5 Epic Fantasy Book Series to Read This Summer

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.

Advertisement





67 Responses to 5 Epic Fantasy Book Series to Read This Summer

  1. W00t Stephen King!

    I saw that whole series on my shelf when my wife asked for some summer reading suggestions. If it weren't for the fact I know it's not her style of book, I would have recommended it in a heartbeat.

    You jolted me there for a second. I had to read into the post to realize this wasn't some accidental repeat on the RSS feed.

  2. W00t Stephen King!
    I saw that whole series on my shelf when my wife asked for some summer reading suggestions. If it weren’t for the fact I know it’s not her style of book, I would have recommended it in a heartbeat.
    You jolted me there for a second. I had to read into the post to realize this wasn’t some accidental repeat on the RSS feed.

  3. Have seen the dresden files on iTunes as Audio Books. woul be great if they came as eBook for iPad sometime this summer.

  4. Have seen the dresden files on iTunes as Audio Books. woul be great if they came as eBook for iPad sometime this summer.

  5. My suggestion : The wheel of time, Robert Jordan.

    It definitely as its place in the list !

    Of course, you may need more than the summer to go through it ;-)

  6. My suggestion : The wheel of time, Robert Jordan.

    It definitely as its place in the list !

    Of course, you may need more than the summer to go through it ;-)

  7. Both Wheel of Time and Sword of Truth lost their votes for me in about book 5…. when they repeated the plot yet again (for the 5th time). I did give Wheel until book 9, with the same results.

    Woot for Amber. I read these over 30 years ago, when I picked up a book at the library to kill some time before my ride came. I re-read them every few years. LOVE them.

  8. Both Wheel of Time and Sword of Truth lost their votes for me in about book 5…. when they repeated the plot yet again (for the 5th time). I did give Wheel until book 9, with the same results.

    Woot for Amber. I read these over 30 years ago, when I picked up a book at the library to kill some time before my ride came. I re-read them every few years. LOVE them.

  9. I am a big fan of R.A. Salvatore and believe the Demonwars Saga is a good, light read for the summer.

  10. I am a big fan of R.A. Salvatore and believe the Demonwars Saga is a good, light read for the summer.

    • YES!!! I -love- the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, Erikson writes in a way that can make you laugh on one page and then breaks your heart the next page. The magnitude of events expands exponentially and as far as I know has not yet repeated itself– he deliberately breaks with fantasy conventions (for example, there is no one main protagonist), and isn't afraid to kill characters (of my top five favorites, three are dead.)

      • Yes indeed! Erikson is a master I own a copy of everyone of his Malazan books and whenever my literature fund runs out i reread his series. He's so good and so merciless with his characters, cause there's nothing worse the an author who can't bear to part with any of His/her 184 characters.

    • YES!!! I -love- the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, Erikson writes in a way that can make you laugh on one page and then breaks your heart the next page. The magnitude of events expands exponentially and as far as I know has not yet repeated itself– he deliberately breaks with fantasy conventions (for example, there is no one main protagonist), and isn’t afraid to kill characters (of my top five favorites, three are dead.)

      • Yes indeed! Erikson is a master I own a copy of everyone of his Malazan books and whenever my literature fund runs out i reread his series. He’s so good and so merciless with his characters, cause there’s nothing worse the an author who can’t bear to part with any of His/her 184 characters.

  11. The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson is amazing. (If the name sounds familiar, he's the guy who was chosen to finish the Wheel of Time series.)

    Great characters, a plot line that keeps you hooked until the very last page, and a unique system of magic that made me think "Holy crap, they need to make this into an RPG!" (Yeah, I'm a geek.)

    • Another vote for Mistborn. It's so freaking good, and the way he weaves together clues and plotlines is just amazing. I seldom yell "Holy crap!" at books like I do at Lost, but this series totally had me doing that. Mistborn is DEFINITELY a must-read.

