not to be missed.
4. The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
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Brandon Sanderson is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in modern fantasy, and the Mistborn trilogy is probably his greatest solo work so far. Notable for its unique premise, it starts focusing primarily on what happens to an Empire when the Dark Lord defeated the hero of prophecy. It also boasts an innovative magic system, weird creatures, impressive depth and some unforgettable characters. With innumerable shades of grey, Sanderson’s trilogy offers a  somewhat different perspective to the black and white morality that characterized Tolkien’s work. If your heart isn’t pounding by the stunning conclusion of The Hero of Ages, you must be a Steel Inquisitor.
5. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
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No fantasy list would be complete without The Lord of the Rings. This work of epic fantasy paved the way for many others and really needs no introduction. Although fantasy has evolved in many ways since Tolkien first set pen to paper, his story endures and his work still stands to this day as the most recognizable example of epic fantasy. Every fantasy fan should read this trilogy at least once, if only to witness the birth of the genre as we know it. It is also notable for inspiring one of the best film adaptions of all time, although watching the films is no acceptable substitute for reading the original text.
6. Drenai Tales by David Gemmel
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Drenai Tales begins with Legend, the book that first launched the career of renowned fantasy author David Gemmel. This heroic fantasy series undeniably left a huge mark on fantasy literature and, while certain elements of the story may seem a little dated to modern tastes, one must remember that his work predates many of the conventions of the genre. All in all, Gemmel was a gifted writer with a knack for eliciting strong emotional responses from his readers and exploring themes of honor, loyalty, redemption, and self-doubt.
7. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson
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This trilogy, sometimes referred to as ‘The First Chronicles’, contains the first three of Donaldson’s many works regarding an alternative realm known as ‘the Land’ and introduces readers to the bitter, cynical, and leprosy affected writer Thomas Covenant.  As the state of the Land seems to mirror Thomas’ own internal struggles he is never really certain whether this world actually exists or whether it is a mere delusion of his own disturbed mind. Either way, Thomas must decide whether to fight to save this world. These books are infused with humanist ideals and psychological undertones as Donaldson explores the darker side of his protagonist while still managing to keep him relatable and human.
8. The Belgariad by David Eddings
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Most seasoned fantasy readers will be familiar with the concept of an epic quest featuring an innocent farm-boy turned hero. We probably have David Eddings and The Belgariad at least partially to blame for this. While it may be the stuff of cliché nowadays, this was not the case when these books were first written. With snappy dialogue, a detailed fantasy world, surprising warmth, and characters you can’t help but fall in love with, Eddings’ work remains a fantasy staple to this day, delighting newer fantasy readers and stirring nostalgia in older ones.
9. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
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The newly completed Inheritance Trilogy would have to be one of the most underrated gems of epic fantasy we’ve seen in years. It differs from most other trilogies in the fact that each book occurs in a different time period and features different characters. Nevertheless, each novel is irrevocably linked to the others in the series. Set in a fascinating world where gods and humans coexist, this series is not to be missed. Check out our reviews of The Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods to find out more.
10. The Empire Trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts
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Set in the opulent Eastern-inspired empire of Kelewan, this trilogy tells the story of Mara of the Acoma, a young woman who unexpectedly rises to power when her father and brother are killed in battle. Mara must learn to survive in a court abounding in rivals, assassins and intrigue if she is to avenge their deaths and successfully lead her people. In what is commended as one of the most successful fantasy pairings of all time, this collaboration saw Feist and Wurts take their writing and charactization to a new level, creating an unforgettable epic. While there is some overlap with Feist’s Riftwar saga, the story is self contained and can be read just as easily without prior experience with either authors’ works.
11. Kushiel’s Legacy (Phèdre’s Trilogy) by Jacqueline Carey
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Not for the prudish, Kushiel’s Legacy primarily takes place in the country of Terre d’Ange (Land of the Angels) where the people live by a simple precept, “Love as thou wilt,” and prostitution is considered a sacred duty. The heroine of the trilogy, Phèdre, is marked by a god and fated to feel pain and pleasure as one. Taken in by a nobleman and trained as a spy, her unique talents allow her to discover various secrets and eventually uncover a plot that threatens the whole of Terre d’Ange. Phèdre must use all her skill and wit if she is to save her country from treachery. Notable for its lush prose, evocative worldbuilding, and intricate plotting as well as ample doses of eroticism and characterization, this trilogy is quite unlike any other you’ll read. Here is our review of Kushiel’s Dart.
12. The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
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This gritty noir fantasy was Abercrombie’s breakthrough work and comes complete with a delightfully wicked sense of humor and unforgettable characters that walk the line between hero and villain. The plot revolves around the fortunes of three main characters—an infamous barbarian, a crippled torturer, and a self-centered nobleman—as three great nations go to war. This is perfect for those looking for an unpredictable, raw, grimy, and cutting-edge fantasy read.
13. The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks
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Brent Weeks’ extremely popular debut trilogy tells the tale of a young guild rat who trains to become the ultimate assassin. Another gritty modern work with believable and morally ambiguous characters, its exciting and action packed plot, fast pace, and accessible prose make it a perfect entry point for anyone new to the fantasy genre while still providing more seasoned fans with a worthwhile read.
14. The Icewind Dale Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore Buy on Amazon.com Buy at The Book Depository Buy at Barnes and Noble Find this book on Goodreads

