Tweets and videos not included. This list has enough reading to keep almost any reader happy for years.
Almost two months have passed since many of us received our first stay-at-home orders, and while the shock of such a drastic change in day-to-day life has faded with time, the ever-present war against cabin fever continues. The lockdown has inspired drastic rises in streaming viewing, online tabletop gaming, and all sorts of other things to keep ourselves from going crazy while we stay at home to stop the spread of COVID-19.
But if your eyes are feeling the strain from untold hours glued to screens, fear not. There are other ways to occupy your brain. I’m talking about books, of course! After all, there is no entertainment as cheap, nor any pleasure as lasting as a good book. about:blank✕
Fortune cookie wisdom aside, there are some immense, epic book series out there that lend themselves perfectly to an extended binge read. To make your search for your next favorite series a little easier, I’ve rounded up 10 of the best right here. Each has a multitude of books, meaning that if you start reading even one of these series today, you’ll likely have reading material for months at the least. And if you tried to read them all…well, it suffices to say you’d likely outlast this lockdown and then some.
1. The Wheel of Time
When it comes to epic-length book series, it’s hard to beat The Wheel of Time. Written by master storyteller Robert Jordan and completed after Jordan’s death by Brandon Sanderson, it’s no exaggeration to say that The Wheel of Time is one of the best, most beloved works of longform fantasy to ever be written. Counting the prequel novella New Spring, there are 15 books in all, and most weigh in at around 800 pages. That’s approximately 12,000 pages of reading. What more could a homebound fantasy fan wish for?
The Wheel of Time follows a group of teenage best friends who are whisked away from their small farming village by a sorceress (called Aes Sedai in this world) on the eve of a monster attack. Moiraine Damodred, Aes Sedai of the Blue Ajah, believes that one of them is the reincarnation of a legendary hero known as the Dragon Reborn, and that they hold the key to save the world…as well as destroy it. With monsters hot on their tail, the small group sets out for the White Tower — the seat of power of the Aes Sedai — so that Moiraine can better divine which one of them is the resurrected Dragon.
But as with any good yarn, the journey is far from simple, and as the series goes on, we find ourselves mixed up in events that are as epic as epic gets. The final book in the series has possibly the largest battle sequence of any book ever published -– that one chapter is longer than the entire first Harry Potter book. There is an abundance of magic, creatures, fantastical settings and lovable characters. And while this series is on the more accessible side of the epic fantasy spectrum — it’s never overly gruesome or graphic — it has no shortage of moments that will put your heart in your throat.
The fact that Amazon is currently developing a much-hyped television adaptation is the cherry on top of the whole affair. With production currently on pause due to the pandemic, that means now is your best chance to give The Wheel of Time a read-through and get ahead of the game before the show comes out.
2. Malazan Book of the Fallen
If you go on to any fantasy subreddit, the two long series you will always see referenced are The Wheel of Time and Malazan Book of the Fallen. So we might as well get these “Big Two” out of the way nice and early! And if you’re daring enough to read them both, you might just finish by the time we land a person on Mars.
Written by Canadian author Steven Erikson, Malazan is the opposite of The Wheel of Time in many ways. It’s set in an incredibly dark world ruled over by Gods who treat humans as play things. Whereas The Wheel of Time is very accessible, Malazan is infamous for its complexity. If you prefer A Song of Ice and Fire or First Law over The Lord of the Rings, this is the series for you.
The first novel, Gardens of the Moon, mainly follows the Malazan Empire’s attempts to assert its dominance over the rest of the nations on the continent, focusing heavily on their southern neighbor, Darujhistan. The story circles a group of elite soldiers called the Bridgeburners — some of the last remaining warriors from the old guard, before the new Empress took over. When it becomes clear that Sergeant Whiskeyjack and the Empress will never see eye to eye, the Bridgeburners are sent on what everyone assumes will be a suicide mission. But nothing goes according to plan, and the Bridgeburners are more than a little wise to the game.
