Why are there so many great sounding adult fantasy series in the world, and why I have read so, so few of them? I am constantly attempting to rectify this personal failing, and yet I keep making lengthy TBRs and not adhering to any of them. Alas.
Anyway, there are three factors that make this list significant (to me, anyhow):
- I own a physical copy or an ebook of the first novel in all of these series.
- These are all completed series, so the potential to binge is there.
- They are all relatively underhyped, some more so than others for sure, but generally, they are not fantasy series I hear a lot about on Booktube or Twitter or the book blogosphere, or they happen to be older fantasy series.
God knows, I’m not committing to reading all of these in their entirety. I’m extremely picky about my fantasy series, because I’m not about to commit to thousands of pages unless I’m well and truly invested. I am, however, committing to giving the first book in each of these series a try.
Let’s get into the books!
The Winnowing Flame
The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine.
When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind.
But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war. For the Jure’lia are coming, and the Ninth Rain must fall.
I don’t quite recall just when I heard of THE NINTH RAIN, but I think it was YouTube’s Elliott Brooks who convinced me to purchase it when I couldn’t find a copy at my library. Ever since she’s read it, it’s made some more rounds on BookTube and is now slightly more recognizable, but I think it still definitely counts as underhyped. I’ve heard it’s fast-paced and a little bizarre, with a lot of weird fantasy elements thrown together. More than anything these days I’m looking for fantasy that’s slightly out of the box and fast-paced, so I’m hoping I will get along with this!
The Crown of Stars
The Kingdom of Wendar is in turmoil. King Henry still holds the crown, but his reign has long been contested by his sister Sabella, and there are many eager to flock to her banner. Internal conflict weakens Wendar’s defences, drawing raiders, human and inhuman, across its borders. Terrifying portents abound and dark spirits walk the land in broad daylight.
Suddenly two innocents are thrust into the midst of the conflict. Alain, a young man granted a vision by the Lady of Battles, and Liath, a young woman with the power to change the course of history. Both must discover the truth about themselves before they can accept their fates. For in a war where sorcery, not swords, may determine the final outcome, the price of failure may be more than their own lives.
If I’m not mistaken, this book was published before A GAME OF THRONES, or the same year, or one year after — point is, it’s contemporaneous with A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, and these days, I’ve often heard the two being compared. This series is recommended for folks who want something like ASOIAF, so I’m very intrigued by it.
Hostage of Empire
The Emperor’s palace — full of ambitious royals, sly gossip, and unforeseen perils — is perhaps the most dangerous place in Zhaon. A hostage for her conquered people’s good behavior, the lady Komor Yala has only her wits and her hidden maiden’s blade to protect herself — and her childhood friend Princess Mahara, sacrificed in marriage to the enemy to secure a tenuous peace.
But the Emperor is aging, and the Khir princess and her lady-in-waiting soon find themselves pawns in the six princes’ deadly schemes for the throne — and a single spark could ignite fresh rebellion in Khir. And then, the Emperor falls ill, and a far bloodier game begins.
Now this is a series I’ve heard absolutely nothing about — it’s one of those Orbit series that sometimes flies under the radar because they publish so many series. I also don’t think this one had any particularly strong marketing push, not that I can recall, anyway. I think I stumbled across it on Netgalley of all places. Interestingly, S.C. Emmett is a pseudeonym for bestelling urban fantasy author Lilith Saintcrow (which, honestly, why would you give up a name that cool!!! It’s made for fantasy!). I’ve never read any of her work, since urban fantasy isn’t really my thing, but it’ll be interesting to see how the tropes and mores of urban fantasy translate over into high fantasy. Plus I like the idea of reading from the perspective of a lady-in-waiting rather than the princess herself! It sounds like there’s going to be a lot of court intrigue here, which I love.
There was a time when the Red Gods ruled the land. The Dark Lady and her horde dealt in death and blood and fire. That time has long since passed and the neighbouring kingdoms of Mireces and Rilpor hold an uneasy truce. The only blood spilled is confined to the border where vigilantes known as Wolves protect their kin and territory at any cost. But after the death of his wife, King Rastoth is plagued by grief, leaving the kingdom of Rilpor vulnerable.
Vulnerable to the blood-thirsty greed of the Warrior-King Liris and the Mireces army waiting in the mountains.
This summary tells me very, very little, but I love stories involving gods and their cults. Plus this is a series I’ve actually heard a bit about; I’ve heard it’s bloody and fun and violent, and one of the major characters is a young woman. That’s really all I need to give this a shot!
Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne
The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.
His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.
Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?
I heard this series recommended a lot in the wake of Game of Thrones’ disastrous TV ending, but other than that I generally haven’t heard very much about it except that it takes a while to get going, and that the second book is where the action is at. I tend to struggle with fantasy series that treat their first book as an extended prologue, but I’ve heard so many good things about this author I’m willing to give this a go!
