If you didn’t get enough ideas for summer reading from our list of science fiction series, take a crack at fantasy instead. Though before anyone starts to quibble over terminology, I’ll note that though “epic fantasy” is sometimes interchangeable with “high fantasy,” my definition here has more to do with scope than genre. These book series are epic in the sense that they’ll take you a while to read, and probably suck you right into the world while you’re doing it. Though rather than being too obvious by singing the praises of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, here are some other book series to eat away at some of your summer free time.
The Chronicles of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
It’s been ages since I read these books, and I think it might be time for me to enjoy them again. This is one of the ultimate stories of parallel worlds, and you’ll find that it’s full of philosophical concepts – the nature of existence, and even more obviously, the tension between order and chaos. Oh, and if you’ve got a thing for Tarot cards or Shakespeare, you’ll probably find these particularly enjoyable. There are 10 books that were originally released over a period of 20 years, but in the grand tradition of the omnibus, you can just get the whole kit and kaboodle in one really really big paperback.Though the first book is Nine Princes in Amber, if you can find a copy of it.
The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
These books are really Stephen King’s magnum opus, and I really did read all of them over a single summer a few years ago – which I highly recommend. From a magical world vaguely reminiscent of the Old West to modern day New York and a bunch of stuff in between, these books are apparently what you get when an author is simultaneously inspired by Lord of the Rings and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The first book is The Gunslinger, and there are seven altogether (though there may soon be an eighth). Even if you’re not a fan of King’s other works, this saga is worth picking up entirely on its own merits.
A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin
This is one of the most loved high fantasy series that is still ongoing, and definitely fits into the “epic” category. It’s just what you would think for these kinds of books – kingdoms and politics, swords and dragons. But they have also been considered the forerunners of a “grittier” sort of fantasy – Tolkien with an edge, so to speak. The first book in the series is A Game of Thrones, followed by three others. The upcoming installment does not yet have a release date. Also, keep in mind that now would be a great time to read these books, since HBO is making a much-anticipated television series based on them.
The Sword of Truth Series, by Terry Goodkind
I’ve found that this series of books tends to polarize people – either you love it or you hate it. I think I’m actually somewhere in between, but when I sat down and tried to decide whether I wanted to recommend these or Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, I came down on Goodkind’s side of the fence. 11 novels in, these books are a long run of good-versus-evil and fantastic world building. I admit that I haven’t read all of them yet, but hey, something to look forward to. For those of you who might be picking them up because of the Legend of the Seeker TV series, be aware that like most adaptations there are differences – but I still think that if you like one you might like the other. The first book in the series is Wizard’s First Rule.
The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher
Some of you might argue that “urban fantasy” is out of place on this list, but hey, I’m just telling you what you should read this summer, and I put these near the top of the list. Over the course of 12 books, Butcher’s tales of a smart-ass wizard private investigator indulge in some serious world building even if it’s based on our world. Plus if you’re a tabletop geek, there’s a roleplaying game coming out this summer. Something I like about these books is that you can tell that Butcher is a big geek himself; something about the way he writes the system of magic makes me think he’s rolling a D20 next to his keyboard. Also there was a short-lived by really very good TV series that’s worth picking up on DVD. As for the books – to get started, pick up Storm Front. (I’d also highly recommend the audio, which are read spectacularly by Buffy’s James Marsters.)
Again, five is a small number for this kind of list, especially since I can glance over at my bookshelf and see a number of series right now looking sadly neglected – like Wheel of Time and Kushiel’s Legacy and even Jim Butcher’s more traditional fantasy fare, Codex Alera. So what would you guys recommend? Leave your suggestions for fantasy series in the comments! And let us know what you plan to read this summer.