Almost seven decades after the publication of its first volume, J.R.R. Tolkien’s foundational epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings remains incredibly influential. A success upon initial publication, it soared to cultural dominance when the counterculture of the 1960s discovered it. The next decade saw a flurry of imitators attempt to satisfy the demand for similar stories, and every fantasy series since has been compared in one way or another to Tolkien’s original. If you’re one of the many who have fallen under the spell of Middle Earth and the struggle against the dark lord Sauron and now find themselves in need of their next great fantasy adventure, don’t despair. Here are 10 books like Lord of the Rings.
1. The Shannara Series, by Terry Brooks
Brooks published the first book in this mega-series, The Sword of Shannara, in 1977. Over the course of nearly 40 books, The Shannara Series has slowly evolved from pure fantasy to a sci-fantasy hybrid. It’s also one of the most inventive, and one of the most sprawling. Covering thousands of years of history in The Four Lands, the Shannara Series has the epic feel and mythic flavor that made Lord of the Rings special. What’s truly remarkable is the way Brooks takes some of the standard fantasy tropes introduced in the earliest novels and slowly reveals them to be more surprising than suspected as the true history of the Four Lands is revealed.
2. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
Over the course of 10 books divided into three distinct series, Donaldson subverts the fantasy tropes that Tolkien and his many imitators established. His protagonist, bitter leper Thomas Covenant, struggles to accept the reality of the magical world called The Land he’s drawn into—and the frequently tragic consequences of his disbelief. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: The Unbeliever is a raw, personal story of suffering and redemption set against a truly epic struggle of good against evil. Donaldson covers thousands of years of The Land’s history, slowly digging into the distant past of a world where the earth offers immense power to those who can control it—including the incredibly rare and powerful white gold that Covenant brings with him.
3. The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu
Taking inspiration from Chinese history, Liu sets his story in Dara. Once a collection of independent kingdoms, Dara was united by Emperor Mapidere. When the emperor dies, a rebellion breaks out led by two unique and different men, former thief Kuni Garu and aristocratic warrior Mata Zyndu. Initially friends and allies, their different belief systems slowly convert them to enemies. Liu’s fast pacing and lush world-building make The Grace of Kings an ideal follow-up for any Tolkien fan—especially if you’re seeking to break away from the Western European influences sported by so many fantasy stories in Tolkien’s wake.
4. The Wheel Of Time, by Robert Jordan
Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson, who completed The Wheel of Time after Jordan’s untimely death) embraced traditional epic fantasy but introduced a cyclical concept as the world grinds through Ages that echo their prior incarnations. A young man, Rand Al’Thor, learns he is the reincarnation of the Dragon, the most powerful use of the One Power in a prior age. As the Dark One works to escape his prison, Rand struggles against insanity and ignorance as the world breaks and re-arranges itself for a coming new age—and what kind of age that will be is entirely in Rand’s hands. Although the middle books of this series slow down a little too much, the overall experience is a deep dive into an incredibly detailed and well-conceived fantasy universe.
5. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, by Tad Williams
A fantasy that wears its Tolkien influence on its sleeve, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is set on the continent of Osten Ard. Humans, dwarf-like Qanuc, and the immortal, elf-like Sithi have lived in harmony for decades thanks to the leadership of the human king, John the Presbyter. But when John’s health fails, a dark secret threatens not just the stability of the world—but its very survival. Williams brought a more intimate point-of-view and various character perspectives to the epic fantasy formula. If you’re looking for more of the same feel and style you found in The Lord of the Rings, Williams’ series is the perfect follow-up.
6. The Kingkiller Chronicle, by Patrick Rothfuss
Although unfinished, The Kingkiller Chronicle’s first two books—The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear—are so good it doesn’t matter. Framed as a legendary adventurer Kvothe, known as the Kingkiller, telling his life story, Rothfuss crafts a story that is both complex and nimble. Kvothe tosses in stories-within-stories as he tells his tale, and Rothfuss uses these devices to craft a detailed and richly imagined universe. The series also features one of the most interesting and best-organized magic systems in the genre. The rigor and consistency don’t detract from the sense of discovery, but rather enhance it.
7. A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin
A Song of Ice and Fire, aka Game of Thrones, is probably the most famous epic fantasy series after The Lord of the Rings. When the series debuted in the mid-1990s, it both rejuvenated and revolutionized the genre. Set in a medieval-style world where dragons once defined military supremacy and the seasons can last for years, the story of political intrigue and a slow-burn existential magical threat brought heightened realism to the genre. Martin’s take on epic fantasy is dark, violent, and filled with antiheroes, but its character-focused narrative adds an emotional depth that was missing from many of the genre’s previous works.
8. The Darwath Trilogy, by Barbara Hambly
Sometimes overlooked, this classic from the 1980s combined the epic fantasy stylings of Tolkien with the concept of the portal fantasy. In The Darwath Trilogy, a drifter named Rudy seeking purpose in his life and an academic named Gil bored by her choices find themselves called to the Kingdom of Renwath, where an ancient and near-forgotten evil has returned. Hambly ably combines hair-raising terror, a richly detailed fantasy universe, and a strong focus on character development. As Rudy and Gil become embroiled in the fight to save this strange world, they also find themselves. The result is an emotionally powerful classic that deserves to be rediscovered.
9. An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir
Tahir sets her story in the Martial Empire, inspired by Ancient Rome. A slave girl named Laia is recruited as a spy when her brother is arrested and imprisoned. She infiltrates the empire’s elite military school where she meets Elias Veturius, an embittered soldier. Their destinies and hearts become entwined as they become fugitives from the emperor’s fury as the Nightbringer, the king of the enslaved djinn, prepares to destroy humanity in vengeance. In An Ember in the Ashes, Tahir combines a world that Tolkien fans will adore with a modern, fast-paced narrative filled with twists.
10. The Inheritance Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
Jemisin’s debut series put her on the map and remains one of the best fantasy series ever. It’s set in a world where a war between gods left many lesser gods enslaved or imprisoned. Yeine Darr is the estranged granddaughter of King Dekarta, the ruler of Sky. After the shocking murder of her mother, Yeine is summoned to the palace and informed that Dekarta has named her his heir—which puts her in instant conflict with his other two heirs, Yeine’s cousins. A must-read for any modern fantasy fan, in The Inheritance Trilogy Jemisin creates a wholly new mythology in these books and combines it with a thrilling tale of court skulduggery and gods that walk the earth.