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Looking for the best fantasy books of all time to read?
The following 10 fantasy books are some of the most significant and groundbreaking stories to ever hit bookshelves, books that forever defined the fantasy genre by changing conventions and styles.
These works were specifically chosen for their historical importance, their celebrated status as classics, their entertainment value, and their Goodreads average rating. No matter what kind of fantasy fan you are, I’m sure you’ll find something to add to your reading list.
So, without further ado, here’s a list of the 10 best fantasy books of all time:
10. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Year: 2011; Pages: 635; Goodreads score: 4.10
One of the most talked-about novels of the new millennium, American Gods can be described as an urban fantasy mixed with mythology and a pinch of horror. However, it’s nearly impossible to slot this book into a single genre. After all, it won the Locus award (for fantasy), the Nebula and Hugo awards (for Sci-Fi), the Bram Stoker award (for horror), and the SFX award.
The modern epic, in a nutshell, is about Gods being brought to the States by the migrants who believed in them. As faith fades over time, the Old Gods start losing their supremacy and are forced to live like common people, struggling to make a living. In the meantime, new Gods appear – Gods of technology, machines, and media – and you’ll find yourself drawn into a battle.
The tale is very broad and contains many subplots and side alleys typical of any mythical saga, and you are taken on a wild ride that includes action, mysticism, and romance.
What more can you possibly need?
9. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Year: 1968; Pages: 248; Goodreads score: 4.14
Don’t let the title fool you. The Last Unicorn is not a once-upon-a-time story, nor is it just for children. There is nothing childish about this book.
Yes, it’s mostly about a unicorn. Yes, there are also wizards, a brave prince, and an evil king. It still isn’t for children.
The story centers on a unicorn who believes she is the last of her kind in the world and sets off on a journey to find out what has happened to her family. The beautiful unicorn isn’t friendly or shy, as unicorns often are in fantasy books; rather, she’s vain and proud and fails to grasp human concepts like guilt and shame.
Beagle’s novel can be described as absorbing, poetic, and just genuinely funny. At 248 pages, it’s also small on the outside, but I can assure you it is enormous on the inside.
It’s inevitably a product of the time in which it was written, but that doesn’t mean you’ll perceive it as dated. Despite its purposeful anachronisms, it has a timelessness that makes it a classic — and one of the best fantasy books of all time — in its own right.
8. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman
Year: 2006; Pages: 491; Goodreads score: 4.23
Good Omens is one of the best fantasy books of all time to start with if you’re a fantasy beginner, as its plot and humor don’t ask for the serious commitment usually required for some long, detail-rich classics.
The whole premise of this book — and I’m not giving much away here — begins when plans to kick-off the Apocalypse hit a snag after a scatterbrained Satanic nun misplaces the infant Antichrist. Now, I’m not sure about you, but I find it very difficult not to like a book with this sort of storyline.
I think one of the main reasons this novel became so incredibly popular, is the fact that it takes concepts we all are familiar with and fearful of — the possibility of imminent death, for one — and makes them enjoyable to the point of being comedic.
And while the book is undeniably very amusing, it raises some interesting questions and can be read as a philosophical essay exploring good and evil, free will, war, and organized religions. It’s simple enough to grasp and enjoy, but complex enough to inspire thought.
7. Dune by Frank Herbert
Year: 1965; Pages: 688; Goodreads score: 4.24
It’s hotly debated whether this book belongs uniquely to the sci-fi or the fantasy genre, but its iconic status made it impossible not to include it in this list. Originally published as two separate serials in 1965, Dune is widely considered one of the greatest science-fiction/fantasy books of all time, as well as a literary achievement.
The novel follows the journey of Paul Atreides, whose family accepts the stewardship of a planet named Arrakis. Arrakis is the only planet where mélange — a drug that enhances mental powers and life expectancy — grows naturally. Thus, begins an epic saga of land politics, technology, religion, ecology, as parties of the empire fight for control of Arrakis.
This novel is an archetype upon which many other writers have based their works. The complexity of the creation is astounding, and you’ll be amazed by the mastery with which Herbert must have focused his imagination. This book deserves all its hype.
6. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Year: 2006; Pages: 499; Goodreads score: 4.25
In this exceptional debut novel, we follow a gang of elite con artists, the Gentleman Bastards, and their leader, Locke Lamora, our lovable antihero. The story begins in Camorr — a sort of high fantasy medieval Venice — with the group trying to pull off the biggest heist of their life. As you might imagine, this heist will eventually lead them into something much darker than what they’ve signed up for.
And yet, while the main plot of the book features gruesome robberies, the heart of the novel lies in the epic bromance that is the Gentlemen Bastards. Make no mistake, they’re neither loving nor kind to one another, and mostly prefer to trade insults. In fact, one peculiar thing to note about Lynch’s prose is the creativity in profanity: he uses eloquent, sassy cursed words and mockery I’m sure you’ve never had the imagination to ever think of.
But with all that being said, this book can be simply described as a masterpiece. It’s raw and real, and the plot turns are above the skill of most of the best fantasy writers you’ll ever encounter. How one man could come up with all these scams, tricks, and harsh life lessons, is beyond me.
