Riot Headline The Best Hardcover and Paperback Deals of the Amazon Book Sale (UPDATED May 20, 2024)
Science Fiction/Fantasy

10 Excellent Epic Fantasy Debuts

R. Nassor

Senior Contributor

R. Nassor may spend more time with books, tea, and ceramic mugs than recommended by professionals but it hasn’t failed her so far. Nassor has a MA in English Literature from Georgetown University, where she looked at the way medieval and early modern literature reappear in fantasy books today. She’s been writing about romance, fantasy, science fiction, and pop culture for quite a while, starting at Book Riot in 2020. She’s also written for Tor.com. You can follow her on Tiktok and contact her through her website.

Tor Books

In this epic fantasy debut for fans of Scott Lynch, academy dropout slash disgraced heir Lukan Gardova’s life is in shambles. All he's got going for him is one: He’s a cardsharp of considerable skill and two: Wine. When the bizarre murder of his father robs him of even the chance of redemption, Lukan finds a new way to make amends. He’s going to unravel the mystery, even if it takes him to the underbelly of Saphrona: city of danger, secrets, and merchant princes. Finding the truth is one thing. Doing that and staying alive? Well — that’s much more costly.

Excellent epic fantasy debuts are a glorious thing to behold. I love to see new authors on the scene make their first public attempts at crafting magical struggles or impossible quests. It is a difficult subgenre to pull off, and so it is even more impressive when they make a splash.

As a subgenre of high fantasy, epic fantasy must take place in an alternate world with fantastical (i.e., magical and/or otherworldly) elements and involve complex geopolitical plots and/or multi-step quests. Although they are not requirements of the subgenre, epic fantasy books have also come to include multiple point-of-view characters, maps, and pronunciation keys as well.

The subgenre is largely inspired by early epic poetry like Beowulf, the Illiad, or the Odyssey. These are long narrative poems that involve a hero’s journey against large threats across kingdoms, realms, or states. Taking inspiration from the fantastical epic poems, epic fantasy books have larger-than-life stakes as well.

This list of 10 excellent epic fantasy debuts dives into authors who debuted in epic fantasy recently. Many great epic fantasy books were, unfortunately, not the author’s debut and thus have been omitted from this list. I also limited the series to the last decade because I wanted to give some love to recent releases readers might have missed on the shelves. I highly recommend giving these epic fantasy debuts a go.

Epic Fantasy Debuts Await

The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter Book Cover

The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter (2017)

For 200 years, the Omehi people have been at war. Military power is everything. So, the one of two thousand women born with the power to call dragons and the one of a hundred men born with the power to enlarge and strengthen themselves are valued. Without any gifts to speak of, Tau is fodder, hoping for an early injury that will end his mandatory service. That is until everyone he loves is murdered. His thirst for revenge sets him on a path to become a swordsman talented enough to kill the three men responsible for his pain.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang Book Cover

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (2018)

Inspired by 20th-century China, this epic fantasy book is a demonstration of the way the lives of insignificant people are twisted and crushed in war. Rin studied and struggled so that when she aced the empire-wide test to go to the academy, she could leave her town and her arranged marriage behind. At the elite military school, she discovered her talent for shamanism, but her gender, poverty, and dark skin stopped her from gaining many allies. Nonetheless, when war came to the Empire, her powers became more valuable than ever, but that power might just come at the cost of her humanity.

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart Book Cover

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart (2020)

Nearing the end of the emperor’s reign, a battle for succession upends what little stability the kingdom had left. The unrecognized heir to the throne, Lin, knows she must learn how to manipulate bone shard magic to create animal-like constructs and keep the peace. On the ocean, Jovis is saving children from the Tithing Festival and becoming the people’s hero. But such hope only further fuels the oncoming revolution, and Lin will be forced to decide what she will sacrifice to save everyone.

The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick Book Cover

The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick (2021)

The best heroes are always con artists, and Ren is one of the greatest in the city. She might just be talented enough to fake her way into the nobility for the sake of her and her sister’s future. However, the aristocracy might be even deadlier than the gang she escaped as a teenager, and as myth and magic begin to seep into her dreams, she will have to trust a vigilante, a merchant with a criminal past, and a police captain working for the nobility she is trying to con. That is if she wants to survive in this queer Venetian-inspired epic fantasy world.

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark Book Cover

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark (2021)

A rebellious princess finds the rebel figurehead she is looking for when she meets a soldier she thinks could change everything. Princess Luca knows she must usurp her uncle if she wants her people to flourish. Touraine was stolen by the empire and raised to kill for them, but when she is sent back home to quell a rebellion, her allegiance to her childhood home feels stronger than ever. When Luca meets Touraine at the right moment, she convinces her that together, they can pacify the rebels and usurp the king.

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi Book Cover

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi (2022)

In this sapphic epic fantasy novel inspired by Ghanaian mythology, a born revolutionary, a princess, and a low-caste woman work together to start a revolution. Sylah’s dreams of overthrowing the ruling class died when her family was murdered. Anoor has never known the love of her mother, the empire’s ruler. As a member of the low caste, Hassa’s hands and tongue were removed as a child, leaving her invisible enough to the upper classes that she holds all their secrets. As the trial-by-combat begins to select new leaders, they are given the chance to act and change the world.

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah Book Cover

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah (2022)

Loulie al-Nazari and her jinn bodyguard are in the business of selling illegal magic, not rescuing royalty, but when she saves a prince, she attracts the attention of the sultan. He offers her a choice: retrieve a magical artifact or be executed. Now, Loulie is on the hook for finding a magic lamp — that could revive the land in exchange for the lives of all jinn — with the sultan’s son and her bodyguard. A take on One Thousand and One Nights wouldn’t be complete without daring escapes and dangerous magical foes, but the three will have to do their best if they want to survive an impossible journey in this epic fantasy debut.

The Jasad Heir by Sara Hashem Book Cover

The Jasad Heir by Sara Hashem (2023)

A magically talented heir-in-hiding is tested when she meets the son of her kingdom’s enemy. Sylvia was content hiding her magic as an orphaned apothecary’s assistant in a small town. She escaped the kingdom of Jasad when it fell a decade ago, and ever since, her dampened magic has escaped detection. That is until the heir of Nizahl uncovers it and blackmails her into becoming his champion for the deadly inter-kingdom competition. He doesn’t know she’s the lost heir and will make her compete to protect her peaceful life. Although Jasadi rebels and her conscious insists she take up the crown, Sylvia will have to decide if she wants justice more than safety.

Five Broken Blades by Mai Corland Book Cover

Five Broken Blades by Mai Corland (2024)

In this Korean-inspired high fantasy epic, five assassins team up to do the impossible: steal the immortal crown from the god-king. Together, a poison maiden and the son of the lord who controls her; the king’s rogue spymaster and the exiled prince; and an impossibly fast thief and her hired muscle must travel separately to the heart of the empire if they want a shot at killing the king. There is an equal chance they will kill each other before they even get there. Worse yet, as their journey continues, it is more apparent than ever that they might just be replacing one unstable dictator for another.

Epic fantasy debuts are almost impossible to pull off, but when they succeed, fantasy at large is given an opportunity to experience the impossible. Impossible odds, impossible quests, and impossible successes await readers ready to embark on a journey only epic fantasy debuts can deliver.