In our latest ebook, World-Building 101: How to Construct an Unforgettable Universe for Your Fantasy or Sci-Fi Story, we delve into the top 10 fictional worlds ever created to see what they can tell us about crafting our own fantastic universes.
We couldn't leave it at just ten. In this article we dive into the top 25 fantasy novels ever written.
Have you ever thought about writing your own fantasy novel? One of the best things you can do is take inspiration from others and get to know your genre. So without further ado, here's our pick of the 25 best fantasy books ever written.
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1. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
The popularity of this series has exploded over the last several years, so what list wouldn’t include A Game of Thrones? If you like multiple, intricate story lines, a cast of characters where none is safe from death, and a world full of lords, knights, bastards, wizards, ladies, and more, then you’ll like this series. It has magic, intrigue, mystery, and lots of romance; in essence, a world unlike any you’ve ever encountered.
2. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
One ring rules them all. The Dark Lord put all of his powers in One Ring that was taken from him. After years in Middle-earth, Bilbo Baggins ends up with the ring. After he reaches his eleventy-first year, he disappears, and the ring becomes the property of Frodo, his cousin. Thus starts the epic quest to destroy the ring and everything it stands for.
3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
The land where children tumble out of a wardrobe, a secret country where only Lucy, Peter, Susan, and Edmund are known. Lucy finds it first, followed by Edmund and the others. There they discover magic and Aslan, the Great Lion. And it changes their lives forever.
4. The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
What would happen if characters in a fantasy world grew up and discovered they had modern anxieties and problems? What would be the best job for a troll in the city? The Colour of Magic explores the answers to questions everyone has but is afraid to ask about fantasy heroes.
5. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
Fitz is born a bastard of royal blood with a magical link to animals called Wit. When he is eventually adopted into the royal household, he must give up his link to animals and embrace a new way of living and being—he trains to become a royal assassin.
6. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
In a fantastic world of criminals and nobles, The Lies of Locke Lamora is an adventure, loyalty, and survival guide along the lines of Robin Hood and Ocean’s Eleven. Locke Lamora dodges death, slavery, and more only to fall in the hands of a con artist known as Chains.
7. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
A coming-of-age story in a fantasy world, The Name of the Wind tells the story of a young man who grows to become a notorious wizard. With beginnings that start in a troupe of traveling players, Kvothe finally enters a school of magic. Plenty of high action and adventure turns Kvothe into a fugitive sought for murder.
8. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
The Goodreads description starts: "HOW CAN ONE GIRL SAVE AN ENTIRE WORLD?" Lessa, who most think of as an inconsequential kitchen girl, determines it’s time to take back her stolen birthright. But then she meets the queen dragon, forming a quick and strong bond. Dragons and their riders must protect the planet Thread, but at what price?
9. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
As the Wheel of Time continues to turn, Ages come and go leaving behind legends that fade to myth, which is long forgotten. It’s not until the Third Age, the Age of Prophecy, that the world and time both hang in balance. Now, what was, what is, and what will be can fall under the Shadow.
10. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Abercrombie combines an unlikely cast of characters: a philosophical Barbarian who abhors killing, a dashing hero afraid to fight, and a crippled torturer who has a heart of gold. This unlikely cast, coupled with an interesting plot and a wizard, treads a line between hero and villain that may cost them everything.
11. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
An epic fantasy where mystical swords and suits of armor transform ordinary men into invincible warriors, kingdoms are won and traded for Shardblades. An interesting cast of characters from around the fantasy world fight their own battles, sometimes with motives less than pure.
12. Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson
The fantasy world of Malazan is full of discontent thanks to innumerable wars, bitter infighting, and gory confrontations. Empress Laseen’s imperial legions, thought inured to the bloodshed, are looking for a break. But her rule is absolute, enforced by her dreaded Claw assassins. As the Empress turns her site to new battles, the gods themselves are getting ready for a little interference.
Why are these books so successful?
We're halfway through our list of the greatest fantasy books of all time – but why are these books so great?
All the books on this list completely immerse their reader in their stories. Their plots aren't simple by any means, but they are written in a way that allows their readers to ease themselves in to complex new worlds without overwhelming them with information.
This might seem effortless, but a lot of work goes into producing fantasy writing that works. If you've got a whole world in your head just waiting to spill onto the page, you might have thought about writing a book. If you construct a world that readers can't help but want to step into, maybe one day that book will even be one of the greatest of all time.
Before we get there though, your writing has to be fantastic. Using an editing tool like ProWritingAid will help you learn as you write, teaching you how to make your writing readable, well-paced and, of course, grammatically correct!
