10 Bestselling Fantasy Novels of the Last 10 Years


“Fairy tales are more than true,” begins Neil Gaiman‘s Coraline. “Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” It’s a powerful evocation of what fantasy stories can do at their best: inspire, entertain, expand horizons. The last decade has had no shortage of such stories.

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Just when it seemed the genre might be getting stale, new fantasy novels exploded the familiar tropes and reinvigorated classic archetypes. In part, this could be because several fantasy giants like JK Rowling, George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss failed to deliver new books in their main franchises. This opened up room for new writers to make their mark and for cult authors to break into the mainstream.

Rhythm of War – Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War is the fourth book in Brandon Sanderson‘s epic saga The Stormlight Archive. It takes place in a world populated by spirits called spren, where kingdoms fight over powerful magical weapons known as shard blades. Society is divided between the despised dark-eyes and the revered light-eyes, and the leaders say a race of monsters plans to wipe out humanity.

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The main characters are Kaladin, a soldier sold into slavery; Shallan, a curious young scholar; and Dalinar, a noble warrior who becomes king after his brother’s assassination. As these characters learn more about the world, the story grows in scope, to the point that it encompasses ancient history and forgotten gods. Sanderson actually completed Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time series after the author’s death, and it shows. The influence of Jordan’s operatic work is all over The Stormlight Archive.


The Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman

“Can a man who can cast a spell ever really grow up?” Lev Grossman‘s Magicians novels follow teenager Quentin Coldwater after he learns that he’s a wizard. He heads off to Brakebills College, a kind of Ivy League Hogwarts, except with more sex and drugs. The series has been described as Harry Potter for grown-ups, but it’s much more than that.

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The novel is a sly and self-aware exploration of disappointment and ennui. In Grossman’s world, magical life is not all it’s cracked up to be. The characters spend a lot of time moping and wondering if there’s any meaning at all to their enchanted existence. After all, they have amazing powers but few real ways to use them. In this way, Grossman gleefully rewrites genre tropes. His dark spin on Narnia-esque worlds and magical academies is a fitting fantasy for our current anxious era.

Time of Contempt – Andrzej Sapkowski

“People like to invent monsters. Then they seem less monstrous themselves.” Most people know The Witcher videogames and the Netflix show starring Henry Cavill, but the franchise actually began with a series of novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The hero is Geralt of Rivia, a superhuman monster hunter for hire. Although he starts off as a rugged loner, his character develops after he is charged with protecting a young girl named Ciri. Along the way, Geralt finds himself embroiled in the machinations of kings and emperors – and slays a lot of nasty creatures, of course.

The Witcher has a cult following Poland, and has since found widespread success in the English-speaking world, mostly due to the popularity of the games. In particular, the character of Geralt has been widely praised. He is authentic and unpretentious, and has clearly had enough of all the magical bullshit he has to contend with. The Witcher’s mix of violence and humor makes it a perfect fit for readers who grew up on The Lord of Rings and Game of Thrones.

Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone depicts a world populated by people called maji, who can wield supernatural powers. However, eleven years before the novel takes place, the cruel King Saran finds a way to block this magic. One of these maji, a girl named Zelie, meets a renegade princess and the two of them embark on a quest to return magic to the world.

Tomi Adeyemi is one of young adult fantasy’s break out stars. It’s no surprise that her work has taken off. It mixes a unique setting that draws on West African mythology with an action-packed story inspired by the likes of Harry Potter and Avatar: the Last Airbender.

The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin

The Stillness is a supercontinent that is always in flux. It experiences periodic apocalyptic events called Seasons, ranging from volcanic eruptions and earthquakes to storms and manmade disasters. This unstable world has produced a similarly volatile society, divided by caste and full of brutality.

The novel follows three characters in different places and times, but they have one thing in common: they all have the power to control the earth. They can shape rock and calm earthquakes. While some of these ideas have been explored before in fantasy, The Fifth Season stands out with its impressive world-building and richly drawn characters.

City of Heavenly Fire – Cassandra Clare

City of Heavenly Fire is the final instalment in Cassandra Clare‘s Mortal Instruments series. It follows Clary Fray, a teenage Shadowhunter who helps protect the human world from dark forces. It’s urban fantasy in the tradition of Twilight and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The series is at times predictable and some of its characters verge on cliche, but it’s still packed with enough romance, intrigue and fantastic beasts to entertain young adult readers.

The Rage of Dragons – Evan Winter

“A dragon had been called, and someone would have to die.” Described as Gladiator meets Game of Thrones, this debut novel from Evan Winter packs a classic fantasy punch. Tau, a warrior from an oppressed class, suffers an unspeakable loss and sets out on a quest for revenge. What follows is a saga replete with dueling, scheming and epic battles across the savannahs of this African-inspired setting.

There are dragons too, of course. In this world, a select few “Gifted” people can communicate with dragons, and even enlist them to join a fight with devastating effect.

The Bands of Mourning – Brandon Sanderson

The Bands of Mourning is part of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. It features what might be the most detailed magic system ever written. Allomancy is based around ingesting (or “burning”) metals, which fuel the allomancer’s powers. These powers vary depending on the type of metal ingested and the wielder’s innate abilities.

The story follows a group of these allomancers as they attempt to rob the Lord Ruler of the realm. What follows is a breakneck heist story and one of the most original fantasy tales in years. Sanderson’s books come across as directly inspired by videogames – in a good way. The magic is coherent and well-explained, the action scenes vivid and brutal. It’s fantasy that reads like a game of World of Warcraft.

The Mark of Athena – Rick Riordan

The Mark of Athena forms part of Rick Riordan‘s Heroes of Olympus series, which is set in the same universe as his Percy Jackson novels. The protagonists are the half-human children of Greek and Roman gods. They’re on a quest save humanity from the goddess Gaea and her army of giants.

While not particularly groundbreaking, Riordan’s books are fast-paced and fun. They’re a great introduction to the genre and are sure to appeal to fans of Greek and Roman mythology.

The Republic of Thieves – Scott Lynch

Set in a world inspired by Renaissance Italy, the Gentlemen Bastards series tells the tale of a gang of thieves who find themselves entangled in a magical conflict. It’s like a fantasy take on The Godfather and Oliver Twist, where gangsters rule and mercenary wizards prowl the streets.

Scott Lynch is great at writing complex yet appealing characters. His protagonist, Locke Lamora, an orphan turned con man with a moral compass, is one of the most likable fantasy heroes in years. A highlight of the series is the ingenious and hilarious way Locke scams the corrupt nobles of his city. But Lynch also portrays his characters in psychologically realistic ways. They struggle with depression, addiction and PTSD as a result of their harsh world. Taken together, the series has all the hallmarks of a classic in the making.

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