Today’s challenge prompt for Wyrd and Wonder is to talk about our favorite subgenre, Epic Fantasy. Now I am not much for the various definitions of the subgenre I found on google, but what it means for me is a fantasy novel or series which has high stakes (affecting the whole nation or the world), well defined magic system and a relatively big cast of characters. And even though I rarely see YA books included in epic fantasy lists, I am not gonna exclude them because I did fall in love with this genre because of many wonderful YA fantasy books and authors.
So, let me talk to you about some of my most favorite epic fantasy books from the past couple of years..
A Japanese mythology inspired YA Fantasy trilogy, I started Shadow of the Fox because of a recommendation from one of my dearest friends. And once I started, I fell in love. Yumeko is a kitsune or a nine-tailed fox who has a sheltered existence among monks until her whole world is upended, and she is given a responsibility which has huge implications for the world. She is a playful, mischievous and extremely kind young girl who embarks on her mission despite not knowing much about the world. During her journey, she makes enemies and friends, finds her own version of love and family, encounters many many creatures from Japanese mythological tales and has to fight hard for her and her friends’ survival. There is a lot of action in these pages, as well as joy and heartbreak, but ultimately what you’ll remember is just how amazing Yumeko is and how much endless capacity for kindness and compassion she has. This is one of the most satisfying but gut wrenching YA trilogies I’ve ever read and I can’t wait to read more by the author.
This series isn’t complete yet but I binge read The Rage of Dragons and The Fires of Vengeance and I can’t deny that it’s a very memorable African-inspired epic fantasy debut series. It may follow one character Tau and his quest for revenge, but through him, we also get to know everyone else who is fighting the wars, their histories and backstories, and how the training becomes a kind of bonding experience for them. We also get to find out about the age old history of the land and why the wars keep happening, the futility of it all and the toll it takes on everyone. It’s masterfully written series which is relentless in depicting the brutality of this world but we can’t help but find some little bit of hope within it.
To be honest, I don’t even know what I can say about An Ember in the Ashes quartet because I don’t remember the details about my reading experience much. This series is very intense and harrowing and relentless, and I still managed to binge read the first three books in about 2-3 days without a break – so you can imagine how my mental state was. I was in a daze, completely immersed in this dark world, worrying every moment for my beloved characters Laia and Elias and clinging on to the hope that they would be okay. This quartet is a real rollercoaster ride and I definitely recommend it to anyone who loves both intimate character moments as well as empire level and supernatural stakes.
This is probably the only standalone epic fantasy I can think of – I assume there might be more but this is the only one I seem to have encountered. I was so scared initially to pick up The Priory of the Orange Tree because it’s definitely intimidating and I definitely would never have read it if not for the ebook. At more than 800 pages, it’s big but also huge in scope with multiple kingdoms – each with their own rulers, beliefs, histories and even their own kinds of dragons. And it’s a fascinating world with each kingdom believing their own version of history, considering each other enemies instead of banding together to fight the ultimate villain. Add to that a very heartening portrayal of a sapphic relationship and this epic fantasy has everything you can ask for. The ending might feel a bit underwhelming for some readers, but the buildup is worth it because the author writes a very engaging and fascinating multi POV story.
I read The Fifth Season and the rest of the Broken Earth trilogy at a time when I was new to blogging as well new to the epic fantasy subgenre. When I was looking for some popular fantasy books to read at the time, this was the trilogy that showed up most in my google searches and that’s how I ended up reading it. And what a revelation it turned out to be. I will be honest, I took a while to even understand the complexity of this world and having one POV completely told through second person threw me into a loop but slowly it unraveled and I fell in love. This is epic fantasy at it’s best – great characters, a world whose geology is kind of it’s own villain, themes of oppression, belonging, motherhood and more explored in a very hard hitting manner, and a story that gets expansive with every sequel. This trilogy is a one of it’s kind unique experience that I think everyone should try.
I so rarely read epic fantasies written by male authors because I am intimidated by names like Sanderson, or the Malazan series or even something like The Wheel of Time, and I always had this idea that most epic fantasies would be like them, not simple and accessible to my taste. But I was somehow intrigued by the cover and premise of Blood of an Exile and it quickly became one of my all time favorite books. This trilogy might have the very common trope of enemy kingdoms trying to outdo and defeat each other but it’s so much more – the writing is very emotional and grips you right from the get go, it has it’s share of both humorous and quiet moments as well as high octane epic action sequences, loads and loads of dragons who not only are the predators in this world, but are an integral part of the ecology and whose rampant killing leads to some very unforeseen consequences for the world, a multi POV narrative where it’s very easy to fall in love with many characters, and a genuis supervillain who will give you the creeps. And if you want some more incentive – magic mushrooms !!!! Don’t give this a miss. It’s truly worth your time and it has one of my most favorite conclusions ever.
I’m gonna end my post with my final and a very special recommendation, The Poppy War trilogy. I truly did not know what I was getting into when I started this trilogy. I had heard some great things but also that it was dark and a difficult read, so I was probably the last to pick it up among my close blogger friends. But once I did, I understood why everyone was raving about it. Yes, it starts like any magic training school with lots of training montages and petty rivalries but it takes a harsh turn into the gruesome realities of war pretty quickly, and then never turns back. It’s one of the bleakest series I have ever read and I frankly never had much hope for my dear characters when I was reading through it, but it’s still very well written and packs quite a gut punch. And it’s also the series which inspired me to checkout more about Chinese history which gradually led into my current adoration and obsession for cdramas. It’ll always remain very memorable to me and I will definitely recommend this, especially to readers who love fantasies which take their inspiration from history, but do make sure you are in the right headspace to handle the dark themes of this story.
I do have more epic fantasies I could talk about but I am always blurry about the definition of the subgenre, so I think this list fits the bill perfectly and that’s where I will stop for now. I obviously do have many more epic fantasies on my TBR but never know if I will actually get to them, but let’s hope I will be able to add more to this list come next year.