Taking place in the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons & Dragons fame, this trilogy first introduced readers to one of the best loved fantasy characters of all time, the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden. Having escaped his brutal underground homeland, Drizzt has taken up residence on the surface, living near dwarves and humans in Icewind Dale. Here he is content, despite being shunned by society as a whole. However in the valleys below lurks an evil force, the demonic power of Crenshinibon, the crystal shard. To save Icewind Dale, Drizzt must embark on an epic quest, joining forces with a young barbarian, a grizzled dwarf warrior and his adopted human daughter.

15. A Memory of Flames by Stephen Deas
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The first three books of A Memory of Flames constitute an epic trilogy in their own right while also serving as a prelude to a ongoing series. Deas introduces us to the empire of the Dragon Realms, where tamed dragons, kept in check by drugs administered to their food and water, serve as mounts and status symbols for the rich and powerful. While conniving nobles try to bribe and manipulate their way to the throne, a lone dragon escapes her bondage and embarks on a quest to free her kind. Unbeknownst to them, the rivals for the throne could soon be facing a very fiery rebellion. Check out our reviews to find out more—The Adamantine Palace, The King of the Crags and The Order of the Scales.
16. The Wolfblade Trilogy (The Hythrun Chronicles) by Jennifer Fallon
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This sweeping epic tells the tale of Marla Wolfblade, sister to the corrupt and perverted High Prince of Hythria. In a fiercely patriarchal society, Marla must leave behind her naïve adolescence and quickly learn the infamous rules of gaining and wielding power if she is to have a say in her future and protect those she loves. The dwarf Elezaar may be just the man to teach her. More focused on intrigue and politics than battles and bloodshed, it will nevertheless appeal to readers looking for a well-written, gripping tale with complex and believable characters.
17. The Axis Trilogy/The Wayfarer Redemption by Sara Douglass
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The Wayfarer Redemption is perhaps the most well-known work of popular Australian fantasy author Sara Douglass. A thousand years after the Acharites drove the Forbidden from their land, an unnatural winter has descended on the north. At a border stronghold, icy wraiths appear from within the mists, killing hundreds of soldiers in the blink of an eye. The Acharites believe the end times have begun; however, the truth may be somewhat more complicated. Notable for its fast pace, imaginative scope, and characterization, this series is a definite page-turner that is well worth a read.
18. The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop
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This dark fantasy series introduces readers to a world where women rule over men and one’s social standing is decided by magical power, visible by the color of jewel they wear. The realm of Terrielle is dominated by cruel and corrupt Queens who mercilessly destroy any potential rivals and exploit the land and its people. However, a new power is rising, in the form of a young girl called Jaenelle.  She may one day have the power to cleanse the realms of evil, but only if she survives to adulthood despite the many enemies who seek to destroy her. Addictive, evocative, and unashamedly sensual.
19. The Sword of Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks
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One of the most popular fantasy epics of all time, this trilogy tells the classic tale of a seemingly hopeless quest against an insurmountable evil. As darkness threatens their world, normal people must rise up to defend all that they hold dear. An easier read than Tolkein, yet dealing with a similar struggle of good versus evil, this trilogy begins Brooks’ long-running epic and is a great introductory text for readers who are still new to the fantasy genre.
20. The View from the Mirror by Ian Irvine
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Ian Irvine’s debut series is the first set in the Three Worlds.  In what could be described as a Darwinian fantasy, it focuses not on a fight between good and evil but the struggle for survival between four human sub-species. While once there existed three distinct worlds, each with their own race of humans, the balance is upset when a fourth race, driven almost to extinction, comes fleeing through the void. Now the worlds lie on the brink of a terrible and all-consuming war. This absorbing and powerful tale boasts an original concept, an interesting plot, a well crafted world, and developed believable characters.

