I am going to be 100 percent honest with you right now: I didn't start reading Game of Thrones until after watching the first three seasons and getting so danged mad at The Red Wedding that I felt that I needed to mentally prepare myself for season four. I thought I didn't like high fantasy — big mistake — but I've found a ton that I adore. If you're like me and wondering how to fill the George R.R. Martin hole in your heart after the season finale, here are 10 books to read if you like Game of Thrones.
I have personally read and vetted all of these books on my list. Some of them have a little romance, some are murders, deaths, and mayhem from page one until "The End." I try to steer clear of books with a lot of sexual assault (Thrones notwithstanding) and books that become overtly misogynist — a problem with a lot of high fantasy. I just love books with a feminist heroine, black and brown characters, and scenarios that are new and rich. Think of everything you love at King's Landing, only give them 100 percent more Missandei, and 100 percent fewer tables full of white dudes making all the decisions at the end of the series. (Yes, I know Brienne is an awesome woman, but I hate what they did to her at the end and I will fight you over it if you disagree.)
1. 'Radiance' by Grace Draven (Wraith King Series)
Hands down, this is one of the best high fantasy romances ever written, and I don't say that lightly. Draven has a once-in-a-generation gift for storytelling, and the words just float off the page and into your psyche, burying them there to take root in your imagination. It is a classic story of a mismatched pair being married for the sake of their kingdoms. Ildiko and Brishen are as unlikely as they come — he a creature of granite skin and teeth more resembling a snake's than a human's, and her, a firey princess determined to bring peace. The series stands currently with two books and three novellas, but is nowhere near complete, and that makes me downright giddy.
2. 'The Poppy War' by RF Kuang
A girl is what she makes herself. In RF Kuang's epic debut, young Rin is mired in a life where she has no choices, and her future is grim. Unwilling to accept her fate, she studies and tests into the realm's most elite training academy, where she finds out that she is more special — and crucial in the upcoming wars — than she could have imagined.
The Poppy War has all of the gravity of the steepest climb in literary fiction, but also manages to be completely engaging and entertaining. Kuang deals with ideas around gender, race, class, poverty, and religion with aplomb, and the world building is *kisses fingers.*
3. 'Kingkiller Chronicles' by Patrick Rothfuss
Chances are you've heard of Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles, and for good reason. It's one of those books that has become a part of the literary cultural zeitgeist; it's just that good. The epic series reads as though a bard is telling you a tale by the light of the fire. It's brilliantly plotted, and beautifully told. This one feels like what would happen if Martin cared as much for love as he did for revenge. (And honestly, it's just a better series.)
4. 'An Ember in the Ashes' by Sabaa Tahir
Inspired by Ancient Rome, this story follows a poor girl who would battle the world to save her brother. It is dark and brutal, but reads so fast you won't know what end is up by the time you turn the last page. This is true high fantasy in every sense of the word, but the scorching brilliance of the prose is refreshingly modern.
5. 'Akata Witch' by Nnedi Okorafor
Based on Nigerian legends, this high fantasy YA novel is set in the U.S., but crosses from magical realism to fantasy pretty swiftly. This book , and its magical characters, will have you aching to learn all you can about the legends behind it. Falling in love with the characters in this story is the work of an instant, and you won't soon forget them.
6. 'The Fifth Season' by N.K. Jemisin
Imagine if Cersei wasn't a complete dumpster fire of a human being. All of that wicked intelligence used to do good instead of evil.
The Fifth Season is everything you want in a fantasy. It challenges stereotypes, it weaves unreality with absolute truth, and the plot is so intensely intricate that each thread is essential to the entire tapestry of the narrative. After you finish the book, you will have no cause to ask, "What was that for?" Jemisin won a Hugo award for this novel, and it was richly deserved.
7. 'Circe' by Madeline Miller
If you're one of the GoT fans who is particularly bloodthirsty, this book is for you. It opens with a god being flayed by a Valkyrie, over and over again, unable to die.
This is the story of the lesser known goddess, Circe, and her son Telegonus. You might have heard of them in the story of her lover, Telegonus' father, Odysseus. But you don't know the half of it.
This is one of the best books I've read in the past year, and I recommend that if you can, get it on audiobook. The narration is wonderful, and really brings it to life.
8. 'From Under the Mountain' by C.M. Spivey
I honestly just finished this book last week, and I already want to read it again. There are not enough fantasy novels that center queer characters, so when I found this book, I knew I needed to read it. The romance is secondary to the adventure of the story. From Under the Mountain by C.M. Spivey is a vivid, sparkling fantasy, burning with the ecstatic storytelling few authors are able to achieve.
9. 'The Traitor Baru Cormorant' by Seth Dickinson
Why on earth would anyone be interested in learning an entire fictional culture's monetary practice or fiduciary requirements? Before this book, I would tell you that you don't need to know these things, but Dickinson not only makes them crucial, he makes them addictive, engrossing. You find yourself being pulled into his world of colonialism and the systemic erasure of a culture, and suddenly, you want to know everything, even how they make and spend their coin. If Bronn and Tyrion are your favorite Thrones characters, buy this book immediately. Buy it even if they aren't.
10. 'The City of Brass' by S. A. Chakraborty
When a conwoman in Cairo accidentally summons a mysterious jinn warrior, you know it's about to go down. This fantasy is like stepping into paradise only to realize that it's full of venomous snakes. You have to keep your eyes open and remain alert at all times, lest something jump at you from the shadows. City of Brass is nothing short of otherworldly in its ability to plumb the resources of the reader to force them to expel every last ounce of energy they possess to keep on reading.