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Books to Read in Fantasy: A Look at Lists

Recently a question was asked in the Fantasy-Faction Facebook Group. This is that question and some of the reasons why its answer looks the same, every time the question is asked.

Question: What are the books which you think are a great introduction to fantasy—the books which every fantasy should read throughout their journey?

Now, I’ll admit I could have worded the question better. Looking back on it, it seems to be in two parts, which are almost contradictory or predicated on one leading to the other: what book will get a new reader into fantasy, and then, what books should they read on their journey.

It is also worth remembering the unwritten rule for blogs and the press (which someone should really write down): A list never pleases everyone—be prepared.

Library Shelves by Susan Yin

However, I have always been of the view it is much easier to destroy than to create. I’m also very aware that votes are, at their heart, popularity contests. The books more people have read will come higher on the list over those just as worthy but less widely read. That is the way of forums and the internet.

Folks might complain on Reddit and other popular forums that Sanderson, Lawrence, and Malazan (shudder) always come up in recommendations—but it is because they are popular, enjoyed by thousands (millions), and so people…well, they recommend them. You know what, well done to those authors for producing a book people enjoy!

Anyway, the Fantasy-Faction list (in the Facebook group) was voted on, not produced by one person with one particular like, agenda, bias, etc., by those very people who read a lot of books. I am sure a statistician out there could crunch some numbers, apply some esoteric formula, and create a wormhole through which we could all fall—I think for an eternity, or is that singularity? Wormholes connect two points? (I’ve seen Deep Space Nine). With that in mind, or put to one side really, the books at the top of this list are really no surprise:

  1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – 197
  2. The Belgariad by David and Leigh Eddings – 92
  3. Harry Potter by J K Rowling – 86
  4. Magician by Raymond E Feist – 80
  5. Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson – 59
Top Five Books (banner)

They are all, bar Rowling’s Harry Potter series, to be considered older books—the classics (and I include J K Rowling’s books in that category) of the genre.

You have to scroll down the list a little to find some of the newer authors, the newer books, the voters recommended and perhaps that is no surprise—they haven’t had fifty years to build up a wide fan base from all ages, though I am sure they will.

Top Books (sm banner)20. Copper Promise by Jen Williams (the only book ever to cause me to miss my train stop and have to wait an hour for another to come along and take me home).

22. The Broken Earth by N K Jemisin (which sadly I haven’t read. I need to correct that).

The Faithful and the Fallen by John Gwynne, Empires of Dust by Anna Smith Sparks, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, Greatcoats by Sebastian de Castell, Shades of Magic by V E Schawb, Jade City by Fonda Lee.

Had there been a list of books for thirteen-year-olds the result would have been different—probably with The Hobbit at the top (I am just guessing and am probably wrong). Had it said, only books since 2010 the list would have been different too. Had the question have been better written (by me) perhaps the list would be much different.

There were some in the comments who thought The Lord of the Rings was not the best book to get a new reader into fantasy, and others who thought it was. I cannot say who is right or who is wrong because everyone speaks from personal experience. For me, The Belgariad sparked a true love of fantasy and I read it when the books came out, for the first time, which tells you just how old I am. Had I been born a decade (century) or two later, it might have been Harry Potter.

The key thing with lists, like this one, is to remember they are just lists put together from the likes, dislikes, experiences, memories of people, from nostalgia to be sure, from popularity and the marketing of publishers (who got the book in front of those people), and from word of mouth (which is powerful). However, it is just a list and if, from such a list, it encouraged one person to pick up a book and read it, to develop an interest in fantasy and sci-fi then it is worth it—in my opinion, maybe not others.

Coffee and Book by Sincerely Media

I’d be really happy if they picked up The Copper Promise and if they also kept an eye, and their ears open to the train station they were about to approach, so much the better. If they went on to read Terry Pratchett—great, Jasper Fforde—fantastic, Janny Wurts—you’ll love it, Robin Hobb—you really should, and investigate the wide spectrum of fantasy and sci-fi out there then so much the better.

Oh and if you are looking for a list of awesome fantasy books to read, you can see the original list that inspired this post here.

Title image by Kimberly Farmer.



  1. Interesting that Belgariad came that high. I have heard of that name before and know it’s a fantasy book series. But this day I don’t know a single thing about those books. Nothing about the plot, characters, or setting. It often appears in lists, but nobody ever seem to talk about its content.

  2. Avatar ScarletBea says:

    And your books? 😉

    Anyway, I think it’s even more complicated than what you mention, because are we talking about introducing teenagers to fantasy or older people?
    And what kind of fantasy would they like? We can’t group all ‘fantasy’ as a single category, at the very least it’d have to be ‘real world’ (or ‘urban’) and ‘secondary world’ (note: I’m not that keen on the former…)

    Actually, who says there needs to be an “introduction”? Let people just pick up a book, any book, then decide if they like it or not, regardless of genre or ‘fantasy level’. Once they have a couple under their belt, with both positive and negative impressions, they can start asking for recommendations based on that.
    The world of Fantasy books is like a cloud, not a linear path 🙂

    As you say, as long as there’s a list, there is controversy and disagreement!

  3. Avatar Don says:

    Janny Wurts is a fantastic author but she’s a difficult read for many. I would not recommend her to someone as a new fantasy reader. I certainly do recommend reading her work on Kelewan she did with Raymond Feist. Daughter of the Empire, Servant of the Empire, and Mistress of the Empire are among my favorites.

  4. Avatar L A Young says:

    This list goes to show you how the genre has altered over the last century, especially in the last 20-25 years. Remember, “Harry Potter” was first published in 1997. I remember when those books came out!

  5. Avatar Benny says:

    The Belgariad introduced me into the genre. I wonderful read!

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