Five Fantasy Books to Read after Game of Thrones
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If you’re at all like us, you spend the post-Game-of-Thrones season wandering around in a daze. As though grief-stricken, you drift around the house, picking up objects and putting them down again. You’re entirely at sea, but not at sea like Victarion Greyjoy, to whom the ocean seems to keep offering useful things.
For us, the interminable wait between books is leavened only by the morbid curiosity that keeps us watching the show, which we outwardly sneer at despite quite enjoying it. The life of the Song of Ice and Fire reader is a life lived constantly asking yourself, “What next?”
Who will he kill off next?
What do I watch next?
What do I read next?
Frank Herbert: Dune
Frank Herbert’s Dune might seem a little out of left field, but bear with us. How many Game of Thrones fans love George R R Martin’s work to pieces, but wouldn’t otherwise consider themselves to be fantasy fans? The truth is that there are plenty of people for whom the Song of Ice and Fire is the only fantasy book they can stomach; the broad swathe of the genre is less palatable.
In much the same way, there are plenty of people for whom science fiction holds little interest, but who are devout fans of Herbert’s Dune. It helps to some extent that the galaxy of Dune is one in which computers are outlawed, lending it something of that 'open' feel of early-to-mid 20th century science fiction, which was written in a time before the computer figured so largely into our conceptions of future technology. Moreover, the feuding houses of Dune’s political system feel somehow more historical than futuristic.
The result is a book that is undoubtedly science fiction, but with much of the same feeling as a strong fantasy series. Indeed, there are moments on the desert world of Arrakis that feel nothing short of magical, regardless of the rational explanations that surround them.
Perhaps most important of all, like Game of Thrones, Dune spans multiple books and isn’t at all afraid to kill off established characters where the events demand it.
Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan
Titus Groan is the first book of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, and establishes the house of Groan as well as Castle Gormenghast. Aside from housing the Groan household, the castle also serves to shelter the homesteads of those who live around it, meaning that its walls are clustered with the houses of those not fortunate enough to live inside.
The biggest single difference between the Gormenghast trilogy and the world of Game of Thrones is the sense of scale. Where Martin takes us rambling across all of Westeros, Essos, and the lands north of the Wall, Titus Groan focuses almost entirely on Castle Gormenghast and the land immediately surrounding it. As a result, the reader develops a sense of intimate familiarity with the house and its staff, who are almost universally horrifying.
As in Game of Thrones, there is little overt “magic” in Titus Groan, but there are subtle hints of the supernatural woven through the enormity of the castle and the strange behaviours of its tenants. The Countess, for example, is said to have “stolen” a flock of birds from her sisters, though the reader is left to imagine how such an act might be facilitated.
Thomas Kinsella: The Táin
The astute celtic literature scholars among you may already have realized that this book sits a little strangely alongside the others recommendations and Game of Thrones itself. The Táin is Thomas Kinsella’s translation of the Irish epic poem Táin Bó Cúailnge, accompanied by some truly beautiful artwork by Louis le Brocquy.
While The Táin is an epic poem, much of its content feels closer to fantasy than to epic poetry. The narrative follows Cú Chullain on a series of adventures that see him engaging in fistfights with other legendary figures, as well as transforming into a kind of Incredible-Hulk-style rage monster through what the book describes as his “warp spasm.”
It’s a tricky book to describe without getting into too much detail, but for those of you who enjoyed the sprawling family trees of Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings, The Táin routinely offers lists of names that you can look up and read more about. Moreover, many of the names mentioned in passing come ready-packaged with their own legends to read about later.
Steven Erikson: Malazan Book of the Fallen: Gardens of the Moon
There are a number of reasons to recommend Steven Erikson’s Malazan series, not least of which the fact that it already includes just shy of 20 books (and a number of novellas). If nothing else, it’s sure to fill up the time between now and… whenever it is that George R R Martin gets around to releasing The Winds of Winter. In the meantime, let’s talk Malazan.
Like the Song of Ice and Fire, Erikson’s Malazan series starts relatively small, focussing on a tight group of characters and tracking their activities over the course of the novel. As the pace picks up, the reader is introduced to increasingly far-flung and apparently unrelated characters and settings. By the end of the book, the feeling is of knowing one corner of a larger world, but having heard only fleeting mentions of other countries and continents.
As the series progresses, the focus shifts from one continent to another, giving the reader a sense of a global narrative as the scope widens. Indeed, this is simultaneously the books’ biggest and their greatest strength; they can sometimes feel like an unending series of introductions to peoples and places that should somehow have been introduced earlier.
If you can shake that impression, Malazan’s is a rich world and one worth exploring. It doesn’t have quite the same clout as Martin’s world, but it’s a great read all the same.
Stephen King: The Gunslinger
Best known for his horror, King has tried his hand in just about any genre you care to name, from crime to science fiction. Not entirely unlike Dune, The Dark Tower series sits somewhere between fantasy and science fiction, with liberal sprinklings of western thrown in for good measure. The books are set across a series of parallel worlds that draws heavily on King’s past work. While just about all of the previous King books are at least implied to exist in The Dark Tower’s parallel worlds, those of you who have read books like The Talisman or Black House will find yourselves in very familiar territory.
The first book, The Gunslinger, centres Roland and his quest to find the Dark Tower, which acts as a sort of nexus point, anchoring all of the worlds of the book’s setting. The book’s fantasy elements are strongest closer to Roland’s home plane, though the magic of the book is usually subtle (as in Game of Thrones) rather than profound (as in Malazan).
Over the course of the books, the gunslinger assembles a group, his ka-tet, to make their way to the Dark Tower, hindered by the “low men” and other agents of the Crimson King Roland hopes to defeat. Along the way, they hop from one world to another, frequently encountering characters and settings from King’s back catalogue.
It’s an experience that may be unique in modern literature, and one that leaves the reader always wanting more. Fortunately, once you’ve finished the eight books of the Dark Tower, you can fall back into their worlds through the rest of King’s back catalogue.