The story of Malazan is told in two distinct phases over the course of 10 door-stopping tomes. The first five of them function almost as stand-alone tales, with different settings and casts of characters. There are some overarching plot elements, of course, but for the most part, each is confined to telling the story within its pages.
The back half of the series brings all those dangling plot threads together into a sweeping epic that spans thousands of years…and thousands of pages.
3. The Expanse
Like Malazan, The Expanse is a series that originally began as a tabletop gaming campaign. Written by James S.A. Corey (a pseudonym for collaborators Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham), this one is a space opera, set in a near-future where humanity has colonized the solar system…and brought all of its political baggage with it into space. The sort of politics that made Game of Thrones such a huge success are very much at play in The Expanse, as the people of Earth, Mars, and the asteroid belt (a.k.a. Belters) vie for power and advantage over one another.
The Expanse has a large and memorable cast of characters, but at its core is James Holden, captain of the legitimately salvaged Martian bomber ship Rocinante. Holden and his small crew are pulled into a system-wide conspiracy when they uncover the secrets behind the Protomolecule, an alien virus that has many nasty ways of killing people. Of course, all the powers that be want to get their hands on this alien substance, and thus, the drama unfolds.
At the other end of the spectrum is Miller, a hard-nosed detective charged with finding a missing heiress to a powerful Earth corporation. Miller’s story hearkens back to the crime noir of the 1950s, presenting a really cool counterpoint to all the science fiction elements in the series’ first book, Leviathan Wakes.
At eight books and seven novellas, there’s plenty of material to sink your teeth into with this story. The final book is expected to be out sometime this year, so this is a great time to hop into the series and get caught up before the swan song plays.
Amazon is also currently adapting the TV show after a network change from SyFy. Its fifth season finished filming right before the lockdown started, but there hasn’t been much word on where things stand since. If you’ve been missing shows like Battlestar Galactica in your life, then giving The Expanse a chance might be just the ticket.
4. The Dresden Files
If you want more detective flavor than The Expanse can give you, it’s time to visit urban fantasy’s most famous private eye: Harry Dresden, wizard at large. The Dresden Files is a long-running series by author Jim Butcher. It’s filled with tongue-in-cheek humor, magical mischief, and deeply moving plot turns. Considering that protagonist Harry Dresden is Chicago’s only wizard private investigator, it pretty much has to. As the sign outside his office reads:
Lost items found. Paranormal investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties,
Or Other Entertainment.
If you were a fan of TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, then Harry Dresden’s got your number. That sort of light-hearted-yet-exciting tone suffuses these novels, as Harry tracks down everything from rogue wizards to werewolves to vampires, ghosts and gluttonous fairies. He’s got a ready sense of humor and a disembodied spirit companion named Bob who typically inhabits either a skull or Harry’s cat. What’s not to love?
The best part of all is that there are 15 books out currently, with two more slated to hit shelves this year. Book 16, Peace Talks, lands on July 14, while Book 17, Battle Ground, comes out September 29. Two books in one year! It’s the sort of thing that could bring a George R.R. Martin fan to tears.
5. The Witcher
[supplemental (fun) reading at https://screenrant.com/witcher-netflix-geralt-rivia-henry-cavill-not-speak/%5D
Getting back to the realm of epic fantasy, being on lockdown also makes for a great time to find out what the deal is with this witcher everyone is throwing coins to. Before Netflix’s widely streamed adaptation came out last December, before the hit video games smashed all kinds of records…there was a book series about one Geralt of Rivia, the titular witcher.
Geralt is a monster hunter who has undergone a series of mutations in order to be able to kill the creatures that stalk his world and attack people. To do so, he utilizes a ton of different tools — like special potions that would kill a normal human and magical spells called signs — but none are more iconic than the two swords he wields, a steel one for fighting humans and a silver one for killing monsters.
