With Game of Thrones over and fans eagerly – and impatiently – awaiting the sixth A Song of Ice and Fire book The Winds of Winter, there are likely many people out there looking for something to read that will scratch that itch.
(And – let me say – I know everyone has their own list like this, with a different selection of books. My list will inevitably have some of the same picks as other such lists, but I hope that it has enough to set it apart.)
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms and Fire & Blood by George R.R. Martin
These are the obvious answers, but these two books are excellent in their own right, and must-reads if you’re waiting for Winds of Winter. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – also called “The Tales of Dunk and Egg” – is certainly lighter reading, telling the story of a Knight – Ser Duncan the Tall – and his squire, Egg. This book is to A Song of Ice and Fire as The Hobbit is to Lord of the Rings – lighter in tone and technically a prequel with no real bearing on the plot of the series. It
Fire & Blood doesn’t have much bearing on the series either, but gives an interesting insight into the first 150 years of Targaryen kings, from Aegon the Conqueror to the Dance of Dragons. The only ntoiceable connection this has to the main series is that it tells of how Daenerys’ dragon eggs made their way to Essos. Other than that, it’s a fascinating in-universe history textbook, written by a Arch Maester of the citadel who is consulting a variety of sources.
Or as I like to call it, “Not your father’s Lord of the Rings.”
George R.R. Martin has explained in detail how he takes a tremendous deal of inspiration from Tolkien, while still being critical of him. Children of Hurin, composed from Tolkien’s notes and published well after Tolkien’s death with the help of his son, Christopher, feels more like the kind of Middle Earth story GRRM would write. While the villains are still orcs and dragons, there is a definite lack of plot armor that is slightly more present in Lord of the Rings.
This book is set thousands of years before Lord of the Rings and tells the Turin, son of Hurin, trying to survive in a Middle Earth that is ravaged by war with the Orcs, against whom he seeks to avenge the presumed death of his father. Hurin resembles a Shakespearean tragedy as much as it does Lord of the Rings.
Also, I did not own a print copy, but I listened to a great reading by legendary actor Christopher Lee, who played Saruman in Lord of the Rings movies. I got it on audiobook CD from the local library, and included with the CDs was a book of illustrations that were in the book. I thought that was wonderful, as usually when audiobooks have illustrations, you don’t get to see them.
An adaptation of Eyes of the Dragon was recently announced, and I think the time is ripe for it. Out of all the epic fantasy I’ve read, it’s one of few that is probably better suited for a single, standalone movie rather than a television series or miniseries. It really manages
to feel small scale and large scale at the same time. (Unfortunately, the recent announcement seems to indicate that Hulu is making a series.) Most editions manage to be between 300 and 400 pages, and I would definitely recommend it to people who perhaps have watched Game of Thrones but don’t want to commit to reading something as long as the Song of Ice and Fire books.
I can only go so far into the book without spoilers, but it focuses on a few main characters; Roland, the king of a kingdom Delain, Peter his older son, Thomas his younger son, and his sinister advisor, Flagg. (It’s worth clarifying that Flagg is the same as Randall Flagg who appears in The Stand and The Dark Tower series, but King Roland is NOT the same as Roland the Gunslinger who appears in the Dark Tower. So, that’s cool, I guess.)
The main plot’s main tension comes from Flagg, who serves as the king’s magician and advisor, and the threat he poses. He seeks to drive a wedge between the two brothers and create chaos. Across his various appearances, Flagg has always been one of Stephen King’s most prominent villains in a rogues gallery that includes such menaces as Pennywise the Clown and Anne Wilkes from Misery. Unsurprisingly, he’s at the top of his game here.
The Queens of Innis Lear is a feminist reworking of Shakespeare’s King Lear, reshaping it as an fantasy epic, and if it seems like there’s a lot going on there, that’s because there is. The book tells the story of the king of the island Innis Lear and – just like the play it’s based on – his attempt to properly divide up his kingdom among his three daughters, Elia, Regan and Gaela.
