In Response: 30 of MY Favourite Fantasy Book Series

I saw this post via Facebook today, and it really bugged me. You don’t get to claim that things are the best of anything without some evidence to show this. Are they the 30 best selling fantasy series? Are they the 30 most reviewed fantasy series? Are they the 30 most awarded book fantasy series? What, in fact, are they the best at? Being mostly by men? Yeah, because only five of the 30 series mentioned here are by men. And even the ones by women? Not all fantasy (much as many of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books have a fantasy feel to them, they are in fact science fiction…) So I decided to write my OWN list of fantasy book series.

I won’t claim them to be the “best” of anything, except being best reads I’ve loved over the years. Please note, these are only series I have read and loved over the past 25 years or so. I have not included anything I know to be amazing unless I have read it, I have not included anything I have personally published, and I’ve only noted one series per author (even though for many, they have several I enjoy). And as always, a disclaimer that if I did this exercise again on another day, it would probably be a different list… Here goes…

  1. Artefacts of Power series by Maggie Furey – I’m almost 100% certain these would not hold up to a critical reread nearly two decades after I first adored them, but I can’t bring myself to try. I loved them when I was young, and so they have their place here.
  2. Anita Blake series by Laurell K Hamilton – The first half dozen of these are amazing, and while I’ll acknowledge the quality devolved in the later books, they were still excellent at the time, and the first few still stand up today.
  3. Axis trilogy by Sara Douglass – Look, this really started it all for me, in my journey of discovering Australian fantasy writers, and Sara was a trailblazer with her work. These days I have issues with the way some things are presented, but when I first read them, and for several years after, these were astonishingly good.
  4. Black Jewels books by Anne Bishop – I ADORED this series when I discovered it and one of my big disappointments in life is that I didn’t get to the Australian SF convention she was a guest for. Still grab anything new by Bishop.
  5. Blackthorn & Grim by Juliet Marillier – No, this series isn’t yet complete but I don’t care; the first two books are excellent (as is all Marillier’s work) so I think I’m safe.
  6. Creature Court trilogy by Tansy Rayner Roberts – It’s not secret I love everything Tansy writes, but I loved what she did in the Creature Court world and they deserved the awards they received. Sadly, I don’t think the covers, while pretty, do the darkness and depths of the story justice.
  7. Damar books by Robin McKinley – I am definitely due a reread of this duology. Loved the world so much when I first read them, and feel the need to revisit.
  8. Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy (plus extras) by Laini Taylor – So much love for these books! Taylor writes beautiful characters and puts them in awful situations. Fantastic.
  9. Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C Wrede – Like Tamora Pierce, Wrede gives us wonderful female characters (but with dragons!) who are smart and witty and great fun to read. Great to hook the young people in your life on the genre.
  10. Eon/Eona by Alison Goodman – I loved these when they first came out (initially the first book was titled The Two Pearls of Wisdom) and still recommend them to people but I really need a reread, it’s been a while.
  11. Farseer trilogy (and all related books) by Robin Hobb – The Farseer trilogy is just the beginning of the story in Robin Hobb’s world. I love all of them and am delighted to still see the same quality in the newest books as in the early ones.
  12. Gina Champion Mysteries by Kim Wilkins – I love a lot of Wilkins’ adult novels but her work for younger readers is how I first discovered her and the Gina Champion books are criminally underread.
  13. The Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal – beautiful alternate history with beautifully drawn characters and situations.
  14. Graceling Realm books by Kristin Cashore – Bitterblue was perhaps my favourite book of the year it came out, and I love the way the three work together without being a technically consecutive fantasy series.
  15. Indexing by Seanan McGuire – Seanan McGuire and her alter ego Mira Grant have written many of my favourite books from the past few years, but of her (urban) fantasies, I think this is my favourite series so far, though I love Velveteen and her traditionally published ones, too.
  16. The Keepers trilogy by Lian Tanner – Multi-award winning and deservedly so, even though this series is aimed at younger readers it is excellent reading for any age.
  17. The Last T’en series by Rowena Cory Daniells – I think this might have been the first series I bought at a science fiction convention, way back in 2002, and I loved it – Daniells writes dark and nasty fantasy, and she writes it well.
  18. Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta – I didn’t expect to like this series, and to be honest, I didn’t love the first book, which seemed a little generic, but the second and third were astonishingly good and the character of Quintana is one of the best I’ve read.
  19. Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan – Another recent discovery, another alternate history with (a very different kind of) dragons. I adore the style of this one, and the lead character, Lady Trent, is excellent.
  20. Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs – Still one of my favourite in the urban fantasy field – Briggs writes good.
  21. The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger – fabulous fun and seriously good. Banterrific dialogue and solid storytelling come together to create great reads.
  22. Phèdre’s Trilogy by Jacqueline Carey – Another on my “must reread” list – the Kushiel books are dark and twisty and racy, and populate a world I love when I’m immersed in it. Not for the fainthearted…
  23. Raksura books by Martha Wells – I’m quite bewildered that I only discovered Wells a couple of years ago, when she’s been writing brilliant books for ages. I found her, and binged her entire backlist in a matter of weeks, starting with the Raksura, but they are all great.
  24. Rogue Agent books by KE Mills – I could have chosen other books by Karen Miller (KE Mills) but these ones are a lot of fun to read, with her steady hand on the wheel to make them solidly good books.
  25. Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce – Possibly my earliest fantasy novels, and still awesome. Seriously, just read them.
  26. Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn – Bordering on being not-quite fantasy but they totally are. I read the prequel, Heaven’s Net is Wide, before the previously published series proper, and promptly tracked down and devoured the lot. Beautifully written.
  27. Temeraire series by Naomi Novik – Oh look, one I agree with from the original post! I only discovered Temeraire last year, and have just recently finished the final book. I’m a bit of an alternate history fan so throw in dragons and you had me at hello…
  28. Watergivers trilogy by Glenda Larke – Recently awarded the Sara Douglass Book Series Award and deservedly so. Amazing worldbuilding, wonderful characters, and the trademark Larke brilliance.
  29. The Witches of Eileanan by Kate Forsyth – It’s been a goodly while since I read these ones but they were in my early “read all the Australian fantasy I can get my hands on” phase and have survived several book purges. Must reread…
  30. World of the Five Gods series by Lois McMaster Bujold – Most recently I’ve been reading the Penric novellas set in this world, but it was very odd I only read the original Chalion books last year. Apparently I had them conflated in my head with Bujold’s other fantasy series, so it was a great delight to read and love these ones too.

