You can’t beat the feeling of sinking deeper and deeper into another world, via the pages of a brilliant fantasy novel. Such is the challenge and pleasure of the fantasy author, creating an interesting narrative is not sufficient. To be considered as one of the best fantasy books, there is a whole world to create, with its own rules, creatures and history. As a result, the fantasy genre is one that attracts more and more readers every year. More than that, it’s often fantasy books that are adapted into highly successful movies and TV. The goal of this article is to build a list of some of the best fantasy books of all time. To do that, I needed to assemble a squad of fantasy fiction aficionados. In this article, some of the most exciting authors in the fantasy genre are ready to select what they believe to be the best fantasy books of all time. The result is a spectacularly eclectic and extensive list of incredible books. Before we discover the best fantasy books of all time, we must first meet that panel of experts…
Seanan McGuire is the author of the October Daye urban fantasies, the InCryptid urban fantasies, and several other works both stand-alone and in trilogies or duologies. One of her most recent releases is entitled In An Absent Dream. She was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her novel Feed (as Mira Grant) was named as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2010
Jeff Wheeler is a respected and recognised author of fantasy and science fiction books. His Muirwood series is gathering attention and a devoted fanbase. His most recent release from the Harbinger Series, Prism Cloud attracting a multitude of positive reviews. Jeff is a prolific author within the fantasy genre and as a result, was the perfect author for this panel.
Lev Grossman is a popular author who has now authored multiple books. Perhaps his most notable release is The Magicians Trilogy, with the first book being published in 2009 and was a New York Times bestseller and one of the New Yorker‘s best books of the year. The books have led to a TV show on the Syfy channel and also received praise from many, including George R.R. Martin, John Green and Audrey Niffenegger.
Alyssa Wees is an author who has just released their debut novel, The Waking Forest, a novel about a girl with terrifying visions and a wish-granting witch whose lives collide in an unexpected way. The novel has been heralded as ‘bewitching, sensuous and spiked with the unexpected’. She earned a BA in English from Creighton University and an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago.
Nicki Pau Preto
Nicki Pau Preto is a YA fantasy author who has just released her debut novel, Crown of Feathers, an epic fantasy about love’s incredible power to save or destroy. She also holds a degree in visual arts, a masters in art history and a diploma in graphic design. This might be why she enjoys creating brand new worlds with their own histories and cultures.
Katharine Duckett is the author of Miranda in Milan, a Shakespearean fantasy novella debut that NPR calls “intriguing, adept, inventive, and sexy.” Her short fiction has appeared in Uncanny, Apex, PseudoPod, and Interzone, as well as various anthologies including Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction and Wilde Stories 2015: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction.
Colleen Oakes is the bestselling author of books for both teens and adults, including The Black Coats, The Queen of Hearts Series and The Wendy Darling Saga. She currently at work on her third fairytale series, a contemporary thriller and a fantasy collaboration. She is extremely well positioned to nominate some great fantasy books.
Now, let’s discover some of the best fantasy books ever…
As the first on my list, I almost chose George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin because MacDonald was C.S. Lewis’ inspiration for writing, and it does feel hauntingly similar to Narnia. But I picked Lewis because not only was he friends with Tolkien but this book inspired the other books in the Chronicles of Narnia series and has inspired generations of fantasy lovers. It’s a timeless classic and its message even inspired my children as we listened to it on audiobook recently.
Fire and Hemlock is the finest work by one of the best speculative fiction authors of the last century. She was able to blend the simple ease of children’s fiction with traditional fairy tales, folklore, and ballads, and uplift the resulting stories with clever characters, complex wordplay, and genuine affection for her subjects. This reframing of the stories of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer is delicate, exquisite, and endlessly re-readable.
In a trilogy that begins with Sabriel, Garth Nix uses music and death to create a truly astounding fantasy world, one that is both beautiful and haunting. This was one of my first introductions to fantasy novels, and it was the perfect choice to show me the breadth and possibility of creating fantasy.
Nicki Pau Preto:
When the Witch of the Waste transforms young Sophie Hatter into an old woman, Sophie needs the help of the fearsome Wizard Howl in order to break the spell. Little does Sophie know that she is actually a witch herself, and perfectly capable of breaking her own curse—and Howl’s too. I’ve long thought of this book as the literary equivalent of a warm hug. From Sophie’s intelligent and intuitive use of magic, to Calcifer the fire demon’s riddles and moaning complaints from the hearth, to Howl’s epic meltdowns over hair dye, the magical land of Ingary is thoroughly charming and utterly unforgettable.
