In case you haven’t heard, fantasy fiction is really huge right now. Yes, epic fantasy has been around for years, but thanks to the huge success of HBO’s A Game of Thrones, hundreds of new audiobook listeners are only now discovering the wonders of epic fantasy. Those of us who having been enjoying the genre for years are already familiar with most of the popular fantasy series available. But for those new to the genre, it can be quite daunting to know where to start with so many fantasy series to choose from.
If you are new to epic fantasy and are looking to get in on the action, then this guide is for you. If you’re already an avid fantasy reader, then use this guide to help you choose a new series that you haven’t tried yet. Either way, we hope you’ll join us on this journey, as we introduce you to some of the more popular series to get you started. Let’s begin with the grandaddy of them all…
The Lord of the Rings Series by J.R.R. Tolkien
A much loved and treasured classic, the Lord of the Rings series is widely regarded as one of the best fantasy series of all time. It was originally written as a sequel to Tolkien’s fantasy for children, The Hobbit, and features the hobbit inhabitants of Middle Earth.
The series chronicles the adventures of Frodo Baggins as he and fellow hobbits Sam Gamgee, Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took embark on a quest to destroy the One Ring. Their traveling companions include a dwarf named Gimli, Legolas the elf, and the wizard Gandalf.
This fellowship seeks to return the ring to the flames of Mount Doom in Mordor. However they are hindered by Dark Lord Sauron’s attempts to reclaim the ring for himself so that he can regain his full power. As the epic tale continues, the fellowship also struggle with the lure of absolute power afforded the owner of the ring. This series set the standard for fantasy stories for years to come and continues to influence the genre today. If you’re a fan of fantasy fiction and haven’t read Tokien, drop everything and order the audiobooks now. You won’t regret it. Don’t forget to also read our full review of each book in The Lord of the Rings series.
The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
The Mistborn Trilogy takes place in a world that is blackened by ash which pours perpetually from volcanoes, turning the sky red. A mysterious mist always rises at night. The society is called the Final Empire and is ruled by a thousand-year old dictator called Lord Ruler. Set up like Earth’s ancient feudal society, it is peopled with nobility and the skaa, or slaves.
Key characters include Kelsier, a skaa who is known as the Survivor and the only person who ever escaped the pits of the Lord Ruler. Vin is a teenaged skaa girl who is a street thief and is also “mistborn.” The magic in these novels is called allomancy, a genetically inherited system that enables those who are mistborn to ingest and burn metal to produce magical effects. The effects include feats like exerting mental influence over another or gaining increased strength.
The Mistborn series is filled with likable characters and brings many new ideas to the fantasy genre. The story races along with twists and turns and once you get caught up in the unfolding plot to overthrow the Lord Ruler, you’ll find it hard to stop listening. The Mistborn trilogy starts with The Final Empire and comes highly recommended.
The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss
The Kingkiller Chronicles tells the story of Kvothe, a magically gifted orphan who grew up on the mean streets of the city. Stories of related events that happened over the years are used to chronicle his coming of age and becoming a wizard, a sword fighter and musician. The first book begins the tale of his life and adventures as a fugitive after a king is murdered and he is the suspected killer.
The plot has two lines; one is presented by Kvothe narrating his stories in the first person. At the same time, stories of present day events are told in the third person by a rich cast of characters. There is a war going on, a friend who wants to rouse Kvothe to return to his “glory days,” and a force of evil known as “the Chandrian.” There is also the presence of a love interest, in the form of Deena, a poor homeless girl that Kvothe has a fascination for.
The Kingkiller Chronicles is an enjoyable series that has all the fantasy elements required for action and high adventure. The first two audiobooks in this trilogy, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear are already available and the highly anticipated third book, The Doors of Stone is due sometime in 2014. Start reading this exciting new series of Kingkiller Chronicles.
