When you think of epic you think of heroes against ancient evil. You think magic and mystical quests of the impossible variety. There are all kinds of creatures like dragons, elves, dwarves – even aliens! Epic Fantasy brings all these sprawling details to life in a world that is not like ours but can say something about our own. No matter what, they have something to say because they’re usually long. Really, really long. With all that world-building, it’s unlikely to be epically epic enough if it is only contained in one book.
The roots of the genre date back centuries with epic tales such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Beowulf, to name a barest few. These tales led to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, which in turn gave us Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. So let’s take a look at some of The Realm’s stand out Epic Fantasy Series.
Yes, there is a quest to retrieve a magical item to vanquish a dark lord (this time it’s a sword, not a ring) and a reluctant hero named who must do said vanquishing, but this is more than just a nod to The Lord of the Rings.
The world of Shannara is a mixture of science and magic that is populated by Elves, Dwarfs, Trolls, and Gnomes. They have survived a horrific genocide caused by scientific discovery leading to a world where scientific information is known by only a select part of the population: Druids.
It’s a Druid that plucks the hero of the story, Shea, from obscurity and informs him of his noble heritage as the last descendant of Elven King Jerle and is the only one who can save the world by wielding the Sword of Shannara. Sounds like fun, right? Well, it is for readers, not so much for Shea – who isn’t super keen to go on a hopeless quest that will likely lead to a horrible death.
So a team (or fellowship, if you will) is formed to find the sword and vanquish the Dark Lord Brona. Between elves, dwarves, princes, a one-handed thief and a Rock Troll, you have a rollicking yarn that’s perfect for teens.
Decades in the making, this series ended up being 14 quite big books. If you want quintessential epic fantasy, they don’t come any more quint or essential than the Wheel of Time. It is the epitome of good versus evil. There isn’t just one quest we follow but multiple quests that follow multiple characters. We don’t just build one world, we build multiple worlds and they all progress through the series to the final crescendo in book 14.
The series was originally planned as six books but went beyond that. During the writing of the series, Robert Jordan passed away so it was up to another one of our brilliant authors, Brandon Sanderson, a longtime fan of the series, to complete the last three books from notes and story arcs.
So the series is far too long to summarise easily, but the bare bones of it is that three thousand years after the breaking of the world a group of young people from Two Rivers must battle with an ancient evil that wants to destroy the fabric of time.
The magic in this world is split. Women can channel saidar, which is the female half of the One Power, and men channel saidin, which has been tainted by the Dark One who is locked in Shayol Ghul but is starting to reach out to the world. So basically, men are the root of all problems as per usual. Magic wielders in this world are called call Aes Sedai. Male Aes Sadai will who channel the tainted saidin will eventually go mad. Magic, as it should, has a cost. This series is the battle between good and evil, or light and shadow, for the sake of all time itself. This is a massive series but worth the time it will take anyone to read it.
This yet-to-be-finished series starts with The Name of the Wind. It has a very strong emphasis on world building. In the beginning, we are introduced to Kote, ostensibly an innkeeper, who has a secret past. It is soon revealed he is Kvothe, an important historical figure, a musician, scholar, and swordsman. Kvothe is persuaded to tell his history to a traveling Chronicler.
The first book centers on a young Kvothe as he first learns that magic is real. He is traveling with his parents and a group of actors who are slaughtered by the mythical Chandrian. Kvothe is the only survivor. He then enters an institution that teaches science and magic called the university.
Kvothe is penniless and has to work to put himself through university while he secretly studies the Chandrian. He has a rivalry with another student, Ambrose Jakis, which doesn’t always end well for him. Kvothe has supporters and enemies within the university and we follow his trials and tribulations as he learns his craft.
The Wise Man's Fear continues Kvothe’s story as he tries to uncover the truth about the mysterious Amyr, the Chandrian, and the death of his parents. He continues his rivalry with Ambrose by setting fire to his room and calling the name of the wind and breaking his arm. After that, he must travel away from the university and this is where we find out how he becomes a great warrior as he trains with the legendary Adem mercenaries. He travels into the Fae realm and meets Felurian, the faerie woman no man can resist, and who no man has ever survived...until Kvothe.
Now, Kvothe takes his first steps on the path of the hero and learns how difficult life can be when a man becomes a legend in his own time.
This is an excellent series and many are awaiting the third and final book, but we don’t quite know when it will come. We’ll have to be satisfied with dreaming of all the possibilities of the rumored Sam Raimi–directed, Lin-Manuel Miranda–produced adaptation of book 1 in the meantime.
Check out our Epic Fantasy collection here.
Head of Sales Operations at Hachette Australia. I have been reading books and selling books for most of my life. I love sci-fi fantasy and crime but will read anything that is well written. My favourite book as a child was The Magic Faraway Tree. I read my copy so many times it fell apart. I love to cook and I think Chili should be added to everything. Even cereal.