The best fantasy books to scratch that itchy and desperate need to escape

Zachary Howe Author Of The Heir of Olympus and the Forest Realm
By Zachary Howe

Who am I?

Early in life fantasy was my escape. I watched Lord of the Rings so many times I could quote every line. I read Harry Potter so many times I could recite it. I hunted down every piece of fantasy I could get my hands on. These stories became a part of me. And in consuming so much of them, I succumbed to the inevitable, inexorable need to create my own. Creating fantasy is the most liberating thing you can do. There are no rules. You are the creator. If you read enough, you will have the urge to write—this is my sincere hope for you. Go forth and create. 


I wrote...

The Heir of Olympus and the Forest Realm

By Zachary Howe,

Book cover of The Heir of Olympus and the Forest Realm

What is my book about?

In the aftermath of a devastating attack on his hometown, Gordie Leonhart is confronted by an Olympic god. Hermes tells him that he is the descendant of Hercules, and that this destruction is the result of Zeus's attempt on Gordie's life. In the face of grief, anger, and even girl troubles, Gordie begins his journey to complete twelve labors and attain his Herculean potential in this first installment of The Heir of Olympus.

The books I picked & why

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Gardens of the Moon

By Steven Erikson,

Book cover of Gardens of the Moon

Why this book?

First things first, I could make this thing really easy for myself by simply selecting any five books from this masterful 10-book series and be done with it, but I won’t do that to you. Were I asked to name my top five favorite books of all time, however, ‘twouldn’t be a lie to do just that. The Malazan Book of the Fallen is, in my opinion, the single greatest example of Epic Fantasy in all of human history. As I said, it’s 10 books long, about 1,000 pages each. Erikson creates not merely a continent, but an entire world—worlds, in fact—populated by hundreds of fascinating characters. Perhaps the most beloved character in the series, Karsa Orlong is not even introduced until the beginning of book four (that’s ~3,000 pages into the tale, for those of you keeping track). 

When you reach this point in the series, you will likely go through the five stages of Erikson's manipulation: 1. Irate that you're stuck with this new guy when you just want to read about the characters you know and love. 2. More irate when you skip ahead to see that this new guy’s introduction takes up the first 265 pages of the book. 3. Grudging respect for Erikson when you find yourself completely enveloped in this new guy’s tale. 4. Dismayed that your time with your new favorite character is coming to a temporary close. 5. Irate again when you reach the end of this new guy’s section and discover you have hundreds of more pages to read before returning to his tale. This perfectly encapsulates and crystalizes the genius of Erikson. Every character he writes is deep and rich, and you’ll love them with all your heart, until you’re introduced to the next, even more engrossing being. 

Disclaimer: This series is very mature, definitely not the lighthearted Young Adult Fiction I wrote. Liking one is no guarantee you’ll appreciate the other, though they are both technically fantasy. Plus, he’s a much better writer than I.

Gardens of the Moon

By Steven Erikson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gardens of the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the last of the free cities of the Malazan Empire is targeted by the forces of the Empress Laseen, Bridgeburner squad leader Sergeant Whiskeyjack and the mage Tattersall confront dark gods to protect the citadel of Darujhistan.


Good Omens

By Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman,

Book cover of Good Omens

Why this book?

Good Omens is laugh-out-loud funny from cover to cover. It is absurdist humor at its finest. It’s so endearing, in fact, that it completely changed my writing style, and hence my career. While I will continue my series, so deeply inspired and tickled was I by this apocalyptic comedy that I’ve gone a bit Patrick Rothfuss on you and have written two absurdist fantasy comedies of my own (publish very, very pending) in the interim. This tale of the war between heaven and hell will make you smile from the moment you open it until the moment you close it. 

Good Omens

By Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked Good Omens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE BOOK BEHIND THE AMAZON PRIME/BBC SERIES STARRING DAVID TENNANT, MICHAEL SHEEN, JON HAMM AND BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

'Ridiculously inventive and gloriously funny' Guardian

What if, for once, the predictions are right, and the Apocalypse really is due to arrive next Saturday, just after tea?

It's a predicament that Aziraphale, a somewhat fussy angel, and Crowley, a fast-living demon, now find themselves in. They've been living amongst Earth's mortals since The Beginning and, truth be told, have grown rather fond of the lifestyle and, in all honesty, are not actually looking forward to the coming Apocalypse.

And then there's the small…


The Name of the Wind

By Patrick Rothfuss,

Book cover of The Name of the Wind

Why this book?

