5 epic fantasy reads

Published on: 17 April 2023

AF Steadman, author of the Skandar series, shares her favourite epic fantasy reads.

From a young age, the fantasy shelves in the library were where you’d find me on a Saturday afternoon – rain or shine. Any book vouchers I was lucky enough to win at school were spent on books with sprawling imaginary worlds and complex magic systems. Fantasy has always been special to me, partly because it has always provided me with an escape from the real world and partly because it better helps me understand the real world around us. In Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, and in the upcoming sequel Skandar and the Phantom Rider, I included themes like family, grief, mental health, friendship and belonging – alongside the bloodthirsty unicorns, of course. Fantasy epics help us escape into our imaginations, and in my experience when we reach the final pages, we often feel better equipped to deal with those trickier parts of our own lives. Oh, and we have a lot of fun reading them along the way! Here are five of my favourite fantasy epics – some old, some new, some yet to come to their conclusion:

The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin’s imagination truly knows no bounds in this epic fantasy quartet. The archipelago of Earthsea is one of the reasons I fell in love with these books – the islands are vast, the people are fascinating and the adventures between them truly thrilling. And then there is Ged, who we meet in A Wizard of Earthsea as a goatherd, and follow him through life, peril and magic. Le Guin writes on being human so incredibly well that whenever I re-read this series, I get something more out of it. And she also creates a sense of wonder that is truly extraordinary, captured I think by one of my favourite quotes ever: “I do not care what comes after; I have seen the dragons on the wind of morning.” Yes, these books have dragons too! What more could you want?

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

These four books are set in a sleepy Virginia town that is anything but ordinary. We’re talking ley lines, dream forests, a churchyard with future ghosts, a house full of psychics and even a pet raven, lovingly named Chainsaw. And those elements aren’t even my favourite aspects of these books – it’s the characters that make it one of my absolute favourites. Stiefvater is a master at dialogue and conveying the nuance of personality – they feel so real. She moves effortlessly between the points of view of the protagonists and you end up finding even the dislikeable parts of their characters charming. I can promise you won’t regret picking up this series – the twists are absolutely wild and the cycle as a whole is extraordinarily well crafted.

The Strangeworlds series by L.D. Lapinski

Imagine you could travel to new worlds simply by stepping into a suitcase? Well, that’s exactly what Flick Hudson discovers when she is invited to join the secret Strangeworlds Society. Lapinski lets readers step in and out of suitcases – and their beautifully imagined worlds – overseen by the wonderful characters of Jonathan and Flick. There’s humour and high stakes, there’s conflict between home life troubles and thrillingly fast-paced adventures – and there’s a suitcase-load of heart. There’s an excellent series arc too, and all three books are now available!

The Amari series by B.B. Alston

If you haven’t read the first two books in the Amari series I would really recommend them – it’s Percy Jackson meets Men in Black with a truly brilliant heroine. Amari Peters is determined to find her missing brother, Quinton, but she never realised he had quite so many secrets. In Amari and the Night Brothers and Amari and the Great Game, Alston introduces us to the extraordinary Bureau of Supernatural Affairs where you can find anything from a weredragon roommate to talking elevators! I love humour mixed with fantasy, and this series has plenty of both! I can’t wait for the next book – Alston does such a brilliant job of expanding his world, as well as perfectly pacing Amari’s adventures. I really do wish the Bureau was real!

Fireborn series by Aisling Fowler

And finally, I would highly recommend the epic Fireborn series by Aisling Fowler. There are two books published in this trilogy so far, set in a monster-filled frozen world, where we follow Twelve, who has given up her past and her name to join the hunting lodge. There she must perfect her skills as a hunter – she’s particularly good with an axe – but as her adventures lead her all over Fowler’s incredible world of Ember, she begins to realise that friendship might be even more important than her fighting skills. One of the things I love the most about this series so far is the emotional journeys the characters go on, as well as the effortlessly organic way Fowler introduces us to new concepts and locations – hello the frozen palace of Icegaard, home to the witches! The fight scenes are nail-biting too and the monsters endlessly imaginative.

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief and Skandar and the Phantom Rider are out now.

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