The most epic fantasy book cycle? (non-Tolkien)

I’ve bought yesterday the first book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and then went to check some comments online. It seems that it starts well but then gets extremely dispersive later on and with twelve books planned there’s even the risk that all the build-up may finish into a huge disappointment.

I was wondering what’s the general consensus about huge (long) fantasy cycles spawning many books, which ones are the best both from the world building aspect (what I like the most, writers as “architects”) and pure writing?

It’s years that I don’t read fantasy and I’d like some tips. No one-book stories, just those epic monstrous cycles. Is there one that it’s actually worth reading and well written?

Beside Robert Jordan I’ve heard of Terry Goodkind with the Sword of Truth, David Eddings who leaves me a bit more doubtful because it sounds more as history-fantasy crossover than pure high fantasy (and shorter books), Michael Moorcock (who I already know and Love), Terry Brooks with Shannara, George R R Martin with the Song of Ice and Fire, and Stephen Donaldson with the saga of Thomas Covenant, I’ve read the first half of the first book and I liked it, even if it’s a bit unconventional fantasy.

Is there’s something in this subgenre that is really worth reading and can get close to the Middle Earth?

I’d like to hear more about this if someone is well informed and opinionated.

If you want to make lame charts, even better ;)

I remember liking the “Death Gate Cycle” series a lot, but that was a long long time ago, so I’m not sure how well it would hold up if I read it again. Might be worth a look though.

Terry Brooks is fucking awful. I read the first book in the Shannara series, and let’s just say that there’s a part in that book where the Brotherhood ventures into some deep, forgotten mines. Down there, they’re confronted by an ancient evil on the ledge of a deep, dark chasm. The wizard decides to sacrifice himself to save the rest of the group, but LO AND BEHOLD! He somehow survived and teams up with the rest of the group in a mysterious forest, more powerful than ever! The book also features Wood Dwarves.

I personally think the Wheel of Time is utter shit, but I know of a lot of people who don’t. I think it’s poorly written, it has a very, very vague arch villain (you think Sauron, being a disembodied spirit occasionally represented by a burning eye is vague? You haven’t seen Shai’tan, then) and a … very, very vague plot as well. The four books I bothered to read had very little going on, at least. There’s drama, sure, but there’s no sense of direction and a lot of extremely boring world-building that deals with establishing the various political factions and kingdoms. All very generic, too. To Jordan’s defense, at least his book doesn’t feature orcs. Not real orcs, anyway. No, just vaguely orc-like beings known as “trollocs”. Trollocs? That’s almost as bad as the Strogg, for crying out loud.

You could do worse than check out Raymond E. Feist. It’s been about ten years since I read his stuff, but I remember it as very decent. The first book, Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master is suitably epic, and there’s a veritable shitload of sequels and prequels going on, like the Serpentwar Saga, along with the Riftwar Saga that Magician is part of. Then there’s an account of the world beyond the rift, called Daughter of the Empire, Servant of the Empire and Mistress of the Empire which I also recall as decent, although the setting is mostly a mish-mash of Japanese feudalism and imperialism under another name. Kind of like Dune, Herbert and Arabs.

Go on. Have a look.

I personally loved Tad Williams’ “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” (The Dragonbone Chair/Stone of Farewell/To Green Angel Tower) series. It definitely has some Tolkienesque features to it, is very epic and has a good universe, but doesn’t get unnecessarily long in the tooth, so to speak. It has an interesting look at “elves” and “hobbits” as well.

There’s also Guy Gavriel Kay’s “The Fionavar Tapestry” (The Summer Tree/The Wandering Fire/The Darkest Road) but that also deals with “real world” people entering a fantasy world.

I find that if the author can keep it to a trilogy or a couple more, its usually pretty good. Anything beyond that and it really does start to get bloated with added and extraneous plot.

I’ve also been recommended Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy, they say there’s sex (but it’s not the reason they recommended it) ;)

And I’d like to hear more about R R Martin, there’s a thread here below mostly saying it’s well written. As to my preference I like better high fantasy that doesn’t remind real history, darker, grittier settings, fancy, evocative “visual” style and stories with a choral approach, without the one hero and instead with more characters and points of view. I like the “group” more than the “hero”. If there isn’t a definite protagonist, even better.

I have enjoyed Ian Ervine’s books (‘the view form the mirror’ quartet was great).
Easily read, left me satisfied.

Also, what about Steven Erikson’s Malazan?

I haven’t yet gotten around to Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, but the Otherland saga makes me a enthusiastic reccomender of anything Tad Williams writes. I’d also agree with the previous reccomendation for Feist. I hear things got a bit crap towards the end, but Krondor was a very well imagined world, and I spent some happy time there.

I think Martin is great. His reputation has suffered because of the time he has taken and the complexity he has tried to both contain and slowly reveal within his epic series. SO much so that the latest book got so bloated that he had to divide it in two and so half of the characters you knew from the prior books were not heard from at all in A Feast for Crows and who knows when he will rap up the next. He is a victim of his own grand ideas and schemes for his characters.

He tells each chapter from the PoV of a different character; the “good guys” and “bad guys” included. I think he does it so well and describes the motivations behind each’s actions so clearly that the line between the two camps often blurs to dissapearing.

Another thing I respect about his writing is that he uses magic only as a vague influencing factor in the goings on of his world. It is not used as a crutch to explain away impossibilities nor as a savior of main characters when it their ends appear to be almost certain. Magic’s role in all of his books has been minimal and while it will definitely continue to be somewhat of a factor, I hope he keeps it as a minor supporting one.