  12. The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson is amazing. (If the name sounds familiar, he’s the guy who was chosen to finish the Wheel of Time series.)

    Great characters, a plot line that keeps you hooked until the very last page, and a unique system of magic that made me think “Holy crap, they need to make this into an RPG!” (Yeah, I’m a geek.)

    • Another vote for Mistborn. It’s so freaking good, and the way he weaves together clues and plotlines is just amazing. I seldom yell “Holy crap!” at books like I do at Lost, but this series totally had me doing that. Mistborn is DEFINITELY a must-read.

  13. The Mistborn Trilogy IS amazing—Not as amazing as the Dresden Files, IMO.

    I recommend it to people, no matter their preference on books—except my parents, who staunchly disregard fiction as being meaningful.

  14. The Mistborn Trilogy IS amazing—Not as amazing as the Dresden Files, IMO.

    I recommend it to people, no matter their preference on books—except my parents, who staunchly disregard fiction as being meaningful.

  15. I would have to suggest The Obsidian Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory. I have yet to finish the series (on book 3 right now) but it's been a very long time since a series has drawn me in so suddenly and dramatically. A truly excellent read.

  16. I would have to suggest The Obsidian Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory. I have yet to finish the series (on book 3 right now) but it’s been a very long time since a series has drawn me in so suddenly and dramatically. A truly excellent read.

  17. I strongly suggest : The Black Company by Glen Cook

    It's the story of a mercenary unit fighting quite dirty which hired by the bad guys.

  18. I strongly suggest : The Black Company by Glen Cook
    It’s the story of a mercenary unit fighting quite dirty which hired by the bad guys.

  19. Anything written by R.A. Salvatore cannot be overlooked in this list. Some of the best characters in the genre, intense battles. I have been a fan of his for 22 years, and he still leaves me craving the next book.

  20. Anything written by R.A. Salvatore cannot be overlooked in this list. Some of the best characters in the genre, intense battles. I have been a fan of his for 22 years, and he still leaves me craving the next book.

  21. Dang PX already stole my comment- The Black Company by Glen Cook. I already read the first three so now I'm off to follow the rest of the tale.

    I like it because of the way the books are written from the first person perspective, as if a historian was recording the events almost like a journal. Great reading so far!

  22. Dang PX already stole my comment- The Black Company by Glen Cook. I already read the first three so now I’m off to follow the rest of the tale.

    I like it because of the way the books are written from the first person perspective, as if a historian was recording the events almost like a journal. Great reading so far!

  23. Dresden files are my newest obssesion – I have read all 12 books like five times already.

    Dark tower is pure awesomness.

    Amber books are not that good to me.

    Going to read A Song of Ice and Fire this summer. Need new series :)

  24. Dresden files are my newest obssesion – I have read all 12 books like five times already.
    Dark tower is pure awesomness.
    Amber books are not that good to me.

    Going to read A Song of Ice and Fire this summer. Need new series :)

  25. I strongly suggest The Black Jewels "Trilogy" by Anne Bishop. Even though it's a trilogy, there are more than three books that relate to the main plot and are set in the same universe that I guarantee will make you rethink everything you know about traditional light and dark roles.

    And then there's this new series that I started reading a while ago by Jane Lindskold. It starts off with Thirteen Orphans and continues with Nine Gates. Five Odd Honours comes out this month. This series made me want to learn Mahjong and read Chinese fairy tales and I can't wait to read the newest one.

  26. I strongly suggest The Black Jewels “Trilogy” by Anne Bishop. Even though it’s a trilogy, there are more than three books that relate to the main plot and are set in the same universe that I guarantee will make you rethink everything you know about traditional light and dark roles.

    And then there’s this new series that I started reading a while ago by Jane Lindskold. It starts off with Thirteen Orphans and continues with Nine Gates. Five Odd Honours comes out this month. This series made me want to learn Mahjong and read Chinese fairy tales and I can’t wait to read the newest one.

