So I’m opening this thread with two goals in mind:
1. Have a place to share your favorite epic-fantasy writer and or series, and look for recommendations from like-minded people.
For this I created a poll that includes the most popular fantasy writers. For the sake of simplicity I am intentionally leaving out strictly sci-fi series, although I do concede the border between sci-fi and fantasy doesn't really exist. Disclaimer, i haven't read all of these, but I know enough about them to include them on the list. This will serve both as a survey and as a starting point for recommendations. All of the writers and series mentioned are critically acclaimed and satisfy the "epic" fantasy criteria in my opinion. The spectrum is wide from lighter stuff to gritty and dark, but I wont exclude a series based just on being on the one extreme of the spectrum. So here it is:
J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) (7)
Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn, Stormlight Archives) (6)
Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time) (3)
G.R.R Martin (A song of ice and fire) (3)
J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) (2)
Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicles) (2)
Mark Lawrence (The Broken Empire) (1)
NONE of the above, and Im personally offended that you left out my favorite fantasy writer (1)
Glenn Cook (The Black Company) (1)
Terry Pratchett (Discworld) (1)
Joe Abercrombie (First Law) (0)
Scott Lynch (Gentleman Bastards) (0)
Robin Hobb (Realm of the Elderlings) (0)
37 total votes
Your vote: Who is the greatest epic fantasy writer of all time?
(Vote): J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings)
(Vote): G.R.R Martin (A song of ice and fire)
(Vote): Steven Erikson+ I.C.E (the Malazan series)
(Vote): Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicles)
(Vote): J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter)
(Vote): Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn, Stormlight Archives)
(Vote): Glenn Cook (The Black Company)
(Vote): Terry Pratchett (Discworld)
(Vote): Scott Lynch (Gentleman Bastards)
(Vote): Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time)
(Vote): Robin Hobb (Realm of the Elderlings)
(Vote): Mark Lawrence (The Broken Empire)
(Vote): Joe Abercrombie (First Law)
(Vote): NONE of the above, and Im personally offended that you left out my favorite fantasy writer
The second reason for this thread is to convince you that my pick for the best epic fantasy writer is the right one.
Brandon Sanderson might just be the best fantasy writer of all time, and yes, yes, i ve read pretty much all the big names, and while there are extremely talented lesser known writers I obviously couldn't read (yet), I’m comfortable with declaring Sanderson G.O.A.T. for the following reasons:
1. He uses hard magic systems. Hell, for me, he’s the father and patron saint of hard magic systems. For those who don’t know, hard magic system means that the magic is fairly clearly defined and it is bound by laws, and the characters/readers know these laws or can learn them in the course of the story. The users can’t just overcome obstacles by leveling up to a previously unknown power-level or concentrating really hard. There are things you can do and things you cannot. You cannot invent a new form of magic, just discover something that was possible all along. Example (sort of) from pop culture for hard magic system: Fullmetal alchemist + Show Spoiler +
Counterexamples, well, almost all other Fantasy. You have almost no way of guessing how the character will solve a problem, since you don’t know what is possible and what isn’t: LOTR (how strong is Gandalf? what can he do, what spells can he pull out? Sauron? Arwen? f-ing huge hawks?), Harry Potter (there are almost no limitations, think of basically anything, there could be a spell/potion that does exactly that. Wands are needed for spells? well kinda, but not really. Wands could be super powerful or just a tool) etc. Most fantasy series try to impose some rules but they are mostly vague and work-arounds can be found, especially if the hero is concentrating really hard and is really motivated.
The first Mistborn trilogy is the absolute best example of a hard magic system, imo. It has been criticized that it’s too exact and science-like. Like that’s bad…. The rules of the world could be explained in 3-4 sentences and they are never violated. Yet creative and surprising solutions and applications can be found, it’s great but simple. Characters can come up with new ways that haven’t been used before, but nothing outside of the confines of the system. And that new trick or way could be imitated by others following the “reveal” (much like videogames or board games). Sure, some people are better and stronger in the use of said magic, but then again some people are 10 times better with sword and shield (or mouse and keyboard) than others, so that is alright with me.
In Stormlight archives the system it is a bit more complex, the magic is multi-faceted, and at the start the characters (hence the reader) aren’t aware of many things. But the sets of rules are there nonetheless. Slowly we learn these rules and what certain type of character will be or won’t be able to do.
Brandon Sanderson came up with not one, not two but several independent hard magic systems that work wonderfully.
