Updated: Sep 18, 2022
Everything written in grey at least tries to be respectable. My commentary is in orange.
[In no particular order] (frequently updated)
Sabriel (The Old Kingdom)
By: Garth Nix
Behind a old and towering wall in the north,
the Old Kingdom sits in a time of it's own.
Necromancy is forbidden for all but one, the
Abhorsen, who uses their skills to banish the dead beyond the ninth gate.
Holy shit balls my dudes. Incredibly original. The plot is something otherworldly, given the uniqueness of the world, there is always something strange and unknown that can and will throw things off track. The magic system, using bells to command the dead, is not only inherently interesting, it sets the tone for the key functions of the world. The characters as incredible, their growth very real. Nix manages to make you care deeply from them even when they're being little shits. Also, talking cat.
The Mirror Visitor Quartet
By: Christelle Dabos
The Sphere of the earth is shattered. Humanity survives on floating chunks of Earth called Arks which are ruled over by the mysterious and god-like Family Spirits. Each Family Spirit has a unique power they pass down to their descendants. The story starts with an arranged (and generally unhappy) marriage.
Y'all. I had not one single fucking clue of what I was getting into when I started this series. It's got that "I'm-gonna-pull-my-fucking-hair-out" social tension of Wuthering Heights, and the acid-trip world/magic system that would beat up Lewis Carroll any day (I mean the man was probably drunk on absinth all the time, it wouldn't be that hard to beat him.)
His Dark Materials
By: Philip Pullman
A true masterclass in storytelling which follows the struggles of Lyra, a young girl in world a like-but-not-exactly our world in which a person has a companion Deamon that takes the shape of an animal.
The story begins when Lyra overhears a few things she should not that puts her smack in the middle of an inter-dimensional clash.
Please show me to the rock you've been cowering beneath if you've not read HDM. Seriously, I want to see the rock because you're either purposefully obtuse or you've been traumatically deprived of this story. I will brook no arguments. Shut up and read it.The way that Pullman approaches religion, power, control, and determination put all of his peers to shame.
By: Pat Rothfuss
A D&D style legend with lots of magic and beautiful writing.
Kvothe is the son of a troupe of traveling bards struck by tragedy. He is also, seemingly, a natural at Sympathy Magic. Constantly blessed by the impossible and tormented by the improbable, Kingkiller Chronicle is presented as the story of man's life told by himself. In other words, highly exaggerated.
I know, I know, how many of us nerds are going to insist you read this book? Every damn one of them, that's how many. Listen, the final book isn't out. Stop waiting. I'll whine with you about it, but if you've yet to pick up kingkiller you're a fool.
By: Robin Hobb
Fitz is the bastard son of the king-in-waiting, endowed with two wildly different magics, and thrown into a world of plotting and secrets. A story of humanity, evil, coming-of-age, and mistakes.
*Kicks open door* LISTEN UP MOTHERFUCKERS cause I'm about to set the record straight. YOU'RE DAMN RIGHT IM OBSESSED. *Slaps hood* this baby's got EVERYTHING. Poisoning, secret passages, ANIMAL COMPANIONS THAT CAN FUCKING TALK, magic if magic was like heroin, the single most self important entitled little son of bitch antag. THIS IS THE HILL I WILL DIE ON. NO ONE COMES CLOSE TO HOBB. No, I will not be accepting complaints at this time.
Kingdom of Grit
By Tyler Whitesides
I have two words for you. Dragon. Shit. Yes, the magic in this series is from different flavors of dragon poop. No, I am not kidding.
Also it starts as a heist book and then quickly evolves into an insane and, dare i say tittilating (how the fuck do you spell that?), story.
I don't know how this one got swept under the rug. It's the epitome of a hard magic system and it also features some well constructed puzzles and twists.
This is the series that has sat unread on your shelf. Listen closely and you might hear me screaming "PICK IT UP" from inside the book. Someone come rescue me, I'm stuck.
By: Scott Lynch
The first and finest in the modern fantasy thief trope. Quick wit, incredible gall, and impossible challenges face the thief of legend known as (no one's 100% sure but) the Thorn of Camorr. Dual timelines tell an origin story and interconnected present.
Do you hear that distant violin? I'm holding a funeral for your emotional wellbeing because if you haven't read these, you're about to get WRECKD. I bit off all my fingernails reading the Gentleman Bastards. I got three infected tear-ducts. My library shelves revolted when I read aloud a single line.
I verily forsook so many responsibilities while reading that I have now amassed more debt than the United States.
The Starless Sea
By Erin Morgenstern
Sometimes, to a very particular kind of person, a doorway will appear where it shouldn't. And should they choose to go through, they'd find themselves in a labyrinthine library full of forgotten knowledge and lays upon layers of history. The library faces threats within and without its bounds.
