Picking my Top 10 Fantasy series is such a subjective task. The books I love carry with them the weight of not just my own tastes, but also my nostalgia. Some of the books I’d put in my top 10 aren’t even objectively the best books, but they are books that I have loved at some point in my life and want to share with people.
Some you may have heard of, others, perhaps not. I’ve not bothered putting Tolkien or Pratchett on the list because if you don’t’ love Tolkien or Pratchett you don’t love Fantasy. But these are my personal Top 10 fantasy series of all time (in no particular order).
The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss
First Book: The Name of the Wind
When The Name of the Wind was first released, my mother came home with a hardback copy. She’d picked it up on the way home because it sounded like something I might like, and did I ever! I would go so far to say that this series is the best of modern fantasy.
It is a story of youth, told by a man who is to become the world’s most renowned magician. It’s full of action, adventure, romance, friendship and above all, magic!
The Axis Trilogy by Sara Douglass
First Book: BattleAxe
When I was twelve a friend of the family gave me a book for my birthday. That book was Sara Douglass’ Threshold. Looking back I was way too young to have been given that book, let alone be reading it, but it started my life-long love affair with everything Sara Douglass. I loved her so much I even applied to be her shadow for my year 10 work experience. Even though it didn’t happen, I still have the reply that she sent me to this day.
The Axis Trilogy is an epic series full of family feuds, the magic of the stars and doomed romances. It has strong female characters, tackles issues of abuse and religious zealotry, environmentalism, xenophobia and is the series that I come back to again and again.
The Gentleman Bastards Sequence by Scott Lynch
First Book: The Lies of Locke Lamora
This whole series is irreverent and darkly humorous. Locke and his compatriots carry out schemes and heists and are the perfect anti-heroes that you can’t help but fall in love with. The characterisation in this series is superb and the setting is so rich you almost feel you could step in to its pages. It’s a long series that is barely half way through, but it’s one that is so worth committing to.
The characterisation in this series is superb and the setting is so rich you almost feel you could step in to its pages. It’s a long series that is barely half way through, but it’s one that is so worth committing to.
The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
First Book: Over Sea, Under Stone
This is the series that made me want to become an historian and started my lifelong love affair with everything Arthurian. I read the series in the fifth grade, and turned to my parents and told them that I wanted to find The Holy Grail. When they asked me how, I said research!
This is such a fantastic series for adults and children alike, and is so woefully overlooked. They are darker than a lot of children’s fantasy novels which is very welcome. The first book is more of a seaside adventure story and the books get darker as they progress until they end with an epic battle of Arthurian proportions. The Dark is Rising Sequence will make you fall in love with reading all over again.
The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula Le Guin
First Book: A Wizard of Earthsea
Ursula Le Guin is probably as influential as Tolkien. Many of the series in this list have clearly been influenced by The Earthsea Cycle. So many modern fantasy series rely on appendices, family trees, and other extra information to help build their worlds. With Earthsea though Le Guin offers us a master class in world building. The evil itself is largely abstract; a force rather than an evil with a face. The series tackles the huge task of covering themes like life and death.
The first three books act as a Trilogy and can easily be read on their own. The fourth book Tehanu is usually packaged with the first three (while the last two books are largely ignored) but is a largely different book in substance and style to the three that came before. This series is a must read for anyone who loves fantasy.
The Pendragon Cycle by Stephen Lawhead
First Book: Taliesin
I picked up the first two books in this series from my school library when I was in my early teens. Since then I’ve tried to get a copy of the whole series, but they’re surprisingly difficult to get hold of (especially if you want the whole series with the same covers – seriously publishers, WHY?).
Arthurian legend is a subject covered in literature time and time again, but in my opinion, this is one of the best. It mixes Arthurian legend with Celtic history and even myths of Atlantis with elements if historical Minoan culture! It’s a fantastic mix of fantasy and historical fiction that is so well researched you could almost believe it to be true.
King Raven Trilogy by Stephen Lawhead
First Book: Hood
The Legend of Robin Hood is known by pretty much everyone. It’s been made in to countless films and plays and stories, but never has it been done in such an original and well-researched way. Lawhead sets his trilogy in the time of the Norman Conquest on the Welsh borders and gives every element of the story its own place in history.
The Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody
First Book: Obernewtyn
I must admit, my obsession with The Obernewtyn Chronicles has waned somewhat over the years. I was absolutely obsessed with the books in my childhood, but as more time passed between her releasing books and I got older, I simply lost interest. There was nearly a decade between book 4 and 5 and there is only so long I can keep my expectation for a series going, especially since she started other series during that time.
Still, despite my brief disenchantment, The Obernewtyn Chronicles remain a seminal work of YA literature. Like most post-apocalyptic novels this series covers everything that a coming-of-age story needs and goes further covering deeper elements of prejudice, tolerance, responsibility and even human and animal rights.
After 28 years the series was finally finished with the 7th novel released in 2015, so you’re safe to pick it up now.
Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
First Book: The Mists of Avalon
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon series takes Arthurian legend and re-tells it from the perspective of its female protagonists, which is a stroke of genius. The experience of reading these books is therefore completely different to what you get from many other books in this genre. The big battles and power struggles that are usually so prevalent in Arthurian legend instead serve as backdrops to the lives of its women.
While it’s fantasy, it does serve as an important work of feminist literature, giving voice to the women who are largely silent in the old legends.
Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud
First Book: The Screaming Staircase
It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited for the release of new books. I describe the Lockwood & Co. series as if J. K. Rowling had written The Woman in Black. While it’s technically middle-grade fiction there is a lot here to be excited about. The prose is witty with beautifully fleshed out characters with completely unique personalities.
There are chills galore and an overarching story that makes me desperate to read on. I can’t recommend this series enough!
So there they are, my top 10 fantasy series. And the best thing? There’s still plenty more out there to discover!