Fantasy Series for the Unoccupied “Game of Thrones” Fan
With the show’s finale on the horizon, here are ten other series to tide you over till season seven.
By Yasser Ali Nasser, Oxford University
We’ve just about gotten to that time again.
The sixth season of “Game of Thrones” is quickly approaching its exciting climax, with the fan-base going wild with crazy theories and speculation. However, there is a growing awareness that, well, we just have about two weeks to go before the season ends and we’re all forced to wait almost a year. And while in the past many eager fans of the show would dive into the books, for the first time the series has been treading new water by taking the plot further than “A Dance with Dragons.”
So what the hell do we do in the meantime?
No more weekly rooting for Jaime to kick some ass or praying for Ramsay Bolton to finally die, and, most importantly, no more fantastical outlet for escaping our boring, everyday lives. Well, don’t fret. Because there’s a lot more to the genre than just “A Song of Ice and Fire” and most of it is just as exciting and fresh.
Here are ten other fantasy series to check out while you’re waiting for “Game of Thrones” to return.
1. “The Grace of Kings” by Ken Liu
One of the common criticisms that you hear about the fantasy genre is that it’s all basically the same: orcs, elves, swords and magic, with weird-sounding medieval, vaguely European “The Grace of Kings” takes that stereotype and throws it straight out of the window. This is a book by an acclaimed Chinese-American author that draws on ancient Chinese history.
Ever played “Dynasty Warriors,” or read “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms?” “The Grace of Kings” is very much in that vain. This story is full of active gods, sweeping narratives and is ultimately about how two friend completely remake their world. I can’t wait to see what Ken Liu does next.
2. “Throne of the Crescent Moon” by Saladin Ahmed
Many of us 90s kids have very fond memories of “Aladdin” and its associated TV show. It was a wonderful (if perhaps a bit Orientalizing) depiction of a really interesting setting, jam-packed with “A Thousand and One Nights”-like content and adventures.
“Throne of the Crescent Moon” channels that same spirit. It’s not very often that you get a classic swashbuckling story full of monsters and interesting sidekicks, which is why it is just so entertaining to read about Dr. Adoulla Makhslood going around killing ghouls in the city of Dhamsawaat.
3. “The Way of Kings” by Brandon Sanderson
Have you ever read something and then refused to put it down for about ten hours? That’s what Brandon Sanderson’s “The Way of Kings” did to me.
Sanderson is a pretty prolific and acclaimed young fantasy author, and for good reason: his writing is fantastic. He always manages to craft an interesting world with characters that feel real, not just because they’re well written, but because they are so complex and defy all expectations.
With this particular book—the first of a planned ten-book series—Sanderson has crafted a unique fantasy world with creative, crustacean monsters, colorful spirits and sets of armor that grant their users almost Super Saiyan levels of power. This is an awesome book, and nothing I can say will do it justice.
4. “The Emperor’s Soul” by Brandon Sanderson
Another Sanderson book. What a surprise. This little award-winning novella takes place in the world of Sanderson’s “Elantris,” but you don’t have to be familiar with that setting in order to appreciate “The Emperor’s Soul.”
It is a distinctive work, with most of the story taking place within a single setting. More than that, it’s a story that’s pretty devoid of action and melodrama; it is mostly driven by its dialogue and political intrigue.
“The Emperor’s Soul” is smart, and it keeps you on your toes—what first seems like a pretty clichéd story about an artist quickly turns into something much more engaging. Seriously, the dialogue in this book is probably on par with any great Tyrion scene in “Game of Thrones”; it really is just that good.
5. “Wheel of Time” Series by Robert Jordan
This is perhaps one of the most famous fantasy series of all time, but it seems to have failed to go mainstream. If you go around mentioning Rand al-Thor or Matrim Cauthon, most people will just think you’ve gone a bit crazy. That is a shame.
This is a well-acclaimed series for a very good reason: it has probably one of the most fleshed out worlds in the entire genre, second only to the likes of “Lord of the Rings.” The universe is so complex that it has an 800-page long encyclopedia to go along with it.
Now, it’s true that this series is pretty conventional in comparison to “A Song of Ice and Fire”—you’re not going to get the protagonist beheaded by the end of the first book, that’s for sure. But it has a lot of heart and if you’re a sucker for mythology, epic stories and a classic tale of good versus evil, then this series definitely won’t disappoint you.
6. “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch
You know the Faceless Men? Imagine the Faceless Men combined with your stereotypical Mafioso combined with “Assassins Creed.” That, more-or-less, sums of “The Lies of Locke Lamora” and its titular protagonist.
Want a fun, but emotionally impactful story about a smart-ass thief and/or assassin that just seems to have the absolute worst luck? Then this is definitely a book to pick up.
7. “Conan” (various short stories) by Robert E. Howard
This is cheating a little because there is no big “Conan” novel to go pick up. Most of the original work by Robert E. Howard were short stories—“The Tower of the Elephant,” “The Queen of the Black Coast,” “The Devil in Iron” And yeah, all of these stories are pretty damn old. We’re talking the 1930s, so long before even “Lord of the Rings.”
But the “Conan” stories, and indeed most of the old-school sword and sorcery genre, hugely influenced George R.R. Martin. This is where we see the birth of the gruff anti-hero in fantasy, as well as a gritty, somewhat realistic setting.
Without Conan the Barbarian’s wonderful little adventures, we probably wouldn’t have “A Song of Ice and Fire.” And Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career would have never kicked off, either.
8. “Mythago Wood” by Robert Holdstock
This is a weird one, I gotta admit. “Mythago Wood” takes the very idea of mythology and fantasy and turns it all on its head. First off, it takes place in our world, in the middle of an ancient forest in post-war England.
It starts pretty slow, like a run of the mill dramatic novel, before suddenly plunging into a rich tapestry of mythological creatures and characters that most of us will know, from Sasquatch to Guinevere.
And ultimately the novel asks some pretty important questions: where do our myths come from, why do we still find nature so terrifying, and what does it mean to be ‘real’? If you need a little spirituality and Jungian psychology in your fantasy, then this would be the book for you.
9. “Lord of Light” by Roger Zelazny
Imagine the perfect combination of sci-fi and fantasy: a new planet, crazy technology, but also people that walk around with god-like powers and magic. And top it off with a great sense of humor, as typified by its opening lines: “His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam.”
Interested? Well “Lord of Light” is the perfect book for you, especially if you’re a fan of “Game of Thrones”: Zelazny and George R.R. Martin were very good friends, Martin having written the foreword for the latest reprinting. That should speak to how great the story is.
Moreover, like Martin did with “A Song of Ice and Fire,” Zelazny worked hard to make sure that he created a realistic setting with a diverse cast (many of whom aren’t exactly conventionally likable), an innovative array of cultures and real-life, historical parallels. On top of all that, it all takes place on an alien planet, while taking huge cues from Buddhist and Hindu mythology. That’s one hell of a combo.
10. “The Malazan Book of the Fallen” by Steven Erikson
This is again a long series of books, starting off with “Gardens of the Moon”—and, like “Wheel of Time,” “The Malazan Book of the Fallen” is a series that is pretty famous amongst the community, though for completely different reasons.
If anything, it’s like “A Song of Ice and Fire” on steroids: mischievous, spiteful gods, destructive magic, tons of gore and heroes that often look like villains. Like Martin, Erikson really loves to depict his world in as gritty a manner as possible—there are no elves or hobbits in this story, just a world where the “good” guys often screw up in some pretty spectacular ways.