  27. I Love the song of fire and ice but I'm more than a little worried that Martin has written his series into a stall. It been 5 or so years since the last one came out and I'm dying to know where he is gonna go with it.

  28. I Love the song of fire and ice but I’m more than a little worried that Martin has written his series into a stall. It been 5 or so years since the last one came out and I’m dying to know where he is gonna go with it.

  29. No one has mentioned Feist's Magician series? One of my first high-fantasy series and it's still excellent going through multiple reads :)

  30. No one has mentioned Feist’s Magician series? One of my first high-fantasy series and it’s still excellent going through multiple reads :)

  31. I would put forth David Weber's : Safehold series as one of the must read list. It has become my new obsession

  32. I would put forth David Weber’s : Safehold series as one of the must read list. It has become my new obsession

  33. A quick summer read at only 3 books (4 in paperback) is Tad Williams excellent 'Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn'. First book in the series is 'The Dragonbone Chair' It reads very much like Tolkien meets Shakespeare, almost a hodgepodge of classic SciFi themes.

  34. A quick summer read at only 3 books (4 in paperback) is Tad Williams excellent ‘Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn’. First book in the series is ‘The Dragonbone Chair’ It reads very much like Tolkien meets Shakespeare, almost a hodgepodge of classic SciFi themes.

  35. Jim Butcher, really? Thumbs down on any list with that. Aside from that, this is still a horrible list.

  36. Jim Butcher, really? Thumbs down on any list with that. Aside from that, this is still a horrible list.

  37. Would definitely recommend anything by Mercedes Lackey (though the Mage Wars series with Larry Dixon is a favourite) and also Piers Anthony's Xanth series… x x x

  38. Would definitely recommend anything by Mercedes Lackey (though the Mage Wars series with Larry Dixon is a favourite) and also Piers Anthony’s Xanth series… x x x

  39. Where was "Memory, Sorrow and Thorn" on this list? Where was a certain melancholy Cimmerian named Conan? No mention of the far darker Wizard of Oz series? Nothing by Lord Dunsany or Algernon Blackwood? What about the Elenium and the Tamuli, or the perennial classic,the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy?

  40. Where was “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” on this list? Where was a certain melancholy Cimmerian named Conan? No mention of the far darker Wizard of Oz series? Nothing by Lord Dunsany or Algernon Blackwood? What about the Elenium and the Tamuli, or the perennial classic,the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy?

  41. No love for Terry Brooks yet? His Shanarra chronicles are fairly epic worldbuilding. Not to mention that he has managed to link them with another of his storylines (Word vs. Void) and come full-circle. I have yet to read a book by him that I didn't like (except "Hook" which he hated writing)

  42. No love for Terry Brooks yet? His Shanarra chronicles are fairly epic worldbuilding. Not to mention that he has managed to link them with another of his storylines (Word vs. Void) and come full-circle. I have yet to read a book by him that I didn’t like (except “Hook” which he hated writing)

  43. Jim Butcher is a great author. I'm reading Codex Alera right now. I recommend trying out David Gemmel, Stones of Power. Five books, the first two are linked and the last three are linked. You can read both groupings on their own, but I recommend reading them in order, things will make more sense.

  44. Jim Butcher is a great author. I’m reading Codex Alera right now. I recommend trying out David Gemmel, Stones of Power. Five books, the first two are linked and the last three are linked. You can read both groupings on their own, but I recommend reading them in order, things will make more sense.

  45. A Song of Ice and Fire series is amazing. Great writing, GREAT character development, compelling enough that it kept me up all night reading the first volume more than once. I'm a bit leery of the forthcoming television program, but since HBO is producing it, it might not suck.

