Fantasy is an incredibly popular genre among readers of all ages. We love to get lost in a world unlike our own, with heroic characters, magical creatures, and epic adventures. From Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and its prequel series, The Hobbit – to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series – to George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones series, fantasy fiction is loved and appreciated in all corners of the world.
In this article, we will take a look at some of the best high fantasy books that have been published. Some are more oriented toward young adults, while others can take a reader through multiple stages of their life with their length and depth.
High Fantasy vs. Low Fantasy: What’s the Difference?
The fantasy genre is divided into subgenres, including high fantasy, low fantasy, magical realism, and dark fantasy.
LOTR and Game of Thrones are famous examples of high fantasy books—stories set in a world or universe separate from ours, one with its own rules, origins, laws, and context. Some stories begin in the world that we know, or the ‘primary world,’ such as the Harry Potter series, but reveal otherworldly settings after some brief exposition.
High fantasy takes place in its own world, a ‘secondary world.’ Such settings allow the fantasy fiction author to create laws and rules of that world or universe that do not apply on Earth, thus lending the story to more magic and other-worldliness.
Another subgenre of fantasy is low fantasy. In low fantasy novels, the setting typically takes place on Earth or the universe as we know it, but with some added science fiction or magical elements. Haruki Murakami’s The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is an example of low fantasy—it takes place in a relatively recognizable world but adds a touch of the supernatural. Joshua Bader’s Frostbite is another example of the low fantasy genre.
High Fantasy Books You Should Read
1. The Lord of The Rings Trilogy by J.R.R Tolkien
The LOTR is probably the first book series people think about when anyone mentions high fantasy, and for a good reason. Tolkien’s trilogy of fantasy novels has been incredibly popular since the first book of the series, The Fellowship of the Ring, was published in 1954. The trilogy includes:
- The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
- The Two Towers (1954)
- The Return of the King (1955)
In Middle Earth, a young Hobbit, Frodo Bagging, inherits The One Ring, a powerful artifact created by the Dark Lord Sauron with the powers of death, destruction, darkness, and the ability to grant invisibility to the wearer. The One Ring carries immense power and control and is sought after by its creator, Dark Lord Sauron. The high fantasy trilogy follows the epic quest and fate of Frodo Baggins on his journey to Mordor, or Mount Doom, where the ring must be destroyed before the Dark Lord takes it to rule middle earth.
A hit with fantasy fans, the LOTR trilogy is also considered epic fantasy novels preceded by The Hobbit.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”J.R.R. Tolkien, LOTR
2. Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
The Game of Thrones series took over the world in the 2010s with its seven-season TV adaptation. The high fantasy series follows nine houses in the fictional land of Westeros as a fight for the throne follows members of each house, with two common enemies: the long looming winter after a decade-long summer and the terrifying white-walkers, a horde of undead ice-faring zombie-like former humans intent on destroying the world of man.
The series is action-packed, violent, epic, and full of rich character arcs and plot twists. With five books of the high fantasy series currently published, it is a lengthy read, but George RR Martin’s unrivaled talent for storytelling keeps the reader engaged with excitement and unpredictability.
- A Game of Thrones, 1996
- A Clash of Kings, 1998
- A Storm of Swords, 2000
- A Feast for Crows, 2005
- A Dance with Dragons, 2011
The five books in the high fantasy series each focus on the main plot point, that is, which royal family will sit on the iron throne, and the supporting subplots that keep the reader engaged with the entire world of the series in each book. Complex plot structures and unforgettable characters make Game of Thrones one of the most widely praised and loved high fantasy series to date. Two more books of the series are yet to be published: The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring.
“Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness.”George R.R. Martin, The Night’s Watch Oath
3. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss
The Kingkiller Chronicle spans two books and follows the life of adventurer Kvothe, once a young member of a team of storytellers and musicians, who now runs an inn under a pseudonym name. When graced with the appearance of a scribe and new friend at the Inn, Kvothe gets the chance to tell and record the epic, tragic, and heroic story of his life in the book’s magical world.
