5 fantasy series for A Song Of Ice And Fire fans

Feature Andrew Blair Jonathan Taylor 28 Mar 2013 - 06:00

Here are 5 great fantasy novel series that share A Song Of Ice And Fire's portrait of murky politics and violence...

You. Yes you, you television-watching-lazy-bones. Have you read A Song of Ice and Fire? If not, rectify this immediately. It's basically, right, Game of Thrones, but a book. Quite a few books actually. If you have read A Song of Ice and Fire; wasn't it good? Would you like to know a few more books that we think you might like? If not, you should probably stop reading this article now. That's basically all it is.

Now, there is a lot of good High Fantasy out there, but we're not looking at that here. No Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan in this list, or even Patrick Rothfuss with his post-Whedon dialogue and unfolding anti-hero yarns. Instead, we're looking at the authors who take a step back from the fantastic and enter murky, violent worlds of politics, misery and everything going a bit wrong.

Welcome to the 'Everyone is an Incredible Bastard' Fantasy subgenre.

1. Joe Abercrombie – The First Law trilogy 

Abercrombie's publishers have put a quote from George R. R. Martin in prominent places on his recent novels, primarily because they're not stupid. Starting with his initial The First Law trilogy, Abercrombie's six novels (with at least three more due) continue to expand the un-named fantasy world.

No-one is a hero. The reader is invited to root for torturers, cowards, and the psychotically violent. Magic is a primal, aggressive force. If something starts looking up for someone, odds are something horrible is imminently about to happen to them.

Brutal, violent, and cynical, you might note that the mortality rate is considerably lower than in Martin's books. This is because Abercrombie has noted that, once you're dead, your problems are basically over. There are so many more horrible things you can do to the living. 

2. Steven Erikson – Malazan, Book of the Fallen 

Look, George R. R. Martin fans! See! A complex, epic fantasy with a vast array of characters comprising ten volumes! And it's finished!

Starting off as a table-top role playing game universe devised with Ian C. Esslemont (who has written five books set in the same universe), it's another thing we have to thank Dungeons & Dragons for (the other thing, mainly, is shit observational comedy). It was originally written as a film script, and after writing some general fiction novels, Erikson managed to get Gardens of the Moon published. 

If you want to read another dark, murky epic with no guarantee of your favourite character's safety this is your next investment. And you don't have to worry about the author snuffing it before he reaches the end of the series either. 

3. Robin Hobb – The Farseer Trilogy 

Do you like that oh-so-many characters in A Song Of Ice and Fire basically have a terrible time of it? Do you like your protagonists to go through hell with only the slim possibility that they may end up in improved circumstances? Then look no further than Robin Hobb's excellent Farseer Trilogy. According to last Friday's Metro, she and Martin are the only two Fantasy novels to feature in a list of the 100 most popular titles compiled by the Bookmark Your Library website.

Published almost twenty years ago (“No,” I hear you cry, “No-one was alive then.”), the first book - Assassin's Apprentice - introduces us to FitzChivalry, the bastard son of a Prince, who is taken to his father's castle as a young boy and then... well.... he has a pretty rough time of it. There's political intrigue to rival King's Landing, a villain as boo-hissworthy as Joffrey and characters as noble as Ned Stark. Also there is a talking dog.

It's a flippin' masterpiece, basically. 

4. Tad Williams – Memory, Sorrow and Thorn 

Simon is a lowly kitchen boy who dreams of greater things. Wait! Come back! Yes, the series starts with the most popular of fantasy clichés but continue reading and you'll be rewarded with a story that is smart, thrilling, epic and sad. And it's something to pass the time with if you ever get stuck in a pot washing job.

Basically the world is going to end. Our heroes have to save it. Things do not go smoothly. Given the task that is set before them you genuinely get the feeling from the off that our heroes actually have very little chance of saving themselves, let alone the world.

Death, despair, broken hearts, amnesia.

These books have got it all. 

5. Pat Mills & Kevin O'Neill – Marshal Law 

Yes, it's a comic. Deal with it.

Pat Mills pouring his anger into a strip - especially one with the jagged, gleeful artwork of Kevin O'Neill, a man whose entire style was deemed objectionable by the Comic Code Authority - is a thing to savour. Its questioning of popular notions of heroism is reminiscent of Martin's approach to the life and death of his characters – no-one is safe just because they fit the traditional hero role. If anything, Mills is aiming his vitriol specifically at people who fit that ideal. Read Marshal Law and then revisit the Nolan Batman films. You may find yourself questioning how heroic the Dark Knight really is.

Marshal Law is a hero hunter. Pat Mills does not like superheroes. Here is his polemic against them, as they are taken to task via thinly veiled guises. It's funny, twisted, violent and as finely honed a-spleen-venting as one could hope to see. 

Well, that's our list. Now would be as good a time as any to tell us yours, then let's all head down the nearest library and tear their Fantasy section a new one.

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.

Disqus - noscript

I love Abercrombie's books. This is storytelling with no apologies. I encourage most of my friends to read at least The Blade Itself.