Where the feminist aspect comes in is that the daughters have more complexity than just being bad-daughter, bad-daugther, and good-daughter. Elia is a star-priest and learns to read prophecies; Regan struggles with not being able to conceive; Gaela is a powerful warrior. They manage to be far more nuanced than the three characters they’re based on. These are characters who are far more dynamic and complex than the ones that appear in King Lear – characters that were just bad guys before are actual people here.
Out of all the books on this list, this one is probably the one that is least-talked about, which I think is a shame. This book essentially does for King Lear what A Song of Ice and Fire did for post-Tolkien fantasy, offering more complex and engaging characters while still managing to tell a story that is distinctly fantasy. It starts as a bit of a slow burn (find me any fantasy book that doesn’t, I’ll wait), but with exciting court politics, an interesting magic system, and well-written female characters, The Queens of Innis Lear is definitely worth reading.
Brandon Sanderson’s books, but mostly his Cosmere multiverse
I recommend Brandon Sanderson’s books less out of any similarity to A Song of Ice and Fire and more out of him being one of the top names in fantasy right now. He’s the author who helped posthomously finish The Wheel of TIme, in addition to writing his own very well-received fantasy books. He’s particularly known for two series, Mistborn and the Stormlight Archive, which both take place in the same universe, called the Cosmere.
The Cosmere stories all take place on different planets in the same universe. The stories are all separate, except for a few characters who can travel from world to world.
I haven’t read all – or even close to all – of the Cosmere books, but I have read the first two Mistborn books and am working my way through the first book in the Stormlight Archive. They’re all well-written and interesting, with some thorough worldbuilding. Sanderson carefully and elaborately constructs the magic systems he puts in his stories. They’re hard magic systems, working more like complex science.
And I will say this: the one thing I have noticed across the three of his books I have read is that the first two thirds of the book are a steady build up – almost to the point of being slow – but the third act is always wildly exciting, with narrative threads paying off in ways you wouldn’t expect. In that way, his books are extremely interesting reads.
Occasionally, you find fantasy books that feel like sci fi, but much more often you’ll find sci fi that feels like fantasy. Of that latter group, Dune is the king. The story is framed as looking back through the lens of history of the coming of a great prophet and messiah for the desert planet Arrakis. Main character Paul Atreides goes on a hero’s journey as he grapples with the prophecies which seem to apply to him
A lot of people tend to compare Dune to Star Wars and Game of Thrones. Frankly, I think that those comparisons can be a little reductionist, as both properties do a lot to distinguish themselves from Dune (despite Star Wars’ taking some light inspiration from it). Most of the comparisons tend to be very surface-level – “It takes place on a desert planet and there’s an empire!” or “Noble houses are fighting each other for control of a great land!” The similarities are there, but the two stories are distinct enough that calling them the same just doesn’t seem right.
There are a lot of sequels to Dune, some of which were written by author Frank Herbert, but many more were written by his son Brian Herbert. (The Brian Herbert sequels have been largely panned.)
There’s a two-movie adaptation of Dune in the works, which looks like it’ll be absolutely spectacular. (I’ll be writing about that soon!) I think it’s safe to say that if you haven’t read Dune yet, and you think you would like to, now would definitely be the time.
As I said, my selections are far from definitive, and I tried sticking to only things I’ve read. I just wanted to use this moment to include a few more, which I haven’t yet read, but I think would be great for Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire fans.
- The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
- Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
- The Black Company by Glen Cook
- The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
- The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski
- City of Thieves by David Benioff – and yeah, I know, a bunch of people didn’t like Game of Thrones Season 8, and they think it’s half this guy’s fault, but this story of two people trekking across Europe during World War II reminds me of what David and Dan were great at in the earlier seasons; pairing two characters together and having them get acquainted
But let’s end with a question; What are your favorite fantasy books? Any you would recommend to fans of Game of Thrones? Any I forgot? Let me know in the comments!