It has been twenty years since the end of the war. The dictatorial Augurs—once thought of almost as gods—were overthrown and wiped out during the conflict, their much-feared powers mysteriously failing them. Those who had ruled under them, men and women with a lesser ability known as the Gift, avoided the Augurs’ fate only by submitting themselves to the rebellion’s Four Tenets. A representation of these laws is now written into the flesh of any who use the Gift, forcing those so marked into absolute obedience.
As a student of the Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war fought—and lost—before he was born. Despised by most beyond the school walls, he and those around him are all but prisoners as they attempt to learn control of the Gift. Worse, as Davian struggles with his lessons, he knows that there is further to fall if he cannot pass his final tests.
But when Davian discovers he has the ability to wield the forbidden power of the Augurs, he sets into motion a chain of events that will change everything. To the north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir. And to the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian’s wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is.
You know, this is actually my first time reading the summary of this first book (like??? it’s a magic school setting, who knew??)…I purchased THE SHADOW OF WHAT WAS LOST on a total whim because I had some Powell’s credit and I thought the cover looked really cool. Recently, though, I’ve been seeing it around BookTube, and I think someone compared it to WHEEL OF TIME. It is an extremely chonky first book, and I don’t always love Ancient Rome-inspired stuff, but I’m very excited to give this a shot because the lore sounds really cool! (And not to be shallow but the spines of these books are SO cool so I really want to love it so I can buy the other two books and display them on my shelves. Also, these are SUCH cool titles!)
The Song of the Shattered Sands
(Bradley P. Beaulieu)
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings — cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.
Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.
Now this is a series I’ve been aware of for a very, very long time, and when I came across the mass market paperback of the first book, I jumped on it. I’ve always been fascinated by the summary and the desert fantasy aspect. It’s not a series I’ve heard talked about a lot, but tecently, Holly Hearts Books has raved about this on her YouTube channel, which is encouraging me to pick it up even more.
(Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman)
One man, the powerful archmage Raistlin, intends that the darkness shall return. Two people alone can stop him: Crysania, a beautiful cleric of good, and Caramon, Raistlin’s twin brother, who must first understand himself before he can redeem his brother. Together with Tasslehoff, the irrepressible kender, the three of them embark on a perilous journey back through time to the days before the Cataclysm. In the doomed city of Istar, poised on the brink of disaster, dark magic and darker ambition battle with love and self-sacrifice in a quest to save not only the world but, more importantly, a soul.
This series, first published in 1986, apparently, kind of confuses me. I don’t really understand what the Dragonlance world is (I…think there’s a game?) or how these books tie into everything, or if these are the first books I should be reading to get into this world. There’s just. So much. But. I saw some people on Twitter talking about how this features a Brooding Sexy Villain archetype (Raistlin), and that was really all I needed. Plus I’m always intrigued by these older fantasy series; fantasy was so very different back then, it really is like reading a whole different genre from stuff published in 2022.
The Reborn Empire
War built the Kisian Empire. War will tear it down.
Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, factions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.
In Kisia, Princess Miko Ts’ai is a prisoner in her own castle. She dreams of claiming her empire, but the path to power could rip it, and her family, asunder. In Chiltae, assassin Cassandra Marius is plagued by the voices of the dead. Desperate, she accepts a contract that promises to reward her with a cure if she helps an empire fall. And on the border between nations, Captain Rah e’Torin and his warriors are exiles forced to fight in a foreign war or die.
Originally self-published, this series was picked up by Orbit because it was pretty popular! I think the summary sounds superb, but I’ve been putting it off because it’s three POVs all written in first-person POV, and I hate first-person, but I especially hate first-person in fantasy. Still. I like these covers and this summary enough to want to give this a try.
The Draconis Memoria
Throughout the vast lands controlled by the Ironship Syndicate, nothing is more prized than the blood of drakes. Harvested from the veins of captive or hunted Reds, Green, Blues and Blacks, it can be distilled into elixirs that give fearsome powers to the rare men and women who have the ability harness them—known as the blood-blessed.
But not many know the truth: that the lines of drakes are weakening. If they fail, war with the neighboring Corvantine Empire will follow swiftly. The Syndicate’s last hope resides in whispers of the existence of another breed of drake, far more powerful than the rest, and the few who have been chosen by fate to seek it.
Claydon Torcreek is a petty thief and an unregistered blood-blessed, who finds himself pressed into service by the protectorate and sent to wild, uncharted territories in search of a creature he believes is little more than legend. Lizanne Lethridge is a formidable spy and assassin, facing gravest danger on an espionage mission deep into the heart of enemy territory. And Corrick Hilemore is the second lieutenant of an ironship, whose pursuit of ruthless brigands leads him to a far greater threat at the edge of the world.
As lives and empires clash and intertwine, as the unknown and the known collide, all three must fight to turn the tide of a coming war, or drown in its wake.
