So much of popular fantasy, be it The Lord of the Rings or The Witcher series, is deeply influenced by the Middle Ages and Arthurian legends. If tales of gallant knights, sprawling castles, witchcraft, and high adventure fascinate you, chances are that you have a soft spot for medieval fantasy.
These spellbinding medieval fantasy books are filled with dashing characters, court intrigue, and heroic quests, and are sure to transport you to medieval times.
The stories of King Arthur steeped in magic and heroism have inspired countless generations of writers.
In 1978, Thomas Berger published Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel, in which he offers his own take on the life of King Arthur, right from his birth to his death at the hands of Mordred, his evil son.
Well-known figures such as Sir Lancelot, Merlin, and even the Lady of the Lake all make an appearance, and while the story is set in the medieval world, Berger manages to put a modern spin on the tales.
Camber of Culdi
Published in 1976, Camber of Culdi is chronologically the first book in Kurtz’s Deryni novels. In Kurtz’s worldbuilding, the “Deryni” are a race of humans gifted with magical powers that set them apart from the rest. Camber is the greatest of the Deryni—the stuff of legend—and this novel throws light on his backstory.
Filled with political intrigue, a dash of magic, and set against the backdrop of medieval Europe, Camber of Culdi is a great place to start if you’re new to Kurtz’s works.
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If you love swashbuckling fantasy with a Scottish twist, give Dave Duncan’s Demon Knight a try.
Originally published in 1998, the novel tells the story of Longdirk, the Scottish outlaw who used dark magic to save Europe from the evil Fiend. But now he is facing newer threats, and must organize the quarreling city-states to prepare for the upcoming invasion.
Lady of the Forest
If you love medieval folktales, don’t miss out on this delightful Robin Hood retelling by Jenifer Robeson. This slow-burner follows the romance of Maid Marian and Robin Hood, set in the depths of Sherwood Forest.
Lady Marian of Ravenskeep has just lost her father in the Crusades, and she decides to leave behind her sheltered life to join a band of outlaws. A sweeping tale of courage, adventure, and staying true to one’s ideals, the Lady of the Forest is a charming read.
Lens of the World
Lens of the World is a coming-of-age fantasy story, set in an alternate medieval world. The first of a series, it follows the escapades of Nazhuret, an outcast and orphan who enrolls in military school and gradually rises up the ranks to become a warrior, philosopher, and even the King’s confidant.
Nazhuret’s story is told in a series of letters, and the novel is wonderfully plotted, with appealing characters and an engaging writing style. Published over 30 years ago, this book is an underrated classic.
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Rodrigo of Caledon
David Feintuch won the John W. Campbell Award for the Best New Writer in Science Fiction in 1996. He wrote a science fiction series, the Seafort Saga, and then a fantasy series, Rodrigo of Caledon.
The latter is a duology (The Still and The King) which chronicles the life of Rodrigo. Initially a selfish child, the young Prince is forced out of his kingdom when his uncle usurps his throne.
To win back his crown, Rodrigo needs an alliance with the Council of State and also to channel the mystical powers of the “Still." In the second book, The King, Rodrigo must prove that he is indeed the crowned king of Caledon by protecting his kingdom from brutal invasions.
If you love tales of epic heroism and books with queer main characters, these two books are sure to hold your attention.
A Song of Ice and Fire Series
Alas, there was a time when Game of Thrones was one of the biggest things on television. If the much-anticipated finale left you disappointed, rest assured that the books are way better, packed with details the show only glossed over.
Set in a medieval-inspired world where schemers and traitors lurk at every corner, A Song of Ice and Fire is epic fantasy at its finest. Filled with complex characters and a complicated plot that is still unraveling, you can slowly sift through the tomes as you wait for the sixth and seventh volumes to be published.
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The Curse of Chalion
Cazaril, once a noble, was sold into slavery. After many years, he is set to return to the royal household as a tutor to the princess. He also learns that the kingdom of Chalion is under a deadly curse, and circumstances repeatedly test his loyalty, patience, and commitment to do the right thing.
The novel is somewhat based on the Spanish Reconquest and several characters have been inspired by actual historical figures. A classic medieval tale, The Curse of Chalion was nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and World Fantasy awards and won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature in 2002.
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The Winternight Trilogy
The Bear and the Nightingale, the first book in Katherine Arden’s bestselling Winternight trilogy, begins in a medieval Russian village.
The young Vasya Petrovna has the gift of seeing and communicating with the magical creatures of the forest. Naturally, that puts her at odds with society, and especially the Orthodox Church, which denounces her as a witch.
The books follow Vasya’s adventures over the years and are steeped in Russian folklore. If you love your medieval fantasy with some slow-burn romance, this is a thoroughly satisfying, page-turning trilogy to check out.
Summers at Castle Auburn
As an illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, Coriel Halsing can only spend the summers at Castle Auburn with her older half-sister, and she dearly looks forward to them. But as she grows up, she slowly realizes the court is far from an idyllic place and every Prince Charming may be hiding an ugly secret…
A hidden gem of a fantasy novel, Summers at Castle Auburn is perfect for those who love court intrigue, romance, and a medieval flavor.
This post first appeared on The Portalist.