We all have read “overlooked” fantasy series. You know the ones with hardly any publicity and little word of mouth, but you picked them up because you were bored, found it dirt cheap at a used book store, or got it free off amazon. Yet, somehow, you enjoyed it. Maybe not as much as a novel penned by Tolkien or Abercrombie or Weeks or one of the other “it” writers, but enough that you found yourself wondering why so few of your fellow readers had ever tried this fantasy series.
Well, folks, this list is about just that: the fantasy series that I’ve enjoyed in my lifetime, which not enough of you have given a try. While these novels aren’t the best of the best, they were good enough for me to follow the series to completion, which is not something I always do. Now, please keep in mind I have not read every single fantasy book/series out there, because there are not enough hours in the day for me to do so, and so this list is NOT exhaustive. Just because you don’t see a book on this list doesn’t mean it’s bad — it probably means it is one of those book/series that my radar missed, and that is where you come in: I’d very much like you to list other overlooked masterpiece, so we can all try them out!
30) TALES OF THE TAORMIN by CHERYL J. FRANKLIN
A classic fantasy with a twist. In book one, Rhianna, a noble-blooded girl, runs away from home to avoid an arranged marriage. While she holds powerful magic locked within her, she turns out to be more practical and clever than all powerful, but soon, she falls in with Kaedric: tall, dark, intimidating, brooding, and so powerful he can shape the very earth to his whims. The two end up going on a quest together; their task to defeat an all-powerful wizard. The next book in the series changes the tone from pure fantasy to a genre bending fantasy/sci-fi, but it is done in a creative way and is pure fun to read.
29) WINTER KING’S WAR by SUSAN DEXTER
Another classic fantasy story with a somewhat bumbling apprentice mage as hero this time. Tristan and his master Blais live quietly by the sea in the east of Calandra, eking out a living brewing love philters and weather witching. There’s much call for the latter, because Calandra is becoming a land of eternal winter, as Nímir the Evil Wizard’s power grows. Of course, there is a prophecy that Nímir can be defeated by a group of adventurers, which must include a wizard, the true heir to the throne of Calandra (which seat has been vacant for a very long time), and Valadan, the immortal and missing war-horse of Esdragon. Against his wishes, Tristan is sent on this quest, traveling with a sarcastic cat and an overly optimistic canary. This initial quest leads to even more twists and turns in the plot, and a trilogy is born.
28) THE BOOK OF ELEMENTALS by PHYLLIS EISENSTEIN
This is the first of our “unfinished” series on the list. It begins with the novel, Sorcerer’s Son. Here Cray Ormoru is introduced as the son of the enchantress Delivev. This youth has led an amazing life, growing up in magical Castle Spinweb, and while he is very close to his mother, he longs to find his father, who disappeared years before on a heroic mission. Naturally, when old enough, Cray sets out on a quest to discover the whereabouts of his missing parent; a journey which takes him out of his comfortable life into a world filled with danger and great sorrow. The story that follows is about Cray’s adventure, but also about him growing up and becoming a man. Well worth a try, even if you can’t get your hands on the third volume of the trilogy.
27) ASCENDANT KINGDOMS by GAIL Z. MARTIN
A genre blender series that seamlessly mixes fantasy, post-apocalyptic, urban fantasy, and horror themes into something refreshingly new. Vampires (Didn’t I mention all the vampires in this one?) do play a big part in the story in Ice Forged and Reign of Ash, and I realize many people have post-Twilight dislike of these supernatural creatures, but by War of Shadows , Gail Z. Martin finds a great balance between the human and vampiric, using both to craft an engaging tale of a world dragging itself back from the brink of total destruction.
26) THE ELENIUM by DAVID EDDINGS
This classic adventure story by one of the masters of Young Adult fantasy is light on ingenuity but full of fun.
In an ancient kingdom, Sparhawk, knight and queen’s champion, has returned to Elenia after ten years of exile. Instead of a happy homecoming, he finds young Queen Ehlana trapped in a crystalline enchantment that keeps her alive, but which is slowly fading. This has left the kingdom under the rule of the tyrannical Annias, who vows to seize power over all the land. Such a situation forces Sparhawk to set forth on an epic quest to find the legendary Bhelliom and face off against monstrous foes and evil creatures.
