You used to love reading books like the Hobbit, or the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the Dark Elf trilogy, but then you grew up and lost touch with the fantasy genre. (That is what happened to me, anyways.)
But there are now fantasy books for adults, because there were plenty of other children who read the same books as you did, and they went on to create fantasy novels that grapple with the complexities of the world we all grew up to inhabit.
These works are no longer simply for children, and modern fantasy books have taken an interesting literary and brooding turn. Without a doubt, or, rather, with great doubt, these new fantasy books are winning adult readers by droves because of the intellectual risks they take, their earnest and lapidary prose, and the entertaining and imaginative worlds they whisk their audience away to.
Readers of contemporary fantasy seem to hail from two backgrounds: you either saw the Game of Thrones on TV, or you read Harry Potter. Or both.
Or neither of these, but you have a friend who has seen the Game of Thrones, read all the works of George R. R. Martin, and of course read Harry Potter with you when you were growing up. Unlike you, they kept reading within the genre as they grew up, and you are continually hearing them rave about the latest fantasy novel they are engrossed in.
Their eulogizing has piqued your curiosity because deep down, you want to reignite the imaginative journeys the books of your childhood used to take you on. But you want your next book to be a little more updated with the concerns of your modern self.
If you are returning to the fantasy genre, or are just now learning about it, you are in for a real treat: we are in the Golden Age of Fantasy Literature, and almost all of the texts being authored are in some way or another created for adults.
Which Fantasy Books for Adults Should You Read?
So, if you grew up reading the best fantasy books like the Lord of the Ring, the Hobbit, and the tales of Drizzt Do’Urden, what should you look to start reading?
Well, what do you want from your next book?
- Moral ambiguity?
- Magic Schools and Magic Universities?
- Urban settings?
- Strong Female Characters?
- Diseased and Sickly Main Characters?
Luckily, each of the books below have a smattering of all of those!
Splatterism: The Disquieting Recollections of a Minotaur Assailant (An Upbuilding Edifying Discourse)
A failed suicide attempt unites the last living minotaur, Evander, with the eminent sorcerer and perfidious rake Scammander, who might have lost all of his magical knowledge or might have just stashed it elsewhere to make room for his biggest plot yet.
Bonded by suffering and a special antipathy for humanity, the two set out to do what all villains dream of: destroying the world, one civilization at a time.
Is there anyone who can stop them?
If you are looking for a book which has assassins, magic, wit and wordplay and complexly fashioned anti-heroes bent on exercising their will-to-power, Splatterism should be your next read.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Patrick Rothfuss has revived a long dormant lyricism and returned a golden song to all readers of epic fantasy. This is a series I am particularly fond of, and even penned a panegyric to Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. Though to be clear, I don’t think the fantasy community understands that the work is a well-rehearsed ruse.
The Name of the Wind is both an enthralling fable and also a fable about stories themselves. It centers around Kvothe, a precocious scion of a travelling theatre troupe whose parents are slaughtered by some very powerful and very, very dark beings.
You might as well read The Wise Man’s Fear which continues Kvothe’s epic rise and fall and whisks him away to such forbidden realms as a faery kingdom and a band of mercenaries.
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
If you want a novel full of backstabbing and quick witted rakes then you should start reading The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.
The Black Company by Glen Cook
The Black Company follows a band of mercenaries as they leave their former employer amidst a riot in a filthy, sweaty city. George R. R. Martin has noted that these dark, gritty books were an influence on his own texts. If you want anti-heroes and bloody battles, you should try reading dark fantasy books.
This fantasy series for adults is composed of three books:
- The Black Company
- Shadows Linger
- The White Rose
Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and the Last Argument of Kings) centers around a senescent mage, an abused, ferocious slave-girl focused on revenge, a spoiled prince forced to waste time as a soldier, a dashing knight reduced to a crippled torturer, and a barbarian named Logen Ninefingers. Additionally, if you are looking for strong female characters, I’d would be an injustice if I didn’t mention Best Served Cold, also composed by Abercrombie.
The Darkness that Comes Before (Prince of Nothing Series) by R. Scott Bakker
For an incredible blend of dark philosophy and literature, be sure to delve into the work of R. Scott Bakker. His Prince of Nothing series contains perhaps some of the best fantasy books for adults currently available.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant
When a foreign power known as the Empire of Masks invades Baru’s native island of Taranoke they bring technology like science, soap, and writing and use their colonizing powers to rewrite her history, outlaw her customs, and infect her slaughter her brothers, sisters, and fathers. Baru does the unthinkable: she bottles her hate and decides to beat this foe at its own game. A complex and fascinating read that maps neatly onto current socio-historical discourse, The Traitor Baru Cormorant is an intellectual feast not to be missed.
There used to be a stigma surrounding the fantasy genre: that it wasn’t serious enough for adults to bother reading it. However, I think if you read any of the books above, you will realize how incredible fantasy books for adults are, and that now is the best time to be reading them.