What’s that you say? There are no men on this list? Oh. Huh. Well, I guess if I tried a little harder, I could probably come up with a bunch of male names to add, because I do, on occasion, enjoy the odd book by a man, but you know what? I think I’d rather let the list stand as evidence that oh look, ladies do indeed write awesome fantasy series and you should totally read some of them. Go on, it’s fun…

So, what would you have on YOUR list? Let me know in the comments!




Filed under Books

17 responses to “In Response: 30 of MY Favourite Fantasy Book Series

  1. I loved “The Keepers” series too. I feel it is so underrated. “The Book of Words” series by J.V. Jones is another series that I personally loved. Might I recommend it if you haven’t already read it?

  2. Bryan

    Great list, Margo Lanagan is my favourite Australian woman fantasy author, surprised she isn’t here….

  3. Jessica Willard

    Oh goodness, where do I begin? The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (it is NOT a standalone novel, the second book comes out in 2018!) is most excellent. Catherynne M Valente does some amazing fantasy series, my favorite is Deathless, book one of Leningrad Diptych. Danielle Jensen’s Stolen Songbird trilogy is amazing, about trolls (yah!) and so is Robin Lafever’s HIs Fair Assassins trilogy (she is writing two more books set to come out soon, awesome!). Shana Abe’s the Drakon series is considered fantasy/romance, (it has less sexual content than Kushiel’s Dart, which I loved) and it is France and Dragons and all kind of good things! Juliet Marillier is still my favorite author of all time, her Sevenwaters Series is magical.

  4. Amy Oakley

    As a fan of urban fantasy I have to mention The Hollows series by Kim Harrison, The Riley Jensen series by Keri Arthur (Australian author to add to the pile) and Women of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong. Also a huge fan of the Blood of Eden series by Julie Kagawa (aimed at teens) and the Celena Sardothian books by Sara J Maas.

  5. Yes much more interesting books.

  6. I love some of the books you’ve listed and some I haven’t read. However, including some of the above in any “best of” list makes me stabby.

    Splitting off from SF — not allowing inclusion of SF books — makes it very difficult to name some excellent series. Like Helen Lowe’s Wall of Night series; Helen, as an awarded poet, writes beautiful prose as well as being obsessive over plots (she once retracted a script from final submission because, while on a plane, she realised she’d left one little plot hole).