What, noe RoberWheel of time>t Jordans

Wheel of time by Robert Jordan even, damn moving cursor

I get that you're going for the sort of books that would be 18 certificate if such a thing existed for books. Surethe Wheel of Time would be no more than a 12 due to it's less explicit nature. However it does have it's fair share of politics after all Jordan wrote about Daes Dae'mar in WOT, (the Game of Houses) long before Martin had his Game of Thrones. It's also true that Jordan had very little grey area between who was good and bad but Rand had some very dark books where morals were sacrificed "for the win"

Yes, yes and YES to Robin Hobb. My favourite author. She's only written one below average book under the pseudonym (Shaman's Crossing); all the rest are pure brilliance.

Would also add Scott Lynch to this list. His sequence is called The Gentleman Bastard, after all...

I agree wholeheartedly with Malazan. That really is A Song of Ice and Fire with more fantasy elements. I strongly recommend it to Fantasy readers who are put off by the low level of fantasy elements in George RR Martin's epic saga and you know I also just very strogly recommend it to anyone else as well cause they're brilliant. Allthough admittedly it is advisable to read something else in between say every two or three book otherwise you might become very depressed. The First Law trilogy is a bit like ASOIAF in terms of atmosphere but it's much more linear and much smaller in scope. Farseer is great but very traditional imo. It's a simple rather straightforward storyline about a young boy destined for great deeds like most Fantasy heroes. It's a lot better than say your average Tolkeinesque fantasy mostly indeed because of the political intrigue in the books but it's not very similar to ASOIAF imo.

Just my opinion of course. Feel free to vote it down. ;)

I really, really tried to get into The Blade itself, but I just couldn't get a handle on it. Think I read about half the book before I gave up. I'd heard it was kind of postmodern or edgy fantasy, but it just seemed pretty bog standard barbarians and wizards stuff to me.

No Chronicles of Thomas Covenant = article fail tbh.

Sure it's about a guy with a magic ring but it's also one of the more mature, dark fantasy series there is

Got to love the Hobb books. Wonderful from start to end.

I love the Marshal Law graphic novels - it'd be fantastic to see Marshal Law as a movie!
I obviously hate superheroes as much as Pat Mills

I would have thought the Slaine: Horned God Trilogy may have found it's way in here. Mills and Bisley's finest work (and nearly 25 years old!)

John Marco's Tyrants and Kings series should be on the list for certain.

Started off pretty slow, but the last half is actually pretty cool. The different plot threads finally merge and you get something satisfying.

I have read Hobb's (Farseer) & William's (Memory, Sorrow, Thorn) and I agree 100% that BOTH are EXCELLENT--In fact Hobb's trilogy will lead you to several others set in the same world and all of them are great. IF you get into them, DO read the Liveship Trilogy because even though it introduces a totally new set of characters, they start to tie together with The Fool trilogy(using the Farseer cast again) & her current Dragons storyline that appears to be concluding with an upcoming 4th book. Also, Williams' more recent Shadowmarch trilogy is an equally excellent read in the same genre.

I'd also add Greg Keyes excellent "The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone" trilogy to the list as another great read in this genre

Have to add the Mistborn saga by Brandon Sanderson, he is currently writing the wheel of time novels but these are far better in my opinion.

No love for the Thomas Covenant books, or as I call it "The tales of the whining leper"?

Also, Donaldsons "The Gap Series" books are some of the the most depressing books I've read.

You should give the series another go, the characters are fantastic and most definitely not bog standard barbarians and wizards. To be honest there is very little "magic" in any of Abercombies books - he tends to focus on people hacking each other to pieces, which he describes very well - magic is rarely seen or heard.

You should get to the end of the series cause it's NOT standard at all in the end. ;)

100% Agree, love the Gentleman Bastards series and book 3 is finally set to appear in October! Can't wait :D

All I can remember is endless chapters about a torturer guy torturing various people and some annoying posho officer preparing for some sort of duel. It just seemed to be dragging on forever with nothing remotely interesting happening. With Game of Thrones, I got the hook straight away, with The First Law I just couldn't see it.

I might try and give the audiobook a chance (I started reading it initially as I wanted a kind of nicotine replacement patch for GoT!).

Well, they were published around the same time, so you can't really say that one has a lead over the other in terms of that sort of thing.

I had trouble getting into Abercrombie's series until I tried the audiobook. The narrator is fantastic.

Mistborn Trilogy, The Kingkiller Chronicles, and Sandersons new the Way of Kings are all phenomenal pieces in the genre.

Also, no Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. Maybe the article should be 10, 5 is too limiting

My first impression about First Law: Abercrombie tries to stay away from fantasy cliches, the wise mage/mentor figure is as far removed as possible from Gandalf, Obi-Wan or Belgarath. The Heroes are cynical, egoistic, and crippled. With the third volume, I got used to it (and a bit bored), but in the end Abercrombie managed to surprise me. He granted the one character I'm least expected, a happy-end and a kind of true love and affection.