25) THE VIDESSOS CYCLE by HARRY TURTLEDOVE
Yes, Turtledove is most well-known for his alternate history novels, but decades ago he burst onto the scene with this little fantasy series. While it is definitely a retelling of Byzantine history with magic, time displaced Roman legionaries, and sword-and-sorcery themes, it is a creature all its own, entertaining a reader with its fast-pace narrative and light-hearted handling of serious themes.
Currently, the Videssos Cycle consists of twelve novels, broken up into several series that have different characters and take place in different time periods of this fantasy world’s history.
24) LORDS OF DUS by LAWRENCE WATT-Evans
Our protagonist in Lords of Dus is Garth, Lord of the Overmen of the Northern Waste. The Overmen are a magical breed created by wizards centuries in the past and driven by mankind into the Northern Waste during the Racial Wars. The tale begins simply in book one with Garth going to consult the Wise Women of Ordunin, because he wants to gain eternal fame and glory. Naturally, the oracle sends him on a quest to win his desired renown, which leads him from adventure to adventure and fills all four books of the series. All in all, it is a clever series with an interesting lead character in Garth. Well worth a try.
23) BAZIL BROKETAIL by CHRISTOPHER ROWLEY
One of my favorite dragon series. A military fantasy with a bit of epic-ness and humor thrown in. The story focusing on a war against evil powers as seen through the eyes of the battledragon Bazil and his dragonboy Relkin. These two have a really humourous relationship; the battledragons are an interesting take on these mystical creatures; and the magic system is unique, focusing on sacrifices and planar movements. Sure, there is a focus on military life, but not so much that it bogs down the story in tedious, logistical details. Addictive read for military fantasy fans.
22) LYONNESSE by JACK VANCE
I realize that you either love Mr. Vance’s style or you do not, but this classic fantasy trilogy reminded me of reading the tales of King Arthur’s Camelot. Here the story takes place upon the Elder Isles, which are located in the Bay of Biscay off the coast of Old Gaul. Ten kingdoms are locked in an eternal struggle for supremacy over the land, but King Casmir of Lyonnesse appears to be close to gaining the upper hand by cementing a grand alliance with the marriage of his beautiful but otherworldly daughter, Suldrun. Things do not as planned, however, when a stranger washes up onto the shore and is found by Suldrun. The love affair that follows changes the very fate of the Elder Isles!
21) THE IRON TOWER/THE SILVER CALL by DENNIS L. McKIERNAN
This is the ultimate Lord of the Rings clone. It is so close to Tolkien’s masterpiece in characters, plot, and tone that you will almost think you are reading the War of the Rings over again and then getting to read a sequel. And that really, really annoys some of you, which is perfectly fine. However, I loved LoTR and never wanted it to end, and while McKiernan does not pen a 100% original work in these series, he does imbue the books with their own unique elements and characters, especially in The Silver Call duology. For those reasons these five novels are well worth a read.
20) THE CYCLE OF FIRE by JANNY WURTS
Demons who seek mankind’s destruction. Mysterious wizards (Firelord, Stormwarden, and others) holding back the dark tide. But now the hell spawn have won human allies to their side, vanquished the last great defenders of man and prepare to seize control. New heroes arise, however; each gifted with unique abilities that will shape them and the future of the world as they attempt to hold back the demonic hordes!
Doesn’t really do the story justice, bcause the trilogy really builds upon itself; each book getting better and better until the series concludes with a surprising ending that will leave you amazed you didn’t see it coming.
19) A MAN OF HIS WORD by DAVE DUNCAN
A stableboy and princess grow up in a tiny backwater kingdom; their childhood friendship turning into something more as they get older, yet neither willing to admit it. Soon fate lends a hand, as both are cast into a world spanning quest that leads to unexpected places and towards each other.
Familiar fantasy trope, I know. What sets it apart is a unique world without any “humans,” only imps, elves, gnomes, jotnar, and many more; an unusual magic system; and several unforgettable characters that you’ll grow to love — which is good, because there is a second series about these same people.
18) OATH OF EMPIRE by THOMAS HARLAN
Okay, this one might look like alternate history, but it is filled with magic galore and isn’t really concerned with historical accuracy as much as pulse-pounding excitement, as it tells the story of a Rome that never existed.