Of course, Geralt’s background as a monster hunter is only the beginning of his tale, as he finds himself bound to protect a girl named Ciri, the heir to a fallen kingdom and inheritor of a special power called the Elder Blood. Ciri is hunted by everyone from the invading Nilfgaardian Empire to the spectral riders of the Wild Hunt…and Geralt has some real problems asking for help, so he struggles just as much against his own personal issues as he does against the monsters he is often tasked with hunting down.
There are some things that it helps to know before going into The Witcher. For starters, these books are written by Polish author Andrezej Sapkowski, and translated into English by David French. The English translations do occasionally have some spelling inconsistencies and awkward phrasings — something definitely gets lost in translation at times.
The other thing to know is that the first two books, The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny, are in fact short story collections. They’re absolutely necessary to understand the full picture (the first season of the Netflix series is based on these two books), but they don’t have the same flow you would get in a typical novel.
Despite those warnings, neither truly detracts from how great a story The Witcher is. At eight less-than-massive books total, including the newer stand-alone novel Season of Storms, it’s perhaps a bit shorter than some of the other works on this list. But if you even remotely enjoyed the Netflix series or games, it cannot be said enough how much deeper the adaptations become once you read the source material.
Image: Daniel DeVita
7. The Cosmere
When it comes to the steady release of books, Brandon Sanderson might just be the grand champion. The author responsible for finishing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time has released novels every year like clockwork in the seven years since, which means he’s an author whose work you can get invested in without fear of starting a story that will never be finished. While he has many good standalone series, like Skyward and The Reckoners, the vast majority of his adult fantasy novels are all tied together in a shared universe called the Cosmere. Think the MCU, but with books and fewer crossovers (for now…).
Describing the Cosmere is difficult. Each world — all of the five series currently running are set on a different one — has its own incredibly well-developed magic system, ecosystem and politics. Roshar — the setting of the crown jewel of the saga, The Stormlight Archive — is a world wracked by constant storms, where magic is beginning to return and powerful warriors called Knights Radiant are once again being born to safeguard humanity. Scadrial — where the other big Cosmere series Mistborn take place — begins as a world shrouded in perpetual ash and gloom, where people can ingest metals to use a variety of special powers that would make any super hero jealous. These are big, epic tales in the vein of The Wheel of Time, and every bit as satisfying.
While each series can be enjoyed on its own (several, like the original Mistborn trilogy, are already finished), the big picture of the Cosmere is best taken in by reading everything set in the universe. To date, that’s 11 novels — some of them upwards of 1,200 pages — a collection of short stories, and three graphic novels.
And considering that the fourth book in The Stormlight Archive is coming out this fall, this is a great time to get caught up and find out what all the talk is about.
If you’re looking for something a bit lighter to help you forget world events, then it’s hard to find a series more fun than Discworld. There are many, many books in the Discworld universe — 41, to be exact — but most are easy reads compared to the typical fantasy fare, and all are packed with Terry Pratchett’s supremely hilarious sense of humor. Think The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but in a fantasy setting, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Discworld is about.
To give an example…
The first Discworld book (The Colour of Magic) follows the exploits of Rincewind, an inept and sarcastic wizard who is hired to guide a tourist named Twoflower around the beautiful kingdom of Ankh-Morpork (a place whose name is truly meant to be said out loud). Twoflower is an insurance clerk on vacation, but due to how common gold is in his kingdom, he’s absurdly rich by Ankh-Morporkian standards, and incredibly naive. He gets into all sorts of trouble, which Rincewind usually makes worse before the pair find a way to make it better. There is a ton of social commentary, lots of magic and schemes (most of which usually go wrong), and it’s all set on a world that is being carried through space by four elephants who are standing on the back of a giant turtle.
If that all sounds like a bit too much to you, pray, hold thy skepticism. You can sample the genius of The Colour of Magic on YouTube or Amazon, where a BBC miniseries of Pratchett’s first book is available. It’s a great way to see what Discworld is all about before investing in other books. This ridiculously entertaining adaptation features a who’s-who of great actors, including Sean Astin as the hapless Twoflower, Tim Curry as the evil wizard Trymon, and Christopher Lee as the sardonic grim reaper Death.