I read a lot of Shannarah books as a teen, but after having read much more fantasy and trying to go back, it is not possible. It may have been good once, but there are so many more, better constructed stories and series today, I believe you would be wasting your time.

I missed out on Jordan, but after hearing the cries of the dissapointed masses here and elsewhere regarding entire volumes that resolve zero plotlines and reveal few answers, I do not think I will get involved even if the earlier offerings are good. That is a trap that might just keep me slogging through to the bitter end.

I did enjoy the 1st Covenant trilogy. Mostly, I think, because of how different it was and the freshness of the ideas brought to the fantasy genre while still keeping it in the realm of fantasy in which I am comfortable and enjoy reading. The secong trilogy I do not remember as clearly.

There is a lot out there and no matter what folks tell you, I have found, that in the end your own tastes are going to decide who is is brilliant and who is shit. Afterall, folks keep buying Jordan’s and Brooks’ books and, inexplicably, there are people that do not like Martin. Good luck and godspeed.

I love the Song of Ice and Fire series. Even if Martin never finishes, the books have given me a thousand times more pleasure than the Tolkien books, which make me nod off in the mi…

So no one has read the Erikson’s Malazan cycle? On the wikipedia there’s this passage that I like:

The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a fantasy series written by Canadian author Steven Erikson, consisting of seven books as of 2007 and projected to be ten books long in total. It is an epic fantasy, wide in scope and encompassing the stories of a very large cast of characters. Each book tells a different chapter in the ongoing saga of the Malazan Empire and its wars. For the first five books, each volume is self-contained, in that the primary conflict of each novel is resolved within that novel. However, many underlying characters and events are interwoven throughout the works of the series, binding it together.

The Malazan series is often compared both to Glen Cook’s Black Company, and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. It is like Song of Ice and Fire in that both are epic-length fantasies consisting of doorstop-sized novels, deal with war and have a large cast of characters. They are also contemporaries, so the comparison is natural enough. Both also deal with large, faceless military campaigns and one can draw parallels between the Malazan Bridgeburners Company and Cook’s Black Company. The seventh book in the series is also dedicated to Glen Cook.

I’m reading an old thread on F13 where they talk really well about this one and Cook’s Black Company.

I’ve put RR Martin already on the wishlist. It seems I’ll go RR Martin and then try Erikson.

On F13 they like Erikson because he’s like Martin, writing huge ongoing series and yet goes on regularly without delays or losing track of the plot.

I’d suggest Glen Cook’s The Black Company, up until you start in on the books “Of the South”. From that point on, you’re on your own.

For epic reading (yet not necessarily epic saga), check out all of the Jhereg books by Steven Brust. Fantastic setting, excellent writing, and a main character that makes you want to go learn how to flip daggers when you’re bored. They recently republished the smaller books at the beginning of the series into compilation volumes, so it’s easier to pick up the back-catalog now.

No one really remembers it any more, but Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster of Hed series (3 books, also republished recently in a compilation volume) was phenomenal.

If I could impart one thing on you, it’s this: For your sake, stay far far away from the likes of Eddings, Jordan, and Brooks. Unless, of course, you’re attempting to set the standard so low that everything else will be wonderful by comparison.

I do. Patricia McKillip is one of my favorite fantasy writers.

Oh yeah, that. Croaker is one of my mostest favoritest characters, like, ever. I started back up with the flashback books, which I think are the ones you mention and, yes, they are quite a bit less enthralling.

Not necessarily strictly medieval, but…

Gene Wulf’s New Sun, Long Sun and Short Sun series

Michael Moorcock’s The Eternal Champion. That covers all of Elric, Hawkmoon, Corum, the Von Beks, Owen Bastable, Daker, Erekose, Jherek Carnelian, Jerry Cornelius, and a few others.

Are we holding that up as good writing? Elric was the first fantasy book, actually first, er, novels that I read. I liked it when I was 12 or so, but found it hard to go back. I certainly couldn’t make it that far into the other series after Elric because of how transparent his story became. The Eternal Champion concept just seemed to be a way for him to continue making a living rewriting the same story.

After finishing the read of the 22-pages F13 thread I decided to go with RR Martin and Erikson. In that thread they really all root for Erikson, there are some enthusiastic comments and it seems it’s exactly what I’m looking for (huge fantasy saga that focuses on the world, wide scope and with a more realistic approach than the sharp good/evil separation and boring, lightweight Hero’s journey).

Erikson is described as a well-done blend of RR Martins with Glen Cook and Tolkien. They say he imitates their style but in a very good way, and gets better going on. (and yet he still pushes out these 900/1k pages bricks yearly).

I also wonder about my other preference: the idea of the reader as a “tourist”. I want to see places, I want to gape. If there’s a battle I want to read detailed descriptions, and not just character-oriented plots. If both RR Martin and Erikson can also deliver this, I think I’ll be happy for a while.

Dennis L. McKiernan.

HRose: Erikson’s series should be under ‘epic’ in the dictionary. With timelines spanning 100000 years and more, and tons and tons of characters, many of which who are ancient themselves.

It helps that it’s brilliant writing too. I don’t agree that Martin’s stuff is epic. It’s fairly contained to a limited amount of characters in a very limited scope. At least, the three books I read were. Then I decided it was boring and I wouldn’t continue the series.

My personal favorite. I love the expansive and interesting world Erikson has built. That being one of your criteria I don’t think you can go wrong.