Seven Epic Fantasy Series Worth The Time Investment

Picking up any epic fantasy series can be an intensely intimidating experience. With their huge page counts, multiple volumes, expansive worldbuilding, and intricate magic systems, fantasy epics can easily overwhelm readers. These enormous series are often recommended by fantasy fans as “must-reads,” but how can you tell if you will like something that big before you dump tons of your precious time into it?

On top of this, reading a mediocre or bad epic fantasy can be exhausting. No one wants to hear that a series gets really good four thousand pages in or to find out that a series you have just spent months reading is borderline plagiarized from a much better (but equally large) series. As such, I thought I would put together a “small” list of some of the best lesser-known giant fantasy series that I have encountered in the sea of epics that I bravely sail every year for this site. Each of these picks will keep you busy for a very long time and are worth every second.

When making this list I decided to steer away from the better-known epic fantasy authors to find you some hidden gems. Please note that the following authors aren’t on the list, but all have amazing series that are worth your time: Brandon Sanderson (The Stormlight Archive), Steven Erikson (The Malazan Book of the Fallen), N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth), George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire), and Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time).

The Faithful and The Fallen – John Gwynne

First Book: Malice
Number of books released to date: 7
Average Book Length: 600 pages

When I say that The Faithful and the Fallen is seven books I am kind of cheating, as it’s actually two series separated by a time gap. However, the narrative is a direct continuation in the second series, so I consider them one entity. The premise of Gwynne’s epic is ‘what if there were multiple chosen ones’? A prophecy is given, but, as is the nature of most prophecies, the details are extremely vague. As a result, multiple individuals believe they have been chosen by destiny and start to shape their lives based on predictions that might or might not apply to them. Gwynne takes a hard look at the black and white areas of classic epic fantasy tropes and explores the gray between the borders.

The things that differentiate Gwynne’s The Faithful and the Fallen from the rest of the genre are simple, but that doesn’t make them less important. His books have short chapters that are easy to pick up and put down, allowing the reader to get lost in a binge when they have the time. It means that his work is great as an introduction for newer readers and can help show that big books don’t need to be hard to read. Next, there is his extremely large cast. With a cast of character POVs in the thirties, the series has a ton of flexibility in where it goes in character stories. There is so much built-in room because of the large cast that Gwynne has the ability to do strange and interesting things with his characters without detracting from the plot or pacing. People have unsatisfying ARCs because that is what life is. Characters start redemption arcs and fail them. Finally, we have the deconstruction of existing epic fantasy tropes. The Faithful and the Fallen takes the classic chosen one trope and flips it on its head. It goes deeper and explores the implications of what it would mean to know you have a destiny and how it would warp your sense of reality. It’s a massive subversion of the genre, like reaching into a bag of divining materials and spilling the contents over and over again, accepting each roll of the bones as a parallel prophecy. This makes the series a perfect pick for both newcomers and veterans of the genre.

The Rook and Rose – M.A. Carrick

First Book: The Mask Of Mirrors
Number of books released to date: 2
Average Book Length: 650 pages

As one of the smallest entries on this list, the Rook & Rose books might seem less expansive, but this series punches up. M. A. Carrick, a writing pseudonym composed of Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms, injects an enormous amount of high society, class, and focus on fashion to a genre that has traditionally (unfortunately) been dominated by male authors. This series focuses on a trio of lying pretenders trying to blend into a massive fantasy Venice as they push their secret agendas. Meanwhile, they must avoid the corruption and hooks of the despicable city that surrounds them. The series has a focus on disguises, tarot, dreams, and identity in a way that makes it feel like a dazzling period drama.