The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
Focusing on Fitz, the bastard son of a prince who abdicates his position, the Farseer Trilogy contains a bit less adventure than most epic fantasy tales. At six years old, Fitz is left at the castle doorstep. The prince who is his father is embarrassed, gives his care to his sworn man and stable master, then leaves to live in the country. This coming-of-age story is told from Fitz’s point of view as he grows up. You’ll feel Fitz’s loneliness, frustration, guilt and anger; you’ll sympathize with him and cheer when he succeeds; when he does something stupid, you’ll want to shake some sense into him.
The trials and tribulations of Fitz and his companions are set against a backdrop of political intrigue and war with an evil nemesis in a medieval world. All the characters are flawed, and there is no clear line between good and bad. There is believable magic in the form of the Skill, which is mind magic that only works on humans, and Wit, which is punishable by death if one is caught using it.
Robin Hobb has created a quality fantasy series, with an emotionally involving story that comes highly recommended. Start with the first audiobook in this series Assassin’s Apprentice.
The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan
The Wheel of Time series has been called “one of literature’s greatest achievements in epic fantasy.” Every book in the series has been on the New York Times bestseller list. Using elements from Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the storyline for the series is set in the past and the future.
Rand al’Thor finds out that he must save the world from evil. Furthermore, he is considered to be the reincarnation of a “Messiah.” The world is in chaos, and must cope with war, destruction and change. Good versus evil is played out by pitting Rand al’Thor and his allies against “the Dark One” and his minions, over the course of generations. As he quests to save the world and fulfill his destiny, he must be careful not to inadvertently break the wheel of time and destroy the world.
Fans of stories that feature epic battles between good and evil will love this series. Jordan has created a vast world, with a large cast of characters to delve into. The battle between what is good or evil is not always clear cut, making this an interesting and thought-provoking series. So why not join Rand al’Thor, as he struggles against the odds to unite kingdoms to rally against the Dark One. The series starts with The Eye of the World.
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
This series of books needs no introduction thanks to the popular HBO TV series A Game of Thrones. The saga tells the story of royal families in two lands. From the gripping opening, which immediately hooks the reader’s curiosity with references to an unknown menace behind a wall of ice at land’s end, this series grips the reader by the throat and never lets go.
The settings for the tale include the Seven Kingdoms of the Westoros continent and the eastern continent of Essos. There are three concurrent stories in the series: a civil war in Westoros; the threat of the unknown menace, called the Others; and the plots of an exiled king’s daughter to reclaim the throne.
The characters in the story are human, but as the saga unfolds, we learn of dragons from the east and supernatural beings known as the Others. With frequently startling events, Martin creates a stark, realistic world, which completely reinvents the fantasy genre for a new generation. We breakdown all the important characters and events in our full evaluation of each book in A Song of Ice and Fire.
Sword of Truth Series by Terry Goodkind
The Sword of Truth Series revolves around the experiences of two main characters, Richard Cypher, a simple, non-assuming fellow, and Kahlan Amnell, a strong woman that he falls in love with. Set in two locales, the New World and the Old World, the first book begins with a bewildered Richard in his forest sanctuary, trying to sort out the brutal murder of his father. Kahlan appears on the scene, seeking help. They agree to travel together to defeat oppressors who want to control the world, and other forces who want to unleash evil.
Ancient binding magical oaths are discovered as the quest unfolds in a bewitching land fraught with enemies and treachery. They must tangle with villains like Darken Rahl, a magically gifted leader who invades their Midlands home and seeks to get control of an ancient power of life called Orden. A brutal Genghis Khan-type emperor from the Old World named Jagang appears later in the series. Because Richard refuses to sacrifice his values and lives his life as a free man, others begin to understand the nobility of man and the meaning of freedom. Fans of the Objectivist philosophy will recognize many of Ayn Rand’s ideas while Richard grows as a warrior, intellectual and leader; often defeating his enemies with his keen mind rather than physical might.
There are 12 epic novels in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, which has sold over 25 million copies worldwide. Begin your exploration of this epic series with the first audiobook Wizard’s First Rule.
The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
The First Law series is set in a world that is reminiscent of medieval Europe, which is at war in this highly entertaining epic fantasy. There are three warring major powers; a large kingdom comparable to Western Europe, called the Union; the Gurkish Empire, similar to ancient Mideast empires; an alliance of tribes with Viking as well as Anglo-Saxon attributes called the Northmen.