    The Sword of Truth series is equally epic, but not for the weak-stomached. Goodkind is a very sick bastard and I think he's gotta be totally insane to write the crap he writes. I mean, it's TRULY SICK. Made me vomit more than once. I guess that means it's well written and believable, but I had to STOP reading because it was too gross. My guts did flip-flops getting near my copies of the books. I actually enjoyed Legend of the Seeker until I started reading the books. By comparison, the show is complete and utter shit. I mean, I expect differences but the plot changes really annoy me. They leave out WAY too much. GG Fox :|

    I've heard King's Dark Tower series is really good, but the rabid fanbase is just as irritating to me as the Twitard set so I'll pass until the popularity dies down….

  46. A Song of Ice and Fire series is amazing. Great writing, GREAT character development, compelling enough that it kept me up all night reading the first volume more than once. I’m a bit leery of the forthcoming television program, but since HBO is producing it, it might not suck.

    The Sword of Truth series is equally epic, but not for the weak-stomached. Goodkind is a very sick bastard and I think he’s gotta be totally insane to write the crap he writes. I mean, it’s TRULY SICK. Made me vomit more than once. I guess that means it’s well written and believable, but I had to STOP reading because it was too gross. My guts did flip-flops getting near my copies of the books. I actually enjoyed Legend of the Seeker until I started reading the books. By comparison, the show is complete and utter shit. I mean, I expect differences but the plot changes really annoy me. They leave out WAY too much. GG Fox :|

    I’ve heard King’s Dark Tower series is really good, but the rabid fanbase is just as irritating to me as the Twitard set so I’ll pass until the popularity dies down….

  47. I ADORE Dresden Files, but I have a comment: if anyone who wants to give this author a try but isn't into urban or modern fantasy, read his Codex Alera series. They're really solid high fantasy, in an interesting setting, with some fascinating political stuff. I also feel that Butcher writes some of the best fight scenes ever. So, yeah – epic fantasy from the author of Dresden Files. Go read them! :)

  48. I ADORE Dresden Files, but I have a comment: if anyone who wants to give this author a try but isn’t into urban or modern fantasy, read his Codex Alera series. They’re really solid high fantasy, in an interesting setting, with some fascinating political stuff. I also feel that Butcher writes some of the best fight scenes ever. So, yeah – epic fantasy from the author of Dresden Files. Go read them! :)

  49. I second the Kushiel's Legacy series. Fantasy for grownups! But fair warning, not for prudes — Phedre is a courtesan, after all.

    Love the Dresen Files! I enjoyed the TV show, too, and was sorry to see it canceled.

    Why choose between Wheel of Time and Sword of Truth? They're both crap as far as I'm concerned. Goodkind has a lot of imaginative ideas, but an absolute tin ear for dialog, and he started substituting florid melodrama for decent plot and writing around book 3. Jordan created a complex and interesting world, then slowed the pace of the plot to a crawl. I began to feel cheated, reading 900-page books in which almost nothing happens except some caravan rides a little closer to some castle. Sheesh!

  50. I have two additions to this list: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson & The Belgariad/Mallorean series by David & Leigh Eddings!

  51. I believe Brent Weeks' "Night Angel Trilogy" should certainly have a place here. Its complex storyline and interwoven plot elements have allowed me to read it several times now, discovering new connections each time. All the characters are very well developed and very human: The heroes have deadly flaws and the villains have redeeming characteristics. I have yet to find any writing as easily amazing as Weeks' work. I never cry unless I'm reading these books.

  52. Something I'd like to add: While the Wheel of Time is a good recommendation, it's not in the list for a reason. It's very very long, and a summer probably won't be enough to read it all. But it surely is something worth a look at.

  53. Chronicles of Thomas Covenant Unbeliever, by Stephen R Donaldson. OK so he got a bit down in the second trilogy, but the first three books ruled. The more I see lists like this, the more I believe this guy Donaldson somehow got hated by most serious readers of fantasy. I don't see why. Also Donaldson's Gap series books was one of the best sci fi stories I have ever read. It's gritty, and a bit off the beaten path, and also, ignored by listers of Sci Fi masterpieces. I would love to hear from any aficiandoes out there why this guy is blacklisted.