What are the best epic fantasy alternatives to Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings?
Posted on 4th of August, 2018


I've read most of what is recommended. I'll pass on Eddings "The Malloreon". I read his earlier series, The Belgariad with pleasure enough. He has a smooth prose style, engaging characters, and a flair for dialogue. People back when the Belgariad was being published commented they wished it would go on forever.

I plowed grimly through The Malloreon, and by the time I finished I felt like it *had* gone on forever. The authorial strings were too evident. Eddings carefully maneuvered his protagonists through *every* place in his fictional world, and the result was "paint by numbers" fantasy. I tried to read other books by Eddings and came away convinced that he has one story to tell and one cast of characters. Subsequent efforts were the same story and protagonists with the names changed and the serial numbers filed off. If you like more of the same, Eddings may be for you. If you want something *different*, he probably isn't.

I believe the Wheel of Time began as a standard three book fantasy series, but like The Lord of the Rings, it's a "tale that grew in the telling ". The more Jordan wrote, the more he discovered he had to write to tell the story. At one point, his publisher, Tor Books, put him up in a hotel and told *no one* where he was so he could write undistracted and they could get the next book out the door. I met him years back on a signing tour. He said he knew what the last scene in the last book was, but wasn't sure precisely how to get there, but was adamant it would *not* be a twelve book series as he had other stuff he wanted to write. When I read the book he was signing, and how much it *didn't* advance the plot, I said "He's right! It won't be a twelve book series. It will be at *least* thirteen!"

He was determined the book he was writing when he died would be the last book, no matter how long it was. When he died, his wife (who was also his editor) selected Brian Sanderson to complete it, and passed along the manuscript in progress, outline, and notes. The publisher asked Sanderson for an estimated length and he said "About 250,000 words". As he got farther along he discovered his estimate had been low, and was now closer to 400,000 words. Tor said "Do you have about 250,000 words and a convenient break point so we can get a book out the door? You can complete things in another book." The end result was the fourteen book series we have.

I knew people who gave up partway through because of the wit between books and the feeling they would have to reread earlier ones to keep up. I didn't go that far. I bet that I would remember enough when I read the next book to not have to reread earlier ones, and was correct. Jordan's two biggest strengths were the ability to juggle multiple plot lines without dropping balls, and being able to give each character a unique voice, so you didn't lose track of who was talking in long patches of dialogue.

I'd also make a case that WoT was science fantasy, not pure fantasy. There are hunts in WoT that the age we live in was the one *before* the Age of Wonder that preceeded the one in WoT, with dim legends of the nations of Merk and Mosc dueling with lances of fire. There are also hints than men visited the stars in the Age of Wonder, and the One Power was simply the source of energy they used. The ending of WoT has other forms of energy being harnessed so the One Power needn't be used for everything.
Well first you have to decide which of the two series you like the most as they actually have very little in common aside from the fantasy setting. George R. R. Martin's books are a lot more gritty and gruesome compared to the relatively wholesome books by Tolkien. I'm sure that you already have more than enough multi-books sagas to choose from, so here are a couple of standalone epic fantasy novels that won't require you to set aside a whole year just to read through them.

First up is Deerskin by Robin McKinley. I would recommend this book as it contains some pretty messed up stuff, just like you find in Game of Thrones. The story is about a princess who has to flee after her mother dies and her father tries to marry her. She doesn't escape completely unscathed and goes through some horrible things before a moon goddess intervenes and gives her special powers. Deerskin leans more towards fairytale fantasy than epic fantasy, but if you like the darker tone of Game of Thrones, then you'll enjoy this book.

Next is The Worm Ouroboros from E. R. Eddison. This one is more Tolkienesque, which should not come as a surprise since Tolkien himself mentioned that this book had a big influence on his own lore. Don't let the age of the book deter you from reading it either as it is every bit as epic as modern fantasy like Game of Thrones. It is all about a massive war between Witchland and Demonland, which involves plenty of bloodshed, backstabbing and magic.

