If you aren't a fantasy fan, what the hell is wrong with you?
Joking aside. This is a brief list of the fantasy novels which I consider to be among the "must read". Sadly, I've yet to read every fantasy novel in existence, so there are probably a few outrageous omissions. Still, I'm fairly well read in what is one of my favorite genres, so here goes.
Goes without saying, really. If you want to talk about some of the things that make up the genre today - worldbuilding, settings, tropes, everything - you have to start with Tolkien. Or, at least, you should. I'll be the first to admit that the books drag in places. The first time I read them, I was far more interested in the journey of Frodo and Sam than I was with Aragorn's adventures with Gandalf and the others. For some reason, the Voice of Saruman is among my favorite chapters of any books, ever. Go figure.
Pretty much everyone will point you to Tolkien when it comes to fantasy, but less seem to remember Robert E. Howard. It almost makes more sense to start with Howard at a young age - his stories are easier to read, move faster, contain both awesome action and some truly fantastic writing. Tower of the Elephant is the story where I always thought Howard's real imagination shines through. A must read.
Goes without saying at this point, really. Just a fantastic series, made of all the things that make fantasy so much fun to read. Now, if he would only finish it. I can praise Martin to the moon and back here, but that's been done about a million times on other blogs, so I'll spare you. Martin is good, great, even awe-inspiring, but there are other great books out there. Some of the others, I'd argue, are even better.
For example: I'd probably say Name of the Wind is a better book. Patrick Rothfuss is, bottom line, a phenom. He's at least as good a writer as Martin, and I'd claim that he's easily a better storyteller. Kvothe comes to life in his series in a way that none of the characters of Martin's series do. Except maybe Tyrion. A must read.
Okay, so Winterbirth isn't exactly the most enthralling or eye-catching book on this list. But it's a damned good series and, behold!, the author does not suffer from diarrhea of the mouth. The series is finished! How many fantasy series can you say that about?
I'm quite convinced that most of the people reading this blog have probably never heard of Banewreaker. I'll level with you, it isn't the best written series (2 books only). The characters are pretty forgettable, the world is somewhat shallow. But the way the author plays with fantasy conventions, subverts expectations, and simultaneously hearkens back to Tolkien's works makes it a great read. It deserves to be mentioned, despite the fact that the protagonist/antagonist main character is named Tanaros Blacksword.
It's a blatant crime that more people haven't read Bakker's series. Any description of the series I can articulate would be inadequate, so I'll simply say that it continues to blow my mind, every time I pick it up.
Just to round this list out, here are some of the books purposefully omitted based on my personal taste. Yes, I've read these books I didn't finish the Wheel of Time Series, but I simply refuse to bull through another 7 books to scavenge for some barely enjoyable prose. Mostly, I hated these books.
Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings.
Kevin J. Anderson's The Edge of the World.
Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time Series (or, if you want to be picky, The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn and The Shadow Rising, as far as I got)
Russel Kirkpatrick's Fire of Heaven Trilogy.
To round out the list even further, here are just a small few of the books I confess to having not finished or not gotten around to yet, but plan to read someday
Wizard's First Rule, by Goodkind
The Imaro stories by Charles Saunders
Gardens of the Moon by Erikson
So, here's the list. There are plenty of other fantasy novels I enjoyed, some by Raymond Feist, David Gemmell and others. Some just don't fit into the epic fantasy category exactly, like The Gunslinger or Dune or what have you, but they're still among my favorite books, um, ever.
Thanks for reading. Maybe someday I'll compile a sci-fi list.