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Did you enjoy our Introduction to Finished Fantasy Epics list? Was it helpful? Do you agree with our choices or disagree? What would you add to the list? Discuss it with us on the forums!

About Michelle Goldsmith

Michelle Goldsmith
Michelle is an Australian university student, bookseller, voracious reader and fantasy geek. Although her major is in Behavioural Ecology she has a passion for literature of all kinds. When she isn’t reading or stalking wildlife she can be found lurking among the shelves at her workplace, telling bad jokes, unintentionally traumatising delivery men, small children and the elderly or drinking ridiculous amounts of coffee with various enablers. Some (aka. Stephan) speculate that Michelle never sleeps and possesses slight, and mostly useless magic powers that allow her to guess almost anything correctly. These rumors are yet to be scientifically confirmed. She also keeps a personal blog of book reviews (various genres), and other assorted ramblings (some of which are actually coherent).

View all articles written by Michelle Goldsmith.

55 comments

  1. Amber is my favorite, but I’ve read several of these…and need to read more.

  2. Amber is my favorite, but I’ve read several of these…and need to read more.

  3. It is arguable, by the way, that Mistborn is not done. Sanderson has mentioned having written others in the series, in that time frame, that have not yet been picked up for publication. And you also have to decide whether you want to call ALLOY OF LAW fantasy or not. Otherwise, a pretty good list.

    • Same goes for A Memory of Flames, actually. We had to confirm that one with Stephen Deas himself.

      I believe Mistborn will ultimately consist of three trilogies (and some additional books like Alloy of Law), but none will be set in the same time as the original trilogy. That one is definitely finished, and it is a complete story.

      • Janea

        I believe
        they are looking at Mistborn as only a complete trilogy that has its own
        complete arc, without need of future installments.  Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy also has two
        complete trilogies that follow it, and third almost complete.  But you don’t have to read the others in
        order to get a complete and satisfactory experience.  Nice, yes. 
        Encouraged, yes.  But further
        titles are not necessary to the completion of the story.

  4. It is arguable, by the way, that Mistborn is not done. Sanderson has mentioned having written others in the series, in that time frame, that have not yet been picked up for publication. And you also have to decide whether you want to call ALLOY OF LAW fantasy or not. Otherwise, a pretty good list.

    • Stephan van Velzen

      Same goes for A Memory of Flames, actually. We had to confirm that one with Stephen Deas himself.

      I believe Mistborn will ultimately consist of three trilogies (and some additional books like Alloy of Law), but none will be set in the same time as the original trilogy. That one is definitely finished, and it is a complete story.

      • Janea

        I believe
        they are looking at Mistborn as only a complete trilogy that has its own
        complete arc, without need of future installments.  Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy also has two
        complete trilogies that follow it, and third almost complete.  But you don’t have to read the others in
        order to get a complete and satisfactory experience.  Nice, yes. 
        Encouraged, yes.  But further
        titles are not necessary to the completion of the story.

