Though it’s easy to get lost somewhere between the Shire and Mordor, there is indeed more to fantasy fiction than hobbits, lords, and their rings.
Sure, J.R.R. Tolkien transformed the fantasy genre forever when he debuted his epic tale The Hobbit in 1937, further altering the genre’s state with his subsequent trilogy The Lord of the Rings. And, yes, the sheer size and scope of Tolkien’s creatively complex world have made fantasy fans yearn to inhabit Middle Earth for decades.
But there are so many other authors who have also graced the genre with epic tales of their own. Of course, by now everyone has heard of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, but we’re here to shed light on a few, perhaps lesser-known, authors with equally amazing adventures out there! So without further ado, here are 12 fantasy books that give Frodo a run for his precious.
The Bitterbynde Trilogy
The Ill-Made Mute
A nameless mute confined to a tower longs to escape. With no memories and little hope, the foundling sets out in search of a past, a name, and a destiny. With roots firmly embedded in the ancient folklore of the British Isles, The Ill-Made Mute introduces fantasy lovers to an unforgettable character and an epic fantasy tale.
Dart-Thornton’s bestselling fantasy creates a tale of magic and adventure that has been praised as a “beautifully spun fantasy” and even compared to The Lord of the Rings by Grand Master of Science Fiction, Andre Norton.
The Well at the World's End
As the youngest son of a king, Ralph of Upmeads is expected to forsake adventure for the safety of home. But the call of the Well at the World’s End is too powerful to resist, and Ralph disobeys his parents in order to seek out his true destiny in its magical waters. The journey is long and arduous as the well lies on the far side of a distant mountain range and the lands beyond Upmeads are full of treacherous characters. With the help of a beautiful maiden and an ancient hermit, Ralph completes his quest and raises the cup of immortality and wisdom to his lips. The question is, what will he do with his newfound powers?
Widely recognized as the forerunner to modern medieval and high fantasy, The Well at the World’s End, published in 1896, is a magnificent tale of romance and adventure which Tolkien himself said highly influenced his work.
As a vicious dragon stalks the Southlands, Crown Prince Gareth ventures to the forbidding North in search of the only man who can kill it. He is Lord Aversin, the Dragonsbane, whose dragon-slaying days have won him renown across the land. But when Gareth finds Lord Aversin, he discovers the mighty hero is squat and bespectacled, the ruler of a mud-village who admits that he killed the dragon not with a lance, but with ignoble poison. Still, he’ll have to do. Gareth and Aversin set off in company with Jenny Waynest, a witch with great ambitions but disappointingly puny powers—a ragtag crew destined to become legendary, or die in the attempt.
Hambly’s tale full of magic, quests and humor will give high fantasy fans the adventure they crave.
The Wheel of Time Series
The Eye of the World
The Eye of the World opens with three peasant boys, Rand, Mat, and Perrin, fleeing from Shadowspawn: monstrous soldiers of the Dark One. They meet up with a powerful Aes Sedai named Moiraine who tells them that the Dark One wants to destroy the Wheel of Time. They soon realize they are the only ones who can stop the Dark One from plunging the world into chaos. But what can three peasant boys do against the embodiment of pure evil? For if they fall, the whole of existence falls with them.
Jordan’s epic high fantasy saga of 15 books (including a prequel) is so compelling and beloved that when he died in 2007, a fellow fantasy author and fan of The Wheel of Time, Brandon Sanderson, stepped up to finish the epic series with instructions and notes left for him by Jordan. It’s a great series for The Lord of the Rings fans as Jordan even intended the early chapters of The Eye of the World to evoke in readers the shire from Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
The Inheritance Cycle
Eragon’s life changes forever when he stumbles upon a dragon egg while hunting in the mountains of Alagaesia and discovers that he is from a line of the legendary Dragon Riders. In an action-packed tale of magic, war and love, Eragon must defeat the tyrannical ruler, Galbatorix, and save humans, elves, urgals and dwarves alike from doom.
Paolini’s New York Times best-selling epic quartet is similar in imagination and scope to Tolkien’s talewith invented languages and a world rich with culture and history. Although marketed as a young adult book, Paolini’s diction and style is so sophisticated and detailed that adult high and medieval fantasy fans will also thoroughly enjoy the series.
