The best fantasy novels with unlikely heroes

Who am I?

Sometimes I don’t feel very heroic. Octogenarian old women have been known to pass me going upstairs because I have only one working lung (I was born without a right pulmonary artery). I’m also skinny and a touch under-tall. I work in a profession (geophysicist) few understand, and there just don’t seem to be a lot of tv shows about—unlike all the doctors, lawyers, and police dramas. I think it resonates with a great many people when an unlikely person makes a difference. Each and every one of us can make the world a little bit better. Sometimes, we need to believe in ourselves…and try. Besides, who doesn’t like an underdog? Or stories about them.


I wrote...

Last Worst Hopes

By Lee Hunt,

Book cover of Last Worst Hopes

What is my book about?

Nehring Ardgour has summoned Skoll and Hati from hell and they have torn the world apart. To make matters worse, Farrah Harbinger has predicted a new and worse adversary: the One, True Devil. But all the great are gone. The knights are dead. The master wizards have been spent. Only the dregs remain: a soldier with an evil left hand, an arrogant wizard, an uncertain squire, and an old man with dementia. They are the last worst hopes.

The books I picked & why

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The Blade Itself

By Joe Abercrombie,

Book cover of The Blade Itself

Why this book?

Not many writers pick a crippled torturer for a protagonist, let alone a privileged, cowardly, and selfish minor noble. Abercrombie doesn’t just start with these two, he also adds a sometimes psychopathic barbarian and a misanthropic, racist woman as his characters. Don’t even get me started on the old wizard. He’s the worst of all. Not only do these characters seem unheroic, but they also act as if they might just kill each other rather than move the plot of the novel along. Never a burden, always delightful, The Blade Itself will mesmerize you as these murderers and narcissists try to do just one thing right. Whether they do or not, I won’t say, but they definitely tell a fantastic tale.

The Blade Itself

By Joe Abercrombie,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Blade Itself as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inquisitor Glokta, a crippled and increasingly bitter relic of the last war, former fencing champion turned torturer extraordinaire, is trapped in a twisted and broken body - not that he allows it to distract him from his daily routine of torturing smugglers.

Nobleman, dashing officer and would-be fencing champion Captain Jezal dan Luthar is living a life of ease by cheating his friends at cards. Vain, shallow, selfish and self-obsessed, the biggest blot on his horizon is having to get out of bed in the morning to train with obsessive and boring old men.

And Logen Ninefingers, an infamous warrior…


House of Dragons

By Jessica Cluess,

Book cover of House of Dragons

Why this book?

Jessica Cluess surprises not just the readers, but also each of the characters in her novel with her choices for protagonists. Every new emperor in her world is chosen from a contest amongst the eldest heirs of each of the five major houses of the land. But this time, the eldest of each family is spurned and the younger, apparently weaker child is picked to compete. House of Dragons is a lot of fun, and the story has a clever construction, for this strange choice of hero is no accident. There is a powerful reason and lesson in House of Dragons. Read it and find out why we sometimes want the second pick for the team.

House of Dragons

By Jessica Cluess,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked House of Dragons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Five royal houses will hear the call to compete in the Trial for the dragon throne. A liar, a soldier, a servant, a thief, and a murderer will answer it. Who will win? Three Dark Crowns meets The Breakfast Club with DRAGONS.

When the Emperor dies, the five royal houses of Etrusia attend the Call, where one of their own will be selected to compete for the throne. It is always the oldest child, the one who has been preparing for years to compete in the Trial. But this year is different. This year these five outcasts will answer the…


The Pariah

By Anthony Ryan,

Book cover of The Pariah

Why this book?

The old story of the child who was secretly the son or daughter of royalty is a solid fantasy trope. And for good reason—it resonates. Almost all children secretly imagine they are a prince or princess, that they are special. The Pariah has none of that. Young Alwyn’s mother was a prostitute, and he never knew his father. Be certain that his dad was no one special, for this is not one of those kinds of stories. Alwyn is a thief, grubbing out an existence in the forest with a band of robbers. As far as personal virtues go, Alwyn is a liar and murderer. Anthony Ryan redeems Alwyn, though, digging into the good that exists even in those that have acted so heinously. And I may have described Alwyn uncharitably—the thief is a product of tough times, neglect, and hard realities. When he somehow ends up in service to the enlightened, angelic Lady Evaline Courlain, Alwyn has a chance to show that he is better than his past and can help to make a better world. Or will he make it worse?

The Pariah

By Anthony Ryan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pariah as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A gritty, heart-pounding tale of betrayal and bloody vengeance' John Gwynne

When the task is a killing, be quick and make sure of it.

Torment is an indulgence.

Save it for only the most deserving.

Born in the troubled kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe is raised as an outlaw. Quick of wit and deft with a blade, Alwyn is content with the comradeship of his fellow thieves. Yet an act of betrayal sets him on a new path of blood and vengeance, which leads him to a soldier's life in the king's army.

Fighting under the command of Lady Evadine…


Prince of Fools

By Mark Lawrence,

Book cover of Prince of Fools

Why this book?

Was there ever a less heroic leading character than Prince Jalan? Apparently a vain, selfish coward, he would not even be likable if he was not also funny and honest. Well, he is honest some of the time, in his inside voice, even while being a liar to almost everyone else. So, when Jalan gets unwillingly and unwittingly caught up with an enormous Viking to go on a quest to save the world, I had to wonder how this one was going to work out. But it turns out that Jalan may have been lying to himself more than the reader, or himself, even realized, and he may not be quite the coward that he says he is.

Prince of Fools

By Mark Lawrence,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Prince of Fools as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the critically acclaimed author of THE BROKEN EMPIRE series comes a brilliant new epic fantasy series, THE RED QUEEN'S WAR.

I'm a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play or bravery.

The Red Queen is dreaded by the kings of the Broken Empire as they dread no other.

Her grandson Jalan Kendeth - womaniser, gambler and all-out cad - is tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched…


The Heroes

By Joe Abercrombie,

Book cover of The Heroes

Why this book?

This novel hooked me from the start with its play on heroism as it told of a Gettysburg-type battle through the eyes of a group of decidedly unheroic fantasy characters. Abercrombie keeps the readers’ mind on concept as the massive military fight unfolds on a Stonehenge-like hill and its ancient ruins, known as ‘The Heroes.’ Each character has a flaw that is as obvious as the mud all those troops trudge through, but somehow the reader ends up rooting for each of them. The novel reads well—like movie popcorn, but the story is well constructed, and the character conflicts and resolution are hilarious. Abercrombie is more than he seems and amidst all this apparent cynicism, there are some real moments of perspectivity on the concept of heroism.

The Heroes

By Joe Abercrombie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Heroes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

They say Black Dow's killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbor, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they've brought a lot of sharpened metal with them.

THE HEROES

For glory, for victory, for staying alive.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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