The best epic fantasy with mystery, intrigue, and a dash of faith (shaken, not stirred)

P.G. Badzey Author Of The Skull Gates
By P.G. Badzey

Who am I?

Tolkien and Lewis got their hooks into me when I was a teen and this led me to spend many hours playing RPGs, devouring fantasy novels by the armful. Unfortunately, many books were disdainful of faith (particularly of the medieval European variety) but the respectful ones inspired me. Years later, I decided to write my own novels and add a science-based perspective from 20+ years as an engineer. The result is a series of 5 epic fantasy novels. I have plans for more, branching out into sci-fi, romance, children’s books, and historical fiction. My recommendations showcase a few of the writers who inspired me and still provide a model for my work.

I wrote...

The Skull Gates

By P.G. Badzey,

Book cover of The Skull Gates

What is my book about?

The world of Damora is in peril. The malevolent Ja’al cult has fashioned magic portals, the Skull Gates, to bring in allies from hellish worlds. Desperate to counter the threat, the Faiths of the Light send the Grey Riders on a seek-and-destroy mission. However, unknown to them, two absent Riders have been enslaved by the cult, compelled to work on furthering the Ja’al’s scheme. Can the Riders neutralize the Gates before the sinister plan is set in motion? They will need all their faith, hope, and love to persevere through loss and sorrow to thwart the forces of Darkness and their plans for world domination. 

The books I picked & why

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Count Scar

By C. Dale Brittain, Robert A. Bouchard,

Book cover of Count Scar

Why this book?

A rousing tale of a scarred count sent to revitalize a dilapidated province in an alternate-world version of medieval France, this gem by Brittain and Bouchard features the interaction of religion and magic, engaging characters, a budding romance, and a whodunit worthy of a mystery novel. I especially liked the friendship between the Count and a magically-talented monk and how the authors handled the relationship between the Church and wizardry (a trait of Brittain’s other works from the Yurt series). Since it’s the first in a series, there is a follow-on and hopefully, more to come.

Her Majesty's Wizard

By Christopher Stasheff,

Book cover of Her Majesty's Wizard

Why this book?

A young college student with confidence issues and a knack for verse is transported to a fantasy world where he finds a beautiful queen under siege by a multitude of malevolent actors, a set of unusual companions, and an environment wherein poetry is literally magical. Stasheff’s treatment of faith and magic is thoughtful, his characters interesting and the plot engrossing. I particularly like rooting for the protagonist as he grows, learns, and overcomes. The magic system based on poetry is pure gold and the series has stood the test of time: it’s still as fun of a read now as it was when it first came out.

The Elfstones of Shannara

By Terry Brooks, Darrell K. Sweet (illustrator),

Book cover of The Elfstones of Shannara

Why this book?

The second book of the original Shannara series follows a young man tasked with escorting a young woman to her destiny to forestall a demonic invasion. But a menacing evil stalks them: a seemingly invincible demon assassin. Can he unlock the magic secrets of the mystical Elfstones before he and his companions are destroyed and the world with them? Like many of Brooks’ novels, this one features superb world-building, white-knuckled tension, jaw-dropping action, and a bittersweet romance in a single package. The magic and environment of the book captured me in seconds and I wished Shannara was real. I re-read it from time to time and it is one of my all-time favorites.

King Kelson's Bride: A Novel of the Deryni

By Katherine Kurtz,

Book cover of King Kelson's Bride: A Novel of the Deryni

Why this book?

In this, the final novel of Kurtz’s epic series about the magic-wielding Deryni race, the half-blood King Kelson navigates dynastic marriage, alliances with far-flung kingdoms, assassination plots, and family betrayals. Kelson is a favorite character of mine: decent, brave, practical, and devout, and I felt great satisfaction when he finally met his soulmate in the spirited and courageous Princess Araxie. All doesn’t go smoothly for the pair, however, and they have to overcome many obstacles before they can be united. Kurtz is a master at atmospheric world-building, and I fell into her world as readily as I fell into Narnia and Middle Earth. I really liked how Kurtz expanded her scope to include regions similar to Byzantium, medieval Hungary, and the Islamic world. It was fascinating, thrilling, and uplifting; another of my all-time favorites.

The Paradise War: Book One in The Song of Albion Trilogy

By Stephen R Lawhead,

Book cover of The Paradise War: Book One in The Song of Albion Trilogy

Why this book?

Lawhead’s tale of a struggling Oxford graduate student whisked away to a Celtic fantasy world drew me in immediately. The author superbly melded together traditional Celtic mythology with a deep spiritual connection and a crystal-clear understanding of the battle between good and evil. His characters are well-drawn, fallible yet noble, and the real story is the coming-of-age of the protagonist as he discovers more within him than he realized. Though not overtly faith-based, this novel had themes that reminded me of the Lord of the Rings and Narnia and the descriptions made me feel like I was really there. I became a fan after just one novel. 

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