It is well known if you listen to OWWR Pod that Hannah and Laura are not fully adept at the fantasy genre. We all start somewhere, but we started later in life. Although we are enjoying learning more and more about fantasy novels, it wasn’t the major focus of what we read for years. First, I was an English major who mostly read classics in college through a feminist lens (shocking with how we talk on the podcast, right?). I was busy writing about the narrative use of Marianne in Sense & Sensibility and didn’t have a ton of time outside reading for class and working 30 hours a week with a very busy social life. After college came law school, and I don’t know what you guys have heard about law school, but it is a ton of work and so much reading you forget you ever like reading. So most of my reading was used in the summer, and that was if I wasn’t burnt out from all the reading I did during the school year. But during those summers and after law school I did read a few fantasy novels that I think were great as a first-time adult fantasy reader. So here are a few of those:
The Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks
So I read the Lightbringer series in law school and actually waited for the last book to come out. I feel like this is a great series to start off with because the worldbuilding is relatively straightforward for people who aren’t used to fantasy. There are established rules that we learn through the lens of watching Kip. Weeks does a great job of explaining what is happening and how it works, and I thought it was a great way to be introduced into different worlds. I will say that Weeks’ views on women can be problematic. It is mostly issues you can see in many fantasy novels: women seem to get punished more often than not, there are some views of them that are eye roll worthy, there is a story about potentially loving someone who sexually assaulted a person that is not done deftly or with much respect, etc. Further, I felt like the last book was a bit of a let down. But overall, I enjoyed this as a first series.
Gideon the Ninth
I haven’t finished this series yet. I am still working on it, but I do think it’s a great way to start out in fantasy. The world is definitely other worldly, but it isn’t high fantasy. There is modern language used and a specific set-up. We follow Gideon in the first novel, an indentured servant for the Ninth Planet. She hates her life here and dreams of escape, and finds a way. However, the way puts her with a person she hates on a new world where she must keep important secrets. It’s a fun novel that I think would be easy for a first-time fantasy reader to discover how to read new worlds with different rules.
The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King
I also read the Dark Tower series while in law school. This is also an easy entry because King is not just a fantasy author and he does seem to write for all genres. That makes it easy for you to enter into the space and follow the characters and the rules of the world. King does stunning work when creating flawed characters, and the way he uses Roland and his backstory to tell such a beautiful tale is amazing. I loved so much about these books, and for a first-time fantasy reader it’s a good place to start. That said, again women seem to get dunked on and King definitely uses other elements from other books, so you may be confused in parts if you don’t recognize them. He also makes…choices about where he takes this book. Overall, recommend, but also with notes.
A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin
I mean, this is where I started my journey. The other two are great for beginners. I would hold off for a bit on this one until you’ve had other examples of fantasy. First of all, this book series has so much hype to it. I am sure many people have at least seen an episode of the show. That said, I do think it can be a good entry point for first time fantasy readers if they want to watch the show. There is a list of families in the back of the book to help with context and the storytelling is interesting and stays with various characters long enough so you do become attached to them. However, as you know, it remains unfinished with a very sad last season of the actual show.
The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss
Another book series that is not for the faint of heart (or for those who need a finished series). I adored this series and it is on one of my favorite reads. It is also hard to read as a fist-time fantasy series. If you have read a few and want to delve deeper into the genre, this is a great place to start. Rothfuss is an amazing writer. Everything your read of his is beautiful and well-written. The way he lets you know Kvothe is potentially an unreliable narrator is handled so deftly, and the way the characters interact are unique and not something I’ve seen a ton in other fantasy authors.