This is a slightly cleaned up post from my tumblr. AKA I’m phoning this one in because I don’t have any good ideas and I’m about to derail on my Beeminder goal for blogging.
So you like sci-fi and want to try some fantasy books but are kinda allergic to elves and Tolkien. Where to start?
Well, here are some things you could try. It’s a list of books I selected roughly for covering a wide spectrum while being enjoyable reads with solid world building and a relative paucity of the standard fantasy tropes (all guaranteed 100% elf free). It’s very much not intended to be a selection of great literature, though some of them are pretty good.
The Chalion series by Lois McMaster Bujold
“The Curse of Chalion” and “The Paladin of Souls”. I actually don’t remember this series all that well, but it’s good (Bujold is generally excellent), fairly political fantasy with a modest amount of magic (magic is a major plot point, but there’s a shortage of people throwing fireballs around) and absolutely zero elves.
The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson
Action heavy save-the-world-from-the-dark-overlord fantasy. Probably the closest to a Tolkien derivative on the list, but closer to a deconstruction than a derivative. Very well thought out world building (it’s one of Brandon Sanderson’s strength) and lots of violence.
The PC Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch
Now in the other end of fantasy – urban fantasy. Meet PC Peter Grant. He’s a cop! But he’s also a wizard! Crime solving and a modern genre savvy character who has been introduced to magic once he was an adult and spends a lot of his time (when not solving crimes) trying to figure out how the fuck it actually works. Steeped in lots of lovely detail about London (only some of it fictional).
The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews
Post-apocalyptic urban fantasy. Vampires and Werewolves (the former non-traditional, the latter pretty standard). Another action heavy recommendation. Interesting collection of sometimes deeply flawed characters. A great deal of violence, often dealt out by the very large sword the protagonist (Kate Daniels) wields.
The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
Super adorable steampunk. Also contains vampires and werewolves. The protagonist suffers from several disadvantages in polite society – she’s half-italian, far too strong minded for her gender, and unfortunately finds herself lacking a soul. She rarely lets these stop her.
Everyone I’ve recommended these to has gone from “Oh god are you serious?” to “THESE ARE AMAZING”.
Chronicles of an Age of Darkness by Hugh Cook
There’s nothing else like this series. It’s also out of print so may be hard to find. Vast sprawling multiple viewpoint hybrid sci-fi and fantasy. Well worth reading.
The Farsala trilogy by Hilari Bell
The evil empire is invading, and a hero must rise to defend against it.
Only… the hero in question doesn’t actually exist, and the evil empire turns out to be really a lot less bad than some of our allies.
Very enjoyable little series deconstructing how myths get made. Manages to include lots of shades of grey while avoiding everything being grimdark and terrible.
The Farseer series by Robin Hobb
Our protagonist, Fitz, is a royal bastard who gets trained up as an assassin.
He’s also the author’s chew toy. Honestly by the end of the series you just want to wrap him up in a blanket and give him a big hug. Sure, a lot of it is his own damn fault, but the poor guy just can’t catch a break.
Contains dragons, and may contain trace quantities of elf if you squint hard but they’re all very dead.
The Legends of Ethshar series by Lawrence Watt Evans
Probably the most obscure recommendation on this list.
A series of shortish novels set in an interesting and well constructed world. They’re none too deep, but they’re all enjoyable reads. They cover a bunch of fantasy tropes while managing to avoid either being cliched or going full blown deconstruction.
Contains dragons and extinct elves.
The Steerswoman Series by Rosemary Kirstein
OK, this one is a cheat. It’s totally not fantasy, but is in fact science fiction.
This is despite the fact that it is mostly a sword and sorcery series about evil manipulative wizards.
However I include it here because a) It’s really good and b) Its very nature might make it a good gateway fantasy novel.
The Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher
This is not the Jim Butcher series that everyone will recommend you read (that would be “The Dresden Files”, but I consider the Kate Daniels books a much better intro to that class of fantasy).
Roman derived culture with magic. A certain amount of political intrigue. Quite a lot of war. An alien invasion to fight off.
The Magister Trilogy by Celia Friedman
Celia Friedman’s general schtick is deals with the devil (generally not literally the devil, though in one other series it comes pretty close) to save the world.
In this world magic is done by literally draining your life – magic users tend not to last very long, dying of old age in their late 30s if they push themselves too hard. There is however one group called the magisters who can somehow do magic without.
By complete coincidence there is also this mysterious wasting disease that affects some of the population.
The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone
Magic as a metaphor for economics. This is really more a collection of same world novels than a series per se. The first book is basically a law procedural with necromancers.
The Guards books by Terry Pratchett
Discworld in general is good, but I regard the Guards books (Starting with “Guards! Guards!”) as some of the best of them, and generally a very good intro to how Pratchett’s use of fantasy for social commentary.
And the rest
This is just a fairly random cross section of fantasy books I like that I think make good intros and cover a good segment of fantasy while escaping Tolkien almost entirely. There are plenty of others, though I’d probably say that if you don’t like any of these fantasy might not be your genre (and that’s fine).
Thanks for this – have just added a whole bunch of new “first in the series” books to my Kindle. Yay!
Also, have you read the Ann McCaffrey books? I grew up on them, fantasy with a scifi premise :)
I haven’t read all of them, but I read a bunch as a kid (I probably would have read all of them if kindles were a thing then or if I’d lived closer than an international flight to a good book store). I’ve mostly assumed that I wouldn’t like them as an adult so I haven’t tried since.
The Darkover books are another good instance of the same schtick – fantasy happening on a fallen colony world.
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