The other bonus of Erikson is that he’s fantasy of his own devising, and isn’t Tolkienesque. His take on gods and magic is pretty awesome, and unique to boot. He turns the idea of undead on its head, there is no ultimate good or ultimate evil, and there’s startlingly few stereotypes. Even when he delves in to a plot involving a young kid being caught up in things above him, he manages to take it in places that you just wouldn’t expect.
I can’t believe no one has mentioned R Scott Bakker, and his Prince of Nothing -series (The Darkness that comes before / Warrior-Prophet / Thousandfold Thought). It’s quite dark, and is basically a twisted tale of a rising prophet. Lots of connotations with judaism and its offsprings (christianity / islam).
It’s smart, dark and sexy. I recommend it to everyone.
If you just look a little deeper into this very forum you’ll find quite a few threads about Erikson. You’ll find even more threads about fantasy books.
Brooks - I’d pretty much avoid only if I was really bored, had nothing else to read, and wanted a Tolkienesque ripoff.
Jordan - I really used to like Jordan, and bought anything WoT up to Book 7, and then it all fell apart for me pretty much. Books are gigantically huge, characters are annoying stupid and endlessly repeat themselves, nothing seems to happen for giant gaps of time, etc. Which is not to say there aren’t some really cool parts (the battle at the end of Book 6 for instance), and his world has a decent background, but jeez. It also looks like its finally going to end (one way or another), so that’s one complaint people can finally put to rest, because around books 7-8 it didn’t seem like the entire plot was going anywhere (and Shayol Ghol not getting any closer). It’s like you had to get the hobbits to Mordor, but you futzed around in Bree for two-thirds of the trilogy.
Eddings - What can I say, the Belgariad and Malloreon were the first non-Tolkien fantasy series I read and finished (aside from Shannara at the time I think) and I still like it. Just on principle the first series is better than the second (because the second is mostly a rehash of the first at a later time), but I found both highly enjoyable. It’s the standard type of fantasy quest and fare, but written in a pleasurable style that won’t confuse you. Nor is it long, though they did get longer in the second series. The characters, frankly, are great and memorable and I really would rather not for it to end. You’ll pretty much see his whole world, and there’s a pretty big battle near the end (which the Malloreon really doesn’t have one). People consider him to be a “teen” fantasy writer for various reasons (I’m not sure that was even the market they were aiming for), but compared to contemporary fantasy today he’d be kind of a lightweight. And admittedly all of his current books suck.
Erikson - I actually haven’t started yet; you have a dedicated set of fans but the complaints vary. His setting and characters are based on an RPG campaign, filled with weirdo character names and a kind of invent-the-world-as-you-go mentality. The first book is hectic and doesn’t work well till the end.
I do like Erikson too, but the far-flung epic feel drags in parts. That could just be me in that I only have time to read sporadically. THe Malazan books are certainly not ones you skip merrily through. You have to pay attention and invest yourself in them. You are definitely paid off, though, because the detailed world he creates is nothing short of amazing.
Lemme add Greg Keyes Thorn and Bone series starting with The Briar King. Not quite as heavy on the brain as some of the others mentioned, so that may not be what you are looking for.
I believe the first book is also his first book, and it shows. He hasn’t quite figured out his writing style. But by the second book he hits his stride and everything smooths out. Also, it was meant to be a screenplay, not a book, and so there’s a dearth of descriptions until after the fact, so you end up rereading parts as you find out later who is in a scene, where it is, etc.
And it’s sort of misleading to say it was based on an RPG campaign. He and another guy invented the world and characters, and then gamed in that world as a way of fleshing out some of the story and setting. I don’t think it’s as much a direct retelling of a campaign as the original Dragonlance trilogy, for example.
Another big hell yeah for Malazan. There is just nothing else quite like it out there.
And another reason it deserves the “epic” title (which I didn’t see anyone else mentioning in this thread but they may have and I missed it) - the depth of character and location interaction is so broad it’s almost silly. You meet what look like minor throw-away characters in one book only to find they are the major player three books later.
Or you find a bizarre scene that is visited by many different groups of characters at different times, but the scenes don’t appear in order in the sequence of the books. You may find the gruesome mysterious aftermath of a battle in book 2, then read about the battle itself in book 5. I found myself constantly going “WAIT! Is that how that got there?” and shuffling through earlier books to remind myself of how things were connected.
And my last bit of fanboy praise - the characters are freaking GREAT. Ericson is not afraid to kill of major characters, and he creates new major characters in just about every book, and yet almost all of them are clearly drawn with distinct personalities and are quite memorable.
Anyways, end of fanboy rant - if you dig fantasy at all, this is so much better than Goodkind or Jordan (which suck pretty hard, IMHO) or even Feist or GASP George R.R. Martin. You owe it to yourself to check this out.
