Because of a discussion I saw on Twitter about the uniformity of such lists, today I’m presenting a top ten of some of my favorite fantasy series.
There’s no accounting for taste. Meaning that my list might not be yours. It might not even be mine a month from now, or next years. I change, the world changes, and the realm of stories changes. This is my current list, and that is all. You can hate these works, or love them, and that’s okay.
There’s a slightly longer explanation about the reason for my choices at the end of this post. But first, without further ado: my list.
#10 Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games is an influential YA (Young Adult) trilogy that spawned a very successful movie series starring Jennifer Lawrence. The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a girl from a post-apocalyptic world where teenagers from the poor districts are forced to compete in a battle royale for the amusement of the elite living in a wealthy metropolis.
One can argue that The Hunger Games is science fiction since it’s set in a fictional future. However, it mostly follows fantasy tropes, and the emphasis is not on the science, treating the tech as near magical to the main character.
I loved the first part of this trilogy, but I have to say, the second and third part felt more contrived and not as brilliant as the first. It’s still a good series. The ending is not what I expected, and somehow both fitting and a bit disappointing.
#9 The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
I read the Farseer trilogy in the late nineties, not long after it was completed. I’d grown up with Tolkien and Jack Vance, and the Farseer Trilogy was something different.
The Farseer trilogy is about the struggle of the assassin Fitz, the bastard son of prince Chivalry Farseer. The old king decides to put Fitz to use, lest he become a problem. Fitz is trained as an assassin, taught the use of weapons and also the ways of the Skill, the hereditary magic of the realm. Then he is pitted against those conspiring to take the throne.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Farseer trilogy, although it can be slow going at times. Not everybody can get through the three tomes. Another shortcoming is the fact that Fitz might be an assassin, but barely assassinates anybody, That said, after two decades I still think the Farseer trilogy is something special. And not just me, given it has spawned two sequel trilogies.
#8 The Worldbreaker Saga by Kameron Hurley
I knew Kameron Hurley mostly from her science fiction works, but she has also created an epic fantasy trilogy. This Worldbreaker Saga tells of a war between worlds in mirroring dimensions. The cycles of magic are driven by the appearance and disappearance of certain stars in the heavens of both worlds, and every few thousand years a certain star returns, thinning the walls between worlds.
One of the worlds is dying, and escape to the other one is the only way forward for its denizens. However, one can only cross over if there is no mirror opposite in the other world. Meaning, the people of the dying world need to go to war and kill their opposites to survive. And of course, one way to wage war on your mirror opposites is to replace them by their counterparts, who can spy and assassinate with impunity. You can imagine this leads to some next level intrigue and slaughter.
This book is not for the wary. It is a complicated story, and in the beginning it’s hard to even understand who is on which side of the war, and what world they are from. I had trouble keeping up, which is why it isn’t higher on this list.
#7 The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee
I started reading Jade City after visiting Worldcon in Dublin, and I’m glad I did. The Green Bone Saga is a kind of fantasy mafia story. Janloon is a city on the island of Kekon. It reads like a fantasy version of an Asian places like Hong Kong, Taiwan, or China.
In Janloon everything revolves around mastering Jade. Jade provides the wearer supernatural powers, but keeping Jade under control requires both having the right genes and intense training. There are drugs that can help, but though the drugs help, they are habit forming. Only the native Kekonese can truly master the Jade.
The books focus on the war between the No Peak clan and the Mountain clan for control of Janloon and the Jade trade. So, fantasy maffia war. What more could you want?
#6 Deathspeaker Codex by Sonya Bateman
The Deathspeaker Codex is a series of urban fantasy novels. From a technical perspective, they’re not very well written. Still, I have a weird weak spot for this series, as you can read in my review.
The story focuses on Gideon Black, a young man with a troubled youth, living out of his van. His job is carting dead people around New York. Then, on one such job, the dead person starts talking to him. That event sets him on a path into the world of the magical, where fairies, werewolves, and monsters abound. It also pits him against Milus Dei, an organization of humans bent on capturing monsters, experimenting on them, then use the knowledge gained to exterminate the monsters faster.
I honestly don’t know why the Deathspeaker Codex ended up this high on this list, but yeah… I just enjoy these books. Just like I can enjoy a hamburger as much as fine cuisine. They’re not that good, but I keep coming back for more. I finished all ten volumes out so far, and will probably buy the next one as well, so that has to count for something.
#5 Wayward Children by Seanan McGuire
And now for something completely different. Have you read Alice in Wonderland, the Chronicles of Narnia, or Peter Pan? In all those books, children are transported to other worlds, where they have exciting adventures before returning home. Wayward Children looks at what happens to these children after they return home.
