This is my list of the best fantasy authors of all time. For each author, I have provided a brief overview of their major works, and also given a recommendation for which of their books or series readers should start with. Note that this is not a list for children — the titles on this list are broadly books aimed at readers in their teens and above, with many of the books only fit for adults older than the age of 18.
I do not make these recommendations lightly. I have personally read most, if not all, of the major works by these fantasy authors. There are many other authors which I have read who do not appear on this list. Many other authors have produced enjoyable books — but they may have flaws which lead to them being a cut below the best.
This list is the best of the best, and I commend these authors and their books to you. You will not be disappointed.
- J. R. R. Tolkien: Start with The Hobbit
- Robert Jordan: Start with The Eye of the World
- Ursula K. Le Guin: Start with A Wizard of Earthsea
- George R. R. Martin: Start with A Game of Thrones
- Robin Hobb: Start with Assassin’s Apprentice
- Raymond E. Feist: Start with Magician
- Janny Wurts: Start with Curse of the Mistwraith (or Daughter of the Empire if you’ve read Raymond E. Feist’s Magician)
- Roger Zelazny: Start with Nine Princes In Amber
- Roger Taylor: Start with The Call of the Sword
- Guy Gavriel Kay: Start with The Summer Tree
- Haruki Murakami: Start with Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
- David Eddings: Start with Pawn of Prophecy
- R. Scott Bakker: Start with The Darkness that Comes Before
- Steven Erikson: Start with Gardens of the Moon
- C. S. Lewis: Start with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
- Glen Cook: Start with The Black Company
J. R. R. Tolkien: The acknowledged king of the fantasy genre. You have probably heard of this guy ;) If you want to do things in the right order, read the short novel The Hobbit first and then the Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, it’s OK to do it the other way around as well. Tolkien’s work underpins that of almost every other fantasy author of any stature. If you have not read The Lord of the Rings, you have not read fantasy.
Robert Jordan: Tolkien’s heir, Jordan penned most of the epic The Wheel of Time series over several decades starting in the 1990’s. It’s a must-read series that contains every possible idea that a fantasy series could contain. Just don’t get bogged down from about book six or seven (especially for younger readers, who may not understand all of the adult complexities of those books), and remember that the last three books are a bit off in some places as they were penned by up and comer Brandon Sanderson after Jordan passed away in late 2007. Bear these caveats in mind, and you’ll be set for one of the greatest fantasy reads of all time. I have personally read The Wheel of Time through perhaps 6-7 times.
Ursula K. Le Guin: Best known for her awesome Earthsea fantasy series, which is required reading for any fantasy fan. It’s very easy to get into, especially for teenagers. However, Le Guin’s true masterwork is the dystopian science fiction novel The Dispossessed, which is a meditation on the nature of the diametrically opposed anarchist and capitalist social democracy political theories. The gender-bending novel The Left Hand of Darkness is also superb.
George R. R. Martin: GRRM’s best known for his epic series A Song of Ice and Fire, which has recently exploded in popularity due to the US TV adaptation Game of Thrones. It’s gritty and violent and sexy and we love it. It’s also not yet finished — so be warned that you’ll likely be waiting a few years for the conclusion.
Robin Hobb: Hobb’s masterwork is the long, long series The Realm of the Elderlings, which contains many internal trilogies and is still being completed. This series is compulsory epic fantasy reading and goes through so many twists and turns and revelations that your brain will be a little bent by the end of it. The first nine books are the best, although Hobb has recently rejuvenated the series in an admirable manner, and we’re hooked again. If you like Hobb’s style, the Soldier Son trilogy is also not terrible.
Janny Wurts: Wurts is best known for her easy reading Empire Trilogy, co-authored with Raymond E. Feist and set in Feist’s Midkemia/Kelewan universe. However, her masterwork is The Wars of Light and Shadow epic series, which is almost finished. It can be wordy at times, and the first book, The Curse of the Mistwraith, is a bit of a slog, but it’s worth persevering for one of the best long reads in the genre. Often compared with Robin Hobb.
Roger Zelazny: A science fiction master with a heap of great stand-alone sci-fi novels to his name, we nonetheless consider Zelazny’s swashbuckling Chronicles of Amber fantasy series to be his best and most consistent work. It’s easy to get into but very satisfying. Lots of roguish humour.
Roger Taylor: A little-known British author, Taylor’s Chronicles of Hawklan is an often overlooked gem series in the fantasy genre. If you can find it, pick up a copy of the first four books. Decide if you want to keep reading Taylor after that. This is truly an author with a great deal of heart.
Guy Gavriel Kay: Kay’s short trilogy The Fionavar Tapestry is very solid reading in the Tolkien tradition. If you like it, there’s plenty of more books available. In his books after this trilogy, Kay has been focusing on alternative history. And he’s very good at it.
Haruki Murakami: Not viewed as a traditional fantasy master, this Japanese author nonetheless includes fantasy elements in all his books. They’re all complex interweavings of inner and outer worlds that demonstrate the sheer aloneness and surreality of human existence. The incredible long novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is Murakami’s masterwork, but I usually recommend fantasy fans to start with the more approachable Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
David Eddings: Eddings’ Belgariad series and its follow-ups is widely considered a bit lighter than some of the more serious series in the fantasy genre, but it’s still a great read in the epic fantasy style. A great intro to the genre, especially for teenage readers. He’s also got a number of separate series that were written after The Belgariad that are worth checking out.
Raymond E. Feist: Feist’s Magician is considered a must-read of the fantasy genre. There are countless follow-up novels; how deep you get into Feist’s universe is up to you. I usually recommend reading Magician, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon, followed by the three ‘Empire’ books Feist co-authored with Janny Wurts. Then keep going as long as you want — there are about a dozen more books. I gave up after Shards of a Broken Crown, but I’m hoping to return to Feist’s world of Midkemia one day.
R. Scott Bakker: Bakker is best known for his epic and highly philosophical series The Second Apocalypse. It turns into a slog after the first trilogy, but the first three books are superb. They’re very much a meditation on the messiah complex which is found in Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions, and how men and civilisations can be manipulated. However, as always with fantasy, there’s also an ultimate evil lurking in the background. Definitely only for adult readers.
Steven Erikson: Erikson’s epic Malazan Book of the Fallen series is one of the most complex and sophisticated fantasy series in existence, dealing with the whole sweep of human endeavour, with all of its political and intellectual nuances. Because of this, it’s also one of the most acclaimed. Just be warned that the first book in the series, Gardens of the Moon, is quite inaccessible. But if you push through, the series opens up into one of fantasy’s must-reads.
C. S. Lewis: Many of us started our fantasy journey as older children with the entrancing light fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia. But the series is not just for children and develops into quite dark territory as it progresses. It also never shies away from adult themes or panders to the perceived immaturity of childish concepts. For this reason, the series is impossible to overlook as one of the best fantasy series of all time.
Glen Cook: Cook’s The Black Company is not a classic ‘good guy goes on a long journey to defeat evil lord’ tale. It turned the fantasy genre on its head by telling the tale of a bunch of nefarious mercenaries who find themselves working for — and often directly aiding — some significant forces of evil. This may initially turn some readers off, but those who stick with The Black Company will eventually start to understand that Cook is painting morally complex characters on one of the biggest canvases that fantasy literature has to offer. The Black Company is an understated and often overlooked masterpiece.
Think this list is missing something? Drop me a line and argue your case.