Ok, let’s talk about serious stuff.
Or rather, about serious fantasy sagas.
I certainly do not mean to discriminate any genre, but have you ever heard the phrase: “Fantasy is for children”? There is a sort of prejudice around this genre, and it is a fact that I can not understand: it might be because I’m a huge lover of fantasy, but I think that fantasy books are perfect to respond to that urge that often pushes us to read, that is, escapism.
There are fantastic settings, magical tools, non-human characters that, thanks to their different characteristics, make us discover something new about our humanity, and storytelling full of action, adventure, emotions, and twists. I think that reading fantasy is very similar to going to the cinema: for a few hours, you immerse yourself in a different atmosphere, which transports you elsewhere and allows you to keep your imagination trained, even as adults.
Son of the ancient epic, of the medieval romance novels, of the Victorian age, and a bit of popular culture, the fantasy genre has known an even greater success over the centuries. If today it might seem to you that nothing worthy has been written after one of the greatest exponents of the genre has marked entire generations with a legendary saga (you all know what I’m talking about, the one about the ring), then I’m sorry to say it, but you’re wrong.
For this reason, I want to recommend those fantasy sagas that are so beautiful, so well structured, so engaging, so “everything you want,” that I challenge you to abandon them or to say: “This cannot be considered a serious reading.”
I will wait for you at your last page of each of these books, when you’ll love this genre a little bit more and will feel a little more willing to believe that even the impossible is possible.
“The Lord of the Rings” – J. R. R. Tolkien
Who has never heard of this saga? Exactly. Let’s start the list with a bang, talking about a series that is a real adventure, which continues to inspire the whole world from 1955. The original trilogy follows the adventures of the hobbit Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship of the Ring, made up of 9 heroes including men, elves, dwarves, and sorcerers, on a mission to defeat the One Ring, Sauron’s deadliest weapon, an evil and powerful spirit that, if he could recover it, he could dominate all of Middle-Earth. This story is a classic by now: inspired by different European mythologies, philology, religion, and fairy tales, Tolkien was able to give life to a universe and a series of unforgettable characters, which conquer us from the very first moment. Not to mention that the author invented a language for this story. A language. Lastly, do not miss “The Hobbit” and “The Silmarillion,” both set in the same world. See you in the Shire!
“Harry Potter” – J. K. Rowling
The second title on this list has also marked the history of literature, finding great success and gathering an incredible number of fans from all over the world (including myself, a proud follower and Hufflepuff ever since the first film was released in 2001). The seven books that make up this saga, published between 1997 and 2007, revolve around Harry Potter, a young wizard, and student of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He turns out to be The Chosen One, the only one able to defeat the dark wizard Voldemort, who wants to conquer immortality and the magical world. Alongside Ron and Hermione, Harry will live a series of incredible adventures, including griffins, timer turners, sorting hats and spells, showing us how magic can be found everywhere. Always. Born as children’s novels, the books have become increasingly structured on a stylistic level over time, and the narrative is so rich in details and elements that it is simply impossible not to get involved and wish to be a part of this world. It seems incredible that the inspiration came to the author while on the train, watching cows from the window!
“His Dark Materials” – Philip Pullman
Perhaps you know this saga for the 2007 film and the BBC TV series whose third and final season will be released next year. The advice is to read the trilogy for the richness of inspirations (with references to religion, science, and the world of exploration), and the originality of the story. The protagonist is the young Lyra, who lives in the England of an alternative reality where each person is sided by a Daimon, an animal alter-ego that allows them to connect to the Dust, an invisible and mysterious element that plays a fundamental role in the life and dynamics of human beings, and that has an unusual power over children. When the Magisterium, the ecclesiastical order that has always wanted to control the influence of dust, seems to have organized the kidnapping of numerous children for a series of experiments, Lyra embarks on a journey through parallel worlds, along with armored bears, witches, and precious allies, to discover the truth behind the origin of the dust and to make sure that an old prophecy comes true… Unpredictable and incredible.
“The Chronicles of Narnia” – C. S. Lewis
At the voice “Friends who have defined a literary genre,” we certainly find J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, who with their respective novels can be defined as the fathers of fantasy. Lewis also published the adventures set in the fictional land of Narnia in the 50s, creating one of the most popular fantasy sagas in the world today, where there are plenty of theological metaphors. The 7 books can be read both in order of publication and chronologically, and the best-known plot is that of “The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe,” which sees the 4 Pevensie brothers catapulted into the world of Narnia through a magic closet: here, helped by fauns, talking beavers and the wise lion Aslan, they must defeat the evil witch Jadis to restore peace in the kingdom. The different stories of the cycle are set in different years and with different protagonists while being recurrent, and precisely this variety of points of view, descriptions, and settings makes the reading immersive and highly suggestive.