While Anthony Ryan is an author I generally hear of, as I think he’s pretty popular (and a bestseller?), I don’t really hear much about this series (I think people are talking a lot about his latest release, THE PARIAH). Like, this summary is brand new to me. I bought THE WAKING FIRE off BookOutlet because I needed to make free shipping. Now that I’m properly reading the summary, though, it does sound very, very intriguing!
A Chorus of Dragons
Kihrin is a bastard orphan who grew up on storybook tales of long-lost princes and grand quests. When he is claimed against his will as the long-lost son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds that being a long-lost prince isn’t what the storybooks promised.
Far from living the dream, Kihrin finds himself practically a prisoner, at the mercy of his new family’s power plays and ambitions. He also discovers that the storybooks have lied about a lot of other things too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love, and how the hero always wins.
Then again, maybe he’s not the hero, for Kihrin is not destined to save the empire.
He’s destined to destroy it.
I guess I wouldn’t necessarily call this series underhyped, since it’s definitely well-known and made a pretty big splash when it was first published, but since then I think it’s become quite polarizing and therefore fewer people have been talking about it. I’ve heard it’s incredibly confusing, which can sometimes be catnip for me; I love a good complex fantasy. I’ve also heard it’s really funny, and that’s rare enough in fantasy that it’s drawing me in. It’s also got an interesting framing device, with footnotes, and I really like footnotes.
The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow’s Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer’s legacy. But there is a conspiracy within the citadel: traitors, flesh-eaters and the ghosts of the wastelands seek to destroy them, but if they cannot solve the ancient wizard’s paradox, the Deep Kings will walk the earth again, and all will be lost.
The war with the Eastern Empire ended in stalemate some eighty years ago, thanks to Nall’s ‘Engine’, a wizard-crafted weapon so powerful even the Deep Kings feared it. The strike of the Engine created the Misery – a wasteland full of ghosts and corrupted magic that now forms a No Mans Land along the frontier. But when Galharrow investigates a frontier fortress, he discovers complacency bordering on treason: then the walls are stormed, and the Engine fails to launch. Galharrow only escapes because of the preternatural magical power of the noblewoman he was supposed to be protecting. Together, they race to the capital to unmask the traitors and restore the republic’s defences. Far across the Misery a vast army is on the move, as the Empire prepares to call the republic’s bluff.
I have heard no one, absolutely no one, ever mention this series, and I follow so many fantasy BookTubers. I’m not even entirely sure where or when or why I purchased BLACKWING, but I think I first stumbled across it on Netgalley? I remember reading something about a witch and thought that was interesting. Otherwise I really don’t know much about it or this author, so I’m going into this series totally and completely blind.
The Five Warrior Angels
(Brian Lee Durfee)
A massive army on the brink of conquest looms large in a world where prophecies are lies, magic is believed in but never seen, and hope is where you least expect to find it.
Welcome to the Five Isles, where war has come in the name of the invading army of Sør Sevier, a merciless host driven by the prophetic fervor of the Angel Prince, Aeros, toward the last unconquered kingdom of Gul Kana. Yet Gault, one of the elite Knights Archaic of Sør Sevier, is growing disillusioned by the crusade he is at the vanguard of just as it embarks on his Lord Aeros’ greatest triumph.
While the eldest son of the fallen king of Gul Kana now reigns in ever increasing paranoid isolationism, his two sisters seek their own paths. Jondralyn, the older sister, renowned for her beauty, only desires to prove her worth as a warrior, while Tala, the younger sister, has uncovered a secret that may not only destroy her family but the entire kingdom. Then there’s Hawkwood, the assassin sent to kill Jondralyn who has instead fallen in love with her and trains her in his deadly art. All are led further into dangerous conspiracies within the court.
And hidden at the edge of Gul Kana is Nail, the orphan taken by the enigmatic Shawcroft to the remote whaling village of Gallows Haven, a young man who may hold the link to the salvation of the entire Five Isles.
Not gonna lie, this was mostly a cover buy, but I also heard Daniel Greene talk about how it’s a promising start to a series. I read the first couple of chapters and it gave me WHEEL OF TIME vibes, and I DNF’d WHEEL OF TIME, so I’m not sure if that bodes well, but I think this is going to branch off and become its own thing. I liked it well enough but I was in such a bad reading slump I set it aside so I could pick it up when my brain wasn’t so foggy. It’s also extremely intimidating, as the first book alone is 800 pages, and the first two chapters feature your classic Farm Boy, which I think is going to evolve into the Farm Boy Chosen One trope. Still, the lore sounds really cool, so I’m definitely looking forward to giving this a go!
And that’s it! Thirteen underhyped fantasy series I’m hoping to try out sometime in the near future! Have y’all read any of these? Have favorites among them? Hate any of them? Let me know!