Alliteration! Fun times! I’m distracting you with exclamation points to ignore the sadness that creeps up when you think too hard about the fact that George R R Martin may not be done with book 6 until 2017! We laugh to keep from crying!
Okay, but seriously, there are other books out there, and while you’re not-so-patiently waiting for the next book, here are some in-genre suggestions for you.
The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
-Read if: you like really cool original magic systems, and you like to fear for your characters
-Don’t read if: you absolutely must have sex scenes in your fantasy novels; you don’t do well with dystopias
I really can’t recommend these books highly enough. Brandon Sanderson may be most well-known for finishing The Wheel of Time after Robert Jordan’s death (confession time: I’ve only read the first two of that series and that was a while ago, I promise to go back and read them plz don’t kill me), but truly should be more famous for his own original works. He has a standalone novel called Elantris, and has started his own epic series with The Way of Kings, and a bunch more for younger readers, but this trilogy is about as good as it comes. In this world, a long way back, there was a hero and a great evil…and the hero lost, leaving a ruined world. The world has been split into nobles and commoners, and the main character of the first novel is a 16 year old commoner girl named Vin. The magic, called Allomancy, is metal-based, and characters “burn” different metals to enhance their own abilities (you swallow and “burn” pewter to enhance your physical strength, for example.) Sanderson’s world-building is so, so good at the magical level, and once you reach the end of the series, you realize just how well he had to plot out the three books.
The relationships, both friendship and romantic, are strong enough to make you cry (I did!), but if you absolutely must have some kind of serious sexual tension; sorry, it’s just not here. The books are plenty R-rated when it comes to sex (castration, commoners used as sex slaves for nobles, etc.), but no one ever has it. Also the world can get crazy depressing at times (the commoners are basically slaves! wars! sacrifices! parents being the worst! main characters can just die!), which fits because it’s a dystopia, but if you’re not sold on a world where you literally have to every so often shake the ash off of things, and plants are just a dull brown, and your favorite characters can just freaking die, maybe don’t pick these up. But do it anyway because they’re great and I said so.
The Kingkiller Chronicle books by Patrick Rothfuss (trilogy, 2 of 3 are published)
-Read if: you like amazing first-person narration and a flawed hero; you like music; you like school stories
-Don’t read if: you’re impatient (author is on Martin’s level at speed), you need a female narrator
Read these books now. Just do it. Your life will be enhanced. They are the story of Kvothe, a man who is known as a hero in his world, but he’s the one telling the story. A well-known writer finds him hiding away running an inn, and Kvothe decides to tell his story and clear up all the inaccuracies to the legend. He’s brilliant and flawed, and you totally buy him as a Famous Hero and also as a stupid teenage boy (especially in his interactions with women). He’s at a university for much of the books, learning languages and science and magic, and the magic is totally believable, mostly because it has so many limits and you need to work at it. They have final exams. It’s great. Additionally, Kvothe is a trouper and plays the lute, and Rothfuss’ descriptions of what music can do are just made of truth and might make you cry. Rothfuss is simply an amazing writer and storyteller, and…just pick up the first book, The Name of the Wind. Just do it.
There’s definitely quite a bit of downtime in between books, so if you don’t do well starting in on unfinished series, this one may kill you. I’ve been dying for several years now; I named one of my online accounts “Kvothe” in a fit of sadness and couldn’t remember that I had done so when I was trying to log back in. Additionally, there is a decent number of women in these books (varied, real women), but it is for sure about the men. It can also be frustrating when it seems like literally every woman in these books wants a piece of Kvothe, even when he’s a 15-year-old ginger punk. I am still trying to figure out if the author is doing this on purpose (in a “teenage boys are sometimes dumb and don’t know how to Woman” way), and it can get very eye-roll-inducing, but the ladies are still really cool. Just…please read. The writing is literally the best I’ve seen in this genre, and I need more people to talk to about these books.
Literally everything in the Tortall universe by Tamora Pierce (three quartets, one duology, one diary-form trilogy)
-Read if: you are or ever were a teenage girl; you love animals
-Don’t read if: you absolutely can’t stand a female narrator (AKA you’re a chump), you hate shorter books
Duuuuude. Read her stuff. I don’t care that it’s technically young adult fiction, just do it. This lady is the coolest and has been writing forever, and her world-building is crazy good. Each quartet has a different main character/narrator, and all of them are awesome in different ways. (Kel’s my favorite, if you were wondering.) Pierce is also a huge animal lover, and it comes across in her books. All her heroines have super awesome animals (dogs, cats, sparrows, a baby dragon!) that are part pet, part friend, and part kickass warrior.
