20 Years Of Reading Fantasy : My Top 20

A while ago, when I was looking at my bookcase a thought hit me. It’s been 20 years now since I discovered that fantasy is actually a genre on its own. It was Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings that gave me the love for the fantastical genre and that love has never died since that moment, 20 years ago. To celebrate that anniversary I decided to do a top 20 of my favorite fantasy books. This list is purely my personal opinion, with no one else involved. That doesn’t mean that I’m not curious about your reactions to this list. I’ll be happy to find out what you think of this list, so let those comments coming.


20 The First Law (Joe Abercrombie)
20Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy is considered as one of the best grimdark series and also as one of the best fantasy series ever. And it is rightly so. The main characters of this trilogy are probably the most flawed characters you’ll ever meet in a book, but it’s hard not to care for these guys. Abercrombie’s trilogy is full of dark moments, but also a lot of funny ones, with a great storyline and an ending that you’ll like or hate. I liked that special ending because it fits perfectly with the subgenre this is written in. The best book of this trilogy is the first one, The Blade Itself, where Abercrombie can go all out with his talent in characterbuilding. You can read my review here.

19 Elantris (Brandon Sanderson)
19Brandon Sanderson’s debut novel Elantris marks the start of the career of one of the best fantasy authors from the last decade. It tells the tale of three people that are seeing their futures becoming intertwined when they are fighting to save the city of Elantris from invaders. This book contains all the elements that Sanderson is known for: a superb world, great characters and a very original magic system. This is the first book by Sanderson that has ended up in this top 20, but definitely not the last, so if you’re looking for a fantasy author to follow, be sure to check this one out.

18 Golden Trillium (Andre Norton)
18Andre Norton’s Golden Trillium is a standalone in the Trillium series co-written with Marion Zimmer Bradley and Julian May. This book tells the tale of Princess Kadiya, who has to undertake a long and dangerous journey to stop an evil disease from spreading throughout her world. It’s been a long time since I’ve read this book, but the one thing I remember was that this story was hugely epic, in the truest meaning of the word. Norton’s great writing style delivers a classic tale of good versus evil, but in a slightly different way than we were used to back then when the book was published. A wonderful world and great characters makes this book one of the best epic standalones on the market.

17 A Turn Of Light (Julie E. Czerneda)
17Like I said, I’ve read fantasy for twenty years now, but I started my blog only a year ago. During that year I’ve met (online) a lot of interesting and very nice authors and people from the publishing industry. Quite a few were so kind to send me a book for reviewing. And between those books there are a few that have made it to my top 20. Julie E. Czerneda’s A Turn Of Light is one of those. As you can tell from my review is this first book in the Night’s Edge series not only a wonderful and magical tale, but above all a very beautiful story about a girl and her dreams, set against the backdrop of an epic war. Czerneda’s style is beautiful and addictive and if you like your epic fantasy looked upon in an original way, you won’t be disappointed with this great novel.

16 Your Brother’s Blood (David Towsey)
16David Towsey’s Your Brother’s Blood is a beautiful tale about humanity set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world. It’s a very refreshing take on the zombie tales and definitely a must-read. It’s probably the most unconventional of all the books in my top 20, but at the same time also one of the most beautiful written. It’s haunting and left a deep impression on me after I’ve closed the book. And although it is a book about zombies, it’s also one of the most human I’ve ever read. You can read my review here.

15 Faerie Tale (Raymond E. Feist)
15While Raymond Feist is mostly known for his big epic series in the Riftwar universe, it is his standalone, Faerie Tale, that has left the most impression on me. It is a dark and haunting tale about a family that is going to live on a farm in rural America. When they discover an ancient item in their new home, a dark and terrible force is awakened in the woods near their farm and they get entangled in a war that started centuries ago. With some very creepy scenes is this one of the books that I’ve read almost 20 years ago, but that stills lingers in my head. You can read my review here.

14 The Shadow Saga (Jon Sprunk)
14Jon Sprunk’s debut trilogy is an action packed tale full of great battle scenes and emotional interludes. We are swamped with assassin’s tales this last decade, but this trilogy is in my opinion the best. It starts out as all of the other assassin’s books, but very soon it changes to a more epic struggle between light and dark with the main protagonist Caim right in the middle of it. In its heart is The Shadow Saga a very emotional tale about a man in search of his heritage. The best book of this trilogy is the first one, Shadow’s Son. You can read my reviews of this series by clicking on following links: book 1; book 2; book 3.