The book is a story within a story – Kvothe recounts his adventures in the first person, while the present is written in an omniscient narrative. Kvothe’s recounting of tales takes the reader through the fictional world of Temerant and a three-day-long adventure full of wizardry, trust, betrayal, love, and loss across the ‘Four Corners of Civilization.’ The Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy includes:
- The Name of the Wind (2007)
- The Wise Man’ Fear (2011)
- The Doors of Stone (unreleased)
An approachable and accessible introduction to high fantasy genre, The Name of the Wind is popular among regular and occasional high fantasy readers alike. The Wise Man’s Fear demonstrates author Rothfuss’ excellent writing talent. The story remains engaging and exciting for the reader through the second part of the trilogy, an admirable achievement for any high fantasy writer. The Doors of Stone is expected to be released in July 2022 and has fans eager to dive in.
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear
4. The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A Salvatore
This trilogy by R.A Salvatore is the conflict-heavy tragic and heroic tale of Drizzt Do’Urden, a drow (dark elf) who stands out from other dark elves due to his superior moral standards and desire for god’s triumph over evil.
As prequel to the Icewind Dale Trilogy, many new readers choose to read this first to follow the entire series in chronological order. The protagonist is the character, Drizzt, who first appeared in the Forgotten Realms series.
The spider goddess, elves, goblins, dwarves, gnomes—the characters in this series are rich, deep, and impactful. The beings in the series live under a strict caste system that leads to species and communities fighting for the right to thrive. The trilogy includes:
- Homeland (1990)
- Exile (1990)
- Sojourn (1991)
“There is a wide world out there, full of pain but filled with joy as well. The former keeps you on the path of growth, and the latter makes the journey tolerable.”R.A. Salvatore, Sojourn
5. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
No list of high fantasy books would be complete without at least one entry from Brandon Sanderson. The Way of Kings is the first of the Stormlight Archive, one of two of Sanderson’s epic sagas in Cosmere, a fictional universe Sanderson built.
The Way of Kings offers several viewpoints to the reader. Five primary characters: Kaladin, Shallan Davar, Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Dalinar Kholin, Adolin Kholin, take up the bulk of the story, but other smaller characters also move the saga along in minor but significant ways.
War rages in the land of Roshar, where honor and vengeance drive characters into fierce battles, questioning beliefs, and dizzying heights of power. The characters of The Way of Kings are incredibly detailed and possess a depth that places Sanderson amongst the most immersive fantasy authors writing today.
The Stormlight Archive is still in the making. Four books are currently published, with six more to come in this fantasy series.
- The Way of Kings (2010)
- Words of Radiance (2014)
- Oathbringer (2017)
- Rhythm of War (2020)
“And so, does the destination matter? Or is it the path we take? I declare that no accomplishment has substance nearly as great as the road used to achieve it. We are not creatures of destinations. It is the journey that shapes us. Our callused feet, our backs strong from carrying the weight of our travels, our eyes open with the fresh delight of experiences lived.”Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
6. The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
New York Times Bestseller with over 35 million copies sold worldwide, Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle is already a classic in the genre. The Inheritance Cycle is a four-part series that follows Eragon, a poor and unassuming teenage farm boy who stumbles upon a beautiful blue stone while walking through the forest.
Eragon’s discovery is the beginning of an unforgettable and life-changing journey in which the protagonist discovers his calling as a dragon rider. Magic, power, and fate drive the Inheritance Cycle forward with great thrust. Eragon, armed with an ancient sword, his dragon companion, and wise guidance from an old sage, is faced with monumental choices that will decide the world’s fate.
In 2004, Paolini won the Indie’s Choice Book Award for Children’s Literature for Eragon. In 2006, he won the Quill Award for Young Adult/Teen for the second book in Eldest. There are four books in total in the epic fantasy series.