The Shadow of Ararat introduces us to this otherworldly Roman Empire, which still stands in A.D. 600, supported by the Legions and Thaumaturges of Rome. The Emperor of the West has determined to aid his colleague in the Eastern Empire and lift the siege of Constantinople. Together, the whole of the Empire will then carry a great war to the Shahanshah of Persia; Roman swords and spears and the blackest necromancy aimed at destroying the Persian threat once and for all!
17) SEVEN FORGES by JAMES A. MOORE
An unstoppable force meets an immovable object. That is the way the author has described Seven Forges, and it is a very accurate assessment of the series, as two civilizations rediscover one another after countless generations separated by an inhospitable sea of icy wastes. Naturally, this reintroduction to each other shouldn’t go smoothly, but it does — which raises suspicions about the Sa’ba Taalor’s true motives toward the outside world.
16) DARKWAR by GLEN COOK
A little known series by the author of The Black Company. This one combines fantasy and sci-fi elements into a compelling narrative about a world growing colder every year.
Among the Degan Packsteads, where the pup Marika is reared, the lengthening winters cause whispers of doom to be exchanged in the loghouse: stories of the witch-like Silth, able to kill with their minds alone, and of the Grauken, that desperate and horrible time when intellect is overcome by cannibalistic urges and meth feeds on meth. Dark times are coming. But awakening within Marika is a power unmatched in all the world, a legendary talent that may not just save her world, but allow her to grasp the stars themselves!
15) SEVENTH SWORD by DAVE DUNCAN
A “portal” fantasy that focuses on one Wally Smith: an ordinary guy, who is dying on Earth but wakes up in a strange, oriental-flavored world. Not only is Wally in a new body that carries the tattoo of a master swordsman, but he discovers that gods are real in this land and that he is their Chosen One, which includes his own prophecy, a legendary sword and the ability to wield it. However, there is always bad with the good, and Wally soon discovers that to fit into this world of honor, duty and obedience he must rethink his modern Earth sensibilities, because they are seen as weakness that encourage his ruthless enemies to retaliate against him and his companions. Even worse, he gradually begins to understand that the goddess’ purpose in bringing him here could be to cause the destruction of the world rather than stop it!
14) INSTRUMENTALITIES OF THE DARK by GLEN COOK
Glen Cook’s thinly concealed 13th century Europe. sees a wall of ice in the north slowly crawling over humanity, reclaiming the land for the imps, demons, and dark gods who are called the instrumentalities of the night. The wise in the world theorize that this ice age is occurring because the great magical Wells of Ihrain, which the world’s two greatest religions eternal fight over, are gradually drying up. Indeed, the glacier’s growth is increasing, which suggests that the wells’ demise are accelerating. However, this lessening of power has not kept the Patriarchs of the West and the Pramans, or the followers of the Written, from fighting several crusade-like wars for possession of them. And Else, a young Praman warrior, finds himself sent on a secret mission to infiltrate his enemies in the Patriarch, but finds himself slowly becoming a crusader against his own people and the instrumentalities of the dark.
13) THE CHRONICLES OF THE DERYNI by KATHERINE KURTZ
I have always thought of the Deryni novels as the old school, PG-version of Song of Ice and Fire. Perhaps it doesn’t have the graphic sex and murder, but in all other ways, the Chronicles of the Deryni matches SoIF in medieval warfare, political machinations, and lordly homicide.
These books are set in the land of Gwynedd; a land very reminiscent of medieval England, Scotland, and Wales with its own Holy Church (think Roman Catholic Church), and a feudal government ruled by a hereditary nobles. Throughout the series, political, religious, and military conflict on a grand scale are constantly smoldering or erupting into flames. People are always trying to kill each other to gain more power or to avenge some family wrong, and very few of the characters are completely “good” or “evil” but rather ordinary people with their own motives doing what they believe is best for them or their family or their church. Add to this the mysterious and magical Deryni people, who were once overlords of the kingdoms but are now in hiding, and you can see that there is a bit of fantastical in this medieval political drama.
12) MORDANT’S NEED by STEPHEN R. DONALDSON
Another wonderful portal fantasy by the author of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.