When I was making this list I was on the fence about whether I should categorize Rook & Rose as epic fantasy. While the definition of this subgenre is nebulous, many agree that an epic fantasy should have large sweeping worlds with a multitude of locations; yet this story takes place mostly in a single setting, despite there being an established larger world. However, I believe in stretching the boundaries of genres and labels and the different factions inside the pages of Carrick’s story tend to function as miniature nations unto themselves. To me, this is an epic fantasy in miniature, bringing all the ideas and depth I love about the genre into a new compact form. You will have to read it for yourself and tell me if you agree. You will have a great time regardless.

The Ascension Cycle – David Mealing

First Book: Soul Of The World
Number of books released to date: 2
Average Book Length: 700 pages

I have lauded many of the entries on this list for their clean, buttoned-up, and streamlined worlds that have all the intricate minutia of how everything works figured out. The Ascension Cycle, by David Mealing, is the opposite. This is a series of pure chaos, whimsy, and imagination. The book is set in a semi-alternate history of the American Revolution, except that the English and the French have switched places in the story. The book is initially very confusing with regards to what is going on, but it is still a blast to read as you try to get your feet on solid ground. Our plot follows three protagonists, each a paragon of one of the three magic systems and a window into three different factions in our story. The plot is a secret, so let’s talk about what makes the series stand out: the use of both hard and soft magic systems.

Mealing is insane in that he created a multitude of fully fleshed-out hard magic systems in his epic and vaguely isolated them from each other. To name a few, there are familiars who can manipulate the emotions of those around them, animal totems that temporarily enhance one’s body with magic, and magic that revolves around geographic control of the land. All of these power systems have very clear rules… but then Mealing starts mixing them. Mages start combining multiple forms of magic with little crossover and creating these weird hybrid abilities that boggle the imagination. It injects whimsical chaos into the narrative and manages to make use of clear-cut rules, and the complete lack of them, without ever stepping on each other’s toes. It’s an explosive colorful mess and a joy ride from start to finish.

The Dagger And The Coin – Daniel Abraham

First Book: The Dragon’s Path
Number of books released to date: 5
Average Book Length: 550 pages

Next up, we have a series that hits like a sack of gold to the face – The Dagger and the Coin. This is an epic fantasy about the power of money and subterfuge by Daniel Abraham, with an emphasis on the coin part. Abraham is most famous for his part in the creation of the modern sci-fi classic, The Expanse, but has done a ton of work in the fantasy genre. Abraham is motivated in his work by exploring new ideas and pushing boundaries (because he refuses to be basic like some of us (me)), and his epic fantasy series does both. This five-book story is about a dangerous spider cult that starts sweeping the world. It is heavily focused on the economy and the inner workings of finance. That may sound dull to some of you, but I promise that Abraham finds a way to make working at a bank house seem exciting and eventful. If fantasy tax fraud hasn’t gripped you, the series also boasts a world with over ten original races. Abraham transports the reader by inundating them with an abundance of cultural richness. If you need a little bait, Abraham actually published a small piece on the taxonomy of the races that can be found here.

The Dragon’s Path wanders through a lot of gray space, allowing its characters to be amoral as they dance on the line between good and evil. I honestly found myself relating to one of the “villains” of the story more than anyone else. The character work, in particular, is fabulous in this series, as all the different players in the book feel like by-products of their environment and behave and think in very different ways. Their outlooks shine as a result of the well-defined and established environments and creates a strong buy-in for the reader for all the conflicts. The books also go out of their way to defy typical fantasy tropes, such as being a “child of destiny.” As one of the few epic fantasies that does its best to avoid martial combat, it stands out as a strange thought experiment in waging a war without using swords. It has actually been a while since I read this one, and I am currently curious to see if my thoughts on it have changed as I age. Is it an interesting product of its time, or a timeless classic waiting to be rediscovered? Only time will tell.