13 The Chronicles Of Sword And Sand (Howard Andrew Jones)
13The Sword and Sorcery subgenre has seen a revival these last years and Howard Andrew Jones’ series about Dabir and Asim is one of those series that is responsible for that feat. The Chronicles of Sword and Sand is a fantastical example of Sword and Sorcery, set in 8th century Middle East, with influences from 1001 Nights. The second book in this series, The Bones Of The Old Ones, is even the best book I’ve read in 2012. If you like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, you’ll love this series. Check my reviews of this series by clicking on following links: book 1; book 2.

12 Watership Down (Richard Adams)
12I don’t think that Richard Adams’ masterpiece Watership Down needs much of an introduction. His tale about a group of rabbits in search for a new home has been made into a movie and an animated tv-series and was single-handedly responsible for a boom in animal fantasy novels. It was an instant classic and millions of readers have enjoyed the adventures of Hazel, Fiver and their friends since the publication of the book in 1972. Adams never managed to get the same success with his next novels and Watership Down is today still one of the greatest classics in fantasy literature.

11 Tailchaser’s Song (Tad Williams)
11Just like the number 12 in this list is Tad Williams’ Tailchaser’s Song a book in the subgenre of animal fantasy. But this novel about the cat Tailchaser is even more epic than Watership Down and thanks to the fantastic worldbuilding and Williams’ superb writing style is this book the best I’ve ever read in this subgenre. The final battle between Tailchaser and the monster is breathtaking and even a little scary. This is a book that can stand alongside the great epic fantasy books of all time and one of the few books I’ve read more than one time.

10 The Broken Sword (Poul Anderson)
10This standalone novel by Poul Anderson is the oldest book in this top 20 (together with the book that made it at number 2 in my list). The Broken Sword is a tale set in the age of Vikings, set against the backdrop of Norse Mythology. It tells the tale of Skafloc and Valgard, two children that are switched upon birth by the elves. Skafloc, the human child, has been raised by the elves and Valgard, a mix of elf and troll, is raised by humans. Valgard wants nothing more than claim his birthright among the elves and uses his evil personality to make sure that Skafloc will pay for taking his heritage. Skafloc, on the other hand, wants nothing more than live in peace with his loved ones, but ends up in the war that is about to break loose between the different races. The Broken Sword is a classic tale, full of emotion and heart wrenching drama and one of the greatest fantasy classics of all time.

9 The Forever Knight (John Marco)
09John Marco’s The Forever Knight is one of the best books of 2013 and even one of the best of all time. It’s the fourth book about Lukien, the Bronze Knight, and tells a wonderful emotional tale about a man in search of his true self. With superb characterbuilding, a splendid writing style and some very good dialogues is this book a definite must-read if you like character driven fantasy tales with Sword and Sorcery influences. This is one of the few books that made me cry when reading. It happened in chapter 24, which is a beautiful written, but heart wrenching chapter that touched my heart in its very core. You can read my review here.

8 Thieftaker Chronicles (D.B. Jackson)
08D.B. Jackson is the pseudonym of award-winning author David B. Coe and under this pseudonym does he write this historical urban fantasy series set in Colonial Boston. The main character of this series is Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker who has magical powers. Ethan tries to make a living in Boston and wants to start over again with his life after he made some mistakes that have landed him in a penal colony. While the first book, Thieftaker, was a great book, is it the second novel, Thieves’ Quarry, that made this series the number 8 on my list. Thieves’ Quarry has it all: a great storyline, wonderful characterbuilding, superb battles and a very intriguing murder mystery. One of the best books of 2013. You can read my reviews of here: book 1 and book 2.

7 The Chronicles Of King Byren’s Kin (Rowena Cory Daniells)
07Rowena Cory Daniells’ quadrilogy is a perfect example of modern epic fantasy. The superb characterbuilding, along with the fantastical world makes this a fast paced series, written down by an author whose talent in storytelling is near perfection. This series reading experience is like a rollercoaster and the books are almost impossible to put down. The best book in this series (I haven’t read the fourth one yet) is the first one, The King’s Bastard. While the next two aren’t of the same high level as the first one, are they still superb and good enough to land this series on the seventh spot of my list. You can read my reviews by clicking on following links: book 1; book 2; book3.

6 Mistborn (Brandon Sanderson)
06Brandon Sanderson’s trilogy tells the tale of Vin, a street urchin and thief, who will be discovered by Kelsier, a Mistborn. Kelsier discovers that she has the same powers as he does and together they set out on a quest to destroy the dark lord. Remarkable on this books that it tells the tale of the world in which it takes place after the hero is beaten and the dark lord rules. The best book of this series is the third one, The Hero Of Ages, with one of the most perfect endings I’ve ever read. This trilogy is a superb example of how fantasy can still be as original as it was 60 years ago. Lovingly written characters and an original magic system, mixed with Sandersons’ extraordinary storytelling talent is what makes this trilogy a definite must-read.