    Jo Spurrier’s Children of the Black Sun is awesome. I confess I still haven’t read the final book (it’s hiding somewhere after I finished my studies and moved house) but her first book alone, Winter Be My Shield, should have taken out the Norma K Hemming Award for its representation of women, class, race and disability. But when AA Bell won for books featuring disability, apparently people called for the judges’ resignations because you can’t have an award for minority groups awarding representation of disability. Or so I’m told.

    Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon is ambiguous about whether it’s fantasy or not but its excellent writing and discussion of refugees is so powerful, I feel it needs to be included in any ‘best of’ list.

    The Guardian Angel’s Journal by Carolyn Jess-Cooke is breathtaking writing by a poet and so very powerful, exposing systemic abuse of a girl in an orphanage and the impact it has on her and her family. It is also healing.

    Winterkill by Kate A Boorman is the beginning of a very Wyndham-esque trilogy set in Canada featuring French, English and Native Canadians in a small community.

    Cloudwish by Fiona Wood is, again, ambiguously fantasy but its excellent writing and featuring of a Vietnamese Australian is essential reading. It’s also part of a longer series, each of which can be read alone.

    Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori is excellent and has, most likely, influenced subsequent stories like Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer trilogy that, admittedly, probably received more public attention because WRITTEN BY A MAN.

    Francesca Haig is another brilliant woman writer who, although not herself disabled, has written disability at an excellent standard in her trilogy beginning with the Fire Sermon. Francesca is one of the rare non-disabled authors who has studied disability and disability culture to write it well while (when I interviewed her) proclaiming that she is cautious about her role as a non-disabled author writing disability.

    Kit Whitfield’s Bareback floored me when I read it about 10 years ago. That was the first book I ever read that was overtly about disability in the fantasy genre that captured the issues well. It’s a bit of a slower read and is more sociological but non-lycans being considered disabled while performing essential services for their werewolf society? Epically awesome.

    I could go on. You may notice a theme regarding disability arising in many of these books. It’s not intentional but it’s time to acknowledge excellent writing featuring disability.

    • Oh, absolutely not intended as a “best of” list – just a list of stuff I liked. Re splitting off SF, when I was drafting it I unintentionally included a SF series (which, like Anne McCaffrey, has a fantasy feel) – might need to do another one! I haven’t read any of the others you mentioned (other than Otori, which is on the list), except for Cloudwish (which I didn’t think was part of a series and one I also had a few issues with, in terms of being fantasy, but liked for other reasons!), so thanks for more recs!

      • All Fiona’s books share characters so, while they don’t form a singular story arc, they are connected. Cloudwish is ambiguously fantasy: I thought not but it includes certain tropes so, from a literary criticism point of view, I think it falls within the fringes of the genre at least. Either way, it’s worthy of inclusion in longlists at the least. (Maybe, as a former *Melbournian* writer/reviewer, I’m biased.)

        Re Pern: for the first several books it appeared McCaffrey’s series was fantasy but, once they go to Australia (ha ha) it’s definitely SF. However, I would still argue that the series falls in the Venn overlap area between the two genres because the dragons have abilities and statistics (like how much they weigh) according to what they believe. Which is why they can teleport through time and into outer space etc.

        I think separating SF from Fantasy is too difficult because lines are blurry. It’s a bit like separating SF from horror: some people believe they are one and the same thing, belonging together on bookshelves and in disk sales/rental places. I draw a line between The Expanse (horror themes) and Saw (slasher movie) and I do NOT want to see the covers for t’other kind of horror when I go looking for my kind of reading or viewing material.

  7. You have a few of my favourites already on your list, but Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series is full of the most brilliant ideas and gorgeous writing, and the Australian writer Cecilia Dart-Thornton does remarkable things with fairy tales and high fantasy in her Bitterbynde trilogy (it begins with ‘The Ill-Made Mute’). I don’t think that the Riddle-Master books are Patricia A. McKillip’s best work, but everything she writes is so good that it would have to be on my list. Though I have mixed feelings about Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series (they really are very confusing) there’s an intensity and depth to the story that makes them classics to me. I see other people have already mentioned Catherynne M. Valente, but not her Orphan’s Tales duology, which is the most utterly stunning piece of writing. It is SO EASY to think of titles, this is fun!

  8. Pingback: Loose-leaf Links #25 | Earl Grey Editing

  9. Pingback: Some of my favourite SF series: A List | A conversational life

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