Where Eragon was a perfectly delightful but expected fantasy, the following novels in the series were sheer perfection. Eldest, Brisingr and Inheritance showed the lead character wrestling with himself, his expectations of women, his painted perceptions, and his relationship to the greater world around him. The character growth and the epic, yet intimate, finale made this one a strong contender for one of the best fantasy reads of my life.
As much as our modern genre owes to Tolkien, it should be admitted that we owe as much to Watership Down, by Richard Adams, who never intended to write a fantasy novel: he just wanted to tell a story about rabbits. What he created was a sprawling and meaningful folklore and myth base that both does and does not map easily to human beliefs. This was one of the first “adult” novels I ever read, and it has never left me. I doubt it ever will.
Ella of Frell was cursed at birth with the gift of obedience by a foolish fairy. When her father marries a woman with two cruel daughters who use Ella’s curse to make her life unbearable, Ella sets out to break the curse once and for all. Ella Enchanted is such a clever story, and I’m always so impressed by the way Gail Carson Levine hits every familiar beat of Cinderella while making it something that feels completely new. Ella is a funny, flawed, and sincere protagonist, and as a child, I related to her immediately. It’s one of those books that I continue to enjoy no matter how many times I’ve read it.
Nicki Pau Preto:
T.H. White’s epic is a foundational fantasy text for me, one that takes the well-known story of King Arthur (drawn from Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory) and invests its players with real depth and complication. Wart, the boy who will become Arthur, endures the eccentric tutelage of his magical mentor Merlyn, who seeks to turn him into a just ruler by first turning him into a variety of animals. Each transformation is intended to teach him a particular lesson, one that will guide him through his troubled reign, which unfolds over the course of White’s four-part work. The first instalment, The Sword in the Stone, is the one I love most, and contains wizardly advice I strive to live by: “’The best thing for being sad,’ replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, ‘is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails.'”
War for the Oaks is the foundation on which the modern urban fantasy genre stands. Without this work, we would still have developed urban fantasy, thanks to the parallel evolution of paranormal romance, but it would have been very different. It helps that the book is absolutely stellar, and deserves to be listed among the classics, even if it is far too frequently overlooked.
Nicki Pau Preto:
Circe by Madeline Miller: An epic that spans thousands of years in the courts of the Greek Gods, Circe somehow manages to make the impossible believable. Our hearts ache for Circe as she yearns for love and acceptance, even as she lords high above mortals in the world of the Gods. Miller’s descriptions and imagination are on full display here, and they are as dazzling as Helios, the God of the Sun. This is one of those fantasies that doesn’t feel like a fantasy; instead it dances with life.
What, a novel inspired by Dungeons & Dragons? I read this book when I was in high school and it inspired another generation of fantasy lovers. It includes all the tropes of high fantasy and created a complex world which became a treasure to fans. It also inspired other authors who wrote in the worlds of TSR who went on to become bestselling authors in their own rights. Books like these and by authors like RA Salvatore help feed the hunger created by Tolkien. It’s still a classic in my opinion.
Published in 2017, this is a newer addition to the fantasy canon, but one that instantly became indispensable. LaValle’s unsettling fairytale unfolds across the boroughs of Manhattan, threading magic and horror through the everyday life of a new father, Apollo Kagwa, who finds himself living out an unthinkable scenario when he witnesses his wife committing a horrific act against their child and is drawn into an odyssey that pulls him through both the depths of the city he thinks he knows and of human nature itself. It’s a dark fable for our times and a twist on an old tale that frightens and compels. LaValle’s grip on fantasy tropes and his ability to make them fresh and surprising gives this book its power as a crucial narrative in the genre.
Twelve-year-old September is whisked one day by the Green Wind out her kitchen window to Fairyland, where she must retrieve a talisman from the enchanted woods before the unpredictable Marquess finds it and makes life difficult for all the whimsical inhabitants of this magical world. For those who, like me, were upset that Neverland eventually closed itself to Wendy because she dared to grow up, Fairyland offers an alternate ending: yes, you must grow up. But that does not mean an end to play, or curiosity, or imagination. Nor an end to cruelty, but there is always kindness even in dark places. Fairyland says to September, and to those of us who go along on this journey with her, that its shiny doors and twisting passageways will always, always be open.