The Song Of The Shattered Sands – Bradley P. Beaulieu

First Book: Twelve Kings In Sharakhai
Number of books released to date: 6
Average Book Length: 700 pages

When I wrote my review for the sixth and final book in The Song of the Shattered Sands last year, I said that it would be my last time selling you this series. I lied! Muahahaha. If you want a detailed breakdown of what makes this series special, I have a review for almost every book and even some of the accompanying novellas. But, for those of you who want to save time, the core reasons it is so good are its Arabian inspiration, the fact that it is just packed full of dense delicious story, and the plot and pacing are lightning-fast on their feet.

Diving deeper into each of these, the Arabian setting of Shattered Sands helps it stand out in the sea of Eurocentric epics that litter the genre. Djinn, Ifrit, ships that sail the sand, gorgeous cities built upon desert oases, necromantic trees, strange magical gifts, and more suffuse this story and provide an enormously dense world and culture to explore that doesn’t get enough attention in popular media. On top of this, these books are dense in a very appealing way. Despite their large size, Beaulieu avoids fluff and wastes no time within these books. Each chapter is another petal in an enormous bouquet that is devoid of baby’s-breath.

Finally, Shattered Sands never rests on its laurels. Despite its strong established story structure in book one, the series is like the ever-shifting dunes and prefers the exploration of the new to the safety of the old. The core premise of the series is a revenge story by a young woman wronged by twelve tyrannical kings in a gilded city. The story could have easily just focused on many different chunks taking down different kings, but the mercurial and shifting nature of Beaulieu’s narrative delivers so much more than expected. Check it out.

The Licanius Trilogy – James Islington

First Book: The Shadow Of What Was Lost
Number of books released to date: 3
Average Book Length: 700 pages

An epic fantasy might not initially seem the ideal place to look for the best time travel story I have ever read, but this list is a bushel of surprises. The Licanius Trilogy, by James Islington, is an originally self-published gem that was snapped up by a major publisher the moment it was discovered. The secret premise of the story is a focus on an eternal war between two groups of mages, both with the ability to manipulate time. One group believes that when you change the past, time resets and branches from that moment, rewriting everything that has happened. The second group believes that any changes you make to the past were always going to happen making all of time one long twisted self-fulfilling prophecy. The result? A free for all brawl with all of the timestream as a battleground. It is a fascinating deconstruction of a multitude of different popular portrayals of time manipulation and the thematic exploration into the nature of time makes it my favorite examination on time travel.

There is also so much more to Licanius than the glimpse I just gave you. The characters are fabulous and feel like your classic epic fantasy chosen ones cast into a very new setting. The story is cloaked in layers of mystery and uncertainty. The existence of time travel means that you will read events that don’t make sense the first time through but will make more sense as the narrative goes on. This is the one on the list I am most excited to reread because almost every scene is given new context after you finish the trilogy. It is amazing how all of the pieces fit together seamlessly in the end, like a beautifully twisted jigsaw that exists in five dimensions.

Dandelion Dynasty – Ken Liu

First Book: The Grace Of Kings
Number of books released to date: 3
Average Book Length: 600 pages

When The Grace of Kings came out in 2015, it generated a massive splash for its focus on Chinese lore and its silkpunk setting, then immediately disappeared from the cultural zeitgeist. This is a shame because Ken Liu has continued to deliver an incredibly deep and unorthodox story about generational pressures, inherited will, colonization, and the nature of change. With the fourth and final book in the series coming out soon, this series manages to deliver the huge world and sweeping story that encapsulates exactly what I think of when I want to read a big epic fantasy while also eschewing the traditional story structure that pervades the subgenre.

There are segments that shift away from military campaigns to focus on a cooking competition. There are multiple batons passed from narrator to narrator, and each voice adds a new flavor and subtext to the story. There is an exploration into the passage of time within the framework of societal change so that the ideas and actions of characters can be examined with both foresight and hindsight. And on top of all of this, the tale is packed with rich cultures, unforgettable characters, and exciting action that makes the story a very entertaining read. The only real issue I have with it is its lack of recaps that make its complicated and deep story hard to step away from and come back to. I highly recommend you read the books without breaking off to read other tomes in between.

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