Listen, there are certain things that we, as fantasy lovers, have come to expect from the genre. I know I get a rush when I open the first page and a giant map is there, complete with names of rivers and towns and mountain ranges that I’ve never heard of. Ah, the thrill. Or when the cast of characters — all with their own tragic backstories and lore — finally come together in the final third of the book, perhaps to conquer some great evil.
Another one of these genre staples is the journey. You rarely see as much walking and questing in the romance genre, for example. It’s a specifically fantasy thing, a trope where along the way our beloved characters evolve and complete side quests (and sometimes fall in love). This list collects a bunch of epic fantasy journeys, though it purposefully leaves out many obvious choices (yes, I know Frodo and friends did indeed embark on a long trek). After all, discovering a new fantasy book is the start to a journey in and of itself. So, put on your walking cloak and grab your childhood friend who you may or may not harbor feelings for, and let’s step outside the Shire.
Epic Fantasy Journeys for Readers Who Want a Long Series
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
I truly cannot tell you how quickly my jaw dropped to the floor when I found out that this series is supposed to be ten entries long. Not only that, but in hardcover, this one clocks in at more than 1,000 pages. Rest assured, in Sanderson’s saga the journeys are a plenty. The first book follows a charismatic cast of characters: enslaved but persistent Kaladin, slightly unstable Brightlord Dalinar, and aspiring scholar Shallan, among others. And let me tell you, each of them embarks on a life-changing quest that brings them across the reaches of Roshar, Sanderson’s meticulously planned world.
Her Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
Almost as long as Sanderson’s series, the Temeraire series includes nine novels, all of which are already out and published. Get ready to clear off a few months from your calendar to finish these enchanting, dragon-filled entries. This series revolves around Captain Laurence and his dragon best bud, Temeraire. Action-packed and at the same time astoundingly sweet, these books are full of epic fantasy journeys. Come for the sweet dragons, stay for the long rides as Temeraire carries Laurence across oceans and through world wars.
For Readers Who Want to Delve into A Unique New World
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Rebecca Roanhorse is so deft at creating fantasy worlds, and Black Sun is no exception. Inspired by the cultures of Pre-Columbian America, this first start to a series not only introduces us to a mythical new society but a cast of characters you’ll immediately love. My favorite is Serapio, a young blind man with a haunting past and a prophecy that points to a troubling future. He joins a mystical captain, Xiala, in his journey to the holy city of Tova, where a celestial event threatens to unbalance the world as we know it.
Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Another expertly crafted universe belongs to Suyi Davies Okungbowa, who wrote a novel that, at least for me, felt pretty close to flawless. Another fantasy influenced by pre-colonial times, this one draws inspiration from the kingdoms of West Africa. In the ancient city of Bassa, we find Danso, a disillusioned scholar seeking forbidden knowledge. Eventually, he is forced to leave the city in order to find what truly lies beyond its borders. But does his knowledge come with too high of a price?
For Readers Who Want Something Dark
Star Eater by Kerstin Hall
I can safely say I’ve never read about a magic system like the one Hall creates in this standalone novel. I won’t spoil everything, but basically it involves some forms of cannibalism, generational magic, and a religious order of nuns. Protagonist Elfreda is deep in the sisterhood’s organization, but eagerly takes an offer to spy on them in order to one day escape her gloomy fate. Not only are there physical journeys across the tantalizingly strange world Hall has invented, but there are many inner ones too, especially for our main character.
The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke
This dark YA fantasy revolves around a central journey: one to kill a monster people are already spinning myths about. The Boneless Mercies are a group of girls called upon to kill with, well, mercy, when needed. It’s a dreary existence. But leader Frey thinks if they stop the monster that’s terrorizing people far and wide, they can make a new life for themselves. This is also a feminist retelling of Beowulf, but you definitely don’t need to read that to enjoy this. It had me glued to the page for every moment of the Mercies’ journey across this riveting high fantasy land.
For Readers Who Want Their Epic Fantasy Journeys on Earth
First, Become Ashes by K.M. Szpara
Main character Lark has been in a cult for nearly 25 years. Except, of course, he didn’t know that. He thought he was being trained to fight monsters, developing his own magic through intense rituals. Until, one day, his former partner brings the FBI to the compound’s door and Lark doesn’t know what to believe. Though everyone tells him magic isn’t real, Lark doesn’t want to give up yet. He has a quest to complete, after all, and some new friends to help him. This is a fantastic in-between fantasy that constantly keeps you guessing about what is and isn’t real.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
It took me quite a while to realize this book actually takes place on Earth, but it’s true! This truly epic fantasy takes place in post-apocalyptic Sudan, where magic and remnants of technology thrive. The unforgettable main character is Onyesonwu, whose name means “Who Fears Death?” in Igbo. Conceived from a violent act, people shun her, but it doesn’t stop her from trying everything to reach her full potential. She might be the one to end the genocide of her people, after all.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This one is kind of cheating because it also takes place in the underworld at one point, but alas! Gods of Jade and Shadow begins in a small town in Southern Mexico, where Casiopea Tun aches to get away. It’s just her luck, then, when she accidentally sets free the spirit of the Mayan god of death. Hun-Kamé has been imprisoned for some time, and now it’s time for him to get revenge. He must take back his seat on the throne of the underworld, and Casiopea must help him or face dire consequences. This journey is fascinating, filled with Mayan mythology and the growth of a bond between a god and a mortal.