Terisa Morgan lives alone in a New York City apartment, surrounded by mirrors. The daughter of rich but uncaring parents, she wonders at times if she even truly exists. Then something amazing shatters her lonely world: a strange man crashes through one of her mirrors and explains that he is on a desperate quest to find a champion to save his kingdom of Mordant from a pervasive evil. Even though Terisa has no magical powers, she decides to travel back with Geraden. Once in Mordant, she finds herself in a culture of powerful lords, exploring the secret of a mysterious castle, and helping Geraden uncover the enemies that are threatening to destroy his home. But with people able to appear and vanish out of thin air, Terisa truly attempting to vanish, for the enemies of Mordant will stop at nothing to see her dead!
11) THE GRIM COMPANY by LUKE SCULL
A grimdark that is equal parts gory battle, ambiguous morality, epic worldbuilding, gray characters and gallows humor; all of it combining to make this one fun?
Yeah, I know it shocked me as well, but it is really is true: The Grim Company is fun to read. This tale of a world slowly decomposing after the slaying of the gods is a tour de force of grimdark morbidity with characters that are the most colorful and memorable ones I’ve encountered since reading Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself. Read my review for all my thoughts.
10) GREATCOATS by SEBASTIEN de CASTELL
Capturing the spirit of the Three Musketeers and adding gritty grimdark elements, Traitor’s Blade centers on Falcio, First Cantor of the Greatcoats. Once a hero of the common people of the land, he and his fellows are now reviled. With all their hope almost gone, the fallen Greatcoats live to fulfill one final mission given them by their beloved king; a mysterious task that none understand, but which holds out hope for the salvation of the land.
Knight’s Shadow continues the tale of the surviving Greatcoats, revealing that even they have secrets!
9) ECHOES OF EMPIRE by MARK T. BARNES
A sweeping epic fantasy trilogy (Garden of Stones, Obsidian Heart, and Pillars of Sand) with complex world building, rich histories, imaginative races, and an interesting magic system. One that not enough people have tried.
War! Its vicious specter has arisen over the land of Shrīan. Corajidin, dying ruler of the Great House of Erebus, having unleashed it, as he begins his pursuit of ultimate power by plundering the ruins of his civilization’s past for the magic necessary to ensure his survival and help him resurrect the fallen Awakened Empire. But standing in his way is the mercenary warrior-mage Indris, scion of the rival House Näsarat: A man with his own mysterious past and future.
8) BLOODSOUNDER’S ARC by JEFF SALYARDS
If grimdark fantasy is suppose to be all about gritty realism with ordinary people placed into ambiguous moral positions and surrounded by the bloody consequences of war and politics, then this series should be the poster child for the genre.
In Bloodsounder’s Arc (Scourge of the Betrayer, Veil of the Deserters), a reader follows along behind a young scribe thrown into the middle of a hardened band of soldiers. Quickly, he learns that he is an outsider, that real war isn’t at all like stories, and that the right decision isn’t always the morally easy one to make.
7) TIME MASTER by LOUISE COOPER
An eighties fantasy series that not too many people have tried. The story begins in The Initiate, where we are introduced to a world where Order rules over Chaos. Naturally, the Chaos “gods” have been banished from the world after a titanic battle in the ancient past, and all their followers have been systematically purged until only the worshipers of the seven gods of Order remain. However, all know the Chaos gods seek to return.
Into this eternal battle for supremacy comes Tarod, a dark-haired outcast with a power he does not understand. He winds up at The Star Peninsula, a mysterious spot of land magically cut off from the rest of the continent, and is accepted as an Initiate by the Circle, a group of acolytes of Aeoris, Supreme God of Order. This sets in motion events which will have shattering repercussions not just for Tarod, but for the world.
6) Chronicles of the Cheysuli by Jennifer Roberson
Chronicles focuses on the a race of shapeshifters who once were the honored allies of the King of Homana, loved for their dedicated loyalty. All that ended when the king’s daughter ran away with a Cheysuli liege man however. Thereafter, a war of genocide raged; one that came near to exterminating the shapeshifters. Yet the handful of survivors cling desperately to their ways and to a prophecy that foretells their part in the restoration of a magical race who once ruled the world.
From this beginning, the series progresses from generation to generation with each book allowing new characters to strut their stuff on center stage before passing the torch to the next generation. And as each book ends, a reader can feel that the ancient prophecy is so very close to being fulfilled.
5) Dread Empire by Glen Cook.