Her books are on the shorter side: no thousand-page epics here, as they’re written for teens. And I really wish there were more guys reading these books: Pierce suffers from the whole “books about boys are for boys and girls, but books about girls are ONLY for girls” thing. But seriously, if you’re going to make the argument that you “can’t relate” to a young woman’s story about becoming a knight simply because she is a girl, I will hunt you down and force-feed you these books. There’s no excuse, bros. Do it now.
The Sword of Truth books by Terry Goodkind (finished series of 11 books with a couple more written after with the same characters)
-Read if: you like high fantasy epic tropes with some serious bad guys
-Don’t read if: you can’t handle a healthy dose of Objectivism with your high fantasy; you want to actually fear for the main character
All the tropes are here: common hero told he’s special, wizard advisor, cool sword, learns things along the journey. Richard Cypher is our hero here, and he’s fighting against a world that is falling apart due to the actions of a ton of really, really bad dudes. He’s collects helpers along the way, who are actually all pretty interesting and diverse characters, including lots of women (and a dragon, of course). The magic and history of the world is pretty cool, and for the bloodthirsty among you, there’s plenty of battles to keep you busy. And possibly grossed out. Goodkind does not skimp on the blood and pain, and the baddies are real bad. Other than the hero and the baddies, the other characters serve as pretty decent companions and foils to our hero: some bad guys are redeemed, and good guys are allowed to disagree with our hero.
That being said: these are for fun. Don’t think too hard. The author is a big-time libertarian/Objectivist, but 9 times out of 10 the references don’t show up too obviously and you won’t notice it. The 10th time, it’s so heavy-handed that it’s funny. However, if it’s gonna bug you, maybe don’t pick up this series (or skip Faith of the Fallen, which is the most blatant by far). And if you’re neck-deep in GRRM-style death where NO ONE IS SAFE, this series may bug you, because your faves are special and safe because they’re the faves. You can have a drinking game for every time someone said “you’re a special person, Richard Cypher” and its variations. If 11 seems too daunting, read the first four and the last three, and Pillars of Creation: the first four are solid, plot-wise, the last three are one story set at breakneck, fascinating pace, and Pillars gives you a new main character (Richard’s barely in this one).
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or probably anything else by N.K. Jemesin (trilogy, others)
-Read if: you like reading books both about and by women of color; fallen gods are fascinating
-Don’t read if: you need me to tell you how they end because I haven’t read the third one yet (I’m sorry), you thrive on descriptive detail and need a world to be mapped out completely
This first book is so, so good I can’t even…I just…yeah. Please read it. The world that’s created has three gods in it, but they had a war many many years ago, and one was victorious, one died…and one is imprisoned by the ruling family and used as sort of a pet. Conflict ready, set, go! The books have different narrators (I almost don’t want to tell you that they’re all women but they are), but they all deal with the concept of gods who are no longer as powerful as they are. The second book’s main character, Oree, is also blind, and while I can’t speak to how well the author described what it is like to be blind, the fact that she made a female POC with a disability her main character while not letting those things BE the plot speaks to just how cool this author is. Her prose is outstanding; I don’t know how she does it, but every paragraph feels like good poetry.
I’ve only just finished book two of the three, and apparently the plotting is not as great as in the first two, which makes me sad, but even if you’re not going to finish the series, please read book one. Additionally, while the author does build a substantial history for her characters’ current status, you’re left feeling that there’s so much more to explore in this world (it is called the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, after all). You’ll have a vague fuzzy feeling in your head while reading because the author will sometimes leave sensory descriptions out in favor of describing feelings. This does not detract from the story and is simply a stylistic choice, but if you really like to hear about all the details (or you’re on a Martin hook and need names for literally. every. person. ever.) it may bother you. Just support this lady. We need another Octavia Butler; we need like a million of them.
If you have any suggestions for ME in-genre, please leave them! I’m always looking for new fantasy to pick up.