Epic List of Epicness Part II: The EPICENING

As I said, Jared and Justin talked me into this. This half of the list reflects more closely my personal preferences, rather than what I see as influences/important works in the field. In rough order of preference. Very rough. Ask me a different day, and I will have a different order.

Also, I am ignoring Rule #2. Because I can. Because I want to bring up many individual works!




1. Elizabeth Bear, Range of Ghosts. (Tor, 2012)

This is best described as “the epic fantasy I had been waiting to read all my life, unknowing.” I love it. It is amazing.

2. Lois McMaster Bujold, Paladin of Souls. (Harper Voyager, 2003.)

This is one of the books that changed the way I look at the world, and had a profound, fundamental affect on me. Sometimes, I think it helped save my life.

3. Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion. (Harper Voyager, 2001.)

I don’t love The Curse of Chalion quite as much as I love Paladin of Souls. But it is still one of those books that touched me deeply, in ways difficult to express.

4. Martha Wells, The Wheel of the Infinite. (Eos, 2000.)

I don’t know if I can express how much I love Wells’ The Element of Fire – and after Element, Wheel is the book of Wells’ that I love best.

5. Kari Sperring, The Grass-King’s Concubine. (DAW, 2012.)

Is it epic fantasy? I don’t know. I don’t care, either. It is the best thing to come out of DAW in 2012.

6. Elizabeth Bear, All The Windwracked Stars. (Tor, 2009.)

Peri-apocalyptic fantasy! Epic in scope, amazing, brilliant, I love it.

7. Amanda Downum, The Bone Palace. (Orbit, 2010.)

It is epically amazeballs, even if it doesn’t fit a subgenre definition of epic fantasy. Its sequel, The Kingdoms of Dust (Orbit, 2011), does fit such a definition – and is also amazing.

8. Beth Bernobich, Passion Play. (Tor, 2010.)

Neither its title nor its cover do this excellent novel justice. It and its sequel, Queen’s Hunt (Tor, 2012), are very strong character-centred epic fantasy.

9. Jacqueline Carey, Kushiel’s Dart. (Tor, 2001.)

The first book in a revolutionary epic fantasy trilogy. I’m serious when I call it revolutionary: Carey’s work is distressingly underrated by critics, but its ability to mix sexual desire and grand, sweeping narratives – to combine the personal and the political both so closely and so coherently – is an achievement in itself.

10. Tanya Huff, The Silvered. (DAW, 2012.)

Epic! With shapechangers and pregnant women and war and things going boom and a prophecy and everything: and not only that, it stands alone. (I also love Huff’s Quarters books – Dear DAW Books, please reissue them in an omnibus or two. I want to give them to my friends.)

11. Kate Elliott, Crossroads trilogy. (Spirit Gate, Shadow Gate, Traitor’s Gate, Tor US/Orbit UK, 2006-2009.)

Elliott can always be relied upon to do something interesting in her work. In the Crossroads trilogy, she’s interrogating the assumptions of epic fantasy – and has people who ride griffins. Good stuff.

12. Michele Sagara, Chronicles of Elantra. (Luna, 2005-?)

A long series, at this point. It is an urban fantasy set in an epic fantasy world, and Magical Doom regularly appears in the narrative. Dragons! Elves! Fun stuff! One of the many interesting ways by which epic fantasy can be interrogated.

13. Celine Kiernan, The Poison Throne. (Orbit US/O’Brien, 2010.)

IRELAND REPRESENT! Ahem. With that display of gross nationalistic fervour out of the way, let me say that this book, the first (and best) in a trilogy aimed more into the YA demographic? Is really very essential reading.

14. Sarah Monette, The Doctrine of Labyrinths. (Mélusine, The Virtue, The Mirador, Corambis; Tor, 2005-2009.)

A strange, baroque, not infrequently grotesque entry into the lists of epic fantasy. I have some strong affections for it, despite problematic elements.

15. Sherwood Smith, The Banner of the Damned. (DAW, 2012)

Epic fantasy with a scribe and a scholar as its protagonist. An asexual protagonist. It stands alone well enough, too.

16. Claymore.

I mean the anime series, but I’ve got about five volumes into the manga, too. Shocked it’s not a book? Don’t be: it’s still EPIC.

17. Dragon Age: Origins.

Bioware’s giant RPG has its problems. But it is definitely epic fantasy, and I think despite its problems, it’s still worth looking at – particularly for how it takes epic fantasy elements long familiar to us from literature and adapts them to a new medium.

18. Violette Malan, The Sleeping God. (DAW, 2008.)

Mercenaries. Kicking arse, taking names, killing people in the face and saving the world.

19. Rae Carson, The Girl of Fire and Thorns. (Greenwillow, 2011.)

Aimed at the YA demographic, this is again the first book of a trilogy (better than its sequel, I think). Lovely coming-of-age epicness.

20. Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, A Companion to Wolves. (Tor, 2007.)

The frozen north. Trolls. Men bonded to intelligent wolves. Trolls.

21. Jacqueline Carey, The Sundering. (Banewreaker, Godslayer; Tor, 2004-2005.)

Epic fantasy. As told from the villains’ point of view – but more complicated than that.

22. Steven Erikson, Deadhouse Gates. (Tor, 2005.)

I’m picking only one novel from Erikson’s opus magnus, The Malazan Book of the Fallen – because, well, I fell off the wagon at book five, and have yet to go back. But Deadhouse Gates would be a stellar entry in any epic series: it certainly is here.