The characters in this series are all interesting and well-developed enough to make you care about their fates. The major players are: warrior Logen Ninefingers, who can talk to spirits; Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta, a crippled torturer; arrogant swordsman Jezal dan Luthar, who has royal blood and only looks out for himself; Bayaz First of the Magi, a wizard from an older time and Ferri Maljinn, a former slave with demon’s blood and an unnaturally accurate aim with a bow.
We’re big Joe Abercrombie fans here at Best Fantasy Audiobooks and we can’t recommend this series enough. This trilogy provides complex characterization and gritty realism, with edge of your seat action. In the world of the First Law trilogy, good people often make bad decisions. Don’t miss out on this amazing series. Start with the first audiobook, The Blade Itself.
The Malazan Book of the Fallen Series by Steven Erikson
In this richly complex series, several storylines progress simultaneously, with the individual novels moving backwards and forwards between them. The action begins with the aftermath of a battle in an intricate and original world. The novels span millennia and continents. There are storylines of dozens of individual characters, but the main character is the world itself. Magical creatures like goblins and elves are present in forms that provide a twist on the usual fantasy beings.
Although there are extensive sequences that take place in other realms or planes of existence of magic called the “warrens,” all action occurs on just one planet. There are also flashbacks to events in the distant past. These epic tales have deservedly been called “masterful” and “a redefinition of what is possible in epic fantasy literature.”
There are 10 books to explore in Erikson’s Malazan world. This is a vast and epic series that is a refreshing departure from the usual fantasy fare, which some might find difficult to get into at first. However, it’s well worth the effort. The first three books in the series are available as audiobooks. Start with Gardens of the Moon.
The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny
The Chronicles of Amber is based on the concept of parallel universes. The stories occur in two “true” worlds; Amber and the Courts of Chaos. Action also takes place in the “shadows” that lie between them, which include Earth. The first book begins with the main character, Corwin, waking up from a coma in a hospital in New York. He is the narrator for the first five novels, and discovers that he is part of a superhuman royal family who rule over the true world of Amber. His life and adventures, when he finds his family after being gone for centuries, comprise the first part of the series.
The dysfunctional royal family is at the center of a centuries-long cosmic war between different entities. There is violence as well as romance, all complicated by the fact that natives of Amber can “walk in shadow,” and play with the laws of physics by simply willing changes to occur around them. Listeners who love intrigue will delight in this engrossing tale that includes philosophical concepts about the nature of existence. Start with the first audiobook in the series Nine Princes in Amber.
The Sword of Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks
The Sword of Shannara was the first epic fantasy novel to become a mainstream bestseller, opening up the market for high fantasy. This enthralling series mixes magic with primitive technology. The setting is on Earth, after modern civilization has been destroyed by nuclear and chemical warfare.
The physical landscapes of Earth have changed; magic blends with science and people live in Four Lands, the North America of a post-apocalyptic future as envisioned by Brooks. In addition to leftover killer robots, there are elves, gnomes, dwarfs and trolls, who are all mutated humans.
The first tale tells the story of the two elf brothers who become heroes while trying to save their family and friends, and ultimately the world, from domination. The books of the trilogy deal with a Druid named Allanon and his relationship with three generations of the Ohmsford family, noble elves who are heirs to the House of Shannara. There’s a lot to explore in this world that Brooks has created, with around two dozen books in the collection, including prequels and related stories. New readers to Shannara, should start with the first book in the original trilogy The Sword of Shannara.
Epic fantasy audiobooks can thrill the adventurer in you with battles between good and evil, and an abundance of heroes and magic. They provide inspiration to the imagination and a welcome respite from the daily routine. As you have seen, there are many amazing fantasy series to choose from. We recommend getting an Audible subscription, as it’s a much cheaper option than buying audiobooks individually. It’s easy to get started with a free trial and you get your first audiobook for free. What fantasy series will you choose next?