The Lord of the Rings is arguably the most influential tale in modern fantasy—particularly the branches we think of as high and epic fantasy. From Ursula K. Le Guin to Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, all roads lead back to Tolkien and the Shire.
Fortunately, the long shadow of J.R.R. Tolkien has led to a wealth of equally rich fantasy worlds ripe for exploration and adventure. That's good news for readers who yearn to venture alongside unlikely heroes on epic quests filled with danger, struggle, and perhaps even a bit of a humor. These are ten of our favorite books like Lord of the Rings.
The Face in the Frost
While John Bellairs is arguably best known for his Lewis Barnavelt series, including The House With a Clock in Its Walls, he’s no stranger to the world of epic fantasy.
The Face in the Frost centers around a young misfit wizard named Prospero and his necromancer friend, Roger. While on the hunt for a mysterious book, the duo are forced to flee from a dangerous band of pursuers and driven headlong into a potentially deadly adventure.
Three Hearts and Three Lions
This classic man-out-of-time adventure sees a World War II-era Resistance fighter transported to a medieval fantasy world. Holger Carlson, a Danish engineer working to defeat the Nazis, is wounded and left for dead. He wakes up in fantastical parallel universe populated by knights and mythical creatures.
Holger is surprised to discover that he is a well-known hero in this world, and is swept into an epic battle of good vs. evil where the scientific knowledge of his home timeline could prove the key saving both worlds from destruction.
Descent into Hell
Descent into Hell is fascinating metaphysical thriller set against the backdrop of a small suburban community theater. As the denizens of Battle Hill – a small suburb just outside of London – prepare to stage a play written by one of their own, the group begins to struggle against demons both imagined and unsettlingly real.
Battle Hill is not like other places—it is a nexus of the past and present, of the mundane and the fantastical. As the staging of the play grows closer, the actors find themselves drawn into dark struggle as the pathways to heaven and hell begin to open around them.
Author Charles Williams was influenced by his time with The Inklings, an Oxford University-affiliated writing group that produced some of the most respected fantasy writers ever, including C.S. Lewis and Tolkien himself.
The Name of the Wind
The first volume of The Kingkiller Chronicles introduces the tale of Kvothe, a renowned swordsman, notorious magician and perhaps the most wanted man in the world. When a traveling scribe is saved from death by a mysterious innkeeper, he recognize the man as the legendary Kvothe and convinces him to record his story.
What follows is a tale of survival, tragedy, and adventure set against the backdrop of an extraordinary man’s life. From his childhood among a group of traveling players to the brazen bid for acceptance into a vaunted school of magic, Kvothe’s tale is one of resilience and redemption that few others can match.
The first volume in Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower series introduces readers to legendary gunslinger Roland Deschain. Drawing inspiration from both Tolkien’s legendarium and the western films of his youth, King crafts a dark and fascinating tale centered in a decaying fantasy world that is one part spaghetti western and one part Arthurian legend by way of Middle-earth.
And it all sits at the nexus of wider Stephen King universe. The story of Roland’s hunt for the enigmatic Man in Black and the Dark Tower he serves is a thrilling tale of tragedy and redemption unlike anything else King has ever written.
The Fifth Season
N.K. Jemisin’s Hugo Award-winner imagines a far future world where the Earth’s continents have shifted into one massive landmass and the planet is plagued by violent earthquakes. There are individuals who can harness the power of the earth to stave off the earthquakes – but they are both revered and feared for their abilities.
The Fifth Season centers around three individuals linked by destiny: Damaya, a fierce young woman just discovering her powerful abilities; Syenite, who will be forced to breed with her mentor but stumbles onto a terrible secret; and Essen, a broken woman searching for the husband who killed her son and kidnapped her daughter.
Their fates will determine if the world survives or is literally torn apart.
The Deed of Paksenarrion
If you’re looking for classic high fantasy, The Deed of Paksenarrion is an underrated gem.
The story centers around a shepherd’s daughter who runs away from her home at the age of seventeen in search of excitement and adventure. The girl, Paksenarrion (“Paks” for short) soon falls in with a company of mercenaries, spends some time in the service of a duke, and finally is drawn into the quest for a lost elven prince.
This undertaking will bring her up against the wrath of the gods and push her further than she ever could have imagined.
The Eye of the World
Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time is among the most celebrated and influential works in fantasy fiction. Since the series debuted in 1990 with The Eye of the World, Wheel of Time has taken its place alongside classics like The Lord of the Rings andThe Earthsea Cycle as a foundational piece of epic fantasy.
With The Eye of The World, Jordan’s unnamed land has entered its Third Age under the threat of world-shattering danger. Four young villagers are forced to flee their home and set off on a perilous adventure—one foretold in prophecy and with the fate of their world and time itself hanging in the balance.
The Grace of Kings
The first novel in Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty is a sprawling epic fantasy of dueling destinies and an empire on the brink. Kuni Garu is a charming bandit and Mata Zyndu is the stoic, fearless son of a deposed duke.
They could not be more different—until an uprising against the emperor brings them together. Their adventures make them fast friends, but once the emperor is overthrown, the two find themselves at odds as the heads of separate factions. Can they once again set their differences aside and lead their world to a better tomorrow?
Graceling centers around Katsa, a young, headstrong woman in the Seven Kingdoms. Katsa is one of a handful of people born with a Grace – special talents of a varied sort. Katsa’s Grace, however, is one of death. She can kill anyone with her bare hands.
While she is the niece of a the King, rather than living the life of a royal, she is forced to ply her skill as the King’s brutal enforcer. When she encounters another Graced with skills in combat, she sees a way out of the life she is forced into and begins to see the unexpected truth behind her own Grace.
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Featured still from "The Lord of the Rings" via New Line Cinema