The Dread Empire novels are a precursor, if you will, of the gritty, no-nonsense Black Company series that would define Glen Cook as a fantasy writer. These books are written in Cook’s normal straightforward, unornamented prose, shift viewpoints from present to past frequently, and are filled memorable characters: Varthlokkur, the avenging wizard who destroyed an empire, yet begins to believe all his actions might be controlled by others; Nepanthe, the spoiled princess who grows up too fast and loses joy in her world; and Bragi, a north man, who has fled his home and become an adventurer, always striving against the odds and the personal costs to achieve victory. Each of these characters coming to life, gifted in some way, yet totally unprepared for the struggles they must face, and it these flaws which make each one of them seem so very alive and realistic.
Naturally, since this is Glen Cook, you can also count on well thought-out and engaging military tactics, because with Cook that is the norm. War here is full of gritty realism and utter unpredictability. Military plans succeed or fail on the oddest bit of luck or bad timing, and every victory or defeat is not a certainty until you read that the battle is won or lost. Major characters die as well, so do not ever believe that someone is safe, because they are not!
4) Chronicles of Corum by Michael Moorcock.
Now, I know Moorcock gets loads of love regarding his Eternal Champion series, but to me, Elric steals all the glory, and my favorite Corum is not given enough. For that reason, the Man with the Silver Hand is in the top five, and his two series(The Swords Trilogy and The Chronicles of Corum) are must reads for true fantasy fans.
Corum comes from the gentle, peace-loving Vadagh people, whose civilization is ancient in age, and who devote themselves to scholarly pursuits. And while their race might be slowly being eclipsed by the rise of men, or Mabden, the Vadagh do not seem to mind, as long as they are left alone to slip into extinction one dream at a time.
Horrible tragedy strikes however, stripping Corum of his family and his race! Finding refuge among strangers, he becomes intertwined with the meddling gods of chaos, visits strange and wondrous locals, and encounters other Eternal Champions. And that is just the first trilogy!
3) Tyrants and Kings by John Marco.
In Jackal of Nar, the tale focuses on Richius Vantran and his war with another religious faction; the villains being treated as standard “bad guys” in classic fantasy storytelling (though the ending pulls the rug out from under a reader a bit.) After book one, though, John Marco does something stupendous, shifting the remaining story to the viewpoint of these so-called villains and developing them into real people, who are more gray than black or white. Indeed, at the beginning of the series, I absolutely despised one Biagio, an evil piece of work if there ever was one, yet by the end of the series, the focus of the tale is that same Biagio, whom I now found myself rooting for — against my better judgment, I must add. And while this subtle shift in focus took place, Mr. Marco beguiled me with epic battles, grand intrigue, love triangles, and twists and turns galore. If I told you anymore, I’d ruin all the grand surprises that await you in this series.
In this faery land, a horrendous war was fought against an evil god. Every creature and divine being taking sides — even mother earth herself. The forces of good only triumphing when they did the impossible and infused the remaining magic of the world into young King Fealoth, turning him into a living god. Fealoth then chaining the evil one in the darkness outside creation.
Joy and hope returned to the lands. Goodness and light had triumphed over evilness and darkness. An unrivaled age of tranquility was assured to last forever.
A generation lives and dies. History becomes legend. And, without warning, the long vanquished creatures of the dark arise, sweeping over everything. The atrocities they commit are staggering: vampires, goblins, and other vile creatures destroying mindlessly. The gods do not seem to care, even once mortal Fealoth. All looks lost. Destruction of the very world seems inevitable until mother earth sends out here lone champion: the Morigu. Yet even she does not know if the insanity laying behind his eyes will save the world from the evil one or deliver it to him!
Great story. Hopefully, one day the author will get around to finishing it.
Purchase the book at Amazon.
Morigu: The Desecration
1) Darwath by Barbara Hambly
This “portal” series from the 80s has it all!
Gil Patterson, graduate student, is having horrible nightmares: Dark visions about terror and panic in the night-time street of a medieval-type city. Thankfully, they are merely dreams. At least, she assumes they are until she finds the strange, robed man from her dreams sitting in her kitchen drinking a beer one night.