I was going to choose book 3 of this series, The Doors of Stone, as I'm sure I will love that book when it comes out, but at the time you're reading this, it has almost certainly not been released, unless Hell hath indeed frozen over, in which case we've got bigger fish to fry... I kid, of course. This is my little tongue-in-cheek dig at an author whom I greatly respect. The Kingkiller Chronicles—the trilogy that The Doors of Stone will conclude, should it ever come out—is a phenomenal series by a gifted storyteller. At the very least, you can enjoy Rothfuss’s first two installments in the series that are essentially a grown-up Harry Potter, and I don’t mean in the same way that The Magicians is a grown-up Harry Potter—don’t even get me started on that piece of work. The Kingkiller Chronicles manages to balance the whimsy of Rowling’s greatest work with adult themes and tropes that will fulfill all your fantasy needs, from the innocent fancies of the child inside you to those of the more depraved adult you’ve inevitably become. And if you’re more forgiving than I am, you may even be able to read Rothfuss’s supplemental The Slow Regard of Silent Things without tossing it away in frustration for it not being a continuation of the series you love.

Disclaimer: I recognize the hypocrisy of me jibing Rothfuss for taking too long between series installments… but I stubbornly stand by my haranguing.

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick Rothfuss,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Name of the Wind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The lyrical fantasy masterpiece about stories, legends and how they change the world. The Name of the Wind is an absolute must-read for any fan of fantasy fiction.

'This is a magnificent book' Anne McCaffrey

'I was reminded of Ursula K. Le Guin, George R. R. Martin, and J. R. R. Tolkein, but never felt that Rothfuss was imitating anyone' THE TIMES

'I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University…


The Black Prism

By Brent Weeks,

Book cover of The Black Prism

Why this book?

In the Lightbringer series, Weeks creates a very engrossing fantasy world, even if it’s a bit more compact than other epic fantasies. The system of magic is exceptionally clever, the seamless blending of humor into age-old fantasy tropes is a breath of fresh air, and the characters are extremely dynamic. You may find your least favorite character in literary history on these pages, and you might even find your favorite in that man’s son, grandson, or daughter-in-law. Of the many fantasy series I’ve read, I’d say Weeks most loosely matches the tone and tenor of my own. Narcissist that I am, it’s a wonder I didn’t put this at the top of the list then. Oh well. Perhaps I’m not as loathsome as I give myself credit for.

Disclaimer: If you’re upset at me for ending my last sentence with a preposition, buckle up. I’m one of the bad boys of literature—no grammatical prison can contain I. I mean ‘me’. Dammit!

The Black Prism

By Brent Weeks,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Black Prism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a world where magic is tightly controlled, the most powerful man in history must choose between his kingdom and his son - in the first book of the New York Times bestselling Lightbringer series, one of the most popular fantasy epics of the decade.

EVERY LIGHT CASTS A SHADOW.

Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. Yet Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live.

When Guile discovers he…


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

By J.K. Rowling,

Book cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Why this book?

I know, I know. In 2022, this is a very controversial opinion. Did I not just say I’m a bad boy?

All kidding aside, I feel compelled to say I do not see eye to eye with Rowling on certain issues that have come to light in recent years. Her fall from grace was one of the most disappointing things I’ve experienced, because in my youth she was my hero. She was the reason I became an author. It’s often difficult to divorce the creator from the work in our minds, and even more so in our hearts, but I hope you fantasy lovers out there can do just that. Harry Potter was not just a zeitgeistical phenomenon, it was responsible for the advent of that word. (Don’t look that up… and don’t look up ‘zeitgeistical’ while you’re at it, either.) 

Harry Potter gave us nerds a world to escape to, a world just beyond our own, so close we could almost touch it. We could damn sure feel it. I can say confidently the story got many, many people through difficult times. I know it did that for me. Struggling through depression for years from my teens late into my twenties, I read and reread the series countless times as a means of escape, and eventually, it became so ingrained in me that I had to start writing. Before I knew it I was an author. Creation is one of the best ways to cope with depression. We have all these feelings roiling inside us, and if we don’t find a means to express them—just get them the hell out—they are capable of consuming us. 

Regardless of who wrote it, Harry Potter will make your heart soar and your mind dream. Don’t you dare let one lady’s backwards views take that away from you. 

Disclaimer: If you are struggling with depression, please seek help. I’ve been medicated for more than five years now, and my life is infinitely better than it was in those dark days before. I am not a doctor, so I won’t tell you how to treat it, but please speak to your doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist if you’re having trouble. No one can help you until you admit to yourself that you need it, and take that first step. It may be terrifying, but I promise you it’s worth it. Stay strong.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

By J.K. Rowling,

Why should I read it?

28 authors picked Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Galloping gargoyles ... 2022 is the silver anniversary of J.K. Rowling's magical classic Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone!

The boy wizard Harry Potter has been casting a spell over young readers and their families ever since 1997. Now the first book in this unmissable series celebrates 25 years in print! The paperback edition of the tale that introduced us to Harry, Ron and Hermione has been updated and dressed in silver to mark the occasion. It's time to take the magical journey of a lifetime ...

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping…


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