  5. Jennifer Fallon!!!!!

  6. Jennifer Fallon!!!!!

  7. Personally, I thought the Wolfblade Trilogy was the weaker of Fallon’s trilogies set in that world. I much preferred the Demon Child Trilogy (Medalon, Treason Keep, Harshini). My favorite *trilogy* by Fallon is The Second Sons Trilogy, but my favorite book is The Immortal Prince. I’m still bitter about how The Tide Lords Quartet ended.

    • I would probably agree about Wolfblade vs. Demon Child. However, many places seem to list all six collectively as ‘The Hythrun Chronicles’ so I thought I had better start with the one that was chronologically first. Otherwise people might get annoyed that I made them read out of order (sounds unlikely but it’s happened to me at work with those books before :P). 

    • I’m going to have to reread these two trilogies.  I know I’ve read them in the past, but it’s been too long.  I do remember the Demon Child Trilogy much moreso than the other.

      The Tide Lords was such an awesome awesome setting, and a lot of the characters were great.  It really lost steam by the 3rd, I thought, and the ending seems to have infuriated most people.  I thought the very end was cool, but there definitely should have been more closure before they left the old world.

      • Exactly! I loved the fantasy concept of the world, so I was really annoyed when it turned science-fiction at the end. 

        I agree about it losing steam around book 3. I remember thinking it was a lot of moving people around the world and not a lot actually happening until the last few pages.

        • See, I thought it was very cute that they moved to earth.  It could have left interesting sequels, perhaps. 

          BUT, that said, she really shouldn’t have ended it so poorly on the old world itself.  There was literally no closure or plot ending stuff.  If she’d ended the series legit on the old world, and then did an epilogue similar to how she ended it, I would have been happy.  But there was some stupid hand waving and then that ending.

          She seemed like she had no clue how to end it in a good way, and just did what she did, and then threw everybody on earth to hopefully hand-wave that she didn’t know how to end it.  :)

  8. Personally, I thought the Wolfblade Trilogy was the weaker of Fallon’s trilogies set in that world. I much preferred the Demon Child Trilogy (Medalon, Treason Keep, Harshini). My favorite *trilogy* by Fallon is The Second Sons Trilogy, but my favorite book is The Immortal Prince. I’m still bitter about how The Tide Lords Quartet ended.

    • I would probably agree about Wolfblade vs. Demon Child. However, many places seem to list all six collectively as ‘The Hythrun Chronicles’ so I thought I had better start with the one that was chronologically first. Otherwise people might get annoyed that I made them read out of order (sounds unlikely but it’s happened to me at work with those books before :P). 

    • I’m going to have to reread these two trilogies.  I know I’ve read them in the past, but it’s been too long.  I do remember the Demon Child Trilogy much moreso than the other.

      The Tide Lords was such an awesome awesome setting, and a lot of the characters were great.  It really lost steam by the 3rd, I thought, and the ending seems to have infuriated most people.  I thought the very end was cool, but there definitely should have been more closure before they left the old world.

      • Exactly! I loved the fantasy concept of the world, so I was really annoyed when it turned science-fiction at the end. 

        I agree about it losing steam around book 3. I remember thinking it was a lot of moving people around the world and not a lot actually happening until the last few pages.

        • See, I thought it was very cute that they moved to earth.  It could have left interesting sequels, perhaps. 

          BUT, that said, she really shouldn’t have ended it so poorly on the old world itself.  There was literally no closure or plot ending stuff.  If she’d ended the series legit on the old world, and then did an epilogue similar to how she ended it, I would have been happy.  But there was some stupid hand waving and then that ending.

          She seemed like she had no clue how to end it in a good way, and just did what she did, and then threw everybody on earth to hopefully hand-wave that she didn’t know how to end it.  :)

  9. No Sword of Truth? Read all 12 books, but couldn’t get past the first Shannara book…

    • Eh, Sword of Truth definitely isn’t an RD favorite. I’ve read the first five books myself, but as Goodkind got worse and worse, I just had to give up when he started building characters as cannon fodder.

      • Heh, five is how many I made through myself before giving up.  I thought the series was rather a train wreck.  The only fun part was the racy S&M sex.  :)

        • Red leather! :P I don’t know, for a while the fifth book seemed like a turning point to me. Goodkind introduced some great new characters that could have brought some much-needed originality into the series after four books that were very similar. And then he killed off every single one of those new characters. Meh!