The Graceling Realm
Katsa is a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. Her Grace? She can kill a man with her bare hands. Katsa is neice to the king, but instead of living a life of privilege, she is forced to work as the king’s thug. Along the way, Katsa must learn to decipher the true nature of her Grace … and how to put it to good use.
Cashore’s best-selling, award-winning series is an action-packed adventure that both adolescent and adult high fantasy fans will love.
The Kingkiller Chronicles
The Name of the Wind
This epic tale told in the voice of the hero follows the life of Kvothe from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to his time spent as an orphan in a crime-ridden city, and his brazen bid to enter the legendary school of magic. It is a high-action fantasy epic, written with a poet’s hand, of a boy who grows to become the most notorious magician his world has ever seen.
Readers will fall in love with Rothfuss’s character as they watch his life-changing journey unfold.
The Dreamblood Series
The Killing Moon
Ehiru is a Gatherer who has sworn to help keep the peace in the ancient city-state of Gujaareh by harvesting dreamblood—magic of the sleeping mind taken from those on the brink of death—and administering it to others to heal, soothe… and kill those judged corrupt. When dreamers begin mysteriously dying, the attacks seemingly done in the name of the city’s dream-goddess, Ehiru must find the culprit and protect the city from falling into war and forbidden magic.
Jemisin’s intricate world ruled by religion will awe fans who love the world-building aspect of high fantasy fiction; her world will draw readers in and hold them until the last page.
The Seven Realms Series
The Demon King
Though from different worlds, Han, former streetlord of the Raggers, and Princess Raisa, heir to the throne of the Fells, are bonded by the Breaking, an age-old agreement that balances the powers between clan, wizards and the royal family— an agreement on the brink of falling apart. Han comes in possession of an amulet belonging to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world and caused the Breaking, and must fight against those who want to use it for evil. Meanwhile, Raisa aspires to be like Hanalea, the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But her mother has other plans that go against everything the Queendom stands for, and Raisa must fight to protect the realm. The Seven Realms will tremble when the lives of Han and Raisa collide…
Fantasy fans will enjoy best-selling author Chima’s compelling characters and the scope of her thrilling world.
The Abhorsen Trilogy
Sabriel pulls readers into a world where the line between the living and the dead is blurred… and sometimes removed altogether. Sabriel goes to boarding school on the border between Alcestierre and the Old Kingdom, a land where Free Magic reigns and the Dead refuse to remain dead. When her father the Abhorsen—the title given to the necromancer in charge of controlling the passage to Death— goes missing, she must enter the Old Kingdom and embark on a dangerous journey to find him, and stop the evil known as Kerrigor who has risen from Death and is set on destroying the Old Kingdom and Alcestierre beyond the wall.
Although darker than Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the world of Sabriel is just as rich and captivating as Middle Earth. Fantasy fans will be entranced by Nix’s compelling writing and will fall in love with his intriguing characters and intelligently inventive world.
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
This ten-book saga follows a lowly writer, Thomas Covenant, whose lot in life is to be a social pariah. His isolation is caused both by his poor attitude towards others and his leprosy. While he may be unattached to this world, he’s prophesied to become the hero another world—The Land.
Thomas finds himself in this alternate world, struggling to push back against physical entities of evil—namely the “The Despiser”—who want revenge for being imprisoned. His journey is unlike those of most heroes whose sole focus is on doing good. Thomas understands that by nature, good and evil must coexist as two sides of the same coin, but he cannot let evil prevail...
The Legend of Drizzt
Readers who are looking for a new fantasy world to deep dive into need not look any further. The Legend of Drizzt spans thirty-eight books (yes, thirty-eight), each one as compelling as the last. Born a male elf into a matriarchal society, Drizzt is determined to escape his oppressive home of Menzoberranzan. He becomes a warrior-hero and embarks on thrilling, often dangerous, journeys with his friends. The expansive series details every one of Drizzt’s exploits and conflicts. His character is so popular and admired that he even makes an appearance in the game Dungeons & Dragons.
Featured promotional photo for "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" via New Line Cinema