- Eragon (2003)
- Eldest (2005)
- Brisingr (2008)
- Inheritance (2011)
“It’s impossible to go through life unscathed. Nor should you want to. By the hurts we accumulate, we measure both our follies and our accomplishments.”Christopher Paolini, Inheritance
7. Angel Mage by Garth Nix
Angels, sorcery, and dark magic make fantasy master Garth Nix’s Angel Mage a must-read for anyone interested in the genre. In the book, people with a calling and talent for magic can summon angels to help them in times of trouble.
The story follows the fall of Ystara, four rag-tag musketeers, and the devious and cunning Lilith. Ystara has fallen following the devastating Ash Plague. The four musketeers are survivors of Ystara, and their fate falls into the hands of Lilith, an incredibly powerful sorcerer and practitioner of angelic magic.
Lilith, determined to reunite with the angel Pallenial, an archangel, the highest status in the hierarchy of angels, has plans for the four musketeers that none of them could have ever anticipated.
Garth Nix satisfies fantasy lovers with his imaginative and exciting magic systems. They are original and immersive in a way that makes his work stand out among the crowd of other fantasy writers. Angel Mage is a young adult novel but is an enjoyable read for anyone who loves to get lost in a fresh and unique fantasy world.
‘Better to lie under the stars alive than be stabbed in your sleep in some stolen bed.’Garth Nix, Angel Mage
8. Malice by John Gwynne
John Gwynne’s Malice is the first of his four-part series, The Faithful and the Fallen. In Malice, war and bloodshed have ravaged the Banished Lands. It remains a haunting and sorrowful place for those who live there. One young boy named Corbin is eager to take up the sword and join other soldiers in battle, but his time is not yet here. However, Corbin’s taste for battle will soon be satisfied.
Greed, betrayal, and ancient monsters and giants fill John Gwynne’s Malice with excitement, shock, and an intriguing take on the theme of good vs. evil. Malice is not as popular among fantasy readers as many of the other entries on this list, but that makes it no less enjoyable. The Faithful and Fallen series includes:
- Malice (2012)
- Valour (2014)
- Ruin (2015)
- Wrath (2016)
“I shall stay and tell my tale, hope that it may serve some purpose, that eyes shall see it and learn, that the future will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That is my prayer, but what use is a prayer to a God that has abandoned all things…”John Gwynne, Malice
9. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
Spanning an impressive 14 volumes, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time is one of the most successful and enjoyed fantasy book series ever published. Jordan died in 2007 with the series unfinished, but the task of completion was taken on by Way of Kings author Brandon Sanderson, who wrote the final three books.
The first published book of the series, The Eye of the World, begins with a prologue set around three thousand years before the following events of the book and series take place. In the early chapters, the book’s primary characters: Rand al’Thor, Matrim Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, Egwene al’Vere, and Nynaeve al’Meara, flee their home, Edmond’s Field, following an attack. Later, the targets of the attack, Rand, Matrim, and Perrin, discover they are being hunted by the Dark One, an ancient and cosmic force of evil.
The Eye of the World is a journey of self-discovery, good vs. evil, and heroic adventure. The first in an expansive series hooks the reader with rich characters and deep lore that compels you to pick up the next book as soon as you have finished the previous one.
- The Eye of the World (1990)
- The Great Hunt (1990)
- The Dragon Reborn (1991)
- The Shadow Rising (1992)
- The Fires of Heaven (1993)
- Lord of Chaos (1994)
- A Crown of Swords (1996)
- The Path of Daggers (1998)
- Winter’s Heart (2000)
- Crossroads of Twilight (2003)
- Knife of Dreams (2005)
- The Gathering Storm (2009)
- Towers of Midnight (2010)
- A Memory of Light (2013)
“What is too absurd to believe is believed because it is too absurd to be a lie.”Robert Jordan, Lord of Chaos
High fantasy is a genre so extensive that a complete list of the best books would be a task suited to a high sorcerer. The genre can include anything from sci-fi elements to ancient history to human-animal hybrid species. Modern fantasy fiction books are increasingly becoming a skillful blend of such.
What is your favorite high fantasy book? Did it make it to our list? If you were to rewrite this list, what would you include? Would you leave anything out?