Lovable gay academic who wears scarves is the main character. Oh? OH YOU WANT MORE. FINE. MAGICAL ENDLESS LIBRARY. CONSPIRACIES. I'm getting tired of yelling. Fables, symbology, honey? A crotchety old man. A femme fatal who is not 2-D and gives precisely 0 fucks.
This book is a cup of tea spiked with some kind of really expensive bourbon.
By: Jay Kristoff
This Roman inspired assassin's tale is thick with shadows, sex, and blood. Mia Covere has sworn vengeance against the empire for the murder of her clan. The "Little Crow" journeys to the Red Church to train in the art of assassination. There she, and her animated shadow cat, Mr. Kindly, uncover one secret too many.
It's got fucking, it's got murder. It's every American's dream. Did you like Game of Thrones? Then don't fucking read this. I might piss a lot of people off by saying this, but Nevernight could devour GoT without batting an eye. Seriously there's a giant pool of blood that acts as a portal. It's metal.
The Dark Tower
By: Stephen King
It's written by Stephen King. It's at least worth a shot. Ha. Shot. That's a joke about. Well, yeah anyway.
If you've read King, this is the lynchpin in his universe of terror. Don't worry if you're not a king scholar like SOME people on the internet. Dark Tower is a perfect crossroads of Fantasy, Macabre, and even (though this surprised me), Westerns.
Now normally I fucking despise westerns. John Wayne did the exact same thing in like 100 movies and people are still talking about it. Also, I have no fucking room for the "I'm a big macho man and I need to do a violence because I can't handle my feelings."
Wow, I'm off topic. It's good. There are vampires.
By: Ursula K LeGuin
Some rat bastard professor in a college course told me that LeGuin has done everything that most modern authors are called groundbreakers or visionaries for. I say rat bastard, but he was lovely man.
An OVERWHELMING majority of stories have their roots in Earthsea. These books take the tropes and rip them into shreds so fine you'd sneeze at them. Was that a good metaphor?
Ged is the original Dumb Fucking Protag Who Would Totally Be Fine If He Just Behaved Reasonably.
This series also has one of my fav female leads. And Dragons.
The Neverending Story
By: Michael Ende
Buckle up Ladies, theydies, gentleman, and our esteemed friends who's existence cannot be summed up in a single word.
This is the book.
I mean like, if there was only one book ever. It's this book.
It's completely meta but it's not fucking obnoxious about it. It's reached a pinnacle of originality that is no longer attainable by mortal minds. It's a story about stories and imagination. Also it's a six ton load of nostalgia that will absolutely suffocate you.
If you've seen the movies, know that the first one is incredibly accurate except on a few counts. The second one, HOWEVER, is, I can only assume, the product of cocaine and a script-writer who couldn't fucking read.
By: Christopher Paolini
Orphan Eragon gets a dragon egg magically thrown at his head. The dragon inside, Spahira, chooses Eragon as her rider, the first new dragon rider in a long long time. Galbatorix, the current monarch, does not like this because he is no longer the only asshole with a fire-breathing terror as a pet.
A wide world with a classic fantasy feeling, the story has the unique magic of its predecessors.
THERE IS NO ERAGON MOVIE, WE DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE TRASH. Look at that dragon's face. She's got a secret and you want to know it.
The Faithful and the Fallen
By: John Gwynne
A harsh and unforgiving tale of wolves, chosen ones, giants, angels, and desperation.
I don't know WHO THE FUCK this man thinks he is to get away with writing this fucking greek EPIC of a nordic fantasy. IT HAS A WOLF. I felt that was important to mention. ALSO GANDALF. Not the white wizard himself but if the shoe fits. PLOT TWISTS. A BRIDGE MADE OF SWORDS. It's grimdark if grimdark would ever shut the fuck up about how edgy it is. Like this is the actual hipster at the party, not the guy smoking in one of the bedrooms and talking about a philosophy book he only half read.
Well, that got away from me, but give it a shot if you liked A Song of Fire and a series title that's too goddamned long.
By: Brandon Sanderson
Yeah, we're skipping the blurb again.
What kind of fantasy rec list wouldn't include Brando Sando? Magic is breath and color. That's all I'm gonna say. If you're looking for an introduction to Sanderson, Warbreaker is where to start. It is the epitome of his use of hard magic systems, it's also the epitome of his style.
There is a snarky, talking sword who basically just wants to kill but he's really chill about it.
Some people love this one (me) some can't stand it. I maintain it's a good introduction because even if you're not huge on the story, this will give you a sense of what you're getting into.