5 Memory, Sorrow And Thorn (Tad Williams)
05Tad Williams’ trilogy tells the story of Simon, a kitchen boy, who will reluctantly become a pawn in the never ending war between Sithi and men. The most remarkable part of this series is the fact that it was one of the first books where there wasn’t a solid good or evil side in the war. Each race could have its heroes and betrayers. To Green Angel Tower, the final book was the best one. It brought an already fantastical tale to a conclusion of stellar proportions. One of the best classic epic fantasy series you’ll find and a perfect example that ‘coming-of-age’ tales can be compelling.

4 The Way Of Kings (Brandon Sanderson)
04Brandon Sandersons’ The Way Of Kings is actually the first book in his 10-book series The Stormlight Archive, but since there’s only one book written so far will I put the name of that book above this part of my list. Off course, if Sanderson doesn’t keep up the same level in the rest of this series, it will go down on my list. But for now is it one of the best books I’ve read, ever. This mammoth of a book (1,000+ pages) is of such a high level that everything is right about this tale. The main protagonist, Kaladin, is one of the best developed characters I’ve ever read about and I’m pretty sure that this series about a universe threatening war will become the greatest fantasy series ever written if Sanderson can keep up this level.

3 The Riddlemaster Of Hed (Patricia McKillip)
03Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster trilogy tells the tale of Morgon, a prince of Hed and a riddle-master who wins a riddle-game and with that the hand of Raederle, a princess and friend of old. Morgon is born with three stars on his forehead and no-one knows the meaning of it. In search for an answer to that riddle Morgon embarks on a quest that will shake the very foundations of the world. This tale is as beautiful as fantasy can be, compelling and breathtaking at almost every page. The second book, Heir Of Sea And Fire, is the best of this trilogy and especially the breathtaking finale where Morgon confronts Deth is one of the most beautiful scenes in the history of fantasy literature.

2 The Lord Of The Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
02I don’t think I can tell you much about J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings that isn’t already said a thousandth times and more. I can only tell you that this book, which marks the start of modern fantasy, still stands tall, even after 60 years. The tale of Frodo and his companions is etched in the memories of every fantasy fan. Sam, Gandalf, Bilbo, Gollum, Sauron…  All these are characters are loved by millions of readers all over the world. So it is nsurprise that this book is the second best sold book of all time and, probably just like half of the fantasy fans out there, is this book the one that made me fall in love with fantasy.

1 The Wheel Of Time (Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson)
01‘The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.’
With these historical words began Robert Jordan, 23 years ago, the first chapter of ‘The Eye of the World’, the first book of the greatest fantasy series ever written: The Wheel of Time. Now, in 2013, is this series of 14 books finally finished (Brandon Sanderson took over the job after the death of Jordan in 2007) and it is this final volume, A Memory Of Light, that is in my opinion the best fantasy book ever written. It brings this superb series to a beautiful conclusion and while this series may not be to everyone’s taste (it is a different type of storytelling and pacing that we are used to nowadays, after all) it stands proud at my number 1 and it’s going to take a very good book to dethrone this one. You can read my review of the final volume right here.


Thank you for taking a look at my personal top 20. I hope you have discovered some books that you haven’t read, but want to try out after reading my description. Feel free to express your feelings about this list in the comments section and let me know what books you think that should be on this list and which not.

About Dominick

Husband, father, author and fantasy-freak

Posted on 01/12/2013, in Books, Miscellaneous, Top 3 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.

  1. The Lies of Locke Lamora or The Name of the Wind? Both of those are hugely important in the recent fantasy landscape. You would be remiss in not having read or even consider those.

  2. So happy to see Rowena Cory Daniells on your list! Been raving about her to everyone but no one has read her yet. The final book was good, not as good as the first but still good.

    If you haven’t had the chance, read her Outcast Chronicles. I found them to be even better than King Rolen’s Kin.

    • I’m starting in King Breaker this very weekend. I’m curious to see how this is going to end.
      Her other series is something on my TBR list.

  1. Pingback: The Origins Of Blood And Iron (A Guest Post by Jon Sprunk) | Fantastical Imaginations

  2. Pingback: 20 Years Of Reading Fantasy : My Top 20 via Tor Books | It's Kind of an Electronic Book

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