Did you know that your pacing can have a big impact on readability? You may have every detail of your world planned out, right down to the types of fork each character uses at dinner, but does your reader need to know every detail all at once?
ProWritingAid's pacing report will highlight areas where your writing is a little too introspective or description heavy, so that you can balance it our with some action. Being able to see an overview of your writing allows you to keep track of your novel as a whole to make sure that every part is doing the work it needs to to put your world into the heads of your readers.
Even if you're not writing a novel, you can use ProWritingAid to check all of the writing you produce to make sure your written communication is as effective as possible.
Now, back to the list!
13. The Gunslinger by Stephen King
Roland Deschain of Gilead is the Last Gunslinger. He is a mysterious figure on a quest through a desolate fantasy world in pursuit of the man in black. Roland is a good man, yet he leaves death in his wake. The man in black, on the other hand, can bring the dead back to life.
14. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Ged is the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, but he was called Sparrowhawk in his youth. It was as Sparrowhawk that the terrible shadow was loosed upon the world. Ged must master the mighty word of power, tame an ancient dragon, and cross death’s threshold to restore balance to his world.
15. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Over 800 pages of world-building, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell tells the tale of English magicians who have lost their ability to perform magic. That is, until a reclusive magician regains some powers. He is soon in demand for his powers and all is fine until a rival magician shows up—Jonathan Strange.
16. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Lyra rushes to the cold North where witch clans and armored bears rule—and where Gobblers take children, including her friend Roger. Lyra’s fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world, but Lyra is one small girl. Can she make a difference in this great and terrible endeavor?
17. Eragon by Christopher Paolini
In a world where the king’s evil is unending, can Eragon and the fledgling dragon navigate the treacherous terrain and the vast, dark enemies? Can Eragon take up the fight of the legendary Dragon Riders? Thrust into a world of destiny, magic, and power, Eragon realizes the fate of the empire may rest in his hands.
18. Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind
The first in the Sword of Truth series, Wizard’s First Rule starts with the murder of Richard Cypher’s father. Suddenly a mysterious woman, Kahlan Amnell, appears in Richard’s forest. She needs help—and more. Will Richard find the courage to challenge those who hold dominion?
19. The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Who doesn’t love the mystical, magical legend of King Arthur? In The Once and Future King, a young lad called "Wart" comes under the tutelage of Merlyn the wizard to create an amazing future. Wart will ally himself with the greatest knights of the realm, love a legendary queen, and unite a country under chivalrous values. He will be Arthur, King of the Britons.
20. Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. Feist
In the Kingdom of Isles, to the forest on the shore comes an orphan, Pug, to study with the magician, Kulgan. He may have won the heart of the lovely Princess, but normal wizardry leaves him cold. However, his strange magic may save two worlds from dark beings who open space-time to begin again an old battle between Order and Chaos.
21. Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Jorg Ancrath, who was once a privileged royal child raised by a loving mother, has become the Prince of Thorns, an immoral boy who leads a band of outlaws. The entire fantasy world is in chaos, and Jorg can rule the living and the dead, but something even more horrifying confronts him. He must face the horrors of his childhood and carve a better future for himself.
22. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Featuring a cast of gods who are almost washed up, American Gods tells the tale of power waxing and waning in the modern age. When war with modern gods crops up its evil head, Shadow Moon encounters Mr. Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee, a former god, and the king of America.
23. The Black Company by Glen Cook
The Black Company was an influence in Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice and just for that reference deserves to be read. Is the newly risen Lady the force standing between humankind and evil—or is she evil itself? The stoic, hard men of the Black Company do their job until the prophecy is proven: The White Rose has been reborn, embodying good once more.
24. Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
The one real world, Amber, casts infinite shadow worlds of itself those with royal blood can manipulate. But when the royal family is torn apart by the disappearance of patriarch Oberon, the crown is up for grabs and amnesia strikes Corwin, the Crown Prince of Amber—even the fact he is the rightful heir to the throne.
25. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
What fantasy list would be complete without the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling? Harry discovers he has magical powers and is sent to the wizarding school Hogwarts to develop them. Once there, he uncovers a secret object hidden in the castle walls, which Harry must prevent from falling into evil hands.
So many other titles should be on the list but weren’t. What’s your favorite fantasy novel we left off? Let us know in the comments below so we can get the definitive list going.
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Want to see which novels made our other lists?
- The Best Mystery Novels of All Time
- The Best Dystopian Novels of All Time
- The Best Sci-Fi Novels of All Time
- The Best Historical Fiction Novels of All Time
- The Best Horror Novels of All Time
- The Best Thriller Novels of All Time
- The Best Romance Novels of All Time