5. The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by N.K. Jemisin
Year: 2015; Pages: 512; Goodreads score: 4.27
The Fifth Season, the first book in the Broken Earth trilogy, is a book that will require some patience for you to read and get invested in. Think of it as a huge puzzle — you start with a big picture and one piece. In the case of this book, you start with the passage “This is the way the world ends for the last time”.
It is our world, but far into the future. Apocalypses come on a regular basis, in the sense that most people living in this world die. Some old structures are still there, some people have survived, and documentation on how to survive a season circulates among the population. Then, slowly, the stories of three women start to become the primary narratives, as Jemisin alternates between them like clockwork.
Gradually, everything will start to come together, and you’ll watch connections being made, questions being answered, and blank spaces being filled in. At the same time, you’ll understand the immensity of this book and the world it describes. It’s a big venture to begin, but utterly worth it by the end.
4. Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Year: 2015; Pages: 465; Goodreads score: 4.47
Gritty and dark adventure. A bunch of badass anti-heroes. A dangerous scientist. Ferocious gang wars. And Leigh Bardugo. That’s the recipe for epicness, isn’t it?
In Six of Crows, the fate of the world seems to be in the hands of six teenagers, six thieves and runaways with no family and no one to care for them. They have to break into a heavily-guarded fortress, smuggle an important prisoner out, and try not to kill each other in the meantime. Each of them has his own ambition and agenda, his own life story full of pain and misery. And everything depends on them.
Anyhow, misery is not all you get. There is a very high dose of sassiness, and the dialogues will crack you up. There is also romance, which never overshadows the main storyline but satisfies the hopeless romantics of the world. Then there’s magic, naturally.
If you’re looking for a fantasy-riddled, thrilling piece of art, then this is it, this book is exactly what you’re looking for.
3. The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle #1) by Patrick Rothfuss
Year: 2007; Pages: 662; Goodreads score: 4.51
If you’re an avid adult fantasy reader, I’m sure that The Name of the Wind has been recommended to you constantly. Goodreads, Time, and pretty much every book reviewing site praise this series very highly on their ‘best fantasy books of all time’ lists. So why not see for yourself what the fuss is all about?
The main character, Kvothe, is a figure of mystery with a disgraceful reputation: a demon or a wizard hero depending on which stories you hear. The real man has hidden away in the middle of nowhere with his apprentice Bast — we don’t know why — and it’s not until the Chronicler discovers him that he shows any interest in recalling his past life.
This book has all the makings of a great fantasy, and yet this isn’t just some fantastic story that you read for some fun and adventure (although you do get plenty of that too). This is the story of a real life. Kvothe has experienced joy, love, and happiness, and knowledge; he has also known pain, despair, and the feeling of being completely alone in the world.
I can’t think of an emotion you won’t experience while reading this.
2. A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire #3) by George R.R. Martin
Year: 2000; Pages: 973; Goodreads score: 4.53
Reviewing A Song of Ice and Fire is no small feat. We have brilliant George R.R. Martin writing style. His intricate, genius and all-encompassing world-building. His unflinching, fierce, almost brutal storytelling. What more can I say really, about the seven-book saga that inspired the world-famous HBO series “Game of Thrones”?
And one may be tempted to question: is reading A Song of Ice and Fire even worth it after watching the show? I’m very happy to answer a thousand times, yes. Books have tons of brilliant plots that never even made it on the screen, and many others (actually most of them, after Season 1) that are completely different – and I dare to say way better.
People always say that the book is better than the tv adaptation, but with A Song of Ice and Fire that statement couldn’t be any more true.
1. The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings #3) by J.R.R. Tolkien
Year: 1955; Pages: 416; Goodreads score: 4.54
Well, his entry should come as no surprise to anyone. J.R.R. Tolkien is not only a father figure in the fantasy genre, but according to most readers, he wrote the 3 best fantasy books of all time: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King – my personal favorite of The Lord of the Rings Saga.
And with all honesty, is it even possible to review a legend? What can I even write about this tale? It is impossible to convey to the new reader all the qualities of this series. It’s just epic, monstrous, and the tale develops wonderfully. Middle Earth did not simply emerge overnight. Instead, it was firmly built with the most thorough groundwork that is simply unmatched in the world. And here, with the Return of the King, the epic trilogy comes to an end.
1+. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Year: 2004; Pages: 435; Goodreads score: 4.57
Well, I couldn’t possibly pick a winner between these last two masterpieces, so let’s call it a tie. Bonus entry!
If you’ve somehow gone through life and made it into adulthood without reading this book, I urge you, even beg you, to correct this situation immediately.
No fantasy story of any kind has ever had such an impact on society as the tales surrounding Harry Potter. The saga has been translated into 80 languages, including Ancient Greek. J.K. Rowling is the fairy godmother to millions of children and adults worldwide and I am certainly one of them.
Deep down, I’m still waiting for my Hogwarts letter, and secretly think that Dobby is the one to blame for the delay. I still look at my old Harry Potter books in awe and wish I lived in a Dumbledore world. And I know, and it’s carved in my soul, that I could never be a muggle again.
What’s your favorite fantasy book? What are, in your opinion, the best fantasy of all time?
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