I never managed to get in "Wheel of Time", the first volume contained the typical fantasy fare: idyllic village is attacked by henchmen of the Dark one, and the young protagonist has to leave his home, because he is the chosen one. It was nothing new and couldn't hold my interest.

I do not understand this fascination with Robert Jordan and the Wheel of Time. I read it and it wasn't brilliant, the complete opposite. It was so bad I gave it to my gerbils to slowly shred and use as a toilet. No. Wait a minute. I'm thinking of David Eddings and the Belgariad. Yeah, that was it, The Belgariad was jab yourself in the face BAD. Never read Jordan. Quite enjoyed the Spellsinger books though. Much better than Joe Abercrombie. Mudge would kick Glotka's deformed ass everytime.


One has to be immortal to read all these books.

AGREE 100%--and I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the "Mistborn" standalone sequel "The Alloy of Law". I dont know how he'll have the time, considering the planned size of the Way of Kings(The Stormlight Archives) series(I've read he plans at least 5, if not 10 books--the second, as you likely know is titled "Words of Radiance" & is due out this Fall)), but apparently he intends to do more novels(trilogies) in the Mistborn world as well. Quite the prolific writer & YES-- I cannot wait for Rothfuss' 3rd "Kingkiller Chronicles" book as well.

It is a bit of a shame that english readers are not so familiar with the work of Andrzej Sapkowski and his Witcher. It ought to be listed here as well.

'The Steel Remains' and 'The Cold Commands' by Richard Morgan, lean and intelligent fantasy without the cliches, google then buy

Dunno. They SHOULD have been in the list given the pedigree, but I've been disappointed with them, so I'm glad they've not made the list. Take away the novelty of low fantasy with lots of swearing and gay sex, and theres not a lot left. Mr Morgan should stick to sci-fi.

Am I the only one who didn't like Malazan? Reading it was too much work. There were times when Erikson would almost make a character interesting but then just piled on stuff after stuff. In the end, it's just not worth the effort to understand his very complicated/convoluted world.

To be fair they weren't mentioned in this article because they weren't covering that style of fantasy. I agree those are great books though. I just finished The Way of Kings, and it was very good. Possibly borderline dark and gritty (sorry, I know that word is overused lately) like those in the article actually when you consider the Bridgemen arc.

Great to see the second in the Stormlight books is coming out relatively soon. And I really welcome a sequel to 'The Alloy of Law'. An fantasy with western tones that worked very well.

I can understand your reasoning but it does become a very different beast after The Eye of the World.

I've only read the first, and I quite liked it. (I also read a prose novella and I didn't like it that much. The story wasn't too bad but I wasn't keen on the writing style. I think Mr Mills is better suited to comics.) I actually ordered the deluxe volume containing the full series which should arrive shortly.

I've never read Abercrombie's First Law trilogy, but I read his stand-alone set in the same world, Best Served Cold, and it is absolutely my favourite fantasy novel. Everyone is most definitely a bastard, you have no idea who's going to side with who next, and absolutely no gaurantee of your favourite characters safety, which I just loved. Those who survive come out the other end broken, mangled, disfigured, and mostly in a much worse position than when they started off. And it's oddly refreshing ;p
Don't know how I'd cope with a series of it though, it was pretty full-on.

I need to try an re-read those. I read them when I was about 15. I hated them so very much. The writing was so stale.I loved the WoT books that were out then. And I also loved Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. And so many others. I was a huge fantasy book nerd.

But I think I read 2.5 or so in the Thomas Covenant series, and finally said enough is enough.

But, maybe it was meant for an older audience. Still it was the boring writing style that I remember hating the most. Damn, that was 20 years or so ago though.

Abercrombie is really very good indeed, and thoroughly enjoyable! It's hard and bleak and violent and funny. And a lot more accessible than GOT (Which I also love!)
I couldn't recommend reading Abercrombie enough. I was lent it by a mate who isn't really into fantasy, but he also very much enjoyed it. It's raw with a capital blue steak!

But I'd also probably recommend Mr Pratchetts Discworld in this Category. On face value light fluffy fantasy with genuine comic appeal, but there is plenty of violence (albeit not explicit) and loads of politics (albeit more social politics.) And his subtext - his commentary on the real world - is so spot on that it's probably a bleaker read than any of the books listed above, if you stop to think about it.

I'd add Jack Vance's Dying Earth and Lyonesse series, and Steven Brust's Jhereg novels. Good fantasy that plays with the tropes with interesting characters.

Reread what I wrote a month ago, and it sounds a bit harsh. I always supposed that it changed and became much more. But I did not manage to get beyond the first volume. Maybe I'll try again.

I found Abercrombie's books too nihilistic, and the Malazan books just incomprehensible. Wheel of Time just rambled, and I found Convenant too unlikeable a character (really, a coward, rapist and a massive wanker?) to be able to stomach.

My suggestions to this specific genre would be:

The Black Company - Glen Cook.
The Gentleman Bastard books - Scott Lynch
The Bas-Lag novels - China Mieville

So no Gormenghast then? o_0

Sponsored Links