“All Souls Trilogy” – Deborah Harkness
One of those few cases in which I recommend both the books and the TV series, whose third season will be released soon. This trilogy, published between 2011 and 2014, is an interesting mix of magical, historical, and alchemical elements, where the protagonists are witches, vampires, and demons, which gives life to a sophisticated and convincing fairy tale for adults. The protagonist is Diana Bishop, a young professor of history of alchemy at the University of Oxford, as well as a witch who refuses to use her powers, who one day comes across a manuscript long considered lost and that seems to describe the origin of witches, vampires, and demons. This discovery attracts the attention of all creatures, intent on taking control: among them is Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist. Ah yes, as well as a millennial vampire. First reluctant to cooperate, then more and more overwhelmed by the feelings they have for each other (and by fate), Diana and Matthew will do anything, even travel to the past in the London ruled by Queen Elizabeth I, to discover and protect the secrets of the book from the threats of creatures. It’s so engaging!
“A Song of Ice and Fire” – George R. R. Martin
There are those who read the title of this saga while thinking about the theme song of the HBO TV series inspired by it, and those who lie. This epic story, whose first chapter out of seven came out in 1996 and the last two have yet to be published (when, who knows), is set on the continents of Westeros and Essos, where we witness a medieval setting and where dragons seem only a distant memory. Here, the events of many noble families (Baratheon, Stark, Lannister, Targaryen, and Tully) are intertwined among others, all eager to sit on the throne of Westeros while fighting frightening and legendary creatures. A reductive description for the incredible sequence of action, political intrigues, revenge, death (never a joy, keep it in mind), violence, sex, and for the many settings and characters that make this world full of inspiration. Justice and wickedness often seem to go hand in hand, in an unpredictable and exciting succession of events, which leaves fans speechless and leads them to wonder: “But when does the next book come out?”.
“The Once and Future King” – T. H. White
There must have been something in the air in the ‘50s in England because this cycle of fantasy novels was also published in those years. It is a collection of novels that reinterpret the myth of King Arthur, the legendary British king who wielded the magical sword of Excalibur and who was surrounded by equally iconic figures such as the knights of the Round Table, his wife Ginevra, his sister Morgana and the wizard Merlin. The collection follows the growth and education of King Arthur, describing the many battles in which he took part, the love affairs, the stories of friendship, and the epic adventure, in a reinterpretation with a complex tone and rich in fantastic elements. Are you ready to join the court of Camelot?
“The Mirror Visitor” – Christelle Dabos
If I could erase my memory to reread a saga from scratch and fall in love again with its protagonists, I would choose this one. Published between 2013 and 2019, it is a complex and intriguing mix of fantasy inspirations, Belle Époque settings, and Steampunk elements (just remember to keep up with all the events). In this alternate universe, a cataclysmic event known as Laceration split the old world into different territories that are now suspended in the firmament as arks. Each of these arks is governed by a family spirit and inhabited by families with particular powers: the young Ophelia lives on Alma and is a reader, that is, she can read the story of an object and of all those who have touched it previously simply by touching it.
But she is also endowed with a rare ability, that is, that of being able to cross mirrors. Ophelia is arranged in marriage to Thorn, a rough and mysterious man who lives on the distant ark of Polo, where the ruthless members of the ruling families seem to be willing to do everything to maintain their influence at the court of their family spirit. Between political games, betrayals, love, twists between past and future, and well-detailed characters, Ophelia will have to make her way to find her place and to save all the arks from a series of intrigues and events that could lead to the destruction of every place. This story is so enigmatic and exciting that I don’t want to say anything else to make any spoilers except read it, you won’t regret it!
“The Wheel of Time” – Robert Jordan
Published between 1990 and 2013, this saga consists of 14 volumes that inspired an upcoming Amazon Prime Video series. At the beginning of the story, the Creator forged the Wheel of Time, composed of seven spokes and moved by the One Power, that is, the driving force of the Universe. When the evil Shai’tan attempts to dominate the world by channeling the power of the Wheel and breaking the cycle of rebirths at the base of its power, it periodically gives birth to the so-called Dragon, champion of the Light and worthy rival of Shai’tan. The novels follow the story of Rand al’Thor, a reincarnation of the Dragon against whom both a curse and a blessing weighs on his shoulders, as he struggles to restore balance and finally defeat Shai’tan. The novels are a mixture of historical, cultural, and fantastic elements worthy of note, able to involve and entertain you in reading as much busy as it is interesting!
“The Inheritance Cycle” – Christopher Paolini
I still struggle to believe that Paolini wrote this saga at the age of 15, it’s incredible if you think about the incredible world he built, the characters that are so detailed, and such a compelling story that holds the rhythm for 4 books. The protagonist is the young Eragon, a skilled hunter who lives at the foot of the mountains of the Great Dorsal who, one day, finds a dragon egg: shortly after, the dragoness Saphira is born. Eragon will have to learn everything he can about dragons, magic, and fighting to defend himself, his dragon, and his loved ones from the powerful Galbatorix, who wants control over Saphira to dominate the kingdom of Alagaesia. There are dragons, there are elves, there are ghosts, there are magical events, there is so much action… In short, there is everything, you just have to read it!