Look, I love
Game of Thrones as much as the next nerd . I am all about dragons, zombies, and dragon-zombies. But A Song of Ice and Fire is not the only fantasy epic out there. There are many other complex, beautiful, and pulse-pounding series of fantasy books in the world—and some of them even stray from the medieval-Europe-but-with-magic formula. If you've already read every book by George R.R. Martin, or if you're just looking for some magic that doesn't revolve around a handful of moody Stark kids, then check out one of these other excellent high fantasy epics.
First, to be clear: "high fantasy" is always set in an alternate or fictional world. Ordinary fantasy can take place in our own "real" world (think vampire romances and the parts of Harry Potter where they walk around London). But
high fantasy sets out to create something entirely new: different histories, different maps, different systems of government, dragons, etc. And while Tolkien's Middle-Earth or Martin's Westeros are a great jumping off point, there are many other worlds to explore. Some of these books will bring you more knights, beasties, sorcery, and sword fights, while others veer off in entirely new directions. So pick up one of these series, and head out on your next epic quest: The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula Le Guin
To start off with, The Earthsea Cycle is a must read for
any fantasy fan. Set on the archipelago of Earthsea, the books follow the sorcerer Ged and the other islanders as they contend with magic schools, seafaring, necromancy, and dragons. Click here to buy. The Imaro Series by Charles R. Saunders
If you're looking for classic,
Conan the Barbarian-style swords and sorcery story, check out the world of Imaro. Set on the continent of Nyumbani, Saunders' novels chuck all the vaguely European medieval fantasy nonsense out the window in favor of high octane adventure in a universe based on pre-colonial Africa. Click here to buy. Phèdre's Trilogy by Jacqueline Carey
For sexually charged fantasy and Machiavellian scheming, pick up Phèdre's Trilogy. Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman sold into indentured servitude. Trained as a spy and a courtesan, Phèdre soon discovers that she might be the only one who can stop a sinister plot on her homeland... if she can tell her friends from her enemies in time.
Click here to buy. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
When you want some good old fashioned Tolkien-esque fantasy, but you've already read all of Tolkien, the time has come for Robert Jordan. The Wheel of Time is a sweeping struggle between good and evil, featuring all manner of battles, thrones, wolves, and plot twists.
Click here to buy. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
What if gods could be harnessed... and used as weapons? This is the premise of The Inheritance Trilogy, which follows Yeine Darr, an outcast of mixed blood. She finds herself suddenly thrust into the running for the coveted throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but the throne is not so easily won...
Click here to buy. Obsidian and Blood by Aliette de Bodard
In an alternate Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire, the end of the world seems imminent. Acatl, the high priest, must find a missing priestess and appease the gods at once, or risk breaking the boundaries between the lands of the living and the dead. It's part noir mystery, part otherworldly adventure, and all set in Aliette de Bodard's fantastical version of ancient Mexico.
Click here to buy. The Damar Series by Robin McKinley
For a romance-adventure featuring a tough lady warrior, visit the lands of Damar. Harry Crewe is an orphan girl living in the desert country, until the day she's kidnapped by the Hillfolk King. He has big plans for young Harry, but first she must learn to fight and hold her own against the frightening Hillfolk men.
Click here to buy. Temeraire by Naomi Novik
French dragons. If the thought of dragons in the Napoleonic Wars is at all appealing to you, Naomi Novik has it covered. Temeraire is filled with aerial battles, alternate European history, and plenty of plucky dragon riders. Click here to buy. Bas-Lag by China Miéville
The city of New Crobuzon sits beneath the bleached ribs of some huge, forgotten beast, in the off-beat world of Bas-Lag. Here humans co-exist with all manner of other humanoids, from scarab-headed women to giant birds. It's a messy, industrialized fantasy world, for anyone who's tired of the faux middle ages.
Click here to buy. The Dandelion Dynasty by Ken Liu
Charming bandit Kuni Garu and stern nobleman Mata Zyndu have precious little in common. But an uprising against the emperor brings them together, forging a fierce friendship. That is, until they find themselves on opposite sides of a war in this epic tale of gods, armies, and airships.
Click here to buy. The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard. In a world of strict bloodlines and "virtuous" living, though, he has no place at court, so Fitz is cast out as a child. His only solace is his connection with animals, which turns out to come in handy when he finally returns to court as an assassin's apprentice.
Click here to buy. Eternal Sky by Elizabeth Bear
In the world of Eternal Sky, different lands exist under different colored skies: blue, cherry, black, and so forth. Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, and Samarkar, a former princess, must join forces to try and keep all these multi-hued empires together, as civil wars and sorcery threaten to destroy everything they've ever known.
Click here to buy. The Valdemar Saga by Mercedes Lackey
If you really, truly want to disappear into a sprawling fantasy epic, take a trip to Valdemar. There are at least at least 34 novels and nine anthologies set in or around this fictional nation, so you'll have plenty to work with. In Valdemar, young women train to be guards for their queens, gryphons fight on the battlefield, and magic and intrigue abound.
Click here to buy. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss
Kvothe has lived many lives. He's been a feral orphan, a traveling player, a magic student and, finally, a kingkiller and fugitive. The Kingkiller Chronicle manages to spin a far-off fantasy world while also giving us a fully realized story about coming of age (with the added complication of regicide).
Click here to buy.