It’s not an epic cycle but I love just about anything Guy Gavriel Kay writes - aside from the series noted above, he’s written a number of one and two volume novels which are all set in pretty recognizable Earth-like eras: A Song for Arbonne in midieval France, The Lions of Al-Rassan in midieval Spain, Sarantine Mosiac in ancient Rome (except I can’t quite place Tigana). The books are long enough so that he could have padded them into multi-volumes, but he didn’t. Guess that speaks for his editor and his restraint. I suppose to me the books are epic in scope, though not in size.
Donaldson’s Mordant’s Need is by far my favorite books by that author. I used to love the Covenant stuff (20+ years ago), but after reading the first book in his new series I can’t stomach it.
Yeah, I picked up the first Covenant book on someone’s recommendation around here and it was a struggle to finish. I couldn’t find anything even remotely redeeming in the entire thing, and as an added bonus, hated his writing style.
I still like the original Covenant series quite a bit, but I’d agree that Mordant’s Need is easily his best work.
I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned Narnia. I guess we’re trying to avoid stuff that everyone is guaranteed to have already read. Perhaps ditto for Moorcock’s Elric books, and Zelazny’s Amber books, and LeGuin’s Earthsea books…
I read six or seven of the Wheel of Time books, and really liked them, but I was fourteen. I don’t know if I’d like them so much now. I mean, the three main characters are all awkward teens and are discovering girls, while on this epic quest.
I read the first three books in The Sword of Truth, but they weren’t that great. Also, the weird dominatrix stuff really put me off.
I tried reading A Game of Thrones and Gardens of the Moon and couldn’t get into either of them. A Game of Thrones was too slow and soap opera-y for me (although I loved the concept of the Wall), and the language and the writing style in Gardens was too hard for me.
Last Christmas my buddy bought me book one of Eddings’ Dreamers series. He said it was pretty weak, but he bought it for me as I had kept asking about it. He said it was more or less the same story as all his books, which I’d never read. I quite liked it.
To sum it up: I apparently have bad taste in fantasy novels.
I am typically not a fan of Fantasy, but I like Sci-Fi, and that’s what led me to Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books. They’re incredible, even the follow-ups to the original trilogy. I wish I could learn so much more about Earthsea.
L.E. Modesitt has some good stuff. It definitely gets repetitive though in some of his later books.
The Narnia books aren’t epic. And they are barely a cycle…more of a series. The Amber books…maybe. But Epic though suggests that he wants a huge, continuing story that takes place over a large area (or whole world).
One I forgot to mention was Melanie Rawn’s double Trilogy about the Sunrunners. First 3 are The Dragon Prince/Sunrunner’s Fire/The Star Scroll and the 2nd 3 are Stronghold/The Dragon Token/Skybowl. It’s a very nicely detailed, non Tolkein world with a complicated group of people, and a pretty cool magical system. I am kinda pissed at Rawn for not finishing another series she’s been working on (I’ve been waiting for about 10 years for her to finish the 3rd book), but these are great books, and some I’ve come back to several times.
GRR Martin gets another vote: epic enough and gritty enough… not really High Fantasy, as the setting is pretty much standard medieval fare, but anything without elves&orcs&dwarves feels fresh after a while.
My proposal, somewhat out of bounds because it’s quite historically plausible but still fantasy and truly epic/gritty? Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Trilogy. Yet another rewrite of Arthur and Excalibur, but my favourite by far. You feel right there in a shield wall defending the last traces of Roman/Celt Britain against the Saxon hordes.
I think the von Bek stories “The War Hound and the World’s Pain” and “The City in the Autumn Stars” are pretty outstanding.
I just met someone at work who’s read the Rawn books, the first person I’ve ever spoken with who knows of this series so it’s kinda weird seeing it mentioned a few days later. But, yeah, ditto on her captal stuff. No concrete idea why she won’t finish it, though I’ve heard the rumor it’s for personal reasons (her mother died and she decided to stop writing?).
The 2nd new Covenant book is due out in 5-6 weeks, Fatal Revenant. The writing in Runes of the Earth struck me as so purplish that I’m not sure I can stomach 600+ more pages of it. Especially when contrasted with all of Donaldson’s silly claims that his entire writing career has been to prepare himself for being able to pull off this genormously complex and orgasmically epic epic.
Anything Forgotten Realms, by R.A. Salvatore, I absolutely Adore.
I know it’s fashionable to hate on Robert Jordan, but I have to say I’ve enjoyed the WoT series. It helped that I jumped on the bandwagon late (like, in the last 5 years) so basically have never had to wait for a book to come out (whenever I feel like reading one, I just go buy the next book in the series - I just finished book 10).
But, yeah, it does feel like he’s milking the series a bit - the plot moves forward excruciatingly slowly at times. But reading through long-ass rambly novels has never been a problem for me - a bigger issue is the fact that he’s just got too damn many characters for one person to keep track of easily.