I have found a stack of adult epic fantasy recommendations for you! If you are looking for epic fantasy with main characters who are actual adults or if you want epic fantasy with some edge to it, then you are looking for adult epic fantasy.
To me adult epic fantasy is always set in a secondary world and is about a story that is much bigger than the protagonists. There might be one or many points of view. The scale of the story tend to be bigger and to grow tough the book. There is always magic and there is likely to be creatures we don’t know from our world. Unlike young adult epic fantasy it might not be clear who the bad guys are and the morals might be a lot more grey. That is not to say that all adult epic fantasy is grimdark. There is definitely room for hopepunk as well within the genre.
My adult epic fantasy recommendations are a mix of newer books and quite old ones.
Adult epic fantasy recommendations
Series: Phèdre’s Trilogy
This is very much an adult story. Phèdre nó Delaunay grows up in a country where the courtesans are priestess and revered in the society. She has been turned over to one of the houses who trains the courtesans as a child and is training to become one. That sounds cheap sleazy doesn’t it? Well it isn’t! The world building is solid and the plot is captivating. Phedre is a very strong character who has so much power without being a warrior. There are some rather hard s/m scenes in the book, so if you are squeamish about that kind of thing, this is not for you. I very much enjoyed the book and I strongly recommend it. The first book is especially good and can be read on its own.
Series: The Black Magician Trilogy
The protagonist Sonea is an extremely magically gifted young woman who gets drafted into starting at the magic academy that is run by the Magicians’ Guild. Once she starts at the school she is an outsider from the get go and a talented one at that with teachers who are uncomfortable with her level of power. The plot is twisting and turning and playing with the reader along the way. The series is extremely good and satisfying. A number of my friends has read it as well and so far everyone has liked it, so perhaps you will like the series as well. And no it isn’t just a darker Harry Potter.
Series: The Inheritance Trilogy
This really is an epic story on the gods level of power. Yeine Darr is an outsider coming to the capital of the hundred thousand kingdoms – coming into the palads no less. Finding herself surrounded by gods and power plays inside power plays she tries to navigate this strange place. The people surrounding her is apparently family, but they do not feel or act like family – they act like power players – drunken with power. Jemisin have done some really impressive world building in this book. Not only have she build a world and a whole mythology, she have also told her story in a truly enjoyable way.
Series: Kingmaker, Kingbreaker
The duology adhere to a lot of epic fantasy genre convention and at the same time feel very fresh and different – at least the did to me. The protagonist, Asher , is a young man who isn’t a very sympathetic character on the surface but that is part of the interest in this book. I found myself rooting for him anyway. He is magically gifted in a land what needs it but where it is forbidden. He is also the son of a fisherman and very much a rough character. The books are funny, dark, with good dialog and enjoyable. Unlike so many epic fantasy books the plot don’t get slowed down by endless descriptions or too much exposition. To me it was one of those books that was just hard to put down. Be aware that there is an evil cliffhanger so get the next book before getting to the end or you will be frustrated.
Series: Farseer Trilogy
Young Fitz living on the edge of the society in the royal castle when he becomes the assassin’s apprentice. At first it kind of a game to him, but it quickly becomes very real and Fitz struggles with the moral aspects of his new career. The book had a huge emotional impact on me, it frankly made me weep so many times. At the same time I was unable to put it down. It sucked me in and kept me reading even when I was on vacation with friends, they had to drag me away from the series. Robin Hobbs is a master at spinning political plots and intrigue. This a grim fantasy, perhaps on the edge of the grim dark subgenre. Fitz is quite young at the beginning of the first book but it is not a children’s book.
Series: Night Angel
A more contemporary take on the idea of an assassin’s apprentice as the protagonist is The Way of Shadows. Unlike Fitz, Azoth seeks to become an assassin because he wants to become so dangerous that nobody will ever dare to bully him ever again. The first book is both about his training, about him living with having the skills he earned and about the political games that gets him mixed up with. At the same time he is still a young man, who wants what most young men wants, friends, a girlfriend to have fun, to relax. To have a life. But being one of the most dangerous men in the region means that you earn yourself some enemies and like in any superhero story that puts his dear ones in danger. This is not just gratuitous violence, the book very much deals with the consistencies of wanting to be a ninja. The characters are not likeable from the get-go, but the action kept me interested and the characters does develop. The book kept me up all night reading more than once.
Series: Creature Court Trilogy
This book does not adhere to the classic tropes of fantasy. It is set in a city that feels a lot like an Italian renaissance city, but also have a lot of modern elements. It is quite it’s own and different. It is complicated, poetic and beautiful. The protagonist is very talented dressmaker living with her two good friends. The book is also about the “creature court” that defend the city against an ongoing attack from somewhere else. The court is full of power play between the members who were all taken in a children and who never really had any adults to socialize them. It is a savage place and our young dressmaker will have to learn how to navigate it. The book is on the edge of weird all the time, flirting with the it. Which is part of what makes it work but also part of what makes it almost impossible to explain. If you are tired of stock fantasy, this might be one to pick up.
Series: Rogue Agent
There are not a lot of funny books on this list, but this one is definitely funny. It is a humorous fantasy in the vain of Discworld. This is another epic urban fantasy book. Gerald Dunwoody is a not very competent wizard who gets involved in a huge plot to take over the world – which he of course tries to stop in his own bumbling manner. It is entertaining and it plays with the tropes of the genre while still keeping with in them. There are some kick ass female secondary characters who tries very hard to outshine poor Gerald. It isn’t shelved as young adult, but I don’t see any reason younger readers couldn’t enjoy this series.
Series: Raine Benares
This is another of those urban epic fantasies. The setting is more in the vain of a modern roleplaying fantasy world than what you find in your traditional epic fantasy book. The cities are huge, with nightclubs, theaters and schools of magic. The world is interesting, the action is good, the story is not too see-through or complex. It feels very much like a great roleplaying campaign with the best game master ever. The heroine is competent, funny, sexy and gets to have a ton of fun but is in constant danger. The writing style is describing enough to let you imagine what the world looks like without bogging you down with page long descriptions of everything and it’s cat. There are no boring traveling sections wondering though mashes or anything like that. It is fast paced and funny.
Series: Tamír Triad
This book had my hypnotized. I read it as an audiobook and even though it didn’t really pick up until half way though I just kept listening, making up excuses to sit down and listed. It is a very dark book. It kind of have the feel of a Greek tragedy where someone is trying to manipulate fate and thereby making it come true. Tobin one of the royal princes is really a princess magically put into a male body. The book deals with some really interesting gender issues. Tobin is destined to save the kingdom from horrible mismanagement (the land is dying) in classic epic fantasy style, but all the tropes are warped and strange. And I don’t think I have ever read something where the price to pay to fulfill the destiny was quite so high. If you want to read an epic fantasy book that is really different, then this is one for you.
Series: The Dandelion Dynasty
The setting of The Grace of Kings is a Chinese inspired island kingdom with invented technology and meddling gods but without much magic.
The story is quite a slow build with the raising conflict slowly building, unfolding, building and unfolding. The story is told with shifting point of views that gives us insight into many different characters arch – a la Game of Thrones. The story treats all of them with the same amount of empathy and dry wit no matter the status or class of the PoV. I thoroughly enjoyed The Grace of Kings and was talking at everyone I got into contact with about how much I enjoyed it. So this is a strong recommendation.
Edit 2023: I have removed David Eddings from the list as he is a horrible human being. I have also added Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings as it very much belong on the list.
This review was originally posted: February 14, 2014. Updated and edited July 2, 2023