Quickly, Gil discovers her dreams are actually visions of another world and the weird guy in her kitchen is the wizard Ingold Inglorion, the would-be savior of humanity. For Ingold’s world is threatened by the rising of the “Dark,” beings all but forgotten until they burst from the depths of the earth, devouring humans at night, and Ingold has come to Earth looking for a place to hide from his enemies until he can return home. But in saving himself, Ingold soon entangles Gil (and later a mechanic named Rudy) in his war against the Dark!
Fabulous story. One I read every few years. And a trilogy I would strongly encourage you to try.
Those are my picks, please list other fantasy series that you enjoyed and believe are “overlooked” by readers.
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT MY OTHER BEST OF FANTASY LISTS.
Yay for this list! I often turn backwards to the ’80s and ’90s for my fantasy reads.
Thanks for mentions of Jennifer Roberson and Barbara Hambly, especially. Roberson’s Sword Dancer series is great, too. Did you know that DAW is continuing both series? *love!* I sometimes think I’m the only person in the world who read Thomas Harlan.
I also enjoy Juliet E. McKenna’s Tales of Einnarin, starting with The Thief’s Gamble. Nalo Hopkinson is a 100% awesome reading trip. I’ve recently picked up Elizabeth A. Lynn, C.S.Friedman, Jane Fancher, and Mickey Zucker Riechert.
high-fives! Thanks again for the list. I’ve printed it off and am using it as a crib sheet while I browse the bookstores.
Glad the list helped you out Elizabeth. 🙂 Also, thanks for mentioning the other authors I should check out.
I read the Sword Dancer series as well, and I enjoyed it. I’d also read somewhere Jennifer Roberson was planning to write several more Cheysuli books, which is cool. Loved the series back in the day and would really enjoy revisiting it.
Since lots of people found this list helpful, I’m starting to research another to add even more fantasy series that are “overlooked.” I’m definitely going to put Sword Dancer on it. Check back in a week for the additional list.
Take care. Thanks for visiting the blog. 😛
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Ive read the David Duncan series..well the first two anyways. One of these Days I will finish the series lol The first book seems very interesting,love to find new reads 🙂
My nominee for this list is Daughter of the Empire Trilogy by Raymond Feist and Janny Wurst so not sure if it can be classed as THAT unknown but I never see it on any lists. When I want to describe the series I like to compare it to Scarlett O´Hara in an asian feudal fantasy world. Cant even remember how many times I have re-read it.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Daughter of the Empire trilogy when it was released, but it slipped my mind when I formulated this list. Thanks for pointing that one out. 🙂
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What? How can I not know of any of them? More to read!
There are always more books to read. 🙂
Yup. Time to add them to Goodreads.
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Janny Wurts – The Wars of Light and Shadow – not here? Blasphemy!
good post though 🙂
Thanks, Matt. And Nanny Wurts epic fantasy series series probably should be on the list, but I’ve never read it, so I felt I couldn’t, in good faith, recommend it to others.
Get. on. it. Now! *whipcrack*
I first found Chronicles of the Cheysuli, on the fantasy paperback rack of my library, back in 2007. It was an instant addiction. The whole “No, I don’t want to marry this person, just to fullfil the prophecy” angle, did get a little old at times; the idea of the Cheysuli bonding with their “leer” (animals they share a deep friendship and spiritual bonding with) and the ability to shapeshift into those animals, made the books so interesting, that I couldn’t put them down! The internal conflict within the characters, made for great reading. I especially loved it when transformation took place, and the characters would take on the thoughts/instincts of those animals. Often, it was their leer that had to keep them in check! Loved the way that magic was done differently between the Cheysuli and Ilhihi.
By the way, Roberson also wrote 2 short stories (besides the 8 books) tha are related to Cheysuli: The first (“Of honor and the Lion”) talks about Hale and Lindir (from “Shapeshifters). The second ” Blood of Sorcery” is basically a short version of “Daughter of the Lion”, and is about Keely.
I did not know about those short stories. Thanks for letting me know about them. 🙂
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Great list! The Glen Cook and Seven Forges books sounded the most interesting to me. I’ll have to check them out. The newer Dragonlance novels I’m trying to catch up on are depressing me and making me miss the original cast too much.
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I wish I had many lifetimes to dedicate myself to reading and writing
there is such a great amount of good stuff i won’t be able to get my hands on ever it makes me mad!
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The Videssos Cycle remains my favorite fantasy series. Well, second only to Lord of the Rings.
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