2. The characters. I would be exaggerating if I said all the characters are well written and unique. But most of them are! And even if you have seen the archetype of the character before, Sanderson has a different take on it. I especially love his characters that struggle with depression or anxiety or suppressed rage or mental illness. While this definitely isn’t unheard of in fantasy and in literature in general, his take on these problems really took me in. As someone who is fairly introverted, some characters’ inner monologues really hit home for me. And I’m not talking about idle monologues and dialogues that are put there so the writer can claim he “fleshed out” his characters. Especially in Stormlight archives, the inner struggles and progressions of the characters are very much the driving force behind the story. Without spoiling too much, one way a character can take the next step is to admit something they were in denial about or arrive at a conclusion about themselves (or their relationships to others) that they ve been searching for but couldn’t find.
He really has an impressive range, there’s quite a big difference in tone and coloring of the different series. For example Warbreaker is a bit lighter (but wonderfully written) and there isn’t so much violence in it, compared to say the Stormlight books. Most of the characters are some shade of grey, very few completely good or completely bad ones (but obviously some are universally loved or hated).
3. He has passion for writing and seems to be immune for writer’s block. He has, I don’t know, like ten running series (worlds) or possibly more. Some of those are from the same universe called "Cosmere" and are very loosely connected (basically independent words with hidden Easter eggs that let you know they exist in the same universe). You are not required to read all the Cosmere books to understand or enjoy them. And there are several books/series from him that have nothing to do with the Cosmere. As of right now there isn’t a single story that meaningfully connects two or more separate worlds, but there are hints that we will have such novels sometime in the distant future.
To put it in perspective, the Mistborn series is a planned triple trilogy in three completely separate eras (we have one complete trilogy so far) plus there’s a spinoff of 4 books that are not part of the originally planned 9 books. The books are around 500 pages each.
In the same "Cosmere", on a different world the "Stormlight archives" takes place, and that is planned to be a double five-book series. So far 3 books are released and each has around 1200 pages (that translates to about 48 hours of audio recording/book). And no, it’s not stretched intentionally too long, I haven’t had that feeling for a second.
There are 3 other worlds in the Cosmere where we have at least one novel (and at least one will have sequels). And there are novellas and we know there are gonna be new series in the Cosmere, again, on different worlds. Now you might think that whatever, the writer just creates worlds willy-nilly and says some of them are from the Cosmere. No. The Cosmere has its limitations as well, some worlds are in it and some others definitely aren’t. I don’t want to include any spoilers in this post so I won’t explain it any further.
If you re into epic and extremely large worlds Brandon Sanderson is number 1. I would guess that the “completion rate” of the Cosmere is somewhere around 20-30% right now and we’re talking about 12 full novels and close to that many novellas and short-stories. Easily 12.000 pages, possibly more. That’s already easily comparable to the Erickson’s Malazan series or Jordan’s Wheel of time (and btw the same Brandon Sanderson is the one who completed the series after Jordan’s death)
But hey, don’t get an anxiety attack from that, you can absolutely read and fully enjoy just one book or one series from the “Cosmere” and ignore that there might be other stories loosely connected to it.
Now I don’t want to diss on other writers, but if you’re a fan of the ASOIAF series or read The Name of the Wind way back when… well, you know why I consider this an important factor.
4. The writing techniques and world-building
Brandon is a world building master. Fake histories, fake geographies, lots of made-up religions and cultures and races and customs and fighting styles, and above all, magic systems. He somehow finds names for his places and people that are easy to remember yet unique. He manages to come up with different societal structures and competing religions for each of his worlds, and presents them in a way that is easy to understand. He uses lots of interesting techniques such as “a book within a book” or the “story insides the story”. Some of his books are narrated from the multiple POV of several characters.
There are no fillers, each page contains relevant information. Ok, maybe that s not completely true, but it does feel like it. I have never experienced a “gosh, just get on with the story, who cares about this….” moment while reading. Tiny little details that you scrolled over turn out to be extremely relevant plot devices, or they are foreshadowing things to come. I don’t want to say his worlds are better built then GRRM’s ASOIAF or Tolkien’s LOTR. But they’re very much comparable, and again he has multiple worlds so I have to factor that in. Sure, GRRM made such a crazy impressive fake-history and background story for his characters that you cannot find a writing-inconsistency anymore no matter what, and you can find detailed information about, say, the great-grandfather of any given character from Game of Thrones. But on the down side, he probably has an anxiety attack just thinking about writing any new material in the series, fearing it won’t live up to the crazy high standard that he cultivated, so there’s that.
So, let me know, who do you consider the best fantasy writer, and what are your criteria for selecting him/her.