The Wayward Children books focus on Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Eleanor West is one of those children that left for a story world and came back. And like many of others, all she wishes is to leave the mundane world behind again and travel to her realm of adventure. Because she doesn’t belong in the real world, but in one of the other story worlds. But Eleanor and many others are stuck, misunderstood by their parents and peers. So, Eleanor created a special boarding school to help them cope: Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. The parents think it’s about ‘curing’ them, but in reality, Eleanor tries to help them find their way back to their true home. The books focus on some of the (sinister) adventures at the Home.
And, if that matters to you, Seanan McGuire has ratcheted up an almost frightening amount of nominations over the years and received numerous of those awards as well. Her Wayward Children series has raked in a Hugo, and four more Hugo nominations, for example.
#4 The Broken Earth by N.K. Jemisin
There is only one author who has managed to win the Hugo award for best novel three years in a row, and that is N.K. Jemisin. She won them for each of the three parts of the Broken Earth trilogy, making that the only trilogy where each instalment won a Hugo.
So, I really shouldn’t have to say more. The Broken Earth Trilogy is a work of fantasy that you should be aware of, at the very least. They are something else. I liked the first book — The Fifth Season — the best, but all three are awesome.
That said, it still holds only fourth place on this list. The Broken Earth Trilogy is an epic work that is vitally important to the fantasy genre. It is, also a dark book, resting on the horrors of oppression and racism. And while those are extremely important themes, I am also depressed by them. That’s not Jemisin’s fault, or the books fault, but it does mean that as awesome as these books are, I enjoyed other works more.
#3 Dead Djinn Universe by P. Djèlí Clark
Egypt, the beginning of the twentieth century. After the return of the magical Djinn, Egypt has clawed its place to one of the powers of the world. Cairo is on par with cities like Paris and Berlin, a center of power and culture. Then, right before an international summit, a group of westerners in an al-Jahiz cult are burned alive at one of their meetings.
Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi and her new apprentice are tasked with solving these gruesome murders. This leads them on a chase into the supernatural, as the stakes keeps rising.
I love A Master of Djinn, as I’ve already written, and the other short stories set in this universe. It combines an upbeat tone with a very fresh world and very good writing.
#2 Between Earth and Sky by Rebecca Roanhorse
I’m currently reading Fevered Star, the second book of the trilogy, and it has made me appreciate Black Sun even more. Rebecca Roanhorse is creating a masterful fantasy trilogy. A Master of Djinn is one of my favorite books from last year, as I wrote, but looking back, Black Sun made more of an impact, even if I can only appreciate it now.
The story features an epic struggle between the various factions of the fictional meso-american-style lands around a sea called the Meridian. Gods are stirring, and trying to fight a war for supremacy through their chosen avatars, while others just plot to overthrow the current order and grab power. The first book counts down to an event called the convergence, where a three-sided conflict between the Carrion Crows, the Sun Priest, and Clan Golden Eagle comes to a head. The second book is about the aftermath of the convergence, and deepens the conflict. The third book is — unfortunately — not out yet.
This trilogy, so far, is everything I love about a Song of Ice Fire, but without the things I hate about it. Yes there is intrigue, murder, and violence, but you can still cheer for characters without feeling betrayed later. And it’s set in an intriguing fantasy world, that really starts to gain depth in the second book.
However, it’s still not my favorite.
#1 The Sixth World by Rebecca Roanhorse
Wait… another series by Rebecca Roanhorse? Yes! I love ‘between Earth and Sky’ but I loved the Sixth World even more. I read Trail of Lightning because it was on the Hugo ballot for 2019, and ended up voting for it.
Something about the mix of post-apocalyptic adventure, bad-ass main character, and intermixing with native american myths just gelled for me. I love this series. Maggie Hoski is a great main character, and her sidekick Kai the perfect foil.
So, no, this series are not as earth-shattering as N.K. Jemisin’s works, or as nomination-inspiring as Wayward Children, but I love it. And since this is not a list of most influential works, but a list of my personal favorite works, I can do what I want, and put the Sixth World at the top. My biggest gripe is that the third novel in the Sixth World series is not coming out any time soon.
About this list
So, you got to the end. You might have missed some famous fantasy works that are on other lists. That’s because this list is in response to a Tweet from Kameron Hurley about how white men on Youtube create mostly top ten lists of fantasy books by male white authors. So, this list was my top ten of books by authors who are not white men. And, I’m only telling you now, because this post should be about these works, not about the why and how of this list.
I think it’s also important to remark that this list would not be vastly different if I were to include white male authors. All the works above can hold their own — they raked in numerous awards — but given how the spotlight usually finds only white male authors these past centuries, today I shone it on just these works.
So, go read and enjoy.