Fantasy Books Beyond Game of Thrones

By Gwen Glazer, Librarian
May 22, 2019

Rumor has it that a couple people weren't thrilled with the finale of a certain long-running TV series recently, so we thought it might be a good time to offer up some contemporary books that approach fantasy from a different perspective. 

With this list, we're suggesting books in the genres of epic fantasy or high fantasy. Everyone's definition is slightly different, but think magic...magic, dragons, royalty, combat, witches and wizards, good vs. evil, a hero's journey or quest—that sort of thing. 

We're not talking hard science fiction, so no futuristic settings with aliens or robots or spaceships. We're also not talking about magical realism, dystopia or apocalypse, or zombies or vampires or werewolves. 

There's a lot of crossover, of course, but the books below are written by contemporary authors whose work would be considered adjacent to the Game of Thrones series. And we can't promise every reader the ending they want, but we can promise a wide range of viewpoints from a diverse handful of authors.

The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty (start with The City of Brass)
A brilliantly imagined historical fantasy in which a young con artist in eighteenth century Cairo discovers she's the last descendant of a powerful family of djinn healers. 

The Sorcerer Royal series by Zen Cho (start with Sorcerer to the Crown)
The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty's lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn't even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England's once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. 

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
In the first novel in Marlon James's Dark Star trilogy, myth, fantasy, and history come together to explore what happens when a mercenary is hired to find a missing child.

The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (start with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms)
Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. 
 

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
A war orphan rises from her humble beginnings to become a powerful military commander, and perhaps her country's only hope for survival.

The Dandelion Dynasty series by Ken Liu (start with The Grace of Kings)
Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, soaring battle kites, underwater boats, magical books, shapeshifting gods, and scaled whales who seem to prophesy the future.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Channeling the heart of the classic fairy tale, Novik deftly interweaves six distinct narrative voices--each learning valuable lessons about sacrifice, power and love--into a rich, multilayered fantasy that readers will want to return to again and again"

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
Catherine Helstone's brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane.
 

Their Bright Ascendency series by K. Arsenault Rivera (start with The Tiger's Daughter )
When a dark force begins to overtake the crumbling border walls of the Hokkaran Empire, two brothers set out to save their people and fufill the prophecy made at their birth.

The Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab (start with A Darker Shade of Magic)
Kell is one of the last Travelers -- magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes -- as such, he can choose where he lands.

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
Hassan, palace mapmaker in the royal court of Granada, has a secret: he can draw maps of places he's never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan's surrender, Fatima, a concubine in the court, befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan's gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. 

The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang
Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as infants. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. 

Young adult picks*

*not just for young adults! Some of the best fantasy and sci-fi in the biz is written for teens; think Harry Potter and Hunger Games, and venture out of the adults-only comfort zone.

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Book descriptions taken from NoveList and publishers.

Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!