23. Simon R. Green, Deathstalker series.

Epic fantasy in a science fictional horror universe.

24. Ursula Le Guin, Voices. (Harcourt, 2006.)

24. Ursula Le Guin, Lavinia. (Harcourt, 2008.)

Yes, you get two entries for #24. I couldn’t choose between them. I love them both.

25. The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy.

Every adaptation is a fresh recension. LOTR on film brought epic fantasy to a massive audience, and paved the way for epic fantasy to come to the screens again.

A fond mention for Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I don’t think is epic but which is cool nonetheless.

17 thoughts on “Epic List of Epicness Part II: The EPICENING

  1. Some awesome choices here, and many that have been on my to read pile/list for a while now, in many cases because you talked about them already in your column!

    Kudos for the Lord of the Rings movie choice.

    But I am a bit cross about the Rule 2 thing. I couldn’t bring myself to break that rule and now I wish I had, just a bit!

  2. Wow, a lot of these sound terrific. Bernobich, Sagara, Monette…

    I know I’m in a distinct minority, but the two Bujold fantasies really didn’t do it for me. I don’t know why, as literally everyone else loves them. I am clearly broken.

  3. Yes! Yes! Banner of the Damned! I’ve been waiting for Sherwood Smith to appear on someone’s list. Her stuff is pretty much the epitome of epic for me.

  4. @ Tansy –

    I was determined I’d namecheck *all* my favourites. And also, most of the stuff I both read and liked not by the people on this list… isn’t epic fantasy, even under my stretchy definition. (Scott Lynch is caper plot/sword and sorcery – wonderful stuff, but not yet epic. I’m not sure what Richard Morgan is doing at all. I was tempted to bring in Mary Gentle, but much as I love Ash it’s an interrogation of history and fantasy and tends too much to the Weird to fit recognisably within epic… Anyway.)

    I’ve stuck with the by-women end of the spectrum for a reason – keeping up with the by-women stuff for the column has massively cut down on the time I’ve left over to read stuff by guys. The genre is sufficiently large enough that one woman alone can’t keep up with it all.

    @ Jared –

    I think much of the impact of Bujold’s Chalion novels depends upon one’s religious upbringing and religious sentiments. Speaking for myself, the emotional weight came in with Oh. Oh. That’s divinity. That’s how it could be. Despite having come to agnosticism/atheism before the age of voting, I’ve still had what someone with a belief in the divine would call “religious experiences” – and it’s there, in the heart of the religious experience, that the Chalion books work for me.

    And also because of Ista, of course. There are so few heroic journeys for women in their forties.

    Despite Passion Play’s cover, I recommend it wholeheartedly. Good book, that book.

  5. I’m rather surprised by how many of those I’ve actually read/seen. Not that almost half is terribly impressive. * takes notes on what to read next *

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  8. Hurray for Kiernan, Monette, and Sagara/West – the first and the last of those in particular don’t get talked about enough. I was less taken with the Bujold than you, but your comments in the thread on them are really interesting – did you ever write longer reviews of them?

    I find Carey’s books really fun but I’m not sure I’d count them as good, per se: they’re a bit over-earnest – and over-long – and the sprinklings of faux-olde prose make me giggle. Phedre is a brilliant character, though (which may be why I haven’t really managed to get into Kushiel trilogy #2 – not enough Phedre, new lead too young & emo).

    Also, Huff’s Quarters books are indeed out in omnibus, according to amazon! I bought the first one ages ago, but it’s languished in TBR; you may have prompted me to finally pick it up.

  9. @ Nic –

    I’ve never really talked about the Chalion books at length: my response to them is both rather intense, and intensely personal. I mean, how do you talk about religious experience? Particularly when you’re talking about fictional ones and even more so when vis-a-vis the nonfictional world you’re determinedly agnostic? It breaks down awkwardly, is what I guess I’m saying…

    I think Carey’s important because of her ability to combine sexuality and the importance of intimate relationships with the scale of epic. (And she’s interrogating the idea of consent with a certain amount of nuance.) Whether or not she’s entirely successful is a different matter, but the amount of weight given to both sides of the conversation along the personal/political divide? That’s not something a lot of writers focus on, and it’s worth thinking about.

    (Of course, possibly I imprinted hard on Carey because I read the first Kushiel trilogy when I was seventeen or eighteen, and it was the first series where the female characters weren’t some kind of Love Interest Prize for someone. The relationships felt like real human relationships – and the Love Interest Prize was, if anything, rather the other way around.)

    Omnibus! I must see whether I can get some. They aren’t brilliant books, but I like them a lot.

  10. Can you believe I still haven’t read RANGE OF GHOSTS, despite seeing more than one paean on blogs I trust. I swear I will get to it this year FOR SURE.

    Also need to add about half the other titles you mention to my wish list.

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  12. Stephen R. Donaldson? If you don’t like the Covenant Books, The Mirror of Her Dreams is still brilliant. Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld? Good God, give us something by Guy Gavriel Kay, please!!! Melvin Peake? Naomi Novik’s Tremaire series is not epic? Fah!

  13. @ Rachel Neumeier:

    You should read it. You really should.


    Donaldson? Donaldson is far too squicky. Who the hell is Farmer? Guy Gavriel Kay? Well, maybe. They don’t feel epic to me. And Temeraire is alt-hist with dragons and does not logic.

    @ John E. O. Stevens:

    I think Tansy’s is most interesting, myself – I leaned very much in my personal preferences.

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