One of the other beautiful things about Discworld is that you don’t need to actually start with The Colour of Magic. The series is comprised of many smaller series and standalone works, so there are any number of places to jump in and forget your worries.
When it comes to ultra-long, epic fantasy series, Shannara might just take the crown for the largest one of all. The first book, The Sword of Shannara, came out all the way back in 1977, when it became the first trade paperback fiction title to ever hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Since then, author Terry Brooks has written sequels and prequels, book after book after book. Nowadays, there are a staggering 39 books connected to the Shannara universe, with the final novel of the series, The Last Druid, scheduled to release on June 4, 2020.
The Sword of Shannara is about as close to The Lord of the Rings as you can get while still being a separate book, and that should give a pretty good indication of the sorts of things you’ll find in this series: elves and dwarves and trolls, valiant human kingdoms and demonic creatures of darkness. The first book is actually so close to Tolkien’s epic that it can be a little distracting, if I’m being totally honest.
But the good news is that with every subsequent novel, Shannara carved out more of an identity for itself. Often, the books skip ahead to future generations, introducing new casts of characters who are a joy to travel alongside. I’ve heard it said that if Tolkien is the grandfather of modern fantasy, Terry Brooks is its kookie uncle, and that certainly rings true for the tone and style of these books.
One of the more unique things about Shannara, however, is that it’s not set in some fantastical world. It’s set in our world, in the future. Using nuclear war and the subsequent fallout as a backdrop, Brooks imagines a fantasy world rising from the ashes of our own, populating it with elves and other races. Occasionally the characters stumble across ruins — metal towers, and technology left behind from our time. These glimpses into a the apocalyptic past are immediate attention grabbers, and really help Shannara stand out from the crowd.
But at their core, these books are as fantasy as it gets. And while they’re light-hearted yarns, they often have deep depths, exploring topics like adventure and love and sacrifice that make them still resonate with readers today, 43 years after the series first began.
10. A return to Ice and Fire
Okay, okay, I know — you’ve already read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. But hear me out…
In the painfully large number of years that have passed since A Dance with Dragons came out, there have been a few other related works released in this universe. For as long and dark as the night before The Winds of Winter may be, these related works can make a return journey to Westeros worthwhile…especially when you consider that George R.R. Martin is going to finish Winds this year (hey, I’m an eternal optimist).
So, if you want to revisit Winterfell, King’s Landing or Casterly Rock, check out this reading list:
- First, you can always reread A Song of Ice and Fire, which you can now enjoy knowing the broad strokes of where it’s all headed. Suddenly, all those missteps and frustrating choices Dany makes in Meereen hit a little differently.
- A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a fantastic book comprised of three novellas that follow Ser Duncan the Tall and his squire, called Egg. Known as the Dunk and Egg books by the fandom, these shorter stories are actually pretty great, filled with the sorts of twists and political plays that made the main series so enjoyable.
- Fire & Blood is the newest release in the Westerosi catalog, only landing on shelves in 2018. It’s a recounting of the first few centuries of Targaryen rule in Westeros, and gets up close and personal with a ton of important figures, like Aegon the Conqueror and Maegor the Cruel. It also forms the basis for HBO’s upcoming House of the Dragon spin-off.
- And lastly, there’s The World of Ice and Fire. This is a big coffee table book with beautiful illustrations detailing the history and landscapes of the world. It takes us to places we never see in the series, like Sothoryos and Asshai, and explores some of the deep lore, like the first Long Night. And it actually reads almost like a novel, since it’s “written” by a maestor of the Seven Kingdoms as a gift for King Tommen.
Even though The Winds of Winter may not be in our desperate hands quite yet, the annals of Westeros have grown quite a bit since the latest mainline book came out in 2011. And since there’s no better storyteller to sweep us away into a seamless, breathtaking world, you might as well take in the sights and spend some time with your old friends Tyrion, Arya, Dany and Jon.