by R.R. Virdi
Sci-fi and fantasy books have millions of fans around the world, and it’s fair to say in the world of self-publishing, those numbers are being published yearly as well. So, with an endless number to read, growing by the second in fact, how do you pick where to start next? This guide is a completely subjective top ten list on where to begin to sate your SFF cravings. This list will also be excluding The Lord of the Rings for obvious reasons. It’s a bit too well known and goes without saying as a great series to read. Same with Dune.
This epic has been so successful, Jordan went onto be known as the American Tolkien. The Wheel of Time is an epic high fantasy of unparalleled writing, world building, and stakes. The series spans 14 novels and totals well over 4,000,000 words. The Wheel of Time focuses on a multiple point-of-view journey among characters battling against the return of Shaitan, the dark one or lord, and his endless minions. A mythical figure, The Dragon Reborn, is supposed to be reborn and walk the line between madness and clarity, and use his gifts to banish the darkness, hopefully for good this time. The struggle has continued throughout the ages, will this be the final time? Will light finally conquer the dark, or will the cycle continue?
The Mistborn series is beloved by many, and for good reason. It’s an epic fantasy of hard, codified magic known as, Allomancy, the manipulation and consumption of metals. Yes, you read that right, in the dystopian world of Scadrial, Allomancers have the ability to ingest certain metals that will give them temporary abilities. A certain subgroup of Allomances called, Mistborn, have the rare gift to consume any metal and use the corresponding abilities. The characters are beautifully written, the plot amazingly executed, and the world building goes beyond anything else, so much so, you’ll have to read many of Sanderson’s other works to fully grasp the breadth of it all. That’s not a bad thing. If you love hard magic, evil empires, action like out of things like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you’ll love this series.
This series isn’t complete, something many fans have bemoaned about for nearly a decade. But, don’t let that deter you. The first two books are well worth it. The prose is near-poetic, almost song-like. Rothfuss weaves a wonderful picaresque following a roguish legend in his own world as he tells his story to a travelling chronicler over the span of three days. The audience knows and impending doom is coming, the protagonist, the mythical, Kvote (pronounced: Quothe), lets us know he’s expecting to die soon. That doesn’t stop him from regaling us with a tale of mischief, heartache, trauma, ambition, love, loss, and the stuff epics are made of. A wonderful blend of hard and soft magic make up this series. The story continues to pull you along smoothly, page-after-page, as you navigate Kvothe’s early years, up until the end of book two. It’s been said the man has killed an angel, spoken to gods, killed a demon, burned a town, and so much more. Does he live up to legend? You tell me.
My personal number 1 favorite. This hard-hitting, noir, semi-automagical series follows Harry Blackthorne Copperfield Dresden, professional wizard, and he’s in the phonebook. It’s urban fantasy at its best. Flawed, hope-inspiring characters battling themselves just as much as the forces of supernatural evil, and sometimes just plain mortal darkness. The fae, gods, vampires, werewolves, all your favorite mythological creatures, along with many lesser-known ones. Harry’s day job is as PI in Chicago, and magic doesn’t pay the bills all that well. He lives of consultancy work for the local PD, and the series begins when a magical drug sweeps through streets, and a grisly penthouse murder requires his expertise. 15 books in, and 8 more to go, The Dresden Files is a must read magical fantasy set today. Magic. Monsters. Mischief.
This interstellar military sci fi focuses on a century-long war between two human groups divided by culture. Our main character, Captain John Geary, also known as “Black Jack”, is a legend for a last stand he led 100 years ago. Now out of suspended animation, he’s put up to the task of winning the war. If only it was the easy. This is one of the military sci fi series that has led to a string of imitators because, well, it’s brilliant.
A grim dark military fantasy that was killing off beloved characters long before the name, Martin, was uttered for doing so. The series focuses on an elite mercenary company doing the hard jobs, the dirty ones, and the ones that lead to an early grave. Spanning nearly 10 books, the Black Company’s story is wonderful told, reveals gritty and gorgeously complicated/flawed characters, and the horrible things they have had to and will do. It’s not a pretty series. There isn’t always a happy ending. And sometimes, bad things do just happen, but in this world, a lot of the times their done by bad people. Get used to it. If you want a hardcore and gruesome military fantasy, this is what you’re looking for.
A master of humor, whimsy, and hitting you on the nose with philosophy wrapped in sarcasm and wittery, Terry Pratchett’s work is nothing short of brilliant and masterful. Discworld is in fact a collection of stories from multiple series focusing on different protagonists set in, yes, Discworld. It’s a flat world resting on the backs of four elephants standing atop a giant space sailing turtle. Yes, you read that right. It’s hilarious, tackles all manner of complicated socio-political issues with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, is full of parodies of fantasy clichés and tropes, and just so much more. Don’t worry, Discworld consists of only around 40 novels. Get reading. You’re going to be busy for a while.
Welcome to a world where animals are the main characters, a world spanning 22 years and with 15 novels published so far. Travel to Redwall Abbey and meet the peaceful residents who’ve lived a pleasant life…until a ship of pillaging/pirating rats lands in the distance and its crew seeks to kill/enslave all those in their way. The novels are written in a nonlinear fashion, jumping through time to tell the tales of legends past, and heroes coming after the original novel: Redwall. The books are entertaining and easy to get swept up by, and they appeal to all ages.
One of the earliest fantasy greats I can remember. Most fantasy nerds do not need an introduction to one of the most iconic characters ever, Drizzt Do’Urden, dark elf, hero, and legend. This trilogy, only a small number of the books penned by Salvatore and following the journeys of the famous dark elf rogue, is what started it all. Any Dungeons and Dragons fan must read these. But, if you’re one of those, chances are you already have. And, if you haven’t, fix that now!
Set in a future where we humans have colonized much of our solar system, the various groups among our galaxy are taking issue with one another, raising tensions. The series carries all of the story plots you want to see out of a space travelling/space ship series: pirates, space battles, political scheming, machine organisms, aliens, and new sorts of space travel.