  10. No Sword of Truth? Read all 12 books, but couldn’t get past the first Shannara book…

    • Stephan van Velzen

      Eh, Sword of Truth definitely isn’t an RD favorite. I’ve read the first five books myself, but as Goodkind got worse and worse, I just had to give up when he started building characters as cannon fodder.

      • Heh, five is how many I made through myself before giving up.  I thought the series was rather a train wreck.  The only fun part was the racy S&M sex.  :)

        • Stephan van Velzen

          Red leather! :P I don’t know, for a while the fifth book seemed like a turning point to me. Goodkind introduced some great new characters that could have brought some much-needed originality into the series after four books that were very similar. And then he killed off every single one of those new characters. Meh!

  11. Sadly, you did not include Jill Williamson’s Award Winning Trilogy: By Darkness Hid, To Darkness Fled and From Darkness Won. These are CAN’T PUT DOWN reads.

  12. Sadly, you did not include Jill Williamson’s Award Winning Trilogy: By Darkness Hid, To Darkness Fled and From Darkness Won. These are CAN’T PUT DOWN reads.

  13. Raymond Feist’s original Riftwar Saga deserves to be up here. It’s worth noting also that ‘The Sword of Shannara is the reason the rest of these books (LoTR notwithstanding) even got written. It’s certainly not the best thing on this list by a long shot, but it was the first Epic Fantasy book since Tolkien that reached the masses and proved Fantasy as a viable market and eventually as a more lucrative market the SF.

    • They only included one series by each author.  They decided to do the Empire series, instead of his original, *shrug*.  Both are great.

  14. Raymond Feist’s original Riftwar Saga deserves to be up here. It’s worth noting also that ‘The Sword of Shannara is the reason the rest of these books (LoTR notwithstanding) even got written. It’s certainly not the best thing on this list by a long shot, but it was the first Epic Fantasy book since Tolkien that reached the masses and proved Fantasy as a viable market and eventually as a more lucrative market the SF.

    • They only included one series by each author.  They decided to do the Empire series, instead of his original, *shrug*.  Both are great.

  15. I would recommend four books about Volkodav by Maria Semionova. The writer used Slavic pagan mythology to build a beautiful story. 

  16. I would recommend four books about Volkodav by Maria Semionova. The writer used Slavic pagan mythology to build a beautiful story. 

  17. I’d add Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy to the list.

  18. I’d add Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy to the list.

  19. Really loved the 3 worlds series and the night angel trilogy, gonna have to look at reading some of the other titles on this list!

  20. Really loved the 3 worlds series and the night angel trilogy, gonna have to look at reading some of the other titles on this list!

  21. Love any of Sara Douglass

  22. Love any of Sara Douglass

  23. I’d add The Dragonlance Chronicles to that list. Other than that, its pretty good!

  24. Tad Williams is one of the best for sure!!!

  25. What about Anne McCaffrey (The Dragon Riders of Pern trilogy, for example) or Melanie Rawn (Dragon Prince & Dragon Star trilogies)?

  26. I am truly surprised that Rangers Apprentice and the Seventh Tower series aren’t on there…

  27. I disagree with #19, read those books and couldn’t stand how much of a lotr knockoff they were. Being inspired by lotr is one thing but this was taking it way too far.

  28. Larry Dewayne Black

    I have read man of these series but believe there are two missing that should be included first and foremost Robert Jordan’s Wheel of time completed by Brandon Sanderson which in my opinion should take the #1 spot but I did not care for malazan that much also one that seems to always not get mentioned in these list but I liked a lot was Terry Goodkind’s sword of Truth series.

    I would figure this list was compiled before WOT was complete and understand that.

    Thanks
    Wayne Black

  29. Yes, Feist should be there! The View from the Mirror is the best saga there, in my opinoin.

  30. This is your list but i can’t help but notice that Wheel of Time isnt included!Arguably one of the best series i read even accounting its various downfalls……

  31. I have already ordered one of the series mentioned. Very comprehensive, thanks for adding to my repertoire

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