I have been receiving several notifications and emails over the past couple of months asking avid fantasy readers “what is the best book to start for a reader new to fantasy?” There are hundreds of guides on the internet saying which books to read and which to avoid at first as the story might be too complex and in-depth to understand. I don’t claim to be an expert on the fantasy genre, but I do have an understanding of what new readers are looking for in a novel and what are the best books to start with. Please reference my chart below and I will walk you through my thoughts and works that new readers to fantasy will enjoy! Please keep in mind that these are only my suggestions and their will be some novels I missed or will fail to mention.
I believe the best point of entry into the fantasy genre is The Emperors Soul by Brandon Sanderson. This novella is a quick, fun, and engaging story while being below 200 pages. This will not require a huge time investment and it will give a new reader a taste of what the genre has to offer.
Next we move to Tier 1 where I have made several categories based on what the specific reader is looking for in a book. For those readers interested in the magical parts of the fantasy genre, I would go with Mistborn. Fun heist adventure with one of the best magic systems you will find in the fantasy genre. For readers interested in more in character arc’s you will not find one better written than Fitz in Assassins Apprentice. Robin Hobb is a master of her craft and the story is not to complex for a new reader to love and enjoy. For readers who are interested in creative and poetic writing styles spoon fed to them on the pages, then The Name of the Wind is a great place to start. Finally, for readers who just want to sit back, enjoy the book, and have a good laugh or five, the Discworld Novels by Terry Pratchet come second to none!. You can basically pick up any of the books at any time and have a blast. Before we move on to Tier 2, I just want to say that if any of the books read in Tier 1 are enjoyable then you should definitely read the sequels before moving on the Tier 2.
Finally we have my suggestions for Tier 2. This is the more complex list of stories and should only be dived into if a new reader has their feet underneath them and is ready for a challenging read. Magic: The Way of Kings is a the top of my list. New York Times best seller series, amazing characters and a complex magic system make it a no brainer. Be warned though, each of these books are well over 1,000 pages each. Character: A Game of Thrones takes the cake. whatever your feelings on how the HBO show ending for you, it cannot be denied Martin’s impact on the fantasy genre and his morally grey characters are some of the best you will find in the genre. Writing Style: Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams. Tad Williams has a way with crafting his story and being able write it on the page that seems magically, creative, and like none other you will find in fantasy. Highly recommended series.
I couldn’t possible go into every single category and subgenre’s to put in one list. I do want to give some suggestions for Classical Fantasy books to read and Grimdark books for all you horror fans out there!
Classical Fantasy books to read:
The Magician’s Apprentice by Raymond E Feist, Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (this starts off as a Lord of The Rings tale, but quickly turns into its own epic story), and Harry Potter by J.K Rowling (this was my intro to the fantasy genre)
Grimdark Fantasy books to read:
The Blade itself by Joe Abercrombie, Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, Malice by John Gwynne (this isn’t 100% grimdark, but some scenes will make you queasy plus this is Book 1 of my favorite series).
I hope this list can shed some light on how a new fantasy read can go about their read experiences. My list is not set in stone and can be subject to change as my tastes as I get older will also change. Please feel free to contact me if you have suggestions or looking for a particular story and I would be happy to help you out. I wish I had a list like this when I first starting reading fantasy and I’m hoping to return the favor.