Lord of the Rings. The Way of Kings. The Legend of Eli Monpress. The Blue Sword. the Green Rider. Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley. All of them have contributed to the Epic Fantasy library, and I love them.
A good epic fantasy novel, in my opinion, fits the following:
A well developed, interesting world. By that I mean they have their own countries, socio-economic systems and or religions–and that they feel three dimensional. The best way for me to judge that is whether or not I feel as though I have simply been dropped into a well oiled machine and am just now learning about how it works. I suppose you could have a good book without this, but for me an epic fantasy novel has that vast, sweeping feel to it–you’ve been handed an entire world and set free to imagine all sorts of stories in it, even if they’re not actually put down into words.
A Magic System of Sorts. If it doesn’t have magic, it’s not fantasy. That’s the fantastical part of the genre title, right?? It doesn’t matter if the magic is hard or soft, complex or simple–just that it’s there.
Good characters and development. This one is more of a general, all around good book quality–but I feel like in a fantasy novel you have even more of the ‘secret backstory’ and ‘hidden connections’ than in other genres. If a fantasy novel can manage to surprise me with where it’s taking things, it’s a good fantasy novel. (Kind of like a good romance novel–if I can tell right off the bat who she ends up with and what their problems are, then you’re not generally worth my time.) Also, I want my characters volatile and imperfect. I want them real–I want them to make mistakes, sin and repent. Nobody is perfectly likable, and I wanna see that.
A complex ending. I like it when my fantasy novels don’t just end ‘happily ever after’. Too many times the good side just wins, no serious repercussions in sight. Psh. As if that could ever happen. I want to cry and I don’t want to see it coming who’s gonna get me in the gut.
A philosophical message. One of my favorite things about telling stories is the opportunity it presents to put philosophy into action. I don’t mean long didactic passages where the author stops the story to preach at me from the mouth of the main character–no! I mean they find themselves living the philosophies they’re based on, showing the action reaction pairs of human nature, and defining through action the eternal laws of the universe. It’s good stuff, if it’s done right.
And, to cap it off, a list of my favorite fantasy novels:
The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson
The Legend of Eli Monpress, Rachel Aaron
The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
The Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis
Lords and Ladies, Terry Pratchett
What about you all? What do you like in a fantasy novel?