Finally, for something a little different, but still very much epic fantasy, try The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. It often ends up on "best fantasy novel" lists and for a very good reason; the story is very good. The protagonist of the book is a unicorn who finds out that she is the last of her kind in the world and sets out on a journey to discover if this is true. Along the way she is changed into a human, but at the cost of her memories about her true nature beginning to fade. Readers who are old enough might remember the animated movie based on this book that was released in the eighties.
My favorite character in A Song of Ice and Fire is Aria Stark and this is why I suspect I am drawn to fantasy books that have female characters who buck the status quo and go off on grand adventures. It is also why I love Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall Trilogy so much. It's about Menolly, a young girl who is very talented in music. Too bad for Menolly that she lives in a world where music is the domain of men and not woman. Since Menolly is unwilling to hide her talents, she runs away instead and ends up rescuing a bunch of dragon eggs. Long story short, Menolly encounters a dragon rider and ends up being trained in this awesome skill. If you have the time I urge you to read the Tortal Series by Tamora Pierce. I think that there are already more than twenty books in this saga, which means it can be somewhat of a time sink, but well worth it in my opinion. I discovered her work through her first series, The Song of the Lioness, where a woman named Alanna trains to become a knight. Pierce was inspired by The Lord of The Rings, so her books have the same kind of vibe that I think you are looking for.
First you need to figure out what it is that draws you to these types of books specifically? Is it the dragons, like Smaug in The Hobbit or Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal in Game of Thrones? If so, then read the Dragon Keeper trilogy by Robin Hobb. Are you more drawn to stories with powerful wizards like Gandalf that has to master their power? If so, the six titles in the Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin might be to your liking. Does the story arch of seemingly ordinary people who have to step into an important role to save their world intrigue you? Then read the Sword of Truth books by Terry Goodkind. Finally, if you like reading about protagonists who go through extreme hardships before they learn how to use their special talents or gifts, then read the Books of Pellinor Series by Alison Croggon.
I would have recommended The Dark Tower series, but the recent movie did a good job of scaring away any readers that might have had an interest in the books. It's really a pity as the books are a nice mixture of science fiction, western and fantasy. It is interesting that you mention Game of Thrones in the same sentence as Lord of the Rings as the two actually have very little in common. Lord of the Rings is true high fantasy with all the elves, dwarves, orcs and magic you can imagine while game of thrones is more historical medieval fiction with a smattering of magic and dragons worked in. If the former is what you really want I would suggest something by R.A. Salvatore or David Eddings. If you lean more towards the work of Martin, then read anything by Robin Hobb or Raymond E. Feist.
The Game of Thrones books are actually called A Song of Ice and Fire. You won't easily find books that can compare to the political intrigue, flawed characters and ruthless plot events of A Song of Ice and Fire either. Few authors are willing to kill off their characters as blithesome as Martin is capable of doing. If you twisted my arm I would recommend either the Wheel of Time books from Robert Jordan or The Malloreon series by David Eddings.
If there is one genre of literature, apart from romance, where you are absolutely and utterly spoiled for choice, then it is the fantasy genre. Even if you have already worked your way through George R. R. Martin and J. R. R. Tolkien, there are still untold fantasy worlds left for you to explore. Some of my favorite fantasy titles that could easily rival Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings in terms of size and scope are as follow:

-The Sword of Truth Series (Terry Goodkind) - This is the one that I am currently busy with and while I am only about halfway through, it already compares very favorably with the Song of Ice and Fire series. Goodkind's stories tend to be a little more clear-cut "good versus evil" instead of the morally ambiguous heroes found in Game of Thrones, which aligns it more with Lord of the Rings, but they are still very gripping. He has a very unique take on magic and interesting characters, especially Richard and Kahlan. The series is also done, so you won't have to worry that you'll end up with a George R. R. Martin situation after reading a ton of the books.

-Malazan Book of the Fallen (Steven Erikson) - For something that is really epic in scope, read the Malazon Book of the Fallen series from Steven Erikson. These books have a huge cast and the story also spans an unprecedented time scale. I really enjoyed the fact that most of the series, or at least the first five or so novels, are self-contained, but the books are still linked, so you will want to keep reading. The last book in the series, The Crippled God, was released in 2011, so you can binge read all of them right to the end.

-The Riftwar Cycle (Raymond E. Feist) - Personally I enjoy the Riftwar Cycle by Raymond E. Feist even more than the Lord of the Rings books even though they share some similarities. Currently the Riftwar Cycle spans several books, including The Riftwar Saga, The Empire Trilogy, The Serpentwar Saga, The Riftwar Legacy and a ton of others. You don't have to read all of them as many of these series are self contained, but trust me you will want to once you are hooked.

-The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan) - The Wheel of Time was only supposed to span six books, but ended up with something like fourteen volumes. The series is a little closer to Lord of The Rings than Game of Thrones, but Jordan came up with a huge cast and an extremely immersive world for his tales. Unfortunately he passed away before he could write the last book, but thanks to his notes Brandon Sanderson could step in and do so.

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